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Aug 01

Review: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 X OIS

Image Quality – Sharpness

Little Statue – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, f/2.8 (click to enlarge)

The 12-35mm f/2.8 is a very sharp lens.  Starting right at f/2.8 and continuing throughout the aperture range (until f/11 or so where diffraction starts to lower image quality), the images the 12-35 produces are nice and crisp.  This is true throughout the vast majority of the focus range, though there is very slight softening wide open right at minimum focus distance.  Also notable is that when focused at infinity, edge performance suffers.  This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it’s worth noting.  This is true for both the wide and long ends of the lens.  From close to about 50 feet or so, the corners at 12mm are very sharp, even at f/2.8.  Focused at infinity, though, they get pretty soft.  It’s a little odd to see such a dramatic falloff when focused at infinity, but it’s there. Luckily, at 12mm, focusing at 15-20 feet into an image is often ideal for landscapes, and will yield very sharp images from near to far when stopped down for increased depth of field.   At any focus distance the center performance remains extremely high.

One note on sharpness, however.  If you are only concerned about image sharpness, and don’t really care much about shallow depth of field or quality of bokeh, both the Panasonic 14-45mm and newer Olympus 14-42mm kit lenses are almost as sharp as this lens throughout the range.  This isn’t saying that the 12-35 is underperforming.  Rather, it just happens that the kit lenses for Micro 4/3 are really very sharp optics.   They just can’t do f/2.8 and don’t have any special build quality or weather resistance.

Chain after Rain – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 35mm f/2.8 (click to enlarge)

Image Quality – Bokeh

The way a lens renders out of focus highlights is one of the main things most photographers look at when evaluating the qualities of a lens.  Standard zooms are a crapshoot generally in this area, with most offering busy bokeh or just unremarkable characteristics.  The rare few manage beautiful creamy goodness.  The 12-35 f/2.8 falls somewhere in between these two extremes.  At the wide end, the bokeh of the lens is average.  There is some light bright edging on the specular highlights and a general nervousness.  It’s far from the worst bokeh I’ve seen, but it’s not great either.

At 35mm, bokeh is quite nice.  It’s better at closer focusing distances, where it renders things in a beautiful creamy blur.  Even a little further out the lens performs well in this regard, though some bokeh fringing can be seen as a greenish blue ring around some highlights.   Overall, I’d say the bokeh the lens delivers is above average for a standard zoom. Stopped down a bit, the 12-35 maintains nice round specular highlights

One note about out of focus rendering: For some reason this lens appears to have slightly more background blur than similar lenses at the same aperture.  Not quite sure why, but it was something I tended to notice during shooting.

Image Quality – Chromatic Aberration, Distortion, Color and Flare

Bridge at Sunset – Panasonic GX1 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 X @ 35mm f/6.3

The Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 exhibits rich color.  Color tends to be evenly saturated, but not overly so.  I found the lens to have minor lateral chromatic aberration at the wide end, though easily fixed with one click in Lightroom 4.1.  At the long end, there is some visible longitudinal chromatic aberration, which is visble as a magenta fringe in the foreground and a greenish blue fringe in the background.  Luckily, it’s not to a point where it is generally distracting in an image.  Likewise, the lens can occasionally exhibit purple fringing in very high contrast situations, though it wasn’t a frequent occurance.  Overall, pretty good performance for a zoom, though not exceptional.

There is some barrel distortion at the 12mm end, but it generally becomes irrelevant in field conditions by about 18mm.  I did not see any noticeable distortion at the mid range and long ends of the focal range.

The lens does flare rather easily when a bright light sources is included in the frame, though luckily the nature of the flare is relatively understated.  There are occasions, however, where the flare can intrude on an image a bit.  See the image to the left, where both the sun and its reflection caused a quite noticeable flare.  No filters were mounted to the lens during testing.

Video Use

As you may know, I’m not a videographer.  Still, I did some limited testing of the lens in a video sense and it performed rather well.  Focusing and aperture actions were very quiet and didn’t intrude on the audio.  Also, the lens transitions in exposure fairly evenly when adjusting aperture during recording.  I can’t really give too much additional detail because I’m a still photographer, and video for me is a very secondary consideration.

Next: Conclusion and Image Samples

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

15 comments

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  1. Pavel Perina

    Can’t agree more with the conclusions of the review. Another small disadvantage is 58mm filter mount. But the lens is almost perfect and can easily outperform 20mm/f1.7 for low light outdoor photos without tripod when longer time is not an issue. Power OIS works surprisingly well.

  2. cosinaphile

    thanks for a solid intelligent review

  3. mimstyle

    Can’t wait for the 35-100mm f2.8 !!! Thanks for this review.

  4. michael

    I must say this looks to be quite the sumptuous lens. I’m in the other boat to the reviewer however. I’d rather not need bother with the lugging around of multiple primes. A singular, quality lens which covers the requisite focal range is a much more appealing proposition personally. The 12mm f/2 alone costs $800! The Pana 25mm $550. Just on this duo alone you’ve made a tidy saving, and still have stellar performance across the full 12-35mm focal range at your disposal.

    I suspect others like me who are not already heavily invested in m43 primes, might have a somewhat different perspective on the merits of such a lens (and its relative value). I think I can say with some confidence that it wouldn’t end up on a shelf gathering dust!

    Thank-you for the informative review. It was an enjoyable read.

  5. panasonica

    The excellent Olympus and Panasonic primes have noticeably better image quality then this zoom lens at comparable apertures. At f/2.8 this lens is somewhat soft. However, having used some good primes myself, I have to say that I find swapping lenses rather annoying. You can miss photo opportunities, because putting another lens on your camera takes relatively long. Also, dust and water will enter te lenses and camera while swapping in windy/dirty environments.

  6. Jon McCorkle

    I purchased this lens last week and sent it back the next day. I have the Olympus 12mm, Panasonic 20mm and both were much sharper on each shot i took. I was very disappointed with the 12-35 performance. I did much research and looked at example images on different sites and reviews. Only the center was sharp and I never got good edge sharpness even when photographing at f8 and f11. I may have gotten a bad lens, I don’t know for sure. I may consider it again but until then I will just stay with my primes.

  7. Steve Solomon

    Excellent review, sir! As a Pentax K-5 user, I am seeking a high-quality “travel” kit such as the OM-D EM-5 and this Panny 12-35, along with possibly the Oly 60mm Macro or the Oly 75mm, each known for their sharpness. (I’m a Sharpness nut, as you can see from my images at totalqualityphoto.com.)
    My question is whether this Panny 12-35 is THAT much sharper than the Oly 12-50 kit zoom that comes as an option with the the OM-D. Both are weather-sealed, so my only real concern is sharpness. I’m wondering if this lens is noticably sharper than the Oly 12-50, at mid-apertures. Thank you.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Thanks! At the wide end, there isn’t a whole lot between them. The 12-35 might be a little bit sharper, but it’s not night and day. As you get longer, the advantage goes more to the Panasonic. The 12-50 is a versatile lens, but it’s only average at best at the longer end, and it’s slow.

      If you’re looking for straight up sharpness and don’t need the extra 2mm at the wide end, or the fast aperture, I’d recommend picking up a Panasonic 14-45mm. It’s the original kit zoom for the G1, and while they’ve ‘updated’ it a few times with the new 14-42, neither of the 14-42 lenses are as good as the original 14-45. You can get it for $269 at B&H.

  8. bousozoku

    The good thing about this lens and the 35-100mm f/2.8 is that they’re not really any worse optically than the Canon or Nikon equivalents.

    To me, the 35-100mm feels cheap and delicate but it works well enough and had I bought the Nikon D7100 and the 70-200mm f/2.8, it wouldn’t likely be a better combination than the GH3 and the 35-100mm. Besides, I can put them in the bag with my Olympus E-5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 and 14-35mm f/2.0.

  9. Hong Wah

    I tried the 12-35mm but I sold it after a while. I’m back to primes now. Sharper, smaller, better. No more zooms for me.

    1. Olysonic

      My findings exactly Hong Wah. I find this lens optically slightly disappointing. The corners are too soft at f/2.8 and that’s something I’m not willing to accept at this price point. I do like the way it feels and handles though. Somehow it just feels right in my hands. The Olympus 12-40 doesn’t feel that good. It’s a little too big. So, no zoom for me, just a couple of primes (Panasonic 15mm f/1.7, Olympus 25mm f/1.8 and the classic Olympus 45mm f/1.8).

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  13. TedK

    I love this lens and like some of the other commenters, I use it more often than not. I own the 12mm, the 17mm, the 25mm (combo of Oly and Pani) lenses, but it is those lenses I use less often. On trips I take the 12-35mm as well as the superb Pani 35-100mm f2.8 with my (recently acquired) GX-8 and am loving’ it – smallish travel bag, batteries, charger, iPad – very compact and superb pictorial results.

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