Yet another kit lens has come onto the scene. On paper, ho-hum, a little wider, a little shorter, still slow, no focus ring… Why would this particular kit lens be a better choice than the other current options? Yes, it’s tiny and light weight and nearly as small as the Lumix 14mm Pancake lens, but what’s this? It’s reasonably sharp at all focal lengths and all apertures and offers us a 24mm equivalent lens as opposed to the moderate wide 28mm equivalent in most all other kit zooms… Interesting. Hit the jump for my user review on this little optic…
While I’ve found this lens to be impressive initially, I feel it is because I have relatively low expectations for an inexpensive kit zoom and it wouldn’t take a whole lot to impress me. I’ve never held onto any of the kit zooms I’ve acquired over the years, but I think this little guy will be the first that actually sticks around in my bag. Having gone through and actually taken the time to really look at its performance, and compare it against the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 and PanaLeica Lumix 25mm f/1.4 at matching focal lengths, it gives me an idea as to how it performs against two lenses I hold in high regard for the system. What do we look for in a lens? I tend to want something from any given lens that I don’t have in another lens. From there, how sharp is it? How does it handle flare, chromatic aberration, distortion? How does it render out of focus areas? What will I use this lens for? Well, this user test and review is aimed at answering those questions to myself. Below, I’ll go through some basic sharpness comparisons at different focal lengths and apertures (and compare against the 14mm and 25mm lenses), and give my personal opinion based on why this may be a compelling choice over other comparably priced lenses in this range. Because, in certain situations, the maximum aperture for the 12-32mm zoom at certain focal lengths are not in even third stops, the shot and listed apertures may be slightly off between the comparisons and I matched the 14mm and 25mm lens apertures as closely as possible. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
SHARPNESS: I mounted the 12-32mm lens to the GX7 and below you can see the way that the image was cropped into by adjusting the focal length from a fixed position, each set of frames captured at the given focal lengths at full sized, 15.8mp RAW images. Below are the 100% crops from the center and corner at the listed aperture settings with the little 12-32 at it’s widest aperture at that given focal length, f/5.6 and f/8. I’ve also included equal focal length comparisons to the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens with the 12-32mm zoomed to 14mm, and the Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4 lens with the 12-32mm zoomed to 25mm. Finally I racked the 12-32mm all the way out to its longest focal length of 32mm and have 100% crops at f/5.6 (wide open) and f/8. All images were captured using averaged metering and metered to 0, in RAW (.RW2) at the GX7’s base ISO of 200. The RAW files were converted via Aperture v3.5.1 with no sharpening applied, and exported as full sized JPEGS (at 100% crops). CLICK ANY IMAGE BELOW TO SEE IT FULL SIZED. 12mm: CENTER 12mm: CORNER 14mm: CENTER (comparison between the 12-32mm and 14mm f/2.5 lenses) 14mm: CORNER 25mm: CENTER (comparison between the 12-32mm and 25mm f/1.4 lenses) 25mm: CORNER 32mm: CENTER 32mm: CORNER So, how about that. For my money, the 12-32mm is comparably as sharp at each focal length when compared to the 14mm and 25mm lenses, which is a feat considering that the 14mm and 25mm lenses are stopped down to their near sharpest apertures. The 12-32mm lens gets noticeably sharper when stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8, but it does well wide open, and is decently sharp at all apertures in the corners. I’d even say the 12-32mm lens is sharper in the corners than the 14mm lens, and even appears to be sharper than the PL25 at each tested aperture (or at least my copies) which is kind of a mind blower to me considering we’re talking about a kit lens here. Impressive. Granted, this is a simple setup and not a chart, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, I tend not to shoot charts very often, but rather I’m curious to see how a lens reacts in what I’d consider to be a more normal scene or shooting scenario. I stopped the comparisons at f/8 because I find that most all micro 4/3 lenses start to suffer from diffraction at around f/11 and smaller, and find f/4 – f/8 to be about as sharp as I can get any lens for the system.
UPDATE: As was inquired about in the comments, dunsun had asked if I’d noticed a softening along the right edge of the frame (while after looking at these files, I’d assume we’re talking “right” in landscape orientation) when shooting this lens at its widest focal length, 12mm. Below are two full sized files, both at 12mm, one wide open at f/3.5 and another stopped down to f/5.6 for you to see. I have increased the exposure in post to more clearly see the darker areas along the right edge, so they won’t perfectly match the above images exposure wise.
I will say that the edges aren’t as sharp as the center, but I wouldn’t see that as a lens specific issue, and don’t see any unique “softening” as much as I see optical distortion which may or may not pull objects at the edge out of focus depending on the depth of field, distance to a particular subject and field curvature resulting in possible softening by way of being slightly more out of focus. The 14mm has essentially shown as much as well by looking at the corner crops too. As I understand wide optics, this can be somewhat common and perhaps I should dive deeper into some of my other lenses for this and other systems to see if I can’t find any type of pattern or exception. A fully corrected rectilinear wide angle lens (is there such a thing?) will certainly command a premium as is the case for various high end 24mm lenses. I no longer have any 24-70mm zooms to test zoom to zoom, but maybe someone with a high end standard zoom can and post links to their findings in the comments and I’ll link here in the article. I will see if I can’t do a little more research based on different focusing distances with this lens (closer and perhaps at infinity) to see if I can’t recreate the situation that dunsun has read about. I’m not noticing a particular, uniform softening myself looking at these images, how about you guys? Have a look:
(click to see the full sized image) 12mm @ f/3.5:
and 12mm @ f/5.6:
FLARE and CHROMATIC ABERRATION: I wanted to see how badly I could get this lens to flare, and I’ll admit, if I pointed this lens straight at the sun, I could get it to exhibit a bit of flare and contrast loss, but honestly, I’m impressed again in that I literally had to have the sun in the frame to really get this lens to show noticeable flare. Stopping the lens down also helped combat the flare noticeably. See the first example, shot at 12mm both wide open at f/3.5 and then stopped down to f/5 from the same location with the sun just in frame at the top. Wide open at f/3.5: Stopped down to f/5: From this, I feel it’s done well to not only handle the flare wide open all things considered, but does a nice job at further controlling it when stopped down. Here’s another shot where I got this lens to flare as badly as I could, shooting directly into the sun at 32mm, wide open at f/5.6. A bit of magenta flare here certainly. In this lens’ defense, I had to really move it around to get it to flare like this. From the same location, keeping the sun near the center of the frame, it needed this particular angle to flare like this. How about Chromatic Aberration? Well, from the above shot we see the green and magenta flare, but aside from that, the CA on edges in the scene are practically non existent. Here’s a 200% crop from the above image just above the sun and to the left a little bit. There’s a little contrast loss from the overall effect of the flare, but CA wise, these branches look remarkably well controlled to me. Here’s another shot in which I’d think CA would show itself. High contrast, back lit with sharp backlit lines cutting through the overexposed background. And another 200% crop: I’m impressed. I will continue to see what I can do to expose any further shortcomings regarding flare and CA on this lens, and it is subject to some flaring when shooting directly into the sun, but I will say that this little guy does really well overall.
DISTORTION: Now, this may be the weak point of this lens, at least at the wider end. Below are some shots of a simple setup. I had the camera on a tripod, leveled and squared over center of a flat cutting mat (Martha Stewart makes everything!) because it is all that I have that has a series of straight lines on it. I thought about shooting a brick wall or whatever, but nope. So, this is what we have. Even though this isn’t the perfect subject, and kind of goes against my “shoot real stuff” mantra, it gives me an idea as to what this lens can and will do, distortion wise. All images shot on the GM1, captured in RAW at the listed focal lengths. 24mm: 14mm: 18mm: 25mm: And finally at 32mm: At the longer focal lengths, the distortion looks really well controlled to my eye. Lines are straight, no real noticeable evidence of barrel or pincushion distortion, but at 12 and 14mm… Yeah, a little bit of the ol’ barrel distortion with a hint of Vaudevillian Stache. How does this translate to the real world? All I can say is that I haven’t really noticed it, but I’m also not shooting commercial interiors with this lens.
How about BOKEH: These slow kit zooms on micro 4/3 sensors can’t throw a background out of focus right? Sure they can. Yes, it is more difficult to get focus separation between subject and background, but even at f3.5 or f/5.6 at the respective ends of this zoom range, with a close focusing distance, you can get a bit of background blur. How smooth, or nice that blur is entirely debatable, but have a look at a couple quick shots showing those ever loved bokeh balls… 12mm wide open at f/3.5: And at 32mm wide open at f/5.6:
CONCLUSION: Simply put, one needs to weigh their needs, expectations and budget. For me personally, having acquired this lens with the GM1, I find it to be a pleasure to shoot with, showing surprising quality for a kit zoom. It offers me a true wide angle at the 24mm equivalent and is sharp wide open. It handles flare and CA as well or better than any other lens I’ve used for the system and it’s nearly the size of the Lumix 14mm pancake lens. It all adds up to a pretty killer little package that will go unnoticed in the bag, but will shine when shooting in good light when I need a capable walk around, documentary lens. Here are what I see as the upside and drawback to this lens… Pros:
- This lens is all about the size. It’s tiny, it’s light and it is a great example of why this system can and should continue to succeed.
- This lens is sharp, contrasty and does well with color and saturation.
- A really nice and wide 24mm equivalent wide angle through a respectable 64mm short tele focal range is great for everyday shooting.
- It has Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) which isn’t as cool as Über OIS, but will have to do.
- Did I mention this lens is remarkably small and light?
- My only real gripe with this lens is it’s speed, by which I mean it’s max aperture. Taking into consideration that it is tiny (which physically limits just how big the aperture could be) and somewhat reasonably priced against other, arguably lesser kit lenses, my gripe should essentially be ignored. If we want a fast, wide through standard zoom, we have the option to buy the Lumix 12-35 f/2.8 or the Olympus 12-40 f/2.8, and honestly for me, using this lens most of the time at 12mm, that 2/3 of a stop isn’t going to be getting me shots that I can’t otherwise get if I’m really honest with myself. Yes, I like speed anywhere I can get it, but f/2.8 isn’t what I consider especially “fast”. If apertures were compared to rate of travel by foot, f/2.8 would be a slow, steady jog, a 12 minute mile as it were, while f/3.5 would be a slow, steady jog with sore legs. For speed, our money is better served in the prime department I feel and unless you’re really in need of a constant f/2.8 I feel this lens is going to offer a great, more affordable alternative, so expect accordingly and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised by this little lens.
- I should say also that its lack of manual focus ring is an odd omission, forcing one to manually focus on screen via a clunky slider, but let’s be real, a slow kit zoom is not a very likely candidate for manual focus, or at least is not for me. I don’t remember wanting or needing to manually focus any kit lens I’ve used with that task mostly reserved for primes exhibiting a shallower DOF and macro lenses for me. The hyper focal distance for this lens set to 12mm wide open is just about 9 feet, so if focused there, anything between 4.5′ away through infinity is going to be in focus requiring very little need to manually fine tune your focus. It’s no bokeh monster, and for the casual snap shot, the deeper depth of field can really be a boon. Still, I think every lens should have a manual focus ring because I’ve never had one without it, or the ability to manually focus a lens mechanically, and I don’t particularly like change. Personally though, I’ve not missed the MF ring once since getting this lens, but if you’re really wanting a kit zoom with a manual focus ring, this would not be the one to choose.
I would buy this lens over any of the other 14-42 or 14-45mm kit lenses, including the new Olympus 14-42 pancake zoom. Why? Firstly because it gives us a 24mm equivalent versus the 28mm equivalent on the wide end. To me, a true wide angle is more useful than a slightly longer short tele focal length for my walk around needs. It has also provided me with a satisfaction in that I don’t lust after the Oly 12mm f/2 any more. I now have a capable 12mm wide angle lens for the system, (and now I need an ultra wide rectilinear lens… 7mm f/4 for under $500 please!) If you find that the extra focal range on the longer side is more useful to your style of shooting, go with the Oly, or one of the other various 14-42 or 14-45mm kit zooms.
The Lumix lens is sharp, it has nice contrast and saturation while maintaining an absolutely minuscule profile. The only other budget friendly “kit” zoom I’d consider would be the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 if I needed the weather sealing, and saw value in the 1:2mm handy macro feature (which I do). This thing is the size of a red bull can though which makes for a somewhat awkward setup, physically. I hope that Panasonic starts bundling this 12-32 lens as their standard kit zoom myself. It’s just a cool little dynamo of a lens, is optically better than the other kit zooms I’ve used, and really plays nicely to one of the system’s largest benefits in size reduction. You can see the Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake zoom lens at B&H Here. Thanks for the read! Hit me up on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.