*A Pana-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 review – I never should have doubted you.

Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH OIS Lens Panasonic

Now, readers may remember a mere 6 months or so ago, I purchased the Voigtländer 42.5mm f/0.95 lens (see that review on a new page HERE) for my micro 4/3 system setup.  I’ve loved that lens, but since its announcement I’ve been curious about the Leica branded Nocticron, largely because I do really enjoy shooting two of the other Leica branded lenses for the system in the Summicron 15mm and 25mm models.  The asking price for this portrait lens was always high for my taste, which was why I opted for the Voigt to begin with (which isn’t cheap in its own right, but 2/3 the retail price of the Nocti).  Well, as luck would have it, an open box/like new Nocticron came up for sale at near the same price as the Voigtländer and my curiosity couldn’t be held back, and now I’m tasked with figuring out which one to hold onto.

Here are my initial impressions on this beautiful lens.

Leica Nocticron in hand

The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens is an 85mm equivalent, optically stabilized, portrait optic for Panasonic and Olympus micro 4/3 cameras.  It has 14 beautifully designed lens elements in 11 groups with two aspherical elements, one extra-low dispersion element, one ultra high refractive index element, 9 aperture blades and a whole lot of panache.  

Currently on sale for $200 off at Adorama HERE and B&H HERE

With this first look, I’m just getting a feel for this lens.  I will put it through the gauntlet, and shoot it along with the Voigt and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens to see just how each performs against each other as we have three (four including the new Lumix 42.5/1.7 or even 5 if looking to the PL45mm f/2.8 macro) portrait primes, all offering a different upside in a native, m4/3 mount.  The three I own all sit at different price points, and I’m interested to see if the extra cost involved with the Voigt or Nocti are truly justified over the budget friendly, and quality performer in the Oly 45mm.


 

Leica Nocticron on GX7

Build Quality/Ergonomics/Features

Okay, the first thing one will notice when pulling this lens out of the box is how large it is by system standards.  It’s heavier and slightly bulkier than the Oly 75mm f/1.8 in the hand.  The Leica Nocticron could certainly be seen as pushing the limits to the system’s benefit of size reduction.  That said, it is nicely balanced, all said and done on the front of my GX7, and we all know that speed comes at the cost of size reduction.  Similar in dimension to the Oly 75, it creates a much more DSLR-like mass in hand, compared to the pancakes, or smaller optics that speckle the micro 4/3 lens landscape.  Certainly a bullet point for the “anti size at all cost” crowd’s argument, I’ve grown to see these tools as rather being able to be smaller, not necessarily needing to be as small as possible, and I’m okay with that, especially when you start to see shots from this Leica lens, along with “larger” lenses like the Oly 75 or Oly Pro 2.8 zooms. 

Olympus 75 and Leica 42.5 Nocticron

 

Olympus 75mm f/1.8  —   Leica 42.5mm f/1.2

Like the Pana-Leica 15mm Summilux before it, the Nocticron incorporates a physical aperture ring with 1/3 click stops.  Unfortunately, it does not work as designed when used on an Olympus body, but I don’t see why there couldn’t be firmware updates to remedy this.  The other potential downside is that it does not enable a clickless operation akin to the Voigtländer, handy for video, which Panasonic tends to see as one of its strong points as a player in this system.

Leica Nocticron with hood

With the included lens hood fastened, the overall package starts to get a bit bulky.  Still, great to see a high end lens (and price point) outfitted with the proper tools.  Say what you will about metal vs. plastic hoods, the included metal hood for this lens is a solid piece, and one that when fastened provides the peace of mind that your lens is well protected from not only contrast robbing flare, but bumps and the errant, greasy finger tip as well.

The Nocticron is built like a small but agile tank, and incorporates Panasonic’s Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) which as seen below in the first test, shooting a “dynamic” subject, it did well for me by providing 3 stops of “hand holdability” which isn’t groundbreaking, but at 1/10 second, any success with hand holding should be applauded, regardless of the lens or camera involved. Using the “1/effective focal length” rule of thumb, I started as close to 85 as I could.  Click the image to see it larger:

OISnocticron

 

Keep in mind, that doing an image stabilization test when shooting a breathing, carbon based subject, the OIS (or IBIS) will not be able to account for the movement of the subject you’re shooting, so in this case, while I feel I have my handholding technique down well enough to keep my movement still enough, at 1/10 second, the handshake correction might not be able to account for my movement on the other end of that focused cone of light rays.  

Now, in this next test, take into consideration that I shot at a constant ISO setting, and adjusted both the aperture and shutter speeds a single stop in opposite directions to maintain proper exposure, and give me my stop by stop increments.  I say this because at the faster shutter speeds, I’m shooting at larger apertures, hence the shallower DOF.  Find the area in focus in this first shot (1/80sec) and this is where the point of focus was for all shots (click to see larger):

Nocticron OIS test 2

I shot the above scene twice through, starting from 1/80th of a second through 0.4 seconds, a 5 full stop swing, and I found that both times through, I got better results at 1/10 and 1/5sec than I did at 1/20sec.  Whether that has something to do with me, with the lens, the camera or just my technique, I do not know, but found it interesting.  

Shooting a static subject, I feel I was able to get closer to 4 stops of image stabilization compensation versus shooting a living, breathing subject where the camera could only account for my handshake, not necessarily stabilizing the movement of the subject it was compensating for, which coincidentally was also me in this scenario.  If your dynamic subject can sit very still, and you’re also capable of doing so, I think you could get 3 usable stops worth of compensation, while complimented by a good shooting technique, you can probably get more than that for static subjects.

So, depending on your subject and technique, I have found that this lens should be capable of providing between 3 and 4 stops of compensation as a best case scenario, and would probably be more realistic to expect 2-3 stops, with the potential to squeeze a stop or two more out under more complimentary conditions.


 

P1210510

 ISO 125 – 1/125 – f/5.6

Image Quality

What is there to say, really.  This is the best lens that I have shot for the micro 4/3 system.  Any lens this fast is going to have a challenging depth of field to work within.  While it exhibits an 85mm equivalent field of view, it still has the same DOF as any other 42.5mm f/1.2 lens would have.  Instead of trying to put it into terms of a portrait focal length, look at it as a standard f/1.2 lens.  This lens, while cropping to a narrower field of view, has roughly the same shallow DOF capabilities as say the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens does, nearly.  

Due to what I can only assume to be some amazing optical engineering, I’ve seen next to no chromatic aberration, even when shot wide open.  In areas of extreme contrast by way of a subject being backlit, there can be a very, very slight shift, but it is as well controlled as I’ve seen on a lens, especially one this fast.

P1210151

 ISO 200 – 1/400 – f/1.2

P1210104 - Version 2

ISO 200 – 1/5000 – f/1.2

Bokeh? Well, while it does tend to produce the more oblong, cat-eye out of focus bokeh balls the further out toward the edges you go, it renders out of focus areas and points of light beautifully, smoothly and easily.

P1210475 P1210475 - Version 2

 ISO 125 – 1/125 – f/2 (using a 3 stop ND filter)

It is sharp wide open, and this is where I’ve shot it most of the time.  I have rarely stopped down past f/2, even when out in bright light, or shooting portraits aided by the use of a 3 stop ND filter, and it has been wonderful.  Of course, as it is stopped down, it gets remarkably sharp, and at about f/4 is at the very least, as sharp as any other lens for this system.  If needing the depth of field, rest assured that you can stop this lens down with remarkable results.  I am so pleased with the sharpness wide open, than seeing shots with the lens stopped down brings with it a certain level of amazement.  The only m4/3 AF lens that I’ve seen that is close is the Olympus 75mm f/1.8, so far.  I will be comparing the Nocti to the Voigtländer 42.5mm f/0.95 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lenses in a portrait shoot out soon, and I’ll try to throw some Oly 75 shots in there too, but regardless of how other lenses stack up, this Leica branded optic is stellar.

P1210531

ISO 200 – 1/3200 – f/1.2 (using a 3 stop ND filter)

1-5sec (2)

ISO 125 – 1/80 – f/1.8

P1210444

ISO 200 – 1/2000 – f/4

1-5sec (4)

ISO 125 – 1/640 – f/1.2


 

Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses

Value

I dismissed this lens upon its release because of its price.  It is very expensive by system standards (by any system standards!), and I’d like to see this lens drop by a couple hundred dollars to make it just slightly more accessible (and justifiable) for those of us who may not be able to use this lens to immediately recoup the investment.  As luck would have it (perhaps I’m not the only one feeling this way) There is a $200 rebate on this lens currently, dropping the price down to $1398 at Adorama HERE and B&H HERE.

I say this not becuase I feel that this lens isn’t worth what it was initially priced at, but because it is a lens that brings out the best of what this system can offer on the image quality front, and for a system needing to scratch and claw its way up the food chain, if more m4/3 shooters have access to this type of quality, the benefits of this system will be better realized.  I’m not saying that Panasonic should give away the farm, but with perception and marketing prowess seemingly against mirrorless systems in general, if more folks could shoot with the best this system has to offer, those perceptions are going to change much more quickly and this lens is as good as I’ve seen for this system, even up there with most any lens I’ve ever shot on any format.  As we see advancement in sensor technology and output for the system, this lens is one that will get better and better I feel.  It’s an investment, no doubt, but an investment that will continue to realize results and benefits moving forward.

I’ve been critical of lens prices for this system in the past, most notably the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens going for $900.  The Oly 75 oozes quality, but I always felt that it should be at least partially price determined, based on design and material where there are quite a few, good quality lenses in the portrait/85mm f/1.8 range (in the DSLR world) that are less than half that price.  If we’re to use my logic here on this Pana-Leica lens, comparing it to a standard (~50mm), f/1.2 lens, the Pana-Leica makes more sense at it’s initial retail price of $1600 going by prices of 50mm f/1.2 lenses, than the 75mm f/1.8 does at $900.  When I compared the Olympus 75mm to the Canon 135mm f/2 L lens (see that comparison article on a new page HERE), I felt that Olympus took the “price it to the equivalent” strategy in that the Oly closely resembles that 135mm mid tele stalwart in quality and price.  If we are to look at the Nocticron this way, continuing to use Canon, their 85mm f/1.2 L II lens goes for around $2k, so by this argument, the Leica Nocticron is a steal.  Regardless, both are expensive, and both are of a very high level of quality and it may sound like I’m slagging the Oly 75mm off here, which to be fair, it has always been a great lens and I love it.  As far as pure value, that is more a personal determination, and I must say that for me, this Nocticron’s got it going on.

 

Leica Nocticron got it goin' on

There are few lenses for this system that I’ve shot that have really made me feel that it could satisfy 99% of my needs in a professional manner.  Granted a single prime lens will not handle all necessary jobs in a professional scenario, but for portraiture, this lens could certainly do it for me.  I’ve purchased, owned, and used many portrait primes over the years, and have never settled on one.  I’ve used 85mm f/1.8, f/1.4 an f/1.2 lenses and while I’ve enjoyed them, none of them are still with me.  For years with the micro 4/3 system I used an adapted Contax G Zeiss 45mm f/2 lens and was happy, until I found the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 on sale.  Then I realized I wanted a faster portrait lens, in came the Voigtländer.  After a few recent shoots with the Voigty, I realized how important AF was for me in certain situations as I realized after the fact that my focus was slightly off on a couple of key shots.  I’d always kept my eyes open for any sales, or used Nocticrons that might come across my path.  When one did at just over what I paid for the Voigtländer, I felt I needed to at least give it a try to see if it could supplant the Voigty in my bag.  

DSC03860

Is it worth the asking price?  The quick answer to that is that it is a personal decision.  Those who want or need this type of lens will probably have no problems justifying it.  For those of us with other areas that our hard earned money goes toward, there are certainly ways to get a good quality portrait lens for less money in the m4/3 system.  But again, if looking at equivalent lenses by way of material, size and speed, yeah, I think the price is justified.  If looking at equivalent tools in terms of crop and aperture, we can debate the light gathering vs DOF, but honestly, if I can shoot wide open at f/1.2 in open shade or low natural light portraits and get an entire eye in focus (compared to needing to stop down on a full frame 85mm f/1.2 for instance), then I see that as a benefit, not a hinderance.  There’s no problem shallowing up your DOF with this lens, and it is remarkably sharp for an f/1.2 lens when shot wide open.  Stop it down to f/2, it’s even sharper and at f/4 it is probably the sharpest lens for this system, hands down.  

DSC03866

What is the price you’d be willing to pay for that type of quality?  For me, it wasn’t $1,600 but now that I’ve shot with it, I don’t know if I would argue quite as strongly with that price now.  Seeing as the price is seeming to adjust a bit, with $100 and now $200 rebates, I think it is coming into balance a little bit, and to me, is easier to justify that pricing considering that it is optically the best lens for the system right now.  For event shooters, and any system shooter that does a lot of work creating people pictures or portraits of any type, while spendy, the quality is undeniable.

Thank you for making it all the way through.  If you’re shopping for this lens, and have made it all the way through this rambling article, hopefully you’ve found some value in my review.  If you do choose to buy, doing so through the following links would kick me back a small commission through Adorama or B&H.  It costs nothing more, but helps folks like me out, so thank you for the consideration.  If not through my links, please find a hardworking photography blogger to support because it helps lend some credence for those of us asking for review units, or income to help provide content like this, so thank you… from all the photo-bloggers out there I guess.

Find the Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Aspherical Power OIS lens, currently on sale for $200 off (currently $1398), at Adorama HERE or B&H Photo HERE.

Find me, and share your thoughts with us via the socials on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or tag #trpblography on Instagram.  Feel free to add your email address at the top right of the page here.  You’ll get email alerts as new articles, sales, tutorials and reviews are released here on the blog.

For more reading (for you photo gear review masochists) here are a few other related articles:

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 vs Canon EF 135mm f/2 L 

Voigtländer Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 Lens Review

Pana-Leica 15mm f/1.7 vs the Pana-cake 14mm and 20mm f/1.7 lenses

Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 Lens Review

Let me know your thoughts, or fire off any questions via the comments below.  I’d be happy to try and answer them.

Thank you all for the read, and happy shooting.

Tyson

23 thoughts on “*A Pana-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 review – I never should have doubted you.

  1. there is a special look in those portraits…I think it creates a charm an old school feel…I won’t be buying that lens anytime soon but you did some amazing stuff with it…love the popsicle image…have a great holiday weekend

    Like

    • Thank you Sven. Yes, it’s a bit of a knock to the bank account, but I hope to hold onto this for years to come. I’ve struggled to find a fast portrait prime that I have really connected with. The Voigty was close, and if I did more with video it would be my go to, but I am finding that AF with such fast, short tell lenses can make a difference for me. Have a great holiday weekend. We’re gonna be hanging out with a couple of sick kids, but at least it keeps them somewhat lethargic, and easier to fire off shots🙂

      Like

  2. Is it really environmentally sealed? You mean weather sealed?

    Just sold mine yesterday after shooting with it for almost a year. Loved the results but price and size are both very hard to justify. Think about Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 for Sony FE system, it’s size and weight are close to Nocticron but even Zeiss is more reasonable with what they ask for Batis. I know that it’s a completely different system and with m43 we are all have no other option but still.

    Bought Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 instead to see if it can fill the gap in my heart after selling Nocticron (I think Panasonic comes with those wild names for lenses to make us feel emotional about them but after all it’s just a 85mm lens :))

    Like

    • I’m sure you didn’t have any problem finding a buyer. I kept my eye out since it was announced. Yes, weather/environmentally sealed although I don’t know if Panasonic has come out and said weather sealed. I’ve just read about the gaskets and sealing on the lens which for a little dust, moisture, humidity and probably a small amount of water, would be adequate.

      I’m curious to see and read more about the pana 42.5/1.7 as I’m sure it will be a winner.

      Thanks,

      Tyson

      Like

  3. Like you, I originally dismissed it due to price but the results really speak for themselves. Every shot there has a fantastic look all of its own. Really nice work Tyson, it is a fantastic example of what the lens was designed to do and damn they look pro, like you said, it is definitely another push towards showing what the system has up its sleeve. Cheers bud, great read

    Like

  4. Love the Popsicle image…
    I too, kacked at the $1600 price tag and stayed away from the lens as I had the Oly 45mm f/1.8 and the Panny/Leica 45mm macro…but recently, through a little arm-bending I was able to acquire a new Nocticron from Tokyo (shipped including 2 small origami birds! LOL!) for a more palatable $1200.
    I need say no more than you have already said about the lens…just WOWZER!
    …but I have a question…I just received a few days ago another little goodie from the orient…. the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95. I was a Voigty Virgin until now. LOL! I own the Panny/Leica 25mm f/1.4…so I have AF covered if/when I need it…but I just LOVE the rendering of the Voigt even though it is not the sharpest wide open. There is an incredible quality/rendering/look to the images. It’s not appropriate for all image making situations, but damn…it does have a signature “feel”.
    My question is, does the Vöigtlander 42.5mm exhibit that same dreamy cinematic look? I see my two 25mm lenses as complementing each other for completely different needs. I don’t plan on buying the Vöigtlander 42.5mm as I think manually focusing that with my old eyes would be even more difficult than the 25mm Nokton… but I like the Voigt-Look so much that I am considering some Orient arm-bending to acquire the about-to-be released Vöigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95…that looks quite special as well, and a bit easier to catch manual focus.🙂

    Like

    • Hi Bob,

      Yes, the Voigts have quite a unique signature. I’ve not had the pleasure of shooting with the 25mm yet, but the 42.5 definitely has a very cinematic look. Maybe a little less highlight to mid tone contrast, but a very contrasty lower tonal register and cooler, more natural color for lack of a more knowledgable description, perhaps. In short, very nice 😀

      I have been very interested in the 17.5 and now the 10.5 because I do really like the 42.5 Nocton and another 40mm f/2 ultron I have for my Canons. Just in the last month, I’ve had a couple instances where my manual focusing the 42.5 (mostly my eye, and maybe a little bit of sloppiness in the peaking) has let me down, and in situations where I missed a couple shots that I really wish I wouldn’t have, it has helped make this Nocticron all the more welcome. I think the wider focal lengths would obviously allow for more focusing leeway, and I’d never talk anyone out of any of those lenses as they are up there with the finest lenses I’ve used, I have just seen the value of the AF in a fast portrait prime pay dividends recently.

      For video, and with the clickless aperture ability, I doubt better optical tools are available in a m4/3 mount, or certainly nothing as fast for as little, but alas, I don’t shoot much video.

      Thanks for stopping by, Bob! I hope all is going well.

      All my best,

      Tyson

      Like

  5. It’s challenging to explain the full value of a lens like the Nocticron. There are the obvious elements of great light gathering, sharpness, color, contrast and bokeh. But it also has a certain pop that shows up when I review photos in Lightroom. Maybe it’s microcontrast or ultra-smooth out of focus transitions or some kind of color magic. In any case I’m more likely to get shots that move me with this lens.

    Like

    • Agreed. I feel that there is a uniqueness within the system, when shooting the Leica branded lenses. A punchier, contrasty image file further distinguished by the shallow DOF enabled by the 25/1.4 and 42.5/1.2 especially. A 3D, full frame-ish look in cases, and I must say, I’m really stoked with this lens. Thanks for reading through and commenting, man.

      Cheers!

      Like

  6. I ponied up $1399 at Christmas direct from Panasonic for this lens, along with with P-L 15mm. The Nocticron has pretty much lived on my GH4 since then for video, snap shots, and sports action photography. Will occasionally swap on the 15mm when I must have the wider angle. Sure, I would have preferred a $399 price tag, but in the end, I love the speed, build, and image quality.

    Like

    • Certain qualities demand different prices, surely. I think my initial sticker shock came largely because Fuji had just, within days, announced their 56mm f/1.2 (85mm equiv) for the X system at $999, and while it doesn’t say Leica on it, I don’t think many would argue with the quality that the Fuji system is pumping out right now. Perhaps an unfortunate scheduling snafu on Panasonic’s part, but it put the systems into perspective, and I know of a couple folks who saw this particular announcement as a good justification to buy into the Fuji system.

      Absolutely no qualms about the quality of this lens by any means, and with the recent rebates, it’s helping ease some of that initial sticker shock that I think a fair few system shooters had at first.

      Thanks Geordon!

      Cheers,
      t

      Like

  7. I still find this portrait lens category to be crazy but f/1.2 is f/1.2 and that might be enough. I was doing fine with my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 during breaks in sports to do sportraits.

    The new 42.5mm f/1.7 looks interesting also, if it’s as useful as the 15mm f/1.7 lens is. Still, I have that Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens on order, so I need to wait a bit.

    Like

    • Sportraits! Love it.

      I’m guessing the 42.5/1.7 is right up there with the Oly 45/1.8 in usefulness, quality and value. Sometimes though, there is no replacement for speed. I’m really impressed with the quality from this nocti, which is good because it is ridiculously expensive.

      t

      Like

  8. Pingback: *Micro 4/3 Portrait Lens Shoot Out! Leica Nocti vs Voigtländer Nokton vs Olympus | Tyson Robichaud Photo-blography

  9. Pingback: *Sony 5 axis IBIS vs EF Lens Based IS vs Panasonic 2 axis IBIS Comparison | Tyson Robichaud Photo-blography

  10. Have you used this lens on the GX8? Wonderful! they’re made for each other!

    There is no doubt the Nocticron 42.5 f1.2 is the best lens ever for m4/3

    Like

    • Hi Rachel,

      Yes, I have and it is a wonderful mating. I have a couple tests coming up with the next comparison between the GX7 and GX8 article which I should have finished up but the end of the month, using the Nocti, the Summilux 15mm and the Oly 75mm (along with a couple others, probably).

      Take care and thanks for the read!

      t

      Like

  11. Would any of you folks still consider this lens right now in 2016? I’m a sony guy as well…but the I love Olympus. If they ever sell a full frame I’d only shoot olympus. With that said, if you check out admiring lights review of the 85mm 1.8 Batis- he said while he didn’t compare directly- he believes having tested the Nocticron that it has better bokeh and just as sharp.

    The price used now is around 950-1k. I’m really tempted because I like the format so much. I actually think I’d prefer it over the Batis.

    Like

    • Personally, I feel the same today as I did when I wrote this and see this lens as the best portrait/short tele equivalent optic for the micro 4/3 system, hands down. The Batis seems interesting, and I also shoot an a7ii, but this lens has totally fulfilled my needs. If Sigma comes out with an 85/1.4, I’ll be interested, but I’m completely happy skipping the Batis set as is now. (I’d also opt for an adapted sigma 24/1.4 or 20/1.4 over the Batis 25/2).

      Cheers,

      Tyson

      Like

  12. Resurecting this old thread. I have Sony A7RII as my main system (just got rid of my last DSLR – D800) and I have the new Sony 85 1.4 GMaster lens. My travel/small system is m43 now – I was able to pick up a used GX7 for $350 and I am just loving its small size and instant AF. Now I do have Panasonic 42.5 1.7 which is a fine lens for $280 from amazon (no warranty)… It is tiny light lens with Stabilization and I feel it is better than Olympus 45/1.8 which is equally as cheap. But it seems that photo forums everywhere have tons of Nocticrons for sale. One went out at $895 on FM for sale forum this morning. There are more at about $950. I can’t stop thinking about it. How much of a difference on a m43 between F1.7 and F1.2 would I see? I always like to have the fastest and the best, but photography is just a hobby for me – I don’t make money with it, I have a profession and a full time job that does not have anything to do with it. I would be curious to see a shootout between 42.5 1.7 and 1.2. I don’t mind paying for the difference if it is truly there. However to pay almost a $1000 for a larger heavier lens, I need to make sure it is that much better

    Like

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