Review: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 ASPH

I had the opportunity to shoot with the newly launched Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH, thanks to a loan unit from Panasonic Malaysia. In this review article, I shall share plenty of sample images shot with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens, exploring the characteristics and strengths of the lens, as well as adding my own personal experience during the limited time using the lens.

Some important notes first, before we dive into the lens review. This write up is done independently, and I am currently not tied to any company. The Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens was only a loan unit, and has been returned to Panasonic Malaysia after use for review purposes. My photography review style is less technical and analytical, but heavily based on user experience approach, thus my opinion is subjective. All the images taken in this article were shot with my own Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, shot raw and converted via Olympus Viewer.

The Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens fits perfectly to smaller camera bodies, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
Though an ultra wide angle lens, the Panasonic 8-18mm lens is almost the same size as the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens

Some basic specifications of the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens:

  • lens is fully weather-sealed and freeze proof down to minus 10 degrees Celsius
  • lens construction: 15 elements in 10 groups, includes Aspherical ED, Aspherical and ED lenses, Ultra High Refractive lenses
  • minimum focusing distance of 0.23 meters, with maximum magnification of 0.12x
  • nano surface coating
  • internal zooming mechanism
  • weight of 315g

For full specifications you may refer to Panasonic’s official product site here.

The first thing that caught my attention was the size of the lens being smaller than I expected. Panasonic managed to scale the size of a true ultra wide angle lens down to about the same size as the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens (as pictured above), yet starting at widest angle of 8mm with F2.8 aperture. Surely to keep it that small, the aperture is not constant and will stop down to F4 at the farthest zoom of 18mm.

I personally find that 8-18mm focal length range works better for me, as opposed to the 7-14mm alternative lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. Yes, we all can appreciate that extra bit of width at 7mm for the additional exaggeration of perspective for a breathtaking wide shot, but the furthest zoom of 14mm does not give much flexibility when you do not want to be stuck at wide angle at all times. With 8-18mm coverage, if I decide not to use the superbly wide angle perspective, I can easily zoom all the way to 18mm, providing me an equivalent of 36mm (in 35mm format) which opens up a lot of shooting possibilities, especially if you are a street photographer like myself. Control of perspective matters and can give you more variety of photography outcomes. The 36mm equivalent focal length also results in less perspective distortion and exaggeration, producing more proportionate and natural looking images especially when shooting people in environmental shots. I think having the longer end is worth the compromise of the 1mm width at the widest end.

F4, 1/25sec, 8mm, ISO200 
F3.5, 1/60sec, 9mm, ISO400
F22, 1/80sec, 8mm, ISO200 – An example of the lens’ high susceptibility to flare
F5.6, 1/640sec, 8mm, ISO200
F4.5, 1/1000sec, 8mm, ISO200

I found myself shooting at the widest 8mm most of the time, and I believe that will be the most popularly used focal length for those buying this wide angle lens.

I found the wide angle 8mm images from the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 to be excellent in sharpness across the frame. Zooming in to review my shots, I was impressed by the level of details that the wide angle 8mm was able to resolve. There is noticeable minor softness observed at the extreme corners when shot at 8mm with F2.8 aperture, which should not pose any issue unless you are a chronic pixel peeper. Stopping down to F4, the sharpness, both at the center and at the edge increased marginally and the lens performed at its best at F4 to F5.6. Nevertheless, I will not hesitate to shoot wide open at F2.8 when necessary, especially in less than ideal lighting conditions, and I would be more than satisfied with the level of details and sharpness that the lens provides.

There is something about the way the Panasonic 8-18mm lens renders that makes the image interesting. Though the perspective has been exaggerated and to a certain degree distorted, I still find the results to be pleasing and natural to look at. This is perhaps a quality that many wide angle lenses fail to have, they merely tried their best to fit in as much into the frame as possible, sacrificing the overall image rendering quality. The images from the Panasonic 8-18mm lens do not look forced at all, though at the widest 8mm perspective.

F5.6, 1/2500sec, 8mm, ISO200
Crop from previous image
F2.8, 1/40sec, 8mm, ISO200
F2.8, 1/15sec, 8mm, ISO200
F2.8, 1/13sec, 8mm, ISO200

There is no telling how much software correction was applied to these images when it comes to distortion correction and chromatic aberration compensation. Looking at previews directly from my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera screen, even at 8mm, there was no trace of noticeable barrel distortion at all. All lines appeared to be perfectly straight from edge to edge, and I believe newer Olympus and Panasonic cameras do have built in correction tools to counter any barrel distortion of wide angle lenses.

Similarly, I observed that the chromatic aberration was well controlled for the Panasonic 8-18mm lens and should not pose any issues. At wide aperture F2.8 there was small traces of purple and green fringing in extreme contrasty regions in the image, which should not be a huge concern and can be either easily removed in post-processing or just simply stop down the aperture to F4 or F5.6 to further reduce the chromatic aberration.

Perhaps the only complain I have about this Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens, is how incredibly susceptible to flare it is. I am not sure what kind of nano coating they have applied but I am consistently getting ugly flares and ghostings in my frames whenever I point the lens toward bright source of light. This will be troublesome if your style of shooting is always against back-light, or having any strong source of light within your frame. The flare patterns are not the nice looking kind and certainly not easy to remove away in post-processing. Those having this lens will have to be extra mindful when dealing with flare in their shots.

F5.6, 1/320sec, 8mm, ISO200
F5.6, 1/1600sec, 8mm, ISO200
F3.2, 1/80sec, 10mm, ISO200
F3.2, 1/80sec, 10mm, ISO200

Autofocus of the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens was superbly fast, having speed on par with any newer lenses from Panasonic and Olympus. I have no issues shooting moving subjects (eg. humans walking, vehicles moving) and nailing my shots with high accuracy in focus.

Handling of the lens on Olympus E-M10 Mark II was very good. The lens never felt front heavy, or out of balance. I did use the ECG-3 external grip on my E-M10 Mark II for added comfort and steadier gripping. I found myself shooting comfortably with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens all day long with no straining on my wrists. Surely, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens would handle better with smaller camera bodies in comparison to the Olympus 7-14mm PRO lens.

The Panasonic 8-18mm lens does have very respectable close up shooting performance. It is still far from being a macro lens, which we should not expect it to be, but having good close up shooting is quite important to me too. The sharpness of the lens is well maintained even at the furthest zoom of 18mm, and do bear in mind the aperture is dipped down to F4. If you are getting a wide angle lens especially for a Micro Four Thirds, you really should not have any expectations to achieve shallow depth of field when shooting wide angle.

F13, 1/15sec, 13mm, ISO200
F4, 1/60sec, 18mm, ISO800
F4, 1/25sec, 18mm, ISO200
F4, 1/80sec, 18mm, ISO500
F4, 1/60sec, 18mm, ISO2500

So the obvious question is: where does the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 lens sit now that we have so many wide angle lens options for Micro Four Thirds?

If you are a landscape, architecture or interior design photographer and every bit of extra width is important to you, then losing that 1mm width may not look like a good option against Olympus or Panasonic’s 7-14mm lens.

I cannot tell you which lens is sharper or which lens is better. However I can confidently conclude that the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 packs in quite a punch when it comes to resolving fine details and is more than adequately sharp for current iteration of Micro Four Thirds image sensors. I personally have not used the old Panasonic 7-14mm F4 lens enough to make useful commentary but I have heard of chromatic aberration issues (purple fringing) as well as strong flare problems with that lens. Is the Olympus 7-14mm PRO better? Not an easy question to answer, but it does provide constant F2.8 aperture, better flare control over the two Panasonic lenses, but it is also significantly larger in size and heavier in weight.

F5.6, 1/2sec, 8mm, ISO200 – another example of flare issue

All in all, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4 is an enjoyable lens to use, and is fully capable of delivering sharp and pleasing looking images. If you do not yet have an ultra wide angle lens for your Micro Four Thirds system and is looking to get one, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-8 should be in your list of top considerations!

Update: I know that some of you coming from my old site will appreciate larger size of the images, so if you do want to see bigger images you may go to the online album here.

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 is available here from B&H
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II is available here from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Wow! good to see you Robin. Informative review with fascinating pics as usual.

  2. Hi Robin. Congrats with your new job, nice to see u up and running. I have the Pana 7-14mm and use it on e-m1 and gx7. On gx7 the flare and purple fringing/artifacts is well controlled but on E-m1 it is very present. I suspect the same with this lens, Is there any way you could test this?
    Anyway thank you for your great reviews and solid works!
    Greetings from Norway.

  3. Thanks for the good review. Would have been nice if some comparison had been made to the Oly 9-18 as well, not only the big and expensive 7-14s.
    One small point as well. There is no wide angle perspective. Perspective is the point of view, where camera stands. It has nothing to do with the lens. The angle of view, or field of view, is decided by the lens (and film or sensor size). Perspective does not change with the lens, it only changes when you move the camera closer or further. It is good to keep this in mind so that the word is not used in wrong contexts as it so often is.

  4. Another impressive review, both of you inspired me to venture into photography again. May I know where is the triangle roof located? I can only tell it’s in Kuala Lumpur(I’m local).

  5. Robin, you didn’t mention any issues with the ability to add a protective filter over the ultra-wide lens. How did Pana-Leica solve that issue? The Olympus 7-14 provides a locking, heavy plastic lens cap. The Panasonic 7-14 lens cap doesn’t lock and feels less secure. Any new solution from the 8-18mm lens? Thanks for the fine review and photos, as always.

    • Hey Reverend, the Panasonic accepts any filter with 67mm thread, and it has the typical clip on lens cap. The smaller size allows for the use or normal filters on the lens. I should have mentioned this as an obvious advantage to the lens, I missed that out probably because I was not thinking like a landscape photographer!

  6. Glad to have Robin here! I could never write a comment on Robin’s site because I couldn’t figure out how to post!! Ming’s site never posed that problem for a half literate computer photographer.

  7. What a timely review for me. I need a UWA, and am overwhelmed by the choices. It’s between the Oly 9-18 and this new beast based on performance, size, filter adapting, and price. Thanks for the right up, and if I purchase it will be through your links!

  8. EnPassant says:

    Seem be a nice and sharp zoom. Just a bit pity about the flare. But as it was mostly used at 8mm the obvious alternative would be the new Laowa 7.5mm f2.0 lens. It’s a bit disappointing neither Olympus nor Panasonic are selling any wider prime lens than 12mm excluding fisheye lenses. The MFT lens I’m waiting to see reviews from is the not yet released Pana-Leica 50-200/2.8-4 and preferably compared to the 35-100/2.8 lens.

  9. Hi Robin,
    I am pleased to see you up and posting from your new home!
    Two questions for you.

    Isn’t the flare issue (large blobs) common when using Panasonic lenses on Olympus cameras? Do you think you would have experienced the same issue using a Panasonic camera?

    You shot this series in raw and in the past you mostly posted jpegs. Are you changing your style going forward?

    • Thanks for the warm welcome, Robert.
      I don’t think the blob issue can be solved by in camera correction. I have used a few Panasonic cameras before, GM1, GX7 and recently LX100, flare issues on wide angle did not escape any of these cameras. The problem is with the lens.

  10. how much is the price in malaysia?

  11. Nigel Rugman says:

    It is just worth mentioning, for those of us who are not dedicated regular users of super wide angle lenses, rather, they are an occasional useful addition in our bag, the Olympus 9-18 fits the role particularly well: amazingly light and compact, more than adequately sharp and well corrected and excellent value.I for one bought into mft for small kit in a small bag!
    Nigel

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks for mentioning the 9-18mm Olympus lens. It is one great compact lens! I did wish I had more time to shoot with the 9-18mm more extensively.

  12. Michael says:

    Well conceived, beautifully shot, and exactly the kind of content needed to broaden the audience appeal of MT’s blog. Great teamwork!
    OK, end of book report — on to a question. Do you find that there’s any advantage in using Olympus lenses on Olympus cameras vs. Panasonic lenses when it comes to in-camera lens correction? Not this lens, but in general.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Michael!
      Generally, if you shoot JPEG, or develop the RAW files from the original manufacturer’s softwares respectively, using Panasonic lenses on Panasonic’s body will give you the best optimized results, when it comes to distortion, CA and all kinds of other lens flaw controls and corrections.

  13. Paul Auclair says:

    Thanks to Robin for the great review and images as per his norm and thank you to Ming for bringing Robin on board.

    • Robin Wong says:

      My pleasure to do the review, Paul! Glad you enjoyed the article.

      • Paul Auclair says:

        “My pleasure” indeed.
        Your images and reviews have always shown very well that you enjoy what you do.
        The bonus for us is that you are also good at what you do 😉
        I’m glad you are still at it.

  14. Most interesting report – thank you very much indeed!

  15. Thanks for the review, Ming. I’ve been considering the Olympus 7-14 f/2.8 PRO, but this might well be worth considering as I’m not a “pure” landscape or architectural photographer. I recently purchased the Panasonic 12-60 f/2.8-4 as a travel lens (smaller and lighter than the Olympus 12-100 f/4), and have been very pleased with the results. This could make for a very nice and compact 2 lens travel kit.

  16. awesome review and wonderful pictures!

  17. Robin thanks. Congrats on the new “job”. Your reviews and blog on your old site have been invaluable in my m43 journey, long may his continue.

  18. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Obviously there`s a need for more compact, less flare prone fixed focal, weather sealed 8/2.8

  19. Nice work Robin.
    Note to Ming – it was obvious to me that this was Robin’s work, but I suggest — at least for a while — that you make Robin’s name more prominent at the beginning so occasional readers can catch on to the fact this site has evolved.

  20. Many thanks for an interesting and informative review. A lens to take a closer look at.

  21. Nice review Robin – I am considering this lens – like you I think the extra length is worth the loss of 1mm at the wide end. Do you think the flare is something that is worse on olympus bodies (like the purple blobs from the 7-14 f4), or will be the same on panasonic bodies too? I use panasonic cameras so I hope it would be better, but I guess the same, right?

    • Hey JJ, Ithanks for the kind words. I do not think that flare is an issue that can be fixed by software, the optical “blobs” patterns are quite random and too huge in the image to be magically “erased”. I’d think it will persist in whatever camera body you use it on.

  22. gnarlydognews says:

    before I even read to the end of your review one thing I miss from your blog: glorious display of your images!
    Here I can only seem them in almost thumbnail size… not much of a chance to actually show your talent and the lens’ capabilities?

  23. AZIZI SAID says:

    Aaaah I miss these morning gear-reads ! A good companion to a fine morning espresso. Thank you Ming.

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