Which Zoom Lens for My GH5?

I can’t recall ever seeing a negative review over at Mirror Lessons, but this is as close as it comes. To my shock and horror, they recommend getting the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 or the Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 rather than the heavily promoted PanLeica 12-60mm f/2.8-4. Just one reason being, the Leica 12-60 is really only f/2.8 at 12mm, which is why I’ve been calling it the Leica 12-60mm f/4. Not at all unlike Olympus’ exaggerated claims that their $2,000.00 Made in Vietnam OMD EM1 Mark II shoots video at a max bit rate of 237 Mbps, when in reality, it’s closer to 40 Mbps. Aside from focal length, the light gathering power of a lens is ordinarily the second consideration when shopping around, but it should come as no surprise that not a single person shooting with it in the videos we’ve had the privilege of viewing up until now has mentioned the fact that the Leica is not as fast as they would have you believe. Nor have any of Panasonic’s representatives. Other reasons to avoid the Leica include onion bokeh balls at the edges of the frame (the bokeh isn’t the most attractive I’ve seen, due to its somewhat busy appearance), poor correction for barrel distortion and vignetting until f/5.6 (read: the apertures you’ll be using most often), and high cost (if purchased separately). For those needing the extra reach, the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 is starting to look like great value, with superb optics (for a zoom) and only $200 more than the Leica.

Now let’s say you’ve already got the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 or the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 and are considering trading it in for the shiny new PanLeica for its dual IS and DFD v.2 autofocus capabilities. What about Panasonic’s DFD autofocus technology? The short answer is, you’re not buying the Lumix GH5 for its brilliant AF performance. And what exactly constitutes reliable AF anyhow?  Say the GH5 has a 60% keeper rate in stills mode (just pulled that number out of my ass, too lazy to check my facts as usual). Then we can safely say that AF-C in video mode will be slightly less effective, can’t we? Let’s say it’s only 10% less. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? If I were playing the Lotto, those would be terrific odds. So, if I’m buying one of Panasonic’s  latest tech-tastic lenses with their highly touted DFD v.2, I should be able to rely on it for event shooting, shouldn’t I? Now, let’s just pretend we’re shooting a wedding. Is a hit rate of 50% good enough for the bride and groom? Of course, this is all imaginary, we’re just playing pretend.

Some will argue that they need all Panasonic lenses so they don’t run into color matching problems while editing. But Hollywood filmmakers routinely mix footage from GoPro, Black Magic and other brands with Arri. Matching colors shot with the same camera isn’t rocket science. And others will contend that only Panasonic lenses can perform the new focus pull hat trick. But wait until everyone starts using the feature and complains about focus breathing!

As for dual IS, it’s only going to squeeze an extra half a stop or so of stabilization from Panasonic’s already stabilized lenses: yet I shoot with non-stabilized lenses all the time, and the IBIS of my Lumix G85 works fine. Okay, if you don’t care about onion bokeh balls, I can dig that. And if you’re not convinced that dual IBIS is really not all that important, cool beans. And if you still believe the GH5’s contrast AF will be good enough for your work, that’s wonderful, But – what about this supposed zoom range advantage? Is it really all that useful? I would think, going by that logic, that the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 would be far more useful, and it’s going to be a superior lens. Because 60mm is neither here nor there as far as I can tell. For those who care about such matters, the Olympus has 80mm longer reach (FF equiv.) and weighs little more than 1-1/3 iPhones more than the Leica. If I were an event shooter, I’d feel way more confident going into a venue knowing I could capture activities going on at a distance as well as up close with the Zuiko.

For those absolutely determined to pick up a zoom lens in addition to or as a replacement for their Olympus or Panasonic wide zooms, I’d go for either the proven Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 v.2, the Olympus 12-100mm f/4, or the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. Though at $1,600.00 USD, the latter is pretty pricey for a lens made in China. And for the more commonsensical among you, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 would be an even wiser decision.

No sherpa required. Lenses: Olympus 25mm f/1.2, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Leica 12mm f/1.4 and Leica 42.5mm f/1.2.

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