1 Apr 2013

New lens: personal review of the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

This morning I finally bought my third lens, the one I had been longing to have since I bought the camera a few months back, the one that now covers the longer focal lengths that I could not reach before: the new Panasonic telephoto zoom, Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f2.8. I'm quite confident that the kit that I have built so far (the wide angle to normal zoom, the portrait prime and now this medium telephoto zoom) is quite complete and versatile and I will be shooting with it, without needing more lenses, for quite some time. So, having the glass in my hands but, more importantly, in the camera, how does it feel and how does it behave?

The hot spot, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @35mm

I started testing the wide end of the lens, 35mm (which, in FF terms, equals 70mm, having micro 4/3 cameras a 2x crop sensor). I am very comfortable with this focal length, as that is the longer reach of the wide zoom that I have been shooting with during these months and that, not surprisingly, has been my most usual focal length, much more than the wide end. Speaking in a very personal and subjective way, I see not much difference in the performance of both lenses at this same focal length: both render equally sharp images, with plenty of detail and latitude to get a wide dynamic range after some post-processing (I use Lightroom). I'm not into scientific tests and rather into real use of the cameras and lenses and, from this perspective, both are excellent. You can compare the above shot with the ones at this past entry here, sharing subject and tones, for a better idea.

Triangles, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @35mm

I have spent today's late afternoon at a small park that I discovered by chance a few days ago while passing by on the bus, because it is nearby my apartment and because it was unexplored ground, which fitted perfectly the purpose of my visit; new land for a new friend makes sense, I guess. But I didn't want to shoot just benches, bridges & branches again, and it was still early for people to venture into strolling, so I focused my attention in the few buildings that could be spotted through the fence in the outer perimeter of the park. One in particular caught my attention for its modern style, which was quite out of place in an environment like this. I took various stills of it from different perspectives and at different focal lengths, to see how all of them looked like.

Lines & curves, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @44mm

Pyramids, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @62mm

Bending, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

All in all, I felt the zoom performed effortlessly and beautifully across the whole range. There is no perceptible distortion at any focal length (I didn't apply andy perspective correction or cropping at all), and they all render very pleasing images, sharp, detailed and with very minimal vignetting at the corners. I have applied a slight vignetting myself in some of the previous frames, so to judge this point see the two pictures below, again showing how crisp and detailed the images from this lens turn out at different focal lengths (vignetting is slightly more visible at f2.8, but definitely nothing worth mentioning). Being 35mm my most used focal length in the wide zoom, it is no surprise that more than half of the pictures that I have grabbed today belong exclusively at 100mm.  

The Reconquest I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @68mm / f4

The Reconquest II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Finally I spotted some people, but they were outside the park, not far, but I couldn't simply jump over the fence to approach them or, in this case, jump into the water and approach them swimming, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to test how far I could reach with the lens, and also how well the autofocus and the O.I.S. (optical lens stabilization) performed at the longer end, where it is most needed. Note that all the pictures are handheld but, in such a sunny and bright day as it has been today, that is not an issue, as the shutter speed is quite fast most of the times, anyway. But still, how was the ratio of sharp images I could get?

Fisherman I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Fisherman II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

The images were consistently sharp and the focus very accurate, considering it was one point autofocus and we both were moving around. I had some misses were the subject turned out a bit soft, but I had a very high percentage of sharp images, and the O.I.S. did a very good job in stabilizing the image in the viewfinder, which helped a lot, even if I yet have to try manual focusing with magnification at that focal length. 

Any downsides? Every tool has flaws, and in my first hands on I have encountered mainly two: one is not a proper flaw of the lens, but of myself: starting at 35mm, I wish the lens could reach a bit further than 100mm; the change throughout the range is not that big and sometimes I wished I had more reach in the tele end, as I could not get closer with my feet and I was not able to catch small details of distant subjects as I wanted. But in the range that it covers, it is truly a very nice lens, nicely built and quite portable and light considering its nature.

Fishing net I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Fishing net II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

The second flaw? This is indeed a problem of the lens, specifically of its O.I.S., but it only affects the video capture, not the stills, and that's why I have not seen many comments about it around the net. I thought it could be just my copy, but I have found a few videos of other users with the same problem and, after going back to the shop and checking a second copy of the lens in another body, the issue remained there, so I guess this is a widespread problem that not many have noticed yet, as it is not that visible at first sight: the matter is, when you shoot video handheld with O.I.S. ON, the stabilizer vibrates very minimally, trying to compensate for the movements, but does so in a very jittery, unnatural way, that is more noticeable in the corners (still present in firmware version 1.1.). You can see one example in this video here, but that is slow motion footage, therefore in 24fps the jitter is faster and more nervous. If you turn O.I.S. off, this jitter disappears completely, and only camera movements remain, magnified, of course, but logical. I really hope Panasonic pays attention to this issue and addresses it through a firmware update, as they did for a similar problem they had with the twin lens, 12-35mm (not my own, tough). 

The ascent I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

But, all in all, at the end of the day, how does my first contact with the glass feel? Definitely, instant crush. I foresee a long friendship in the making here. Just look at that bokeh!

The ascent II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

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