Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS LUMIX G VARIO
Lab Test Results
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January 5, 2014
by William Brawley
Panasonic released the diminutive 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario lens as the exclusive kit lens for the equally tiny Panasonic GM1. The small size, retractable mechanism and extremely lightweight design make it a perfect pairing with the GM1, allowing the combo to be quite pocketable. It's still not "pocketable" enough for your average pants pocket, especially jeans, but it’s darn close.
While this lens really does take the "Micro" from Micro Four Thirds to heart, it still provides a very versatile 24-64mm equivalent zoom range, as well as Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system. The addition of O.I.S. is indeed very handy, as the variable ƒ/3.5-5.6 aperture is not the best out there for low-light shooting.
The Panasonic 12-32mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario lens is currently available exclusively as the kit lens with the Panasonic GM1 for around $748. While Panasonic makes both a silver and black version, the silver model is the only color currently available in the US market. The all-black version of the camera and lens are available as well in the European and Asian markets.
The Panasonic 12-32mm shows impressive sharpness throughout the zoom range, even wide open. There is some slight corner softness, even at the smallest of apertures, but overall it's relatively minor. Diffraction limiting softness is also present to a minor extent from ƒ/16-ƒ/22, however ƒ/16 still displays reasonably sharp centers. All in all, the little Panasonic 12-32mm lens is fantastically sharp.
While not completely devoid of chromatic aberration, the Panasonic 12-32mm does very well at controlling it. Average CA is very low at the wider apertures at all focal lengths, and slowly increases as you stop down. However, average CA never reaches 300th of a percent of frame height, and shows even less CA at the longer focal lengths.
Overall, the Panasonic 12-32mm does really well at minimizing vignetting. While there is some corner shading at 12mm, wide open, it's relatively minor at just shy of 0.75EV of light loss (and at ƒ/4, it's a little over 0.5EV of light loss). For the rest of the focal lengths, on average, the light falloff in the corners is very low, hovering around the 0.25EV level of light loss.
Like sharpness, distortion is another of this lens's strong points. While there is a little barrel distortion at 12mm (less than 0.5%), it is practically nonexistent from 14mm onwards.
The AF system in the Panasonic 12-32mm uses an inner focus drive system and stepping motor that's nearly silent (great for video recording) and focuses very quickly. We found that it took less than one second to focus from the minimum focus distance to infinity. The AF felt quick, accurate and locked onto subjects easily with no hunting.
The lens also supports manual focus, but it's a bit tricky, as it doesn't provide a dedicated manual focus ring. Rather, manual focus is controlled via the camera body, which is why – as of this writing – the GM1 is the only compatible camera that supports manual focus with this lens. Manual focusing is performed using the touchscreen on the GM1 (or presumably any future compatible Panasonic cameras) using an on-screen slider to electronically slide from minimum to infinity focus. All in all, it's not nearly as quick or intuitive as manual focus on your typical DSLR lens or other compact system camera lenses with a physical focus ring.
The Panasonic 12-32mm does not have a dedicated macro setting. With a close focusing distance of 0.2m/0.66ft on the wide end to 0.3m/0.98ft at tele for an effective magnification of 0.13x, it's not a stellar macro or close-up performer.
Build Quality and Handling
Like I mentioned at the beginning, the Panasonic 12-32mm lens is tiny and very lightweight; it feels like it weighs practically nothing – 70.7 grams to be exact! It's balanced extremely well with the GM1 – as it should be – and makes it very easy to shoot one-handed should you need to. The lens has a collapsible/telescoping design: when the GM1 is powered off and you want to store or transport the camera, simply rotate the zoom ring past the 12mm mark and it telescopes down inside itself to make it a very compact system. When closed, the lens only protrudes out just shy of one inch (apart from the small lens mount protrusion on the GM1 itself).
The zoom action itself is quite smooth and there's a slight stiffness to it – you can't accidentally zoom the lens if you bump or brush it against something.
The exterior design of the lens is very minimal. There are no switches, focus window or other markings aside from focal length indicators and the obvious branding. The barrel itself feels to be made of plastic, as are the two-part telescoping interior barrels, however the whole lens feels very solid without any wiggle from the interior barrels.
Inside the barrel, there are eight elements in seven groups including 3 aspherical elements and one ED lens as well, which help control chromatic aberration, as well as helping keep the lens size compact. The lens elements are multi-coated for reduced glare and ghosting, and the seven-bladed rounded aperture provides smoother background blurring.
As the name indicates, this new lens also features Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, which is controlled via the camera body (again, no external switches). The new lens uses two lens groups (the 4th and 5th lens group, in fact) for the moving optical image stabilizing system as opposed to the single element group in the older 14-42mm kit lens.
As this lens is an exclusive lens design specifically for the GM1, there aren't really any direct alternatives. Furthermore, you can't purchase the GM1 in a body-only configuration.
However, there are some possible alternatives such as the Panasonic 12-35mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH POWER OIS LUMIX G X VARIO, which provides a similar focal length range and image stabilization, but also give you a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture for improved low-light shooting and bokeh. Like the 12-32mm, this lens is also very sharp and handles CA, vignetting and distortion very well. The big downside is price, as this 12-35 ƒ/2.8 lens comes in at around $1,000. It's also quite a bit larger and heavier, which somewhat diminishes the benefits of the GM1's tiny, compact size.
And, there's also the Panasonic 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 II ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario lens, which provides a similar focal length range – less wide, but longer on the tele end – while including a similar variable aperture and IS. Again, the downside is size. The 12-32mm is significantly smaller and more compact, especially when retracted. The plus is that it only costs around $200. Note: we have not tested this lens yet, so we can't comment on image quality or other optical factors at this time.
Lastly, there's another variant of the 14-42mm lens, the Panasonic 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER OIS LUMIX G X VARIO PZ, which is also an ultra-compact design, similar to the 12-32mm lens. This 14-42mm lens is only 1.1 inches long when retracted. It also shares a similar design with the removal of the focus ring, though it does away with the zoom ring as well, instead opting for a "Power Zoom" toggle switch. Optically, this lens is quite sharp, but shows more vignetting and distortion compared to the 12-32mm. It's also more expensive than the other 14-42mm lens at around $300.
The new Panasonic 12-32mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario lens is a stellar companion to the tiny GM1. It produces excellent, sharp photos at all focal lengths, even wide open, and has minimal distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration. And while the lack of a dedicated focus ring is a little disappointing, as manual focusing using the touch screen is a little slow and awkward, overall there's not much to complain about with this lens. The Panasonic 12-32mm is the perfect match for the powerful and pocketable GM1 thanks to stellar optics and a super-lightweight, ultra-compact design.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS LUMIX G VARIO
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Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS LUMIX G VARIO User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by patrick.borel (5 reviews)Size My preferred zoom range Image quality
This is my lens for city tours. I bought a used GF3 for 130$ and with this lens I get a very capable pocketable system with everything I need except EVF. The EVF is the one thing that keeps getting in the way when pulling it out of my pocket.reviewed October 22nd, 2016
So this lens makes an average outdated body an extremely versatile photographic tool. I don't miss the manual focus for my purposes. I love the wider angle compared to regular 14-45mm kit lenses. It covers exactly the range that I use 75% of the time. Crazy to even have an OIS built in to such a small lens, compensating partially the slow f-stop. Walking around the street in a city with this lens on a M43 body you blend in with the "normal" folks and don't stick out as a photographer. On the result side, you get the shots you want in the quality you need. I'll never give away this little marvel.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Thoppa (16 reviews)Good quality overall. Tiny. 12mm wide is very useful.Build quality, not as sharp as 14-42 II, less than 3x zoom range.
A very compact sharp lens. Not as sharp as the 14-42 II, especially in the corners so if you don't mind a larger lens and not quite as wide angle, the 14-42 II is likely a better choice. Although it has a metal mount, it doesn't feel as well made as any other Panasonic lens I've owned. It's still a keeper because it makes m43 cameras pocketable.reviewed May 16th, 2016 (purchased for $120)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Perry Rhodan (33 reviews)Incredibly sharp for such a tiny and inexpensive lens!No MF. But no problem with touch focus!
It's very good! Sharp even wide open. Very Quick to AF on the omd em 10. Get this for a walk around on your Oly over the pancake EZ.reviewed March 22nd, 2016
9 out of 10 points and recommended by spochana (6 reviews)Sharp LightA little high contrast
I bought this lens from a guy that got it with his GM1. I think it should be a good companion for street photo since it covers 24-64 mm focal length. I feel that the images from this lens gives a little high contrast (compare to other lens I have with the same setting). But overall it is an excellent little kit lens.reviewed July 11th, 2015 (purchased for $200)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by _dickb (1 reviews)extremely light, small, real wideangle , very decent quality, pretty fast to focusshortest focus distance could be better, no manual focus ring (but hey, at thiz size...)
This is an extremely small and light take-me-anywhere lens with very decent quality. If you take the size, weight and price into account, this might be one of the best and most versitile lenses around, regardless of system. Of course trade-offs are made: it's not metal, no manual focus ring, shortest focus distance could be better, no long reach with 64mm equivalent, not the fastest (f3.5), and there are sharper lenses around. But all in all a very balanced and well executed lens, I like it lot!reviewed June 14th, 2015 (purchased for $170)
And as a bonus: it fits nicely into the standard camera case :-)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by pc998 (6 reviews)Excellent sharpness through out the entire zoom range even at wide openNot MIJ; F5.6 at the tele-end is a bit slow
It's the best kit lens (in terms of IQ) ever released by Panasonic. Highly recommended!reviewed March 25th, 2015
10 out of 10 points and recommended by richeso (3 reviews)Sharp, Light, Excellent Image Quality3.5 Aperture wide open
Excellent for a Kit Lens. Sharp, Light. Goes well with the GM1's diminutive footprint . Only drawback is that it not too bright with the largest aperture being 3.5 wide open.reviewed March 15th, 2015 (purchased for $170)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Nonius (1 reviews)sharpnessnot speed
See the posibilities of this lens for casual shooters:reviewed January 17th, 2014
8 out of 10 points and recommended by oluv (4 reviews)useful range, extremly compact, extremely light, sharp, fast AFhas softness issues (especially at the right side), prone to purple fringing
this lens is impressive. it is very small and very light but can compete with some fixed focal lenghts sharpness-wise through its entire zoom-range. it is not the best lens if you want fast apertures, but the OIS can compensate for some camera shake due to longer shutter speed.reviewed January 16th, 2014 (purchased for $380)
the 12mm wideangle is especially nice compared to other kit-lenses so that i can live with a bit less reach.
but there is one serious problem. i have tested several of these lenses and all of them had shown a softer right side. sometimes the softness was extreme, while with other shots it could be minimal. it was worst at f/4.5 while wide open or stopped down to f/5.6 the softness was not that obvious.
i am not sure if this is a general problem, because many other lenses (like the one from dpreview, photographyblog and even the one tested by SLR gear) seem to have exactly the same problem.