Though it might seem less popular than other systems (probably due to marketing), the L Mount Alliance is producing some of the best full-frame lenses currently available. In this case, Panasonic Lumix worked in tandem with their buddies at Leica to release their second 70-200mm lens for full-frame systems: the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f/2.8 OIS.
Though Panasonic launched its S system last year with the 70-200mm f/4 lens (among others), photographers like myself were waiting for the f/2.8 version that would give us more flexibility in low light, and of course more noticeable subject separation wide open.
Though I’ve only been able to use the 70-200mm f/2.8 a couple of times since receiving it, I’m confident enough to share a few initial impressions should you be interested in picking one up for yourself.
Before we get started, this lens is classified as a Lumix S Pro lens, which means it is Leica certified. Other Leica certified S Pro lenses include the 50mm f/1.4 and the 24-70mm f/2.8. Both of those lenses are spectacular, so my expectations were high for this latest optic.
Big, Heavy, and Beautiful
Let’s get one thing out of the way: this lens is big and heavy. Like, really big and heavy.
The specifications on Adorama say 55.38 ounces, but my in-home scale has it weighing in at significantly more: 67.2 ounces or 4.2 pounds. Maybe the specification weight doesn’t include the collar and the lens cap; I’m not sure.
But compare this to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L III, whose specifications say it comes in at 3.26 pounds, Nikon’s 70-200mm f2.8 E, which weighs in at 3.15 pounds, or Sigma’s 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, at 3.97 pounds, and you get an idea of how much heavier the Lumix is than the other designs.
When attached to either an S1 or S1R, the weight is really noticeable. None of the Panasonic Lumix S cameras were going for small or lightweight with their design, and it’s clear that also wasn’t of extreme importance to the makers of this lens either. That said, if you’re a fan of the Lumix S cameras, you’re likely already used to carrying around a system that rivals the weight of a fully-loaded DSLR.
As big and heavy as it is, the design of this lens is really quite gorgeous. The matte metal finish feels great in hand, and everything about the lens feels sturdy and robust. The focus rings have just the right level of resistance to them, and the internal zooming means I never once had to think about balance changes whiles working. The focus ring also has a manual focus clutch, which I really like and appears to be becoming a standard for the S Pro lenses from Panasonic.
Finally, and this is going to seem really insignificant to some of you, but my favorite feature about this lens from a build perspective is actually the collar, because it has a built-in Arca Swiss plate.
I know this isn’t the first time something like this has been directly built onto a camera or lens, but it’s still very rare to find and exceedingly helpful when you do.
I tested the lens on a number of Arca Swiss heads ranging from Really Right Stuff to Peak Design’s Travel Tripod, and it worked flawlessly with all of them. Despite the downside that this thing weighs more than a few of my other lenses combined, I have to give the designers credit for including a really great feature here.
Worth the Weight?
If a lens is going to weigh more than any of its competitors, it better make great images right? Luckily, it does.
Subjects are beautifully sharp and crisp, contrast points are devoid of aberration, and overall I am exceedingly pleased with the visual quality, even wide open. I’ve done some shots with the lens fully closed down as well, and though I can’t show those right now due to NDA, I can say that I was very happy with how sharp images were, even taking diffraction into consideration.
As far as sharpness goes, I would say it’s not as “cuttingly” sharp as a high-end Sony lens, but I actually like that. Some new lenses on the market are so sharp, so perfect, that images I make with them look almost unreal. Sometimes you want a little smoothness, fewer harsh edges, and this lens hits that sweet spot: sharp enough that images pop, but not so sharp that it makes my eyes hurt.
This is of course, subjective. I prefer this, but others might like their lenses to produce razor-sharp images. To each his own.
Though I would likely be perfectly happy with just the in-body image stabilization in the S1, the 70-200mm f/2.8 also includes optical image stabilization (OIS). I did some tests handheld with the OIS active and not active, and though it did make a positive difference, I wouldn’t say that it was extremely noticeable. This is likely because it was a controlled situation with no stress.
I think where it will be most helpful is in dynamic, moving situations or once your hands are a bit worn out from holding the lens for long periods of time. The IBIS combined with the OIS makes for a stellar stabilization combo that all but assures unwanted blur stays out of your images, even when shooting handheld at 200mm.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 has a very quiet and fast focusing motor, but I have to be honest: it’s hard to test this feature on the Lumix’s contrast-based system. While, yes, it was able to track and follow my subjects quite easily, there were multiple times when the autofocus algorithm got confused and missed focus.
The thing is, when the focus misses, it misses by a mile; when a shot was lost I knew right away, which is its own weird sort of advantage. It’s preferable to shooting and getting images that are just slightly out of focus, because you only notice those when you get back to your editing station.
During my shoot, I kept OIS on, and every single one of the images that I thought should have been sharp, was.
Looking through the viewfinder, I was watching these focus hiccups happen in real-time, and could tell that it wasn’t the lens that was the problem, it was the camera. When my subjects weren’t actively walking away from or towards the camera, I had no focus issues. It’s moving subjects that Panasonic, and the whole L Mount Alliance honestly, has to eventually address with future hardware.
The last thing I want to discuss is the defocused areas, or bokeh. In recent articles, I’ve talked about the difference between sterile-yet-perfect image reproduction versus images that may be technically flawed, but more interesting. The Lumix 70-200mm f/2.8 falls somewhere in between those points, while leaning slightly closer to the sterile-yet-perfect side of things.
It’s sharp and has no major aberration issues that have occurred to me in testing.
Additionally, I was chatting with PetaPixel Editor in Chief DL Cade about what he thought of the bokeh, and I think he put it best: “It’s pleasant, but lacks any distinguishing character. The best way to describe it, in my opinion, is almost ‘invisible.’ It doesn’t draw attention to itself in any way, positive or negative.”
To my eye, it has more character than something like a new Sony lens, but not so much that it becomes part of what you notice when looking at the photos. In some images, like the one below, it can almost look slightly swirly, a trademark of some of Leica’s most sought-after lenses.
But in others, it’s kind of just… there, with a Gaussian blur-like defocused area.
I’ll let you as readers ultimately decide if you like the bokeh on this lens. For me, I think it’s nice, and in the videos I’ve shot with it, I really like it.
The Big Picture
Looking at all the 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses on the market, the Lumix is most certainly one of the more expensive currently out there. But once you separate DSLR and Mirrorless, it starts to look a bit better. While it is more expensive than all the DSLR 70-200mm lenses, it actually competes pretty well against the mirrorless options.
Canon’s RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM is actually over $100 more expensive, and Sony’s is the same price as Panasonic’s. So while the sticker price of $2,600 might seem very high if you haven’t purchased a 70-200mm f/2.8 in a while, it’s actually solidly competitive with the current market.
Having shot with both of Panasonic Lumix’s 70-200mm lenses, I think I prefer this one over the f/4 version simply because the bokeh is more attractive for my portrait and video work. The f/4 version is certainly a better choice if it’s going to be a landscape or aerial lens, or if you want to try and keep the weight of your kit as low as possible, but for pure image quality with no compromises, I’d go with this new f/2.8 version every time.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the quality of the lens, and find very little to actually complain about beside the size and weight of it. If you’re shooting in the L-Mount Alliance, this looks like it’s going to be a great lens to add to your kit.
This article originally appeared on Rangefinder, where Jaron is the Senior Tech Editor.