25 Aug 2014

New lens, old grounds: Review of Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f1.7

We all treasure a secret shelter, buried beneath the responsibilities that life piles on top of us as we go along with our adult lives, hidden within the most intimate and sacred part of ourselves; we all have a refuge that our mind and soul seek whenever things turn a bit too dark, a bit too unbearable, a bit too stale. Rooted somewhere in the depths of childhood, we all possess a sanctuary with the power to calm us down and make us feel safe, far from harm, at peace. For some it might be a memento from yesteryears, for others it could be a beloved person, a faded photograph, a book, a place. Last June, and after a 2 year-hiatus, I could finally take a long vacation, I booked a 10.000 km flight and  returned to my hometown, somewhere in the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so in my bag there was only space for 1 little camera, the tiny GM1, and 1 small lens, my newly purchased Panasonic Leica 15mm. This would be a great opportunity for me to see the magical landscapes of my childhood through a new glass. I was anxious to arrive, and to see how the long awaited reencounter felt.

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Golden lights of memory, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Cloudy remembrances, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Blending with nature, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
My hometown, Boltaña, perched atop a gentle hill, is a beautiful example of Pyrenean architecture that, luckily, hasn't been spoiled by the modern urbanization the country experienced in the last decades, so it retains proudly its original, medieval flavor all throughout its narrow streets and slopes. Built entirely of stones and wood, both materials that were once abundant in these mountainous lands, the houses crowd together, side by side, along winding, tight alleys that spread in random directions, following the natural slant of the hill they occupy. These alleyways, where cars barely have enough space to pass, used to be the playground of my childhood: free, labyrinthine passages of never-ending discoveries where all of us grew up. It was no coincidence that I decided to bring the Panasonic Leica 15mm lens with me: knowing how cramped the spaces in my village are, I needed a wide angle coverage to be able to fit enough in the frame, and this field of view turned out to be a perfect match for it. 

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Calle Goya, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Eras Altas I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Eras Altas II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Calle San Pedro, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
But there is much more than just narrow alleyways in Boltaña, since the village is surrounded by hills and forests, and the biggest pleasure is to simply walk aimlessly along the multiple paths that traverse the fields in all directions, letting our whim decide where to go. The wide angle field of view of the Panasonic Leica 15mm proved once more to be the perfect choice for this kind of environment, as it let me frame large objects at relatively close distances, such as trees or small bridges, where there was no possibility to step back. There is some distortion in the edges, but I took that as a challenge to be more thoughtful with my technique and composition, in order to minimize it, so I carefully leveled my camera every time and that reduced the distortion to a minimum. In those cases were there is no choice but to point the camera up, the distortion becomes a bit more apparent, but a quick correction will fix that later on with a minimal cropping. With that in mind, I framed a bit more generously in those situations, and all was fine.

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His Majesty in his kingdom I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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His Majesty in his kingdom II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Moscarales I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Peña Montañesa, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I would lie if I said I don't care about sharpness in my images, because I do; not to the point of losing sleep, but obviously I want to achieve images that are as sharp as I can possible get. This is where the purchase of the Panasonic Leica 15mm comes into play, among other factors. So far I had been using the GM1 with the kit lens, the pancake Lumix G Vario 12-32mm, and I had been very happy with the outcome that little beast provides. However, there were cases, specially in very elaborate scenes, when the lens showed its limitations, and its rendering of micro contrast and small patterns (also skin) was not the best. Obviously this was only visible when checking the image at full size, but since I'm starting to consider printing some of my captures, I decided to invest in a new lens. And I could not be happier about the results that the Panasonic Leica 15mm delivers in this regard: the crispness and sharpness of the captures is noticeably higher, and even small textures are rendered precise and beautifully. Since I enjoy extended depth of field for landscape and street photography, I stopped down the lens to around f5.6 for most of my outdoor captures (the sweet spot of the lens, in terms of sharpness, is between f2.8 - f5.6).

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Moss & stones, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Study on textures and shadows, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Different shades of ochre, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Moscarales II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Geometries from the past, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Fade to black, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Yes, I walked and walked some more during my one month stay back at home. I had missed those paths and views so much during the previous 2 years in Bangkok, that I went out to walk every evening without fail, sometimes with my parents, mostly on my own. The main purpose was purely enjoying the scenery, breathing the pure air of the mountains, recalling past battles, but I wanted to capture those same sights with my camera, as well, and for that purpose portability was a must. The camera should be always with me, unnoticed and discreet, never taking anything away from my enjoyment of the leisure stroll. And here comes the Panasonic Leica 15mm again, for it is really light and small, and combined with the GM1 they make an unbeatable pair. Despite the small size (I carry the camera + lens inside a diminutive Lowepro spectrum 50 case attached to my belt), the lens is nicely built and both the aperture and the manual focus rings are responsive and accurate. The lens is beautifully designed and using it is a pleasure for the hands and makes the whole shooting process smooth and enjoyable.

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An evening walk, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Two primary colors, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Islands of light, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Halves, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Ripe land, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It was July, and that is the hottest month of the year in Spain. I knew it would be sunny, sometimes extremely so, and I was curious to see how the lens would perform in those situations. Normally I waited for the sun to start dipping before leaving home for my daily walk, but even in the early evening the light was still strong and bright, and the shadows were richly dark, creating scenes of high, dense contrast. Even though the dynamic range of a capture is dictated primarily by the sensor of a camera, the lens is also a key player in that same game. The Panasonic Leica 15mm surprised me again for its ability to retain lots of detail in both bright and dark areas simultaneously, and its rendering was very contrasty, vivid and with punchy colors. I always shoot in RAW and process all my images in Lightroom, but it's very important to get the exposure right in camera, for it will grant you an image with the widest latitude for post-processing, should you need it. As for vignetting, shooting at a moderate aperture as I do most of the times it is a non issue, since it's barely noticeable; only when shooting at wide apertures it can be more visible.

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The bell tower, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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The sentinel of the path, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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The mountain's skeleton, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Oblivion, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

The lens comes with a bag, a plastic hood and a rubber cap for it, but it is not reversible, therefore you need to leave it always on or remove it in order to store it separately. Since portability is very important for me, as I already mentioned, and the lens with the hood attached doesn't fit in my camera case (the similarly sized Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm fits with the hood reversed, so I always carry and use it), I left the hood in the box the first day and there it has stayed ever since. But this raised a question: how will the lens handle straight sources of light without the protecting hood? Will flare be an issue in these circumstances? I took many pictures facing the sun directly, sometimes including it inside the frame, and my conclusions are very reassuring: yes, there is some magenta and blue flare, specially when the sun is unobstructed inside the frame, but with a bit of careful recomposition, trying to partially block it behind leaves or branches, the flare diminishes dramatically, sometimes disappearing completely. Even in the instances when flare is still there, I don't bother too much, since I'm aware of it from the moment of capture and it's my conscious decision to have it there.

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The sights of childhood, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Blinding sunset, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Sunbathing, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Signaling stones, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There is no doubt that the fast aperture of the lens (f1.7) was another factor that influenced heavily my decision to purchase it. I only had another fast prime lens up to that point, the aforementioned Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8, so that was the lens I always carried whenever I was out shooting at night or in dimly lit spaces, but sometimes the field of view of that lens was limiting due to it short telephoto nature, specially indoors, so the idea of having a bright, wide angle lens had been taking root in me for the past months, and the release of this new lens came just at the proper time. Even though I said I shoot mostly deep depth of field photography, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy shallow depth of field images, and I like experimenting with it when I find it suitable. So, for those interested in bokeh, rest assured that the out of focus rendering of this lens, both in the background and in the foreground, is pleasing and beautiful and, despite the wide angle of view, the wide aperture, together with the close focus capabilities of the lens (down to 20cm), provide decent levels of subject isolation, and all of that without losing sharpness or contrast, which is probably the most welcome news to me.

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Teamwork, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Snail in a moss bed, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Swallowed by nature, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
My days of freedom were reaching its end, and it would probably pass another year until I could return again, so I tried to revisit all the meaningful places from my early youth, that still haunt me today, to see how they (or me) had changed throughout the years. It's curious how our memory works, softening certain chapters of our past lives to the point of almost extinction when we used to consider them crucial, while other episodes that were apparently irrelevant back then remain sharp and full of detail today, so many years later.

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Moscarales III, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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The lost path, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Veins, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
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Pebbly road, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
These have surely been lonely, quiet walks, for the conversation between the photographer, the camera and the world around is a silent one, but I remedy that in the following post (which you can see here), where I show another face of my hometown; lots of faces, actually, and lots of stoned-wall, charming indoor patios, as well, to see how the lens responds in the situations that I originally purchased it for: indoor low light scenes.

29 comments:

  1. Wow, very nice photos. You've turned some ordinary scenery into extraordinarily punchy, colourful and sharp sceneries. I've got the same setup of a GM1 + PanaLeica 15mm, so you've inspired me to go and use it to do some scenery shooting sometime over the next weeks! I've mostly been using the 15mm lens indoors to date. BTW, I notice your blogspot.co.nz is NZ based? Are you based in New Zealand? Thanks for sharing your photos, very beautiful work!

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    1. Hello Jin, and thank you very much for your compliments!
      Actually, I also bought the Panaleica 15mm for indoor scenes primarily, but during my holidays I discovered that it's also a terrific landscape lens because the images it produces are so punchy and full of contrast!
      I'm glad that my pictures triggered in you the desire to go out and shoot scenery, I'm sure you will get some fantastic captures, specially as you live in NZ! I'm not based there, I live and work in Thailand, but definitely NZ is in my top list of places I want to visit as soon as I have the chance!

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    2. Hi Gonzalo, looking forward to some pictures from Thailand :)

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  2. Thank you for sharing this post with us via Mirrorless Camera Thailand Group. Great pictures and an excellent review of the Panny 15mm.
    And I love your hometown! :)

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    1. Hello Knott, and thanks a lot!
      It felt great going back home after so long, and that somehow turned into some nice pictures!

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  3. Another great collection of photos. I always enjoy your posts and photos. I too am having a good time with my GM1 and will be soon taking it on a big trip.

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    1. Thanks once more, John!
      I hope you enjoy your trip and I'm sure the GM1 will be up to the task. Just remember to bring along a second battery! ;)

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    2. Totally agree regarding the 2nd battery - it's an absolute necessity. I took my GM1 on our holiday overseas recently and each battery lasts only about half the day, so definitely 2 batteries to last the day.

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  4. Beautiful Images and great write up Gonzalo!

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  5. Wow, what beautiful pix. I am just wondering if I could shoot like these photos. I just bought my nikon D7000 with a nikor 18-105 lenz. I am very new into photography without any formal training so her am I, browsing for any acticles, comments tutorials to educate myself. Thanks to those who are ever willing to share their expertise.

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    1. ¡Gracias, Manuel! The only advice I can give you is enjoy what you do, and do it as much as you can. As long as there is passion and motivation behind it, there will b e growth and improvement! All the best and hope I can be of any help!

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  6. What a beautiful place Gonzalo! thanks for sharing your work with the world.

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    1. Thanks again, Natalie! When there is chemistry, usually the work pays off, and I guess this is what hapened to me there!

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  7. Your review is not only enlightening but entertaining as well. Your comments struck a chord within me that revived many dormant memories of my childhood that I thought were lost. Thank you for such a beautiful review!

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    1. Thanks a lot, Bobby! For me, words and images are the two sides of a coin, and one of my goals is to match them as best as I can. Ultimately, both have to resonate with our emotions, and I'm glad to read that that happened with you!

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    2. Wonderful post ! Such deeply evocative words and images; a great tutorial for me on how to write a blog and take good pictures. I wish you many more such adventures. New Delhi is a metro and there are no such opportunities within my reach, but one never knows when one's luck will change. Keep it up !!

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    3. Thank you very much Subroto. These occasions normally come only once in a while so the best we can do is trying to make the best out of the locations we have within reach and take any chances without doubt! I wish you fruitful walks and captures too!

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  8. Hi Gonzalo, I stumbled upon this article looking for impressions of the 15mm Leica. I am so impressed by your photos here, the field of view and your style seem to meld very well to my eye. The atmosphere and feel in your shots are suburb I almost feel transported to the location and the colours/tones are bold without being obviously boosted. I’ve come back to this page a few times just to look at the images again, well done, great work!

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    1. Hello Henry. First of all, sincere thanks for your encouraging words, nothing can be more rewarding than knowing that your work engages people and not just shortly but, what is more difficult, over a long time, requiring revisits. I still have a long way ahead to sharpen my eye (not my post-processing) but I fully agree with you about the color processing, I always believe that less is more, and avoid any kind of over-saturating. Best regards!

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  9. Many thanks for your test of Panasonic 15mm f/1.7! Very nice pictures BTW!! I like most: The sights of childhood, Blinding sunset, Signaling stones etc. Everything well exposed, sharp, good contrast, great DR, good colors... well finished in Lightroom. I am interested in this lens for my Olympus E-M10. I could choose Panasonic 15mm instead of Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8. Best regards, Michal from Brno

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    1. Thanks a lot Michal! At first I also was considering a more standard 17.5mm, but analysing the pictures that I usually take with the zoom lens 12-35 I realized that most of them were in the wide side (12-15) so I ended up choosing this lens. I haven't regretted the decision one bit ever since, it just stays full time in my camera!

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  10. Enchanting home town gorgeously rendered. I will be purchasing this lens as while my Pana 14-140 mm is immensely satisfying, at times one requires improved low light capability and less weight/bulk. You mention the deficiencies of your 12-32 mm - I note from your later posts that you have used a 12-35 mm f/2.8 and am interested in your comparison between them.

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    1. Hello Bob! Actually, the 12-35 was the lens I first purchased with the GH3, almost 3 years ago, and It was my number one lens until I bought the GM1 with the 12-32 a year later. From my experience, the little 12-32 is surprisingly sharp for its bulk, but only when there is plenty of light available, which means than ion lower than desired light conditions it turns out a bit slow and it's not easy to achieve the same results; besides, the way it renders skin is not as pleasant, and the small patters are not reproduced as clearly (specially when the object is small and far from the camera, or when using the wide extreme of the lens). Despite all this, and for good light conditions, is a terrific little lens, but it's true that, since I have the PanaLeica 15, I rarely pair it with my GM1 anymore!

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  11. Greetings from Australia, Gonzalo. I stumbled across your blog whilst reading reviews of the 15mm, and I'm very happy to be able to enjoy your efforts so generously shared. I'm waiting for my newly purchased pre-loved Olympus EP-5 to come through the door. It's a body only, so my consideration of options allowed me to find what others thought about various lens. I am covered for macro via Olympus legacy lenses with converters, but my goal is to walk around with a fast prime mid-length setup. I feel I may have found it after reading your thoughts and absorbing your wonderful images. Thank you so much for sharing. It's inspiring to see what people like yourself can produce. The rendering of the combination you are using is surely as good as one could hope for in a lightweight and compact package. All the best...!

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    1. Thank you for all you warm words and comments! I hope you enjoy your shiny new EP-5 and whatever lens/es you end up buying for it!

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  12. Gorgeous pictures from such a little cam, nicely done. I have a GM1 but only have the kit lens with it and have been toying with the idea of a wider angle prime for it, either the 15 1.7 or the 20 1.7 pancake. From what I've read the 15mm seems to have more character and your pics would seem to indicate that. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you! I have never used the 20 f1.7 since I like something a bit wider, so I can't comment about it, but the 15 is a gem!

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