Sunday, 18 December 2016

Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 review

Some have questioned why Panasonic have churned out so many different kit zoom lenses in the M4/3 format so far. However, one lens which is not going to be questioned in the same way, I think, is the new Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6.

It is shown below, in the fully zoomed position at 60mm, on the Lumix G85 camera it comes in a kit with:


It is not just a new kit zoom lens, it also has some good features:

  • A proper wide angle end, starting at 24mm equivalent. This is not only good news in itself, it is also good for 4k video use. All Lumix cameras so far record 4k video using a crop factor only, meaning that a 14mm lens becomes around 18mm in 4k mode. Hence, starting at a focal length of 12mm is good news.

    Not many Lumix zoom lenses start at 12mm so far, making this a lens to look for. There is the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, which I think is great, but is has a somewhat short reach, see my review.
  • More reach in the long end, at 120mm equivalent.
  • Weather protected: It is the least expensive Panasonic lens so far with weather protection, meaning that you can use it even when there is a risk for some rain and splashes. There is no guarantee against water damage, so you should still be careful, but hopefully, the lens will be more safe to use in wet or dusty environments.

But how does the lens perform? That is what I'll look into here.

Specifications


The lens is sized as you can expect, between the Lumix G 14-42mm II and the Lumix G 14-140mm II:

From left to right Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II, Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 and Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II

Looking into the specifications, you'll see that here as well, it is placed between them:

LensLumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IILumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II
AnnouncedOct 17th, 2013Jan 29th, 2013Feb 24th, 2016Apr 24th, 2013
Lens elements/groups8/79/811/914/12
Minimum focus0.2m0.2m0.2m0.3m
Weight70g110g210g265g
Diameter56mm56mm66mm67mm
Length24mm49mm71mm75mm
Filter thread37mm46mm58mm58mm
Weather protectedNoNoYesNo
Hood suppliedNoYesYesYes

You can note that the 10x superzoom Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II is only slightly larger and heavier. So in terms of bulk, there is not that much reason to choose the 12-60mm lens. The 14-140mm is also one of my favorite lenses, see my review here. So it remains to be seen if the 12-60mm lens can compete.



All of the lenses have the same f/3.5-5.6 maximum aperture range. However, it is important to note that they still have different maximum apertures through the zoom range. See it plotted here:


This tells you that the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II closes down the aperture most quickly as you zoom in, which is probably how it can be made so small and light. The other lenses are quite normal in this respect.

In use


The lens feels solidly made. It has a somewhat matte surface, which I like better than the glossy lens barrels Panasonic have made in last the years. The printing has a more toned down colour than before as well.

In terms of handling, it has a ribbed plastic zoom ring, like most of the lower and medium end lenses from Panasonic. This works well, but I could have wished for a rubberized zoom ring for better grip.

The zoom ring is reasonably well dampened, but not as well as, e.g., the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8. This makes it hard to zoom smoothly during video recording, for example. For photo use, this is not an issue, and I guess most people know that one should be careful with zooming during video recording anyway.

The zoom ring is somewhat stiffer than most other Panasonic lenses, which could be related to the weather proofing. Even when fully zoomed to the long end at 60mm, the extending section feels very stable, there is no wobbling at all.

The focus ring is better than the lower end kit zoom lenses. It rotates smoothly, and is easy to use.

The lens comes with a hood included. It is short, to fit the 12mm wide and, and I like the fact that it is flat. This makes it safe to place upside down, unlike the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, right below:


From left: Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 and Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8

Image quality


To examine the image quality, I have compared the lens with the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm, and with the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 and Sigma 60mm f/2.8:


At 12mm


I tested the lenses on the Lumix G85 on a tripod, at ISO 200, the base ISO.


Take a closer look at 100% crops from the centre of the image to better see the differences. Click for a larger version of the image:


The corners are often the most challenging for a lens to render, here is where we see the quality difference most clearly. Here is the lower right corner of the images:


In the centre, both lenses are pretty much equally good, and in the corner, I'd say the 12-32mm lens is slightly better wide open. But both lenses perform quite well here. I wouldn't be worried about the image quality of either lens.

At 30mm


I have pitched the 12-60mm lens against my favorite in terms of image quality, the Sigma 30mm f/2.8. I think the Sigma lens is a gem when it comes to very good image quality from a compact and inexpensive prime lens. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is not going to impress anyone, though.


Looking at the center of the images, the Sigma lens is somewhat sharper at the same apertures, but the 12-60mm lens is certainly usable, no problem. The bokeh is much better with the Sigma lens, though:


At 60mm


Again, I pitch the 12-60mm against a popular prime lens, the Sigma 60mm f/2.8:

Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 60mm f/5.6Sigma 60mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

From the centre of the images, we see clearly better performance by the Sigma prime lens. Stop the Lumix G 12-60mm down to f/7.1, though, and it sharpens up quite a bit:



From the top right corner, we see the same thing: Some dullness wide open at f/5.6, but one can hardly complain about the performance at f/7.1:



Flare


As the Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 is a quite wide lens in the short end, you will often have strong light sources in the image frame, like the sun (during daytime), or a streetlight (at night). Hence, the flare handling is very important. I have compared the lens with three other 12mm capable lenses here:


Front row, left to right: Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, Samyang 12mm f/2

I photographed the same scene at 12mm f/4 with all four lenses. This is quite challenging scene, with a very high contrast between the light source and the rest of the scene:


The best lens here is, perhaps a bit surprisingly, the smallest and cheapest Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6. However, keep in mind that this is also the least complex lens, with a short zoom range and a moderate aperture, and the fewest number of glass elements.

This sort of explains why the fastest lenses perform the worst: Both the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 and the Samyang 12mm f/2 show some ghosting in the lower right corner, diagonally over from the light source. These lenses require a more complex design due to the large aperture, meaning that there are more lens surfaces prone to producing flare.

The Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 does show some flare, but nothing excessive, and it is quite usable.

Geometric distortion correction


Micro Four Thirds lenses tend to be smaller than lenses from other systems. There are several reasons for this.

One is of course that the sensor is smaller than most other system cameras, with the exception of the Nikon 1 system, which has an even smaller sensor. Another reason is that the register distance is shorter than for DSLR systems.

But one major reason is that the system relies on software correction of the sensor output. This includes correction of Chromatic Aberration (CA) artefacts and vignetting.

Most of the Micro Four Thirds lenses need geometric distortion correction applied for the output images to become rectilinear. This is done totally seamlessly by the camera and software, both for JPEG and RAW images. So the user never notices that the image, as seen by the camera through the lens, is not rectilinear in the first place.

This is in contrast to older DSLR systems. In these systems, there is an optical viewfinder, in which the users sees exactly what the sensor sees, through the lens. With a DSLR system, the lens must be rectilinear, otherwise, the user will be appalled by the geometric distortion when using the camera.

Here is an illustration of two basic kinds of distortion: Pincushion distortion (left) and barrel distortion (right):


In reality, the geometric distortion might very well be more complicated than what is illustrated by these simple models.

To examine the geometric distortion properties of the lens, I have photographed a wall of square tiles. Here I used the Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm, f/3.5:


After processing the RAW image to find the true geometry of the underlying image, I superimposed the two, using red lines for the uncorrected geometry, see below.

I included the appropriate adjustment needed. The adjustment numbers in percent refer to the "Lens Distortion" filter in The Gimp, an image processing software. Of course, to become rectilinear, some lenses might require more complicated adjustment than the simple model given by the "Lens Distortion" filter. So these figures are just intended to be approximate relative indicators of the degree of distortion. A positive figure indicated barrel distortion, while a negative figure indicates pincushion distortion.

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (-18%)Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II at 14mm (-14%)
Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (-15%)Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II at 14mm (-16%)

We see that the Lumix G 12-60mm is quite normal in terms of geometric distortion. Some purists may view this as a bad thing, however, this is not only the key to making smaller and less expensive lenses, but also better:

By allowing the camera to correct for geometric distortion in software, the lens design can focus on other aspects which cannot be corrected in post processing. Hence, the overall image quality can be better.

Conclusion


Given how great I think the recent kit zoom lenses from Panasonic are, I was perhaps a bit disappointed by the newest Lumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6, seeing that it is trumped by various other lenses. At 12mm, it could have been better wide open in the corners.

However, I am being very critical here. For most practical use, you should not see any image quality issues at all with this lens. I was especially happy with the performance in the very longest end, at 60mm, where zoom lenses often show more degrading of the image quality.

If you get this lens in a kit, e.g., the with excellent Lumix G85, then don't be afraid to use it. The lens will give you great images, and the image stabilization is very competent for both stills and video.

The 12mm wide end is very useful for 4k video recording, where you need to factor in a crop factor with all current M4/3 cameras. The upcoming Lumix GH5 will probably avoid this, though.

If you are looking for a stand alone lens to buy for a camera you already have, then you could consider the 10x superzoom Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II, which is only slightly larger and heavier, and appears to be slightly better than the 12-60mm lens. See my review here.

Compared with other kit zoom lenses:

LensLumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IILumix G 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II
What is it?Collapsible, ultra compact zoom lens with a good wide angleBasic kit zoom lensWeather protected midrange kit zoom lensSuperzoom lens
ProsVery good at 12mm, compact. Wide angle makes it good for 4kLight, cheap, well performingWeather protected, useful zoom range, very good at 60mm. Wide angle makes it good for 4kVery good sharpness and contrast for a superzoom
ConsShort reachSmall aperture in the middle of the zoom rangeCould have been a bit better at 12mm in the cornersSomewhat bulky

Example images


Lumix G85, 12mm, f/3.5, 1/250s, ISO 200:


100% crops from various parts of the image shows that it is somewhat dull in borders. Stopping the lens down to around f/5 would have made the image better.


Lumix G85, 60mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 1250:


These 100% crops show that the image quality is in fact quite good in the long end:


Lumix G85, 60mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400:


Here you'll see an example of the flare discussed previously. Due to the strong backlight, there is greenish ghosting in the middle, lower half of the image. While this is an example of a lens distortion, this effect is also quite trendy these days.

Example video


Recorded using the Lumix G85 handheld, with autofocus enabled:



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