Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 review: Small and brilliant!

The most remade lenses within Micro Four Thirds are the kit zoom lenses. Panasonic now have five kit zoom lenses, and so do Olympus, and this is not even counting the colour variations. While this has upset some fans - why don't they spend the effort designing high end lenses? - this makes perfect sense.

Most people who buy a Micro Four Thirds camera, get one with a kit lens supplied. Hence, the production volume of these lenses is big, and constantly improving them is a good idea. Also, to sell camera kits, they need to follow the trends. For example, the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 did not match the current trends, with a matte plastic exterior. The market now wants shiny metal-like materials on consumer electronic products, and in comes the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II.

And the newest Lumix kit zoom lens is all about following trends. It is like the existing Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 in the sense that it is a collapsible pancake lens. However, the new Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 also keeps in line with market trends by having a smooth aluminium body, with a simple shape. Both lenses are seen below:




Olympus also have a similar lens, the Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ, which I have not tested in this article. All three are specified in the table below:

LensLumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ
Lens elements/groups8/79/88/7
Power Zoom?NoYesYes
Focus ring?NoLeverYes
Diameter56mm61mm61mm
Length25mm27mm23mm
Weight70g95g91g
Filter thread37mm37mm37mm
Hood suppliedNoNoNo

Physical


Both the Lumix pancake zooms are compact and collapsible, but beyond that, they are very different. The Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review) is a technological tour de force, with a two speed lever operated power zoom. It extends automatically and impressively quickly when powering on the camera.

The Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, on the other hand, is a much simpler lens from the looks: It has a basic cylindrical shape, with some grooves on the end of the zoom ring. And while the power zoom lens is a mixed materials lens, the newer lens has an outer body of nicely finished aluminium.



You extend the new lens by rotating the zoom ring counter clock wise:


Even if the new lens has a two section telescoping mechanism, it still feels very solid. Wiggling the front end section of either lens reveals that it is a little bit loose, but much less than you might expect. Even if the lenses are small, they feel very solid.

From the rear side, we see that they are quite similar. Notice that the new lens has a very large exit pupil. This is often associated with high quality lenses, although there is of course not an automatic connection:


As with all OIS lenses from Panasonic, these lenses rattle when not powered on. It is probably the OIS lens group which is decoupled when the lens is not powered by the camera. This is normal, and not a problem.

Handling the lenses, they are quite different. The Lumix X PZ 14-42mm lens has grooves in the base, to help you twist the lens in place when mounting it. Also, it has the embossed red symbol to indicate which way to mount it. This red half sphere is good to have, as you can feel which way to mount the lens without looking.

The new Lumix G 12-32mm lens has neither of these ergonomic features. It makes it look sleek, but functionally, it does lag behind. Personally, I would prefer function over looks in this case.

Hood


The lens does not come with a hood, and there is no hood you can buy specifically for this lens.

What you can do, though, is to get a 37-52mm step up ring and use it as a hood. The diameter of the step up ring matches that of the lens:


The step up ring is probably not going to keep a lot of stray light out, as would be the purpose of a hood. But it can help you to avoid getting fingerprints on the front lens element, and avoid accidentally banging the front lens element into objects. You also need a 52mm front lens cap to use on the front of the step up ring.

Using the step up ring as a hood is not going to cause any extra vignetting.

Aperture range


With the smaller size, one might expect that the new lens more quickly stops down the aperture as you zoom in. That is how Panasonic have been shrinking their lenses lately. In this respect, it turns out that the lenses are quite similar:


From the diagram, we see that both lenses reduce the aperture as you zoom in from wide to tele. The difference between them is very marginal, and hardly worth noting.

Focus


To test the autofocus speed, I mounted the lenses to the Lumix GM1 camera, and set a figure close to the minimum focus distance (20cm distance in the wide mode, and 30cm distance in the tele mode). Then I measured the delay from pressing the shutter until the camera snapped the picture. Here is the experiment:



And the results:

Lens/Focus delayLumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6
Wide0.32s0.34s
Tele0.46s0.36s

We see here that the new lens was slightly faster in the wide setting, while the old lens was faster in the tele setting. However, these results are very similar, and you are not likely to experience focus delay as any significant problem with these lenses.

As for the minimum focus distance, Panasonic states that it is 0.2m for both lenses. However, a more thorough measurement reveals that the minimum focus distance is longer in the tele setting:

Lens/Minimum focus distanceLumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6
Wide0.18m0.18m
Tele0.26m0.29m

Again, the lenses perform very similarly.

The new lens has no focus ring what so ever, so if you plan to focus manually, this may not be the lens for you. Focusing manually is possible through some camera menu, on some cameras. Generally, I don't see the need to focus this lens manually, so for me, this is a non-issue.

I find that manual focus is the most useful with long tele lenses, and with larger aperture lenses. And this lens is neither.

Image quality


I have previously compared the 12-32mm lens with some lenses at 12mm, and with some other lenses at 30mm. In these tests, I have generally found that the 12-32mm lens performs very well, considering the small size. It is not as good as Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, but then again, it is much less expensive, and a lot more compact.

Here are some head to head comparisons with the other pancake zoom lens, the Lumix X PZ 14-42mm:

Comparison @ 14mm


Here are the full images at 14mm. I had the sun behind me, making it more easy for the lenses to render the images:

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6
14mm f/3.714mm f/3.5

For better comparison, here are some 100% crops from the centre of the image:


And from the top right corner:


It looks like the 12-32mm lens is better in the centre, but they are quite similar in the corner. Anyway, the performance is quite good.

Comparison @ 32mm


These example images were taken with the sun just outside the image frame, to the right. This is a quite challenging situation for any lens, as the strong contrast can cause a number of flare issues. It looks like the Lumix X PZ 14-42mm is adversely affected at f/5.6, but the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 handles the strong light better, with little visible flaring:

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6Lumix X PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6
32mm f/5.632mm f/5.6

For better comparison, here are some 100% crops from the centre of the image:


And from the top left corner:


In these examples, it is quite clear that the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 gives the best image quality. Even wide open, the performance is very good.

Geometric distortion


Most Micro Four Thirds lenses feature some in camera distortion correction. And these lenses, with the wide zoom range, are no exception. To examine the geometric distortion characteristics, I have photographed a square tiled wall, and then overlaid the out of camera JPEG (in black) with the uncorrected image (in red). I used the third party RAW converter software UFraw to assess the uncorrected image.

Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 at 12mm (-18%)Lumix X PZ 14-42mm at 14mm (-15%)
Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 at 32mm (+3%)Lumix X PZ 14-42mm at 42mm (+5%)

The percentage in brackets is the relative distortion correction applied in The Gimp image processing software to get a rectilinear image. Hence, the distortion characteristics of the two lenses is very similar. The new lens has slightly more geometric distortion in the wide setting, though.

At 12mm and 14mm, you see that both lenses still feature some barrel distortion, even after the in-camera image processing. This is not uncommon at short focus distances with wide angle lenses that feature internal focusing. The same can be seen also with the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 at short focus distances.

Conclusion


The Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 is a very fine lens, which is true to Micro Four Thirds format. It performs well. You cannot expect a stellar optical performance, if you do, go for the Lumix X 12-35mm lens. But the performance is certainly very good for a small kit zoom lens.

This lens is recommended for those who want the smallest possible lens, which is still versatile, with a sensible zoom range. It pairs well with the Lumix GM1, for which is it the primary kit lens.

A final note is that the focal length range could be useful if you plan to use the 4K video mode of the upcoming Lumix GH4. In the 4K video mode, the GH4 crops the image, with an additional crop factor of about 1.2. Hence, the 12-32mm focal range corresponds to 14-38mm in 4K video mode, i.e., a normal kit zoom lens range.

Example video


An example video recorded using the Lumix GM1, at ISO 200, f/7.1, 20mm, 1/50s, 25fps, 1080p.



Example image


Here, the sun is inside the frame, which is a very challenging situation for any lens to render. The focus distance is very close, around the minimum focus distance. Exposure parameters: 14mm, f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 200. The bokeh is quite nice. There is some slight ringing in the tree in the top right part of the frame, otherwise, no issues:


The example image shows that the lens handles flare very well. This is important for a lens with a wide field of view.

Another example, at ISO 100, 1/100s, 12mm, f/5.6:


Here are some 100% crops from the image:


And an example at 32mm, f/7.1, ISO 200, 1/160s:


Here are 100% crops:



We see that the sharpness is very fine.

16 comments:

  1. I am really enjoying this blog...Some great posts...... and very relevant to any hobbyist using m43.. many thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. A great blog. I am enjoying this lens too. I found it rendering most scenes beautifully

    ReplyDelete
  3. As usual, very interesting review with unusual insights and practical relevance. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This lens is not metal. It's body is plastic. The mount is metal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No - the barrel is metal as well.

      Delete
  5. This zoom outresolves the classic 14-45mm zoom and also the 14mm/F2.5. It's outstanding for its size and price.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought the 14-45 looked better in corners in the Imaging Resource reviews. I am getting this 12-32 as a companion for the 14-45 so I will check myself soon enough. For the current prices (£100 each ish), anyone on a budget with a Panasonic should have both, or at least consider it.

      Delete
    2. I sold the 14-45mm and replaced it with the 35-100mm f4-5.6, which I quickly fell in love with as a walk about lens. With the 12-32 I feel like I have an awesome lightweight, compact and affordable bag for nature videos.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  6. I was going to get one, the hardware problem of the focus ring falling off notwithstanding.

    But it seems this lens has shutter shock on the long end and requires electronic shutter, which my G3 does not really have.

    ReplyDelete
  7. thanks man, im starting to reading all of your excellent posts. i just bought my new gm-1 with kit 12-32. considering to buy some good lenses. but still dont know my habits and style. let see then. keep posting!!!.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 35-100mm f4-5.6 is the perfect companion to this lens imo. Same price too £108 new separated from kit on eBay. Then a few faster primes for night time.

      Delete
  8. Why is a 46mm lens cap required when using a 37-52mm step-up ring on this lens?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for finding the mistake! I have corrected it now.

      Delete
  9. The MEGA O.I.S. works well with oly?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have Mega OIS lenses, instead, I got a couple of Power OIS zoom lenses from Panasonic. The common rule for using Panasonic OIS lens on Olympus body is to disable lens OIS and only use the body's IBIS. You can do that by flip the button in your lens, if any, or go to the body's menu.

      Either Dual IS/Sync IS from Panasonic/Olympus does not support cross brands use of body and lens for now (12/2016)

      Delete