Panasonic has created a very attractive lens that delivers high-quality, detail-rich images at the fraction of the cost of the Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4. Given how capable the Lumix 50mm f/1.8 is, it’s hard to imagine that many people will be willing to pay 5x more and carry the extra weight of the f/1.4 optic to gain a 1/3EV increase in the aperture size.
Nice size and weight for full-frame
Smaller, lighter and more affordable than the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f1.4
Chromatic aberration can be an issue
Manual focusing recommended with close subjects
What is the Panasonic Lumix S 50mm F1.8?
Panasonic already has a 50mm lens for its S-series of full-frame mirrorless cameras but the Lumix S 50mm F1.8 reviewed here is less than a third of the weight and a fifth of the price of the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f1.4.
Panasonic has also given the Lumix S Pro 50mm f1.8 the same build, dimensions and filter size, and a very similar weight, to the existing Lumix S 85mm f/1.8. What’s more, the S 50mm f/1.8 and S 85mm f/1.8 are set to be joined by a 24mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8 built in the same way. This will mean that photographers and videographers can switch seamlessly between the four optics. That should be especially convenient for videographers using a gimbal as the rebalancing should be minimal.
Construction: 9 elements in 8 groups 3 aspherical, 1 ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) and 1 UHR (Ultra-High Refractive Index) lens elements
Minimum focus distance: 0.45m / 1.48ft
Maximum magnification: 0.14x
Number of diaphragm blades: 9
Filter size: 67mm
Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 73.6 x 82mm
As it’s designed for use on Panasonic’s full-frame mirrorless cameras like the Lumix S1, Lumix S1R and Lumix S5, the Panasonic Lumix S 50mm f1.8 has the L-mount, which is also used by Leica and Sigma, Panasonic’s partners in the L-mount Alliance.
The Lumix S 50mm F1.8 is constructed from 9 elements in 8 groups with 3 aspherical lenses, one ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) element and one UHR (Ultra-High Refractive Index) element. The aspherical elements help to deliver high resolution across the image frame along with attractive bokeh, while the ED elements minimise chromatic aberration.
There’s also a 9-blade rounded aperture that’s designed to give out of focus areas, especially highlights, an attractive appearance. According to Panasonic, the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 uses micro-step aperture control for smooth exposure adjustment – which is especially beneficial when recording video.
As there’s no stabilisation system built in the Lumix S 50mm F1.8, photographers and videographers must rely solely on the camera’s in-body image stabilisation system (IBIS). That’s not much of an issue as IBIS works well with shorter optics whereas lens-based stabilisation is better for long telephoto lenses.
Panasonic has sealed the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 against dust and moisture. Look carefully at the rear end of the lens and you’ll see a slim rubber-like gasket around the mount.
Build and handling
At 82mm in length and 300g in weight, the Lumix S 50mm F1.8 makes a very nice pairing with Panasonic’s full-frame mirrorless cameras. I used it with the 47Mp Panasonic S1R.
Panasonic has kept the exterior of the Lumix S 50mm F1.8 pretty simple and there’s just a manual focus ring and a switch to select automatic or manual focusing.
The broad focusing ring sits within easy reach of your thumb and forefinger when you support the camera from underneath. And while the ring feels a bit stiffer than the focus rings on the best Nikon lenses that I’ve tested recently, you can rotate it with one finger. Nevertheless, it feels a bit more natural to use your thumb and forefinger and it enables more precise adjustment.
As a focus-by-wire lens, there are no discernible endpoints to the focusing ring’s rotation. However, as soon as the AF/MF switch is flicked to MF and the focus ring is rotated, a distance scale and magnified view appear in the viewfinder or screen to aid focusing. If you wish, focus peaking can be added to the mix.
The level of detail captured at the centre of the frame when the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 is mounted on the Panasonic S1R, is very impressive. What’s astonishing, however, is how little detail is lost towards the edges of the frame – even when the aperture is wide-open.
Detail levels are also maintained well throughout the aperture range but it peaks at around f/5.6. Inevitably, there’s some sign of the impact of diffraction, but it’s not bad and I’d happily shoot at the minimum aperture of f/22 if necessary. Setting the in-camera Diffraction Compensation to ‘Auto’ helps sharpen up small-aperture shots a little, but I wouldn’t get flustered if it was turned off.
Also, even with the camera’s Vignette Compensation turned off, there’s only slight darkening of the corners of images shot at the maximum aperture. Closing the aperture to f/2.0 brightens up the corners and by f/2.8 the corner shading is negligible.
Nevertheless, if you shoot images of a plain wall or something similar and switch quickly between images shot at f/2.8 and f/4, you’ll notice a slight brightening of the corners in the f/4 photographs. In most real-world situations, however, the vignetting is likely to go unnoticed, and with the Vignetting Compesantion turned on in the camera’s menu, you won’t spot any.
I also couldn’t see any sign of curvilinear distortion, which means that straight lines stay straight.
After a spell of terrible weather, I was lucky to receive the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 just as the sun came out. That meant I was able to check for flare outdoors – which is very well controlled – and examine lots of images of backlit subjects to search for chromatic aberration. The majority of my images show no sign of fringing, but a few with extreme backlighting show a hint of it and a couple show it quite clearly. However, I was able to eliminate the chromatic aberration very easily from the files using Adobe Camera Raw.
Crop to highlight the fringing
Panasonic relies upon contrast detection for focusing with its current cameras and when the Lumix S 50mm F1.8 is mounted on the S1R, the focusing is quick and accurate in good light provided that the subject is at a ‘normal’ shooting distance. It becomes a little more hesitant in low light and when the subject is close to the shortest focusing distance of 45cm, it struggles quite a lot. In most cases, I found I had to focus manually with close subjects.
It’s easy to switch to manual focusing by flicking the AF/MF switch with your thumb, but the S1R also has an AF+MF option in its menu that, once activated, gives the ability to adjust the focusing manually using the lens ring even though the lens is set to AF. In this mode, the shutter button needs to be half-pressed for the focus ring to function.
In good news for videographers, the focusing mechanism is silent and focus breathing is controlled very well – something that will also be appreciated by photographers who want to focus stack.
When the Panasonic S 50mm F1.8 is set to its wide aperture, depth of field is very limited and there’s rapid fall-off in sharpness behind the subject. This means that you can isolate your subject from its background very effectively, which is ideal for portraiture. Conversely, at the minimum aperture (f/22), there’s extensive depth of field, making it useful for a range of subjects including landscape and cityscapes.
If the aperture is wide open and depth of field is shallow, out of focus areas look smooth and pleasantly blurred. Specular highlights are also round and show now signs of onion rings or chromatic aberration. As you might expect, the ‘bokeh balls’ become more rugby ball (cat’s eye) shaped towards the far corners of the frame, but it’s quite subtle.
While the Lumix S Pro 50mm f1.4 is Panasonic’s highest-quality 50mm optic for its S-series cameras, the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 doesn’t feel compromised or ‘built to a price’. It delivers impressively good images with excellent sharpness across the frame and throughout the aperture range. There’s certainly no reason to avoid the largest or the smallest aperture settings.
Although I experienced some obvious chromatic aberration in a couple of quite extreme situations, it takes about 3 seconds to eliminate the fringing in Adobe Camera Raw.
Panasonic has promised two more f/1.8 lenses with the L-mount, a 24mm and a 35mm. If they match the performance of the Lumix S 50mm f/1.8, Panasonic will have a very attractive set of prime lenses on its hands.
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