Lens review: The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G

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14-42 X on OM-D, collapsed and extended. If you’re wondering why I got a silver one, it’s because the black ones were out of stock at the time I needed it. Would I have preferred black? Obviously.

I don’t normally review ‘consumer’ grade gear for the simple reason that it’s usually built to a price, rather than built to deliver a certain grade of result (or perhaps it is, only the accountants and engineers know for sure). However, sometimes you come across a piece of equipment that fills a need much better than you imagined; this lens is one such example. The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (what a mouthful, hereafter known as the 14-42X) is a very small – about the size of the 20/1.7 pancake when collapsed – zoom for Micro Four Thirds. It was the kit lens for the GX1 and a couple of other cameras for a while, and fortunately also available separately.

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This lens is perhaps a surprising choice for me, but allow me to explain the rationale. 1. I needed something compact to pair with a fast prime on the OM-D for what I like to think of as general ‘static’ scenes, where the perspective and framing are of equal importance to the overall success of the photograph; this means that I need to have a zoom of some description. 2. It’s got to be light and small; since I do this kind of photography during the daytime when I travel, and got away with deploying a compact most of the time, it doesn’t have to have a fast aperture. 3. One of the things that frustrated me most about the zoom compacts was inevitably either the lens or the sensor – both have to be of high optical quality, obviously. You never know when you might come across something that makes for good fine art or good stock; no point in limiting the commercial viability of an image because of a quality compromise. 4. A D800E and 24-120 VR would probably be the obvious choice for this kind of thing, but I really don’t want to carry another camera just for this purpose.

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I actually rather liked the optics of the collapsing 14-42/3.5-5.6 IIR kit lens that comes with the Pen Minis; however, the build left quite a lot to be desired – plastic mounts and all. Besides, I’d sold mine along with the Pen Mini some time back. The original Panasonic 14-42 has a good reputation, but they’re both large and hard to find; not ideal. At that size, I might as well carry the 12-35/2.8, and that’s significantly more expensive, but not quite fast enough to replace the primes. Enter the 14-42X.

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I find the 14-42X to be both a technological tour de force and a bit frustrating. Firstly, it’s tiny – barely larger than the 20/1.7 pancake, but covering a decent 28-85 equivalent (or thereabouts). It shrinks in length by half when closed, and looks positively tiny even on an OM-D. Inside this, Panasonic have managed to pack their usual excellent optical stabilisation system*, Nano coating (more on this later) and very fast AF.

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The frustration comes from a different aspect of speed: zooming is slow, and on a lever (though the camera does remember the last used zoom position when power is cycled, a neat touch); and there’s a fraction of a second of added startup delay caused by the lens having to extend. Focus is on a lever, too; I’ve not had any need to use manual focus yet, so I can’t say how effective this is in practice. It’s worth noting that both focus and zooming are completely silent; I believe this was designed with video use in mind. Finally, there’s the odd 37mm filter size and positively teeny (read: easy to lose) lens cap. I don’t even know if any of the good filters are made in this size, then again, I have no intention of using them so it probably doesn’t matter anyway. Presumably one could get closeup filters or something to further increase utility; I’m not sure it’s necessary anyway seeing as the lens focuses to a very useful 0.2m at wide, and slightly more (0.25m or so) at tele.

*It’s unclear to me whether it’s the lens or body IS system in use on Olympus cameras as unlike the larger Panasonic lenses, there’s no switch to disable OIS on the lens. I’m guessing it’s the body system.

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You’re probably wondering if the added electrics in the lens have any impact on battery life; yes, they do. But it’s not as bad as you might expect – I’d say for my typical usage cycle, power consumption on my OM-D took about a 20-25% hit; I was seeing full-charge life go from ~900 shots down to 650-700. (I normally turn the camera off after each shot to extend battery life, but in this case it might have actually made things worse as the lens would have to cycle). I do wonder about the longevity of the lens, again given the heavy dependence on (presumably very small) motors to do the work. Then again, it’s cheap and useful enough – around $330 – that if it breaks out of warranty, I’d probably just buy another one.

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Optically, the 14-42X is a bit of a surprise: it’s excellent, even used at maximum aperture. You don’t lose any sharpness close up, either. This is important seeing as anything much beyond f8 is severely diffraction limited on M4/3 cameras anyway due to the very small pixel pitch. Use this one wide open without issue, though stop down one stop to 5.6-8 to gain a very small improvement in the corners. There were two aspects of performance I found especially impressive – very low CA, and impressive contrast (though microcontrast could be better). I’m guessing this has something to do with Panasonic’s Nano Coating, and the relatively simple (for a collapsing zoom) 9/8 design. Color rendition is neutral and saturated. There’s no point talking about bokeh, because on a lens like this, unless you’re shooting at minimum distance and wide open, you’re going to get almost no depth of field control anyway.

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I think a combination of this lens and the 20/1.7 pancake with one of the smaller M4/3 bodies and would be perfect for the traveller on a strict weight budget, or simply those who want to go fully unencumbered and with just a spare lens in one pocket. These two lenses would let you cover the majority of situations one is likely to encounter, including low light. I’d also recommend it highly as a handy zoom to throw into a bag with a more serious M4/3 kit for the times when you don’t feel like bringing the rest of your gear with you; it turns your camera into a very, very good point and shoot, if you will – no need to spend serious money on one of those large-sensor compacts just yet. Sometimes, flexibility is not a bad thing at all. Highly recommended! MT

More images shot with this lens can be seen here on my flickr stream.

The Panasonic 14-42 X is available in black and silver here from B&H and Amazon.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Milan Vjestica says:

    Hi Ming,
    I have one of these 14-42X lenses. It replaced the 14-45 which was really good and sold on to pay for the X. I did this to make the GF1 more compact for travel. So far some very good results.

    As for the filter I use a 37-52 step up ring and then a 52mm CPL which matches the outside diameter of the lens and removes any risk of vignetting from the filter. I than have a decent sized lens cap too.

  2. I have this lens and it is indeed better than expected. I ordered a Panasonic GX7 and plan to use the 14-42 PZ on it for video…because it is silent and tiny, with a good range. I was using the RX100 for video, but I’m guessing (hoping) this will be better.

  3. Thanks for your fine review, Ming. Based on it I ordered the lens for my OMD and it just arrived. I figured, if it suffices your high standards than it should be more than good for me. However, I cannot replicate the following you wrote: “(though the camera does remember the last used zoom position when power is cycled, a neat touch)”. I have firmware version 1.2 on the lens and 1.6 on the OMD. Is there anywhere an option to enable this that I missed? This was one of the big selling points that convinced me as it is a slow zoomer… Everything else seems to work fine on the lens.

  4. Mark H. says:

    The problem I. had with two pz14-42 was that they are both very weak at the tele end and open to the edges.
    you need to to stop down twice to get good but not stellar results. So I send them back.
    And there are lots of similar statements looking at dpreview userreports. So the reputation of this lense is far behind the good old one 14-45 which is for many users still the reference-kit.
    May be you get from Panasonic a very good one because you are a tester, but in generell my impression is that the lense quality might differ a lot!?
    Samples from the new 14-42 x II Kit of the GF6 are looking much better for me so far , and has nearly the same size & weight will be the next one I would like to check.
    What a pitty that is no Kit option of the G6….

    • More likely I got lucky, seeing as the lens was picked up on my behalf at retail by one of my readers. No special samples here (and such things don’t exist; if anything, the preproduction cameras have more faults and issues than production ones) unfortunately. I also doubt they’d bother with a lens of this price.

  5. Stephen Scharf says:

    Thanks for the review on this, Ming. Another pro whose blog I follow, Lindsay Dobson in the UK, also really likes this lens on her OM-D, so I guess I will have to pick one up. I have the 17/1.8 and 45/1.8, so the combination of these three very compact but high quality lenses might make for a very compact but high performing “travel kit” in a small ThinkTank bag.

  6. How about a comparison between an Olympus OM-D with a kitlens and/or Panasonic 14-42 and a Sony NEX-5r/6 with the 16-50? Face it my friend, you are looong over due with a NEX-review.

    • 1. This site is about photography, not gear; I’m a commercial photographer first and a writer a distant second.
      2. Nobody is lending me one, nor am I going to buy one just for a review.

      I had the original 5, and that was a dog. I don’t have the time to waste on reviews of stuff that doesn’t interest me – either I review something in the course of using it personally or professionally, or if it’s interesting I need to carve a few days out of the schedule. That’s time I can’t do other things, like paid work. I’m not a full time blogger like those other sites, sorry.

      • Appologies, I didn’t mean to be so offensive in my comment. I sincearly appreciate all your work on this webbsite and value the reviews very high – and thats the only reason why I would like to see a NEX-review. I also understand that you need to work, live and have the life you wan’t, and not fulfil everyone elses wishes and hopes.

        Thank you for all the effort in your articles here and any future work you post for us visitors to read.

  7. martinmt says:

    dear ming thein,
    as far as I remember, main critisism of this lens in reviews and forums was, that there is (at least on most bodies) severe shutter-induced blur at exposures of around 1/125 to 1/180. haven´t you encountered any such blur?

    • I haven’t seen it. I wonder if that has something to do with the OIS system interfering with the IBIS on earlier firmware revisions? Or perhaps the OIS system being used instead of IBIS? Can’t think or any real reason why we’d see shutter induced blur only at those speeds.

  8. Given the micro size, and large aperture of the 20mm 1.7, I wonder how feasible it would be to fit a large aperture (at least at the wide end) into this lens? I know basically nothing about lens designs etc, however on the surface it seems possible….perhaps it was only the cost that prevented this?

  9. Gavin Clarke says:

    Hi Ming, I’ve had one of these on my GX1 since December 2012, but it died completely a few weeks ago. Received warranty replacement a couple of days ago which arrived also broken ( this one jams and locks when zooming when it reaches 28mm or so). You’re comments about the small motors maybe being fragile seems to be on the money from my recent experience. Other than reliability though I’ve been very pleased with it. I use it in step zoom mode so its like having a few slow primes attached.

  10. Michael Matthews says:

    Ming….I notice the exif info shows your settings include contrast: high / saturation: normal / sharpening: hard.

    I assume these have no impact on the raw file, your source of choice. Are they used to influence the JPEG rendering seen on-screen for review and possible changes? If so, are these settings specific to the lens, the camera, or the combination? And are those the actual terms used in setting the OM-D and other current Olympus cameras?

    • I think they’re generic terms read by Adobe. JPEG preview affects contrast detect AF – since it affects contrast – so you want as much as possible. It also provides a safety net of sorts – if the high-contrast JPEG is okay, then the raw file will have even more latitude.

  11. I had this lens until quite recently (part ex’d it for the Sigma 60 2.8). Great IQ and lovely in its collapsed state I just couldn’t get on with it powering up or worried about it when extended but hanging off my neck. The power zoom wasn’t totally for me. The Sony 16-50 has a manual zoom option which I hope Panasonic comes up with for the mkII of this lens. Great photos BTW.

    Oh and the Sigma 60mm is very nice (apart from the glossy finish).

    • The 16-50 doesn’t appear to be as small as the 14-42, but as you say it has a mechanical zoom ring and also goes a bit wider…

    • Actually the Sony 16-50mm doesn’t have a manual zoom. You have the option to zoom using the focus ring, but it’s still done by wire.

  12. I have the old Panasonic 14-45 which I like (except for its size). You state in your review: “The original Panasonic 14-42 has a good reputation, but they’re both large and hard to find”. Did you by chance mean “original Panasonic 14-45″ rather than “14-42″? If not, how do you think this new lens compares with the old 14-45? Thanks.

    • Yes, I get confused between the two – there are so many varieties of kit lens floating around.

      It’s been a while since I used the 14-45, and never on the 15MP bodies, so it’s hard to say. From memory, I think they’re at least on par.

  13. Great review as always. Ming,would you say this lens is better than Olympus 12mm f2?

  14. You might be interested in the X-CAP for X14-42. It open/close automatically with this lens. I have been wanting to get one for myself (but a bit shunt away by the price…)

    http://freemod-design.com/web/en/x-cap-en

  15. What a great little lens, covering my favorite FLs – 28 and 85! While waiting for GR, I ended up getting one too for $250 from eBay, brand new, no less. But in terms of handling, I just can’t get over the slow lever zoom thing. The GR plus either 45/1.8 or 75/1.8 is a more satisfying solution personally.

    For P&S, I’d rather use something even more compact like the RX100 MKII that is supposed to come out soon, but RX100 or the new version will be expensive. This lens still offers the best price performance ratio, thanks Ming for the review and confirmation.

    • Yes, it would be awesome if it had a mechanical zoom ring. The optics are much better than the RX100, in my opinion.

      And to think you laughed at me when I asked you to pick it up for me…hahaha.

  16. The 45/1.8 too has the 37 mm threads, and I’ve just decided to adopt 58 mm as my common filter size. These days I only pack in a ND1000 filter, and I have 37->58 and 46->58 step-up rings.

    What kind of filters do you use, Ming?

    • I rarely use filters other than CPOLs – filters can visibly degrade image quality if you get the wrong ones because you’re introducing something into the optical path that wasn’t meant to be there. I use Carl Zeiss filters because they’re the only ones I’ve tried that don’t show any increase in flare when installed. Something has to be said for the T* coating, I suppose…

  17. Is the 14-42X significant better than the OM-Ds kit lens, the 12-50 3.5-6.3?

  18. Hi Ming,

    Interesting review, more so because of the form factor that blends so well with m43.

    I have one question: did you use a hood in this lens? I am always ambivalent to do that when shooting m43, because it negates the the size advantage of the package as a whole somewhat. What is your opinion on the usage of hoods on m43 in general?

    • No, I didn’t use a hood. I don’t even think they make one for this lens. I seldom use hoods on M4/3 because a) the lenses never seem to really need them, and b) Olympus has this nasty habit of charging significant amounts of money for something that should really be included with the lens. I do use hoods on my other lenses, though – more for impact protection than anything else (I don’t use filters either, because they degrade image quality).

  19. Teoh KB says:

    How do you find the image quality and performance compare with Pen’s 14-42/3.5-5.6 IIR kit, apart from their cosmetic differences ?

    For light holiday travel and street photography, involving some post processing, photo sharing on the internet / social network and printing of small to medium size photos (but not many), considering the overall processes, do you find a M4/3 system (like your above combination) or the newer advance compact (like Coolpix A) is a better choice, in terms of ease of use, more successful shots and fun ?

    • The 14-42 X is better, actually; more contrast and sharper to the edges.

      Internet/ social media only use is never my intention for any image; I suppose people use camera phones and hipstagram for that kind of thing. I just want a camera that lets me produce what I want.

      • Teoh KB says:

        To simplify, considering taking the same kind of images for the same intentions you posted here, which would you find easier to work with to meet what you want ?

  20. alan green says:

    This and the 20mm 1.7 sounds a good small combination. But what camera maybe the coming panasonic

  21. Hi Ming Thein,
    I concur completely, I have been using this lens since last September for commercial still life work (web and small print jobs) and also as a travel lens and it has never let me down yet. At first I could not get over how speedy the AF is. I noticed some diffraction creeping in at ƒ11 in strong light. The odd filter size has not proven to be an issue I easily purchased a hood and a reasonably good hoya polarising filter. The manual focus lever works but its a bit of an oddity, when working within a metre its not quite possible to grab a desired focus point quite spot on, but the auto focus does! And on both the Lumix G3 and the OMD, I have never come across anything quite like that before! Flare resistance is also very good. Overall I rate this lens highly for what it is as compared to say a Canon kit lens of similar equivalent focal length, its a good basic lens to have around. I bought it on the strength of a Photozone review as I could not find one held in stock from any dealer in Western Australia to have a look at without placing an order. If anyone needs a very small zoom lens for M4/3 its worth every cent…

    • You’ll get diffraction from f8 and onwards on M4/3 because of the pixel pitch. It’s not dependent on the lens. Not sure I’d consider it good enough for commercial work, but then again most clients can’t tell the difference or aren’t willing to pay for it.

      • Whoa! Do you mean ANY lens I use on my GH3, whether it’s a Lumix or adapted Nikon, Yashica, Canon, Vivitar…all will suffer from diffraction @ f/8+ due to diffraction? Why (do you think) is that not common knowledge? If it’s a universal truth, I’m kinda bummed I didn’t find out until now.

        • Yes; try it if you don’t believe me.

          Most people think more is better and don’t like to be convinced otherwise…

        • Ming, please, where is good source of info for this topic of diffraction on micro four-thirds? Really appreciate it. Also, you say “try it if you don’t believe me.” How do I recognize it on my still or video images? I’m a moderate-technical thinker, at best…so go easy on me if you intended to give a Ming-processed answer!

          • Unfortunately, there isn’t one. There are calculations you can do to figure out where diffraction kicks in, or you can just test it yourself: assuming you have good shot discipline – tripod, high shutter, proper focus etc – things will get softer after you stop down past a certain point. It will look like a kind of ‘haze’ or ‘smearing’ of the high contrast edges. For the current generation of 16MP M4/3 sensors, this happens beyond f5.6-8. It’s very clear by f16.

  22. Aston C says:

    So here is THE question: E-PM2 plus this PZ or RX100?

    Great review thx Ming :-)

  23. Ming, whenever you use a Panasonic lens with OIS and no OIS switch, the OIS is disabled on the OM-D. On newer Olympus’ cameras (E-PM2, E-PL5 and E-P5) there’s a menu option to select whether to use the OIS or the IBIS.

    • That would make sense. A quick check of the production E-P5 that arrived this morning shows there’s indeed a menu option to pick between lens or IBIS; the bigger lenses have a physical switch.

  24. Paul Stokes says:

    Thanks for your discussion of this lens Ming as it is one that I have been considering myself. However there is a strong temptation to buy the GR and use the OM-D with the 45 and 60. Decisions, decisions.

    • Precisely what I do – GR for wide, something longer or zoomier on the OM-D; this for good light, or the 45/1.8, 50/1.4 ASPH-M or 75/1.8 for lower light/ more reach and compression.

  25. zakstev says:

    I wonder how this lens compares to the very similar but newer Sony NEX lens, the E 16-50.
    You mentioned the 37mm filter threads. NOTABLY: The Panasonic UWA, fisheye and tele. converters for the 14/2.5 G and the 20/1.7 G lenses come equipped with a tiny 37mm thread adapter which should work with this Vario lens.

    • Not having a NEX, I have no idea. The 16-50 seems to have a bit more on the wide end, which would be nice to have.

      The concern is not just the odd thread size, but vignetting at 14mm – a 37mm filter at normal thickness doesn’t allow for very shallow angles of light ingress.

  26. Agree with you about this lens. Small package. My only lens for my Lumix GX1 on recent US trip to NY, Portland and SF
    http://timeout.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost/fi-686/pi-5912973/ti-867983/s-0/ All JPEGS

    I brought along my M7 loaded with B&W

Trackbacks

  1. […] that it’s a kit lens; I personally find it to be sharper and more distortion-free than the 14-42 pancake it appears to replace; it also has slightly better microcontrast. Both lenses still have pronounced […]

  2. […] with a Ricoh GR, Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Panasonic 14-42 X pancake zoom during the October Prague […]

  3. […] with a mixture of cameras – mainly the OM-D E-M5 and 14-42 X pancake, with the Ricoh […]

  4. […] set was shot with a Ricoh GR, Olympus OM-D E-M5, the Panasonic 14-42/3.5-5.6 X pancake, and the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M […]

  5. […] series was shot with a Ricoh GR, sometimes with the 21mm converter, and an Olympus E-M5 with the 14-42 X pancake or Leica 50/1.4 ASPH via an adaptor. Enjoy! […]

  6. […] were shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic 14-42 X pancake, Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH via adaptor, and Ricoh GR sometimes with the GW-3 converter. Enjoy! […]

  7. […] Panasonic Lumix G 14-42/3.5-5.6 X PZ pancake lens, Micro 4/3 mount (review here) Price: US$240 Includes: caps, box and contents Condition: Mint Reason for sale: Replacing it with […]

  8. Wu15 Blog says:

    Panasonic Lumix G X Vario Pz

    [...] t holiday travel and street photography, involving some post processing, photo s [...]

  9. […] for me, this is unprecedented. But I did add several mirrorless lenses this year alone – the Panasonic 14-42 X pancake, the Olympus 75/1.8 and the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M […]

  10. […] and Panasonic 14-42 X pancake zoom. The Olympus OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon) and the Panasonic 14-42 X here (B&H, […]

  11. […] of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. The Olympus OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon) and the Panasonic 14-42 X here (B&H, Amazon). The Nikon D800E is available here (B&H, Amazon) and 24-120/4 VR here […]

  12. […] found that even the collapsible “X” zoom from Panasonic is quite nice – read his review if you’re interested. And since that one comes as a “kit lens” with for instance […]

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