Thinking about the The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7

Contemporary computer-aided lens design has done wonders for zoom lenses since I first tried some out in my Leica rangefinder days on the lovely but lonely Nikon F3 I kept for the times I needed to rent focal lengths outside my core set of Leica M-System prime lenses.

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Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 zoom lens on Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 Micro Four Thirds camera. Photograph by Joshua Waller of ePHOTOzine.
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The 3-zoom lens kit has long been a staple of photojournalists and especially newspaper photographers for some years. Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lenses.

By the time a backpack containing the standard newspaper photographer’s zoom lens trio was handed to me when I signed up to shoot freelance for one of the large publishers, zoom lenses were considerably improved although I am ashamed to admit that I continued to mostly rely on my own 35mm and 120 roll film rangefinder cameras and 4”x5” view cameras with which I had shaped my way of seeing and photographing over so many years before.

Now that I am no longer answerable to employers and do not have to take on up to three to five editorial portrait assignments per day, delivering stylistically and technically predictable results day in, day out, I can try out other ways and means and develop in new directions.

That includes zoom lenses after relying solely on sets of matched primes for so long.

The first two Micro Four Thirds lenses that I tried out…

The very first lens I tried when considering buying into the Micro Four Thirds camera system was a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 Aspheric Power OIS and the second was an Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro.

I chose the Olympus for several reasons including its brilliant manual clutch focus mechanism, weather-resistant all-metal construction, handy L-Fn button on the camera-left side of the barrel, great feel and balance on a GH4 or a GX8 as I would discover later, and the clincher was its beautiful optical performance all across its longer focal length range wide open and stopped down.

The lens’ only downside is a small amount of moustache-shaped optical distortion that can easily be corrected via firmware for in-camera JPEgs and raw processing software for raw files, with distortion barely noticeable when shooting video.

I did not know that Panasonic’s then soon-to-come DFD autofocus system would apply only to Panasonic lenses and that firmware updates would not add support for the L-Fn button to all Panasonic cameras, and on balance I remain glad I chose the 12-40mm because my bacon has been saved many times due to its swift and sure manual clutch focusing.

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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 IS Pro, an excellent choice for travel and daily walkabout requiring a longer focal length range than kit and other zoom lenses.

The one thing that might have tipped me towards the 12-35mm is its optical image stabilization, but then Olympus later came out with the OIS-equipped M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 IS Pro, and although it does not activate Dual IS 2 when attached to a GH5, its image stabilization works well enough for my needs.

The difference between an f/2.8 and an f/4.0 maximum aperture is not huge when shooting outdoors in good light and I would always pack a wide maximum aperture prime lens to accompany either zoom.

And then with Panasonic’s pre-photokina 2018 in-development announcement of the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7, the game changed.

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7

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Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 wide angle zoom lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

With the lens currently undergoing development and possibly far from release sometime in 2019, the 10-25mm apparently includes some features I have long been hoping for in a Panasonic zoom lens for photography and video.

Here is what we know so far and what I also want to see in this lens:

  • f/1.7 right across the focal length range.
  • An aperture ring that is clickless for accurate exposure under constantly changing light but I would also like it clicked for stills photography without having to look at the lens.
  • 77mm filter diameter for 77mm neutral density filters or a lightweight brass 77mm-to-82mm step-up ring by Breakthrough Photography for 82mm filters.
  • Prime quality performance at all focal lengths.
  • Leica optical and mechanical quality.
  • Some of my favourite and most-needed focal lengths for documentary stills and video – 10.5mm, 14mm, 17.5mm, 20mm and, less often, 25mm. In 35mm sensor terms that equates to 21mm, 28mm, 35mm, 40mm and, less often, 50mm.
  • Alas, no optical image stabilization so when stabilization is a necessity it will need to be used with IBIS camera bodies.
  • Hopefully, improved depth-from-defocus aka DFD in all G, GX and GH cameras’ firmware, DFD being Panasonic’s alternative to the more common PDAF aka phase detection autofocus.

I very much hope that the Panasonic Leica 10-25mm f/1.7 will feature manual clutch focus to support easy focus pulling for video and fast, accurate snapping into sharp focus for photography.

I wonder if a longer companion zoom lens might be in the offing after the release of the 10-25mm?

If so, I would love to see an equally great zoom lens include at least 25mm, 37.5mm, 42.5mm, 45mm and 52.5mm, which in 35mm sensor terms equates to 50mm, 75mm, 85mm, 90mm and 105mm.

A zoom lens pair that goes all the way from 10mm through to 52.5mm, in 35mm equivalent terms 20mm through to 105mm, would fill almost my documentary moviemaking and photography needs.

While I do use longer focal lengths than 105mm in 35mm from time to time, the vast majority of my work is done between 21mm and 85mm with the occasional jump to 100mm or thereabouts.

Leica showed the way with a full set of well-spaced focal lengths…

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Leica worked out the best prime lens focal length line-up for documentary photography and photojournalism in 35mm years ago and it remains the benchmark and role model for other lens makers to this very day. The only focal length missing from this lens collection is 40mm, which Leica made for the Leica CL rangefinder camera which was later taken over by Minolta as the Minolta CLE with 40mm standard lens as well as a 28mm and 90mm lens. Too many contemporary lens makers leave out 28mm and 75mm lenses and their equivalents for other sensor formats. Why? Both these focal lengths are the most essential for documentary photography and photojournalism.

Although I remain dedicated to the idea of having a well-spaced set of pro-quality fast matched prime lenses with manual clutch focus, the reality is that the makers of both M43 systems that I rely on these days, Fujifilm and Panasonic for cameras and Olympus for lenses, may take years to assemble such a lens collection, if ever.

Far better to offer us top-quality zoom lenses that can do almost everything, such as the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7, so we can get to work without having to pine for prime lenses that may be far off on the horizon or zoom lenses that cover far more focal lengths than we actually need at the cost of undue expense and weight.

I look forward to learning more about Panasonic’s Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 as its development progresses and hope it really will be the zoom lens I was hoping for when I first got into the Micro Four Thirds system for moviemaking and photography.

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 would, of course, be a terrific lens for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K provided you have a gimbal handy for those times when stabilization is a must.

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RYMovieMachine: Shooting with the Panasonic GH5

“On location in Perth, Australia testing out the Panasonic GH5. This entire report was filmed using 2 GH5 cameras. The Panasonic GH5 has earned a reputation of being a serious filming tool for those who need to be portable without compromise on quality….”

Lenses for GH5 recommended by Rick Young

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