Determining the actual costs of adding “Leica” branding to a lens.

After becoming an owner of a Leica branded (well, self branded) m43 camera body, I needed a matching wide field  Leica prime lens to complete the look.   There are currently five Leica branded m43 lenses and three more to be introduced this year.  But only one, the 15 mm f/1.7 DG Summilux, is small enough to really look like a classical Leica film lens and is small enough to suit the compact proportions of the Yi M1 camera body.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s already enough debate about whether lenses designed and built by Panasonic but with apparent tweaking and final approval by Leica can be considered true Leica glass.  This lens is particularly suspect because Leica has traditionally reserved the moniker Summilux for lenses with a maximum aperture of f/1.4.

DJI is a well respected drone manufacturer that introduced a gimbal mounted m43 camera called the Zenmuse.   One of the lenses it offers under its own brand is a 15mm f/1.7 lens.  The lens has 9 elements in 7 groups with 3 aspherical elements.  Its aperture ranges from f/1.7 to f/16 and it has a 7 blade diaphragm and 72 °  field of view.  It has a 46mm filter diameter and focuses from 0.2m to infinity.  Just like the Leica lens.

And they physically look identical.  B&H Photo in NYC has the DJI lens for $599, the Leica for $550.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At this point I’d like to thank a fellow m43 enthusiast named Michael for generously allowing me to borrow his Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens.  I noticed he had his lens for sale on Kijiji and I emailed him with the idea of renting his lens for half an hour and offered to pay him $20 Cdn for his troubles.  He showed up at my office and refused to take my money, a man I had never met before!  He told me about selling all his Canon 7D gear for his current Lumix GX8 and his anticipation of owning the GH5 later this year.

I weighed both lenses, and they were within 6 grams of each other so there is likely nothing fundamentally different inside the casing.

I shot some frames in RAW with the lenses mounted on my EPL-5 body and using the ISO 12233 resolution target and performed the MTF analysis with QuickMTF.  Both lenses show very similar MTF10 and MTF30 curves. screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-3-19-17-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-11-at-3-18-38-pm

So it’s safe to conclude that they are indeed the same lens, both made by Panasonic.  I picked up my very lightly used DJI lens for $250 USD.  The street/eBay price for a used Leica lens is about $130 more, this being the perceived cost of having the Leica brand from the buyer’s perspective.  I Photo Shopped the Leica letters onto my DJI lens in the first image for essentially no cost.

There has been some critical response about the design of this study and that because of the small number of lenses tested, the findings are statistically insignificant  – of no value.  I’d like to point out that these are mass produced consumer items and testing a large batch of identical lenses will reveal a lot of variability, these are not hand manufactured and figured optical instruments like high end telescopes where optical analyses actually mean something.  Since I’m not in a position to purchase both lenses and disassemble them (risking permanent damage) to prove the internals are in fact identical, the simplest least invasive test was a MTF analysis.   If the curves had been widely different, one could infer the optical prescription was different, and vice versa.  You could almost make that inference from physical appearances alone and the fact that no large manufacturer would take the time and the financial hit of productivity losses to stop the assembly line and make specific changes to the DJI lens.  The MTF info is just a nice confirmation.

Before I end I’d like to take this opportunity to demonstrate the real differences between the US and Canada, as most of the World usually has a hard time differentiating the two (well, maybe not lately).  Kijiji was launched by eBay to challenge Craigslist in 2007 and failed miserably in the US.  In Canada, Kijiji beats Craigslist by a margin of 3 to 1.   A&W is a historically legendary hamburger fast food franchise that is dying in the US, in Canada A&W is an innovative company that is a close second to McDonald’s.    Blockbuster Video went bankrupt in the US but Blockbuster Canada was fiscally sound until the US parent raided its assets and deposits to pay off $70 million to creditors and killed the Canadian subsidiary.  How companies operate and succeed in the Canadian market is one way of describing the differences between Canada and the US without involving politics.

Addendum:

I’ve said it before in this blog so I’ll say it again, since I don’t (yet) make my living from photography, it really makes sense to economize whenever possible.  So in hindsight I really didn’t need to buy the 15mm/f1.7 at all since I have the Lumix 20mm/f1.7 Pancake.  This was the first lens I acquired when I bought my EP-1 in 2010 because I was unhappy with the Olympus kit lens and it really deserves is legendary reputation of being unbelievably compact and unbelievably good, optically.  I ran the lens through the same MTF test rig and came up with this.screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-3-20-27-pm

Which confirms the findings of other independent lens reviews, the 20mm has slightly better center sharpness but the 15mm has slightly better edge performance.   But the 20mm is quite a bit shorter than the 15mm and that makes all the difference in the world of street and travel photography where unobtrusiveness and compactness are paramount.

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