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.

The Question is not: "To Print or not to Print?" but -- which printer to acquire... Looking for guidance from the mighty combined knowledge and experience of the VSL readers...


Sorting through foot acres of DVDs and CDs and filling up a 50 gallon trash can with them was cathartic. But in the process I also started looking at folders with personal/fun/art negatives and transparencies and I was struck by an instant desire to go back to printing the ones I consider to be most compelling and also sharable. 

I am not a novice at inkjet printing; I've tossed enough money at the craft in the past equal to the amount needed to install a nice pool in the backyard or to at least buy a medium format Leica system. In the fog of the ancient past I had even converted an Epson 1280 printer completely to grayscale inks and actually got some good prints from it, in between clearing head clogs...

For some reason I can't remember right now I went out and bought an Epson 4000 printer that printed 17 inches wide by XXXXXX and, when it worked, the images coming out of it on nice paper were wonderful and delicious. But every single one of the half dozen Epson printers I bought and nursed had a fatal flaw. For every good print I got I gave away the same amount of ink in the next, routine head clog. 

Didn't matter if I was using the printer everyday or just once a week. I tried raising the humidity in the office and lowering it. Nothing helped. I finally gave the Epson 4000 away to another photographer who seemed interested in martyrdom by ink cost. In truth I would have paid him to haul it away...

But I needed a printer for invoices (we now send them all out as email attached .pdfs) letters, and the occasional print-for-the-family. No client has requested anything printed in at least ten years. To fill the gap I bought a Canon Pro-100, 13 inch width capable printer and now, over seven years later, I have yet to experience my first head clog. 

I have two issues with the Canon Pro-100; it uses dye based inks instead of pigment inks so the archival keeping is nothing like that of the pigmented prints. And....the black and white prints never come out as well as they did on that ancient Epson 4000. I'd like to buy a printer that does 13 inch wide prints, uses pigment inks and doesn't have more clogs in a year than bars have happy hours. 

After a few days of research on the web (I'd been looking even before the big DVD purge...) I came across what seems to me to be the correct compromise. It's a Canon printer so my hope is that it will be equally clog resistant. It's the Canon Imagraf Pro-300. It uses Lucia pigmented inks and it's widely available for the cost of $899. It's even in stock at my local store so...no shipping costs. 

I've read reviews and I've read specs but before I drop another $1K on what will most assuredly only be pertinent to my hobby side of photography I thought I should ask for whatever guidance you are willing to dole out to me. I'm not in a rush so write as slowly as you'd like.

Me? Right now? I'm going out for a walk (9:30 a.m.) before the day heats up and the sun blisters the graffiti right off the walls of the downtown buildings. It's going to be a week of scorching temperatures this week. Straight flush on +100°s with ample humidity tossed in to make it even cozier...

Kinda makes sense to spend time indoors this week futzing with printers and drivers and all that stuff. 

Hope your week is off to a good start and wishing for all of you that the stock market recovers with vigor so we can use the proceeds to go out and buy more fun but ultimately useless stuff. I know I will.