Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 - A First Look

Panasonic's Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 is a compact fast prime for the Lumix L-Mount cameras. Unlike the 50mm f/1.4, the 85mm is considerably smaller and lighter, making a great choice for Panasonic’s newest full frame camera, the S5. Even on the bulkier S1 series cameras, the 85 has a balanced feel, and makes long portrait sessions a breeze. As of right now, Panasonic has a fairly limited lens line-up for their full frame cameras, and many users have been using Sigma L-Mount lenses, or adapting Canon EF lenses with Sigma’s MC-21 adapter. The 85mm is a welcome addition to the lineup, being a native lens, which should mean faster and more precise autofocus performance. 

Lens Design

The Lumix S 85mm has a very basic design, with just an AF/MF switch on it. You won’t find an aperture ring, or a focus hold/function button. But, you do get a small and lightweight lens that is weather sealed, and a price tag that won’t break the bank. 

The optics consist of 9 elements in 8 groups, and 2 ED elements to help control chromatic aberration and any color fringing. The 9 blade rounded aperture produces smooth bokeh and its f/1.8 aperture is more than enough for most photographers. Image quality from the 85mm is quite nice, and corner sharpness is impressive, even wide open. There is a tiny bit of (pincushion) distortion, but it’s not noticeable when photographing people. When shooting wide open, there is some vignetting present, though it is all but gone by f/3.5. 

The 85mm uses a linear drive motor for smooth and quiet autofocus. Panasonic isn’t known for having the best AF on the market, and while the 85mm isn’t as fast focusing as some of Panasonic’s L-Mount lenses, it’s more than enough for portrait photographers - this lens’ target audience. 

Real World Shooting

When used in adequate light, the 85mm was a pleasure to use. Autofocus was fast and accurate, and the only bit of hunting present was when I was shooting close to the minimum focusing distance. In lower light situations, Panasonic’s DFD autofocus system showed its weaknesses and would hunt considerably more, sometimes focusing on the background instead. When it did hit focus, the images turned out great, and with the S series cameras having IBIS, slow shutter speeds were useful for keeping the ISO down. 

Sample Images

Final Thoughts

Panasonic has been lagging behind in releasing lenses for their full frame cameras, and Sigma quickly adapted a lot of their Art lenses to give users options without having to resort to adapters. While Panasonic has the fast 24-70mm and 70-200mm focal lengths covered, their prime lens lineup consisted of just the Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4. With the release of the 85mm f/1.8, users finally have an alternative to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art ($1,199 for the new version, $1,099 for the older version). The autofocus is a bit faster than the Sigma’s, and there isn’t much of a real-world difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8. The one thing Panasonic has seemed to consistently nail with their L-Mount lenses is quality. Their entire lineup of lenses produce sharp images, and the 85mm is no different. 

The Panasonic Lumix S 85mm f/1.8 comes in at a reasonable $597.99, and is available now.