This past fall, Panasonic made several announcements in advance of Photokina, but one that flew under the radar a bit was the addition of a very compact 35-100mm f/4-5.6 lens. The new 35-100mm is a slower option that sits alongside the excellent 35-100mm f/2.8 from Panasonic. This new lens, which gives the same field of view as the classic 70-200mm telephoto zooms on 35mm cameras, is exceptionally small, making it an ideal choice for inclusion in super-lightweight travel kits. If you’re like me, though, such a lens is only really a useful option if the optics are good as well. Let’s find out how good small can be.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.
Construction and Handling
The first thing that strikes you when you first see the new 35-100mm f/4-5.6 is its size. The lens is almost impossibly small. Most telephoto lenses, by necessity, are relatively long lenses. The smaller 4/3 sensor size has allowed many telephoto options for the Micro 4/3 system to shrink the overall lens size, but none compare to the miniaturization that the 35-100mm achieves.
The lens is a collapsible design, and when collapsed, it’s no larger than the collapsible 14-42mm kit zoom from Olympus. It’s the same diameter as the Micro 4/3 lens mount and only about 1.5 inches in length. As such, the lens works extremely well on any of the Micro 4/3 bodies, and seems geared towards the smaller cameras such as the Panasonic GM1 and GM5 or the Olympus E-PL7. I used the lens on both the OM-D E-M5 and the Panasonic GX1, and it felt great on both bodies.
The lens isn’t a high-end lens with regards to construction, but it’s fairly well assembled. The 35-100mm has a metal lens mount and lightweight metal exterior. The inner lens barrel, which extends when put into shooting position, and extends further when zooming towards 100mm, is made of plastic. The inner tube can wobble a bit if pressure is applied, but there’s very limited play in general use. The zoom ring opens the lens into shooting position, and is well damped for zooming through the focal range. There is a semi-hard stop at 35mm to let you know you’ve reached the end of the zoom through. Proceeding past this stop will collapse the lens. The focus ring operates smoothly, but is only lightly damped.
The extremely small size makes this lens an ideal travel companion, and it fits in very well with lenses such as the Olympus 9-18mm and the Panasonic pancake zoom 12-32mm. In fact, all three lenses together weigh less than 400g and would cover an incredible range from ultra-wide angle to medium telephoto.
Autofocus and Image Stabilization
The 35-100mm f/4-5.6 focuses very quickly and accurately. The autofocus motor is virtually silent and the lens was sure and confident in focusing on both camera bodies used for testing.
The lens also features Panasonic’s optical image stabilizer, dubbed Mega OIS. The OIS on the 35-100mm is surprisingly effective, especially sing the ‘Mega OIS’ moniker is Panasonic’s standard level IS system. The ‘higher-end’ stabilization is named ‘Power OIS.’ The optical stabilizer allowed me to achieve sharp images consistently at around 1/15s, which equates to a shutter speed around 3.5 stops slower than what normally is needed for sharp shots. Like many stabilizer systems for Micro 4/3, you do need to watch when using the optical stabilizer at speeds around 1/60s, as it can be prone to some blurring due to shutter shock around that speed.