The Zoom that breaks the rules

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar




Because I like to write about a variety of cameras and lenses here, what won't be apparent is that for the majority of times that I go out to take pictures I have been using the same camera and lens combination. Ever since I bought the Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. OIS its been my lens of choice, usually paired with a Panasonic GH1, with which it works very well. I do use it occasionally with my Olympus E-P2, but I find the GH1 produces slightly better results in terms of sharpness and control over CA and fringing. 

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

For those interested in technical data, there's an old review of it at:- 

As the review indicates, it is made in small quantities, and whether its even being manufactured any more is open to question. Made originally for Panasonics foray into 4/3, which didn't last long, it was part of a very small lens range for these cameras that Panasonic developed with Leica. 

In addition to the 14-150mm there are three others. The Panasonic 14-50mm f2.8-3.5 Leica D Vario Elmarit, and the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 Leica D Summilux both of which I have owned and are superb. There is also a Panasonic 14-50mm f3.8-5.6 Leica D Vario-Elmar, which I must admit I know virtually nothing about.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

Since Panasonic and 4/3 have come to a dead end because of the development of m4/3, these excellent lenses are somewhat stranded. They can obviously be used on Olympus 4/3 camera bodies and on m4/3 via an adapter. There are however some problems. The Panasonic 14-50mm f2.8-3.5 Leica D Vario Elmarit, which is the oldest lens in the range, having been part of the L1 / Digilux 3 kits doesn't AF on the Panasonic G series cameras. Its not compatible with the contrast AF system. It does however AF on the Olympus Pens. 

In terms of quality its as good as the 14-150mm, but Panasonic don't seem to either want to or be able to issue a firmware update that makes it AF on their m4/3 cameras. If you are prepared to put up with MF then it can be used on the G series cameras.

The Panasonic 25mm f1.4 Leica D Summilux is a beast. Its huge, and almost as heavy as the 14-150mm. I used one and liked it very much, but then Panasonic brought out the 20mm f/1.7 and I much preferred that in terms of size and useability. 

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

None of these 4/3 lenses are particularly fast in terms of AF and the 14-150mm is no exception. However its not particularly sluggish either and is generally faster than its given credit for. Its nowhere near the performance of the Lumix 14-140mm  lens or the Olympus 14-150mm M.Zuiko but both those lenses, while decent performers, are some way off the Vario-Elmar in terms of sharpness.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

I've used superzooms from Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Panasonic and Olympus in the past and none of them come close to the Vario-Elmar. I've written before about how its like having a series of prime lenses. Its not 100% perfect as the review above indicates, but probably the closest thats available currently. Superzooms are supposed to be compromises and be about convenience over ultimate quality. The 14-150mm Vario-Elmar tears up the rule book in this regard being both convenient and super high quality. 

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

I get the same image quality from it as I do from my 20mm f/1.7 or my m-mount lenses. I can get this without having to change lenses or manually focus. While its not the smallest or lightest lens (Its 535g) it does eliminate the need for me to carry anything else. I do occasionally take out additional lenses, but most of the time just carry this fitted to my GH1. This gives a combined weight of around 900g. When you consider that a Canon 7D body only is virtually the same weight , it gives me an incredibly versatile outfit that I can carry for hours at a time.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

One of the reasons I am waiting impatiently for the GH2 is to be able to use this lens on it. If its as good a camera as I'm hoping it will be then combined with the 14-150mm it could / should? produce superb results, and to a large extent take care of the majority of my needs. There are many occasions when AF is a great help, and much as I love using my M9 and the results it gives, I tend to use it mostly on trips when I will have the time to work with it. I also love the convenience and ease of one camera and one zoom lens and feel the GH1/14-150mm combination gives me the best options to gear ratio. I use it particularly when I'm exploring new terrain and have no idea of what to expect. Having that wide-angle to telephoto range in one lens means that I can quickly move between the two. I find this very useful in changing light. Those who photograph in the UK are well aware of days when the sun hides behind the clouds most of the day and only occasionally appears, usually to dramatic effect. Sometimes you have to work very quickly and thats when a one-zoom outfit proves its worth.

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

It is without doubt my most useful lens and the one that I use the most and I can see myself using it for the foreseeable future. I can't really see where a rival to it is going to come from. 

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

Panasonic Lumix GH1 Leica Panasonic  14-150mm Vario-Elmar

Words - D
Images - D & A