Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Lens Review
The best mirrorless lens to date? We think so.
When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 blew us away with its performance, both in and out of our testing labs. We're talking about spectacular bokeh and impressively high resolution, with little distortion and chromatic aberration to get in the way. The lens even performs admirably at f/1.2, though if you're after peak sharpness we recommend stopping down to f/2.8 through f/5.6.
Make no mistake, this is an absurdly expensive lens—probably too much lens for most shooters. But if you want the best that Micro Four Thirds has to offer, this is it.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
Micro Four Thirds lenses are generally well-regarded for a smart compromise between performance and size, rather than a pure focus on resolving power. The Nocticron, however, forges its own path, resolving as well as many top-tier full-frame portrait lenses.
At f/1.2 we see an average result of about 1,550 lines across the frame, buoyed by an excellent center performance of about 1,900 lines. That's not as sharp as some similar full-frame primes, though admittedly we haven't yet tested its only true equivalent, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L. Still, it's more than sharp enough for portraiture, where having pin-sharp images isn't always the goal.
While the center steadily improves as you move close down the aperture, it's the drastic improvement in the corner and midway (50% from center) regions that's most notable.
By f/2.8 the average performance is already over 2,000 lines at MTF50, which is remarkable for Micro Four Thirds. The center peaks at around 2,300 lines from f/2.8 to f/4, with the corners hitting 2,200 lines by f/5.6. This is the sweet spot; from f/8 onward diffraction sets in, limiting peak resolution across the frame.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp your images image, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses.
Like most telephoto lenses, the Nocticron would likely have some form of pincushion distortion if it weren't for its aspherical elements. But with them in place, it manages to keep distortion under 0.25% in most of our test shots. The corners are perhaps a little over-corrected, resulting in more complex mustache distortion, but it's negligible at its worst.
Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.
CA is never a huge deal for the Nocticron, but it does pop up in most high-contrast scenes. This is especially true of subjects that cross the focal plane, with visible color fringing at the edges of the in-focus area. The effect is usually exacerbated by particularly wide apertures, so it's no surprise to see it in a f/1.2 lens. But even at its worst, the color fringing is easy enough to correct in the photo editor of your choice, and not severe enough that it should significantly impact sharpness.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most lenses aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce circular bokeh that’s free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
Like most lenses, the Nocticron struggles to produce perfectly round bokeh near the edges of the frame when shooting wide open, but that's just about the only notable fault we could find. Especially at f/1.2, the bokeh is creamy-smooth, with a graceful transition away from the point of focus.
This lens goes above and beyond, however, as Panasonic has developed a new way to produce aspherical lenses without their nasty trademark "onion ring" bokeh effect. It's an issue that's usually most visible when you have points of light in the background, as in the first image above.
In typical onion ringing, you'll see a heavily textured interior; in shots from the Nocticron, this effect is almost entirely eliminated. It's a fantastic result, making this one of the best portrait lenses you can get for any camera. And as you can see in the two samples above, it results in wonderful portraits, especially of pets!
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