Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 ASPH/POWER O.I.S. Lens

      Photo Review 9.0

      In summary

      Pitched at photographers who shoot wildlife and portraits, Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 ASPH/POWER O.I.S. lens provides 3.9x zoom magnification and covers a focal length range equivalent to 90-350mm in 35mm format.

      It’s a fast telephoto zoom lens for everyday and travel photography, with precisely controllable zooming, high resolution at all focal lengths, and good flatness of field.


      Full review

      Late in August 2011, Panasonic unveiled two new powered zoom lenses for its Lumix G Micro Four Thirds system cameras. The Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 ASPH/POWER O.I.S. lens provides the longer zoom range of the pair. Pitched at photographers who shoot wildlife and portraits, it provides 3.9x zoom magnification and covers a focal length range equivalent to 90-350mm in 35mm format.

      Panasonic’s new Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6 ASPH/POWER O.I.S. lens. (Source: Panasonic.)

      This new lens competed head-to-head with Panasonic’s standard kit zoom lens, the G Vario 45-200mm f/4-5.6 Mega O.I.S. lens (H-FS045200) and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f/4-5.6 Telephoto Zoom, which has similar specifications. The table below shows the main differences between the three lenses.

      G X Vario 45-175mm G Vario 45-200mm M.Zuiko Digital 40-150mm
      Picture angle 27 to 7.1 degrees 27 to 6.2 degrees 30 to 8.2 degrees
      Lens construction 14 elements in 10 groups (2 aspherical lenses plus 2 ED lenses) 16 elements in 13 groups (3 ED lenses) 13 elements in 10 groups (1 ED lens)
      Focus drive Multi-Actuator Floating Inner Focus System micromotor MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) micromotor
      Stabilisation Power O.I.S. Mega O.I.S. No (in camera bodies)
      Minimum focus 90 cm 1.0m 90 cm
      Maximum magnification 0.2x 0.19x 0.16x
      Filter size 46 mm 52 mm 58 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L) 61.6 x 90 mm 70 x 100 mm 63.5 x 83 mm
      Weight Approx. 210 grams Approx. 380 grams Approx. 190 grams

      A couple of features make this lens stand out from its competitors. The first is the inclusion of the powered zoom drive, which is operated through a lever on the side of the lens barrel. The system is similar to the zooms on most video camcorders.

      The lever can be precisely controlled with the thumb of your left hand when the camera is held correctly (with the lens barrel cradled in the palm of the left hand). A standard zoom ring is also provided on the lens although, once you’re familiar with using the lever, it soon becomes the preferred option when you want fast, controllable focal length adjustments.

      Zooming involves moving internal elements so the lens stays the same length for all focal length settings. This allows the lens to be used in underwater housings and has also enabled Panasonic to produce a lens that is both compact and light in weight for its range.

      A special Multi-Actuator Floating Inner Focus System controls three lens groups separately to keep focusing movements quiet enough for use while shooting video clips. The front element doesn’t rotate, enabling angle-critical filters to be used without requiring re-adjustment when focus or zoom is changed.

      The optical design is rather complex, with 14 elements in 10 groups. Two aspherical elements have been included, along with two ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements to suppress chromatic aberration and record clear and sharp images under all lighting conditions.

      Proprietary extra-low refractive index Nano Surface Coating has been applied to the optical surfaces to minimise flare and ghosting. Covering the entire visible light range (380 nm-780 nm) these nano-sized surface coatings also help to maintain edge-to-edge contrast across the focal length range.

      Integrated into the lens is Panasonic’s Power O.I.S. stabilisation system, which claims a shutter speed advantage of two f-stops over the company’s conventional Mega O.I.S. system. This system only works with supported cameras and the firmware of older Panasonic models must be upgraded before it can be used.

      Build and Ergonomics
      Despite being made mainly from plastic, the G X Vario PZ 45-175mm lens is generally well constructed. It has a metal mounting plate and the focusing and zoom rings operate smoothly.

      The manual focusing ring is approximately 10 mm wide and located just behind the front of the lens. It has a ribbed rubber grip that goes all the way around and the ring rotates through the full circle and beyond.

      Because autofocusing is controlled electronically by the camera, there’s no tactile feedback, although the camera locks if the lens can’t be focused. When focusing manually with the G3 body used for our tests, turning the focus ring in MF mode instantly displays a magnified view of the centre of the frame to aid focusing adjustments.

      The zoom ring is just over 30 mm wide and located approximately 5 mm behind the focusing ring. It, too, has a ribbed rubber grip extending all the way round. Like the focusing ring, it can be turned beyond the focal length limits at each end of the zoom range and provides no tactile feedback to let you know when the focal length limits are reached.

      The zoom lever sits on the section of the barrel behind the zoom ring, roughly 30 degrees off the lens axis. It has a raised knob that is easily located by touch when you’re using the viewfinder. The lever is moved to the right to zoom in and the left to zoom out and despite its rather short throw, provides scope for fine adjustment.

      The lens is supplied with a relatively large, petal-shaped lens hood and standard, clip on caps. A soft carrying pouch is also provided, along with a multi-lingual user guide (which doesn’t provide much information). Panasonic offers this lens in two colours, black and silver, to complement the cameras in its G Micro range.

      Imatest testing showed the review lens to be a first-class performer on the basis of JPEG files from the G3 used for our tests. It was well able to match expectations for the camera’s 15.8-megapixel sensor and produced resolution that was slightly above expectations at several focal lengths. (We were unable to run Imatest tests for focal lengths beyond 116mm because there is insufficient distance leeway in our testing set-up.)

      The highest resolution was recorded between f/4.5 and f/10, after which diffraction produced a sharp decline in performance. Slight edge softening was detected in the mid-range focal lengths. 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.

      Wide-aperture vignetting (edge darkening) was also quite low at all focal length settings and rectilinear distortion was low at both ends of the zoom range. With close focusing limited to 90 cm, this lens isn’t really suited to macro photography, although it can be used for photographing larger flowers and small animals and offers a 0.2x magnification ratio at the minimum focusing distance. Bokeh at wide apertures was very smooth.

      The built-in stabilisation system was very effective, enabling us to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/4 second with shorter focal lengths and 1/15 second with the 175mm setting. Roughly half of the shots taken in tests were sharp, with some being blurred by subject movement rather than camera shake.

      Buy this lens if:
      – You want a fast telephoto zoom lens for everyday and travel photography.
      – You require fast, precisely controllable zooming.
      – You want high resolution at all focal lengths, along with good flatness of field.
      – You’d like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
      Don’t buy this lens if:
      – You don’t have a Micro Four Thirds system camera.



      RRP: $599

      • Build: 8.5
      • Handling: 9.0
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 9.0