Thursday, February 27, 2014

No more Panasonic lenses (well, that didn't last)

I wanted to like the Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  It's small and it's light and it has a reasonable focal length range at a consistent maximum aperture.

It's not particularly good, though, and on several occasions I've commented that it would be a very good US$750 lens, but not a US$1500 lens.  It's not particularly sharp, wide open or otherwise.  It's more of a hobbyist lens from the results I've got from it, side-by-side with my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 lens or my Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, which was much cheaper at US$1000.  (I've also got the micro Four-Thirds Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 and the Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4.)  The 35-100mm f/2.8 is their most expensive, non-Leica lens.  My early encounter with it buried my enthusiasm for the 12-35mm f/2.8, and certainly the lower cost lenses.  You can take great photos with practically any lens, but shouldn't the optical quality be better within a line of lenses when you pay more?

I recently sent it to be repaired.  The nasty purple lens flare was said to be normal, even though the sun was out of frame and the lens hood was being used.  Having the sun in frame didn't seem to have huge negative effects on the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 that I was also using at the same time.

Olympus 12-40mm on E-M1
You can see that the Olympus 12-40mm lens was affected but there is a dramatic difference, even though the sun is in the frame with the 12-40mm, and not the 35-100mm lens.
Panasonic 35-100mm with lens hood on GH3

I'm a bit shocked to be told that "The lens unit flare is normal", even though I included the photo exhibiting the problem.  I also asked the sales staff where I bought it, and they said that it was normal.  Surely, the Canon and Nikon 70-200mm lenses do not do this, even the bargain f/4.0 lenses.

Does size matter?  35-100mm f/2.8 vs 12-40mm f/2.8
I suppose I shouldn't expect too much given the size.  While the 35-100mm doesn't extend at all, with its internal focusing and internal zooming mechanisms, the Olympus 12-40mm does extend somewhat (on both ends of the focal length range) to just a bit longer than the Panasonic lens.  The filter size of the 35-100mm is 58mm while the 12-40mm has a 62mm filter size.  I think it says a lot about the proper design of a lens and using software tricks to get around adequate design.  The 35-100mm f/2.8 doesn't feel as substantial as the 12-40mm lens or even the Panasonic 45-200mm lens.

Given the 35-100mm lens' poor quality, and the repair facility's lack of responsiveness (5 calls, no answer), I think I'll avoid Panasonic lenses.  That's not to say that I have given up on the GH4.  I still believe that it will be much better than the GH3, my GH3.  I just hope I'll never have to send anything for repair again.

What also shocks me is that this is the same company that built my Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens.  It cost me almost double the price of the micro Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4 lens (and is still cheaper than the 35-100mm f/2.8) yet it is nearly perfect in all respects.  However, when you consider that it was meant for the Leica Digilux 3 and not just the Panasonic DMC-L1, the level of quality had to be higher, don't you think?

It took me a long time to warm up to Panasonic, whose name always meant rice cookers and other home appliances, along with some cheap electronics.  I never thought I'd be buying photographic equipment from them.  They've seriously damaged that relationship, even more than Sony did in the 1990s.  They don't owe me anything, but as a customer, I vote with my money.

Can you see Joan Crawford (or Faye Dunaway) shaking my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens at me, yelling "No more Panasonic lenses (instead of No more Wire Hangers)!!!"?  :-D

Update 2014.03.08: Would I consider the latest Leica lenses from Panasonic, the 15mm f/1.7 and 42.5mm f/1.2?  Perhaps.  They seem very different than the 45mm f/2.8 macro and the 25mm f/1.4 lenses that were labeled Leica lenses, as though someone actually cared.  I still wonder if the 42.5mm lens will be (US$600) sharper than the FujiFilm 56mm f/1.2 lens.   Judging from the differences in the filter size, I'd say that Panasonic did more to correct the design optically than FujiFilm did.  I am still interested in the Panasonic GM1 paired with the 15mm f/1.7, but it's very, very dependent on optical quality.  Besides, that money could be going to replacing the GH3 with the GH4.

Update 2014.04.04: Since I received my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens from the repair facility, I haven't used it at all.  I have no desire to use it, and thankfully, I'm planning to move away from here, so I have no current need to do photography.  It seems obvious to me that they just didn't want to deal with it, whether it's a design issue or not.  I think it's sad that they would lie about the fingerprints, unless the person who unpacked it put fingerprints on it before it made its way to the technician.

Update 2014.10.08: I've seen but not used the Panasonic/Leica micro Four-Thirds 15mm f/1.7 lens for the Panasonic GM1 and GM5.  It's a very, very good match for that camera body.  I'm concerned about it, though, as the review from What Digital Camera shows that it is excellent, except for some nasty side effects at maximum aperture.  I would likely be using it at maximum aperture for casual food photography.

The Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens is working only as well as it was prior to the service visit.  I don't have anything worse or better to say about it.  I'll be glad to have Olympus' 40-150mm f/2.8 lens but I'm not sure I'll trade for it now.  I may need both, if/when the GH4 is in my bag.

Update 2014.12.16: I found this comment from Jordan Steele concerning his review of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8:

The Panny is way better in the flare department

Now, I'm concerned about the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

I've got the GH4 and it seems fine but it doesn't fix the lens flare issue, naturally.

Update 2015.03.01: I've got the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens.  Yes, it exhibits purple fringing wide open but that's almost a Panasonic characteristic.  It should not be there in a lens of this value, especially with the Leica name on it.  While Leica lenses have their own flaws, I'm sure the design would have been better if they had designed it instead of Panasonic.  It probably would have been $750 instead of $600, though.

Hunting for focus in lower light conditions is a problem that shouldn't be there at all, especially with the GH4.  I understand why the craptactular 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 hunts and never locks focus in low light, but f/1.7 is enough, especially if the 35-100mm f/2.8 will lock focus quickly.

Once focus is locked, image quality looks quite good.

The lens is quite tiny and comes with a set of fiddly bits.  It seems that the filter thread is removable, in order to mount the lens hood.  Each has a lens cap.  I've left the lens hood in place with the rubberised lens cap.  The lens hood comes loose too easily but I've never had a problem with it falling.

I can forgive the flaws, given the good image quality and the US$100 instant rebate.  Unfortunately, this doesn't fix my opinion of Panasonic lenses.

Update 2015.11.23: Okay, I really feel like a liar--or at least, things have changed significantly.

Around September, I bought the Panasonic GX8 and their 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The 12-35mm lens was running US$999.00 at that time and there was a $100 instant rebate.  Since I got the lens in a bundle, there was another $200 off, which effectively made it US$699.00.

This lens feels and acts so much better than my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, which was in that same serious category with the red X on the lens cap.  It doesn't seem quite as good as the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens but it works fairly well.

Last night, I ordered the new Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens.  Instead of the typical US$249.00, this lens is currently $99.00, which makes it an easy choice vs. the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens at US$349.00 or the Sigma, errr, Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens at US$599.00.  Since I have the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, I don't need the crappy micro Four-Thirds substitute but this new lens will probably do 80% as well as the micro Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4.

Update 2015.12.04: The 25mm f/1.7 arrived the other day and it seems okay.  It is very plastic but it has a metal lens mount and it seems a sturdy build.  I won't test it, though.

I was checking Nikon and Canon kit lenses, as well as 50mm f/1.8 fixed focal length lenses and they don't seem as well constructed.  The Pentax K-50's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens seems a better build than what Nikon and Canon uses.

I haven't shot outside, so I have no idea how it will work in real life.  It responds reasonably well on the GX8 and somewhat slowly on the E-M1.

Update 2016.08.20: Almost two months ago, I got the 42.5mm f/1.7 lens along with the Panasonic GM5.  Getting the lens for US$100 off was a plus.

The lens is tiny, as is the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens that comes with the GM5.  They're working with the GH4 and GX8 very well.

The 25mm f/1.7 works much better with the Olympus E-M1 than it works with the Panasonic camera bodies.  Sadly, the completely out-of-focus problem continues, especially on the GX8.  Could this be a shutter shock problem?  I don't know since I've never had the problem in the past.  I've also noticed that the lens doesn't always handle purple lens flare.  Somewhere I read that it is a problem when stopped down, but not when wide open.  It seems a design issue.

The 42.5mm f/1.7 is good but slow.  It's an economical lens, relatively speaking.  Micro Four-Thirds isn't cheap.  Sure, each lens has a good number of electronic components.  That's why I don't buy much at full price.

It would be ignorant to say that lenses are better for similar prices on APS-C.  It seems that way but doesn't always work out.  You have to deal with third parties that probably don't have quick auto focus--or any at all.  OIS is probably not part of the package, either.  I speak from experience with the Nikon D7200, a Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens, and a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.  Things didn't work any better.


  1. Hello Sakamoto,
    Just a single question: was this the only copy of the lens that you have tried? Could it be a problem of your individual unit?
    I've been shooting with this lens along with the GH3 as well for almost a year now and I have encountered none of the problems you mention, at all. Sharpness is very high, flare is limited, performance is responsive, fast and accurate. It's one of my favorite lenses and I have consistently achieved the pictures I envisioned with it without a single malfunction.
    You can see my last set taken exclusively with this lens in my blog:

    1. Panasonic's repair technician says that mine is just fine. Even the sales staff at the store where I bought it says that the flare is typical of the lens.

      I'm not saying that you can't get good photos, if you stop it down to f/8.0, but it's not consistent with a US$1500 lens. The only thing it does well is focus quickly.