An actual, daily user review of the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens, used on a Panasonic G85. Too sharp. Too good to share.

I know so many of you are short of time during the holiday season so I'll keep this short and sweet. I'm mostly a portrait photographer and don't use wide angle lenses all that often. When I do it's usually because we're working with a commercial client on something like an annual report project where, in addition to portraits and photos of people working, we need shots of beautiful business interiors, majestic exterior shots and lenses that are wide enough to make a tiny lab look.....acceptable. I learned a long time ago that wide angles work best when there is something in the foreground, more stuff in the mid-ground and even more stuff in the background. We rarely go searching for "bokeh" when going wide. 

I did my research and decided that a micro four thirds system, built around the Panasonic GH5, would best suit my varied needs (video, portraits, general business photography) and I invested in it completely this year. The 40-150mm f2.8 was a "no-brainer" purchase given its incredible performance and nearly perfect focal length range for me. 40mm-60mm is perfect for portraits while the 60-150mm is perfect for documenting live theater at Zach Theatre here in Austin, Texas. 

The 12-100mm was a leap of faith. I'd read so many good and great things about it that I decided to try it out as my "all purpose" working lens. It's a constant aperture f4.0 which is great for most stuff. I'm happy I took the plunge because it very sharp at all focal lengths and all the other characteristics which people worry about are equally well handled.

For a week or so I thought that the short end of the 12-100mm would handle most of my wide angle needs but a job came along that required a bit wider field of view. I started researching the available wide angles in earnest. I wanted a zoom, and, after my experiences with the Olympus Pro series lenses, I knew I wanted to look at the top of the range of what is available. The advantages of premium glass are, if anything, even more obvious with the smaller sensor cameras....

I had previously owned the Pansonic 7-14mm f4.0 and had some niggling criticisms of it. The corners weren't perfect and the bulbous front made any sort of convenient filtering impossible. I've read amazing things about the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro so I tried that lens on loan. It's fabulous! Maybe even a little bit better than the lens I ended up with but for a photographer who
does a fair amount of video the "deal killer" is that bulbous front element. I just didn't want to be out on location somewhere trying to Scotch Tape(tm) gelatin neutral density filters to the rear element.....

I returned the Olympus Pro lens and borrowed the Panasonic 8-18mm. I didn't care at all that the Panasonic loses one millimeter to the Olympus; that's nose bleed wide territory for me. I used the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm for one afternoon and then called the camera store and gave them my credit card info on the phone. The results I got, both on stills and with a variable ND filter in video were uniformly great. (67mm filter size). 

So, In my experience the lens is well provisioned at all focal lengths and f-stops. Even though I am certain there is in-camera distortion correction going on automatically the lens is not fully distortion corrected at the widest setting (8mm) and requires some rudimentary slider work in Lightroom to correct. It's simple barrel distortion and not vicious "mustache" style distortion so it should be easy to correct in most software. 

The three benefits for me are: 1. Access to a wide range of wide to ultra-wide focal lengths. 2. High detail and sharpness everywhere (if you shoot Jpegs with a Panasonic G85 you might want to nudge down the sharpness in your profile parameters by at least two clicks as I think the combo of body and lens together results in too high a sharpness default). You can print big because your system is supplying sharp and detailed images across the board. 3. You can use variable neutral density filters directly on the front of the lens which magnificently lowers the "pain in the ass" quotient for every day video use. 

If you shoot the Olympus or Panasonic camera systems and you have similar use profiles = you need to or love to use filters = you should buy this lens instead of the other choices available. If you only shoot stills and never use a filter then buy whatever tickles your fancy. If image quality is your sole determiner then maybe the Olympus is a better choice. If you actually use the lenses for work and need an elegant filter solution then there's really only one answer. 

I spent the morning shooting samples just for you. I hope you enjoy them. 

Here's a link to Amazon.com: 

Please use it if you head over there on a buying spree. I'll get a small commission
and it won't cost you even an extra thin dime. Everyone's happy!


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Wonderful - thanks for sharing these, Kirk! Nothing beats some good real life photos.

Michael Matthews said...

I think that’s what they call “wicked sharp”.

Eric Seale said...

Great shots (as always), Kirk.

Just to quibble a bit, though -- 3rd party adapters are available for the Oly 7-14mm pro lens (to hold either 100mm or 150mm filters). It's a great setup for landscape or architectural work.

Still, I'll agree that it's much simpler / cheaper / lighter to opt for the Panny 8-18mm (or Oly 9-18mm) unless you *really* need the extra bit of wide FOV and / or rectilinear optics.

James Weekes said...

Oh no you don’t Tuck. I made the mistake of reading your feelings about the Olympus 12-100 pro. That was an expensive little ten minutes. The fact that the lens is better than you say it is means I didn’t read this review. Once bitten, twice broke.

Unknown said...

Never mind the sharpness (which is incredible) the color is phenomenal! My Nikon is getting long in the tooth and number of "hot pixels" lately. The more I see of the G85, GX8, GH5, and the G9, the more I think Lumix may be a great replacement. I thank you for sharing, but I don't know if my wife does!

Barry Prager said...

I am a enthusiastic user of the Olympus micro 4/3 system, and much has been written about it and our Panasonic cousin. Except to me, the most important component of the system, the 4/3 aspect ratio. After many a moon of using the standard 3/2 size, I love the taller frame as it's more "canvas like", and allows me to paint a digital picture that is more comfortable for my style of shooting.