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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Panasonic 25 f1.4 First Thoughts

Many National Trust properties now let you photograph the interior of the house so long as flash isn't used. There's doubtless no end of blurred shots as tourists try to capture photos using cameras or phones not up to the task, but marry a wide aperture f1.4 lens with a modern digital body and you have a tool easily able to cope with this scenario. Moreover, for me, as a bonus natural light always delivers better looking results than flash. For instance when I look back at my photos, in particular the portraits of my children, there's something magical about a wide aperture lens and natural diffused light.

In the past I have used a Canon 5D2 combined with the Canon 50mm f1.4 as my tool of choice, but I'm looking towards reducing the weight of my gear, particularly when out with my family. I have a Panasonic GH2 which performs admirably in this role, but my zooms have small maximum apertures. I've therefore decided to evaluate the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 (50mm equivalent) as a possible replacement. These are some of my initial thoughts and findings. I should stress this is NOT a technical review as other formal testing sites will do a much better job than me, and it's not a description of the lens, that's available even more widely. Quite frankly I prefer to be taking photos, so this is merely me sharing my early thoughts and opinions.

Ixworth House, Panasonic 25mm f1.4 @f6.3 1/250 on GH2 ISO 160

I initially struggled to get a Panasonic 25 f1.4, it seemed all the UK dealers were awaiting stock, apart from Amazon who were more expensive. Then, just by chance, I happened to check Jessops again via my phone whilst on a visit to Melford Hall. This time they showed stock and were also one of the cheapest. I immediately reserved the lens for store pick up, which was a good move as they were out of stock again 2 hours later. I always find Jessops pricing rather strange, as they either seem to be the cheapest (with reserve and collect), or more often one of the most expensive photo retailers. The lens has since arrived and I've grabbed a chance to take a few shots at nearby Ickworth House, so here are my first thoughts.

An important difference to be aware of between this lens and the Canon 50mm, is that the depth of field is greater since the lens actually has a focal length of 25mm. This is because micro four thirds uses a focal length multiplier of x2 to get the equivalent field of view of full frame. One way to decrease the depth of field is to get closer to the subject and move the focal point nearer. For the candelabra shot below left, both the barrier and the fact I wanted to include a lot of the room stopped me from getting in close. Whilst this shot does show the effect of using a wide aperture, it's not as extreme as the photo of the playing cards on the right. For that photo I was able to get close into the table with only the King of Spades in focus, the rest tailing off into a smooth bokeh.

Panasonic 25mm f1.4 @f1.8 1/60 on GH2 ISO 160

The above picture is the arched ceiling of the Pompeian Room, the windows are painted on, though there is a dome above feeding light downwards. The camera and lens combination performed well revealing sharp detail in the decoration, in fact I ended up having to clone out some of the cracks.

I found the weight of the GH2 and Pany 25mm was a delight to use. Whilst the 5d2 isn't as heavy as the professional 1D series, the combined weight of the 5D2 body and the Canon 50 f1.4 is over twice as heavy (at 1375g) as the GH2 and Pany 25 f1.4 (at 644g). In particular, if you are out with the family and don't want your camera gear taking the front seat, this is a great unobtrusive combination.

The lens focusing is driven via a micro-motor, whereas in comparison the Canon 50mm uses a Micro USM (Ultrasonic Motor). The AF didn't leave me wanting despite being use to Ring USM on the majority of my Canon lenses, plus the lens doesn't extend at all, unlike the Canon which has a very small amount of extension.

There have been many comments on the Pany 25 f1.4 chattering when used on an Olympus body. When I moved outside to take photos in bright light I did hear some clicking noises. These seemed to occur when the lens was pointed at a bright light after previously being pointed at a lower light scene. It doesn't sound like a machine gun though, as has been reported by some Olympus users. I've investigated further and a few other Pany uses have noted the noise, but it doesn't seem to be anyway near as extreme as that experienced by the Olympus users.

The micro four thirds bodies use contrast-detection autofocus as opposed to phase-detection autofocus used by most other types SLRs. Normally the lens aperture is opened up to the maximum available, as this maximises the amount of light hitting the imaging sensor for detection of contrast. However, this lens has a maximum aperture of f1.4 which is far above that of most micro four thirds zoom lenses, and the net result is that in bright light too much light can reach the sensor. The saturated sensor cannot pick out the required contrast, so the body then stops down the lens aperture to reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor. Normally the lens aperture closes down when a photo is taken at less than the maximum value, and any sound made by it closing down is absorbed into the sound of the shutter opening and closing. However, the noise is audible when it is closed down outside of taking a photo, and this is what is making the clicking sound. In fact you hear it when it both opens and closes. I guess time will tell if this is really an issue, but right now I don't see it as one.

This lens is a great all rounder for both in and out of doors, and now I get the benefits of the GH2 usability alongside.


I mentioned previously this isn't a technical review of the lens, but I did initially take a few photos just to check it was in the same ballpark as the Canon 50 1.4 and that I didn't have a bad copy. I thought I'd share a couple of shots at maximum aperture. The 5D2 files were resized down to the same resolution as the GH2, which was set to the same aspect ratio as the 5D2. No other processing was done apart from export to PNG. Both cameras were mounted on a tripod using a Really Right Stuff bracket, mirror lockup on the 5D2, and the shutter triggered via a timer. The first two photos show a 100% view from the top centre of the lens, it's the title text of a book. The second two photos show a 100% view from the centre of the lens, that is part of picture on the book cover. In fact you can see the print lines.

I'm happy the lens is performing in the same league as the Canon 50mm, and one could say better as there is a slightly soft look to the Canon, which it is known for at f1.4. However, the sun did come out during the 50mm shot and such a conclusion shouldn't be born from just a few test images at a single aperture. Some people would also buy the 50mm for just this effect. I did look at other apertures and the Pany 25mm was sufficiently good until diffraction kicked in after f8.

My initial thought is this is going to be a great lens, the only concern being whether I can achieve the minimal depth of field I want for some pictures. I need to get out and take some more pictures.

Click for Canon 50mm f1.4 @ f1.4 on Canon 5D2, centre top 100% crop


Click for Panasonic 25mm f1.4 @ f1.4 on Panasonic GH2, centre top 100% crop


Click for Canon 50mm f1.4 @ f1.4 on Canon 5D2, centre 100% crop


Click for Panasonic 25mm f1.4 @ f1.4 on Panasonic GH2, centre 100% crop

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