First Impressions: Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I was upstairs when UPS delivered a package so Mary signed for it. I said, “it’s probably the Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 lens” to which she replied, “it can’t be a lens because the package is too light.” But it was. It turns out that this lens only weighs 11.11 oz, without the beautifully crafted and included locking lens hood, which adds just another ounce.

On a Micro Four-thirds mirrorless camera, the Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens ($1,097.99) produces the equivalent field-of-view of a 16-36mm lens. To suppress color fringing, chromatic aberrations, and spherical aberrations, the lens design uses a single aspherical ED element, three aspherical elements, two extra-low dispersion elements, and one ultra high-refractive index element. Nano Surface Coating minimizes flare and ghosting for increased contrast and color accuracy. The diaphragm has seven blades producing a more-or-less circular aperture producing out-of-focus areas that should make bokeh fans happy.

The metal lens body is splash, dust, and freeze proof for use in challenging environmental conditions, and its 240 fps autofocus works for both photo and video shooting. The lens focuses as close as nine-inches, which may not produce true 1:1 macro images but it’ll do until a real macro lens come along.

Quick Takes:

  • This is a compact lens measuring just 2.89 x 3.46-inches (without the hood) and has a 67mm filter size.
  • Even when compared to other Leica DG lens from Panasonic, build quality is superb. It looks and feels like it’s worth more than $1000.
  • Like a lot of modern—even expensive—lenses the f/2.8 maximum aperture is optimistic. Zooming in from wide open at 8mm, you don’t even get to 8.33mm before the maximum aperture starts closing down. During the field test, I’ll be doing a brick wall test to see what the optical performance is like wide open.
  • Zoom and focus controls are silky smooth and perform the way you wish all lens’s did.
  • Since most recent Lumix (and all Olympus) bodies have IBIS, the lens does not offer image stabilization. And while I’m sure this omission makes the lens more compact, I miss it for my Lumix GH4 and IR-converted G5 and G6.
  • Shooting IR can be flarey but the well-designed lens hood handled the job better than any hood I’ve tried when shooting infrared.

I mounted the lens on one of my infrared converted Lumix cameras and drove down to McCabe Meadows where I made the above photograph at 8mm. Exposure was 1/200 sec at f/16 and ISO 400. In the meantime, look for a full-blown field test of the Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH lens real soon now.

Update: As Part of his What Lens Should I Buy Next? series, Mark Toal will be giving his impressions of the Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 lens in an all-new post on June 30. That will be followed up, my my field test in the following week.