Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. lens
For a kit lens, the G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega O.I.S. is a respectable performer and a good choice for everyday snapshooters when size and weight really matter.
Its small size makes it ideal for street photography and users can capture candid close-ups without being noticed.
Panasonic’s Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. (H-FS12032E) lens is usually supplied as a kit lens with a G-series camera. Initially launched in October 2013 with the GM1, it was included with the Lumix DC-GX9 we were given to review.
Compact, lightweight and affordably priced, it features a retractable design, a 240 fps AF drive and MEGA O.I.S. stabilisation that works with the GX9’s sensor shift system to support shake-free shooting.
The two colour options for the Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. lens. (Source: Panasonic.)
Initially, this lens wasn’t available on its own but since Panasonic lists it separately on its Australian website and some retailers are stocking it, we’ve decided to review it separately. Our tests were conducted with the latest Panasonic camera, the 20-megapixel GX9.
The optical design of the H-FS12032E lens consists of eight elements in seven groups with three aspherical and one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element. Multi-coatings minimise ghosting and flare and the iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture or attractive bokeh.
In-lens MEGA O.I.S. stabilisation shifts two lens groups to counteract camera shake, using power from a dedicated actuator. It works with the sensor-shift stabilisation in the camera to provide three to four stops of shake correction.
Who’s it For?
The H-FS12032E lens was released a little over a year after a faster 12-35mm zoom lens, the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH. O.I.S. (reviewed in April 2013), which boasts a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. A second-generation version of this lens is listed on Panasonic’s Australian website at an RRP of AU$1199.
Because the two lenses cover similar focal length ranges, potential buyers may wish to choose between them, although this won’t matter for anyone who received the 12-32mm lens bundled with a camera. The faster lens should provide better overall performance and be more reliable in dim lighting.
However, it is considerably larger and heavier and its optical design is more complex. It is also dust- and moisture-resistant as well as freeze-proof and comes with front and end caps, a lens hood and a soft storage bag. The hood and bag are not provided with the 12-32mm lens.
At less than half the price of the 12-35mm lens, the H-FS12032E lens looks like something of a bargain. Its zoom range covers focal lengths equivalent to 24-64mm in 35mm format, which is shorter but wider than the standard 14-42mm lens offered with many M4/3 cameras.
Both lenses would be good for taking everyday snapshots. But the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is interesting because its small size makes it a useful take-everywhere lens and a nice lightweight option for travellers. However, what you gain in size and weight is offset against the loss in lens speed (2/3 of a stop at 12mm but two stops at 32mm).
Its use for close-ups is also quite limited. There’s no ‘macro’ setting for capturing close-ups, although it will focus down to approximately 20 cm at 12mm and 30 cm at 32mm for an effective magnification of 0.13x. The GX9 camera we used can lock the shutter until focus is achieved, which is handy with this lens.
Build and Ergonomics
Like many kit lenses, the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS lens is made mainly of plastic and includes a plastic mount. Build quality is about average, although the lens we received was snugly assembled and free of unwanted wobbles.
There’s only one control surface: the zoom ring, which is located at the leading edge of the outer barrel. It’s approximately 17 mm wide with a 9 mm wide band of ridging covering its leading edge.
This ring turns through a little less than 90 degrees when the initial extension is included. The actual zoom range covers roughly 60 degrees.
The retracting design requires users to rotate the zoom ring to the right when the camera is powered up, which takes about a second. This extends two internal barrels, doubling the overall length of the lens from 24 mm to roughly 48 mm. Subsequent adjustments to the focal length have little effect on the overall length of the lens as both focusing and zooming are internal.
Manual focusing is only possible when the focus lever on the camera is set to MF. Focus is then adjusted via the touch-screen, using a slider displayed on the right hand side of the monitor screen. Magnification (up to 20x) and focus peaking are available to assist manual focusing, depending on the camera used.
The front of the lens steps in to provide threading for the 37 mm diameter filters and the supplied lens cap. The 21 mm diameter front element of the lens fits inside this circle.
For average users, the built-in MEGA O.I.S. stabilisation can provide shake correction for up to 2.0-2.5 stops when the lens is used on a camera without sensor-shift stabilisation. The GX9’s sensor shift system adds roughly an extra stop.
The plastic lens mount fitted tightly to the metal plate on the GX9 camera. The lens cap is small enough to be easily mislaid, although it click-in snugly enough when fitted. No lens hood is supplied.
Our Imatest tests showed the review lens to be an average performer, which is to be expected for a kit lens. Centre sharpness was highest at 12mm with the widest aperture setting. Edge softening was greater at this focal length than when the lens was zoomed in, as expected with the contracting iris.
By the 20mm focal length, the highest resolution had shifted to f/5.6 and by 32mm it had moved further to f/8. Note that the reduction in the maximum aperture will also reduce resolution due to the increasing influence of diffraction. We found diffraction produced a rapid fall in resolution from f/10 on, as shown in the graph of our test results below.
While the review lens was not totally free from lateral chromatic aberration, it was well controlled and remained mainly within the negligible band for most aperture and focal length settings. The problem increases as the lens is stopped down, as shown in the graph of our test results below. The red line represents the boundary between negligible and low CA.
We found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots taken with any focal length setting, which isn’t surprising since recent Panasonic cameras automatically correct this aberration in JPEG files. Similar corrections are provided for vignetting (corner darkening) and rectilinear distortion so we had to examine raw files from the camera to see the inherent levels of both aberrations.
Edge and corner darkening were detectable in raw files at the widest aperture settings at 12mm but reduced as the lens was zoomed in. By 32mm is was barely visible when raw files were examined. Stopping down eliminated the problem.
Note that when shading compensation is switched on (the default setting), this darkening will be corrected. You may see a slight increase in image noise in the corners of the frame as a result of this correction.
Rectilinear distortion was typical of a kit zoom lens, with slight barrel distortion at the 12mm focal length and barely visible pincushion distortion at 32mm. In between, distortion was slight enough to be negligible.
The review lens was quite susceptible to flare and produced strong artefacts when a bright light source was inside the image frame. Veiling flare was also common, reducing contrast and saturation in backlit shots, even with indirect lighting.
Autofocusing is aided by the small size of the lens, which means the focus group in the lens assembly is easy to move quickly with the stepping motor drive. It took less than a second to change focus from close-up to infinity. Focus adjustments are virtually silent.
For a kit lens, the G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega O.I.S. is a respectable performer and a good choice for everyday snapshooters when size and weight really matter. Its small size makes it ideal for street photography and users can capture candid close-ups without being noticed.
Photographers looking for better performance ““ and greater lens speed ““ should consider the Lumix G 12-35mm f/2.8 II ASPH Power O.I.S. or the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 ED Pro instead. Both lenses will provide better performance but they are significantly larger, heavier and more expensive.
It’s difficult to find this lens offered on its own, both in Australian stores and through overseas re-sellers. It’s not listed on Panasonic’s USA website and, although you can find it on the company’s UK site, no price is provided.
The best local prices we found for the new lens would save you between AU$40 and AU$100 on the RRP. Prices for secondhand lenses on E-Bay were less that AU$200 but it would be risky to buy this lens without being sure it hadn’t been badly handled. (Plastic mounts can erode over time leading to the lens becoming loosely attached.)
Picture angle: 84 degrees to 37 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 8 elements in 7 groups (including 3 aspherical lenses and 1 ED lens)
Lens mounts: Micro Four Thirds
Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: Internal AF with stepping motor
Stabilisation: MEGA O.I.S.
Minimum focus: 20 cm at 12-20mm; 30 cm at 21-32mm
Maximum magnification: Approx. 0.13x / 0.26x (35mm camera equivalent)
Filter size: 37 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 55.5 x 24 mm
Weight: 70 grams
Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps
Distributor: Panasonic Australia, Ph. 132 600; www.panasonic.com.au
Based on JPEG files from the Lumix GX9 camera.
Vignetting at 12mm, f/3.5.
Vignetting at 32mm, f/5.6.
Rectilinear distortion at 12mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 32mm.
12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/11.
36mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/11.
Close-up at 12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/3.5.
Close-up at 32mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
Close-up showing characteristic wide-angle distortion; 12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/4.5.
Angular distortion caused by slightly tilting the lens; 12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/800 second at f/10.
Strong backlighting; 14mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/8.
Veiling flare; 12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/6.3.
Veiling flare; 32mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
Veiling flare with indirect light source; 32mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
An example of using this lens for street photography; 32mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/9.
32mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/640 second at f/11.
12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/800 second at f/9.
Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Lumix G DC-GX9 camera.
- Build: 8.5
- Handling: 8.5
- Image quality: 8.6
- Versatility: 8.6