My reviewing style
I write reviews in terms of how I use a product, what I like about it, and how it works for me. I am not a super technical reviewer. If you want to read really in depth stuff about this product, then this may not be the review for you. I just review products in simple terms and a straight-forward manner: what I like and/or dislike about it, how it feels, how it works for me in the field, and anything else I observe about it when I have used it. Just wanted to make that clear.
On to the lens, Jim!
Ok, I am getting there, but first things first – I was a super wide-angle guy FOREVER. I had a full frame Nikon and just LOVED firing away with the Nikon 14-24mm lens. It’s a wonderful piece of glass, and there’s a reason it’s so popular with the Nikon crowd. It’s really just an excellent thing to have on hand, though I admit you will pay dearly for it, and it weighs about 75 pounds. Well, maybe a little less than that. :-)
But for various reasons, I ended up switching over to the Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera, and it has seriously changed my photography in a lot of ways – and all good, I believe. My old habits have been replaced with new experiments (I hesitate to call them habits just yet, and that makes them sounds boring and repetitive anyways, which they are definitely not), and I am loving every minute of it. I am getting more creative, I have broken with many old habits, I am crafting a few style for myself, and I find that I am experimenting more and more in the field.
It’s refreshing, actually. I feel more creative and fluid in my shooting - and truthfully, that’s how I want to feel about my photography.
The first thing that happened was I broke my addiction to that wide angle lens, and have since fallen in love with shooting the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, which is just awesome. It’s incredibly versatile, and I use it all the time. The range is fantastic for the type of photos I often take (cityscapes, travel shots, etc), since it’s basically equivalent to 24-80mm in the full frame format (there’s a 2-1 factor because of the sensor size on a micro-four-thirds camera).
I can zoom in and out across a pretty good range, so that is hard to beat for versatility. But it’s also a constant f/2.8 all the way through the entire zoom range, so that’s nice (however you can obviously adjust the aperture if you want or need to – though admittedly, I shoot at f/2.8 on that lens most of the time now - it’s a perfect setting!).
Adding to the arsenal: it’s prime time!
But seeing as how I am on this creative journey, I continue to try new things, and now find myself the proud owner of the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 prime lens. I really never expected to write about owning a prime lens - or actually owning one - but here I am, and so far it's been fabulous to use.
As I understand it, it’s designed jointly by Leica and Panasonic, but actually manufactured by Panasonic, so while it is not a “true” Leica lens 100% through and through, it’s certainly got some of the Leica DNA built in to it. If you aren’t familiar with Leica, suffice it to say they are very well-known for building incredible cameras and lenses with fabulous optics. They get a lot of respect in the photographic community. In short, Leica makes top-quality gear.
I literally feel different when using this lens
This is the first time I have really ever used a prime lens. It just wasn’t my thing in the past, mostly because I was addicted to the wide-angle. But I am really glad I have this one, and I will be shooting a lot more with it in the future. It’s a fabulous piece of gear, and feels way more versatile than I would expect with a prime.
Once I have it on the camera, I honestly feel different. That may sound weird, but it’s true. Maybe prime lenses have that effect on people - I have no idea, having never owned one before. But I definitely have a different vibe going on when using this lens - and I mean that as a complement. I look at things differently, and even look at different things.
I guess it makes sense in some ways, as it’s a purer photographic experience. What I mean is that with a prime, you can’t “get away with” zooming in or out for a shot. You literally have to zoom with your feet, move around, sort out your composition, and figure all that stuff out with your physical body - you can’t "lazily" just zoom in or out with the lens.
This seems to get you more actively engaged in your shooting. It’s really easy to go out shooting and just go straight into auto-pilot mode, firing away without a lot of thought (and I have done that so many times I lost count). With a zoom lens, that gets even easier. And while there is nothing at all wrong with a zoom lens (I own several), having a prime lens on the camera really forces you to get engaged in the composition of your shots. That tends to make you think more about your shots and - I believe - compose better. All of that is good, and all of that is exactly what we should be doing, right?
What I like about it
It’s very small and light, which is perfect for travel. I have even done trips with just this one lens. Attached to the Olympus OMD EM-1, the whole package is just tiny. You can slip it in your bag and barely feel like you added any weight. I am a big fan of traveling light, so this keeps with that theme in a big way.
Since it can shoot at f/1.7, I have used it for night shots in the city without a tripod. I just move up the ISO a bit, and open it all the way to f/1.7, and fire away. It’s really very freeing to have the luxury of just toting around that small thing - and no tripod - and firing away.
I actually think that flexibility is what I like best about the lens. I can zoom in and out with my feet, then bend down if I need to alter the composition - and fire. It’s so much quicker than using a tripod, and it’s just more fluid. As I said above, it's more "pure".
And while it’s not as versatile as the 12-40mm (because it’s a prime), I actually find that having it on forces me to focus on composition, which is never a bad thing. You really do take more time to think about what you are shooting, and how you are shooting it. I study the scene a little more than I would otherwise, then I fire away. And probably fire again, and again. I get a little excited, so it’s hard to stop! :-)
It’s quickly becoming my favorite lens – well ok, maybe tied for favorite with the 12-40mm. I can see lots and lots of uses for this little guy in my day-to-day shooting. I also suspect there will be many more short trips (or local outings in Austin) where I just take this little guy and no other lenses. It’s just fun to shoot with. Small, light, fast – what’s not to like?
I have been shooting with it for a while now, and am really enjoying every minute of it – plus I have captured a lot of different things with it. The lens is tack sharp, and at 15mm is sufficiently wide that I can shoot a lot of what I normally shoot, such as cityscapes, with just a little forward and back shuffle with my feet.
Being a fixed focal length, that’s sort of a requirement. Consider it free exercise!
I also like that at 15mm (which is equivalent to 30mm in the old 35mm standard, or on a full frame) I am essentially at the standard focal length of 35mm. It feels like a tribute to old school photography in some way. I don't know, maybe I'm just weird like that. :-)
A couple of things to know
One cool thing about his lens is that there is a manual aperture ring on it. You can just twist it to adjust the aperture, which is a really cool feature. However, that only works on Panasonic cameras. Since I shoot with the Olympus, I have to adjust the aperture via the dials on the camera. Just wanted to be clear about that.
It’s actually not a big deal to me at all, because I make those adjustments via the dials with all my other lenses, so it’s no different. But if you shoot Panasonic, this is a cool little feature to have at your fingertips.
In case it isn’t clear yet, this lens is designed for micro-four thirds cameras, such as the Panasonic and Olympus lines. It works on either of those two brands, but if you are considering the lens just be sure and check that it will work on your camera before you buy it.
Price-wise, it’s a little bit more expensive than the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime lens. I was actually headed in to Precision Camera here in Austin to buy that one, but after speaking with the staff there, they convinced me this was a better lens, so I went with it. It’s hard to pass up something that says Leica on it. And it happened to be on sale that day for the same price as the Olympus, so that’s nice.
Also note that at 15mm, it is 2mm wider than the Olympus 17mm, and it is f/1.7 whereas the Olympus is f/1.8. In other words, it’s a little bit wider and you can open up the aperture a slight bit more. In the scheme of things those two facts may not be a big deal to you, but it’s something to be aware of, as it could affect your decision.
Small and light – weighs in at ~4 ounces (.25 lbs, or 115g) and is 2.26” x 1.42” (57.5mm x 36 mm)
Build quality – feels very solid in hand, despite being small and light
Fast – especially at f/1.7, this little guy just zips
Sharp – my shots are looking very nice and crisp, even in low light and handheld (and honestly, I only shoot handheld with this lens)
Minimum Aperture: f/16
Maximum Aperture: f/1.7
Filter Thread Side: 46mm
Well that’s it – an overview of this wonderful little lens, and what I like about it. If you are shooting mirrorless (micro four thirds) and are giving some thought to a prime lens, this one is well worth the money in my experience. It’s wide enough for those travel scenes you may be shooting, and yet not too wide to make it feel limiting.
Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the photographs (all taken with the Panasonic Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens of course, and all taken at f/1.7 too - well except for the photos OF the lens, which were shot with my iPhone), and please let me know if you have any questions!