As most loyal readers probably know I think of wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses as an afterthought. But when shooting commercial work there are often requests to, "get the whole lab, from side to side, in the shot." Or, "Can you get this entire group in the shot from about 10 feet away?" Or, "Let's shoot this scene from inside the car/truck/plane/boat." And in those situations client retention does call for some focal length flexibility. In my full frame Canon days my widest lens was the 20mm f2.8 and I used it whenever I needed to do architecture. With the full frame Sonys I try to make everything fit into the 24mm wide end of the 24-70mm zoom but use the Rokinon 14mm when I know I'll have time to spend correcting its massive distortion...(a lens profile in Lightroom is a big help).
So now that I've dived into the Panasonic cameras and am putting together what I think will be a video centric imaging system I've decided not to dance around the need for some wide angle coverage and to buy a lens that simplifies that kind of photography. There were really two choices: the Olympus 7-14mm Pro series lens and the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm. I chose the Panasonic/Leica for three reasons (of which only two are cogent and only one is a deal maker....). First off I liked the industrial design of the lens. It looks cool. Don't discount cool looks entirely. Design is, by nature, somewhat sneaky in that it makes a certain statement. The Panasonic/Leica says, "Well integrated with the camera."
My second reason for buying it is my theory that while Olympus and Panasonic cameras will read each other's lens firmware maybe Panasonic camera has some special sauce sprinkled in that allows it to optimize the wide performance of the lens just a little bit more. And finally, most importantly, I can stick a 67mm variable neutral density filter right on the front of the lens while the Olympus requires a whole new, fumbly apparatus with which to use filters at all.
I didn't want to wait until the 30 day return privilege at Precision Camera passed me by to check out the lens performance so after a meeting about a video project with my favorite producer/director I headed downtown to shoot random wide shots of random stuff. I also stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a couple of Lemon Hazelnut Scones (LHS) for afternoon tea with my favorite art director/designer and to have some sushi for lunch.
I came home and put four dozen files into Lightroom and looked as them dispassionately. The lens is sharp, the software correction works well. There's no discernible loss of sharpness in the corners at f5.6 (which is a good f-stop at which to shoot wide images) and the lens resolves nice detail even at the widest setting. In short, the lens is perfect for the limited use it will probably see on my cameras. But it's good to have it in the bag for those "just in case" moments. Not what I would consider a sexy lens but one which will round out the image capabilities of the Panasonic package.