The day the Panasonic 42.5 Nocticron was announced, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to own this lens. The only thing that was a little shocking was its rather steep price tag. Nevertheless the Leica branding and the maximum aperture of f/1.2 made it very clear that this would be a very serious piece of kit with almost no shortcomings. Since then the has price dropped a little but it still remains the most expensive lens for the mFT system. The question is if the Nocticron is worth 1500€, especially considering the fact that Olympus has a very cheap and pretty good alternative offering with its 45/1.8 for only 300€.
The Nocticron’s Leica branding is not just a marketing thing that is what you’ll immediately notice the moment you lay hands on this lens for the first time. It is made of metal, feels rock solid and is built like a tank. Seriously the build quality is outstanding, it can’t get any better than that. The focus ring turns very smoothly and is a joy to use even though it is an autofocus lens. And there is an aperture ring, how cool is that? Unfortunately it is doing nothing at all when you put this lens on an Olympus body, but hopefully this might be fixed with a future firmware update.
The lens also features Panasonic’s Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and this is a nice addition for people using Panasonic cameras. For Olympus shooters it’s nothing to worry about since the in body stabilization on modern Olympus cameras is already as good as it gets.
It’s stunning, it really is. I shoot the Nocticron wide open and it is razor sharp. For portraits sometimes it is too sharp and you might find details you usually don’t wanna see in your images. I have no idea why you wanna stop this lens down other than expanding the depth of field, because it hardly gains any sharpness when doing so. For me personally sharpness is not everything, I‘d rather sacrifice resolution to get a more pleasing bokeh. But you don’t need to compromise when using the Nocticron, because it doesn’t only deliver crisp images, no its out of focus rendition is stellar too. I have never encountered a lens that is able to deliver this level of sharpness and a buttery smooth for and background bokeh at the same time. Over the last couple of years I’ve used at least half a dozen of lenses around the 85mm equivalent focal length mark and this one is the best, period.
In my mind 85mm has always been the perfect focal length for portraits and therefore the Nocticron is the perfect companion for this task. It is a breeze to use, especially when shooting at close range with eye detection focus enabled. The autofocus in general is really fast and spot on most of the time. The day I bought this lens I compared it to the Fuji 56 f/1.2 in terms of autofocus speed and it was shocking how much faster the Nocticron performed. Before comparing I wasn’t sure which one to get, since the Fuji offering was almost 600€ cheaper. Even though the Nocticron was far more expensive it was a no brainer. Another positive thing I haven’t mentioned yet is close focusing. The Nocticron is able to focus as close as 0.5m and that’s a very neat feature, since most full frame 85mm primes won’t allow you to get any closer than 0.85m.
Since this is a telephoto lens I wouldn’t use it out on the streets and only occasionally for my reportage work. So, for me it’s almost a portrait only lens, but for this purpose it is possibly the best lens I’ve ever used.
Olympus 45mm f/1.8
The 45 1.8 is small, lightweight and a very good performer. But the only thing the 45 1.8 and Nocticron have in common is their mount, everything else is completely different. If you want a very compact system then get the Olympus, but if you want the best mFT lens that is out there, then go for the Nocticron. Even though it is five times as expensive I think it is worth the money. Keep in mind that the Nocticron is a pro grade lens and that comes at a price.
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
For some reason some people out there seem to point out to the Olympus 75 1.8 as a valid alternative to the Nocticron. To some extent that might be true in terms of craftsmanship and image quality, but 75mm is a totally different focal length that is far less versatile. I use it only if I need more reach or compression. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the lens for its looks – especially the black one – with the big glass element in the front and the outstanding image quality. But when it comes to usability I find it really tough to handle the focal length.
Occasionally people complain about the price of the Nocticron and they argue that it is too expensive for a mFT lens and people are better off buying a used full frame camera and a cheapo 85 1.8 for almost the same amount of money. This combo might be useful to throw the background more out of focus, but it will not deliver the same image quality wide open. To get similar results as the Nocticron can give you at f1.2 you will need to stop down at least by one stop. Even then the level of sharpnessmight be comparable, but the quality of the bokeh won’t. And they also don’t take the stellar build quality into consideration.
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