Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. OIS - Review / Test Report
Lens Reviews -
Tuesday, 15 September 2009 13:20
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The Leica Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. Mega OIS is a rather rare product made by Panasonic for four-thirds DSLRs. It's only manufactured in small quantities and regarding Panasonic's (and Leica's) rather halfhearted approach to the "classic" 4/3 system it may not be on the market for much longer. That would be unfortunate because it is a quite special lens. That's less so regarding the fact that it's an extreme range zoom lens but because it is not targeting the budget market like the usual bunch of Tamrons and Sigmas in this segment. The Leica label doesn't only stand for pricey products - this one would shorten the amount on your bank account by about 1300€/US$ - it's also a symbol for top quality lenses so it'll be interesting to see whether this expectation will stand the local tests then.
In full format (35mm) terms the Leica provides a field-of-view similar to a classic 28-300mm lens so it covers most although not all of the interesting focal lengths. Regarding its depth-of-field capabilities it suffers from a disadvantage of the 4/3 system: in comparison to full format lenses you "loose" about 1 2/3 f-stops due to the small sensor size here although it remains a f/3.5-5.6 lens in terms of "speed" naturally.
The build quality of the Leica lens is very good thanks to a tightly assembled combination of metal and high quality plastic parts. It extends when zooming towards the long end of its zoom range. Despite its duo-cam construction there's only a marginal degree of wobbling but naturally we expected no less here. The small focus ring runs as smooth as silk. It is not mechanically coupled to the inner focusing group but connected "by wire" - the AF motor is driven by turning the focus ring. This may be something to get used to but it works well actually. The zoom action has only a slight degree of friction with a bit of a tendency to retract the lens when using the lens in its lower range. Unfortunately the fluted rubber rings have a tendency to collect dust. If extended into its middle range it can suffer from zoom "creeping" though. Unlike most 4/3 lenses there's a dedicated aperture ring which can either be set to "A" (thus set on the camera) or in half stop steps on the lens.
The Leica lens features Panasonic's Mega OIS - an Optical Image Stabilizer with a claimed efficiency of 3 f-stops. In the field we didn't quite reach this - we wouldn't recommend to expect more than 2 f-stops. Olympus users should probably use their in-camera IS instead. The OIS can be switched on/off via a dedicated button on the lens. You can either use OIS or the in-body IS on Olympus DSLRs but not both combined.
Panasonic's XSM ("Extra Silent Motor") AF motor works via ultrasonic waves similar to Canon's USM or Olympus' SWD. It's basically silent and relatively fast (although not blazingly) both in passive and contrast AF mode. Full-time manual focusing is possible in single shot AF mode.
Last but not least here's a size comparison to the Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED and Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED:
|Equiv. focal length||28-300 mm (full format equivalent)|
|Equiv. aperture||f/7-f/11.2 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field)|
|Optical construction||15 elements in 11 groups inc. 4x aspherical and 1x ED elements|
|Number of aperture blades||7 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||0.5 m (max. magnification ratio 1:5.5)|
|Dimensions||79 x 90 mm|
|Filter size||72 mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||petal-shaped, snap-on, supplied|
|Other features||Image Stabilizer, XSM AF, aperture ring|