The Panasonic LUMIX G 14mm f/2.5, or as I call it the Panasonic 14mm or Panny 14mm, is a dwarfish wide-angle pancake lens. It was the second lens I bought in m4/3 mount and the 3rd lens I ended up using in m4/3 mount. The first two being the Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 MkI and the other the Sigma 30mm f/2.8. This review primarily covers using the Panasonic 14mm on an OM-D E-M5 body. All pictures within the post are taken with the Panasonic 14mm (either on an E-PL1 or E-M5), unless of course they are pictures OF the Panasonic 14mm (that would be a neat trick otherwise).
As of the time of this writing the lens is extremely inexpensive, it can be found new from eBay for as little as $165 in some cases, in large part because Panasonic is currently selling them as a kit lens with the GF3 that is being discontinued and selling the combo at a steep discount so resellers are breaking the kit and selling both for a slight markup. New in box the lens retails for $270-310. I ended up going the eBay route at the time of purchase, which was good and bad. The good was that I ended up getting the lens before I actually needed it (IE before I took delivery of my OM-D E-M5), the bad was that it ended up getting stuck in customs for 3 weeks and took over a month total to arrive. Not a common occurance, but the waiting was still not fun (I am an impatient man with most things in life).
I had gotten the Panasonic 14mm to fill a major need for me in my photography, a wide-angle prime lens. I don’t personally have anything against zoom lenses (they never stole my lunch money, or called me bad names), but I prefer to accomplish my photography with prime lenses whenever possible. I find I am much more deliberative in my picture-taking if I am “stuck” with a single focal length or have to swap to a different lens to change my focal length. I also like it that the camera/lens combo is almost always smaller with a prime lens on it than if there is a zoom (even if it means my actual kit is larger because I need 2 or 3 or 4 lenses to cover the focal length a zoom would otherwise cover). This is irrespective of possible image quality improvements or lens speed (which in general primes tend to have better optical quality and have larger apertures).
The Panasonic 14mm has been doing a great job of filling the wide-angle shoes in my photographic kit. I yearn for something wider angle at some point (24mm was my favorite focal length on my OM-1 with 50mm being my 2nd favorite), but it’s just not within the budget anytime soon.
The lens is composed of 6 elements in 5 groups, has a field of view of 75.4 degrees, a maximum aperture of f/2.5 and a minimum aperture of f/22, a minimum focusing distance of .18m, twitches the scale at 55g, and measures 20.5mm long and 46mm in diameter. Oh and it also takes 46mm filters like a number of other m4/3 prime lenses do.
The details of the lens out-of-the-way, how does it handle? Well in fact. For manual focusing if that is your thing, the good news is that the focus ring is smooth and it focuses nice and evenly. The downside is that the lens is so tiny and the focus ring so small and close in to the body you kind of feel like you are reaching down in to the sensor box (I almost typed mirror box, silly Luddite film user habit) to adjust the focus ring. Auto focusing, even on an old E-PL1 is very quick and pretty much silent.
The lens can at times have heavy chromatic aberrations near the corners. I find this primarily happens with backlit objects where the background is blown out (or significantly brighter at least). It isn’t something that you can’t correct easily and quickly in the newer versions of light room, and is corrected (at least in JPEGs) in-body in Panasonic cameras, but it is not corrected in JPEGs or RAW on Olympus cameras. The distortion is supposedly very high on the lens. I notice a bit in straight lines near the edges of the frame, but I wouldn’t consider it terrible, but I just might have a lot of tolerance for that sort of thing. Again, something that is pretty easily corrected in your favorite image processing program as it is not complex distortion.
I find optical quality to be pretty high. The center is very sharp from wide open on down to a reasonable f/stop (things past f/11 start getting rather soft, especially at f/22). The center doesn’t seem to sharpen up much if at all with stopping down. The corners, especially the extreme corners are slightly soft wide open and do sharpen a little stopping down(perfectly good wide open and stopped down in my experience, but not excellent). There is a fair amount of vignetting wide open which doesn’t really go away until around f/4 to f/5.6.
- Great center resolution
- Very small size and weight
- Fast and silent autofocus
- Low cost
- reasonably large aperture, compared to zooms
- Good corner resolution, nothing really great, but not terrible either
- Heavy vignetting wide open that doesn’t go away really until around f/4-5.6
- Heavy chromatic aberration in the corners with back-lit objects
I’d personally recommend anyone who has a few bucks invest in one. It is cheap and tiny and can produce very good pictures. Against most of the kit zoom lenses it is a full stop faster, takes up almost no bag/pocket space or weight penalty for carrying it, it takes a 46mm filter thread like a lot of current m4/3 primes do and at least in the center it has somewhat higher resolution than most of the kit zooms do (and depending on the kit zoom, somewhat better corner resolution as well).
Lastly, some test chart samples (I have a giant 6ft wide US map on my basement wall for my kids that is decent test target). Click on each one for the 100% view. They are crops from the center (on the left) and extreme top right (on the right). If you are wondering, the exposures are proper as you can see from the center crops, the corner just goes from dark to light because of the reduced vignetting at smaller apertures (which I did not correct, all of these are straight out of the camera JPEGs from my OM-D E-M5 at max quality/resolution). In descending order the crops are from f/2.5, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and f/8.
My 2 cents (judge for yourself, by all means), in the center there is no noticeable improvement upon stopping down and it is very sharp. In the corner there is progressive improvement as you stop down through about f/4 at which point it doesn’t seem to improve much at all at f/5.6 or 8. Wide open the extreme corner is soft, but my f/4 is a nice and sharp.
Also here are a pair of full res samples with no additional sharpening applied other than the basic profile from lightroom on the RAW files (no editing on the left one, the right one had CA mostly removed and some highlight/shadow tweaks). Click on them for the full image.