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Field Test: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/4-5.8 ASPH lens
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Field Test: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/4-5.8 ASPH lens

New Micro Four Thirds kit lens covers a wide range

If you’re buying your first Micro Four Thirds camera, this may be the first lens you’ll use. Can it deliver quality images throughout its full 10x range?


For many years, mid-range zoom lenses distinguished themselves by being exceptionally bland. Generally in the 35-70mm range, they provided photographers an uninspiring range of focal lengths, and many reasons to buy a couple of additional lenses in order to give them more angles of view to choose from. But with the advent of computer-aided design, these lenses have become lighter and smaller while introducing an expanded range of focal lengths. Micro Four Thirds brings this to the next level, and Panasonic’s 14-140mm  f/4-5.8 has stretched this range even more with a 10x zoom that covers a wide angle field of 28mm to a far-reaching 280mm (35mm equivalent) tele range.

It’s quite a change: The Panasonic14-140mm f/4-5.8 ASPH lens for the Micro Four Thirds system is a kit lens that actually offers an exciting, inspiring range of focal lengths and possibilities.

The challenge with extended-range zoom lenses is to keep optical quality consistent at all focal lengths. Let’s see if the latest Panasonic kit lens is up to this challenge.

Look and feel

At a fairly substantial 16 ounces, the lens has a solid feel to it, although I did hear something rattling around when I shook it. The lens comes with a removable butterfly-type lenshood. It has an attractive two-tone barrel, with matte black covering the front two thirds and a flecked dark grey base. The ribbed focus and zoom rings are adequately wide, and focal lengths are legible in light silver on black. The lens has a switch on the side that controls the Mega O.I.S. (optical image stabilization).

The focus ring worked smoothly, but the zoom required a bit more oomph zooming out than in. Towards the far end of the zoom range, resistance lessened, so if you’re zooming while shooting a video with the GH1, you have to be careful otherwise the zoom may not be as smooth as you’d like.

14mm view is equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera.

At 55mm, focus is sharp.

Very slight softness at 140mm is more due to unsteady camera support than the lens’s ability to produce sharp images. Use a steady tripod at 140mm!

In the field

Focus was fast and accurate in daylight, a bit slower and searchy, but still generally accurate in low light. Thanks to its direct-drive linear motor, the lens’s internal focus operation was silent. In fact, when shooting, many times I thought I had accidentally turned the AF off because I am accustomed to hearing and feeling the whir of the focus gears, and there is none with this lens.

Image quality was excellent at the widest setting from center to corner, and excellent in the center and very good at approximately 70mm. Even at 140mm, image quality was impressive in the center, but with more pronounced softness at the corners. As with any long-tele zoom, this sharpness may not be as apparent at the maximum focal length if you’re shooting hand-held (even with image stabilization turned on). However, on a solid tripod using the middle aperture, I was impressed with this lens’s sharpness at 140mm.

Close focusing goes down about a foot and change at all focal lengths and at close range the lens delivered sharp results. Bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus areas of the image) was smooth with natural-looking specular highlights.

Macro focusing, to just over a foot at all focal lengths, was sharp.

Also shot at closest focus, but at 14mm. Check out the smoothness of the bokeh in the out-of-focus background.

Conclusion

This is an outstanding general-purpose lens that will get you close enough for travel and some wildlife shots, and even some sports and yet it zooms wide enough to capture good vacation scenics. Somewhere in the middle, thanks to its circular aperture blades, it produces pleasing bokeh and is therefore also well-suited for portrait photos when shooting in the 70mm range. And indeed, throughout the range it delivers high quality results that will hold up to 8x10 or larger enlargement. Just be careful to support the lens well when you’re shooting at 140mm so you can get the full benefit of its sharp performance. The 14-140 is being sold as a kit lens with the GH1, but it’s also available separately for $850 and is a great starting point for anyone who is getting into Micro Four Thirds photography.

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