A quick review of a lens for Micro Four Thirds. The Panasonic 14-45mm.

I get maximum image quality bang for my bucks when I use single focal length lenses on my Panasonic and Olympus cameras but there are times when you're walking through a crowd and you want to shoot instantly.  But you have the wrong lens on the camera and by the time you get into your bag and get the lens changed out the image you were lusting after is long gone.  In those situations it makes sense to use a zoom lens.  Panasonic and Olympus make a bunch of "normal" zoom lenses.  Most of the cameras come with one in the "kit." 

I've got a collection of them.  Lately, when I get them in kits, I try to trade them for pricey, name brand camera batteries.  But I also wanted a good one so I did my research on the various web sites that do lens test (Photozone, SLRgear) and decided to try the grandfather of m4:3 zooms, the Panasonic you see above.  It's small and light but a little bigger than the current Panasonic 14-42.  The newer lens doesn't have the Optical Image Stabilization switch on the body.  The older one does (see above).

I decided I needed a better lens when I tested the 14-42 that came with my G3.  It was consistently soft at the long end and got worse as I focused to infinity.  What did I have to lose?  I waited until one of those days when Amazon.com's dynamic pricing algorithm was in my favor and bought one for around $225.  Long story compressed to digestible tidbit?  It's good.  The center is really nice and sharp and stays that way from wide to tele.  It's sharp wide open (in the center 2/3rds of the frame) and that's where I like to use it.  I spent an afternoon shooting with it on the GH2 body and it's a revelation how much fun it is to shoot with a small and light camera and lens package.  



Bill Beebe said...

Funny. We had an Extreme Pita next to wear I work. They went out of business in January 2011, replaced by Greek fast food joint.


CWM said...

Your experience mirrors mine. When Panasonic introduced the original G-1 (their first m4/3 camera), this was the lens in the kit. Both the body and the lens were “made in Japan” which is a bit unusual these days. That doesn’t assure a difference in quality from product made in China or anywhere else …still, I think that the original kit was surprisingly well designed and crafted. Having done a fair amount of work a few decades ago in the photo trade with some experience with the manufacturers in Japan, I know that a new product introduction such as m4/3 is going to elicit the very best they can muster. Also, they probably had to guess at quantities for this new niche. They kept it all in house. My contention is that they actually “overbuilt” the camera (and kit lens) in that first iteration (subsequent G-1 bodies were made in China, not sure about the lens) to build a new market. There was likely less concern with manufacturing costs relative to actual selling price than they would normally sweat. Bottom line, even though the sensor in that original G-1 was clearly limited, the body and lens were very nicely built with the lens being a real “jewel” based on my experience.

I also have a GH-2 (made in China). There is nothing wrong with the construction. However, my G-1 is a bit better built (in my opinion). There are subtle aspects regarding the seams, screws and just general “fit and finish” that are slightly less impressive than on the G-1. Like you, I have a stable of kit lenses because the “body only” configurations are sometimes more expensive than the kit. The newer 14-42 is significantly worse than the 14-45 both mechanically and optically. Also, it no longer sports a metal mount. They are clearly now working on profitability and are not “over building” in any way that I can discern.

My point was not to oppose product made “offshore” vs. in Japan. Rather, I just believe that they made that original kit a bit better than what we sometimes see once a category has been established. We are the beneficiaries given the high quality level of that first lens design. It performs “above its pay grade” in my estimation. Enjoy!

Carlo Santin said...

How would this compare to the Olympus kit lens? I have an EP-2 body arriving this week and have been looking for a decent zoom as a walkaround until I decide where I want to take my micro 4/3 lens collection.

Peter said...

I got one of these lenses with my G1 when it first came out. It was my most used lens for the reasons you give, until while in Australia, the rubber band came loose. No problem, I thought, and glued it back on with some super glue in my Sydney hotel room. Unfortunately I also stuck the zoom ring permanently at 14mm! I had to buy an Oly 14-42 at a local shop as replacement. unfortunately, it was nowhere near as good. So look after your new lens. For my part, I have ordered a 12-50 with my OM-D when it comes. Hopefully, it will be good enough to do the job. (And I'll be a lot more careful with the glue next time!

kirk tuck said...

The Olympus 14-42 seems better than the Panasonic but not quite as sharp as the 14-45.

Aboud Dweck said...

I too have this lens. I find it great for most street shooting although it is a bit slow and at 45MM there is no usable bokeh. That said it is the lens that sits on my camera for the grab shots that Kirk talks about.

Gregg Mack said...

I am finding it hard to decipher the micro 4/3 lens being discussed here. (But maybe it's just because I'm familiar with Canon's lens naming conventions, and I am very new to looking into these micro 4/3 lenses seriously.

From Kirk's original post, I get this:

Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS (older)
Panasonic 14-42mm w/o OIS (newer) (Kirk thinks it is consistently soft at the long end, and goto worse as he focused to infinity)

And from his comments, I find this:

Olympus 14-42mm seems better than the Panasonic 14-42mm, but Kirk says it's not quite as sharp as the 14-45mm.

Now when I go to the Olympus web site, I see these two lenses:

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm II R f/3.5-5.6 (for the PEN cameras)
Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 (listed under their "standard" lenses).

I'm assuming that the "II" must be a revision number. Is that what you are comparing to? What is the "R", and is that what you are comparing to?

The Olympus site I examined is:

No need to respond to my comment - I will follow along intently, and I'm sure I'll get it figured out eventually.

kirk tuck said...

Hi Gregg,

When you use Panasonic bodies and you want to use a normal zoom lens with Image Stabilization you pretty much have to use their lenses because their IS is built into the lens and not the bodies. Opposite of Olympus's choice. The earlier Panasonic, the 14-45 is better built and has better performance than their newer 12-42mm.

In the Olympus world, were IS is built into the bodies the lenses you don't need to worry about using those particular zooms.

The latest Olympus zoom is good. (the type 2) and it also is set up to focus faster with the Pen3 and OMD than the first version.

Panasonic recently came out with some collapsible "X" lenses that focus very fast on their bodies but I have not tested those. If someone out there has an opinion you are more than welcome to jump in.

arg said...

I suspect the 14-42 is unfairly maligned based on a sample of one of each lens.

slrgear has tested the 14-42, the 14-45 and the 14-42 X and found the only setting where the 14-45 beat the 14-42 on the long end was at f5.6, but the 14-42 was sharper at f8 onwards. And the 14-42 was generally sharper than the 'X'.

More likely, overall, with kit lenses you get a fair bit of variance between samples and it is worth a quick test of one's own sample rather than choosing between them based on subtle differences in samples of one of each.

I have recently picked up a G3 with the 14-42 and the lens is sharp at 42mm and long focus. But it doesn't mean your one will be, or that the next 14-45 will be good either.

539195cc-7227-11e1-90bb-000bcdca4d7a said...

The ED is the 4/3 kit zoom.

The m.Zuiko 14-42 has three versions with the last 2 being optically the same (II and II R). The original 14-42 (40.5mm filter vs 37mm filter) is generally considered to be the weaker lens.

work59 said...

Which do you prefer on the Pens, the Panasonic or Olympus lens?

Dogman said...

I have the original kit zooms that came with the G1 (14-45) and E-P1 (14-42). Both seem to have pretty equal optical performance--at least to my eyes--but the Panasonic lens is significantly better built than the Olympus. The Olympus lens is "collapsable". When extended, it's loose and appears fragile. Subsequently, I tend to use the Panasonic lens even on Olympus bodies.

Gregg Mack said...

Thanks, Kirk. I did not know that the IS was located in different areas between the Panasonic and the Olympus. That explains it some. Without knowing the historical evolution of these lenses, and only seeing the current product offering, it's confusing.
Thanks for the reply!

Steve Barnett said...

The Panasonic 14-45mm is a gem of a lens. I got mine as part of a G1 'kit' and have never wanted to part with it, despite moving on to other bodies. I can only think Panasonic subsequently thought it was too good, and wouldn't encourage ungrading as with other 'kit' lenses.


Unknown said...

What about getting much faster lens from four-third world via MMF3 adapter?
You gain a bit in focal lenght (108mm), the aperture doesn't close too fast either (14-45 'closes too fast' at certain/useful focal lenghts) and the price isn't any $1000+ premium, although twice as much...

Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II

or is the added weight/bulk and superior optical quality not convenient/irrelevant in m43 world? I'm using E-P3 with rather outdated sensor, I wouldn't mind the weight but I doubt I could benefit from increased resolution... any reports on this front?