Panasonic Lumix and my personal ideal lens choice
Over the past couple of years I’ve grown to love the micro four-thirds system for its compactness, superb range of lenses, fast autofocus and class-leading optical stabilisation. Yet approaching the system for the first time can be confusing. There is indeed a wide choice of equipment, not least in bodies from either Panasonic or Olympus. But after experimenting with both marques I’ve homed in on Panasonic cameras and their complementary range of Leica-designed DG lenses. Here's why....
I have absolutely nothing against Olympus and it is easy to argue that the little PEN-F and the new, lightning-fast OM-D E-M1 Mark II bodies are both class leaders. Neither will disappoint. And the range of Olympus Pro lenses is superb for most purposes. With my love of Leica, though, I find myself more comfortable with the Lumix bodies, in particular with the simpler menu and control system which contrasts with the complex and peculiar approach of Olympus.
I stress, though, that this is a personal view and I know that Olympus owners are just as enthusiastic and soon get used to the operation and layout of their cameras. Leica owners will definitely feel more at home with Panasonic and will find the menu system much more familiar. If, on the other hand, you don't have the Leica bug and can live with the menus, then by all means go for Olympus.
The Panasonic Lumix GX8, with its rangefinder styling and 20MP sensor, is currently my pick of the bunch. I'm not a videographer or I could be tempted to the bulkier GH5, but for my style of photography the GX8 is familiar territory and has superb ergonomics. I am also trying out the smaller GX80/85 body which offers improved in-body stabilisation and lower weight but retains the older 16MP sensor of previous Panasonic m4/3 cameras.
The GX80 loses some of the GX8 features such as weather sealing, fully articulating screen, tilting viewfinder, dedicated exposure control and the all-metal construction. It does have one party trick to itself, though: There is no anti-aliasing filter so that should be good for added sharpness. Despite its plastic body, the GX80 feels more solid that it ought to; the built quality, while a step down from the GX8, is very impressive. So far, I like it very much and I will be doing a full review soon.
If you are going with Panasonic Lumix as the basis of your micro four-thirds system then it pays to concentrate on Lumix or Leica DG lenses. Olympus lenses work, of course, but I feel that the Lumix optics are more in tune with the bodies and make a better team. The Leica DG Lumix lenses, in particular, work much better on Panasonic bodies than on Olympus. In many cases they can take advantage of Panasonic's Dual IS system which combines in-camera and in-lens stabilisation to maximum effect. Focus is faster, I feel, and the dedicated aperture ring is a big plus. The Leica DG brand represents Panasonic's "pro lens" lineup similar to the Olympus Pro lenses which are also sold at a premium.
The aperture ring is the one overriding reason why I choose the Leica DG lenses over their cheaper but still very competent Lumix brethren. This ring is standard on all the later primes, including the 12mm f/1.4 Summilux, the 15mm f/1.7 Summilux and the 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron (but not on the earlier-designed 25mm f/1.4 or on the zooms). This ring provides the same sort of direct aperture control we are used to with our Leica M lenses and I much prefer it to choosing the aperture by control dial. It provides full information at a glance and it is easy to pre-select the aperture (with 1/3 clock stops) before squinting into the viewfinder. It’s just all round more convenient.
Love of these lenses confirms my preference for Panasonic bodies because the aperture ring works only on Panasonic. If you mount these primes on an Olympus body the ring is a useless ornament and you have to resort to selecting the aperture with the control dial while looking at the screen or through the viewfinder. You may think it isn’t a big deal, but after a time that enticing but useless aperture ring makes you wish you were using Panasonic instead of Olympus. Equally, if you own Olympus bodies, it's better to stick with the Olympus Pro lenses which have that useful auto/manual focus clutch at the front of the lens where you'd expect to find the aperture ring. In terms of optical performance I don't see much difference between Olympus Pro and Leica DG.
In my opinion, however, if you are a Leica owner moving into m4/3 as a second system, go with Panasonic and choose one or more of the Leica DG lenses. This combination will tick all your boxes.
The ideal zoom
If you could choose just one lens to go with either the GX8 or GX80, and if you like the Leica DG ergonomics and optical performance, then look no further than the new 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario Elmarit zoom. It has become the lens I use most of the time when working with m4/3.
Apart from the superb optics, this lens gives a near-ideal standard focal length range of 24-120mm in full-frame equivalence. This covers most situations that I find myself in. It is truly a zoom that can replace a bagful of primes. It leaves you feeling not at all short changed, wishing that you'd packed those primes in the bag. The Vario Elmarit is light (only 320g) and small (smaller in fact than the Olympus 12-40mm Pro which extends to only 80mm compared with the Leica's 120mm). When used on the GX8 it creates a weather-proof combination and utilises Panasonic’s dual-stabilisation function which combines the in-camera with in-lens systems. (Note that the 12-60mm doesn’t feature the aperture ring as found on the prime Leica DG lenses).
The ideal second lens, a prime
There are times, though, when you need something a little smaller and more discreet, perhaps for those evenings out when on vacation. My choice out of all the Leica DG lenses is the compact 15mm f/1.7 Summilux. It features the delightful physical aperture ring and is a great performer, especially in low-light conditions. It is also unique in its focal length of 15mm which equates to 30mm on full-frame.
For those of us who like both 28mm and 35mm, perhaps this is the perfect compromise. Again, as with the 12-60mm Vario Elmarit, this is my most-used lens for m4/3. As a travel package, these two lenses combined with either the GX80 or GX8 take some beating.
What is ideal for one photographer is not ideal for the other, so take my recommendations with that caveat. If, however, you are a Leica M owner and are looking for a lightweight system camera that will be familiar and will give you the feeling you have a mini SL in your hands, then choose Panasonic and the Leica DG system lenses over Olympus. I'm pretty sure you will be delighted.