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Aug 01

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

Conclusion:

Pros:

  • Good sharpness throughout zoom range straight from f/2.8.  Excellent central sharpness at all focus distances.
  • Nice color rendition
  • Relatively good bokeh.  Not perfect, but good for a zoom lens.
  • Excellent build quality with outstanding mechanics and solid construction.
  • Constant f/2.8 aperture that gives reasonable subject separation.
  • Fast, accurate and silent autofocus.
  • Outstanding optical stabilizer.
  • Good minimum focus distance allows for close up photography.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Decreased corner sharpness at infinity focus.
  • Some chromatic aberrations and purple fringing, though not terrible.
  • Flares rather easily
  • Can be unwieldy on smaller Micro 4/3 bodies due to larger than average size for a Micro 4/3 lens.

In summation, the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 X lens is a very high quality optic with a top end build quality to match.  It’s not a perfect lens, but it does its job very well.  Images are sharp right from f/2.8, with good rendering of out of focus areas.  It’s also got a very convenient zoom range, covering super wide to short telephoto, making it an excellent all purpose lens.  I’d imagine many photographers could do a vast majority of shooting with this lens and be just fine.  If you love having a fast standard zoom and are in to the Micro 4/3 system, it’s a fantastic lens to own.

If, however, you are not someone who truly loves and needs a fast standard zoom, it’s hard to recommend due to the price.  While $1,300 is not excessive for an image stabilized first party 24-70 equivalent f/2.8 lens when compared to other lenses for DSLRs, it’s still a very expensive lens for the average buyer.  While the build and optics justify the cost, not every shooter will be able to grab one of these for their bag.  If you don’t need f/2.8, the $100 kit lenses that come with the Olympus and Panasonic bodies are very nearly as sharp as this lens throughout the range.  The advantage you get with the 12-35 is the extra two stops of speed.  If you need that extra light, this is the lens for you, if you don’t, save your money.

I am in a third category.  I love and need fast glass for a lot of my shooting, but I will not be purchasing this lens simply due to personal preference.  I much prefer using prime lenses in this range, so my Olympus 12mm, Leica 25mm f/1.4 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 work better for my style of shooting.  I have to admit I enjoyed using the lens for a family outing to our local science center for its convenience, but for me it’s not worth the price of admission for a lens I’d only really use a few times each year.  This would be the case for most any standard zoom and doesn’t have anything to do with the relative merits of this lens.  I’ve owned several fast standard zooms in the past decade, and all of them have ended up on a shelf instead of in my bag just because they don’t fit my style of shooting.

However, just because I won’t be buying one doesn’t mean it’s not the perfect Micro 4/3 lens for many shooters to own.  The 12-35mm f/2.8’s combination of top flight optics, fast aperture, quality build and great zoom range make it a lens for any serious shooter to consider.

Image Samples

Santa Maria: Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 12mm, f/5.6

Umbrellas – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 23mm, f/2.8

Poseidon – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 22mm, f/2.8

Playing – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, f/2.8

Checkers – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 19mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400

Sunset Chains – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 20mm, f/10

Inverted – Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 @ 12mm, f/2.8

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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