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].


  1. Your photography is awesome Gonzalo! I have encouraged my students to shoot the way you do, walking around the environment and becoming a part of it while photographing the essence of the "place." You have certainly captured that - nice work!

    1. Thanks a lot for your warm comments, Dolores!
      For me, photography is just a part of a bigger thing, call it "journey" or "trip" (and not necessarily to faraway places, it could be in your own neighborhood), and the most important thing is to enjoy along the way!

  2. While you made high quality photos, slums and powerty are making me feel depressed... I'm not saying that everything must entertain us... Anyway, nice work

    1. I see your point, Pavlo, but these are no slums and I would not consider these people as poor, they have humble lives and houses and they have their own small neighborhood businesses, which I guess is more than many other people have.
      While I walk along these narrow alleyways again and again, all I can see is simple people living simple lives with a smile in their face. But you are right, it is not always like this and there are much worse scenarios.

  3. Wonderful images, thanks for sharing! I think this lens may end up in my stable...

    1. Hello Justin, and thanks for your comment! I myself tried to resist the temptation a few months, but in the end I couldn't resist it anymore, and I have never regretted the purchase ever since!

  4. Fantastic images of s colourful vibrant city. The lens is calling me, too!

    1. Sure this city is a rollercoaster, and the lens is a joy to shoot with!

  5. Gonzalo your work is simply superb! I'm in two minds about which way to go for HD video filming. Either the GH4 + Nocticron combination or the Nikon 750D/Canon 5D option. What are your thoughts on achieving the best HD (or 4K) video? Thank you

    1. Hi Becca, and thank you for taking the time to drop a few words here!
      Concerning your question, it all depends on what your primary focus is with the camera: if you intend to use it both for stills and video, or mainly for video. As far as HD video quality goes, I think your best bet would be the GH4, shooting in 4k and downsampling to HD (you have lots of useful information here: http://www.personal-view.com/talks/discussion/9542/gh4-4k-panasonic-video-camera-official-topic). I don't have experience with the 750D but neither it or 5D offer 4k, which might limit your options. If 4k is of paramount importance to you, you have a few other alternatives, such as the Sony a7 cameras or the Blackmagic cameras (but the later are only video cameras).
      All in all, I think GH4 is a good all-rounder, but keep your eyes open since it seems they are about to release a new version soon (GH4R). In the end, it always depends on what is your main goal with the camera and what you intend to shoot.
      I hope you chose the tool that suits your needs best and feel free to keep me updated on this matter! ;)

  6. Hi Gonzalo, thank you for your detailed reply. The GH4R looks fabulous and has unlimited video recording. This might be the one to get combined with the Nocticron. Keep up the fantastic work!

  7. Hi! Nice photos! These photos inspires me to purchase the Nocticron when i go to Japan with 20% discount offer.

    As you say, people can be happy with the simple living.

    Thank you for this lens review.


    1. Thank you! And enjoy your trip to Japan, such a beautiful country!

  8. Hi Gonzalo, your photography is awesome! was not sure, if I should take the Nocticron over the 12-35 mm (versatile) but then I saw more and more pictures and they all have that special, magical look - I want to touch it it is mindblowing. I still struggled because of the focal length and then found your blog. I am totally convinced. It is NOT only a portrait lense. it is so much more and it is a beast! And in hands like yours - magical! Thank you and keep the spirit!
    Oh, have you checkt out the leica 12 mm 1.4 yet?
    Tim vom Meer

    1. Hello Tim, and thanks a lot for your support and words! For me, the Nocticron and the 12-35 are a perfect tandem, not necessarily substitute of each other, but I totally understand what you say about the "special, magical look" of the Nocticron, it definitely is the lens with more character that i have ever tried in micro 4/3 and, despite being fixed and bulky, it comes with me often and, as you mentioned, not only for portrait photography! It surely is a challenge to use it for street or landscape, for example, but the rewards are worth the effort!
      On another note, I haven't had the opportunity to try the Leica 12, but the Panaleica 15 is another lens that I would totally recommend, small, terrific rendering and lots of personality!