Announced in April, the Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power O.I.S. lens is a second-generation 10x zoom lens that is smaller, lighter, faster and less-expensive than the G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 ASPH Mega O.I.S. which we reviewed in June 2009. Roughly one third of the original’s price, the new lens features internal focusing using linear stepping motors, along with a beefed-up POWER O.I.S. stabilisation system.

-/

In summary

With its 10x zoom range, this lens will suit photographers who want an all-in-one lens that will cover most shooting situations.   Its light weight (roughly 200 grams less than the original 14-140mm lens) makes it a better choice for travellers, while the improved stabilisation will deliver a higher percentage of sharp pictures and movie clips in poorly-lit situations.

Performance-wise, this lens is more suitable for snapshooters than serious photographers who are picky about image quality. However, it’s a good choice for anyone wanting a quiet and versatile lens that zooms and focuses smoothly for shooting movie clips.

Rating

Build

8.5

Handling

8.8

Image quality  

8.3

Versatility

9.0

OVERALL

8.5

RRP:  AU$ tbc; US$699.99

SPECS

  • Picture angle:  75 degrees to 8 degrees 8 minutes
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Lens construction: 14 elements in 12 groups (including 3 aspherical lenses and 2 ED elements)
  • Lens mounts: Micro Four Thirds
  • Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
  • Focus drive: Linear stepping motor (internal focusing)
  • Stabilisation: POWER O.I.S.
  • Minimum focus: 30 cm at 14-21mm; 50 cm at 22-140mm
  • Maximum magnification: 0.25x
  • Filter size:   58 mm
  • Dimensions (Diameter x L): 67 x 75 mm
  • Weight:  265 grams

The optical design has been revised and the new lens contains 14 elements in 12 groups (compared with 17 elements in 13 groups in the previous lens). Included are three aspherical lenses and two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lenses, which have been used to reduce size and weight, while also  minimising distortion and chromatic aberration. Multi-coating is used to minimise ghosting and flare.

Build and Ergonomics

Made from high-quality polycarbonate plastic, this lens has a metal bayonet mounting plate with a shiny black ring between the camera body and the zoom and focus rings. This ring carries the on/off slider switch for the built-in MEGA O.I.S. stabilisation system, which engages quickly and works almost noiselessly.

The new POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabiliser) system can compensate for both the small and rapid vibrations characteristic of camera shake and large, slow movements, providing improved operability for low-light shooting. The increase in lens speed at the wide end of the zoom range provides a small advantage over the previous lens.

The new stepping motor AF drive interfaces effectively with the contrast AF systems in recent G-series cameras to provide fast, near silent autofocusing for shooting still pictures and movie clips. It is also compatible with the up to 240 fps sensor drive in cameras like the DMC-GH3 and the new DMC-G6 for high-speed AF in both modes.

The overall length of the lens changes as you zoom, extending from 75 mm at the 14mm position to 115mm at the 140mm position. As you move the zoom ring, the maximum aperture changes with focal length as follows:

Focal length

Max. aperture

14mm

f/3.5

18mm

f/3.7

25mm

f/4.1

35mm

f/4.5

50mm

f/5.9

70mm

f/5.4

100mm

f/5.4

140mm

f/5.6

 

Internal focusing means the inner barrel doesn’t rotate during focusing or zooming. The new lens also has a seven-bladed iris diaphragm that closes to create a circular aperture. Minimum aperture at all focal lengths is f/22.

The focus ring is about 8 mm wide and made from hard, ribbed plastic. It rotates through 360 degrees and there are no stops for setting close-up or infinity positions. Manual focus over-ride wasn’t available in AF mode with the GF6.

The zoom ring is just behind it. Roughly 23 mm wide, it carries a 16 mm wide ribbed grip band and  turns smoothly with minimal creeping. It rotates through roughly a quarter of a turn as you span the focal length range.

Focal length settings stamped on the trailing edge are lined up against a white mark on the rear section of the lens barrel, which is approximately 20 mm wide. Behind it the lens narrows to a 5 mm wide band that carries the indicator mark for fitting the lens to a camera body.

Handling

 Being considerably lighter than its predecessor, the review lens was a good match for the Panasonic DMC-GF6 body we used for our tests. It would also fit well on Panasonic’s larger G-Micro bodies. We found the metal bayonet mount easy to attach to the camera body and fitted snugly and securely.

The supplied cylindrical lens hood, which attaches via a bayonet mounting is made from rigid black plastic. It adds just under 40 mm to the overall length when it is in place but reverses over the barrel for storage. Front and end caps are provided for the lens, along with a soft carrying pouch.

Performance

While subjective assessments of test shots and video clips showed them to be acceptably detailed, with natural-looking colours and an adequate dynamic range in outdoor lighting, our Imatest tests revealed the new lens suffered from the same performance issues as most extended-range zoom lenses.

At no point did the resolution recorded in our tests reach expectations for the 16-megapixel sensor in the GF6. Interestingly, corner and edge softening was less than we found with the original 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 lens.

The highest resolutions were recorded between f/4.5 and f/7.1 with the 35mm focal length setting providing marginally higher resolution than the 25mm setting. Overall resolution declined progressively at higher focal lengths, with the 100mm setting (the longest we could test) showing significantly lower resolution.

Diffraction caused a plunge in resolution at f/11 and we wouldn’t   recommend using this lens at smaller apertures with any lens aperture. Shots taken at f/16 and f/22 appeared slightly soft.

Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between negligible and low, with shorter focal lengths being more affected than longer ones.

Rectilinear distortion was generally low, with only slight barrel distortion visible at the shortest focal lengths. Vignetting was also effectively negligible.   When the Shading Compensation setting in the camera was switched off, slight corner darkening could be seen in shots taken with the widest apertures at the extremes of the zoom range but not at other focal lengths. Switching Shading Compensation eliminated it.

Backlighting was generally well handled and flare was relatively low. Artefacts were easily produced with wide-angle settings when the lens was pointed directly towards the sun.  However, the lens hood prevented a significant loss of contrast and colour saturation and was very effective for avoiding artefacts at longer focal lengths.

The small sensor made it quite difficult to obtain truly out-of-focus backgrounds at wide apertures when the lens was set between the 18mm and 45mm focal lengths. However, at longer focal lengths some attractive out-of-focus blurring in backgrounds was obtained and we noticed no tendency for the lens to produce outlined highlights.

Buy