Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS Lens

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    Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS Lens

      In summary

       A premium, 14-42mm powered pancake zoom lens for Panasonic's G Micro series cameras.The Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH./POWER O.I.S retractable zoom lens provides a compact and lightweight alternative to Panasonic's standard G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Roughly half the size and weight of the earlier lens, it's offered with the latest G Micro series cameras, and was provided for our review of the new Lumix DMC-GX1.

      Full review

      The Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH./POWER O.I.S retractable zoom lens provides a compact and lightweight alternative to Panasonic's standard G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Roughly half the size and weight of the earlier lens, it's offered with the latest G Micro series cameras, and was provided for our review of the new Lumix DMC-GX1.
       

      Side-by-side views of the G X Vario PZ 14-42mm (left) and G Vario 14-42 mm (right) lenses showing the differences in length. (Source: Panasonic.)

      Part of the reduction in size has been achieved by adopting a retracting 'pancake' design, while the use of four aspherical lenses in the optical design has contributed to reductions in both length and weight. Levers replace the traditional rings for controlling zoom and focusing, both being located on the same section of the shortened lens barrel.
       

      Two views of the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH./POWER O.I.S lens with power off (left) and on (right). (Source: Panasonic.)

      Unlike the Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 ASPH/POWER O.I.S. lens we reviewed recently, this lens has neither zoom nor focusing rings so the levers are required for all adjustments. They ensure relatively smooth, shake-free zooming and manual focusing and operate quietly enough to minimise the chances of recording camera noises during video capture.
       

      Side view of theLumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH./POWER O.I.S lens showing the zoom and focus levers. (Source: Panasonic.)

      The optical design relies more heavily on exotic elements than the slightly more complex design in the Lumix G Vario 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. lens.

      The diagram below, sourced from Panasonic's German website, shows the positions of the aspherical and ED elements and how the optical components are repositioned when power is applied.

      Proprietary Nano Surface Coating is applied to the optical surfaces to minimise flare and ghosting. As with the G X Vario PZ 45-175mm lens, it's effective across the visible light range (380 nm-780 nm).

      A POWER Optical Image Stabiliser replaces the MEGA O.I.S. and includes a gyro sensor with higher sensitivity that roughly doubles the system's ability to suppress large, slow movements. Small, fast movements are compensated by the conventional stabilisation technology.

      There's no IS switch for turning stabilisation on and off. Instead, this is handled through the camera's menu system. The table below compares key specifications from the old and new lenses.

       

      G X Vario PZ 14-42mm

      G Vario 14-42 mm

      Optical construction

      9 elements in 8 groups

      12 elements in 9 groups

      Exotic elements

      4 aspherical, 2 ED

      1 aspherical

      Stabilisation

      POWER O.I.S.

      MEGA O.I.S.

      Minimum focus

      20 cm

      30 cm

      Mounting plate

      metal

      plastic

      Filter size

      37 mm

      52 mm

      Dimensions (Diameter x L)

      61 x 26.8 mm

      63.6 x 60.6 mm

      Weight

      95 grams

      165 grams

      Build and Ergonomics
      Use of high quality plastics and tight tolerances in construction combine with the metal mounting plate to ensure the build quality is in line with the 'premium' classification for this lens. Internal focusing keeps the lens from rotating during focusing and zooming, allowing use of angle-critical attachments.

      Unfortunately, the focus lever, which will probably be used least, is positioned to sit directly under the thumb of your left hand when the camera is held correctly. To use the zoom ring you need to move your left hand a short distance to the right around the lens. Since you seldom need to use both controls at the same time operating both levers with the same hand presents no additional difficulties.

      Both levers are well damped although it's not always easy to adjust them with high precision. However, both are quick and quiet to use, an important factor when shooting video.

      Moving between the 14mm and 42mm positions with the zoom lever takes approximately 3.5 seconds. On the downside, there is no way to set a precise focal length between the extremes of the zoom range so you're forced to guess or, when a precise setting is required, calculate the camera-to-subject distance that would fill the frame with the desired focal length setting.

      When you switch the camera on, the inner barrel of the lens pops out in less than a second, extending the overall length of the lens by roughly 20mm. Zooming involves moving internal elements so the lens stays essentially the same length for all focal length settings (although it moves through about one millimetre as focal length is adjusted).

      Autofocusing is also relatively fast, thanks to proprietary Light Speed AF technology. that makes use of the camera's microprocessor. However, because autofocusing is controlled electronically by the camera, there's no tactile feedback to let you know when you're close to the mark, although the camera locks if the lens can't be focused. As with the PZ 45-175mm lens, in manual focus mode, turning the focus ring instantly displays a magnified view of the centre of the frame to aid focusing adjustments.

      The lens can focus down to 20 cm from the subject - but only at the 14mm focal length. At full tele zoom (42mm) the closest focus is roughly twice that distance, even with the 'Flower' setting in the Scene pre-sets menu.

      Panasonic offers this lens in two colours, black and silver, to complement the cameras in its G Micro range. The lens is supplied with front and rear caps when provided with the camera. A soft storage bag is provided when the lens is purchased separately. No lens hood is provided and there appears to be no way to attach one.

      Performance
      Imatest testing showed the review lens to be a good performer on the basis of files from the GX1 used for our tests. It came close to matching expectations for the camera's 15.8-megapixel sensor with JPEG and met expectations at several focal lengths when raw files were analysed.

      The highest resolution was recorded at f/4.5 with a focal length of 20mm. For other focal lengths, the best performance was one or two stops down from maximum aperture, although resolution remained relatively high through to f/8, when diffraction began to reduce image quality.

      Slight edge softening was detected across the focal length range, although it was less than we expected at the widest aperture settings. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible with all focal lengths and lens apertures we tested and we found no evidence of coloured fringing in any test shots. In the graph below, showing the results of our Imatest tests, the red line marks the border between 'negligible' and 'low' CA.

      Rectilinear distortions in images from Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) cameras are automatically corrected either directly in the camera (JPEGs) or in most RAW file converters. Consequently it is rare to find more than very slight barrel distortion at the wide position and barely noticeable pincushioning at the tele end of the zoom range.

      In-camera correction is also provided for vignetting in JPEGs, with raw files being auto-corrected when converted into editable formats. From a user's perspective, both aberrations can, therefore, be considered as negligible. The lens was, however, flare prone when pointed towards a bright source of light, even when it was outside the image frame.

      The built-in POWER O.I.S. proved effective, enabling use to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/2 second and get roughly 70% of acceptably sharp pictures with the lens set at around 20mm.

      Conclusion
      Like the G X Vario PZ 45-175mm lens we reviewed recently, the G X Vario PZ 14-42mm lens is a welcome addition to the growing portfolio of M4/3 lenses provided by Panasonic and Olympus and, increasingly, third-party manufacturers. Despite being $250 more expensive than the 14-42mm standard kit lenses provided by Panasonic and Olympus, its compact size and more sophisticated, electronically-controlled design give it worthwhile advantages over these lenses.

      If you place a high value on compactness and portability and must have a standard zoom lens on your M4/3, this lens is your only option. It could also be worth the higher price tag to photographers who want quiet, ultra-smooth zooming while shooting movies.

      Buy this lens if:
      - It's offered with a camera body (you save almost $300 when the lens is bundled with the GX1, for example).
      - You want a compact standard-range zoom lens for everyday and travel photography and movie recording.
      - You require fast, controllable focusing and zooming.
      Don't buy this lens if:
      - You take a lot of backlit shots and prefer using a lens hood.
      - You don't require the powered focus and zoom features.
      - You don't have a Micro Four Thirds system camera.

      IMATEST GRAPHS
      (based on JPEG files from the Panasonic DMC-GX1)

      SAMPLE IMAGES

       

      Distortion at 14mm.
      Distortion at 42mm.
      Vignetting at 14mm f/3.5.
      Vignetting at 42mm f/5.6.

       

      14mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/400 second at f/6.3.
      42mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/320 second at f/8.
      Close-up ('Flower' mode); 14mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
      Close-up ('Flower' mode); 42mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/200 second at f/6.3.
      Stabiliser test; 20mm ISO 160, 1/2 second at f/4.5.
      Flare; 14mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
      Depth-of-field at f/3.5; 14mm focal length, 1/125 second at ISO 160.
      Depth-of-field at f/8; 14mm focal length, 1/50 second at ISO 160.
      Depth-of-field at f/16; 14mm focal length, 1/50 second at ISO 800.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Lumix GX-1.

      Specifications

      Picture angle: 75 to 29 degrees
      Minimum aperture: f/22
      Lens construction: 9 elements in 8 groups (4 aspherical lenses, 2 ED lenses) plus Nano Surface Coating
      Lens mounts: Micro Four Thirds system
      Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
      Focus drive: Micromotor
      Stabilisation: POWER O.I.S.
      Minimum focus: 20 cm
      Maximum magnification: Approx. 0.17x
      Filter size: 37 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 61 x 26.8 mm
      Weight: Approx. 95 grams (excluding end caps)

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      Rating

      RRP: $599

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Handling: 8.3
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • Versatility: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.2

      BUY

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