Choosing the right equipment for your next journey can be a challenge, even for an experienced professional photographer like Daimon Xanthópoulos: ‘The Panasonic LUMIX cameras are compact and lightweight, but what will be the right lens for the job? Zoom lenses or varifocal lenses offer flexibility but are known to per-form less well optically compared to prime lenses.’ To find out whether the newest high-performance Leica zoom lens is the exception to this rule, Daimon took it with him to Madeira.Generally, I’m a big fan of using prime lenses as they deliver higher image quality, larger apertures and more compact lens designs. But what if you had a zoom lens that delivers the same optical performance with a wide range of focal lengths in a single design? That’s what the new LUMIX Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspherical lens with POWER O.I.S. does on paper. Of course I wanted to try it out on one of my documentaries so I decided to use it exclusively on my journey through the magical island of Madeira, in the Atlantic Ocean.
The first thing I noticed when attaching the lens to my LUMIX GH5 is how well it is built. It feels solid and all the controls are well-placed while at the same time it only weighs 320 grams, keeping the camera nicely balanced. Weight and size may seem to be minor issues when choosing a lens but when you have to work with it all day, they become crucial. The Leica 12-60mm lens, which is comparable to a 24-120mm lens on a full-frame camera, has a variable aperture of f/2.8-4.0. It has a lens configuration of 14 elements in 12 groups and delivers its best performance directly at open aperture. This is very special, as most lenses on the market need stepping down 2 or 3 aperture stops before getting to their best optical performance. Another very strong point of this zoom lens is that it can focus at very close range (20cm from the sensor). This is ideal for photographing small objects but also for close portraits and documentary photographers, who like to get close to their subject.
For the first few days on the island I photographed the old and narrow cobblestone streets of Madeira’s capital city Funchal and its famous flower and fruit market. I wanted to test the lens performance before going to remote areas with it. I started looking for extreme light situations like the small cobblestones reflecting the hard sun at the end of the day. Also, I wanted to see how well the lens would reproduce the many vivid colours at the fruit market. When going through the photographs after these first days I was truly impressed and convinced that the lens could deliver stunning results. I was now ready to test the lens in harsher natural conditions.
The next day I travelled into the mountains and the misty forests of Madeira where another key feature became apparent. This lens is weather sealed which was a major advantage when I placed my camera on rocks and in between small water streams to photograph the amazing waterfalls. I worked for hours in the extremely humid forest environment to capture the mystical atmosphere. Also nice is that I was able to shoot with a wide variety of different angles without having to change lenses, thereby avoiding the risk of getting water, dust or dirt on the sensor. Apart from being weather sealed, the Leica 12-60mm lens has a nano coating on its front lens that reduces the likelihood of dust and water adhering to the glass. Weather sealing might not seem very important for the optical quality but having a lens error due to water or moisture penetration can cause a lot of trouble. Knowing you can work with your lens in any weather or environ-ment is for me as important as the optical performance.
Choosing a zoom lens used to involve compromising the optical quality in favour of flexibility, but the new Leica 12-60mm zoom lens seems to have changed this. This standard zoom lens doesn’t deserve the word ‘standard’ at all and can be considered a high-performance lens delivering great image quality for any professional photographer. Its optical performance in combination with its image stabilisation, wide range of focal lengths and full weather sealing makes it ideal for many types of photography and a joy to work with. In my opinion, this new lens is a must-have for any serious photographer.