Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5-108mm f/2.8 zoom lens

Apart from the DSLR-like handling, the main reason for choosing a bridge camera over a compact is for the extraordinary zoom lenses they pack. Designed by Leica, the DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5-108mm f/2.8 zoom lens is constructed of 14 elements in 11 groups, with a total of five aspherical lenses and nine aspherical surfaces. Three of the other elements are of extra-low dispersion (ED) glass, to help reduce chromatic aberration and retain contrast, while a single element has a Nano Surface coating that helps to reduce ghosting and reflections.

Image: Chromatic aberrations are removed in-camera and automatically by the supplied SilkyPix raw editing software 

However, the most impressive thing is not the focal length, but rather the constant f/2.8 aperture sported throughout its range. Previously on lenses such as this, the aperture would have been f/2.8-5.6, or even f/2.8-6.3. Although the difference may seem slight, it is significant when shooting a 600mm. Being able to shoot at 1/250sec rather than 1/125sec or even 1/60sec can make a big difference with regard to whether camera shake will affect the image.

The combination of the large aperture and the excellent Power Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) means that it is possible to use the maximum focal length handheld. I was able to shoot using the 600mm equivalent focal length at the Paralympics, with the exposure set to 1/650sec at f/2.8 and ISO 800, and as the event drew on even 1/250sec was still just about fast enough to freeze the motion of the athletes and not have to worry about camera shake.

Of course, there will always be compromises with such an extreme lens. Image quality is at its best when the lens is set almost to its widest point. As the focal length increases there is a loss of contrast and sharpness, but results are still acceptable.

Distortions are also an issue. Panasonic is notorious for correcting as many of these as possible in-camera when shooting JPEGs, and there is no option in the menu to switch these corrections off. That said, the corrections made are very good, although not perfect. There is slight barrel distortion at the widest focal lengths, with pincushion at the longest, and some chromatic aberrations can be seen on highlight edges.

Loading a raw file will usually show exactly how much correction has taken place. By default, however, raw files taken on the FZ200 and loaded into SilkyPix software have had automatic corrections applied. Only by delving into the Lens Corrections palette and manually adjusting the settings can you see how much distortion and chromatic aberration the image really suffers from. Given the target audience for this camera, and the fact that correcting the aforementioned distortions is usually one of the first things you would want to do, I don’t see much of a problem with the raw-conversion software correcting the flaws of the Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5-108mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

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