By José Manuel Serrano Esparza
In late 2017 Panasonic introduced the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 lens in 24 x 36 mm format) super teleobjective for Micro Four Thirds Format, which has turned since then into the optomechanical qualitative benchmark in that segment, as proved by the RAW archives yielded by it coupled to different Micro Four Thirs Format cameras, particularly the Panasonic G9, which was simultaneously presented with it.
All through this time, a number of professional photographers like Joakim Odelberg, Bence Máté, Daniel J. Cox, Steven Clarey, Jacob James and others, have verified that the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8) is a lens designed, manufactured and optimized for the handheld photography of wildlife in synergy with the extraordinary Panasonic G9 camera (designed by Yosuke Yamane and likewise created for wildlife photography under the most extreme weather conditions) sporting a 20.3 megapixel sensor and advanced features like 20 fps in continuous autofocus during roughly 50 shots using the electronic shutter and 9 fps during 600 shots using the mechanical one, highly efficient in body 5-axis Dual I.S 2 image stabilization system capable of up to 5.9 real stops of shake reduction, magnesium alloy weather-sealed body, top quality 3.68 million dots electronic viewfinder (larger than the GH5 one and with a 0.83x magnification that turns it into the reference-class viewfinder among Micro Four Thirds cameras), autofocus system with DFD and 225 points contrast detection (the best in its scope), 4K UHD 60 fps video, etc, with a reasonable weight of 658 g with battery and dimensions of 137 x 97 x 92 mm.
GENESIS OF AN OPTICAL THOROUGHBRED
Within the frame of its collaboration with Panasonic, making lenses for Micro Four Thirds System, and specifically thinking about its Panasonic G9 camera with which the Japanese firm (until then the world leader in video recording of Micro Four Thirds domain with cameras like the GH5 presented in January 2017 and the GH5s introduced in January 2018) managed to also strongly position itself as an international yardstick in high quality of image delivered with the very small Micro Four Thirds sensor featuring dimensions of 18 mm x 13.5 mm (with a diagonal of 22.5 mm) and an image area of 17.3 x 13 mm (with a diagonal of 21.6 mm) and 4:3 native aspect ratio, Leica had decided the design and manufacture of a state of the art lens equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 for Micro Four Thirds, one year before the launching into market of that camera.
But in the same way as happens with every photographic system and format, Micro Four Thirds has got his advantages and drawbacks.
And evidently, the very small surface of image makes that if you really want to design and build a 200 mm f/2.8 lens (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format) setting up maximum feasible symbiosis with the Micro Four Thirds sensor and drawing as much as possible from its potential regarding image quality, it will have to be an extraordinary lens, both from an optical and mechanical viewpoint, as well as boasting very reduced dimensions and weight to get the idoneum balance with respect the small size and lightness of the Micro Four Thirds Format Panasonic G9 camera.
That undoubtedly posed a huge optomechanical and physical challenge, since in addition to featuring a widest f/2.8 aperture and delivering an extraordinary image quality, one of the most important priorities was to create a very compact lens, with exceedingly small dimensions for its equivalence to a 400 mm focal length, maximum diameter of 88 mm, length of 174 mm and a weight around 1,200g.
Those parameters and the need to adapt the whole optical and mechanical design to the very small Micro Four Thirds sensor of the Panasonic G9 camera to which the lens would have to be coupled, as well as offering a sale price not higher than 3,000 euros, made exclude in advance the use of very expensive aspherical elements including exotic optical glasses present in the optical formula of the Leica SL lenses (the best ones ever made for 24 x 36 mm format) and the excellent Leica TL lenses for APS-C format.
Nevertheless, a significant percentage of the previous know-how developed in Leica SL lenses (optimizing the performance from nearest focusing distances to infinite) was used to implement it within the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S in synergy with the contrast based AF of the Panasonic G9, similar to the one featured by the Leica SL (measuring the microcontrast in different focusing positions until it reaches the highest contrast and AF accuracy) with a clear aim : to achieve utter camera / lens interactivity.
And the aforementioned decision that the lens optical scheme lacked aspherical elements made that a wide range of optical resources had to be used to (in spite of their absnece) attain exceptional image quality.
In this regard, there were from scratch abundant conceptual analogies between the very small Micro Four Thirds sensor of the Panasonic G9 camera and the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S and the Super 8 mm and 16 mm analogue movie cameras.
As a matter of fact, both photographic and cinematographic formats have always required top-notch lenses to be able to achieve maximum possible image quality.
It is something that already happened with the superb Canon 6.5-65 mm f/1.4 zoom lens attached to the Super 8 mm Canon 1014 XL-S movie camera made between 1972 and 1979 or with extraordinary lenses like the Kern Switar 10 mm f/1.6 RX, Kern Switar 16 mm f/1.8 RX, Kern Switar 25 mm f/1.4 RX, Kern Macro-Switar 26 mm f/1.1 RX, Switar 50 mm f/1.4 RX, Kern-Macro Switar 50 mm f/1.4 RX, Kern Switar 75 mm f/1.4 RX and others, all of them in C Mount, coupled to the fabulous 16 mm format cinematographic Bolex cameras of second half of XX Centuries with which were shot top class colour documentary films like The Living Desert (1953) produced by Walt Disney, with Paul Kenworthy and Robert H. Crandall as cinematographers using the mythical Kodachrome 16 mm film.
And to make up for the absence of aspherical elements in the optical formula of the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S, Leica chooses a highly efficient alternative optical and technological route also enabling to achieve exceptional image quality and outstanding consistency of results, based on the following decisive aspects:
a) A high number of optical elements (15) and groups (13) with an impeccable centering of them.
b) The introduction of two very large and high end UED elements (with ultra extra low dispersion) including wisely selected optical glasses approaching in performance to the best available aspherical ones.
These two UED elements (second and fourth beginning from the forward part of the lens) have masterfully been located as core of the forward group of elements and boast a roughly double thickness than the first element of the optical scheme (featuring the biggest diameter) and the third one (placed between both of them).
And it all gives rise to an exceedingly difficult to attain balance between the aforementioned forward group and the back one, in which the relevant degree of curvature of five of its elements (particularly the second one nearest to the lens mount) makes that the light beams incide with a great purity and quality on the entire surfice of the sensor, both in the center and in borders and corners, with a praiseworthy correction of lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations, reduced to negligible values.
Additionally, the interaction of both UED elements is fundamental for the elimination of fringing.
Needless to say that the resolving power, contrast, sharpness and level of detail that can be obtained with this lens are exceptional, in the same way as the correction of distortion.
c) Superb image quality at f/2.8, where the lens reaches 92 lines / mm in the center and 74 in borders, while it is at f/4 where the objective achieves its optimum optical performance, with values of 89 lines / mm in the center and 87 lines / mm in borders (id est, an impressive uniformity of very high image quality on the whole surface of the picture) and a very meaningful aspect : the performance on corners (impressive) at f/4 beats slightly the one in the border of the image (excellent), getting a very commendable balance with respect to the center at such diaphragm. Besides, the optical performance in center, borders and corners is similar to the one attained at widest f/2.8 aperture.
d) A top-tier Optical System of Image Stabilization (O.I.S) in lens, utterly compatible with the 5-axis Dual I.S 2 Image Stabilization System in camera body of the Panasonic G9. The joined force of both devices makes up in my opinion the best stabilization system currently available in the world, being even a bit superior to the one boasted by the Micro Four Third Format Olympus EM-1 Mark II camera, which is another benchmark regarding this side.
That´s to say, one of the most significant goals of the pair Panasonic G9 / Leica DG 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S teleobjective (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 lens) is to be able to shoot handheld virtually in every photographic context or assignment without having to use any monopod whatsoever, something greatly unfeasable with the very large and heavy Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L IS II USM (3 kilos and 850 grammes), EF 400 mm f/2.8L IS III (2 kilos and 840 grammes) and AF-S Nikkor 400 mm f/2.8E FL ED VR (3 kilos and 800 grammes).
And they have fully achieved it, to such an extent that it is possible to often shoot at very slow shutter speeds of 1/30 s and 1/15 s, getting pictures with remarkable sharpness, because ther association between both stabilization systems enables approximately 5.9 diaphragms improvement.
This becomes highly frequently a key factor when it comes to getting pictures shooting at the lowest isos to yield maximum image quality, because a 400 mm lens usually needs to be shot at 1/400 s or higher shutter speeds to avoid trepidation.
e) Minimum focusing distance of 1.15 m, making it very competent for beautiful portraits at full f/2.8 aperture with out of focus background, shooting handheld, because the 150 cm focusing axis of this lens is much shorter than the one featured by 400 mm f/2.8 lenses for full frame cameras, with which it shares the same angle of vision.
f) Weather sealing against moisture, rain, dust and freezing temperatures.
On top area of the image can be seen the focus limiting switch with two positions : from the minimum focusing distance of 1.15 m to infinity and from 3 meters to infinity, while in the lower zone is visible the memory recall button making possible to keep a focusing position as well as remembering it pressing the button located just above it. If the switch is placed in Fn position, it enables to assign a camera function to the aforementioned button, and subsequently pressing it, such function is transferred to the camera.
g) Focus limiting switch, enabling the working of AF either the whole focusing range or between 3 meters and infinity.
h) Rounded nine blade diaphragm to enhance a beautiful bokeh to the utmost.
i) A very fast and silent focusing system, based on contrast.
k) An admirable control of vignetting, with values of 0.5 EV at widest aperture and 0.3 EV at f/4 and practically non existent at f/5.6.
l) A very sturdy build quality.
m) Nano Surface Coating in all optical elements to reduce as much as possible both flare in contrejour photographic contexts and internal reflections.
n) A sensational triple linear AF motor system with a 240 fps AF drive, enabling an outstanding quickness and accuracy of AF, made through a specific optical element of the lens with the least feasible mass.
p) The trail of the mythical Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4 (diffraction limited at f/5.6 and manufactured between 1993 and 2009) has been followed as to get maximum image quality with the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S when shooting at the two widest diaphragms (f/2.8 and f/4). And to fulfill that aim, evidence clearly suggests that the German photographic firm has been able to make that it is almost diffraction limited at f/3.5.
It should be added a superb mount machining and an advanced electronics in its eleven golden contacts fostering communication between camera and coupled lens.
RACING MOTORCYCLES PHOTOGRAPHED IN FAR FROM IDEAL CONDITIONS
The idea was to put the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format) through its paces coupled to a Micro Four Thirds format Panasonic G9 camera, trying to get pictures of the highest level racing bikes (MotoGP, Moto 2 and Moto 3) under very harsh luminic and atmospheric conditions, with overcast sky, heavy rain and constant downpours, very cold temperature, strong wind and plenty of circuit stretches with evaporating water as a consequence of the thermal difference between the gas coming out of the bikes engines, their tyres, the surface of the circuit asphalt and the environment, along with the water steadily splashing the running motorcycles and making difficult both the AF precision and the attainment of a good sharpness in the images.
And this camera / lens combination fended for itself really well, even in a significant percentage of the pictures that were made with the 1.4x Panasonic DMW TC14 converter coupled to the lens, in an evidently hostile context, very different from what would have been a sunny day or at least with a higher quantity of light.
The power and speed of these competition bikes (specially the MotoGP ones boasting 1,000 c.c and between 240 and 290 hp) that depending on the sections and circuits advance at speeds between roughly 150 km/h and 355 km/h, makes that the AF must be exceedingly fast and accurate, while the image stabilization system has to be very efficient. And all of it becomes more difficult on trying to use shutter speeds between 1/125 s and 1/320 s, striving upon doing panning to get motion feeling and avoid that the bike appears in the picture as if it were static on the track.
In this regard, shooting handheld with the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format) attached to the Micro Four Thirds Format Panasonic G9 camera at not very fast shutter speeds is a true relish, thanks to its great handling comfort (the very small size and weight of the combo makes possible to get pictures with him for many hours without any fatigue), the huge symbiosis between the Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S) of the lens and the in-body 5-axis Dual I.S 2 image stabilization of the camera enabling 5.9 real diaphragms of improvement without shaking and the very fast and accurate AF based on contrast showed their full adequacy for action photography not only of wildlife but also of the most powerful and fast motorcycles on earth running at huge speeds.
Michelle Pirro, nowadays the best MotoGP test rider in the world along with the Australian Casey Stoner. Here he appears riding the formidable Ducati Desmosedici GP18, the fastest and most powerful racing bike ever made, a real missile which has reached a speed of 365 km/h during tests made in Italy and whose four-stroke V4 powerplant (with 90º cylinder angle, each one featuring two overhead camshafts, the very special desmodromic system boasting huge control valves, four per cylinder, and optimized for its maximum performance at the highest revs per minute) delivering 290 hp and Akrapovic exhaust, has been developed by the wizard of mechanics Gigi Dall´Igna (General Manager of Ducati), being able to preserve the enormous power, top speed and massive acceleration, but improving cornering a grat deal, in addition to making its driving sweeter (the philosophy of transalpine ICBM with the 800 c.c Ducati Desmosedici GP7 from 2007 designed by Filippo Preziosi couldn´t be emulated, since only Casey Stoner could ride that ineffable machine), in such a way that Ducati can win in any circuit, as have already been proved by Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo. Photography made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC4 converter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Valentino Rossi, nine times MotoGP World Champion and considered the best racing rider ever along with Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood and Angel Nieto. Here he appears running on his liquid-cooled Yamaha YZR-M1 featuring 1,000 c.c, 240 h.p, 4 cylinders in line, six-speed gearbox, Akrapovik escape and chassis of aluminium twin tube Delta Box with multiadjustable steering geometry. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 teleconverter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Can Ocu, the youngest rider of all time winning a Moto3 World Championship race, being only 15 years old. Here he appears running on his four-stroke monocylindric 250 c.c KTM bike.
Marc Márquez, five times MotoGP World Champion. He´s presently the best rider in the queen category. Featuring a great courage and fighting spirit making it highly competitive at every circuit, his cornerings with 68º slant are already mythical, together with his duels with virtually all the best riders of this competition. Here he appears running on his Honda RC213V. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Fabio Di Giannantonio, rider of the Del Conca Gresini Racing Moto 3, running on his Honda with four-stroke monocylindric engine and 250 c.c. Winner of two races and 14 podiums throughout his professional career.
Jack Miller, runner-up in the 2014 Moto3 World Championship and MotoGP rider since 2015. As a member of the Ducati Alma Pramac Racing, he appears here riding his Ducati Desmosedici GP17 bike.
Hafizh Syahrin, rider of the Monster Yamaha Tech3 of MotoGP, running on his Yamaha YZR-M1 in the middle of a deluge of water. Both the Panasonic G9 camera and the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format) worked flawless under very heavy rain. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 converter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Andrea Dovizioso, twice runner-up in the World Championship of MotoGP in 2017 and 2018. Winner of twelve MotoGP races and 51 podiums. He has significantly improved his performance for the last two years, clinching victories in very different circuits, even beating Marc Márquez in some pretty thrilling race endings. His adaptation to the MotoGP Ducatis is impressive, as well as being alongside Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez one of the best riders excelling in their skill braking late. He is with Marc Márquez one of the most solid candidates to win the 2019 MotoGP World Championship, a season promising to be probably the most exciting in history, with a 40 years old Valentino Rossi who incredibly keeps on being in the fight for the title (with the great disadvantage it means facing much younger riders, because the physical level in MotoGP is huge), Marc Márquez who will be on paper the favourite (though it will be a very open world championship in which everything can happen), Maverick Viñales wishing to go for the title and Jorge Lorenzo who will be with Marc Márquez in Honda and will want to win his fourth MotoGP World Championship.
Maverick Viñales, rider of the Yamaha Movistar team of MotoGP, turning on a bend. He´s on his Yamaha YZR-M1 bike moving his body towards the left, looking for an optimal location to tackle it at the fastest feasible speed. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 coverter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Johann Zarco, rider of the Yamaha Motor Racing MotoGP team. Twice Moto 2 World Champion in 2015 and 2016. He has been one of the MotoGP riders with higher progression since he started his path in the queen category in 2017, being third in the United States Grand Prix of 2016 and second in the Grand Prix of Lemans (France) in 2017, getting his first pole position in the Grand Prix of Assen (Holland) of that year, beating Marc Márquez and Danilo Petrucci, a feat he would repeat in the Grand Prix of Lemans 2018, defeating Marc Márquez again and breaking Jorge Lorenzo´s previous record of the circuit. Here he appears riding his Yamaha YZR-M1. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 converter coupled to the objective (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
Marc Márquez, currently the number 1 of MotoGP World Championship, starting his cornering of a bend on wet asphalt, running at great speed in the middle of an impressive downpour. Picture made with the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 teleconverter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4).
CAN THE LEICA DG ELMARIT 200 MM F/2.8 POWER O.I.S COUPLED TO THE PANASONIC G9 CAMERA EQUAL THE RESULTS ATTAINED BY THE PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS USING REFLEX FULL FRAME CAMERAS WITH VERY BIG AND HEAVY 400 MM F/2.8 LENSES IN BIKE RACINGS OF THE HIGHEST LEVEL?
Definitely not, because of some key factors:
a) The size of the sensor is important regarding dynamic range and performance at high isos. And in this side, 24 x 36 mm format sensors have clearly the upper hand in comparison to Micro Four Thirds and APS-C ones.
b) The Panasonic G9 and the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S have been in the market for roughly one year, while the 24 x 36 mm format reflex cameras and their state-of-the-art very big and heavy 400 mm f/2.8 lenses are at the moment the evolutive pinnacle of approximately 28 years of technological. optical, mechanical and experience development, covering all kind of sporting events : Football World Championships, Olympic Games, ski competitions, artistic skating, Formula 1, etc.
And bikes are not obviously an exception, so throughout already many decades those highly professional 400 mm f/2.8 lenses (as well as the 300 mm f/2.8 ones and the versatile 70-200 mm f/2.8 zooms), particularly from Canon and Nikon, have photographed with great success the most important motorcycling competitions in the world: MotoGP World Championships, SBK World Championships, Moto 2, Moto 3, AMA Superbike Championship in United States, the Bol d´Or and others, from the time of mythical specialists in the two wheels sport like Bob Martin, Simon Brutty, Pascal Rondeau, Oli Tennent, Chris Cole, Yann Guichaoua, Alain Patrice and others, who mainly used Nikon F4 and Canon EOS 1 cameras with Fuji Velvia slides until the blossoming of digital photography, which took up the baton from the digital one around 2004, with subsequent internationally renown photographers of racing bikes like Andrew Wheeler, Mirco Lazzari, Alejandro Ceresuela, Gareth Harford, Gigi Soldano, Alberto Lessmann (demised in 2016), Vincent Guignet, Kurt Bradley, Jaime de Diego, Tony Goldsmith, Israel Gardyn, Marco Guidetti (passed away in 2017), Juan Sanz, Dave Wilson, Alex Chailan, Oscar J. Barroso, Richard Walch, Jaime Olivares, David Persé, Mikel Prieto, Andoni Gascón, Quino de Mier, José Royo and others.
Photography of racing motorcycles is a difficult genre, where in the same was as happens in the circuits, speed reigns supreme.
The professional photographers working in this scope are subjected to a constant stress, the speed and power of the bikes compels them to give their best at every instant if they want to get good pictures, they sweat profusely during the races with good weather, because the asphalt and the gases from the bikes exhausts increase very much the temperature in the areas next to the circuits with respect to the stands, the frantic pace of races gradually augments the fatigue as the laps are covered by riders, there´s a permanent climax of collective passion and emotions skyrocketing, bodies become frozen stiff when they have to make photographs during races under rain, etc.
And the best photographs must be sent as soon as possible, doing their selection in very hectic contexts.
Furthermore, the need to get pictures of the bikes on different areas of the circuits makes that professional photographers have to steadily use scooters to move to and fro taking their cameras, their big and heavy 300 mm, 400 mm and 500 mm lenses and their monopods with them.
In this motor sporting environment it is not enough to be a good photographer. Vast majority of professional photographers covering competitions of racing bikes love this two-wheeled machines and everything surrounding them, have got tons of experience and a lot of years of great satisfactions but also of sufferings, know the circuits, their most representative zones, the most dangerous spots, the features of the different pilots, the performance of their machines, when to capture the most defining moments, when to take advantage of the best trajectories and qualities of light, etc.
And they use mostly Canon and Nikon 300 mm f/2.8 and 400 mm f/2.8, presently virtually unbeatable because of their extraordinary optical and mechanical qualities and the broad know-how acquired by the pros handling them, who often must make use of them on a monopod (above all the big and heavy 400 mm f/2.8 lenses, exceedingly difficult to use shooting handheld).
In this regard, 400 mm super telephoto lenses like the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8 L USM II featuring 16 elements in 12 groups, a 9 blade diaphragm, fours stops image stabilizer, dimensions of 163 x 343 mm and a weight of 3850 g (12,000 euros), the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8 L USM III (13,500 euros) featuring 17 elements in 13 groups, 9 blade diaphragm, five stops image stabilizer, dimensions of 163 x 343 mm and weight of 2840 g (the lightest super telephoto lens with this focal length and luminosity for full frame cameras, with a 26% reduction in weight in comparison to the previous model) and the Nikkor AF-S 400 mm f/2.8E FL ED VR boasting 16 elements in 12 groups, dimensions of 159.5 mm x 358 mm and a weight of 3800 g (14,300 euros) are the unquestionable world benchmarks among the 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses along with the Sony FE 400 mm f/2.8 GM OSS featuring 23 elements in 17 groups and 12 blades rounded diaphragm (11,900 euros).
And it couldn´t be other way, since the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8 L USM II (featuring two fluorite elements, one of them with large size and located in the second place of the front group first section, behind the large diameter thin forward element, and another one in fourth place, stuck to a thin element with big diameter and pronounced curvature) and the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8 L USM III (sporting a modified barrel design that minimizes heat transfer thanks to a infrared-reflecting heat shield coating, a new optical scheme in which Canon has changed the position of second, third and fourth groups, taking them towards the back area of the objective, moving the mass center towards the mount, in such a way that now the two king size fluorite elements are in the center, very near each other, and only separated by a thin element of large diameter, very narrow in its middle area and four times wider on its upper and lower zone, while the high-end Super UD element is now a bit behind, stuck to a very thin optical element of pronounced curvature) are fabulous, manufactured with an alloy of magnesium and titanium, a reference-class anti dust, moisture and rain sealing, two excellent antireflection coatings (the Super Spectra and the Air Sphere), excellent 4 and 5 stops of shake correction Optical Image Stabilization Systems, automatically detecting the panning movements and boasting three IS modes, an automatic AF with USM (ultrasonic motor) and being exceedingly fast and silent, slightly quicker than the combination Panasonic G9 + Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S, thanks to a CPU specifically designed and developed to attain an AF working like a charm through its highly sophisticated focusing algorithms, and with a great accuracy.
On its turn, the Nikkor AF-S 400 mm f/2E FL ED is likewise a state-of-the-art super telephoto lens and includes within its optical formula six top level elements : two huge and thick fluorite elements interacting with the front group, two extra low ED elements (of which the biggest is located in the central area of the objective, with shape of semi ellipse, while the other one being much smaller and thin, with shape of tapered hourglass, is placed in the back area of the lens), a thin one with big diameter and stuck to the aforementioned large UD element located in the middle area of the objective and a forward meniscus with fluorine coating protecting the whole optical cell behind it.
Evidently, Nikon has worked its heart out in this lens, in which it has used the cream of the crop of optical glasses of its Ohara catalogue. Besides, its VR image stabilizer with 4 stops of blur-free shooting is fairly efficient., in the same way as happens with its state-of-the-art Nano Crystal and Super Integrated multicoatings and its AF system with Silent Wave motor, a masterpiece of speed and precision, specially in AF continuous mode, thanks to an electromagnetic mechanism of aperture integrated in the super telephoto lens design.
All of these 400 mm f/2.8 lenses from Canon and Nikon coupled to professional reflex full frame digital cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EOS-1D X Mark II, Nikon D850 and Nikon D5 are currently by far the best choice for photography of racing motorcycles and many other sports.
In regard to the Sony FE 400 mm f/2.8 GM OSS featuring 23 elements in 17 groups and a rounded 12 blade diaphragm, it is also a state-of-the-art super telephoto lens, with an optical formula in which stand out three large fluorote elements located in the middle area and an ED element in the back one, in addition to three further elements with pronounced curvature (one of them, the biggest one, near the third large fluorite element with which it interacts, another one placed at short distance from the UD element and a further one in second to last position of the lens back area) and its synergy with the excellent Sony A9 mirrorless full frame camera is very good in sports photography, thanks to its very fast hybrid AF through phase / contrast detection, its 20 fps in continuous mode with electronic shutter and 5 fps with mechanical one, its shooting stability and its remarkably whispering shutter.
c) The aforementioned 24 x 36 mm format professional digital reflex cameras featuring optical viewfinders and the excellent Sony A9 mirrorlerss full frame one sporting electronic viewfinder are superior when it comes to making selective focus at widest f/2.8 aperture with respect to Micro Four Thirds and APS-C format cameras, whose smaller sensor size makes that they yield more depth of field.
CAN THE LEICA DG ELMARIT 200 MM F2.8 POWER O.I.S (EQUIVALENT TO A 400 MM F/2.8) COUPLED TO THE MICRO FOUR THIRDS FORMAT PANASONIC G9 CAMERA GET GOOD RESULTS IN PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE HIGHEST LEVEL RACING BIKES?
Definitely, yes. Not only good, but bluntly superb, thanks to some fundamental factors:
a) The absolutely uncommon ease of handling shooting handheld of the camera / lens combo, since you don´t need to make use of any monopod whatsoever (a possibility almost unviable with the very big and heavy previously mentioned 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sony), thanks to the sizable shrinkage in dimensions and weight of the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8, equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 24 x 36 mm format. To do handheld pannings with this lens is something of an indescribable comfort, enhanced by the almost utter absence of vibration in the shots, since it is a mirrorless camera lacking a swivelling mirror.
b) The symbiosis between the image stabilizing optical system (O.I.S) of the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S and the 5-axis in-body Dual I.S 2 stabilization system of the Panasonic G9 camera attains 5.9 real stops of shake reduction, is highly efficient and superior to the excellent image stabilization systems of the 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses for 24 x 36 mm format from Canon, Nikon and Sony.
c) The AF speed obtained by the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S coupled to the Panasonic G9 is hugely fast, of only 0,04 s and pretty competent in the continuous mode tracking moving subjects, with its very high shooting rate of 20 fps with the electronic shutter making a difference on getting a significant percentage of well focused pictures, in the same way as happens with the 11 fps it reaches with the mechanical shutter.
Evidently, it doesn´t get the stratospheric levels of amazingly high percentages of sharp photographs of moving persons or objects attained by Canon and Nikon full frame professional cameras, very mature products regarding this side and featuring highly sophisticated AF systems based on phase detection, but the AF speed and accuracy of the Panasonic G9 camera with the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S are impressive.
d) The production rate of pictures made by the association between the Panasonic G9 and the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S can be far superior to the one fulfilled with the state-of-the-art 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses for 24 x 36 mm format from Canon, Nikon and Sony, because the very small size and weight of the Micro Four Thirds format Panasonic camera and the Leica objective (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8) enable to work with them throughout many consecutive hours without any weariness, as well as being able to go back and forth taking the camera in hand with the lens coupled and a total convenience, thanks to its stunning portability, something unfeasable with the very large and heavy 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sony, which must be used with a monopod.
e) The 1.4x Panasonic DMW TC14 teleconverter coupled to the lens (and turning it into a 560 mm f/4) is extraordinary, probably the best ever made along with the 8 elements in 4 groups built-in 1.4x extender of the 25 elements in 20 groups Canon EF 200-400 mm f/4L USM super telephoto zoom.
This sensational 1.4x teleconverter is an optical wonder. It features 6 elements in 4 groups, weighs 115 g and its optical performance is such that it was specifically designed and manufactured for the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S, so it can´t be used with any other lens.
You can see in this image the eleven golden contacts of the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 enabling the integral preservation of interactivity between lens and camera body.
However incredible it may seem, unlike what usually happens with vast majority of 1.4x teleconverters, its attachment barely slows down the autofocus, which keeps practically intact both its speed and accuracy, while image quality experiences only a very slight decrease, in such a way that frequently it isn´t easy to distinguish pictures made without the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 from the ones taken with it coupled.
It provides the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8) an uncommon versatility, since its already long reach can be significantly increased, making possible the coverage of more circuit zones.
And after coupling the Panasonic 1.4x DMW TC14 teleconverter, getting pictures comfortably shooting handheld with a lens equivalent to a 560 mm f/4 super telephoto is something truly spectacular.
IS THE LEICA DG ELMARIT 200 MM F2.8 POWER O.I.S A STATE-OF-THE-ART LENS ?
In my opinion, undoubtedly yes.
To begin with and previous to any optical, physical or mechanic consideration, it is a state-of-the-art objective because there wasn´t any other way.
That´s to say, the exceedingly small size of the Micro Four Thirds sensor makes that the lens must be an optomechanical benchmark if you want to get maximum feasible image quality in center, borders and corners, enhanced by a very consistent luminic uniformity, because from scratch there´s a disadvantage with respect to the 24 x 36 mm format sensors featured by full frame cameras, superior in dynamic range and performance at high isos.
It dawned on Leica that they wouldn´t be able to equal the results delivered by the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM II, Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM III, Nikkor AF-S 400 mm f/2.8E FL ED VR and Sony FE 400 mm f/2.8 GM OSS, so they decided to approach them as much as possible in regard to image quality, but following an almost telecentric optical scheme and a conceptual route of highest optical performance at the two widest diaphragms, inspired by the Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4, diffraction limited at f/5.6, but making that the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S be almost diffraction limited at roughly f/3.5, so managing to attain that maximum image quality achieved in the center is at f/2.8 full aperture, something really commendable and uncommon.
Id est, this super telephoto lens for Micro Four Thirds Format yields higher image quality in the center at f/2.8 than at f/4, f/5.6 and f/8.
On the other hand, the centering of its 15 elements boasts an extraordinary precision, which has a major influence on the superb image quality it renders, without forgetting its excellent mechanical quality, noticeable on turning the focusing ring, whose smoothness and helicoid accuracy are very relevant, in the same way as the fairly beautiful design of the lens.
The Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8 in 35 mm format) is an extraordinary lens, following an almost telecentric route enabling that a great deal of light reaches the sensor in a perpendicular way and with great purity on the whole image surface, taking full advantage of the exceedingly short flange distance of 19.25 mm inherent to the Micro Four Thirds bayonet mount and simultaneously achieving the greatest feasible symbiosis with the special architecture of the small sensor featuring 18 mm x 13.5 mm (with diagonal of 22.5 mm) and an image area of 17.3 x 13 mm (with diagonal of 21.6 mm) and 4:3 native aspect ratio.
Albeit the amazing compactness and very light weight of the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S lens together with the highly efficient synergy between its excellent optical image stabilizing system and the also excellent 5-axis in-body Dual I.S 2 image stabilizer of the Micro Four Thirds Panasonic G9 camera make possible 5.9 stops of improvement without shake and photographers can shoot handheld even at 1/15 s obtaining very sharp pictures in most photographic assignments, the robust support for tripod visible on top area of the image can be attached to the objective.
This reference-class lens in the scope of Micro Four Thirds is manufactured in Japan under very stringent Leica specifications, with mechanic tolerances of 1/100 mm or 10 micrometers for the mount precision, adjustments of huge accuracy for the focusing movement and a fabulous centering of its optical elements with maximum axial deviation inferior to 30 seconds of arc, so the goal of completely making coincide the optical axis with the mechanic one in each glass element is fulfilled.
And though its optical formula lacks any aspherical elements, its correction of optical aberrations is impressive.
As a matter of fact, the use of aspherical lenses doesn´t intrinsically guarantee that a lens is " better ".
First of all, because the quality of the different kinds of available aspherical lenses varies significantly.
It´s very different the qualitative level of the aspherical lenses manufactured by means of highly accurate pressure molding (particularly for wideangle lenses) or ground and polished with state-of-the-art CNC machines (specially with telephoto lenses) in the way made by Leica and Zeiss with greatly handcrafted parameters and an exceedingly high rate of rejected optical elements (which along with the abundant time needed to make them increases production cost very much) or the aspherical lenses manufactured through precision molding in the purest Nikon style with its breakthrough PMG method softening the optical glass by means of heating and subsequently giving it the aspherical shape in a mold built with special heat resistant material, than the hybrid aspherical lenses made with plastic (a very cheap and easy to mold material, unlike the best optical glasses, whose price is very steep and are exceedingly difficult to mold) that add a very thin plastic optical layer to a conventional spherical lens molding the plastic until attaining the adequate aspherical shape.
It´s true that the high-end and state-of-the-art aspherical lenses, with their complex curved surfaces in which a change of curvature is made to optimize the light transmission and the correction of distortions taking place in the spherical lenses, have been fundamental in the most modern photographic objectives to achieve reference-class levels of resolving power, contrast, correction of the spherical aberrations, elimination or reduction of the aperture error, etc, and that the integration of those aspherical elements in the front or back area of the optical system supervised by computerized or laser guided highly sophisticated instruments for an accurate interferometric analysis greatly eliminates or reduces distortion.
In addition, aspherical elements have been instrumental to achieve the genesis of smaller and lighter lenses, thanks to the reduction of the number of elements and optical groups.
But it isn´t enough, since the optical designer´s expertise and talent will be fundamental to place those aspherical elements in the best possible locations (a key factor) inside the optical cell of the lens to provide professional photographers with real advantages when it comes to get pictures with maximum feasible image quality.
And it isn´t less true that there are other ways to achieve those benefits without using aspherical elements, as proved by this
state-of-the-art Leica DG 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S lens in which the extraordinary image quality it produces is strongly based on the aforementioned incredibly accurate centering of its optical elements, the almost diffraction limitation at around f/3.5 (in such a way that though the lens reaches its peak image quality at f/4 regarding global optical performance in center, border and corners at f/4, the image quality in the center at full f/2.8 aperture, truly admirable, is slightly superior to the one delivered in the center at f/4, f/5.6 and f/8) and the introduction in the optical formula of two top-notch ultra extra low UED elements.
There´s also a hugely important aspect : one thing is the qualitative potential a lens can yield and another one the percentage of that potential that a photographer can draw from it according to his / her ability, experience and gift.
And evidently, though the formidable Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM II, Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM III, Nikkor AF-S 400 mm f/2E FL ED and Sony FE 400 mm f/2.8 GM OSS for 24 x 36 mm format are the optomechanical benchmark, their large size and heavy weight make compulsory tons of experience and mastery of technique to handle them, so taking as much as possible of their immense potential is more difficult with them coupled to extraordinary reflex cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EOS-1D X Mark II, Nikon D850 and Nikon D5 featuring full frame sensors, than with the combination Panasonic G9 / Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8) which is by far the world yardstick in image quality among all the lenses designed and manufactured for Micro Four Thirds hitherto.
Needless to say that it is very important to acquire a B + W 77 mm UV or MRC transparent neutral filter of the highest possible quality to attach it to the lens and protect the front element from scratches, dust, water, etc, preserving at the same time a significant percentage of its optical potential, which would drop very much if cheap UV filters were bought.
On the other hand, it is incredible how this lens draws with great consistency a huge quantity of the image quality potential of the tiny Micro Four Thirds sensor (a true technological wonder) for which it was created and the amazing image quality it can deliver up to approximately 50 x 70 cm size on photographic paper, considerably reducing distances in image quality with respect to the 400 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lenses for 24 x 36 mm format, as was proved in early 2018 by the photographer Joakim Odelberg in Madagascar, where he got pictures of endemic species of the island with one of the first prototypes of the Panasonic G9 camera coupled to a Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8), obtaining splendid photographs like the close-up of tail and one of the hands of a lemur perched on a tree, made shooting handheld at iso 200, f/2.8 and 1/60 s, published in one of the inner pages of Lumix Stories magazines of Spring 2018. The level of detail and capture of textures in this picture is something extraordinary and clearly reveals what an experienced professional photographer can do with this first-class lens in synergy with a likewise reference-class Micro Four Thirds format camera featuring an excellent sensor.
Therefore, the image quality produced by the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S in combination with the Panasonic G9 camera is utterly professional and makes possible the publication of pictures in double page inside large format illustrated magazines with excellent printing quality and paper grammage, as was also proved by Joakim Odelberg in the pages 14 and 15 of the aforementioned number of Lumix Stories magazine with the photograph made at iso 200, f/2.8 and 1/125 s of a lemur on a tree.
Notwithstanding, though it is a gear conceived for professional photographers, the handling ease of that camera / lens combo, even shooting handheld at very slow shutter speeds of up to 1/15 s and even 1/8 s, getting sharp and well focused photographs with static subjects and themes, brings about that this unique lens in its scope can be also used by advanced amateurs and connoisseurs, attaining excellent results, with the added bonus of a very favourable minimum focusing distance of 1.15 m, in comparison to the Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM II (2.7 m), Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L USM III (2.5 m), Nikkor AF-S 400 mm f/2E FL ED (2.6 m) and Sony FE 400 mm f/2.8 GM OSS (2.7 m), and turning it into a top level choice for portraiture, since its bokeh at widest f/2.8 aperture is very beautiful.
On the other hand, this is a lens prepared to flawlessly synergize with possible Micro Four Thirds sensors between 30 and 60 megapixels that can appear in future, because it is foreseeable that as a consequence of the onslaught of mirrorless EVF full frame cameras like the 45.7 megapixel Nikon Z7, the 30 megapixel Canon EOS R, the 47 megapixel Panasonic SR1 and the full frame mirrorless EVF 24 x 36 mm format featuring a Foveon sensor announced by Sigma for 2019 with a comprehensive range of lenses, Olympus and Panasonic will introduce in the market as soon as possible new superb Micro Four Thirds photographic cameras boasting highly evolved sensors and better performance at high isos, in addition to a superior image quality at the lowest ones.
That´s why the investment for future on top-notch lenses is something of paramount significance on setting up any photographic outfit, and hence, Leica lenses are a guarantee.
Besides, it´s also important the fact that the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2.8) was initially launched into market with a price tag of 3,000 euros, but as a consequence of market circumstances, it can be presently found for roughly 2,300 euros with the 1.4x teleconveter included, that´s to say, a virtually unbeatable quality / price ratio, difficult to ever repeat with such a superlative level lens.
For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right
To comment or to read comments please scroll past the ads below.
All ads present items of interest to Leica owners.
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography
Click on image to enlarge
Please make payment via PayPal to GMP Photography