The Panasonic 12-32 mm lens is a super light and spectacularly compact lens with a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) mount. In 35 mm-equivalent (mm @ FF) the range is 24-64 mm, so a standard zoom with true wide angle. And that is special. Wide-angle zoom lenses with this mount are still rare, and the compact dimensions make the lens extra attractive. That is why this is a welcome addition to the MFT offerings.
The brightness is comparable to the previously released 14-42 mm kit lenses from Panasonic. The largest lens aperture is f/3.5 in wide angle and f/5.6 in the telephoto position. With this lens, a mirrorless system camera almost becomes a compact camera, since this lens is so small. Can such a small lens be just as good as a standard zoom?
Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 12-32 mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. @ Panasonic GM1
Wide-angle zooms for Micro 4/3 are still relatively scarce. This lens fills that gap well, though the zoom range for some may be a bit limited (2.6 x). The photos above are made in the maximum wide angle and the maximum telephoto positions.
The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) standard is a development of the original Olympus design for Four Thirds mount for SLRs; the difference is in the distance between sensor and flange ("register"). That is, for the Micro version (for mirrorless bodies), much smaller than for the original Four Thirds lenses that were used on an SLR camera. Micro Four Thirds lenses don’t fit on Four Thirds bodies, but the other way around (with an adapter) works. What’s great is that the MFT system has meanwhile grown to be a real world standard. Such a thing can only be good for the consumer.
The lens is equipped with the rather pretentious name "mega OIS" on the front, indicating that the Panasonic 12-32 mm comes with built-in image stabilization. Given the compact size of this lens, it’s a great achievement by Panasonic that this lens is equipped with image stabilization. We tested the image stabilization at the longest focal length. The first thing that stands out is that a picture without image stabilization at a shutter speed of 1/50 second already benefits from image stabilization. Due to the lack of a viewfinder, you hold the camera with more or less straight arms, which is a less stable situation than when you are shooting with a camera with a viewfinder, where you support your elbows on your body. A picture made at a shutter speed of 1/50 without image stabilization is as sharp as a picture made with a shutter speed of 1/6 second with image stabilization. That's a profit of 3 stops.
On the lens itself there’s no space for a switch. With the Panasonic GM1 body that we used in this test, you can disable the image stabilisation through the menu.
Most notable are the dimensions (only 28 mm deep) and weight (70 g). The filter size is 37 mm. The Panasonic 12-32 mm is even more compact than the Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 pancake lens.
Before use, the lens first has to be popped up. The lens is then a maximum of 48 mm long. You can only take a picture after the lens has popped up. The mount is metal; the tube of our silver version looks metallic, but is plastic. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are eleven electronic contacts for communication with the body.
The lens has just one ring, namely for the focal length; there is no aperture ring, no distance ring and no other buttons or switches. Easy.
The auto focus is, with thanks to the Panasonic GM-1 camera, faster than the auto focus of many SLRs. In our lab test, where we have the test camera focus from 8 m to 60 cm, the focus delay was very small, about 1/10 second, consistently very accurate and above all totally silent. You hardly even notice that you’re focusing (as it should be).
The shortest setting distance is about 10 cm in the wide angle and 20 cm in telephoto mode. In the latter case, you have a field of view of about 14 cm. A macro lens, this is certainly not.
The lens has no remote ring; on the Panasonic GM1 you can manually focus using the setup disk on the body. For the target group, users who still possess a compact camera, that's okay. If you’re used to a larger micro-43 or an SLR camera, then this takes some getting used to.
In order to compareMTF50 results for this lens with MTF values for lenses tested oncameras with anAPS-C or full frame sensor, we set the micro-43 test camera to a 2: 3ratio. In other words: we testedthis lenswith a resolution of14megapixels (2:3 ratio) instead of16megapixels (4:3 ratio). Using the native 4:3 aspect ratio will yield slightly higher MTF values.
The sharpness (resolution) of the lens gives nothing up to the larger 14-42 mm micro-43 or 18-55 mm APS-C kit lenses that we've tested to date. In particular, the sharpness in the center is high at all apertures. The corners are less sharp than the center. Even so, the resolution is no less than 1000 lines per picture height and that makes even the sharpness in the corners sufficient for many photographers. On top of that the sharpness in JPEG is heightened even a bit more.
Our practice shots taken confirm the measurements. For the most critical users, the sharpness in the corners may not be good enough. For the target audience, there’s no problem, because you can definitely get good A3 prints from the pictures.
Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 12-32 mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. @ 12mm, 1600 ISO, f/3.5, 1/4 sec
The 12 mm focal length in terms of field of view is equivalent to a 24 mm wide-angle lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. That field of view is really more spectacular than the maximum wide angle of a standard kit lens.
Often we find when testing standard or wide angle zoom lenses clearly visible vignetting. But not this time. Vignetting is already corrected in the camera by Panasonic, both in jpg and RAW files. And that is reflected in the pictures taken in practice: the vignetting is minor. Only at maximum aperture in wide angle is there anything to see, with one stop down, even that’s gone.
Distortion is corrected in the camera by Panasonic, both in jpg and RAW files. You can see distortion in jpg files and RAW files that you open in Lightroom, Photoshop or Silkypix only at maximum wide angle. That's a very good performance.
Any disturbing distortion at 24 mm you will need to correct manually, because there are no standard lens correction profiles in Lightroom or Photoshop (because distortion is corrected in the camera).
Bokeh is the 'quality of the blur'. Ideally, point-shaped light sources outside the focus field are shown as solid, moving outwards to soft spots without angular edges. With this lens, that last part works well and the first only partly, as you can see on the right. There are some observable rings on the outer edge. In terms of bokeh this lens is as good as other kit lenses for micro-43 or APS-C cameras.
The lens is not free of flare in bright backlight. Although the conditions were perhaps a little extreme in the shot on the right, there is also with weaker light sources some signs of flare (spots, stripes and comets). Also in night shots you’ll find ghosts due to flare. A lens hood is not included.
Also chromatic aberration is corrected by Panasonic in the camera, both in jpg and RAW files. Both in the lab and in pictures taken in practice, we can hardly measure or see chromatic aberration.
Conclusion Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. review
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WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you save the files in the camera as jpg, including all in-camera lens corrections (distortion, chromatic aberration). This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera as a RAW file. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for converting RAW files, then the RAW scores for chromatic aberration and distortion are the same as the jpg scores.
very compact, light and yet well built
attractive zoom range: 24 mm focal length
good image quality: high center sharpness, hardly any chromatic aberration or vignetting and low distortion
built-in image stabilization
all settings on the camera body, can’t be simpler
resolution in the corners could be better
distortion in maximum telephoto mode
sometimes suffers from flare
not really a bargain
The Panasonic 12-32 mm shows that bigger doesn’t always have to be better when it comes to image quality. This lens offers the same picture quality as the 14-42 mm micro-43 kit lenses or the 18-55 mm kit lenses for APS-C cameras. Still, the 'unique selling point' of the Panasonic 12-32 mm is the compact size and low weight. If you want an even more compact set, then you might consider, for example, a 'pancake' (14 mm) lens, but then you obviously have no zoom capability. We tested the Panasonic 12-32 mm on the Panasonic GM1: the most compact Panasonic system camera. In that combination, you have a set that you can carry around in in a good-sized pocket. Also with the Panasonic GX7, this lens makes an attractive combination. Obviously, this 12-32 also fits on other brands that use the MFT mount. In some aspects the lens does excellently (no CA, low distortion and vignetting), but the resolution is still in the corners, as with virtually all kit lenses, a bit behind. You can also see that in pictures taken in practice. The lens seems to us to be very suitable for users searching for a super compact and super bright zoom lens. The retail price for a 12-32 mm without camera (approx. 350 euro at major online stores) is reasonable, especially since the field of view of a 24 mm wide angle (converted to full frame) delivers a much more attractive perspective than a standard kit lens. For less than 700 euro, you can buy a Panasonic GM1, including the Panasonic 12-32 mm. That is a more attractive offer in our eyes.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.