[TEST SHOOT] Panasonic’s New LEICA DG NOCTICRON 42.5mm F1.2 (GALLERY)

Worth every yen in build and image, but still a tall order for all but the most heavily invested professionals.

Arise Lord Vader!
The new Panasonic LEICA DG NOCTICRON 42.5mm F1.2 is a beauty to behold. Its satin black, metal body has a heft and finish that exudes a quality that one would expect from glass this expensive. It is simple and understated, but has a presence akin to Luke's daddy. The design is undeniably worthy of the Leica name, as is the image quality and performance. We would need to spend an extended period of time with it to be sure, but first impressions count, and -my word- what an impression it made.

GALLERY: Panasonic’s new LEICA DG NOCTICRON 42.5mm F1.2

With the full frame equivalent of around 85mm, this is an ideal portrait lens. At CP+ 2014, Panasonic was kind enough to provide a well lit scene and model to showcase that. While the scene was controlled and we didn't have much time to really get intimate with the lens, the little time we had revealed astounding image quality and sharpness, and wide open, it’s faster than a rat in a sombrero. When the lens testers and benchmarkers, with their grids and charts, put it through its paces, it wouldn't be surprising if it were better across the board than the Leica DG SUMMILUX 25mm F1.4 and famed Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm F1.8.

It's not all praise and glory, however. At that focal length, Olympus already has a pretty impressive lens in the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm F1.8 - at almost a fifth of the price of the Leica. And for just about every real world use that the hobbyist, enthusiast and a good many professionals may have, that is more an adequate. Which prompts the question…

Who is this Lens For?
Pros who need every little bit of available light and want to extract every bit of quality their camera's sensor has to give and/or enthusiasts with money to burn...

While the Micro Four Thirds pro contingent is steadily growing, more often than not professionals and enthusiasts who fit those descriptions are already invested in one of the more established systems. If they do own M4/3 gear it’s often as personal/back up kit. At the new NOCTICRON’s price of around ¥210,000 (~US $2,100), this is more than just another prime lens, it’s a commitment to the M4/3 system. It’s asking buyers to express absolute confidence therein as it goes toe to toe with the behemoths Nikon, Canon and Sony and their extensive professional support networks.

The M4/3 system, with beautiful lenses like the one featured here, certainly has the chops for professional work, but Panasonic’s ability to provide support systems for photographers similar to Nikon’s global professional services remains unknown.

And there’s the Crunch
In Japan at least, there isn't even a Panasonic pro community let alone any official feedback and support structure. Cameras and lenses have woefully short warranties, and if repairs are needed, there is no way to guarantee timely turnaround, nor is there any feedback on the repair process, nor is any system in place to guarantee loaner cameras during repairs. The end result is downtime or investment in backups, which is not always easy on the glamourless pay all but the most established shooters earn.

There is a US pro support center, but it still needs some work before it can compare to yellow and red. However, Panasonic reps at CP+ 2014 assured us that they will have some professional support structure in place for the upcoming GH4 and its successors.

Which leaves the buyer with an interesting dilemma:
Trust them to deliver and take the plunge, hold off for some sort of support framework to be put in place, or make do with cheaper alternatives and overcome the shortcomings with photographic skills.

All that being said, it’s important to appreciate that Panasonic has a pretty impressive track record for doing what they set out to do. In the short time since they released their first M4/3 camera, they have developed more innovative products, made more technological leaps and democratized hybrid photography more effectively than any other camera brand on the market.

We’ll see if they can keep it up. In the meantime, appreciate the power of the Dark Side:

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Editor - April 14, 2014

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