src=" A taste of Leica in the MFT system - A Panasonic-Leica Nocticron DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Review - MirrorLessons - The Best Mirrorless Camera Reviews
Nocticron 42,5mm

Date: 10/06/2014 | By: Mathieu

A taste of Leica in the MFT system – A Panasonic-Leica Nocticron DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Review

E-M1, 1/30, f/ 28/10, ISO 800

A taste of Leica in the MFT system – A Panasonic-Leica Nocticron DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Review

This year Panasonic released two new lenses designed by Leica for the Micro Four Thirds system. One of them cannot go unnoticed. Not only is it larger and heavier than your standard MFT lens, but it is also expensive. Actually, at the time of writing this article, it is the most expensive lens available for both Lumix and Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras (until the next Olympus pro lenses come along).

The question is: does the Leica name add something distinctive to this new Panasonic-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm lens?

Heather, the E-M1 and the Nocticron.
Heather, the E-M1 and the Nocticron.
The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 O.I.S. Main Specs
  • Focal Length: 42,5mm (35mm camera equivalent is 85mm)
  • Lens Construction: 14 Elements in 11 Groups (2 aspherical elements, 1 Extra-low Dispersion element, 1 Ultra High Refractive Index element)
  • Angle of View: 29°
  • Nano Surface Coating
  • Optical Image Stabiliser: Yes (POWER O.I.S.)
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0,5m / 1.64ft
  • Maximum Image Magnification: Approx. 0.1x / 0.2x (35mm camera equivalent)
  • Number of Blades: 7 diaphragm blades / Circular aperture diaphragm
  • Maximum Aperture: f1.2
  • Minimum Aperture: f16
  • Filter Size Diameter: 67mm
  • Dimensions Diameter: 74mm
  • Weight: Approx. 425g / 14.99oz

A true premium and high quality feel

Let’s put things straight from the start: this isn’t an ordinary lens.

Right from the first time you hold it and mount it on the camera, you can appreciate the exceptional build quality. It is probably the best MFT lens if we consider construction alone. The body is entirely made of metal and, yes, it is big and heavy, especially when used with its protruding metal lens hood.

The lens and its metal hood.
The lens and its metal hood.

The lens features an aperture ring at the front that is both nice to turn and achieves a very good balance between smooth and sturdy.

The aperture ring
The aperture ring

Yes, you definitely get a little bit of that ‘Leica’ feeling in terms of build quality.

Unfortunately the aperture ring doesn’t work with Olympus cameras. You can turn it but it won’t affect the aperture, so you have to rely on the normal aperture dial on the body. Of course the aperture ring is fully functional with Lumix cameras. The lens features Power O.I.S. (Panasonic optical internal stabilisation) and also has a quick AF/MF switch on the side.

O.I.S. On/Off switch and AF/MF switch
O.I.S. On/Off switch and AF/MF switch

On the pure optical side, we get 14 elements in 11 groups. There are two aspherical elements that suppress spherical aberration and distortion, an Extra-low Dispersion element that increases contrast and sharpness and an Ultra High Refractive Index element that allows for a uniform look from edge to edge of the frame.

Build by Panasonic, Designed by Leica.
Build by Panasonic, Designed by Leica.

There are nine circular diaphragm blades that should reproduce the kind of smooth and creamy bokeh we love and expect from a f/1.2 lens.

But enough with the official tech specs and quoted sentences – let’s see some images!

Through the lens – Image Quality

E-M1, 1/2000, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/2000, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

The first thing you should do with an f/1.2 prime lens is to shoot at…you guessed it, f/1.2! Why? Because this fast aperture is probably the main reason why you wanted the lens in the first place. It should be mentioned that this is the fastest aperture lens for the Micro Four Thirds System in the AF lens category to date.

E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

Yes I know, I’m showing another cat series to test a lens. I beg your pardon but these were the first set of pictures I took the first day I got the Nocticron, and I was immediately bowled over by the quality. We can see right from the beginning the very smooth and gradual transition between the focus point and the blurred background. The very soft tonal transition is also another a positive sign of this lens’ capabilities.

E-M1, 1/800, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/800, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

Another interesting aspect is how this lens is sharp at its fastest aperture. Look at the crop example below and judge for yourself. Both the definition and detail in the cat’s eye are impressive.

E-M1, 1/800, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/800, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

Below you can see other pictures taken with this lens at its fastest aperture including some portraits Heather and I took of each other. It would have been nice to have an actual model around to test a lens like this, but that’s the way life goes. :)

E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 12/10, ISO 400
E-M1, 1/1000, f/ 1.2, ISO 400
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 12/10, ISO 3200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 1.2, ISO 3200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/125, f/ 14/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/125, f/ 1.4, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 12/10, ISO 800
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 1.2, ISO 800
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 12/10, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 1.2, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/25, f/ 12/10, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/25, f/ 1.2, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/125, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/125, f/ 1.2, ISO 200

The f/1.2 aperture definitely seems to be the lens’ main strength.

There is very little vignetting at f/1.2 or traces of chromatic aberration. Moreover, a fast aperture like this can give interesting results regarding shallow depth of field, even though the subject isn’t very close to the lens. The capacity of a lens to detach the subject from the background is another characteristic that I like to put to the test. Of course you’ll see a more impressive result with an equivalent focal length on a full frame sensor but if I skip the obvious, I can say that this lens offers interesting capabilities for a smaller sensor like MFT.

E-M1, 1/125, f/ 14/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/125, f/ 1.4, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 1.2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 12/10, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 1.2, ISO 640
E-M1, 1/80, f/ 12/10, ISO 800
E-M1, 1/80, f/ 1.2, ISO 800

When you start to stop down, sharpness becomes even very impressive.

E-M1, 1/160, f/ 2/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/160, f/ 2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 2/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 2, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/20, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/20, f/ 2.8, ISO 200

When used at its smallest apertures the Nocticron is capable of producing excellent sharpness at the centre and in the corners. I didn’t try it at every aperture as I feel that having sharp edges at f/1.2 or f/2 matters less.

E-M1, 1/200, f/ 63/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 6.3, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 10/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 10, ISO 200

Comparison with the M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8

The 42.5mm focal length naturally puts the Nocticron in the portrait lens category. In this sector, one of the only real rivals is the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, a lens that costs 5 times less and is known to be the best “value for money” available for the MFT system. There is also the Voigtlaender Nokton 42,5mm f/0.95 but unfortunately I don’t own it. So, what happened when I compared the Nocticron with the 45mm?

E-M1, 1/80, f/ 28/10, ISO 800
The Nocticron 42,5mm vs the M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8

Note that I didn’t perform a scientific comparison. I simply shot the same subject with the two lenses to see if there was a serious difference in a real world situation.

E-M1, 1/100, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – Nocticron 42,5mm

In the two examples above, the first thing to notice is the difference in colour rendering. The Nocticron seems to render warmer colours and produce less magenta in the skin tones. But please keep in mind that the sunlight on that day was often changing and that might have altered the results a little.

Regarding sharpness, the Nocticron wins hands down at f/1.8.

E-M1, 1/100, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 1.8 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 1.8 – Nocticron 42,5mm

If I compare both lenses at their fastest apertures (f/1.2 on the Nocticron and f/1.8 on the M.Zuiko), the Nocticron has a 1 stop advantage and still beats the 45mm regarding sharpness but the difference is less noticeable.

E-M1, 1/400, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 1.2, ISO 200 – Nocticron 42,5mm
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 1.8 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 12/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 1.2 – Nocticron 42,5mm

When we compare both at f/2.8, the difference regarding sharpness is less pronounced.

E-M1, 1/50, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/50, f/ 2.8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 2.8, ISO 200 – Nocticron 42,5mm
E-M1, 1/50, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 2.8 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 28/10, ISO 200
100% Crop, f/ 2.8 – Nocticron 42,5mm

Below are another couple of examples taken at f/1.8.

E-M1, 1/500, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/500, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – Nocticron 42,5mm
E-M1, 1/2500, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/2500, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – M.Zuiko 45mm
E-M1, 1/1600, f/ 18/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/1600, f/ 1.8, ISO 200 – Nocticron 42,5mm

The bokeh rendering of the Nocticron appears more creamy and delicate to me but the difference isn’t that huge. I can certainly say that the lenses appear to give similar results and that the differences are subtle. Regarding AF performance, the 45mm performs better on the E-M1 especially regarding accuracy. In the picture where Heather is standing under the porticos (not the close up), more than one shot ended up out of focus with the Nocticron, but only in that specific example.

So, is the Nocticron better than the M.Zuiko 45mm and which one would I recommend?

Yes, the Nocticron is better, but that doesn’t surprise me because of the design and price difference. Your choice will also depend on how you intend to use the lens. For me, the Nocticron 42.5mm is both a very specific and professional lens. If you are shooting portraits for a living with MFT, this is definitely the lens to consider. If you are an enthusiast, go with the 45mm because, in the end, you probably don’t care about these small differences. You will also have the advantage of a more compactly-built lens and less weight. It is as simple as that.

Performance and other uses

The Nocticron is indeed a portrait lens at heart but it also performs very well when it comes to autofocus and optical stabilisation. During my Fuji X-T1 AF test, Heather tested the Nocticron lens capabilities with the OM-D E-M1 in a sporting environment. Overall the results were very good, though the focal length was somewhat limiting in many situations. This said, the fact that the lens performed well is proof that it can be more versatile than one might think.

E-M1, 1/8000, f/ 14/10, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/8000, f/ 1.4, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 16/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/60, f/ 16, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/50, f/ 14/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/50, f/ 14, ISO 200

The lens passed the AF test on the OM-D E-M1 even with AF-C and tracking. We didn’t perform a comparison test with a GH4 or GH3 but since I noticed that the 45mm was more accurate on the E-M1, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opposite were true on a Lumix body with the Nocticron. The important thing is that the 42.5mm works fine on both brands of camera, with the only real limit being that you can’t use the aperture ring on Olympus bodies. Regarding O.I.S., I did a quick home-made test with the Lumix GH3 and the lens seems very capable on this front as well.

DMC-GH3, 1/6, f/ 12/10, ISO 500
DMC-GH3, 1/6, f/ 1.2, ISO 500
DMC-GH3, 1/5, f/ 12/10, ISO 320
DMC-GH3, 1/5, f/ 1.2, ISO 320
DMC-GH3, 1/5, f/ 12/10, ISO 320
DMC-GH3, 1/5, f/ 1.2, ISO 320

I also got the chance to test the lens briefly for video on my GH3 but for an assignment I cannot share publicly. The lens behaved as you would expected on a Lumix body and is certainly very interesting for situations where portraits are necessary such as interviews, close ups or other details.

Conclusion: A lens for professionals

Concluding this review is actually very easy for me. The Panasonic-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 is a very high-level lens that portrait photographers and videographers can certainly appreciate. The build is wonderful, the image quality is wonderful. I have not had enough experience with Leica lenses to state whether this Nocticron is in the same ballpark, but it does have true character, something I’ve seen rarely in other MFT lenses. Is it worth paying the high price? For me, the answer is simple but I will repeat myself.

The lens is worth considering if you are a professional portrait photographer who shoots with MFT cameras or a professional filmmaker who uses Lumix bodies for video. Otherwise, a cheaper alternative such as the 45mm will suit you better.

You can also find the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 on B&H Photo and Adorama.

Enjoyed this article? If so, you may also like:

Which is the best Micro Four Thirds camera for 2013?

The best Micro Four Thirds lenses for your Olympus or Panasonic

Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 Review: The best portrait lens for Micro Four Thirds

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mathieu

    It is a great lens indeed! 😉

  • Cuba Photo a Day

    My all time favourite lens, so far!

  • relinquis .

    finally, a proper lens on micro four thirds. now a wide version please. thanks!

  • Mathieu

    I prefer the locking bayonet mechanism too. I guess they decided for the metal hood to give the lens an overall “premium feel”. Sometimes the little screw knob on the sides stop tighten properly which means you cannot secure the attachment anymore (didn’t happen on this lens but I’ve see some similar solution failing in the past).

  • Chris

    A minor draw back, and annoying at that price point, is the ‘metal’ hood, which transmits the slightest bump to the lens and body via walking past door frames or when putting the camera down. Real pro hoods should be made of a resilient plastic (Oly sat the light, except for the 75mm). The connection to the lens should be a locking bayonnet like the 14-40mm f/2.8 Oly.

    As such this hood will ooze glue when left on, or exposed to a warm environment. I initially solve the shock effect with a silicone ring around the edge. Panasonic still has not resolved the glue issue.

    Solution?- got a Matin 67mm plastic shade (with bayonnet mount screw in adapter) and a Pyrex 1 cup poly lid. (In the US, red of course, so I hopefully will not be shot!)

  • Mathieu

    Great pictures in your article Gonzalo, thanks for sharing 😉

  • Gonzalo Broto

    It took me a few months (besides, I already had the Olympus M Zuiko 45), but in the end I could not resist and I ended up buying it when my usual store had a good promotion on it.

    I understand the high price difference with the aforementioned Olympus will make it unnecessary and redundant to many people, but as someone who has shot with both extensively (close to 2 years with the Olympus, more than 2 months with the Nocticron), I can say that the differences are more than subtle. Not only sharper and faster, but the rendering is more vibrant and the level of subject isolation at medium distances is just in a league of its own.

    Ultimately, it depends on priorities, and for many it is just overkill, but I’m enjoying every minute shooting with it. You can read my full impressions and see plenty of images I captured in the streets of Bangkok in my blog:

  • Mathieu

    I agree the 75mm is sometimes too long. The 42,5mm (85mm equivalent) is a perfect portrait focal length.

  • Kyndel

    Got it today – I think I will love it.

    It IS really sharp already f. 1.2, and it is amazingly sharp at f. 2.8, and fine bokeh.

    Got tiny CA in some pictures at f. 1.2, but nothing that worries me, it was so small.

    Roughly – but I need to shot with it a few days more to say more – it looks is as good as the Oly 75, as I also own, but this lens is a bit to long, this here is much better, and will be put into use much more.

  • william

    It looks great and very sharp but the Fujifilm 56mm just wows me more and renders more like a FF 84mm…

  • Grant

    jorjitop, by your flawed logic, nobody would spend any money on Leica M or Canon L glass, because they all need a Phase One sensor to justify any lens purchases. We would all be using kit zoom lenses on our ‘compromised’ FF and m43 bodies.

  • Robert


    OK, so here’s the considered opinion of a part-time working pro right here…

    Some of the advantages you list are all legitimate: e.g. yes, more DOF at wider apertures (for the situations where that is preferable — sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t).

    I have an OM-D E-M1. In terms of handling and ergonomics, it’s the most brilliant camera I’ve ever used. It’s operationally fast in most scenarios. And several of their lenses are superb. I’m a huge Olympus fan.

    Here’s the problem: the smaller micro four thirds sensor — while having admittedly come a long way in the past couple of years — IS compromised to some degree when compared to bigger sensors. It isn’t opinion. It isn’t politics. It’s physics.

    At lower ISOs in reasonable to good light, the differences are generally harder to spot (though there is more noise, aka grain, present even in these situations if you look carefully).

    Where m4/3 starts to rapidly fall behind is when you get to ISO 1600+, particularly in low light environments. Fuji’s X-Trans sensor pulls ahead by about 2 full stops in these situations, ditto for Nikon’s D3s/D4/Df cameras. (I know, since I have both a D3s and an X-Pro 1.)

    When you’re shooting professionally, at the end of the day clients only care about IQ, not about how “convenient” it is for me to get the shot.

    I’ve seen some outstanding work produced by m4/3 cameras. But I’ve also seen a disproportionate number of blotchy, muddy, washed-out, flat looking images taken with this format … particularly as the light gets dodgy. In particular, tonal gradations fall off with m4/3 sensors much faster than they do with APS-C, and full-frame cameras.

    Also, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of m/4/3 shooters who post their images online, don’t post them at full size or full resolution.

    No offense, but none of the images in this post convince me that the Noctricron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens is anything special, when compared to say, the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 (a less expensive lens that also benefits from being coupled with a larger sensor) >>

    Having said all of that, I think Olympus/Panasonic are wise to continue with the m4/3 format. Sensor tech will continue to improve, and if we get the “under-development” organic sensor that Panasonic and Fuji are co-developing, that technology promises high ISO equivalent to today’s Nikon Df, along with 24+ megapixels and 14 stops of dynamic range … all in a sensor the size of m4/3.

    At that point the other benefits of today’s m4/3 cameras suddenly become massively advantageous.

  • Shaun King

    Hey jorjitop – I’m sad to read that you think that the MFT system has compromised sensors. When have your clients ever asked you about your high ISO noise levels, or your sensor aspect ratio, or your megapixel count? When have your clients ever requested that you photograph them exclusively with a Full Frame sensor? And I’m sorry to read that you think that a lens like this is “silly investment.” Why is it smarter to buy a Canon 85mm f/1.2 ii for $2,200 when I can buy the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 for $1600 and spend the remaining $600 on speedlites, Alien Bees, light diffusers, or LED lights, etc? (I own both lenses and prefer the Leica).
    If MFT is a “compromised sensor” what is the perfect sensor? I let my client’s needs dictate which camera I use so I often don’t need to use my 5D Mark iii and I use my OM-D E-M1 instead. My 5D Mark iii is a compromised sensor because it (1) produces too shallow a depth of field relative to it’s aperture, (2) vignettes badly as a full frame camera, (3) has a slower fps rate than my OM-D E-M1 and my Lumix GH4, has softer video quality sharpness at 1080p compared to my GH4. I could continue,…but the point is – you don’t know what you’re talking about when you’re talking about “investment” and “compromised” because you’re not talking like a working professional photographer, you’re just talking like a photo-nerd who likes spec sheets filled with nerd data about sensors, ISO, etc.

  • Mahesh

    Well-written and absolutely correct conclusion. 42.5 is super-sharp and has buttery bokeh, but even then the difference in the weight and bulk was too much for me. I returned 42.5 in the end. This just shows how well Olympus developed 45 mm years ago.

  • Mathieu

    Well I guess it depends on the system and the gear a photographer already owns. But I understand your point and this Nocticron might find itself a small niche inside the MFT system any way.

  • Azmi

    Hi Mathieu..i enjoyed your comparison, as it gives me an insight to the beautifull rendering of the Lieca.. i have the tiny 45mm and its a cracking portrait lens… but i may have to sell the ‘Rolls Royce’ to get this new!.. thank you once again for your fine work.

  • jorjitop

    The lens is clearly superior to the Zuiko. But, it seems ridiculous to spend this money for a lens on a compromised sensor like the MFT. It is like putting a Campagnolo derailleur on some cheap bike. It will work and feel better, but it is a silly investment.

    Better off to spend money on a better systerm.

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