Fleshing out the high end lens inventory for the Panasonic Lumix S1 series cameras.

Lumix S1R camera + Lumix 24-70mm S Pro f2.8.

I don't think many would argue that one of the most popular lens types for full frame cameras are those featuring the 24-70mm focal length. The sweetener for that kind of lens is getting one with an f2.8 aperture that stays constant through the focal length range. It's a type of zoom that all the camera makers (and some independent lens makers) offer and it's a very useful tool for people who shoot a range of events, on locations, and including a wide-ranging subject matter. 

It's no secret here that my favorite focal length is 50mm so I guess it's no mystery that many of my favorite lenses in every system are clustered around that focal length. Consider my current infatuation with the L-mount cameras from Sigma and Panasonic. If you look into the equipment drawer you'll find the typical "must have" lenses like the 70-200mm and a fast 85mm portrait lens but I think it's revealing that the majority of my purchases include or are close to what is considered "normal." 

Were I looking in from the outside and playing pop psychologist I would probably diagnose myself as being very optically conservative as well as too lazy to master either edge of the lens angle-of-view distribution pattern. No 14mm's here. Nothing longer that 200mm tugging at my heartstrings...

I now have two Panasonic zooms that seem, in many ways, to be redundant. The 24-105mm f4.0 and the 24-70mm f2.8. I look at the 24-70mm f2.8 as the perfect lens to pair with a 70-200mm for theater photography and an all-around toolkit for a photographer who works in many locations but mostly specializes in making images of people. I don't ever want to make environmental portraits at a focal length wider than 24 (actually happier at 50 and above) and the long end of a 70-200mm gives me more than enough isolation and compression for my work. 

The 24-105mm f4.0 (aka: the kit lens) is continuing to reveal itself as a wonderful video lens for quick work (ENG type and basic interviews) and especially work done solo where I need to be able to go in tight and be able to trust the face detection AF to help as a second set of hands. The benefit of the 24-105 when shooting either video or stills with a camera like the Sigma fp is that the lens brings its own powerful image stabilization to the table. The electronic stabilization in the fp works okay with the Sigma 45mm lens but it's not much more than okay. When I use the 24-105mm I can see a big improvement in I.S. which allows me (especially at the wider settings) to use the lens and camera hand held and still get acceptable results. 

To my mind all the contemporary 24-70s across the major brands are very, very good. But when buying into the Lumix S1 system I made a conscious decision to abandon my old ways, born of early career financial constraints, and stop buying "stop gap" or "good enough" or "but it's funky and has character!" equipment. To my mind the Lumix S1 system is only one of two really professional, full frame systems available. That's not to say that Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses aren't every bit as sharp and as capable of making equally great images, rather I'm saying that you pay more for the Lumix cameras because they are built in a way that should provide a maximum longer term benefit for professional users. More robust bodies. Better thermal management. Better video capabilities. Better handling. And access to some of the very best lenses in the world --- if you are willing to pay for them!

While it's true that Nikon's D6 is a great tool for some professionals, as is the new Canon 1dx2, both of those are aimed directly at sports photographers and are even pricier than the Leica SL2, which, agruably, has even better overall image quality and surprisingly superior video imaging. The Nikon and Canon are very heavy and bulky, and so is the Lumix S1 when paired with a battery grip. The difference is that you can remove the grip on the Lumix cameras to slim them down but can't do the same for the competitors. 

I'm not suggesting that anyone else change systems. If yours does what you need and you like the way it feels and operates, then stay the course and reap the financial benefits of constancy. But if you've cobbled together workable but less than the best systems for decades and are ready to negate various compromises...

But I'm not here to praise the Panasonic cameras or Leica SL2 bodies, I'm writing today to explain what it is about the Lumix 24-70mm f2.8 S Pro lens that cudgeled me into purchasing one, in spite of my already owning (and liking) the 24-105mm.

To set the stage, I once had a prejudice against most zoom lenses. Then I bought a Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens which was the predecessor for the future flurry of Nikon 24-70mm lens. It was amazingly sharp and well mannered. At least as good as the handful of Nikon prime lenses I owned at the time. Later, when I plunged into the Panasonic micro four thirds cameras I took a chance and bought the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens and was immediately blown away by the sharpness and lack of visual compromises the lens presented. Now, I'm almost predisposed to consider fast, low zoom ratio lenses to be excellent optical performers. When I bought into the full frame Panasonic system I knew I wanted a fast, medium range zoom but having bought the 24-105mm 4.0 in a package I thought I'd take my time and see what became available. I wanted to see how much better or worse the Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 would be and whether it would be close enough to the overall performance of the Panasonic zoom to make me happy and save me $1100 into the bargain.

Then the Sigma lens got delayed (and still is not available for me at my favorite retailers...) and I did more research as to what the differences might be. Early adopters of the Sigma (lucky people on the early lists) were mostly happy with the imaging performance but less happy with the speed and certainty of the continuous AF of the lens on L mount cameras. Users who owned both Lumix S Pro lenses and the Sigma lens found that the dual focus mechanism and the tight integration of DFD technology in the Lumix products made focusing much faster and more certain. Even in C-AF for video the Lumix lenses locked in and maintained focus about as well as most of the top end competitors cameras and lenses in the same class. 

One day I played with the Panasonic 24-70mm lens on an S1R body for the better part of an hour and came away convinced that Panasonic had gone to the wall in engineering and building this S Pro lens model. The specs are almost intimidating: 18 elements in 16 groups. 3 Aspheric elements. 4 Extra Low dispersion (ED) elements. 1 Ultra high refractive index lens. All put together around an 11 blade aperture for beautiful out-of-focus rendering. 

I looked at the test images I was shooting (always wide open), smiled,  and slotted the lens in as a future purchase priority. 

Last week I shot 38 very short video interviews with an S1 body and the 24-105mm. When shooting in desperately low light I quickly hit ISO 6400 and f4.0. I would have been thrilled with another stop of light. The 24-70mm popped back into the front of my mind. I went back to the Panasonic site and started comparing MTF charts ( I know, I know, gear nerds will use any handy justification for their purchases) and was impressed by the luxe product.

On Saturday I was showing a friend around Precision Camera and I asked to see the 24-70mm one more time. The store made me an offer I didn't want to refuse so I bought the lens. It now joins all the other lenses in my collection that cover, or come near, the 50mm focal length. 

The difference with my current purchases is that they are all best in class and uncompromised pieces of equipment which take away any technical/gear excuses I might have had for any failings of my images. 

As I work on my own personal video projects; projects in which speed and flexibility are secondary to the look and feel of the work, I find myself appreciating features that I have already discovered and tested in my other two S Pro lenses; the 50mm f1.4 and the 70-200mm f4.0. Most important is the manual focus clutch that all the S Pro lenses offer (but not available on the 24-105mm...) which allows me to pull the focusing ring back to take advantage of a long through manual focusing ring, complete with great distance markings, that has stops for infinity and closest focus and which makes focusing manually both accurate and repeatable. In concert with the 5 million plus pixel resolution EVF the big MF ring makes manually focusing a breeze. Even without using my Atomos monitor.

The second feature of all the S Pro lenses is more esoteric. I may not yet be sophisticated enough in motion picture production to appreciate it yet. But the lens is designed to reduce focus breathing (change of image size when focusing from near to far, etc.) which many feel is one of the essential differences between cine lenses and consumer photography lenses.

There is one final "feature" that plays to my own pride of ownership and that's the little line of type on the back side of the lens barrel that reads: "Leica Certified." Which a technical representative explained to me as indicating that the lens was at the same quality level as a Leica lens product at the same focal length and that, in some instances, very expensive Leica glass was included in the construction of the lens. Say what you will about Leica's penchant for Ostrich hide M cameras and weird collectibles but you'll get very little push back on the fact that Leica makes many of the very best contemporary lenses you can buy at any price for photography and motion picture production.

In some senses, the Leica certification means we can now buy Leica quality, and a certain sought after "look" to our images, but at half or less than the previous price of entry. 

I'm looking forward to putting the new 24-70mm f2.8 S Pro through its paces in the next few weeks. I'll keep you apprised of my progress. Thanks. 

So. This is the spot where the big, flashy 
ad would go if I did affiliate advertising!
I do not get free cameras or lenses 
from any camera maker or retail store. 
I buy the stuff I use and I buy or temporarily 
borrow (but always return!!!) the stuff
I write about. But lately.... I mostly buy 
it if I'm interested in a product or 
ignore it entirely if I have no need or desire for it. 

Waiting for my offer from a major camera 
company which would have to include 
a Bentley company car with platinum 
wheel covers...


Ray said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ronman said...

It's tough to get away from the versatility of a great zoom, particularly in the 24-70 focal length. Yeah, in a perfect world I'd like to carry nothing more than a prime which can see in the dark, is sharp enough to cut glass, captures HDR images with a single file, and renders bokeh as smooth as the wind. The only caveat is it must be suitable for any and all photographic needs and situations. I'm sure it's being drawn up as we write this. Til' then, I'll keep slinging the heavy but wonderful zoom.

ODL Designs said...

Sounds like you are enjoying your new lens! One of the advantages of a new Mount is discovering all the new lenses. There is something to be said for a no compromise product, it sounds like the 24-70 is just over of those.

LeftCoastKenny said...

Waiting for my offer from a major camera company which would have to include
a Bentley company car with platinum wheel covers.

Heck, I'd settle for platinum valve stem covers. Maybe even just one.

Mark B said...

Kirk, it’s all your fault.

I read reviews of the Lumix S Pro 24-70mm f/2.8, looked at MTF curves, watched video, and read your blog post. About five times. I thought about a very cold December day at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Monument, and the importance of low temperature operation. (During the years I was an engineer at AMD in Sunnyvale, we always designed and tested ICs for the military -55 to 125 C temperature range. And we graded parts for the industrial -25 to 85 C range. Commercial parts tested to 0-70 C were rejects.)

The MTF curves compared well with Sigma’s 24-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Art and the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS, for the other camera I use a lot. And the AF speed looked faster than with the Sigma zoom. I had trouble finding reviews using the Leica SL2, the camera I’ll be using it with, but I found one reviewer who said it performed at least as well on the SL2 as on the Lumix S1.

There was still that price difference between the Sigma and the Lumix S Pro though...

I just happened to see (yeah, right) that KEH had one rated LN- for a few hundred bucks off, so I bought it.

So see, it’s all your fault.

Just kidding. Thanks for your review. It made a difference to see how someone I respect uses the lens.