Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER OIS LUMIX G X VARIO PZ
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Lab Test Results
December 30, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS is a dramatic redesign and re-think of the standard kit lens. Released with the Panasonic GF3X, the lens replaces its manual focus and manual zoom rings with power-assisted alternatives, making it function more like a point-and-shoot camera. With the 2x crop factor offered by four-thirds camera bodies, the lens offers an equivalent field of view of 28-84mm.
The 14-42mm isn't a ''constant'' lens, in that as you increase the focal length, the maximum aperture size decreases, though the minimum aperture remains the same. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:
The lens was designed for the micro four-thirds body mount, making it compatible with Panasonic and Olympus micro four-thirds bodies. The lens does not appear to ship with a hood, and none seems to be available to fit; the lens itself takes 37mm filters, and is available for around $400.
The Panasonic 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 X is remarkably sharp, and a noticeable improvement over the existing 14-42mm kit lens. Used at its widest focal length setting (14mm) at its widest aperture (ƒ/3.5) the lens provides excellent results for sharpness in the center of the frame, with very slight corner softness; there is very little improvement as the lens is stopped down at this focal length, and diffraction limiting sets in at around ƒ/11. Even then, there's no noticeable impact on sharpness until ƒ/16 where the image is still decently sharp from corner to corner; even ƒ/22 is pretty good.
The lens performs best when used in the mid-range of its focal length settings, at 25mm, where the image is tack-sharp with the aperture set to ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8 (and it's also excellent at ƒ/4.9, its widest aperture at this focal length). Same results above ƒ/8, if a little better, as noted previously at the 14mm setting.
At 42mm, we note a bit more corner softness when used wide open (ƒ/5.6 at this focal length) - stopping down eases up the corner softness, but doesn't provide any additional center-frame sharpness. Results are still very good, just not as good as noted in wider focal lengths.
There is one anomaly worth noting that didn't show up in our lab testing, but showed up in our review of the Panasonic GX1 camera, with the 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 X lens attached. We noted that there is some strange blurring that occurred at the 1/160s and 1/200s shutter speed settings, regardless of whether image stabilization was or was not employed. We did not see this blurriness when the camera was locked down on a stable tripod, it's only when the camera body can vibrate in response to the shutter motion that the lens picks it up and makes the blur worse. So - if you're shooting hand-held, you may want to avoid the 1/160 or 1/200 shutter speed settings, if you can.
The lens showed good results in our CA testing, but the interesting results we note at the 14mm setting suggest that there is definitely some post-processing work going on under the hood of the camera; CA results are very low across the board, but especially well-controlled at the ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8. Coupled with the best results for sharpness, these are definitely go-to aperture settings for the best images.
Results for corner shading are also interesting; the most prominent corner shading appears at the 14mm setting (no surprise there) in the form of extreme corners that are just over a half-stop darker than the center of the frame. Any other setting offers better results, and at the 25mm focal length, there is practically no corner shading to speak of at all. In any case, stopping down even just one or two stops dramatically reduces any corner shading at all.
Results for distortion aren't overly surprising for a zoom lens: some barrel distortion at the wide end (+0.5% in the corners at 14mm) and some pincushion distortion at the tele end (-0.25% in the corners at 42mm). There's a nice point of zero distortion at the 25mm mark.
The 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 X offers very fast autofocus results, motivated by an in-lens electrical motor that's very fast and very quiet. Filters attached to the front element of the lens won't rotate, making life a little easier for polarizer users.
Macro performance isn't exceptional in this lens, offering just 0.17x magnification. Close-focusing distance depends on the focal length used: between 14-20mm the minimum distance is 20 cm (around 8 inches); between 21-42mm the minimum distance is 30cm (around 12 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS represents an interesting new step forward for Panasonic, if not all lens makers in general: remove the manual focus and zoom rings and replace them with power-assisted levers instead. It's a bold move, sure to alienate many ''traditional'' photographers who like the direct connection with zoom and focus operations, but also sure to make many people who are more comfortable with the controls found on compact point-and-shoot digicams, more comfortable with using this style of lens.
The removal of the rings also allows Panasonic to dramatically reduce the size of the lens, transforming the already-small size of the original 14-42mm kit lens into something that's almost the size of a pancake lens. The illusion is complete until the camera is powered on, and the lens extends to its ready position - this extension is very quick. The lens has little in the way of controls and indicators - there are only the zoom lever and the focus lever, and no indications for focal length, distance scale and depth-of-field. The focal length is reported in the LCD.
As mentioned, the size of the lens is very small and light - just over an inch in depth and around 100 grams (just over 3 oz) in weight. The shell of the lens is plastic, a black matte finish; the lens mount is metal, and the 37mm filter threads are plastic.
The zoom and focus levers use a fly-by-wire design to control their operation. They don't feel cheap, and have a nice fluid motion to them, offering a range of speed in terms of how quickly they alter the focus and the focal length. Given the size of this lens, zoom creep isn't a factor.
Panasonic 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario ~$180
The new 14-42mm 'X' version is much sharper than the previous version; it's also much more resistant to chromatic aberration, shows less corner shading, and has a better profile for distortion. Optically it's a better lens, but if you're partial to a zoom and focus ring, this version of the 14-42mm has those.
Panasonic 14-45mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS LUMIX G VARIO ~$280
The original G1 kit lens, the 14-45mm actually tested a bit better than the version that replaced it (the 14-42mm above), but it's not as good as the 14-42mm X.
Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 II M.Zuiko Digital ~$300
Olympus offers a similar kit lens, which offers excellent performance for sharpness, if at the expense of some visible chromatic aberration; on the Olympus body it showed very little distortion.
There is an issue with this lens when used at the 1/160 or 1/200 shutter speed setting, hand-holding a camera; images produced seem to have an induced blurriness to them, with or without image stabilization employed. This blurriness does not occur when the camera is locked down to a tripod.
Panasonic has taken an innovative step with this lens, perhaps gambling that point-and-shoot owners who are looking to upgrade to a small SLR-style camera might like a lens that operates in a manner they're familiar with. If you can look past the 1/160 & 1/200 shutter speed issue, the lens offers excellent performance, and provides a very small package in the process. Unless you're hooked on zoom and focus rings, there's not much to argue about with this lens.
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 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER OIS LUMIX G X VARIO PZ User Reviews
8 out of 10 points and recommended by pietro (3 reviews)
Most bad reviews seem to have come about because of perceived shutter shock or blur, and this lens is not alone in that by any means. There is a simple fix if you're worried - google it. On my EM10 this lens works great, not quite as sharp as the 14-45, which I just reviewed, but much smaller and probably as good around 14-30mm anyway. But it scores for being well made, quiet to focus when videoing, and amazingly small. Turns the EM10 into a jacket pocket camera. It is much better than Olympic's power zoom which is outrageously expensive.reviewed September 15th, 2015
8 out of 10 points and recommended by kshorter (1 reviews)
I've owned and used this lens now for a couple of years. Had read the reported issues with the shutter blur but kept looking back at the SLRgear chart of this lens performance, its price and the compact size and decided to take a chance. For two years this has been the default lens mounted to my Olympus OMD E-M5. If interested you can see a fairly recent example pic of my work representative of this lens. Data is on this link but I'll point out this image was shot at 14mm which is not the sharpest focal length of this lens but worked for this shot.reviewed February 26th, 2014
Despite some horror stories, I find this lens to be one of my fav all rounders. For me it gets strong points for ease of every day use due to its compactness, acceptable performance across the range getting slightly marginal at 42mm (at which I use it the least). And it has the distinction of rivaling a prime at 25mm and f8. Quite flat and linear with very good sharpness at this focal length/aperture.
So I've read the howls of doom about this lens, to which I howl back with delight. This lens is one of my favorite purchases. I've graded it a 9 in image quality because of its unmatched combination of form factor and ability to rival a prime when applied at the right settings.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by gsartori (2 reviews)Sharp, convenientnone, bad press probably due to early samples
I bought this lens just for video due to the power zoom , I was convinced that it's a pretty bad piece of glass. I use sharp Nikon lenses on my D800E and I can't stand bad glass. Ended up being very good. It is always on my Lumix GH3 and I enjoy it very much. Too bad it doesn't start from 12. I do have a 16-85 on my APS-C Nikon and a 24-120 F4 on my D800 and I'd love to have a similar range on my GH3. a 12-70 would be perfect but I can manage with the also good 7-14 that I bought.reviewed February 14th, 2014 (purchased for $285)
7 out of 10 points and recommended by PeteD (12 reviews)Small, decent for a kit lensnone really, perhaps a tadge expensive
When I bought the GX1 I deliberatly didn't buy the kit due to all the negative comments. After time I read a number of reviews from people I respect and decided that this would be handy for travel.reviewed June 17th, 2013 (purchased for $350)
Image quality? ok its not a 20mm f1.7 or a 25 f1.4 and as a kit lens it's not a Fuji 18-55 but it does a respectable job. I've not experienced the issue at selected shutter speeds that some have reported and I know a friend hasn't either. Both lenses were bought fairly recently so maybe Panny have done something.
as an f3.5-5.6 kit zoom it is priced a little high but it is very small. Coupled with a 45-150 and the two pancake primes it makes a very travel kit
7 out of 10 points and recommended by photahmo (1 reviews)compact size; rapid activation; smooth zoomnegative press!
I have studied the many forums and horror stories, but I have not had this experience. I bought mine prior to realizing there was all the bad press about it.reviewed March 23rd, 2012 (purchased for $380)
The range of doom commentary relating to the mechanical action of the OIS and its conflict with certain shutter speeds is facinating, but I haven't had this problem.
It is actually very well made and incredibly small for what it does - my review is based on accepting that fact of the best portability in exchange for I suppose some optical uber-perfomance.
I have Leica, Nikon, Canon, Oly, and Panny experience, and have a favorite camera in the Panasonic LX5 with the Leica lens, so I know a sharp shot ... i dont think this lens is as weak as others are experiencing, and for that I am personally happy. It does appear that Panny has a quality control problem so I recommend you BUY IT, BUT FROM A RETAILER U CAN RETURN IT TO - just in case.
As for value, there is not a comperable product yet; I do think the retail price is too high for the reported performance. I would like to say if it were $299, rather than $399, alot less negative would be said.
My shots close and far have been decent, a few have been excellent - a typical ratio for me. Video use has produced A+ results. Again, compactness of the lens is unmatched.
7 out of 10 points and recommended by bg2b (1 reviews)small, light, reasonable opticallysomewhat pricey, slight OIS issue at moderate shutter speeds
I had wanted this lens when it was announced, but given Panasonic's typical delays in supplying US stores, couldn't get one. In the meantime, lots of reports of severe OIS problems at shutter speeds around the 1/80-1/200 range near the long end of the zoom surfaced. Panasonic issued a firmware update which according to many people didn't help much if at all. Based on the direction of the blurring, it was clear that there was some sort of shutter-induced vibration issue which was probably a real hardware problem, not down to just firmware. I crossed the lens off my to-buy list.reviewed March 17th, 2012 (purchased for $400)
Time passed (still without US stock); I read a couple of reports of people who swore their copies were fine. Finally, Amazon got a few in stock, and after some agonizing I decided to try one and see if I got lucky.
The first slightly encouraging sign was that the lens came with firmware 1.1 already installed, so it was obviously of relatively recent manufacture. I had earlier tried a few shots with a copy of the 45-175X that did exhibit shutter-speeds-of-death OIS blurring, so I knew what to look for, and look for it I have in this lens. I can indeed see a slight hint of shutter-induced blur at 1/125 and 1/160 and 42mm, but haven't been able to find it at other shutter speeds. (I'm using a GH2 FWIW.) It's mild enough that I probably wouldn't have even noticed it without straining my eyes specifically trying to find it. At those two shutter speeds, it's further ameliorated if I rest my finger against the lens barrel while shooting. I would have to conclude that the issue is just not really field-relevant in the copy I received.
I can't really conclude anything about the distribution of bad vs good copies. It may be that most of the old ones were bad and the ones of recent manufacture are mostly good. Or it may be that it's just the luck of draw whenever it was made. All I can say for certain is that I have one that was made relatively recently and that behaves acceptably in this regard.
In terms of optical performance, I can only compare it to my current lenses. Here's what I've found from a day of shooting comparative tests.
At 14mm: my copy of the PZ, my 14-45mm, and my 14mm/2.5 are all roughly equivalent (generally good performance from all).
At 25mm: my copy of the PZ is excellent, notably better than my 14-45mm (especially on the left side), and about equal to my Leicasonic 25mm/1.4.
At 42mm: my PZ is acceptable, but definitely worse than my 14-45mm in corners (especially on the right side). In the center, the two are the same. Both zooms are put to shame by my Olympus 45mm/1.8.
Overall, I would call the optical quality acceptable and about as expected for a basic zoom.
Operationally, the zoom switch is a mixed bag. I somewhat prefer a ring, but I can live with the switch (the 45-175X, having both, was much nicer in that regard).
So what to say? It's obvious that lots of people have had bad copies of this lens. On the other hand, I have to conclude that the copy I got is basically OK. It fulfills it's basic mission of being a very light and compact zoom with reasonably competent optics, though not overall better or worse than my old 14-45mm. If you want one, I wouldn't do anything to discourage you, but I would caution you to buy from a retailer with a tolerable returns policy. Good luck!
3 out of 10 points and not recommended by oluv (4 reviews)small, lightsoft, extreme reliability issues, expensive
i tested 4 copies of this lens and all of them had serious softness issues.reviewed March 12th, 2012 (purchased for $470)
this was not typcial decentring, because the location of soft areas could vary between shots. i assume this is due to a badly designed OIS-element that can cause softness even when it shouldn't be active.
the already known problem with soft images at 42mm and shutter speeds between 1/100 - 1/200 is true even with OIS turned off and on olympus bodies as well.
even when stopped down this lens is softer than my lumix 14-140!!!
it could be the perfect standard zoom lens for small mFT cameras like GF3 or E-PL3, but this lens is too unreliable for serious shooting.
panasonic didn't provide any fix yet nor did they confirm any issues, so far i am still waiting for a definitve answer!
2 out of 10 points and not recommended by Eriknielse (1 reviews)Small, light, fast focusingVery unsharp related to the chosen shutterspeed
The bad copies of this lens are useless.reviewed February 25th, 2012 (purchased for $350)
Using shutter speeds between about 1/30 sec. and 1/300 sec. the lens is extremely soft at all f.l. and apertures.
A lot of copies of this lens have this problem.
It doesn´t matter if IS is on or off, and mounted on an Oly. body the problem is the same. (I also bought the Pana. 20mm 1.7. This lens is very sharp.)
I bought my X 14-42 PZ one week ago as a kit with Panasonic GX1, so the sharpness problem isn´t a problem only related to the first shipments.
Panasonic will not answer any questions about this lens.
I hope they are able- and willing to solve the problem.
4 out of 10 points and not recommended by Ranger (2 reviews)Extremely compact, probably a good choice for video use, decent walk around lensSharpness disappointing, mainly at tele end of range, expensive for image quality
I admit, I'm picky when it comes to sharpness and contrast. For a $400 lens, I find my sample wanting. Sharpness at the wide and middle focal lengths is decent. Unacceptably soft at the 42 tele end. Didn't see any difference in my tests with OIS "on" or "off". The controls take some getting use to. The power zoom especially can be frustrating if you are trying to set the focal length to a middle range. I tested this lens side by side with my Panasonic 14-45. The 14-45 outperforms my sample in sharpness and overall IQ at all focal lengths, especially at the telephoto end. IF this was a $250 lens then I would have rated it higher overall, but for $400, you are paying a premium for size, not image quality.reviewed February 16th, 2012 (purchased for $400)