Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. Lens
A high-quality extended zoom lens for Four Thirds System DSLRs.Panasonic’s new Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm lens was announced at the end of August 2007 but has only recently become available locally. Although designed by Leica, it is fitted with Panasonic’s Mega O.I.S. optical image stabiliser and Venus Engine LSI microprocessor. Developed for the company’s Four Thirds System DSLR cameras, it is the first Leica D lens to extend to the equivalent to 300mm in 35mm format. . . [more]
Panasonic’s new Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm lens was announced at the end of August 2007 but has only recently become available locally. Although designed by Leica, it is fitted with Panasonic’s Mega O.I.S. optical image stabiliser and Venus Engine LSI microprocessor. Developed for the company’s Four Thirds System DSLR cameras, it is the first Leica D lens to extend to the equivalent to 300mm in 35mm format.
Optical construction is complex, with 15 lens elements arranged in 11 groups. Four aspherical elements are included to reduce size and weight and minimise distortion. One of the aspherical lenses is a large-diameter 30mm concave-meniscus lens, which is difficult to mass-produce with conventional glass moulding press methods. An additional ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens suppresses chromatic aberration. The lens surfaces are multi-coated to minimise flare and ghosting.
The new lens is the first Leica D lens to incorporate Extra Silent (XS) technology for driving the autofocusing motors. It uses supersonic oscillation to ensure silent, seamless operation, while the system’s high torque improves responsiveness, accuracy and focusing stability. When mounted on the new DMC-L10, it supports the camera’s contrast AF system and allows the photographer to use new functions such as face detection. Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 at the widest position and f/5.6 at full tele zoom.
The metal lens barrel feels solid and is nicely finished. Finely-ridged rubber coatings on the focusing and zoom rings give a secure grip. The broader zoom ring is towards the front with engraved settings for 14, 18, 25, 35, 50, 70 and 150 millimetre positions. Zooming from 14mm to 150mm requires a quarter turn of the ring.
Behind the zoom ring is a narrow focusing ring, which is only usable when the camera is powered-up and set for manual focusing. Even then, this ring can be rotated through 360 degrees, although for focusing roughly 150 degrees of rotation is required to go from the closest focus (at 50 cm) to infinity. Behind it is a focusing scale with feet and metres indicators for 0.5, 1 and 3 metres and infinity.
Beside the aperture scale is the on/off slider that controls the Mega O.I.S. stabilisation system. Behind it is an aperture ring with settings for f/3.5, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and f/22 plus an A setting that sets the camera to automatic. A button beside the f/3.5 mark must be pushed in to take this ring off the A position and allow apertures to be adjusted.
Seven blades produce a circular iris for attractive bokeh (out-of-focus blur) with wider apertures, particularly towards the telephoto end of the zoom range. The lens is supplied with a petal-shaped lens hood, which reverses over the lens for storage. A soft carrying pouch is also provided as well as end caps.
On the Lumix DMC-L10 supplied for our tests, the Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm lens was a comfortable fit with excellent balance. Zooming was smooth and positive. No zoom lock is provided but, even though the lens roughly doubles its length when zoomed from 14mm to 150mm, it showed no tendency to creep when carried facing downwards.
The focusing ring can only be used when manual focusing is selected on the camera and only works when the camera is powered-up. However, it’s usable – and very effective – in live view mode. Autofocusing on the test lens was quiet, fast and accurate and internal focusing allows the lens to be used with angle-critical filters like polarisers and graduates. You can also fit external filter holders, such as those in the Cokin range.
Moving from the 14mm to the 150mm focal length requires roughly a third of a turn, which is comfortable and easily handled without having to move your hand’s position. Setting intermediate focal lengths precisely was facilitated by the engraved focal lengths on the zoom ring, which are easily lined-up with the indicator mark on the lens barrel. However, at the 70mm and 100mm focal length settings, we found the actual focal lengths to be slightly wider than the set position indicated.
The aperture ring, although thin and positioned very close to the camera body, is also easy to adjust although, when pressing the release button, your thumb can run into the pentaprism housing when moving to the wide aperture settings. Intermediate click-stops are provided at intervals between the engraved aperture markings, giving users a wide choice of aperture settings.
We found the Mega O.I.S. stabilisation system to be effective at providing approximately two f-stops of hand-holding leeway at longer focal lengths and around 3.5 stops with wide angles of view.
Imatest showed the Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm lens to be a good all-round performer and revealed only minimal edge softening at all focal length settings. Highest resolutions were obtained at wide apertures and wider angles of view, with a gradual decline in resolution as the lens was stopped down and focal length increased. The graph below shows the ‘sweet spot’ for this lens appears to be between f/3.5 and f/5.6 for wider angles of view and f/8 and f/11 for middle and longer angles of view.
Lateral chromatic aberration was also very well controlled and remained in the ‘insignificant’ or ‘low’ zones for all lens aperture/focal length combinations. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests, using figures for the edge of the frame (where C.A. is more likely to be visible). The red line at 0.04% delineates the border between the ‘insignificant’ and ‘low’ zones.
Vignetting (edge darkening) was negligible at all apertures and focal length settings. Slight barrel distortion was apparent in test shots taken at the 14mm setting; but not at 18mm. Minor pincushioning became apparent at 70mm but did not increase noticeably at longer focal length settings.
Flare was only visible when the camera was pointed directly towards the sun and even then it was reasonably well controlled, although with the 150mm setting, contrast deteriorated noticeably. The relatively small sensor on the L10 camera made it difficult to obtain true out-of-focus backgrounds at shorter focal lengths. However, with the 150mm setting, attractive results could be obtained at f/5.6.
14mm, f/16 for 1/30 second.
Taken from the same viewpoint as the shot above with 150mm setting, f/8, 1/160 second.
Close-up with 14mm setting; f/3.5, 1/500 second.
Close-up with 150mm from the same position as the shot above; f/8, 1/125 second.
Flare was well controlled when the sun was low and a wide angle of view was used …
… although not when the sun entered the lens.
With the 150mm setting, strongly backlit subjects suffered from a loss of contrast.
The small sensor made true out-of-focus backgrounds difficult to achieve, even with the 150mm setting at f/5.6.
Coloured fringing was negligible.
Details were adequately recorded.
Moderate backlighting was handled well.
Focal length range: 14-150mm (35mm equivalent: 28-300mm)
Angle of view: 75 degrees (wide) to 8.2 degrees (tele)
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 15 lens elements in 11 groups
Lens mount: Four Thirds System
Diaphragm Blades: 7
Minimum focus: 50 cm throughout zoom range
Maximum magnification: 0.18x
Filter size: 72mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 78.5 x 90.4 mm
Weight: 535 grams
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