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Panasonic S 85mm F/1.8 Lens Review

The Panasonic S 85mm f/1.8 is a keenly priced lens with promising specs so John Riley's been putting it to the test to find out just how good it is at capturing images.

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Panasonic S 85mm f/1.8 L-Mount

We continue to look at some of the full-frame Panasonic Lumix lenses using the Leica L mount, a collaboration between Leica Camera, Panasonic and Sigma. This is the second we have reviewed, the first being the Lumix S 24mm f/1.8, from a set of three lightweight lenses with virtually identical dimensions and balance. This is intended to particularly benefit videographers as the balance of the camera/lens combination will not change from lens to lens. The complete trio of lenses will be 24mm/50mm/85mm. Now it is the turn of the 85mm f/1.8, again coupled with the 24MP full-frame Panasonic Lumix S5 camera body. The 24mm acquitted itself well, so let's see if the 85mm is up to the same standard.


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Panasonic Lumix S 85mm F/1.8 Handling and Features

Panasonic S 85mm f/1.8 L-Mount

Thanks to the extensive use of plastics, the lens weighs in at a very modest 355g. It looks well made and has the welcome benefit of being dust and splash resistant, as well as freeze-proof down to -10C.

There is a generously sized round lens hood that securely clips into place. The improved design of the hood release catch is flush with the hood and is therefore unlikely to be accidentally released. Within the bayonet fit for the hood is a standard 67mm filter thread.

There are only two controls on the lens. The wide manual focus ring is electronic in operation and, as expected, extremely smooth. The action is quite firm but has a well-balanced feel to its action. The only other control is the AF/MF switch.

The Leica L mount is metal and retained by six screws, more than most. The lens has five retaining screws for its mount, the implication being that maybe it is a sign of robust construction. It is a solid fit with absolutely no play once the lens is seated. Despite this, there were a couple of occasions where the camera advised that the lens was not seated properly. Remounting the lens cured this.


Panasonic S 85mm f/1.8 L-Mount

Focusing is down to 0.8m, or 2.62 feet, for a maximum magnification of 0.13x. This is about what we would expect, but nowhere near macro distances. With videography in mind, the design has very low focus breathing, so focusing will not change the magnification or shape of objects in the frame. Also with videography in mind, this lens and its matching siblings the 24mm and 50mm have almost identical dimensions and centres of gravity, so in use, the handling remains the same.

Optical construction is 9 elements in 8 groups, including 2 ED (Extra-Low Dispersion), the aim being to reduce or eliminate chromatic aberrations and distortion. The diaphragm comprises 9 rounded blades for enhanced bokeh. There is no built-in image stabilisation, relying instead on the IBIS of the camera body. For critical sharpness, a benefit of 2.5 stops was achieved. This will of course vary, depending on the individual photographer and the circumstances.

Traditionally, the 85mm is the ideal portrait lens, allowing an approach close enough to the subject so there is good communication, but not so close that features are distorted. 85mm lenses tend to be fast, f/1.8, f/1.4 or even f/1.2, and hence looking at the world through them gives an impressive sense of the slim depth of field that in turn results in fantastic out of focus backgrounds.

There is much more, though, to such lenses, and they are also useful for close sports, landscape, architecture and even some styles of street photography. The Lumix lens is so simple in its facilities that considering its handling is largely irrelevant – it just does the job, simply and effectively, with nothing to interfere with that.


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