Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 (S-S85) lens
The Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 is an excellent partner for Panasonic’s S5 camera not only for its performance but also because its weight is nicely matched to the camera body.
It’s also quite well matched to the camera’s DFD autofocusing system at subject distances of a metre or more. This makes the S5 and S 85mm f/1.8 lens a great combo for street photography, in addition to the basic application for the lens: portraiture.
Announced on 4 November 2020, Panasonic’s compact 85mm prime lens is the first in a series of four f/1.8 S Series lenses designed for the L-Mount system. Weighing only 355 grams and with an RRP of AU$1099, it features a dust- and splash-resistant design and its 85mm focal length is ideal for portrait photography. If used on Leica’s TL2 and CL cropped-sensor cameras which have APS-C sized sensors, its effective focal length would be equivalent to 127.5mm on a ‘full frame’ camera.
Angled view of the new Lumix S 85nn f/1.8 (S-S85) lens without lens hood and end caps. (Source: Panasonic.)
The optical design of the S-S85 is straightforward, consisting of nine elements in eight groups with two extra-low dispersion (ED) elements to suppress chromatic aberrations and colour fringing to deliver images with clarity and accurate colour reproduction. The fast f/1.8 maximum aperture offers good control over depth of field and provides adequate light transmission for photographers working in low light levels.
The optical design of the S 85nn f/1.8 lens showing the positions of the two ED elements. (Source: Panasonic.)
A nine-blade iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture to provide pleasing bokeh at wide aperture settings. A linear motor drives autofocusing to deliver smooth, precise, and near silent performance, enabling this lens to be used for recording both stills and movies.
The new lens also includes a mechanism that suppresses focus breathing, making it ideal for video recording. The dust-, moisture-, and freeze-resistant construction will provide protection for photographers who work in tough environmental conditions.
We reviewed the lens on the recently-released Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 camera.
Who’s it For?
Although it’s been designed primarily as a portrait lens, the S-S85 is versatile for a prime lens and can be used for other subject types, especially street photography where its working distance enables the photographer to shoot without attracting attention. Its fast f/1.8 maximum aperture provides potential for use in poorly-lit situations as well as for differential focusing. At the minimum focusing distance of 80 cm, the region of acceptable sharpness is just 9 mm so accurate focusing will be required to obtain good results.
With its compact size and relatively light weight, this lens is great for handheld photography when used on a stabilised camera and light enough to be installed on a gimbal or drone. It is also portable enough for use by photographers on-the-move, while its 85mm reach can be useful for photojournalists who need to keep some distance from their subjects.
Build and Ergonomics
The build quality of the S-S85 lens is up to Panasonic’s usual high standards and a good match for the S-series cameras. Made primarily from magnesium alloy, it feels solid and substantial and the narrow rubber flange surrounding the metal lens mount confirms its weather-resistant construction.
This diagram shows the weather-resistant sealing in the S 85nn f/1.8 lens. (Source: Panasonic.)
The focusing ring is 30 mm wide and is almost entirely covered by a rubberised grip band with narrow ribbing. It’s located roughly 10 mm behind the front edge of the filter thread, which has the bayonet mount for the lens hood on its outer side.
Because focusing is driven from the camera, this ring turns through 360 degrees when the camera is switched off. Powering-up the camera engages the linear motor that drives the internal element group that controls autofocusing.
A white dot between the end of the bayonet and the start of the focusing ring is there to help you align the hood so it clips into place. The hood is 53 mm deep and has a locking button to prevent it from being dislodges accidentally,
Behind the focusing ring the lens barrel slopes inwards slightly for approximately 10 mm then straightens out for a 20 mm wide fixed section of the barrel. Around the left hand side of this section is the AF/MF switch, the only other manual control.
The barrel slopes inwards for about 8 mm just behind this section before straightening out for a final 5 mm run down to the lens mount. A solid chromed mounting plate surrounds the inner barrel, which carries ten, gold-plated electronic contacts for passing signals between the lens and the camera body.
The lens is supplied with front and end caps plus a cylindrical lens hood that can be reversed over the lens barrel during transport and storage.
Our Imatest tests showed the review lens to be an excellent performer on the S5 camera body. It came close to meeting expectations for the camera’s 24-megapixel sensor with JPEG files but comfortably exceeded expectations with raw files that were captured simultaneously with the JPEGs.
One particularly praiseworthy feature was how close the results from near the centre of the frame and near the edge were, an unusual (and very welcome) result with relatively fast lenses. As usual, diffraction began to take effect from about f/11 onwards. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Because of built-in corrections for chromatic aberration in the S5 camera, we checked both JPEGs and RW2.RAW files from our Imatest tests to determine the extent of this issue. As shown in the graph below, JPEG results fell within the negligible range in these tests while RW2.RAW files remained towards the lower end of the ‘low’ band. The red line in the graph separates the negligible and low bands.
Again, because of internal corrections we assessed vignetting and rectilinear distortions by examining uncorrected raw files from the camera. Vignetting was obvious with the widest aperture settings but had declined to a negligible amount by f/4. Slight pincushion distortion could be seen in shots, which is to be expected with the 85mm focal length. Since both vignetting and distortion are corrected in the camera and can be easily corrected in most raw converters and image editors, we don’t see either as a serious problem.
Flare and ghosting were effectively negligible, even when shooting directly towards a bright light source. We also found no ‘sun spots’ in shots taken with strong contre-jour lighting.
Autofocusing was fast and accurate in most conditions although with very close subjects the lens often hunted for focus, particularly in poorly lit conditions and when there were contrasty subjects behind the main target. When subjects were well lit and a metre or more away the lens could generally focus quickly and accurately, even on subjects near the edges of the frame.
Because of its minimum focusing distance of 80 cm and the focusing issues outlined in the previous paragraph, this lens is best suited to subject distances between 80 cm and one metre from the camera. While this is fine for most human portraits, it limits its use for shooting close-ups of smaller subjects.
At wide apertures, we found bokeh in de-focused areas was a mixed bag. With evenly-lit backgrounds, out-of-focus areas could be relatively smooth. But hard outlining was common around bright highlights in blurred backgrounds containing both bright and dark areas.
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Picture angle: 29 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 9 elements in 8 groups (including two ED elements)
Lens mount: L-Mount
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Weather resistance: Yes, dust-, splash- and freeze-resistant
Focus drive: Linear motor (internal focusing)
Minimum focus: 80 cm
Maximum magnification: 0.13x
Filter size: 67 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 73.6 x 82 mm
Weight: 355 grams
Standard Accessories: Lens cap, Lens rear cap, Lens hood
Distributor: Panasonic Australia, Ph. 132 600
Based on JPEG files recorded with the Panasonic DC-S5 camera.
Based on RW2.RAW files recorded sat the same time.
Vignetting at f/1.8.
1/8000 second at f/1.8, ISO 100.
1/1300 second at f/3.2, ISO 100.
1/800 second at f/5.6, ISO 100.
1/100 second at f/1.8, ISO 250.
1/100 second at f/1.8, ISO 250.
1/100 second at f/1.8, ISO 400.
1/100 second at f/6.3, ISO 500.
1/125 second at f/3.2, ISO 100.
1/125 second at f/3.2, ISO 100.
1/640 second at f/4.5, ISO 100.
1/320 second at f/2.8, ISO 100.
1/160 second at f/1.8, ISO 100.
1/100 second at f/8, ISO 640.
1/100 second at f/1.8, ISO 800.
1/60 second at f/7.1, ISO 800.
1/60 second at f/7.1, ISO 1600.
1/50 second at f/8, ISO 400.
1/100 second at f/6.3, ISO 400.
1/100 second at f/6.3, ISO 1000.
1/400 second at f/5, ISO 100.
1/500 second at f/5, ISO 100.
1/60 second at f/4.5, ISO 200.
1/100 second at f/5, ISO 125.
1/80 second at f/5.6, ISO 250.
1/100 second at f/5, ISO 400.
1/400 second at f/8, ISO 100.
1/60 second at f/5.6, ISO 400.
1/100 second at f/1, ISO 1000.
RRP: AU$1099; US$599.99
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 9.0
- Image quality: 8.9
- Autofocusing: 8.7
- Versatility: 8.8