9 Dec 2014

More thoughts (and images) with the Nocticron

[Continued from the last introductory post about this lens, found here].
A short telephoto lens such as the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticrom 42.5mm seems best suited to portrait photography, since this is the focal length that most photographers use for such a purpose (it is the equivalent to a 85mm field of view in full frame terms); however, I don't shoot close portraits often, firstly because I enjoy environmental portraiture better, and also because I don't feel that comfortable getting so close to strangers in the streets. Hence, my purpose was to see how it felt walking the streets only with this lens, and no other, to see how versatile this lens could be as a general walk-around lens instead of a zoom or a wider prime as it's usually the norm.

Metallic light, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Calm backside, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Agitated backside, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Doom of the colors, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
For urbanscapes and architecture the lens performed admirably, since it has almost zero distortion and it's as sharp as it gets in the format; however, the long focal length can be a bit challenging in tighter spaces so positioning and framing become even more important, and it's recommended to look for smaller areas and details rather than trying to fit wide expanses of scenery, since that is not what suits this lens better. Now, when we talk about shooting people, things get more interesting.

The sentry and the governess, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Waiting for the train, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Improvised picture frame, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Lifesavers, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Study on orange, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Recess, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Disguised loo, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
You don't need to come too close to people in order to shoot them, therefore being less intimidating, and this distance lets you be somehow les intrusive and more neutral, if that is ever possible. At the same time, the wide maximum aperture lets you play with depth of field even at moderate distances, which is a great plus to isolate subjects and create stronger images of people.

Yellow and red, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A smoking break, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The decisive moment, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A throne above the waters I,  GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A throne above the waters II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Before the impact, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
After the impact, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
If you are more into environmental portraiture and street life photography, then this lens is a great choice, since it has enough reach to get you close to somehow distant people yet still being able to catch the context around them, giving more background information about the subject, which helps enhancing or deepening the stories told. The wide aperture, coupled with the stabilization, is also very helpful to shoot in low light situations, keeping the ISO at reasonable levels.

Unperturbed, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Homescape, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Street links, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Invasion, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The bird awaits, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The sky backs off, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The pier, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Finally, and as punchy and accurate as colors are rendered by this glass, the Nocticron is also a great lens for monochrome photography, since it delivers images full of detail and contrast. Now I only have to take the first chance I get and shoot some real portraits, as well!

1 Dec 2014

A friend nobody called: Review of Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm

How I shoot: I take my camera, water, comfortable clothes, a cap, and I go out. I walk slowly, sometimes with a predetermined itinerary in mind, often with just a vague idea where I might go. I observe and I listen. I continue walking, and I observe some more. Sometimes I stop. Something catches my attention. I raise my camera, work the scene quickly, and press the shutter release. Normally I grab a second, safety capture if the scene is stationary and hasn't vanished in the meantime. Then I lower the camera, and I resume my walk. From time to time, a conversation sprouts. I like to engage with my surroundings, to know them and get a feel for them.

Façade over Khlong Saen Saeb I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Façade over Khlong Saen Saeb II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
I don't let technical considerations get in the way while I'm out walking. I never allow the mechanical part of the photographic process to drive how I shoot or to dictate the things I have to see, or search, or capture. It's always the other way around: there is something that grabs my eye and my attention (could be a fancy game of light and shadows, a pair of eyes that conceal big secrets, a beautiful geometry), and that is the only factor strong enough to make me raise my camera, and photograph. 

The game, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The gang poses, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Street arrangement, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The camera and the lens are just a tool to record what I see and what I'm interested in, what I find appealing and what moves me. That's why I will not shoot diagrams or test shoots to analyze gear, and therefore you will not find those here. My equipment has to accommodate me, the same way a pair of shoes naturally adjusts to the shape of the walker's feet: I will not change the way I shoot for the sake of a new lens or a new camera; it's the tool which has to conform to its master.

Multitasking, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Motions, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Turning point, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
And suddenly, one day, it arrived. Actually, it didn't walk to me on its own, rather at the contrary, I went looking for it. But I say 'suddenly' because I had not planned it in advance, as I have done in each and every of my previous purchases, and this might sound contradictory, being this the most expensive piece of photography gear I have ever acquired. I knew about it, no doubt, but I already had the tiny and gorgeous Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which I could use equally with my bigger GH3 and my smaller GM1, and after almost 2 years with it I had realized it was probably the lens I used less, so there was no room in my flat for another guest. Or so I thought until I saw that great promotion, and decided to purchase it straight away.

Links, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Impact, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The crew, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Unsurprisingly, two things have happened since the day this big, heavy piece of glass has joined my modest collection: I have been shooting with it (almost exclusively) ever since, and it's about 2 months in my possession; and it has helped me rediscover the joy of shooting with a bigger camera, in this case the GH3. Since I bought the ridiculously tiny GM1 last December, my GH3 had seen less and less use, as it stayed at home most of the times, while GM1 came with me, inconspicuous in my handbag, wherever I went. Not so any more. 

A question of reds, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Point of interest, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
An opening in the crowd, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
There are joys of shooting with compact equipment, mobility and discretion being the biggest of them all, but I have realized there is room for bigger options, as well (as long as size and weight don't trespass certain limit, but no micro 4/3 equipment goes that far); GH3 paired with the Nocticron is, simply put, a delight to use. From the beauty and quality of its construction to its design and operation, which are both smooth and solid, this is a couple that asks to be held, used, carried. I could think of no bigger praise than that. My GH3 is living a second youth thanks to this newcomer, and that can only be good news.

After school, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The walk, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Curious glance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
But, at the end of the day, what really counts is the enjoyment of the whole process, and as crucial as the physical experience is, no photographic journey is ever complete without the photographs, so how did they turn out to be? In the three weeks after I bought the Nocticron I used no other lens, and all the images presented in this post are my favorites from all those sessions, taken at different days and locations and arranged by communion of content. There is not just one story here but multiple, minimal episodes of life, all of them in the streets, most of them involving people with a higher or lower prominence. Countless, simple stories to get a glimpse of what this lens is able to deliver.

Crosscurrent, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Somewhere called home, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A path of green moss, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Sharpness? The highest of any lens I have used in this system so far (which has actually forced me to lower the sharpening defaults upon importing my images into Lightroom). Bokeh? The nicest rendition of out of focus areas I have yet seen in the micro 4/3 world, which has given me the option to isolate objects at medium distance with not so distant backgrounds, something no other lens let me achieve before, 'Street arrangement' being a clear example of that). Distortion? Not noticeable. Vignetting? Present at f1.2, but easy to correct or, being aware of it, use it to your advantage. Autofocus? Reliable and fast. Stabilization? Brings me a higher success rate than I ever achieved with the Olympus 45, apart from being faster and sharper, 3 advantages that, for me, have totally compensated the expense.

Nap in the canteen, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Level crossing, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Chameleon, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Nocticron, the perfect portrait lens, or so they advertized it. All I can say is that this lens is much more than just a portrait lens; in fact, I have not shot a single pure portrait with this lens yet, and I have focused mainly on street captures and full body portraiture, and in both cases the lens has performed admirably, capturing multitude of detail, vibrant colors, lots of light and, specially, that subtle yet transparent isolation of objects from foreground and background at various distances. Yes, I know I should be shooting other scenarios as well, specially the portraits everyone seems to be most interested about, but worry not: this lens is here to stay, so I will have plenty of time to put it through its paces in the coming months.

The rearguard, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Shy but curious, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The sentry, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
It's like a new friend you did not expect nor needed but, once he has arrived, he rapidly becomes familiar, necessary, irreplaceable. And, more so, a friend that encourages you to go out, and do more often what you ultimately enjoy doing, renewing your enjoyment and giving you new energies. Welcome home, Nocticron!
[For further impressions and images with the Nocticron, head to the next post here].