Leica D VARIO-ELMARIT 14-50mm f2.8-3.5 lens review - Verdict

Verdict


 
 

The Leica D 14-50mm is certainly a unique proposition: it is after all the only optically stabilised lens in the Four Thirds fit at the time of writing. So if you have a Four Thirds camera and want a stabilised lens, you literally have no other choice.

This could therefore have been our shortest verdict yet at Cameralabs, as there’s simply no competition in terms of stabilised optics – but that’s not to say it’s your only choice if you’re after an anti-shake solution for the Four Thirds standard. After all, for the same price as the Leica D 14-50mm you could alternatively buy yourself a brand new Olympus E-510 with built-in sensor-shift stabilisation and two kit lenses, offering a greater 14-150mm focal range.

In its favour, the Leica lens has superior build quality, a brighter aperture, excellent optical performance (especially at longer focal lengths), and when fitted on a Panasonic L1 / Leica Digilux 3, it supports an additional, slightly more effective stabilisation mode, not to mention a traditional aperture ring. You also get to see the effect of the stabilisation through the optical viewfinder, which is something you don’t get with a sensor-shift system.

The E-510 kit though is undoubtedly a compelling alternative. If you’re thinking of the Leica lens for an existing Olympus body, you’ll almost certainly have a lower resolution model. Buying the E-510 therefore gets you an upgrade to 10 Megapixel resolution and the benefit of Live View along with built-in stabilisation. And while you won’t see the effect of the sensor-shift stabilisation through the E-510’s optical viewfinder, you should see it on-screen using the Live View facility. It’s also worth remembering the Leica’s aperture ring and second stabilisation mode won’t work on any existing Olympus bodies.

As for the optical quality, the Leica zoom is certainly very good, especially when zoomed-in, but it’s by no means way ahead of the latest Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm kit lens; indeed our results illustrate how good the new ED 14-42mm kit lens really is.

If this kit lens wasn’t so good and the Leica model perhaps either had a constant f2.8 aperture or a longer optical range, then there could be sufficiently compelling reasons to upgrade. But as it stands, it makes a lot more sense for most people to buy an E-510 kit instead, or wait for the forthcoming Olympus professional DSLR.

That’s not to say the Leica D 14-50mm isn’t recommended overall though. It’s a quality lens and an ideal partner for the Panasonic L1 and Leica Digilux 3 bodies, where its full features are supported and its physical characteristics perfectly matched. So if you’re buying either of these bodies, you can rest-assured they come supplied with a great quality general-purpose lens. It also makes much more sense to buy the Leica D 14-50mm as part of the Panasonic L1 kit, as it currently costs little more than the price of the lens alone; see our Panasonic Lumix L1 review for more details. So it’s not that the Leica lens has any particular faults – on the contrary, it’s really very good, but the same money could get you an alternative which most would find preferable.

But where does this leave existing Olympus DSLR owners who are after an optically stabilised lens? In our view it doesn’t leave them in much of a better position than before. The Leica D 14-50mm may offer stabilised facilities and good quality optics, but you’d have to be very attached to your existing DSLR to buy it over an E-510 kit.

Since Olympus won’t produce any stabilised lenses, what we really need is an affordable option from a third party, which right now means either Sigma or Panasonic and Leica. The latter duo have half-answered the prayers of Four Thirds owners by announcing a 14-150mm lens with stabilisation. Offering the same equivalent 28-300mm range as the massively successful Nikkor 18-200mm complete with optical stabilisation, this could end up being the ultimate general-purpose Four Thirds lens.

The trouble is, we don’t yet know when it will arrive, nor crucially how much it will cost. Certainly if it’s priced around the same as Nikkor’s 18-200mm lens, buyers will again have the choice between it or a brand new E-510 DSLR with built-in stabilisation and two lenses sporting the same optical range – and again for most people the new camera kit will ultimately prove a more compelling option.

As our Leica D 14-50mm video tour demonstrates though, the optical image stabilisation on this model works a treat and bodes well for future Leica digital lenses. We certainly look forward to testing it, and seeing how it measures-up against the E-510’s built-in stabilisation.


Good points
The only Four Thirds lens with stabilisation.
Good optical and build quality.
Brighter focal ratio than kit lens.
Analogue style aperture ring.

Bad points
Relatively expensive when sold alone.
Aperture ring only works with L1 & Digilux 3.
OIS Mode 2 only works with L1 & Digilux 3.
Limited availability by itself.

Scores
(relative to other Four Thirds zooms)

 

Build quality:
Optical quality:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:


20 / 25
20 / 25
20 / 25
15 / 25

75%

 
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