Why I’m Not a Fan of Universal Zooms

panasonic_h_fs12060_lumix_g_12_60mm_f_3_5_5_6_1456285818000_1226383A forum member over at EOSHD interested in purchasing a Panasonic Lumix G80 was considering either the Lumix 12-60mm or 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lenses that come with the camera. Apparently in Spain, you can’t buy the camera without a lens. What follows is my response.

First of all, there is something shady about not offering a ‘body only’ option, but it is what it is. What if you’ve already got a kit lens? Some here say you can always sell the kit lens for a good price on eBay, but I’ve never tried, so I have no idea. For me, selling shit I don’t need on eBay is a hassle I just don’t want to deal with.

Furthermore, I simply don’t buy the idea of a universal zoom because of all the compromises involved. Number one is the variable aperture, which again, many forum members don’t seem to mind, but it drives me batty. But that’s just me. If for example, you have a zoom where the telephoto end starts at f/5.6, you pretty much have only one setting at which the picture will stand a reasonable chance of being critically sharp. You can’t open up any wider, and if you close down, diffraction destroys the resolution. Would you purchase a prime lens which had only one aperture at which images were acceptably sharp? In the case of the Panasonic 12-60mm, the lens has been optimized for the wide end, meaning that from 25-60mm, the image will not be as sharp. It also means you won’t be able to throw the background out of focus quite as easily as with a constant aperture zoom like the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. And at all apertures, the 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 in particular is not going to deliver edge-to-edge sharpness. Yet I often place the subject at the edges of the frame.

And even though the 12-60mm doesn’t cost a king’s ransom, you’re still paying for features like OIS, which in this case, is rather mediocre, a couple stops at best.

I love lenses: your camera is only as good as the glass you stick in front of that sensor. A good lens is one you never want to remove from the camera body.  Which is why, if I felt compelled to buy Panasonic lenses, in your case, I would be looking at maybe the 20mm f/1.7 or other moderately fast primes (though I’ve never used one, I’m just going by the cost and user reviews). Third party manufacturers like Sigma also offer some extremely good inexpensive AF primes for micro 4/3. If the rationale is you don’t want to keep changing lenses, there are several great non-interchangeable lens cameras by Sony and Panasonic.

Here are some screen grabs from a clip I posted recently where the subject is not in the center of the frame:

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-59-00-pm screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-59-09-pm screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-59-22-pm screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-59-51-pm

These were all taken at f/2.8 with the Nocticron 42.5mm. Now, if you were shooting with the 12-60, you couldn’t have shot these at f/2.8, but you could get f/5.6. Yet the image would have over 20 lines per mm less sharpness at that focal length, which is huge. I’m not by any means suggesting you spend $1,400 on a lens, but investing in some primes like the ones I mentioned above will give you much better results.

Finally, if you are interested at all in getting anything resembling the ‘full frame’ look, by which I assume you mean throwing the background out of focus, shooting at f/5.6 or f/8 isn’t going to cut it.

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