Field Test: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 lens

Micro Four Thirds ultrawide is ultra-cool

Will photographers pony up more than a grand for this jewel of a lens? We put it through its paces.

When Panasonic shipped an evaluation model of the GH1 Micro Four Thirds camera to me, they also included a surprise: the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 lens, an ultrawide-angle lens with a coverage equivalent of a 14-28mm lens on a 35mm camera. Its compact size, combined with its near-fisheye range, expands the possibilities for picture-takers who want to take advantage of the Micro Four Thirds system’s compactness.
Look and feel

The lens is small but solid, weighing a substantial 10.6 ounces thanks to its 16 elements (including 2 aspherical and 4 ED elements to cut glare and produce crisp contrast). Its f/4 widest aperture is perhaps not the widest, but it is constant through the zoom range. It has a built-in butterfly-shaped lenshood to reduce flare.

The side of the lens is matt black with flecked grey at the base. White numbers on black below zoom ring indicate focal length. The ribbed zoom ring is smooth and wide enough to grasp, but it made a slight crunching noise during zoom that I found distracting and a bit worrisome (although it didn’t affect image quality). The focus ring was smooth and quiet. In autofocus mode the focusing was accurate and amazingly silent.

7mm view is equivalent to 14mm on a 35mm camera.

The lens exhibited virtually no distortion at 14mm.

In the field

The lens focused quickly and accurately, although it searched somewhat in lower light. Sharpness was very good in the center, with very slight falloff at the corners. Contrast was good, and flare was well controlled at 7mm, although it became more apparent as zoom approached 14mm.

I was impressed with the lens’s distortion performance. At 7mm, there was only slight to moderate barrel distortion, which is remarkable considering the lens’s near-fisheye focal length. By 14mm, I saw neither barrel nor pincussion distortion.

The verdict

In general, I found the Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm to be a jewel of a lens. It’s easy to handle and straightforward to use, and image quality is very good. The lens’s size makes it a great travel companion. However, at $1,100, it’s pricey. (Compare it to the Pentax 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5, another great lens that is similar in size and range but costs less than $650, which is great if you own a Pentax DSLR.) When weighing a buying decision, this is an important factor. Are you going to use this lens’s ultrawide range enough to justify its cost? That’s up to you.

Price aside, for size and performance, the combination of this small, sharp, quiet lens and a Micro Four Thirds camera really can’t be beat.

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