Thursday, 18 June 2015

Lumix kit zoom lenses compared

Fans have been puzzled over the large number of kit zoom lenses released by Panasonic. Why reiterate this formula so many times, when the original Lumix G 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 was so good, many will ask.

The answer is probably three-fold: To cut costs, to make the lens smaller, and to improve the quality. Here are the lenses sold in kits after the original zoom lens:

In the front, I have the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 and the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN, which I will use as reference lenses. After all there are plenty of those who think that a prime lens is always better than a zoom lens, and we shall see if it is true.

LensLumix G 12-32mmLumix X 14-42mm PZLumix G 14-42mm IILumix G 14-42mmLumix G 14-140mm
Year released20142012201320102013
Lens elements/groups8/79/89/812/914/12
Minimum focus0.20m0.20m0.20m0.30m0.30m
Filter thread37mm37mm46mm52mm58mm

This illustration shows the relationship between the focal length and the maximum aperture for each of the lenses:

There is nothing surprising here: You'll see that the smaller the lens, the smaller the maximum aperture.

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6

This is the smallest kit zoom lens so far, designed for use on the ultra compact Lumix GM1 and Lumix GM5.

The lens has a thin layer of cosmetic metal around the plastic lens barrel. This is done to make it look more like a premium lens, and feels quite silly. But that is what the market wants these days.

Despite the petite appearance, it gives a quite good image quality, and has an interesting 12mm wide angle end. See my review.

Lumix X 14-42mm PZ f/3.5-5.6

The original pancake zoom lens from Panasonic. It has a power zoom function, useful for zooming smoothly during video recording. But the image quality is not the best. See my review.

Lumix G 14-42mm II f/3.5-5.6

The third kit zoom lens, and the current kit lens for the most recent Lumix G7 camera.

Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6

The second kit zoom lens obviously designed to cut costs. It is generally disliked, but I think it is better than its reputation, and very solid, well made.

Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6

The second incarnation of the Panasonic superzoom lens. It is impressively compact, and a very good performer. See my review.

Image comparison at 14mm

To compare the lenses, I have taken the same image with all the lenses at 14mm. I took the pictures using the high resolution mode of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, to be able to assess the image quality as well as possible.

One downside of using the high resolution mode, is that the eight pictures which make up the final image are taken over one second. Hence, any movement will cause blurring. So don't look at the leaves to assess the sharpness, they may be shaking in the wind. Read more about the high resolution mode here.

This series of pictures was taken with heavy backlight, which more easily exposes lens weaknesses.

Here are the thumbnails, click for larger images:

Lumix G 14mm @ f/2.5Lumix G 12-32mm @ 14mm f/3.7Lumix X 14-42mm @ 14mm f/3.5
Lumix G 14-42mm II @ 14mm f/3.5Lumix G 14-42mm @ 14mm f/3.5Lumix G 14-140mm @ 14mm f/3.5

We see that the lenses are different in terms of flare handling. The green ghosting in the center is the most pronounced with the Lumix G 14-42mm II, and pretty much gone with the Lumix G 14-140mm superzoom lens.

To examine the relative sharpness of the lenses, I have taken this series of images, again on a tripod and using the high resolution mode of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II at base ISO.

Lumix G 14mm @ f/2.5Lumix G 12-32mm @ 14mm f/3.7Lumix X 14-42mm @ 14mm f/3.5
Lumix G 14-42mm II @ 14mm f/3.5Lumix G 14-42mm @ 14mm f/3.5Lumix G 14-140mm @ 14mm f/3.5

I have enlarged the images to make it easier to compare the sharpness. The image crop is taken from the top right part. Click for a larger image:

We see that the only prime lens, the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5, is one of the least well performing lenses, perhaps coming as a surprise to some. Even when stopped down to f/5.6, it is not as good as the zoom lenses.

The smallest lens, the Lumix G 12-32mm, performs quite well, surpassed in image quality only by the Lumix G 14-42mm II.

Often, you will find that the rendering of details in the corners is the most challenging test for lenses. So here are crops from the extreme top left corner:

We see again that the Lumix G 14-42mm II is very good even in the extreme corners, but the Lumix G 12-32mm, which I otherwise like, disappoints a bit.

Image comparison at 30mm

Sigma 30mm DN @ f/2.8Lumix G 12-32mm @ 30mm f/5.6Lumix X 14-42mm @ 30mm f/5.4
Lumix G 14-42mm II @ 30mm f/5.4Lumix G 14-42mm @ 30mm f/5.1Lumix G 14-140mm @ 30mm f/4.4

To make it easier to compare the image quality, I have made 100% crops from the centre fo the images. Click to enlarge:

In this comparison, two lenses stand out as clearly the worst: The older basic kit zoom lens, the Lumix G 14-42mm, which handles the high contrast very poorly, and the Lumix X 14-42mm PZ, which is quite soft.

The prime lens Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN performs the best of the bunch, which is consistent with my other studies.

The best zoom lenses are again the newest Lumix G 12-32mm, and the Lumix G 14-42mm II, in my opinion.

The superzoom lens Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 also does very well.

Geometric distortion correction

Today, most mirrorless lenses are not optically rectilinear. Rather, they rely on in-camera processing to produce straight lines. The degree to which they show geometric distortion can vary, though. Read more about my test and comparison here.

The red lines show how the square pattern is captured by the sensor, and the black lines show how they look after the in camera processing:

Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 (-16%)Lumix G 12-32mm @ 12mm (-18%)Lumix X 14-42mm @ 14mm (-15%)

Lumix G 14-42mm II @ 14mm (-14%)Lumix G 14-42mm @ 14mm (-18%)Lumix G 14-140mm @ 14mm (-16%)

The percentage figure shows the relative distortion correction needed. -18% is the largest distortion recorded here, and -14% is the smallest. The level of geometric distortion in the wide angle is quite similar between these lenses.


The best lenses are the newest: The basic kit zoom lens is very good. You can often get the Lumix G 14-42mm II as part of a camera kit, and don't get rid of it, use it without feeling any shame.

If you want a very compact lens, get the Lumix G 12-32mm. It has a very interesting wide angle start, and performs impressively for the size.

The Lumix G 14-140mm is a very good lens for when you want a "one lens to do it all". It is good for travelling, when you don't want to pack any extra lenses, and still cover both the short and long end.

Don't buy the Lumix X 14-42mm PZ power zoom lens. The only reason why you may want it, is if you want to use the power zoom function during video recording, as there are no alternative lenses that do this and have optical image stabilization. For power zooming, it does work very well, zooming smoothly, and can be operated at two different zoom speeds.

Compared with other brand kit zoom lenses

I have placed the two top Lumix lenses in the centre below:

From left to right: Pentax 16-45mm f/4 premium kit zoom lens, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II basic kit zoom lens, Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Power Zoom, Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II, Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake (silver), Nikon 1 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 (white), Nikon 1 10-30mm PD f/3.5-5.6 with integrated lens cap.

I think the Pentax 16-45mm f/4 is very overrated. The mechanical construction is not very good, with a loose front end. And the sharpness is rather poor, I think.

The Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II is a fairly recent kit zoom lens from Canon. Newer cameras will come with the Canon 18-55mm IS STM, which is designed to make live view focusing faster, as many DSLR users today prefer to use live view rather than look through the optical viewfinder.

From Sony, the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 is the power zoom lens coming in most APS-C mirrorless camera kits. Which is a shame, I think, as the image quality is not very good. See my test here.

The two Nikon lenses to the right are quite good. The white one, the most basic 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 does not have OIS, which can be a problem.

The black one, 10-30mm PD f/3.5-5.6 extends automatically upon power on, and features power zooming. But the zooming is a bit jerky, not well suited for video. Image quality wise, both lenses fare well, see my test here.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Systems compared

When buying into an interchangeable lens camera system, it is wise to evaluate the system as a whole, not just the most recent cameras. Perhaps you find the full sensor 4K and 28MP resolution of the Samsung NX1 intrieging, but is the rest of the system to your liking?

I have tried to compare the camera and lens lineup that a serious enthusiast would typically buy. Now, there are no two equal enthusiasts, of course, so this comparison is not going to be relevant for everyone. But I am going to assume that a typical serious user wants an ergonomic camera body, with a lineup of a fast normal lens, a fast standard zoom lens, a fast tele zoom lens, and a wide angle zoom lens.

Sure there are other lens types as well, for example one might want a fast wide angle lens, a portrait lens, and even a fisheye lens. But in this comparison, I am keeping it simple.

The stars indicate a fitness to purpose, i.e., how well would a serious enthusiast think that this lens satisfies the expectations? This is of course quite subjective.

CameraFast normalFast standard zoomFast tele zoomWide angle zoom
Panasonic M4/3

Total price: US$4,790

Total weight: 1,725g





Olympus M4/3

Total price: US$5,050

Total weight: 2,429g






Micro Four Thirds

You'll find the biggest and most mature lens lineup among mirrorless camera systems in Micro Four Thirds. I have made two rows in the table, for Panasonic and Olympus separately, but you can mix them if you want.

For the zoom lenses, you would normally want to match the brand names, though, as they have different strategies towards image stabilization.

I deducted a star off the Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera, as it is not super for video use, and it is aging a bit now. We can expect a new version of the camera within the next year.

Look out for: Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye (my review), probably the best value fisheye lens ever.
Samsung NX

Total price: US$5,080

Total weight: 2,380g






Samsung NX

Samsung has been very innovative and packs a lot of features into their products. They have a very good value for money at the moment, but the lens lineup is still a bit immature for what a serious enthusiast expects. They don't have a "proper" normal lens, for example, and not a very wide zoom lens.

For the most bang for buck, keep watching Samsung.
Fujifilm X

Total price: US$5,030

Total weight: 2,687g






Fujifilm X

Fujifilm have been good at addressing the "conservative" serious enthusiast, who expects retro designed cameras with old style shutter dials, and aperture rings on the lenses. At the same time, they also pack their cameras with very innovative technology.

Looking at their lineup of lenses and cameras, they have come very far in the relatively short time span of their mirrorless endeavour. They are committed to the APS-C sensor size, and will not be developing full frame cameras.
Sony E APS-C

Total price: US$2,400

Total weight: 1,185g






Sony E APS-C

Sony were one of the first movers into mirrorless, but appear to have abandoned their APS-C offerings at this point. They are probably going to release an update of the Sony a6000 camera soon, but they don't appear to plan releasing more enthusiast friendly lenses for this system.

Their kit lens is quite poor, see my test here. And there is no fast tele lens.

Look out for: Yasuhara Madoka 180, a compact, well performing, afforable circular fisheye lens. See my review.
Sony E Full-frame

Total price: US$5,850

Total weight: 2,357g






Sony E Fullframe

On the other hand, it is clear that Sony's focus now is to make a proper fullframe mirrorless system. This is where the bigger margins per unit are. Looking at the table above, you'll see that the Sony fullframe system is the most expensive, but not by a big margin.

Looking at the weights, the system is not that heavy. But keep in mind that the lenses are much more bulky than the other systems here. So even if you don't need to carry heavy, you'll need a larger bag anyway.

However, the zoom lenses are not as fast, and there is no wide angle zoom lens yet. But I am sure Sony are going to fill these gaps soon, especially the wide angle lens. They appear very committed to this fullframe system.

Look out for: Several different versions of the camera, Sony a7R (high resolution, but somewhat sluggish performance), Sony a7S (high sensitivity and 4K video), and Sony a7 II (basic version, features in-body image stabilization).
Nikon 1

Total price: US$2,090

Total weight: 841g



US$0 (included in kit)



Nikon 1

The Nikon 1 system, in general, does not have what a serious enthusasist expects. There are no fast zoom lenses, and not many fast prime lenses beyond the Nikkor 32mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

I would say the Nikon 1 system is only for those with very special needs. For example, with the extremely long and compact zoom lens Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, it is the best system for bird photography when you want a very compact and light combo.

Also, the cameras have an impressively fast framerate, up to 60fps including full RAW capture. This makes it useful for sports and other types of specialized photography.

But for general use, I would not recommend Nikon 1 now. The zoom lenses in the table above are certainly good, but not what a serious enthusiast is looking for in terms of the maximum aperture.

Other systems

I did not include the Canon EOS M system here, for obvious reasons: They don't have nearly a system yet, and no lenses which would make it to this list.

When people buy camera systems, a lot still buy DSLRs, i.e., not mirrorless cameras. I did not include DSLR systems on this list. But if I did, you would find that the prices are mostly the same, but the sizes are larger.

DSLR systems are very mature, which translates into moderate prices. But with the longer register distance due to the mirror, both the cameras and the lenses become bigger. And heavier.