The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm ($199.95 direct) is the standard kit lens for Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the G5 and GF3. The lens covers a 28-84mm field of view in terms of traditional 35mm photography, and has a variable aperture that starts at f/3.5 at the wide end, but diminishes to f/5.6 when zoomed all the way in.
It looks a bit large when paired with a smaller camera like the GF3, but matches nicely in size with the SLR-styled G5. It measures 2.5 by 2.4 inches (HD) and weighs about 5.8 ounces. The lens features mostly plastic construction, including the lens mount, but it feels very solid and well-built. There’s no wiggle in the barrel when zoomed in as is sometimes the case with entry-level zooms, and the front element doesn’t rotate when zooming or focusing, so using a polarizing filter is possible.
A petal-style lens hood is included, which will increase contrast and reduce the possibility of lens flares when used properly. The lens can focus on objects as close as a foot away from its front element at all focal lengths—it’s by no mean a macro lens, but will let you get some close-up shots when zoomed all the way in. The lens is optically stabilized and can be used with both Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras—on the latter the lens stabilization won’t be utilized, as Olympus uses an in-body stabilization system in its cameras.
I used Imatest to check the quality of the lens when paired with the Lumix DMC-G5. At 14mm f/3.5 the lens is a tad soft, resolving 1,755 lines—just a bit shy of the 1,800 lines per picture height that we use to mark a sharp photo. This is largely due to edge and corner performance—even though the lens crosses the 2,000-line mark in the center at this setting the corners are soft to the point that they bring the score down—even using Imatest’s center-weighted algorithm. Stopping the lens down to f/5.6 increases its score to 1,988 lines, and it hits 2,022 lines at f/8.
At the midpoint of its focal range the lens does better. At 24mm f/4.5 it records 1,897 lines, which increases to 2,168 lines at f/5.6 and 2,193 lines at f/8. Zooming all the way in to 42mm f/5.6 drops the score down to 1,785 lines, but stopping down to f/8 brings the score back up to 2,062 lines. Even at its widest aperture the lens is just shy of the 1,800-line mark at its widest and telephoto extremes—if you plan on making a big print you should stop down to maximize sharpness, but feel free to use it at the maximum aperture for sharing images on the web. Distortion is not an issue with the lens, as it never crosses the 1 percent mark.
The lens is a good deal larger than Panasonic’s higher-end kit lens, the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. That lens features a power zoom design that allows it to retract when not in use, and is sold at double the price of the standard 14-42mm—but its optical performance isn’t as good. Even when stopped down it never crossed 1,800 lines per picture height in our tests, and it produces a noticeable amount of barrel distortion at its widest setting.
As far as kit lenses go, the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm is a solid entry. It doesn’t have the best build quality in the world, but it does feel very solid, and its optics are a bit on the slow slide, but relatively free of distortion and acceptably sharp when the lens is stopped down a bit. It’s not something we would recommend that you pay full price for, even at its reasonable $200 sticker price. But getting it with your camera will only cost you half of that—Panasonic models with the lens included are priced $100 more than the same camera without it. At that price it’s a perfectly fine starter lens.
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