When Olympus announced the sale of their photographic arm, it wasn’t just one company’s camera division on the chopping block, it was the viability of the whole Micro Four Thirds project.
As I wrote in a prior piece on Olympus’s trials and tribulations, Micro Four Thirds delivered on the promise of a mirrorless camera system with SLR-quality performance in a smaller package. Since 2008, Olympus and Panasonic have been the driving forces behind the Micro Four Thirds system, releasing some 60 cameras and over 70 lenses.
But the market has changed irrevocably since then. Cameras are niche products—supplanted for most by the smartphone—with the only growth seemingly in enthusiast-level ‘full-frame’ cameras. Olympus’s erstwhile partner, Panasonic, has hitched its future to the ‘full-frame’ bandwagon with the Lumix S-series cameras (although they remain ‘committed’ to Micro Four Thirds). This leaves Olympus’s likely buyer, Japan Industrial Partners, in an interesting quandary: where to for Micro Four Thirds?
Who knows, but what we do know is that there is a substantial array of high-performing Micro Four Thirds glass available. These Uncertain Times® have provided me with the opportunity to go back and look at a favourite of mine: the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm F1.7 ASPH.
Halcyon days of 2014
I didn’t even own a Micro Four Thirds camera when the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm F1.7 ASPH. (henceforth known as the Panaleica 15mm) hit the market. But this lens, along with the 20mm pancake and the Lumix GX7 camera, made me fall in love with the system. It was the future we had been promised: a large, high-quality sensor in a compact body with dials and switches and oh myyy. Working as the marketing coordinator at a major camera store at the time, I was able to borrow a GX7 and Panaleica 15mm to road test. For ‘research’ of course.
The aperture ring (*swoon*) and the metal hood (*gasp*) were a delight to use … and the image quality wasn’t bad, either! (I’ve stopped caring about image quality since we got above 12MP sensors. It’s all so fucking good now that if your picture sucks, it’s because you suck. Got it?).
I ended up buying a GX7 and 20mm kit, adding the Panaleica 15mm to it shortly after. This would be my digital camera kit for an upcoming overseas holiday—a perfectly potent and portable combination that would serve me well.
Some favourite pictures
Enough words. Here are some of my favourites taken with the GX7 and Panaleica 15mm across Europe. I also had my non-Panaleica Leica (Leica M4 and Summicron-M 35mm) and my Hasselblad. No, my back has never been the same since. I even got to visit the Holy City of Wetzlar and I’ve gotta say, it was much more versatile shooting the GX7 at the Leica factory than it was the Leica M4.
Rediscovery in 2020
The GX7 has long-since passed out of being my daily digital camera, but the need for a modicum of variety in my current house-bound existence has resulted in me taking another look at this compact gem. Though the march of technology hasn’t been all that kind to the GX7 (images are fine; the UX/UI isn’t), the Panaleica 15mm continues to shine. Like the Fujifilm gear that supplanted it in my camera bag, its design and performance make me feel something. That may sound naff but when modern cameras are essentially technically-perfect tools, it’s the feels that separate them.
On the GX7 (a camera line almost criminally neglected by Panasonic), the 15mm is a perfect size and easy to carry. Its aperture ring makes shooting in aperture priority very straight forward—an important benefit given the so-so performance of the GX7’s rear LCD.
I’m not sure how it fares today on a ‘current’ body, like the videocentric Lumix GH5, but I’ve no doubt it’d be up to the job. Autofocus is quick, field-of-view is useful when cropped to 16:9 and it seems to be near-silent.
Keep on shooting
I’ll keep shooting the Panaleica 15mm. It’s such a lovely piece of kit, it’d be a waste not to. What I’d really love is a new camera to whack it on, like a proper follow-up to the Lumix GX7. But given Panasonic is currently tilting at ‘full-frame’ windmills and may themselves be looking to offload (or substantially restructure) their imaging business, I won’t hold my breath for a new Micro Four Thirds camera from anyone in any product line. That’s a shame but I’ll keep on shooting with what I’ve got—it’s served me fine up to now.
Sources and further reading
Leica DG Lens Story, panasonic.com
Panasonic Lenses & Accessories catalogue PDF, Panasonic Hong Kong (2015)
Introducing LEICA DG SUMMILUX 15mm / F1.7 ASPH. [H-X015], PanasonicLumixVideo YouTube (2018)