Camera: Panasonic Lumix G1
Lens: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm
The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH OIS is the standard kit zoom lens of the first micro-4/3 system camera – the Panasonic Lumix G1. The design of the lens differs from conventional SLR lenses because it doesn’t need to take a SLR mirror into account anymore. On paper such lenses can achieve a higher degree of optimization, specifically with respect to wide-angle performance. Another positive side-effect are the smaller physical dimensions even when compared to the already very small 4/3 lenses. Interestingly both kit lenses are not Leica-labeled which is unusual for a “high end” Panasonic camera. Due to the smaller 4/3 sensor (18×13.5mm) you’ve to use a 2x factor when thinking in full format (36x24mm) terms so we are talking about a field-of-view equivalent to a conventional “28-90mm” lens here.
As already hinted above the Lumix lens is dwarfish and as such it leaves a very subjective impression of lacking “substance.” However, objectively the build quality is actually very fine thanks to very tight tolerances, good quality plastics and a metal mount. The rubberized zoom and focus control ring operate very smooth. The fluted rubber rings have a downside though – they tend to collect dust (similar to Sony lenses). The lens extends when zooming towards the long end of the zoom range but there’s no wobbling of the inner lens tube. The front-element does not rotate thanks to an internal focusing design.
Typical for all 4/3 lenses the Panasonic lens uses a dedicated AF motor that operates very fast and virtually silent. Thanks to the contrast AF system of the G1 the AF accuracy is extremely high (from a lens perspective). Manual focusing is possible “by wire” which works much better than it may sound – it was certainly a non-issue in field conditions. Olympus lenses rely on the in-camera image stabilization system whereas Leica/Panasonic follow a lens-based solution called “Mega OIS” (Optical Image Stabilization). In field conditions OIS is able to give you a 2-3 f-stop extra potential for hand-held photography.
Micro-4/3 files – both RAW as well as JPEGs – are automatically corrected either in the camera (JPEG) or in RAW converters (like Silkypix or Adobe Camera RAW). Therefore we decided not provide any figures here because they would show next to no distortions. The worst amount of corrected distortions is less than 1.3% at 14mm.
That said it is possible to use e.g. DCRaw in order to have a look at the uncorrected data. Technically Lumix lenses shows a very poor performance regarding distortions specifically at the wide-end of the zoom range here. At 14mm we’ve a whopping ~5.5% of barrel distortion and it’s not really much better at 18mm (~4.1%). The situation eases significantly at 25mm (2.2%) and at 45mm there’s only a negligible degree of distortions. As mentioned this will usually not be noticed by users though.
It is difficult to provide a final verdict about micro-4/3 lenses because neither the camera JPEGs nor the standard RAW converters will give you an access to uncorrected image data. This is both good and bad. One the one hand the system provides “clean” images straight out-of-the-box. On the other hand the correction mechanism is not really lossless because you loose some field-of-view if the lens produces heavy distortions, a bit of edge resolution and the sensor noise gets amplified somewhat in the corners due to the vignetting compensation.
In terms of sheer optical performance the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS is not a great lens. However, when looking at the auto-corrected results, and this is where it counts from a user perspective, it’s capable of producing very good results. The center resolution is generally on a excellent level straight from the max. aperture setting. The border quality is still very decent between 14mm and 25mm. At 45mm we’ve an evenly high quality across the frame. The vignetting is still comparatively pronounced at 14mm @ f/3.5 despite the auto-correction. However, it’s not really an issue anymore at other settings.
The build quality of the lens is very decent especially for a kit lens. The AF works basically silent, it’s surprisingly fast and highly accurate (also thanks to the G1’s contrast AF). The “Mega OIS” (image stabilizer) can give you an extra potential equivalent to 2-3 f-stops in field conditions.
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