Conclusion - Pros
- Very good, if not quite outstanding, optics
- Extremely compact and lightweight
- True 1:1 macro
- Reasonably effective image stabilization (but really need to use mode 1)
Conclusion - Cons
- 'Focus-by-wire' manual focus gives no tactile feedback
- No distance or macro ratio scale
- Rectangular lens hood doesn't reverse for storage
- Slow maximum aperture not ideal for portrait use
- Image stabilization ineffective at macro distances
The Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm F2.8 ASPH is the first true macro lens for Micro Four Thirds, and sees Panasonic 'rounding off' its initial lens line to provide users with examples of all of the most popular types (standard and telephoto kit zooms, wideangle zoom, superzoom, fast normal prime and macro). In many regards it's a very appealing little lens, and its diminutive size captures the gestalt of the format perfectly. Optically it is, if not quite top of the class, still very competent indeed - and the 1:1 magnification offers intriguing creative possibilities. Indeed Panasonic G-system owners looking for an autofocus-capable macro lens can probably stop reading and buy one now - it does this job very well.
Perhaps the most interesting comparison to be made is with the Olympus ZD 50mm F2 Macro. This lens works on Micro Four Thirds bodies using an adapter, has a stop faster maximum aperture, and gives 1:2 magnification with exceptional image quality - and the combination may well cost less than the Panasonic 45mm. Autofocus is this lens's weak point - it works only hesitantly on the E-P1, and not at all on Panasonic bodies - but if you're planning on doing slow, considered macro work on a tripod, that isn't much of a problem. The faster maximum aperture also makes it easier to get nicely blurred backgrounds for portrait work. E-P1 owners in particular may find that the 50mm offers a more useful blend of features - especially if they also use Four Thirds SLRs - but we suspect most users will prefer the 45mm's 1:1 macro and better AF.
One area in which the 45mm F2.8 is slightly lacking, though, is when used as a portrait lens (a classic second purpose of short telephoto macros), due to its relatively small entrance pupil. It's just not quite capable of the selective focus and background blurring that many photographers prefer (certainly nowhere near that offered by a 50mm F1.4 lens on APS-C, for example), and users looking for a pocketable portrait prime to complement their E-P1 or GF1 may find themselves underwhelmed. Hopefully either Olympus or Panasonic will fill this gap on the Micro Four Thirds lineup in due course, with something like a compact 50mm F1.8 telephoto. On the plus side, though, the 45mm is fully compatible with the face detection systems on Micro Four Thirds cameras, which can genuinely help in getting properly-focused and exposed informal portrait snaps (and suddenly make real sense, given the relatively limited depth of field compared to conventional compacts).
The implementation of Optical Image Stabilization also seems a little unsuccessful - we found it really needed to be used in Mode 1 for best results on Panasonic bodies (with consequent higher battery drain), and even then the benefit wasn't as great as we're used to seeing from in-lens units. The OIS system was also distinctly ineffective at macro distances (which technically is just what we'd expect), so you'll still need to use a tripod for best results. On balance we'd have preferred a faster, non-stabilized lens.
In ergonomic terms, we weren't overly impressed by the implementation of manual focus. The combination of the 'focus-by-wire' system (which gives no tactile feedback), the lack of a distance scale and the internal focus design makes manual focus surprisingly difficult - especially if you habitually have magnified AF assist enabled. Turn this off and things get better, but if the lens happens to be at infinity with the focus limiter set when you compose a macro shot, you can find yourself turning the focus ring with no visible effect, and no obvious reason why it's not working. However on Panasonic bodies at least this is offset by the (unexpectedly) entirely usable autofocus, with the ability to place a small, precise focus point almost anywhere in the frame.
We were mightily impressed by Panasonic's 20mm F1.7 ASPH, which delivers excellent image quality and a large aperture in a miniature package, and seems to have become an instant cult classic. Unfortunately though, we can't summon up quite the same enthusiasm for the 45mm F2.8 macro. It's not a bad lens in any way (in fact it's a very good macro), just one which doesn't seem (to us at least) to offer a sufficiently compelling blend of features to fully justify the significant price tag.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||7.5|
Highly Recommended (just)
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