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.



Lens
Year released
2014
2012
2013
2010
2013
Lens elements/groups
8/7
9/8
9/8
12/9
14/12
Minimum focus
0.20m
0.20m
0.20m
0.30m
0.30m
Weight
70g
95g
110g
165g
265g
Diameter
56mm
61mm
56mm
61mm
67mm
Length
24mm
27mm
49mm
64mm
75mm
Filter thread
37mm
37mm
46mm
52mm
58mm

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.

Conclusion


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.

3 comments:

  1. Not an expert, but I think using a High Resolution mode as a benchmark test is like using HDR mode to test sensor latitude.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Lumix G 14-140mm mk2 is a very good lens optically but it is not comfortable for video because it looses focus easily and has jittering and vibrating OIS in video.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice and useful comparison.
    Jaroslav

    ReplyDelete