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

Leica D 14-50mm coverage

The Leica D 14-50mm employs the Four Thirds standard and is compatible with existing Olympus Four Thirds digital SLRs along with Panasonic's own Lumix L1 (and Leica’s rebadged Digilux 3). The sensor in Four Thirds bodies effectively reduces the field of view by two times, so the Leica D lens delivers an equivalent focal length of 28-100mm.

This provides wide angle to short telephoto and is an ideal general purpose range. The coverage at 14 and 50mm with a Panasonic L1 is shown below, although as a standard Four Thirds camera, you'll get exactly the same coverage on any other Four Thirds model, including the Olympus E-410.

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Leica D 14-50mm coverage with Lumix DMC L1
Lumix L1 with Leica D 14-50mm at 14mm f8
Lumix L1 with Leica D 14-50mm at 50mm f8
14-50mm at 14mm, f8 (28mm equivalent)
  14-50mm at 50mm, f8 (100mm equivalent)

Leica D 14-50mm image stabilisation

The D 14-50mm is not only Leica’s first lens designed for a digital SLR, but also its first with optical stabilisation. Developed with Panasonic, this is branded on the lens as Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) and is powered by a dedicated Panasonic Venus Engine processor. This operates 4000 times per second to detect and counteract any motion, and Panasonic claims up to three stops of compensation is possible.

The lens itself has a single switch to enable or disable OIS, but if mounted on the Lumix L1 (or Digilux 3) body, you have the additional choice of two different operating modes from the Recording menu. These match the OIS modes of existing Panasonic compacts and all-in-ones like the FZ8 and FZ50.

OIS Mode 1 applies stabilisation constantly which means you see the effect through the viewfinder – this can aid composition, especially at longer focal lengths. OIS Mode 2 only applies the stabilisation as you take the picture, which is potentially more effective since the system's starting from a central position; the downside is you won't see the effect as you compose the image. Once again this choice of OIS modes is only available when the Leica D 14-50mm is used on the Panasonic Lumix L1 or Digilux 3; if you attach it to any other Four Thirds DSLR, such as the Olympus E-410, it’ll either be always on or off as set by the switch on the side.


Panasonic Lumix DMC L1
Mega OIS off
Panasonic Lumix DMC L1
Mega OIS Mode 1
Panasonic Lumix DMC L1
Mega OIS Mode 2
14-50mm at 50mm, 0.77 sec, 200 ISO   14-50mm at 50mm, 0.77 sec, 200 ISO   14-50mm at 50mm, 0.77 sec, 200 ISO

Above are crops from three examples of a bottle label taken from a distance of 30cm with the lens fully zoomed-in to 50mm (100mm equiv) at a shutter speed of 1/1.3 (0.77 secs), taken with OIS disabled, followed by OIS Mode 1 then OIS Mode 2. The original crops measured 370x240 pixels and therefore represent just over one eighth the width of the full L1 image. Each crop has been reduced to 185x120 pixels for reproduction here - so the images above are equivalent to viewing on-screen at 50%.

The images taken with OIS clearly show camera shake has been greatly reduced, and that Mode 2 really is more effective than Mode 1. This confirms Panasonic's claims and also gives the lens an advantage when used with the Lumix L1 / Digilux 3 bodies. In tests with previous Panasonic compacts and all-in-ones, Mode 2 has also proven more effective at combating camera shake, but harder to compose with at long focal lengths due to the actual view wobbling.

Click here for the Olympus E410 video tour

Interestingly this isn't so much of an issue with the Leica D 14-50mm though for two reasons: first the longest focal length isn't that great compared to the super-zoom magnifications of, say, the FZ50 and FZ8, and secondly the Four Thirds DSLR viewfinders are relatively small, so the appearance of any wobbling is greatly reduced. Consequently we'd recommend owners of the Lumix L1 or Digilux 3 DSLRs keep them set to Mode 2 when using the Leica D 14-50mm, as they'll benefit from superior stabilisation, while not suffering too much from a wobbly view. Should conditions result in the view wobbling too much though, you've always got the option to switch to Mode 1.

To see how the Image Stabilisation performs on another body, check our Olympus E-410 review, and for a demonstration of it in practice, check out our Leica D 14-50mm video tour.

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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