Saturday, 1 May 2010

Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6

The Panasonic Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 Mega O.I.S. is the value tele zoom from Panasonic. While not exactly cheap, it does provide a good value for money, with a maximum of 400mm tele (35mm film camera equivalent), an excess of 4x zoom, and optical image stabilization.

The picture below shows the lens at 45mm (left), and extended at 200mm.



Size

The lens is somewhat longer than the Lumix G HD 14-140, to the left in the picture below, and a little bit slimmer.


Autofocus

The autofocus is fast and virtually inaudible. On the other hand, the aperture can be somewhat noisy, compared with the Lumix G HD 14-140mm superzoom, which is almost completely silent. The noise of the aperture can be compared with the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake.

When zooming, the focus is usually lost, meaning that you need to refocus, e.g., by halfpressing the shutter. This also applies when zooming during video recording. The focus is lost for a while, before the autofocus can regain the correct focus. This can be avoided by zooming very slowly.

Build quality

The lens feels well built. It has the usual steel mount, and the extending lens tube does not wobble when zoomed to the maximum tele. Operating the zoom ring, it feels reassuringly solid. However, it does not have the dampened feel you would associate with a pro lens.

At the front, there is a 52mm filter thread, and you can use a supplied hood with bayonet mount. The lens features internal autofocus, and so does not change length when focusing.

Some uses for the lens

The focal length starts at 45mm, which corresponds to 90mm for traditional film cameras. This is the traditional portrait lens focal length. However, with f/4 as the maximum aperture at 45mm, the lens can hardly be called a true portrait zoom. With an aperture of f/4, you need to make sure that the background is fairly smooth to avoid having it stand out too much from the subject.

Still, I think that this lens is a good alternative for portraits on a budget. The aperture at 45mm is better than the original kit lens, which is limited to f/5.6.

The focal length is also good for sports and wildlife photography, however, with a somewhat limiting maximum aperture range, you will not be able to use the lens for these purposes when the light is dull.
Here is an example picture taken with the lens at f=61mm, f/4.1, 1/160 s, ISO 100:


Due to the limited aperture, the background is not very blurred, and stands out quite a bit.

Bokeh

The bokeh of this zoom lens is quite nice. I would say it's surprisingly good for such a lens. Here is a comparison with the Leica Lumix DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm and the Panasonic Lumix G HD 14-140mm

Sharpness

The lens is not as sharp as the Lumix G HD 14-140mm superzoom. However, it can hardly be expected to be that sharp, considering the price difference. The 45-200mm is sharp enough for most uses in the shorter end, but in the longer end you will benefit from stopping down the aperture a bit, if possible, for the best results. At 200mm, you may need to use a tripod to be able to stop down the aperture. Otherwise, the shutter speed will usually become too slow for handholding the lens at f/8, even with optical image stabilization.

There has been some uncertainty as to the sharpness of this lens at f=200mm, full tele. To evaluate this, I have taken one picture with a high shutter speed, on tripod, and with shutter delay to avoid triggering a camera shake when pushing the shutter release button. I also turned off Mega O.I.S. The camera was Panasonic GH1.

Here is the full image, scaled down to 1000x750 pixels. It was sharpened a bit:



To better evaluate the sharpness, I'm providing centre and corner 100% crops from the picture. The 100% crops are not sharpened. You can click on the picture to see the full resolution image.

Here is a 100% centre crop for f/5.6, 1/1600 second, ISO 400:

And f/7.1, 1/1000 second, ISO 400:

And corner crops with the same parameters. First f/5.6:

And at f/7.1:


Here is another sharpness comparison with four other lenses at 140mm. The Lumix G 45-200mm lens does not perform among the best here, and when zooming further in to 200mm, it deteriorates more.

Compared with the Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8

Do you need the Lumix G 45-200mm if you already have the Lumix G HD 14-140mm? The difference between the maximum tele values is not that significant. 200mm is 42% more than 140mm, but the difference in field of view is not very large.

On the other hand, the Lumix G 45-200mm does give a significantly larger aperture through their common range. Both start at f/4.0, however, the 14-140mm very quickly goes to f/5.8, while the 45-200mm is more linear. The following diagram illustrates this.



As this diagram illustrates, the tele zoom Lumix G 45-200mm has an edge when it comes to providing better aperture than the Lumix G HD 14-140mm. On the other hand, the 45-200mm, while having a larger aperture, is not always sharp enough at the maximum aperture anyway, meaning that you will often want to close down the aperture a bit.

Compared with the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6

Should you get the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 or the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6? This is largely a question about your intended usage of the lens. The Panasonic Lumix G 45-200mm tele zoom starts at a typical portrait focal length, and extends to a long tele. This is a very versatile focal length range for everyday photography, given that you complement with at least one shorter lens. You could walk around with the 45-200mm lens attached to your camera, and find that it suits most subjects well, except when you want to photograph a wide landscape, cityscape, a group of people, and so on.

The Panasonic Lumix G 100-300mm tele zoom lens, on the other hand, starts at 200mm (film camera equivalent), which is already a long tele lens. Then it extends to 600mm (again at 35mm film equivalence). This essentially means that the lens is a specialized tele zoom, and not well suited for everyday photography.

If you intend to photograph sports, wildlife, or events where you are situated far from the action, then you could consider getting the 100-300mm lens. But otherwise, I think the 45-200mm lens will be more useful for most people.

So my advice is this: If unsure, get the 45-200mm lens. Then you can learn what tele photography is about, and, if you want, complement with the longer 100-300mm lens later. After all, the 45-200mm lens is reasonably inexpensive, and gives a good value for money.

Compared with the Lumix X PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6

A newer lens with similar specifications was launched in 2011. I have compared the two lenses here. In a nutshell, the newer lens is smaller, lighter, focuses slightly faster, and with the power zoom, it is better suited for video use. It is also slightly sharper optically, in my opinion. To get all this, you need to pay a premium price. The older Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 remains a value tele zoom lens.

As a macro lens

This is not a macro lens, but like many other tele zooms, it can be used to take pictures at small items. At 200mm zoom, the minimum focus distance is around 1 meter, which gives a magnification of around 1:5. This means that you can take a picture of something with a diagonal of 5 times that of the sensor, corresponding to around 90mm x 68mm.

You are limited to using apertures at f/5.6 or larger at 200mm. This is hardly an issue with macro images, since you will usually want to close the aperture down to at least f/5.6 to get sufficient depth of focus. One drawback is that this lens is not very sharp at 200mm. So to get the best image quality, you may want to close the aperture down to f/8.

Here is an example image taken at 200mm, 1 meter focus distance, f/5.6, ISO 800, and 1/5 second shutter, GH1. The camera was leaned towards a fence for some support to avoid excessive camera shake.



Example image

Another example image, this one taken with f=189mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, GH1. The camera was handheld at 1/320 second. The image was rescaled and sharpened.



Example video

Here is an example video capture done with the GH1



Another video shot using the Lumix G 45-200mm lens on a GH2:






21 comments:

  1. Nice review, thanks!

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  2. Thanks for this gooood review !
    I just buy my panasonic 45-200mm after this!

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  3. First, as i'm french, please excuse me for my bad english. I use this lens since 2 years now and my rating is :

    very good up to 100 mm

    good from 100 to 150 mm

    getting progressively blur betwenn 150 and 200 mm.

    At 200 mm, difficult to have good A4 prints without à good postprocessing

    Thank you for your good work

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  4. I just don't recognise this review as discussing the same lens that I own. Maybe they have improved build quality since the review example or perhaps I just have an excellent example (built late 2010 I would guess). My colleague also has this lens of recent manufacture and he also reports it as being super-sharp at all focal lengths. Mine shows so little loss of resolution wide open that, frankly I can't detect it - even at 100%. It certainly outperforms my legacy Nikon f4.5 80-200mm from the early 1980s and by a big margin. Both the Nikon and my Minolta MC Rokkor 300mm f5.6 from 1976 will remain in the cupboard for the foreseeable future or most likely find new owners via eBay..

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  5. Just bought my GX1 with a 14mm prime. I want one zoom lens and was wondering which is the better choice for family vacation, the 14-45mm or the 45-200mm.

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    Replies
    1. For general use, I'd say the kit zoom is the best choice. The Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 or the Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 are pretty comparable in terms of optical qualities, but the latter is more compact and more expensive. Either will do the job well.

      The Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 is a tele zoom, and not suited for typical general family vacation images.

      Delete
  6. I'm searching for a tele lens to use at open air stage photos. Is it possible to use this zoom for that? The problem will be when dawn comes. The stage is obviously lighted up but the kit zoom was in the past not good enough to make sharp pictures of the persons on it when there was the slightest movement everything got blurred. Is there a possibility that these zoom would work there (max. zoom is not needed)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think this lens will help you much more than the kit zoom. The kit zoom has a similar maximum aperture as this lens.

      However, if you are going to be using the lens at 45mm, then this lens gives you one stop advantage as compared with the kit zoom. This tele zoom lens has an aperture of f/4 at 45mm, while the standard kit zoom has f/5.6. That might help you a bit.

      I think that in these situations, you need to set a high ISO to get any clear shots.

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    2. Good point, a difference in the aperture of 1.6 should be a visible difference, shouldn't it?
      Do you think there is a MFT lense that would fit my needs better? Is the tele worth the try?

      Delete
    3. If you specifically know that 45mm is the focal length you need, then the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 will be your best choice. It is a very fast lens in terms of the aperture opening. It is the best medium long low light lens at a reasonable price.

      Even better would be the Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8, but it is not yet available, and it will be very expensive.

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    4. But as you say, the Lumix G 45-200mm lens has an aperture of f/4 at 45mm, which is one stop faster than the standard kit zoom lens at 45mm. That is always something, and it is significant enough to give you better images. But the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is the fastest if you can get away with only using 45mm.

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    5. Now you managed to unsettle me ;). I was nearly sure to buy the 45-200 but tha Olympus looks really good. The problem is that the 45 often is a little to few and so I started using the digital zoom which not made grat quality pictures with my lumix.
      As I'm going on vacation later this year I tend a little to get the zoom to widen my possibilities but I really have to think about the Olympus. Especially at the price.

      Delete
  7. Very informative...thanks! I may just have to buy the 45-200 now.

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  8. Just a quick question on this lens for anyone who might know the answer. I am using it for starscape photography on Manual mode and manual focus. My question is how does one set this lens to infinity on a manual focus? Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

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    Replies
    1. There is no way to set the lens to infinity focus, beyond focusing on something very far away. That is one of the disadvantages of the Micro Four Thirds format, and, indeed, most "focus by wire" systems.

      There is no calibrated focus scale, so you cannot easily set infinity focus. The best way would be do direct the lens towards something far away, and then use autofocus, and then switch to manual focus.

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    2. One addition, though, is that when powering up the camera with the lens, it normally starts at "near infinity". But there is no way to be sure this is the true infinity.

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  9. Hi I am new to my Lumix dmc G6 camera and was wondering if buying the 45-200 lens would help me zoom in on school assemblys from the back of the room.10 metres to stage ? Thanks Im confused.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the 45-200mm lens is ideal for photographing people from some distance. About 10m sounds good. The Lumix G 45-200mm should help you to get better pictures in these situations, compared with the standard kit zoom lens.

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  10. hello! i'm a italian student of biology

    i need a help to choose the lens for my camera PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-GF3.

    I saw 2 lens used: both of them PANASONIC LUMIX G VARIO 14-140 or 45-200.

    i'll travel along Australia for a expedition, i'll take photos of landscapes, people, a little objects and at the and: the wildlife and rainforest (frog, mammals, birds ect ect) this last point is very important.
    Also in night and day

    So at the last point i'll discover little and fast animlas... i need good lens

    Which is the best for me?

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Out of the two lenses, the Lumix G 14-140mm is by far the best, I think. It is light, relatively small, and has a very good image quality.

      Delete