Magic Bokeh, Beautiful Build: Panasonic Leica 25-50mm F1.7 Review

The Micro Four Thirds system is known more for compact size more than bokeh. Similarly, zoom lenses are known for narrower apertures and less sharpness than a lens with a single focal length. The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 aims to challenge both stereotypes. Nearly as bright as the brightest primes, the 25-50mm brings some serious light-gathering prowess with a softly blurred background to boot. To top it off, the sharpness rivals that of a prime lens.

Selling for about $1,800, the Panasonic Leica DG Vario Summilux 25-50mm f1.7 ASPH is a pricey choice, however. In fact, it’s one of the system’s most expensive optics, with only a few super telephoto options eclipsing it in price. And the bright aperture brings some heft to a system that many photographers choose for its ability to travel light. But, for Micro Four Thirds shooters, it’s one of the few options that deliver the versatility of a zoom with an ultra-narrow depth of field.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 has the aperture and sharpness of a prime lens, yet the versatility of a zoom. The optic mixes lovely, soft backgrounds with sharp subjects and some fun flare. But it’s pricey and heavy, and there is some occasional chromatic aberration.

Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bright f1.7 aperture consistently through the zoom range, yet it’s not a prime
  • Weather-sealed, metal design
  • Subjects are really sharp, with only minor softness at the corners and extreme edges.
  • Great bokeh that doesn’t look like Micro Four Thirds
  • Flare adds some character
  • Decent autofocus

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Pricey
  • Occasional chromatic abberation
  • Aperture ring not compatible with Olympus

Gear Used

I used the Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 with the:

Innovations

The brightest zoom lenses are typically an f2.8. But, on a Micro Four-Thirds system, that’s equivalent to an f5.6 level of bokeh. By launching f1.7 zoom lenses, Panasonic provides bokeh that’s a much brighter f3.4 equivalent. While this isn’t the only f1.7 out there — the Panasonic Leica 10-25mm f1.7 is quite similar — the lens offers more bokeh than the typical Micro Four Thirds zoom. I recently switched from a full-frame DSLR with an f2.8 zoom to Fujifilm and compensated for that smaller sensor by picking up an f1 lens. The draw of that ultra-wide aperture shouldn’t be underestimated.

Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 Tech Specs

LensRentals lists the following technical specifications for the Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7:

  • Angle of View: 47° to 24°
  • Aperture Blades: 9, Rounded
  • Aspherical Elements: 1
  • Autofocus: Autofocus
  • Brand: Panasonic
  • Diameter: 3.4”
  • Extra Low-Dispersion Elements: 3
  • Filter Size: 77.0mm
  • Focal Length: 25.0-50.0
  • Groups/Elements: 11/16
  • Hood Included: Yes
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Item Type: Lens
  • Length: 5.0”
  • Lens Type: Telephoto
  • Max Aperture: 1.7
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.21x
  • Mfr. Model Number H-X2550
  • Minimum Aperture: 16.0
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.9 feet
  • Mount: Micro 4/3rds
  • Ultra High-Refractive Index Elements: 1
  • Weight: 1.4 lbs.

Ergonomics

As an f1.7 lens, the Panasonic Leica 25-50mm isn’t exactly the compact, lightweight typical Micro Four Thirds lens. But, it’s not an unwieldy beast either. I carried this lens — which weighs 1.4 pounds — on a few different hikes and it wasn’t overwhelming. It’s a bit front-heavy on the E-M1 Mark III, but not enough to make the grip dig into my hand. It’s about five inches long and widens out from the mount to accept 77mm filters at the front.

The controls on the lens are simple, yet ergonomically excellent. First is the zoom ring, with classic Leica lettering. The focus ring is the middle control and it includes an autofocus clutch. If you pull the focus ring back, the lens enters manual focus mode. This also reveals a focus distance scale, which is hidden if the lens is in autofocus mode. 

Finally, the last ring is an aperture ring. This ring actually didn’t change the aperture when mounted on the Olympus E-M10 Mark III due to a compatibility issue. This ring is non-functioning for Olympus bodies; the aperture is adjusted on an Olympus camera body instead. While it’s not a deal-breaker as you can still change the aperture, it may be a deal-breaker for Olympus shooters who don’t want to drop $1,800 on a lens that isn’t fully compatible. The ring has an A spot for auto, as well as for aperture settings from f1.7 to f16. The aperture ring is the de-click type, so it turns smoothly without a pause.

The front of the lens is mostly glass, with a small edge. The lens ships with a hood that has a button lock.

Build Quality

As a metal body lens, the Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 is lovely. The lens feels great in the hands — enough that I was sad that shooting in teen temperatures meant gloves were a must. The rings are easy to reach for and turn smoothly. The lettering on the lens also looks more Leica than Panasonic.

Thankfully, this lens is dust and weather-resistant. I shot with it in light snow and set it down on top of snow and ice with no issues. I also didn’t find dust build-up on the sensor. The metal build makes this lens feel very solid. In terms of looks and build, I think it has more in common with the other Leica lenses I’ve used than the plastic but durable Panasonic optics.

Autofocus

With the ability to focus as close as .9 feet, the lens can get in nice and close for a mid-telephoto length. That allows for some close-up portraits. It’s not macro territory, but it’s pretty good for a non-macro lens.

Despite having a narrower depth of field, the autofocus on this lens did quite well. Photographing a dog running straight toward the camera, the lens only missed once or twice while the subject was within the focus range. This was shooting at 10 fps. As the dog got too close to the lens, of course, focus dropped off. But, this lens kept up with action fairly well.

Ease of Use

Metal lenses with aperture rings are my favorite, which means this Panasonic-Leica co-branded lens was a joy to use. My only disappointment was that the aperture ring didn’t work when mounted on the Olympus E-M1 Mark III. It’s easy enough to change the aperture on the camera body, but there’s just something reflexive about twisting a lens ring to adjust the aperture.

The only controls are the rings on this lens, so there are no Fn buttons to learn or switches to bump. The trickiest part about this lens is the pull-back ring to enter manual focus. It’s a hidden control that’s not obvious at first glance. And, beginners can bump this and panic trying to figure out why the autofocus no longer works. But, after that “aha” moment discovering that pull-back ring, it’s a straightforward lens. It didn’t distract me from getting caught up in the photo.

Image Quality

The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 brings some gorgeous bokeh to the Micro Four Thirds system, yet keeps the flexibility of a zoom. The sharpness also felt more like a prime, while the flare adds some character to backlit shots.

Bokeh

Looking at the bokeh from this lens, I wouldn’t immediately guess that these photos were shot on a Micro Four Thirds system. The f1.7 and the longer focal length mix to create some nicely blurred backgrounds. The sharp subject pops really well against a soft background.

25mm
50mm

Points of light are rendered into soft circles without a hard edge. The bokeh balls did have a very slight texture to them but didn’t feel like soap bubbles. At 25mm, the bokeh does tend to become cat-eye shape a bit at the edges. But, at 50mm, the bokeh retained more of the rounded shape towards the edges. This is the lens for bokeh lovers shooting on Micro Four Thirds.

Sharpness

The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 is impressively sharp through most of the image wide open. If you place the subject in the extreme corners or on an edge, you’ll need to stop down to f4 or beyond for ideal sharpness. This held true at both 25mm and 50mm. But, 99 percent of the time, this lens is plenty sharp without stepping down.

At times, the JPEGs felt a little bit too sharp, creating unnecessary definition in the eyebrows of close-up portraits. But, the RAW files were just a bit drawn back, lending well to adding or reducing sharpness in post.

Lens Character

Directed towards the sun, this lens can create some fun purple and green flare. When the light is at an edge, I was able to get some streaky flare. Pointing directly at the light, I could also grab some purple and green ghosting spots. Sometimes, the lens had some purple flare that looks like it was made up of a bunch of tiny circles. If you want flare variety from a lens, there’s a lot here. 

Take a look at the flare that I captured, but please excuse the lack of any sort of subject; finding the sun during a midwest winter is almost as rare as spotting Sasquatch. I had to shoot quickly when the opportunity presented itself.

Most of the time, chromatic aberration was well controlled. I did detect some minor occasional color fringing, typically with high contrast, such as the flare of the sun through tree branches.

The longer focal length tended to keep straight lines straight. Vignetting around the edges is also minimal. In fact, it was difficult to detect any sort of bending or darkening at the corners when flipping from the JPEGs to the RAW files without a lens profile applied.

Color Rendering

In flat light, this lens performed similarly to others I’ve used on the body of the E-M1 III. The flare, again, tends to introduce more purple into the scene, as well as occasionally more golden streaks of light. If you want neutral colors, avoid backlighting with this lens where the light may introduce more purples.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews that show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • I love shooting with the brightness of a prime lens but the versatility of a zoom.
  • The metal, weather-sealed design feels great.
  • The images are sharp enough that they look like they were shot with a prime lens, even at f1.7.
  • The background blur is beautiful and hard to find on Micro Four Thirds.
  • The variety of possible flares adds some character (though of course, some photographers won’t like this).
  • The autofocus performed well.

Dislikes

  • The brighter aperture and metal build make this lens a bit heavier.
  • This is one of the priciest lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system.
  • Occasionally, I did find some minor chromatic aberration.
  • The aperture ring didn’t work on the Olympus body that I tested this with.

The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 lens is exactly what the Micro Four Thirds system needs. While the lens is heavier and pricier than most other lenses for this system, the mixture of sharp subjects and smooth backgrounds will be worth the investment for many photographers. It’s a great option for several different types of shoots, including portraits and events.

While this lens is excellent, it is an investment. Hopefully, the Leica in the name will help the lens retain more of its value if resold down the road. It’s also heavier, though not terribly so. If you pixel peep, you might notice some very occasional chromatic aberration and soap bubble bokeh. And, for Olympus shooters, that aperture ring is just dead weight.

The Panasonic Leica 25-50mm f1.7 delivers a mix of sharpness, bokeh, and versatility that make it a go-to lens for photographers lucky enough to have the budget for it. It’s a lens I would have on my wish list if I shot Panasonic; there would be some hesitation for Olympus because of the lack of aperture ring compatibility in such a pricey lens. I’m giving this lens five out of five stars. Want one? Rent it at LensRentals. Or pick one up at Amazon or Adorama.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.