Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 Asph. OIS - Review / Test Report
Lens Reviews - (Micro-)Four-Thirds
Thursday, 13 March 2008 09:44

Introduction

Welcome to the revival of the Four-Thirds lens test section. Two years ago the initial tests were performed using the old Olympus E-300 but time goes by and we've to move on. The original plan was to restart the tests based on the Olympus E-3 but I decided to favor the Panasonic L10 due to its weaker AA-filter (that's the most probable explanation) - after all this about lens testing and not about DSLRs.

Consequently the first review covers the L10 "kit" lens - the Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 Aspherical Mega OIS. It is the 3rd four-thirds lens designed by Leica and manufactured by Panasonic. The word "kit lens" is somewhat misleading here because it isn't really a bottom-end lens neither in terms of build quality nor pricing. The naked lens sells around 600€/US$ and it has a major share in the rather steep L10 kit price. As a native four-thirds lens is is a "full format" lens by definition but compared to the classic film format it behaves similar to "28-100mm" (2x crop factor) in terms of field-of-view.

In case you wonder: according to the Leica lens-naming nomenclature an "Elmar" is simply a lens slower than f/3.5. An "Elmarit" has a max. aperture of f/2.8 followed by Summicron (f/2), Summilux (f/1.4) and Noctilux (faster than f/1.4). A Leica "Vario" lens is, you guessed it already, a zoom lens.

The build quality of the Vario-Elmar is very good. The lens body is made of high quality plastics assembled with very tight tolerances. It's not quite a Leica R zoom lens but close enough within its price scope. The rubberized zoom and focus control ring operate very smooth and even little damped - quite a difference compared to the typical kit zooms out there. The fluted rubber rings have a downside though - they tend to collect dust (similar to Sony lenses). The lens extends when zooming towards the long end of the zoom range but there's no wobbling of the inner lens tube. The front element does not rotate thanks to an internal focusing design.

Typical for all 4/3 lenses the Leica uses a dedicated AF motor - in this case a conventional micro-motor. It generates a bit of noise but AF speed and accuracy is very fine. Manual focusing does also rely on a motorized system but the fun factor is rather low here regarding the rather big depth-of-field in standard situations - a common drawback in four-thirds land.

Olympus lenses rely on the in-camera image stabilization system whereas Leica/Panasonic follow a lens-based solution called "Mega OIS" (Optical Image Stabilization). OIS seems to be able to give you a 2-3 f-stop extra potential for hand-held photography.

Specifications
Equiv. focal length28-100 mm (full format equivalent)
Equiv. aperturef/7.2-f/11.2 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field)
Optical construction15 elements in 11 groups inc. 2x aspherical and 2x ED elements
Number of aperture blades7 (rounded)
min. focus distance0.29 m (max. magnification ratio 1:3.5)
Dimensions74 x 93 mm
Weight434 g
Filter size67 mm (non-rotating)
Hoodpetal-shaped, snap-on, supplied
Other featuresImage Stabilizer




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