You know that I don’t do the kind of review that includes target charts and intricate sharpness comparisons using sub-nanometer precision tools, and when the lens says, “Leica” on the front I shouldn’t need to.

That name on a modern lens equals quality and excellence, and the availability of Leica lenses is one of my favorite things about the Micro 4/3 camera system (yes, I know this is a Leica designed lens, and it’s manufactured by Panasonic).

This lens sells for $1600, and it’s hard to find in stock right now, so you can bet that before I bought it I rented it from to give it a whirl and see if it would really be worth buying. I loved it then, and the more I use it, the more I love it.

My Impressions

Let’s start with the improvements this lens needs. Well, the single thing, anyway. It’s got a terrific aperture ring that lets you adjust aperture on the lens, and it’s nice and smooth and feels really good. But, it has no lock, so if you’re not aware of that, it may get bumped out of the auto mode and then you’ll be puzzled about why the aperture isn’t changing when you dial the wheel on the camera. Other than that, and it’ll only happen to you once, this lens rocks.

It screams quality from the moment you pick it up. It’s heavy and solid and metal and it feels well made. The autofocus is fast and silent, and the aperture and focus rings move smoothly and have a comfortable throw letting you move through focus smoothly. It’s got a 67mm front filter size, which is a standard size so filters are readily available.

One major reason to buy a lens with a big aperture like f/1.2 is to get the terrific bokeh associated with it, and it is very nice on this lens. That out-of-focus-ness really helps eliminate background distractions, as in this portrait below I made in a crowded room the other day. Besides the bokeh, however, a fast lens also supercharges the camera’s autofocus ability because it’s bright and makes it easier for the camera to see and focus properly.

Panasonic GH4, 42.5mm Leica f/1.2 lens, f/1.2, 1/500s, ISO 800.

Why Id Use This Lens

Besides being sharp and providing excellent color for whatever you shoot from landscapes to flowers and architecture, it’s a very nice focal length for portraiture. Equivalent to 85mm on a full frame DSLR, it allows me to stand a few away from my subjects and fill the frame. It’s far enough that I’m not right in their face, but still close enough that I can have a conversation and distill a mood without raising my voice to be heard.

I made this portrait with Roberto in a room with several other photographers shooting at the same time and we had some terrific mood music playing, but since I was close I could give instructions without being too loud. I have found that my mood, tone, mannerisms, and excitement are the most important influence on my subject’s appearance in a portrait. I also used a tripod to free myself from being stuck at the camera position so I could stand by Roberto and show him the pose I had in mind and how to make it happen.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, 42.5mm Leica f/1.2 lens, f/10, 1/200s, ISO 200.

For these two portraits, we had been doing some fun Hollywood beauty lighting (much like what Damien Lovegrove has taught us), but then I saw the dappled shadows through this scarf and Marisa’s big soulful eyes seem to call for something quieter and more moody. I shaped the light to glance off her face and also through the veil. Shooting from a tripod really slowed things down and helped me to show Marisa that this picture was worth making. We shot several frames and made small adjustments each time. The tripod allowed me to pay attention to one change at a time since the camera and subject didn’t move between shots. I stood close and spoke with earnestness to help Marisa evoke this morose expression.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, 42.5mm Leica f/1.2 lens, f/10, 1/160s, ISO 100.

Actually, the one above was the second look we made. I started a few feet farther back for the first picture, which I also rather like. It’s more contemplative and introspective feeling. I often make a few frames farther back, offering encouraging words to the subject, then come in a little closer and a little closer until I’ve got the intimate framing I’m after.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, 42.5mm Leica f/1.2 lens, f/10, 1/160s, ISO 100.

The 42.5mm Leica lets me approach my subject and create a more powerful portrait. I highly recommend this lens, and since it’s very expensive to purchase, I highly recommend renting it from to make sure it’s for you. Heck, at $80 for five days, it’s actually hard to justify ever buying it! (I only got it cause I sold my Nikon gear and was feeling flush :) ). Try it and you’ll see that this length of lens makes for more intimate and creative portraits.