I had the opportunity to shoot with the newly launched Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH, thanks to a loan unit from Panasonic Malaysia. In this review article, I shall share plenty of sample images shot with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens, exploring the characteristics and strengths of the lens, as well as adding my own personal experience during the limited time using the lens.
Some important notes first, before we dive into the lens review. This write up is done independently, and I am currently not tied to any company. The Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens was only a loan unit, and has been returned to Panasonic Malaysia after use for review purposes. My photography review style is less technical and analytical, but heavily based on user experience approach, thus my opinion is subjective. All the images taken in this article were shot with my own Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, shot raw and converted via Olympus Viewer.
Some basic specifications of the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens:
- lens is fully weather-sealed and freeze proof down to minus 10 degrees Celsius
- lens construction: 15 elements in 10 groups, includes Aspherical ED, Aspherical and ED lenses, Ultra High Refractive lenses
- minimum focusing distance of 0.23 meters, with maximum magnification of 0.12x
- nano surface coating
- internal zooming mechanism
- weight of 315g
For full specifications you may refer to Panasonic’s official product site here.
The first thing that caught my attention was the size of the lens being smaller than I expected. Panasonic managed to scale the size of a true ultra wide angle lens down to about the same size as the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens (as pictured above), yet starting at widest angle of 8mm with F2.8 aperture. Surely to keep it that small, the aperture is not constant and will stop down to F4 at the farthest zoom of 18mm.
I personally find that 8-18mm focal length range works for me. Yes, we all can appreciate that extra bit of width at 7mm for the additional exaggeration of perspective for a breathtaking wide shot, but the furthest zoom of 14mm does not give much flexibility when you do not want to be stuck at wide angle at all times. With 8-18mm coverage, if I decide not to use the superbly wide angle perspective, I can easily zoom all the way to 18mm, providing me an equivalent of 36mm (in 35mm format) which opens up a lot of shooting possibilities, especially if you are a street photographer like myself. Control of perspective matters and can give you more variety of photography outcomes. The 36mm equivalent focal length also results in less perspective distortion and exaggeration, producing more proportionate and natural looking images especially when shooting people in environmental shots. I think having the longer end is worth the compromise of the 1mm width at the widest end.
I found myself shooting at the widest 8mm most of the time, and I believe that will be the most popularly used focal length for those buying this wide angle lens.
I found the wide angle 8mm images from the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 to be excellent in sharpness across the frame. Zooming in to review my shots, I was impressed by the level of details that the wide angle 8mm was able to resolve. There is noticeable minor softness observed at the extreme corners when shot at 8mm with F2.8 aperture, which should not pose any issue unless you are a chronic pixel peeper. Stopping down to F4, the sharpness, both at the center and at the edge increased marginally and the lens performed at its best at F4 to F5.6. Nevertheless, I will not hesitate to shoot wide open at F2.8 when necessary, especially in less than ideal lighting conditions, and I would be more than satisfied with the level of details and sharpness that the lens provides.
There is something about the way the Panasonic 8-18mm lens renders that makes the image interesting. Though the perspective has been exaggerated and to a certain degree distorted, I still find the results to be pleasing and natural to look at. This is perhaps a quality that many wide angle lenses fail to have, they merely tried their best to fit in as much into the frame as possible, sacrificing the overall image rendering quality. The images from the Panasonic 8-18mm lens do not look forced at all, though at the widest 8mm perspective.
There is no telling how much software correction was applied to these images when it comes to distortion correction and chromatic aberration compensation. Looking at previews directly from my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera screen, even at 8mm, there was no trace of noticeable barrel distortion at all. All lines appeared to be perfectly straight from edge to edge, and I believe newer Olympus and Panasonic cameras do have built in correction tools to counter any barrel distortion of wide angle lenses.
Similarly, I observed that the chromatic aberration was well controlled for the Panasonic 8-18mm lens and should not pose any issues. At wide aperture F2.8 there was small traces of purple and green fringing in extreme contrasty regions in the image, which should not be a huge concern and can be either easily removed in post-processing or just simply stop down the aperture to F4 or F5.6 to further reduce the chromatic aberration.
Perhaps the only complain I have about this Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens, is how incredibly susceptible to flare it is. I am not sure what kind of nano coating they have applied but I am consistently getting ugly flares and ghostings in my frames whenever I point the lens toward bright source of light. This will be troublesome if your style of shooting is always against back-light, or having any strong source of light within your frame. The flare patterns are not the nice looking kind and certainly not easy to remove away in post-processing. Those having this lens will have to be extra mindful when dealing with flare in their shots.
Autofocus of the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens was superbly fast, having speed on par with any newer lenses from Panasonic and Olympus. I have no issues shooting moving subjects (eg. humans walking, vehicles moving) and nailing my shots with high accuracy in focus.
Handling of the lens on Olympus E-M10 Mark II was very good. The lens never felt front heavy, or out of balance. I did use the ECG-3 external grip on my E-M10 Mark II for added comfort and steadier gripping. I found myself shooting comfortably with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens all day long with no straining on my wrists. Surely, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens would handle better with smaller camera bodies in comparison to the Olympus 7-14mm PRO lens.
The Panasonic 8-18mm lens does have very respectable close up shooting performance. It is still far from being a macro lens, which we should not expect it to be, but having good close up shooting is quite important to me too. The sharpness of the lens is well maintained even at the furthest zoom of 18mm, and do bear in mind the aperture is dipped down to F4. If you are getting a wide angle lens especially for a Micro Four Thirds, you really should not have any expectations to achieve shallow depth of field when shooting wide angle.
So the obvious question is: where does the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens sit now that we have so many wide angle lens options for Micro Four Thirds?
If you are a landscape, architecture or interior design photographer and every bit of extra width is important to you, then losing that 1mm width may not look like a good option against Olympus or Panasonic’s 7-14mm lens.
I cannot tell you which lens is sharper or which lens is better. However I can confidently conclude that the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 packs in quite a punch when it comes to resolving fine details and is more than adequately sharp for current iteration of Micro Four Thirds image sensors. I personally have not used the old Panasonic 7-14mm F4 lens enough to make useful commentary but I have heard of chromatic aberration issues (purple fringing) as well as strong flare problems with that lens. Is the Olympus 7-14mm PRO better? Not an easy question to answer, but it does provide constant F2.8 aperture, better flare control over the two Panasonic lenses, but it is also significantly larger in size and heavier in weight.
All in all, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 is an enjoyable lens to use, and is fully capable of delivering sharp and pleasing looking images. If you do not yet have an ultra wide angle lens for your Micro Four Thirds system and is looking to get one, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-8 should be in your list of top considerations!
Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved