Prejudices created by using lenses with low tech bodies in the past can haunt us in the present. Or....how did this lens get so much better?


If you go back and look for reviews of the Panasonic 45-200mm f4.0-f5.6 lens for the micro four thirds systems you'll mostly find stuff written around 2010. Most reviews criticized the lens for being "soft" in the range from 150-200mm.  Recently (a couple years ago?) Panasonic "updated" the lens and labelled it as a "type II". They made it compatible with the newer focusing systems (DFD), put in some weather resistance gasketing and also did whatever it was that's necessary to allow the lens and a camera body with image stabilization to use both stabilization systems together. Panasonic calls this: Dual I.S. 

But all the reviewers are quick to mention that the optical formula and optical construction of the lens was NOT changed. So, they are now promising better stabilization, fewer raindrop tragedies, and better focusing performance with DFD enabled cameras bodies. But they didn't make the optics any better. Okay. 

In the distant past, during my ownership of the GH3 camera, I bought the original version of this lens (the "type I") and hated it. The problem? None of my shots taken with the lens zoom out beyond about 100mm were sharp. Not sharp at all. After using the lens five or six times I took it back to the retailer and got a refund (which I'm sure I immediately spent on something else...).  But here's the deal: I presumed that the lens itself was deficient. But consider that there was no image stabilization whatsoever in the GH3 and darn little degree of much I.S. magic in the lens itself. The longer focal lengths magnified any sort of camera movement.  I was trying to use the long end as much as I could but didn't get around to putting it on top of a tripod or, at least, a monopod. The focusing in early GH cameras was nothing to write home about. It was functioning,  to a certain extent, but I'm guessing that as you zoomed longer you added more and more system shake which made the slow image processing of the camera and lens together worse and worse. I had basically set up a worst case scenario for an inexpensive but relatively long lens. 

A decade later I was looking around for longer m4:3 lenses right before a work trip and the one I wanted was out of stock. I had other lenses that would work for my full frame system but decided to do a "Hail Mary" and grab a lightly used "Type II" version of this 45-200mm lens I came across the night before I was leaving; just to have a back-up. Just in case. Acknowledging my previous experiences I didn't have much hope for the resolving power and sharpness of this lens where I needed it most. At the long end. That was my prejudice.

This morning I was rooting around in the m4:3 lens drawer in the studio and I came across this little used lens once again. And on the spot I determined that I'd take it out and see if it was really as bad as I remembered. If so, I would trade it back in and apply whatever refund, minus re-stocking fee, I could get and put the money towards something more promising. So.....

I stuck the lens on the front of a Panasonic G9, set the camera to "A" priority and f5.6. I set the Auto-ISO to make sure the shutter speed wouldn't drop below 1/250th of a second. Made sure the dual I.S. was engaged, thought to forgo that second cup of coffee and pointed my car toward downtown so I could walk, exercise my eyes and my cardiovascular system and finally, FINALLY, come to grips with this small, light, previously annoying super telephoto zoom lens. 

What I found was that the lens performed much better than ever before. At the long end you really have to let the image stabilization settle before you shoot but that's probably a logical thing to do with any system. All of these images (today) were shot at f5.6 which is either wide open or somewhere on the shy side of one stop down depending on where the zoom ring is set. I used the best techniques I could summon and shot a variety of stuff with emphasis on long, telephoto range images. 

Now I need to apologize to the lens. It was never its fault. Had I put it on a tripod and  shot at higher shutter speeds I would have found that out ten years ago. If you take the time to click on the images while viewing on a desktop computer (instead of that addictive phone) you'll see that the lens acquits itself fairly well. Not quite as crisp as the 40-150mm f4.0 Olympus Pro lens I bought a few weeks after my trip but still in the ballpark of acceptability by a comfortable margin. The 150mm focal length is all I really need so I probably will get rid of the lens but it was a quick re-lesson for me I should do more rigorous testing and not to depend on what other people have written.

It's getting really hot here in Austin. We hit 103° today so I'm glad I got my "walking review" in early today. And it's just going to get worse as the week progresses. Thank goodness for swimming pools and air conditioning!

Don't know what's in the air business-wise but my e-mail was on fire today. I've booked three days of work next week and just when I was so certain the weather would have sapped everyone's spirit and they'd be pushing projects down the road for a while. Everything I'm getting ready to photograph will be portraits and I'm excited to use the opportunities to test yet another new (to me) lens. 

It's actually an older model lens from the film days but not too old and very, very Zeiss-y. We'll start my "out for a walk" testing tomorrow and see where it goes from there. I have to cast some blame on my friend, Paul, who called to notify me of the existence, locally of this lens and the current, most advantageous underpricing of said lens at our fave retailer. I was set up for a resistance collapse when when I remembered which model lens this was and how much I coveted one back in those two or three years in the 1990s in which I was photographing with a Contax RTSIII and a Contax S2. But more details on the lens are forthcoming ....

Sports Bros, walking around downtown. 

Panasonic G9 color test. Passing grade, for sure. 

"Even though I complain bitterly about the remarkable inflation as regards camera prices
my watch collection grows ever larger..." I bought a new cheap swim watch with a 
unidirectional bevel to help me count sets. It's a $50 "Bill Gates" Casio Dive Watch. 
No link required. 

Summer Fashion with Happy Faces is always welcome. 
The 45-200mm seems fine here too....

Puffy dress.

I was walking by the library today when I came across a small crew making videos of...a coffee tasting. They were interviewing people and having them taste two different coffees and then say which one they liked. A classic "on camera" taste test. They asked me to participate so I filled out the model release and submitted to the attachment of a wireless microphone set and stepped into position. I tasted the first sample (right hand) and it was too sweet and too laden with milk to even be able to taste the coffee. Then I tried the second sample of coffee (in my left hand) and even though it was equally sweet and creamy it had more nuanced flavors. Sadly, I picked as my favorite the "wrong" sample. The one the clients is NOT selling.  I probably will not make the editing cut. But it was fun to be on the other side of the camera for a moment. It was sweet of the sound guy to explain wireless microphones to me...

Highlight detail very well held. 

As an ancient Greek philosopher once said: "Give me a lens with a long enough focal length and enough space to use it and I can put the world out of focus behind a table...." Even with a small format camera. 

Stay cool.
Stay happy. 
Do your own tests. 
Walk often. 
Drink only good coffee. 

That's all I've got. Today.


Jim Restle said...

Kirk, I think you once owned the f2.8 version of the Olympus 40-150, and was wondering what your thoughts are on how the f4.0 version stacks up against it.

FasterThanEver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

It seems the most interesting new glass being produced these days are Cine lenses. Some are relatively cheap. Of course you don't get IBIS and they don't talk to your camera but they do provide some interesting creative tools beyond the usual sharpness and accurate colour fidelity.

FasterThanEver said...

I got a Panasonic 45-200 kit lens when I bought a Panasonic G85 camera. I was aware of the very negative comments and reviews but I tried it out anyway. I found it to be just perfect with taking pictures of flowers in other people's yards on my daily walks. I don't walk onto their property so some zoom is necessary for this use. I have no complaints about this lens.

Here are a few photos taken with the 45-200 lens and a few taken with the 12-60 kit lens that also came with the G85


Anonymous said...

At middle and far distances and same taking subject, yes different day, time of day, etc, the contrast seems a little lower then the Oly 40-150 F4. Probably my imagination.


Anthony Collins said...

I had the 45-200 series 1 for a while but found the 45-175 sharper with the added benefit of being internal and motorized zooming.

jrsforums said...

40-15p f4 “… The 150mm focal length is all I really need so I probably will get rid of the lens…”

Not sure I understand. If you use only 150mm and get rid of lens, what would you replace it with? That was as sharp?


Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

John, I think I was unclear in my writing. I meant to say that the new 40-150mm f4.0 Pro is as long a lens as I need. I would keep it and sell off the 45-200mm since the longer focal lengths aren't important to me and that lens is not quite as sharp at the 40-150mm f4.0 Pro.

Thanks, KT