The Panasonic Lumix 85mm f/1.8 was the first in a series of four affordable L mount prime lenses announced by Panasonic to hit the market.
These bang-for-your-buck, lightweight, fast primes should appeal to the masses. Still, Is this affordable portrait lens good enough for working professionals who have a budget to consider?
- Small and lightweight
- Weather sealing
- Sharp optics
- Great autofocus performance
- Great color and bokeh rendering
- Controls flares and ghosting well
- No chromatic aberrations
- There’s a fair amount of focus breathing
- The lens feels quite cheap compared to other lenses in this price range
- Nine elements in eight groups
- Nine rounded aperture blades
- Aperture range from f1.8 – f22
- 67mm filter threads
- Minimum focusing distance: 31.4-inches / 80cm
- Weight: 0.74lbs / 355g
- Dust and splash resistant
Handling and build quality
Right off the bat, you’ll see that this lens is nice and compact. It’s not so big that it will become a burden, yet, it’s not so small that it’s frustrating to use. For an f/1.8 lens of this focal length, the size is about par for the course, and wouldn’t be out of place alongside others in this category.
The lens weighs just 0.74 pounds, which makes it easy to use. It balances perfectly on my Lumix S5. The Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 features a nice tapered design, which feels great in the hand. The manual focus ring is a good size and it feels nice to hold thanks to the nice texture of the rubber grip. There’s just one other physical control on this lens and that’s the auto and manual focus switch.
Around the business end of this lens, you’ll find that the front element takes 67mm filters. The great thing is that if you decide to buy the other Lumix S lenses in this series when they arrive, they too will use 67mm filters. That’s a nice touch. Overall the Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 is about as basic as it can be when it comes to a lens.
Just how tough is it?
You have to remember that this is a sub $600 lens, so don’t be expecting pro-level build quality here. However, even for a sub $600 lens, the plastic used in this lens feels pretty cheap. Don’t get me wrong, the lens will still hold up to the rigors of modern photography, but the feel of the lens won’t inspire a lot of confidence.
On the plus side, this lens does feature weather sealing. Not only is there a seal at the mount, but there are also a few seals throughout the lens body too. Panasonic states that these seals do not make this lens weatherproof and that damage could still occur in wet conditions. I have used the lens out in light rain, though, and have not noticed any adverse effects. Just don’t go out into a downpour with it.
It’s an enjoyable lens to use
So, what’s it like to use the Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8? It’s a pretty enjoyable experience. As mentioned above, the lens balances perfectly on the Panasonic Lumix S5, so it should feel equally as good, if not better on cameras like the Panasonic S1, S1R, S1H, the Sigma Fp, Fp L and the Leica SL2.
The large manual focusing ring is easy to use and it turns incredibly smoothly. Couple this with the fact that you can use this with the linear focusing feature in Panasonic cameras and you have a winner on your hands. It makes even the longest portrait sessions a piece of cake.
This lens doesn’t feature any image stabilization. Still, this lens is easy to use on cameras with and without IBIS. There’s really nothing about this lens that will make it challenging to use. It’s about as plug-and-play as you can get when it comes to lenses.
I have been incredibly impressed with the performance of the Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8. It is one of the fastest focusing lenses I have used since switching to the L mount platform. In single focusing modes (S-AF), this lens is both rapid and accurate in both good and low light situations.
The lens continues this great performance in continuous autofocus modes (C-AF) as well. Tracking subjects or switching from near to far objects is pretty seamless and there’s hardly any pulsing (a common trait of Panasonic’s DFD autofocus system) to speak of.
Manually focusing with this lens is a piece of cake. Use it in conjunction with focus peaking and you’ll have no issues, even when shooting wide open. I do have to say, though, that this lens exhibits a lot of focus breathing. If you plan on using this lens for videography, just be sure you’re ready for that. You can see the focus breathing here.
When it comes to image quality, the Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 is a stunner. I have used many 85mm primes in this price range in my time and this offering from Panasonic is up there with the best in this group.
You’re going to get ridiculously sharp images across the entire frame from f/1.8 all the way down to f/16 when diffraction kicks in. I have used the lens on several paid shoots now and will have no problem continuing to use this lens for my professional work. Unless you’re a huge (and I mean huge) pixel peeper, you won’t find any faults with this lens.
Distortions, colors and bokeh
There’s nothing to write home about when it comes to vignetting and chromatic aberrations simply because there’s none to worry about. I have shot in just about every scenario you can think of and I have not seen any CA or fringing. When it comes to flaring, the lens does produce some when shooting directly into a light source, but overall, it’s very well controlled.
There is also a little loss of contrast when shooting into light sources too, but it fares better than other lenses in this category. You’ll see a little bit of pincushion distortion, but keep the lens profiles enabled in your camera and you’ll never have to worry about it. Even if you turn the profile off, it’s very easy to fix during post.
The bokeh you can achieve with this lens from Panasonic is very impressive. Shoot wide open at f/1.8 and your backgrounds will simply melt away. This will please portrait photographers to no end. The bokeh balls that are produced are not perfectly round. They’re close, but they do have a slight cat-eye effect to them. Still, I think they look just fine. The bokeh is never unpleasant or distracting. It’s always smooth, creamy and dreamy.
The Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 renders beautiful colors as well. Perhaps most importantly, this lens renders skin tones that look natural, which is a huge plus for a lens that will be used by portrait photographers. You’re going to find colors that are punchy but not oversaturated. All of the images in this review have not been altered apart from general exposure changes. All of the colors you see are straight out of the camera. I am very happy with the way this lens performs when it comes to color rendering.
A great lens that’s for more than just portraits
The Panasonic Lumix 85mm f/1.8 must be considered as a must-have bang-for-your-buck lens for all L mount users. The focus breathing will be an issue for videographers who use this lens, and the cheap-feeling plastic does let this lens down a little. However, the excellent optics and great autofocus performance more than make up for the shortcomings of this lens.
You’re going to create gorgeous images with fantastic colors and bokeh. You’ll see little to nothing in terms of chromatic aberrations and flare. Overall, if you need a fast prime for portraits, street, product photography, landscapes, low light work or a general walkaround lens, this 85mm option that won’t break the bank is a fine choice.
Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8
A fast affordable prime lens that delivers sharp images, beautiful colors and creamy bokeh. The Panasonic 85mm f/1.8 is more than good enough for portrait photographers of all skill levels. You can also use it for many other genres of photography too. Don’t let the small price tag fool you. This is a lens that will deliver professional-grade images in the right hands and it won’t break the bank.