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Leica D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm f2.8-3.5 lens review Gordon Laing, June 2007

Leica D 14-50mm design and build quality

The Leica D 14-50mm was jointly developed by Panasonic and Leica Camera AG specifically for digital photography – indeed the D stands for digital. Panasonic understands optical enthusiasts like to know where a lens comes from, so in the Lumix L1 FAQ clearly states the lens is manufactured under a licensing agreement with Leica Camera AG in a Panasonic plant based in Japan that’s satisfied the required manufacturing standards.

The 14-50mm is actually the first of three Leica D lenses for Four Thirds DSLRs, the second being a 25mm f1.4 fixed focal length model, and the third being another zoom with optical stabilisation, but with a much broader 14-150mm focal length. This last lens does not yet have an official release date or price.

The Leica D 14-50mm lens is pictured below in its shortest and longest positions. It measures 76mm in diameter, 103mm in length when zoomed-out and extends by only 11mm when zoomed-in. Weighing 490g it’s relatively light for a lens with its specification. A decent lens hood is included which can be reversed over the body for storage, although you’ll need to remove it or mount it properly for easy access to the zoom ring.

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Leica D 14-50mm at 14mm, left, and 50mm, right


The Leica D 14-50mm employs 16 elements in 12 groups including two large diameter aspherical lenses, and delivers a fast focal ratio of f2.8 at 14mm and f3.5 at 50mm; the smallest aperture is f22.

 
Leica 14-50mm mounted on Panasonic Lumix L1
 

The build quality is excellent with a tough exterior and smooth mechanics, roughly equivalent to the Olympus Zuiko Digital Professional lens range, although there’s no details concerning environmental sealing or protection against splashes. Following the retro look and feel of the Lumix L1 digital SLR, Leica’s implemented an analogue aperture ring which allows quick and easy control over the f-number. Note this ring only works with the Lumix L1 digital SLR though (and Leica’s rebadged Digilux 3), so if you’re an Olympus DSLR owner, you’ll need to set the ring to A and adjust the aperture electronically as before.

On the side of the lens is a single switch to enable the Mega Optical Image Stabilisation, OIS. Panasonic claims up to three stops of compensation against camera shake which we’ll put to the test on the next page and demonstrate in our video tour.

Leica 14-50mm mounted on Olympus E-410
 

Autofocus performance is very quick, although slightly noisier than Canon USM and Nikkor SWM lenses. Focusing takes place internally, leaving the lens barrel static. This is good news for users of polarising filters, and the thread diameter is 72mm.

It’s important to note that like other Four Thirds lenses, the manual focusing is motor-assisted. The Leica D 14-50mm’s focusing ring is smooth and offers fine control, but it’s not as tactile as a traditional mechanical manual focus. As a motorised system, you’ll also need electrical power, so manual focusing is not possible with the camera switched off.

It’s also worth mentioning that like other Four Thirds lenses, the focus distance is reset to infinity when you switch off the camera, although mercifully this doesn’t occur when the cameras go into power-save mode. Some photographers won’t like motorised manual focusing on a DSLR, but if you’re an existing Four Thirds owner, you’ll of course be used to the process.


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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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