Announced in June 2011, the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 was the first Micro Four Thirds lens to deliver an equivalent focal length of 50mm (full-frame) and was the second Leica-branded prime from Panasonic. Today, there are a five different 25mm lenses for the system including the recent Lumix 25mm f/1.7, the “cheap and cheerful” alternative to its elitely-named cousin.
As a follow-up to my full review of the Lumix 25mm f/1.7, I admit that my original plan was to do a three-way comparison between the lens and its two main competitors in the Micro Four Thirds segment, the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 and Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my hands on the M.Zuiko lens in time, so my comparison is limited to the two Panasonic primes. (I do apologise to those who explicitly requested a comparison.) You can however check out our full review of the M.Zuiko 25mm, which we reviewed at the same time as the original OM-D E-M10.
Note: From now on, I’ll refer to the Panasonic Lumix 25mm f/1.7 as the Lumix and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 as the Leica for simplicity’s sake.
The Main Specs
The two primes share the same focal length (25mm on MFT or 50mm on full-frame), angle of view (47°) and filter thread (46mm).
In terms of lens construction, they are nearly identical. They have the same number of aspherical lenses (2) and 1 Ultra High Refractive lens. The only difference is that the Leica has 9 elements in 7 groups while the Lumix has 8 elements in 7 groups. Both have a circular aperture diaphragm with 7 diaphragm blades. The Leica has Nano Surface Coating to reduce flares and ghosting while the Lumix does not.
Though neither lens can be classified as large, the Leica is certainly the larger, heavier and more robust of the two, weighing 200g and measuring 54.5mm in length. It has a chunky rubber focus ring on the barrel and comes with an octagonal lens hood that makes it look larger than it actually is. By contrast, the Lumix only weighs 125g and measures 52mm, and as a result, feels more plasticky and delicate than its older cousin. It comes with an inconspicuous round lens hood.
The aperture range also differs. Spanning f/1.4 to f/16, the Leica lens is faster but lacks the minimum f/22 aperture. The Lumix lens, on the other hand, has a slightly slower maximum aperture of f/1.7 but travels all the way up to f/22.
The Lumix focuses as close as 25cm, just outperforming the Leica whose closest focusing distance is 30cm. Neither lens incorporates built-in optical stabilisation.
Through the lens – Image Quality
It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that both lenses can produce excellent results. Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of how they compare in terms of image quality, let’s take a moment to remember what photography is all about by looking through some real-world images taken with both lenses.
Angle of view
The very first thing I noticed when comparing the two 25mm lenses is that, despite having the same angle of view on paper, their actual angles of view differs ever so slightly. Comparing two shots taken at the same distance and aperture on the same camera body, you’ll notice that the Leica is marginally wider than the Lumix.
For real world shooting, this difference is irrelevant because it is highly unlikely you’d own both lenses, and even if you did, you wouldn’t spend time comparing them as I have for this article!
For my tests, I compared the two lenses by photographing the Commando memorial stone in Penhelig Park (Aberdovey). Interestingly, it was erected not in honour of the Welsh soldiers who fought in the Second World War, but a unique commando troop that consisted of German-speaking refugees from Nazi oppression who were billeted in the town. The undercover efforts of these soldiers greatly contributed to the defeat of Hitler’s Germany.
To test centre sharpness, I placed the memorial in the middle of the frame and used crops of the writing as a point of comparison.
As is only natural considering the price difference, the Leica lens is sharper between f/1.8 and f/8 with the most stark difference occurring at f/4 and f/5.6. However, at their respective fastest apertures – 1.4 on the Leica and 1.7 on the Lumix – they appear to be just as sharp as each another.
After f/11, sharpness gradually gives way to diffraction on both lenses. Though the Leica version only goes up to f/16, it is still quite useable at this aperture. By contrast, the Lumix goes up to f/22 but I would never consider using it because it is quite soft.
Below you can see a series of crops that compare the two lenses at the most important apertures.
Overall, I was very pleased with the centre sharpness from both lenses, especially at the fastest apertures. I noticed that the Leica tends to peak between f/4 and f/5.6 while the Lumix is strongest between f/5.6 and f/8.
I then tested corner sharpness by placing the memorial in the bottom right corner of the frame.
Both lenses perform in a very similar manner across the aperture range, achieving the best performance between f/4 and f/8. The corners are never quite as sharp as the centre but this can only be expected. Once again, sharpness decreases once you hit the slowest apertures.
Below you can see a second series of crops that compare the two lenses at the most important apertures.
Bokeh and Close Focusing
If you compare two images taken at the same distance, I would say that, overall, the Leica’s out of focus rendering is smoother and more controlled. The Lumix can appear more nervous, particularly in places where there is lots of detail or text.
In the example below, I’ve set the lenses to their fastest apertures and cropped the pamphlet in the background to demonstrate the rendering of the bokeh.
They both produce round bokeh balls thanks to the 7 blade circular aperture but the Leica, having a faster maximum aperture, is capable of producing larger balls that are more pleasing to the eye.
That said, the Lumix is able to focus closer than the Leica – 25cm with 0.14x magnification versus 30cm with 0.11x magnification to be precise – which means you can achieve a more attractive blur just by moving in closer to your subject with the Lumix. The example below of the flowers shows the difference 5cm can make to the smoothness of the background blur.
Something curious I noticed almost immediately, and that you may too have noticed looking at these images, was that the two lenses produce a slightly different colour rendition. At first, I thought it might have been the fault of the camera choosing different white balances but after comparing both lenses with the exact same settings, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Leica definitely tends toward a magenta tint. Fortunately, these differences are of little consequence as you can easily tweak the white balance in post-production if you wish.
Flare, Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration
Unfortunately, since it was overcast, the only side-by-side flare example I was able to take is the one of the bench below but I don’t believe it demonstrates just how much both lenses can flare in situations with a strong light source. The most common type of flare you’ll come across is either a purple haze or a series of polygonal shapes. Having a lens hood helps protect the lenses but it isn’t enough to eliminate flare completely.
Although I don’t have a good comparison to show, my personal feeling is that the Leica flares somewhat less than the Lumix, which would make sense as the former has a special Nano Surface Coating for the very purpose of reducing flare and ghosting.
As for vignetting, the Lumix seems to suffers the most of the two. At f/1.7, the frame appears one stop darker than at f/2.8. Vignetting is also produced by the Leica lens, being most visible at f/1.4 and f/1.6 but I don’t find it as pronounced. Both lenses are practically clear of vignetting by f/4.
Chromatic aberration, on the other hand, appears very well-controlled even at the fastest apertures. I struggled to find evidence of it with either lens, if not in very extreme examples such as shooting the branches of a tree into direct sunlight with a wide aperture.
Focusing (Auto and Manual)
The Leica lens, being the older of the two, tends to focus a tad slower than the Lumix and makes an unsettling “rattlesnake” noise when it changes apertures. The noise may initially lead you to believe that the lens is malfunctioning but it is, in fact, a well-documented quirk. The Lumix, on the other hand, is fast and deadly silent on all Micro Four Thirds bodies. Both lenses also perform well in poor light conditions.
I had no trouble manual focusing with either lens despite the “fly by wire” mechanism. Both are well damped, making fine adjustments to focus easy to apply. Since the focus ring is made of plastic on the Lumix and rubber on the Leica, neither is cold to the touch, though the latter does attract some dust. What’s more, both are ribbed, improving the tactile experience of turning the ring.
The Lumix 25mm f/1.7 and Leica 25mm f/1.4 are both valid choices for the Micro Four Thirds photographer who is in the process of building up a collection of primes. As is often the case with these comparisons, whether you choose one or the other really depends on your needs and budget.
In terms of pure optical quality, the prize goes to the Leica but this is logical considering the price difference between the two. Not only is it marginally sharper at all apertures but it also has a slightly more pleasing bokeh and the added bonus of a f/1.4 aperture that performs as well as the Lumix at f/1.7.
However, the Lumix has its own set of surprises up its sleeve. Its focus mechanism is quieter and faster and it has the added benefit of a closer minimum focusing distance. This means that, even though the Leica has a nicer bokeh overall, you can achieve a blurrier background with the Lumix if you focus as close as possible to your subject.
Personally speaking, if I were to start my Micro Four Thirds collection all over again, I would probably chose the Lumix version instead of the Leica. (In fact, the primary reason we picked up the Leica is because we found it at a very good price second hand.) Besides the fact that it is extremely affordable, its performance is enough for my personal photography needs and I love how it hardly adds any weight or bulk to our cameras.
How about you? Which lens would you pick and why?
Choose the Lumix 25mm f/1.7 if …
– you are on a budget
– you need a perfectly silent AF mechanism
Choose the Leica 25mm f/1.4 if …
– you prioritise sharpness above all else
– you need the fastest aperture possible
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