Panasonic 70-200mm f/4 OIS LUMIX S PRO test results in 2 words: Terribly good
The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS is the first full-frame telephoto zoom for the new S-system from Panasonic. The lens has the PRO addition, which means that the optical design is certified by Leica. And that creates high expectations in terms of quality. The MTF cards released by Panasonic seem to justify those expectations. But we always say, seeing is believing. So we were very curious about the results from our test lab. Until the arrival of faster and longer lenses, this is the preferred lens for sports and nature photographers. This is also the first choice for portrait photographers who want something longer than a 50 mm. A telephoto lens with a brightness of ‘just’ f/4 is not that bright for indoor sports, and you would rather have a faster lens to get a better bokeh for portrait photography as well. But bokeh fortunately not only depends on the brightness, but also on the optical design. The main reasons why you choose a 70-200 mm with a brightness of f/4 instead of an f/2.8 version are dimensions, weight and price. In that respect, the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS compares unfavorably to its fellow contenders. It is more than one and a half ounces heavier than most other lenses in this class and by far the most expensive. On the other hand, the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS has a number of unique capabilities. It has a ‘focus clutch’, programmable auto focus and image stabilization that can really work together with body stabilization.
BUILD AND AUTOFOCUs
For a lens with a brightness of ‘only’ f/4, the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS is a fairly hefty lens. But the entire S system is not built with compactness as the most important feature. Quality is key. The lens is well balanced on the equally sturdy S-bodies. The optical design consists of 23 elements in 17 groups. With a view to minimal chromatic aberration and maximum sharpness, one aspherical lens and three extra-low Dispersion lenses were used. The aperture has 9 blades that should ensure a beautiful bokeh. The lens is weatherproof and resistant to frost down to -10 degrees Celsius. The lens comes as standard with a large lens hood that snaps securely onto the lens and can also be attached in reverse. You also get a tripod gondola that has an Arca Swiss base. This means there’s a good chance that you can use it immediately, without an extra quick-release plate. The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS has a fast and quiet autofocus engine that can process up to 480 corrections per second. The autofocus system of the Lumix S cameras only uses contrast detection and not phase detection. That makes the system a little less suitable for sports photography. The lens has a smooth focusing ring that you can pull back a little to let you easily switch to manual focus. As soon as you do that, you will also see a distance scale. The manual focus can work both linear and non-linear. If you opt for linear, the focus stroke is always the same. This is ideal for making a focus pull while filming. With non-linear focus, the accuracy with which the lens focuses depends on the speed at which you turn the ring. The slower you turn, the greater and more precise the focus stroke becomes.
VIGNETTING, FLARE AND DISTORTION
The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS has a filter size of 77 mm. That’s big for an f/4 lens. It also means that this lens has relatively large glass elements. And a large diameter should theoretically also ensure little vignetting. And that appears to be the case in practice. With a maximum of about 0.2 stops, the vignetting is just measurable, and you will never see it in practice.
The same applies to the distortion of the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS, at least as long as you work in jpeg. The distortion is then about 0.1 to 0.2% barrel-shaped. In RAW, the highest value that we have encountered is just over 1%. And that’s still not very much. Two strong features of the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS. In this area, for example, the Panasonic handily beats the new Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM.
The resolution of the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS is also good. On this point, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM differs little from the Panasonic. But the Canon EF 70-200 f/4 L IS USM is therefore one of the best lenses reviewed in this respect. Just like the Canon, the Panasonic scores higher in jpeg than in RAW, and the values from the center to the corners become much more even. Given that we tested the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS on the demanding 47-megapixel sensor of the Lumix S1 R, the results are quite spectacular. If we have to point out something that is not quite as good, then that would be the performance at 200 mm. That is slightly lower than at the other settings. But the lens still scores very well at 200mm. In short, this lens fully meets the high expectations set for it.
The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS has built-in image stabilization. It can work perfectly with the five-axis image stabilization in the body, and together they must be good for a gain of no less than 6 stops. In practice, we got very close to that. In our test, it takes at least three stops before you start to see a difference with the standard time of 1 divided by the focal length. Another two stops slower, you will see some difference, but you are still at around 75%. And that’s an average. If you make a series of, for example, 10 shots, then there will also be a few that, in terms of sharpness, are hardly inferior to a shot with the standard time. Six stops is also possible in this way, although you will have to pay close attention to your technique and not rely on one single shot. The system works well and as promised by Panasonic. However, the difference from the Canon EF 70-200 mm f/4L IS USM II is very small, while it has to do without the extra stabilization in the body. The Panasonic can correct more in three axes than the Canon, and theoretically that could make a difference for some situations.
The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS has a maximum brightness of f/4. That is not very bright. But because this is a telephoto zoom, you can still get a nice bokeh with f/4. Certainly if you zoom in to 200 mm. That is certainly recommended for portraits, even if that leads to a relatively large distance to your model. You also get a beautiful bokeh from an optimized lens design with few lens errors. And you see that with the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS. In particular, the background blur is very smooth, without disturbing artifacts.
Conclusion: review Panasonic 70-200mm f/4 OIS LUMIX S PRO @ Panasonic S1R
The Panasonic S1 and S1R are made to get the most out of a full-frame sensor, and the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS fits into that scheme perfectly.
The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS is the only telephoto zoom from Panasonic for the L system. So, if you want to shoot with a Panasonic S1 or Panasonic S1 R, this is your only choice anyway. Fortunately, it is also a good choice, because the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS delivers very good image quality. Both the sharpness and the bokeh are very nice, and the lens is pretty free of lens errors. That is also allowed, because it’s a big lens with the corresponding weight and a good price. Both in terms of dimensions and weight and in terms of price, this lens falls more or less between the f/4 and f/2.8 versions from other brands. The excellent image stabilization and extras such as the focus clutch and the programmable focus justify that extra price for this f/4, in our opinion. The Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS is fully in line with Panasonic’s philosophy for a full-frame system, and that philosophy is all about quality. If you’re looking for a mirrorless full-frame camera that is compact, light or cheap, then the Panasonic system is not your first choice. The Panasonic S1 and S1R are made to get the most out of a full-frame sensor, and the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 70-200 mm f/4 OIS fits into that scheme perfectly.