- 1Panasonic Goes Pro
- 2Around the Lens - Build Quality
- 3Autofocus and Handling
- 4Image Stabilization
- 5 Next: Image Quality
- 6Image Quality - Sharpness
- 7Image Quality - Bokeh
- 8Image Quality - Chromatic Aberration, Distortion, Color and Flare
- 9Video Use
- 10Next: Conclusion and Image Samples
- 12Image Samples
Image Quality – Sharpness
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.
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
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.
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.