The Panasonic-Leica Summilux 25 mm f/1.4 was the first native-mount 25 mm lens released for the Micro Four Thirds system, and is one of only two (the other being the Olympus 25 mm f/1.8) which feature auto focus. I have had my one for around eighteen months, having found myself requiring a “normal” perspective prime lens, at a time when Olympus did not have one in their lineup.
As is customary in my equipment profiles, this won’t be an in-depth review. However, I will share my experiences with, and opinions of the lens, focusing on: design, handling, and image quality.
The lens barrel is made of dense plastic, which oozes quality. Although branded as a Leica lens, is manufactured (and designed, I’m led to believe) by Panasonic. However, some Leica design cues have made it through, such as the focal length being written in orange-yellow at the mount end of the lens and the raised red dot mounting reference. Besides these, there is a broad rubberised focusing ring, a written description of the focus range, the lens hood mounting reference, and some Panasonic-related branding nearer to the underside of the barrel, including reference to Panasonic’s Nano Surface Coating. The plastic surrounding the front element is somewhat livelier, even though it simply lists the lens’ technical specifications: f/1.4 maximum aperture (“Summilux” in Leica parlance), made for Micro Four Thirds (“DG”), and containing two aspherical lens elements (“Asph.”). Similar to most Micro Four Thirds lenses, it is fairly compact overall, although it is visibly fatter and consequently a little heavier than the equivalent Olympus lens. On the whole, it’s quite understated, very utilitarian, and reminds me a little of a Leica Summicron-R 50 mm f/2 I owned briefly during my high school years.
Unlike Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses below the PRO line, this Panasonic-Leica lens included a well-crafted soft carry bag (which I never use), and a stout centre pinch-type lens cap, which is a doddle to use with or without the lens hood mounted. A deep, square shaped lens hood, made of the same grade of plastic as the lens body, is also included with the Panasonic-Leica lens. With the exception of the 25 mm f/1.8, none of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses below the PRO line include a lens hood, which is something I am yet to fully understand or accept. Although the silver box that the Panasonic-Leica 25 mm lens is delivered in reeks more of Panasonic than Leica, they were still thoughtful enough to put all the conceivably require basics in the box.
The lens always felt slightly nose heavy on the PEN Mini E-PM1, although I find that it balances very well on the PEN E-P5 and the OM-D E-M1. The length between the body and the focus ring allows the camera to be braced in the hands quite comfortably, as the mass of the lens feels like it balances around the focus ring, especially with the lens hood fitted. However, due to the size of the manual focus ring, I find myself accidentally overriding the auto focus on a regular basis. This is counteracted to an extent by the bevelled rear corners of the lens hood, which do provide a finger hold other than the lens barrel and focus ring. Besides the plastic construction, it feels as tight and solid as a Leica lens should.
Autofocus is fast enough, though doesn’t feel as quick as most of the comparable focal length Olympus lenses I’ve used. This is probably attributable to the weight of the glass elements in the lens slowing things down. However, it’s not so slow as to hinder photographing most subjects, and the focus itself is usually very accurate. Manual focus is a delight, with the focus ring falling to hand nicely, feeling well damped, and having a decent length throw, even though the focus ring has no mechanical connection to the focus mechanism. I find the Panasonic-Leica has a more polished feeling to the manual focus experience than the Olympus lenses, and reminds me of the couple of Leica lenses I’ve had in the past. That being said, the Olympus lenses, generally, are still very nice to manual focus with. In addition, the Panasonic-Leica lens lacks a distance scale, which is something that I find is quite useful (sometimes even necessary), especially as there is no function button to customise for depth of field preview (I have no free function buttons on my camera bodies to assign this to). To be fair, though, the Olympus 25 mm lens also lacks a distance scale.
The automatic iris, operating during live-view to regulate screen brightness, is known to make a “rattle snake” noise in changeable light on older Olympus camera bodies. From experience, I can tell you that this gets incredibly annoying after a short while, although it is not present on Panasonic camera bodies, or newer Olympus camera bodies. The times the noise does occur, it isn’t offensively loud, and in a louder environment, would probably be drowned out.
This could be summed up in one phrase: Leica-like.
Contrast and sharpness are good from f/1.4 all the way through to f/8-11, at which point diffraction starts to soften things up a little, but not excessively. When shooting at the same apertures, I find the Olympus 12-40 mm PRO zoom a little sharper at 25 mm than the Panasonic-Leica lens, and reportedly, the Olympus 25 mm f/1.8 is a little sharper, too. There seems to be a subtle amount of vignetting wide open in the Panasonic-Leica, but nothing untoward, and I find it tends to help heighten the profile of the subject in the frame. Flare handling is superlative, thanks to the excellent front element shading afforded by such a deep lens hood, and the quality of the Nano Surface Coating. Bokeh is good, especially at apertures of f/2 and smaller. At apertures larger than f/2, the bokeh is still quite good, though not especially smooth in some instances. This could be addressed with a couple of extra blades in the iris diaphragm, or the use of rounded blades. Perhaps this is something which will come in a “Mark II” version of the lens. The rendering of colours is a little warmer than I’ve seen in my Olympus lenses, and there seems to be a different overall effect in the way that subjects are rendered. Personally, I’m quite fond of the Panasonic-Leica’s overall rendering.
As I said at the start of this section, image quality is “Leica-like”: the technical aspects of lens performance are met to a very high standard, the rendering is aesthetically pleasing, and there is some depth to the subject. While the Panasonic-Leica touches on these bases, it doesn’t do so to the same extent as a true Leica lens. However, running fairly close, at a small fraction of the cost, in a much more affordable camera system, seems like a fair compromise to make.
The 25 mm Panasonic-Leica is a lens which is nice to use, and produces nice results. The Olympus 25 mm f/1.8 is a cheaper, more petite lens, which is only around half an f-stop slower, and very similar performance wise. On that basis, the choice between them largely comes down to personal preferences in maximum aperture, brand, and overall rendering. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t hold out for the Olympus lens to come to market: I got a lens that handles well, captures well, and reminds me a little of my photographic past every time I use it.