the obligatory self portrait at the start of the year.
chilly in Austin today.
When we left off from our last bout of gear talk I had just made my last two acquisitions of the year, a black Fuji X-100V, and an unexpected impulse purchase of the lens in the headline here. I've written a few posts about the Fuji, and I'm sure to write more about it, but I have been quiet about the Lumix 20/60. Mostly because the Fuji seemed appropriate for the solemn days at the end of a hard year. After all, it was meant to be a bit of an antidote for the doom and gloom. At least for me.
I wanted to test the new lens (20-60mm) out yesterday but it was freezing, and raining, and sleeting. I even caught some hail when I went out for rigorous afternoon walk, sans camera. But today I woke up to clean, clear skies and buckets of sunshine. It was a perfect day to walk around Austin's ever changing downtown and test out a new lens. Even if I was just considering the little zoom to be a competent but boring replacement for a less comfortable single focal length lens.
Today's guest star is a lens that launched alongside the Panasonic S5. The S5 camera has been well received by critics and everyday buyers so far. How can I tell? The long waiting lists for future shipments of a new camera model that sold out almost on launch day. With all the excitement surrounding the camera I think most people considered that the new lens would join the ranks of mediocre kits lenses that other makers crank out by the bucket load. But then reviewers started wading in and for the most part they were surprised by just how good the lens was.
The Lumix 20-60mm is full frame lens with a variable aperture. While nearly all other full frame kit lenses only go as wide as 24mm the Lumix stands out first of all because it goes all the way to 20mm. Another feature that stands out is that the lens is weather resistant and even has a rubber gasket around the mount to keep out water and dust. But the real surprise, to me and others who've bought and tested the lens, is just how sharp it is at the kinds of apertures people will mostly be using with a lens like this.
Two respected (as opposed to hundreds of non-respected) reviewers mentioned that they generally liked the lens but they also mentioned that the far corners were a little soft at the biggest aperture and widest focal length. I was ready to see something awful, or at least mediocre, but I've found that unless you are a specialist in photographing brick walls you will rarely, if ever, encounter the softness of which they speak.
My use of most wide angle lenses, zooms and primes alike, is to get a lot of depth of focus and fine detail in wide scenes, which almost mandates that I work with medium to small apertures when I photograph with them. Since the lens is limited to f5.6 and smaller on the long end of the focal length range I just set f5.6 as my max aperture for all focal lengths on the lens and then I don't have to worry about exposure changes as I zoom. But frankly, most of my work with lenses that go extra wide is shot at f8, f11 and f16. I no longer fear the idea of diffraction because I find any slight decrease in overall sharpness is usually taken care of with the many sharpening controls in Lightroom, PhotoShop and even Luminar.
The samples I've included in this blog post range from f5.6 upwards but are mostly centered around f8 and f11. The exceptions are when I've leaned way in to get something very close all in focus and in those instances I've reached all the way to f16. A tweak to the sharpening controls and any differences in file details become invisible.
The lens weighs less than a pound and it's lack of heft is down to a design with fewer and smaller glass elements as well as a mostly plastic exterior construction. Designing the lens with smaller aperture settings, and also making the design a variable aperture one, keep the heft of the finished package on the light side. But the lens itself is big enough to get your hands around and feel comfortably balanced on even the weightiest of my S series cameras, the S1H.
I bought this lens with two regular tasks in mind. First, I can replace my fast (but almost completely unused) 20mm f1.4, 28mm f1.4 and even my 35mm f1.4 with this one lens and cover all the once-in-a-while duties that usually fell to the heavy and cumbersome, but optically very good, trio. That's a huge weight savings. And while we're on the subject of weight and handling the much lower weight means this lens is one of my prime candidates for use with the full frame system on a gimbal. This lens is pretty much a universal lens for video. I just have to remind myself that we start at f5.6 and go to f22 but we can't really go in the other direction. If I need to go even lighter in order to save my wrist, I switch to the Sigma 45mm f2.8 which, after a year of use on four different cameras, is still one of my very favorites.
The 20-60mm is also very well behaved in terms of vignetting and distortion but I'm assuming these things are corrected in the camera firmware; even in raw. I would have no hesitation using this lens on a tripod for photographing architecture images indoors or outdoors. And, in terms of sharpness, I think it's as good as most of the faster, fatter and heavier (and more expensive) 16-35mm lenses I've tested over the last few years. Give up the notion that you need f2.8 or faster and you can get a lens with good corrections and equally good performance. You just won't get to brag about it as much.
If you have a Lumix S series camera get this lens. But if you use a Fuji fp or an older Leica SL you'll probably be happier with the first generation Panasonic 24-105mm. Why? Because the 20-60mm doesn't include in-lens image stabilization and neither do the Leica SL or the Sigma fp offer IBIS. Those cameras are dependent on lenses to bring the stabilization and the 24-105 does it really well. If you shoot a lot of multiple camera set ups you might as well get one of each.
If you are on a budget then this lens and the Lumix S5 camera are a great place to start. If you are an all-around, multi-subject shooter you'll probably want to supplement the system as soon as you can with a longer zoom. Something like the 70-200mm f4.0 Lumix S-Pro. You could probably stop there and handle just about anything that comes your way; with the exception of super low light jobs that might require some faster apertures. But I don't find many fee paying clients demanding that kind of imagery nearly as often as I encounter clients who like to see their products or processes actually in focus.
So, what about the S-Pro 24-70mm? Yeah. It's a great lens. It's a wonderful tool for photo-journalist and documentary shooters who need to be able to rely on working at full aperture and knowing they're going to get very sharp and useable images. You'd have to carefully consider the bulk of your work to choose one over the other. I bought the 24-70mm f2.8 last year and every time I've used it I'm amazed at its optical performance but you have to go into ownership knowing that you get a limited range of focal lengths, a lot of weight and bigger size. And you'll pay well over $2K for the privilege.
If budget constraints were a pressing part of the decision matrix I think I'd recommend the 20mm-60mm. If you've already paid for all the expensive stuff life throws at you and you don't need to please clients get the 24-70mm. But only if you think you're going to be willing carry it around. And if you are willing to work in what is basically an extended normal lens range point of view.
So, on to the rest of the samples. All shot as Jpegs. Tiny exposure tweaks and an occasional light touch on the saturation levels, otherwise SOOC. I must say again, the color out of the S1H is the absolute best from all three of the S1x cameras. I haven't compared it to the S5 but I'm very happy with what I shot today.
If you look carefully you'll see some leaves blurred and some sharp.
There were wind gusts and I shot to catch the branches when they hit their
slowest point. The shutter speed was 1/125th. Interesting effect to
see sharp and blurred leaves right next to each other and random through
the three images just above are shot at about the same time but
at 20, 40 and 60 mm. I should also mention that the lens appears to have
been designed to be nearly par focal. If you are shooting at f8 you won't
notice any focus shift as you zoom. In either zoom direction.
Dying to try this carry out only pizza place but it's in the middle of downtown and
by the time I get a pie all the way home to share with the family I'm worried it
will have settled and gotten too cold. But dang, the pizza ovens are imported from
Italy, as are most of the ingredients. The menu looks great.
I tossed a PhotoShop LUT on this one but I can't remember off the top of my head which LUT it was...
My opinion? 20mm is wide enough for anything.
Also, notice that the tree branches and leaves in the bottom corners
are nicely sharp. More than sharp enough for client work.
f16 and be there.
Again. Look at the branches and leaves in the corners.....
double fisted, masked coffee drinker. Love it.
Top one is full frame while the one just above is a crop of the upper image.
If you are going to buy an S5 go ahead and get the lens. It will cost you $300 more (USA) but you'll be able to re-sell it for between $400 and $450. It's a smart play. Just make sure you have a market for. But I'm going to suggest that if you test it first you probably won't want to sell it. It's a nice, workman-like tool.
I'm happy my impulsive nature won out on this one. Happy New Year.
P.S. Just remember, it was a 2020 purchase. It doesn't count in any gear churn for 2021.