Leica DG 12-60mm: Is this the ideal one-stop-shop zoom for micro four-thirds?
As “standard” zooms go, I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the ideal range of focal lengths and aperture range for an APS-C camera such as the new Leica CL. Leica’s offering, the 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario-Elmar-TL is a great lens with superb optical performance. It easily rivals the lens of the Leica X Vario in image quality and everyone agrees that was a stunner. Yet it is stuck with the traditional “kit lens” focal-length range of 28-85mm, standard fare for many years and for many cameras. 28mm is wide, of course, but having 24mm available is so much more convenient and is becoming almost a necessity these days.
Other manufacturers have moved wider and a bit longer, offering typically a 24-90 equivalent (as, indeed, Leica does with the standard zoom for the SL). I’ve come to appreciate that wider opening gambit which is extremely useful in an all-round lens. It reduces the need to keep swapping lenses. I hope that Leica has plans to introduce a wider and, with luck, slightly longer zoom in the future. But other manufacturers haven’t held back.
In the micro four-thirds world things have moved apace, and a 24mm-equivalent (12mm in m4/3 speak) is now commonplace in mid-range zooms. They can also be made faster, as fast as a constant f/2.8 (in the case of the Olympus 12-40 Pro), without being too bulky. However, the larger the sensor, the bulkier the glass as the maximum aperture increases. This can make it too much of a compromise to construct similarly fast APS-C and full-frame zooms. Don't forget, though, that in terms of depth of field, f/3.5 on APS-C (as on the Leica 18-56) is still capable of better subject separation than f/2.8 on m4/3, so we shouldn’t get too obsessive about aperture.
My favourite m4/3 zoom, which ticks all the boxes on my wishlist, is the 12-60mm Leica DG Vario-Elmarit f/2.8-4.0. While it loses out to the Olympus 12-40mm Pro in not having a constant f/2.8, the extra reach (to a full-frame equivalence of 120mm) is more than sufficient compensation. It’s also small and light, no bigger in fact than the Olympus lens which reaches only to 80mm. I’ll trade the slower telephoto aperture for the extra reach any day.
The Twelve Sixty
I’ve owned the Leica DG Twelve Sixty since June and it has become my go-to lens for the system, more or less a permanent fixture on my Panasonic GX8. It is so good, and so versatile, that I have made little use of primes such as the Leica DG 12mm Summilux the the 15mm Summilux, the 25mm Olympus Pro and Leica DG 42.5mm Nocticron. They are all excellent lenses and have their place, but the zoom is just so much convenient. The pleasure of needing to carry just this one jack-of-all-trades lens creates a compelling argument in its favour. I just wish we could have an equivalent 16-80mm f/3.5-5.6 (or faster....) for the Leica TL system.
Robin Wong, writing for the Ming Thein blog, has just published a review of the Panasonic Leica 12-60 which confirms all of my impressions gained over using the lens for nearly six months. Robin, having moved from Olympus Malaysia to Ming’s blog, has a natural affinity for Olympus products. Indeed, he tested the 12-60mm on an OM-D E-M1. But I tend to feel that these Panasonic Leica lenses play best with Panasonic cameras — such as the excellent GX8, the GH5 and the forthcoming G9. The 12-60, with in-built stabilisation, can take full advantage of Panasonic’s Dual IS system which combines the in-lens and in-body stabilisation to achieve up to a five-stop advantage.
There’s also the physical aperture ring which is a feature of all the Leica DG primes except for the 25mm and 60mm. These aperture rings work only with Panasonic cameras, not with Olympus, so that’s a good enough reason to keep them strictly for Panasonic. It’s less important in the case of the 12-60 which doesn’t have an aperture ring.
Ideal mid-range zoom
The Leica DG 12-60mm Vario-Elmarit is my ideal mid-range zoom. It is so versatile at either end that it can be left on the camera more or less permanently. And the image quality is so good that you are not left wondering if you should have brought a bagful of primes. Only if you want to work in very low light or want more subject separation is it really worthwhile toting those primes.
Of course, I’d like a constant f/2.8 aperture, as on the Olympus 12-40 but we have to realise the laws of physics. Proof of that comes with the acclaimed 12-100mm Olympus Pro which offers an even longer reach (equivalent to 200mm at the long end) but has to settle for a constant aperture of f/4.
For now, this Leica DG 24-120mm-equivalent zoom has got to be one of the best all rounders on the market. It ticks all the boxes, light weight, small size, superb optics and the ideal range of focal lengths.
All images by Mike Evans