Review Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5: The Mu-43.com Review

Covey22

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By Armando J. Heredia

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Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 prime is a lens that is easy to love. Interchangeable lens compact (ILC) camera users are naturally attracted to the format by the size and exceptional image quality, and this wide-angle prime certainly enhances that appeal.

As one of several showcase primes featuring a “pancake” or Tessar-style format, the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 represents a strong culmination of technological prowess and practical design. With the Micro Four-Thirds field-of-view (FOV) crop, this lens corresponds to a modest 28mm wide-angle. The other native rectilinear lenses wider than this are the costly and heavier Panasonic 7-14mm or the slower Olympus 9-18mm. At only 1.9 oz. and less than an inch in depth, this petite lens seems fragile, but the size belies its capabilities. This optic packs an amazing three aspherical elements to help correct optical distortions, a robust metal mount, and a fast f2.5 aperture allowing hand-holding even in extremely low-light situations.


What’s in the Box

Thanks to B&H Photo-Video, we were able to evaluate this lens in kit form along with the latest Panasonic GF2 Micro Four-Thirds camera.

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The 14mm f2.5 was almost lost in the packaging, especially when compared with its older but larger and faster sibling - the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. The wide-angle features a new thinner lens cover and rear-cap, further emphasizing the format’s philosophy of being lighter and smaller. While the camera kit did not provide it, a matching black nylon carrying case is included when purchasing the lens only. The 14mm continues the standardization of Panasonic primes to a 46mm front thread. The lens uses internal focus, so filter use is simplified. No hood is provided, but aftermarket options exist to protect the front element from flare and physical damage.

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The lens doesn’t add much to the footprint of the camera it’s mounted to. A prime this size is extremely unobtrusive and doesn’t affect the balance or handling of the camera at all. You almost have to double-check if it’s actually there.


Build

As with current Lumix Micro Four-Thirds designs, a bright fluorescent dot denotes the lens mounting index, along with maker’s marks and a bright yellow “14” on the light-gray barrel. The build of the lens is solid; there are no creaks and rattles. The focus ring spins freely and is somewhat dampened, but isn’t loose and sloppy. It won’t be pulling double-duty as a macro lens, as the close focusing only gives about 7” working distance. There are no focus markings or distance windows.


Handling

In the field, the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 handles as one would expect a classic prime to behave. The AF performance on both the supplied GF-2 and the author’s personal Olympus E-PL1 is very responsive. In both well-lit and low-light situations, the lens is really only limited by the camera’s AF capability. Because manual focusing is fly-by-wire, the focus ring’s lack of dampening will be a little disappointing to MF purists, but the turning feedback is tight enough to make fine adjustments easily.

Wide angle lenses require careful handling. Even though the cameras apply on-board processing to correct much of the optical distortion, one should pay attention to the alignment relative to the plane of the subject and use the camera’s integrated grid overlay to avoid excessive rotation. In other words – get low or high to align with the subject’s mid-point as much as possible and avoid tilting the camera! This mitigates some of the keystoning and horizon leveling that occurs naturally with a wide angle perspective.

Note the tiny shadow on the lower right of Newport’s Trinity Church photo below – that’s the author’s hat! The lesson learned is to scrutinize the LCD or viewfinder carefully for any unexpected framing elements or effects when using this lens.

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In some cases, the keystoning appears because you don’t have the ability to maneuver back or up; in which case, just make sure things are as aligned as possible vertically. Below; landmarks from Boston and Newport:

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The fast f2.5 aperture lets you go into very dark environments and capture scenes as lit by ambient illumination without having to raise ISO excessively. The autofocus is helped by the wide-open aperture since the irises open up allowing contrast detect to conduct the focusing operation. The Providence Art Club dining room scene below was taken at 1/25, f2.5 @ ISO 400. The scene was really dimly lit, probably rated at LV2 or so.

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As noted in the specifications, close-focusing is possible with the lens, and you can get some really good dominant foreground-defocused background effects. Some refreshments from Providence’s Art Gallery Night, and al-fresco dining at Newport’s Bowen’s Wharf:

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People portraits are possible. Using the right stand-off distance, you can avoid perspective distortion from affecting the subject’s appearance. Some candid and surreptitious snaps from a walk in Boston:

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And sometimes you just let the wide-angle do what it does best; landscapes, tight enclosed spaces and dramatic perspectives that you can’t get with narrower focal lengths:

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Image Quality

Optically, there are no surprises. In center performance, the 14mm f2.5 produces sharp photos with excellent contrast and color reproduction. The corners were tougher to evaluate; on this author’s post-processing workstation, they held up fairly well through mid-apertures to f8-f11.

Vignetting does occur a bit at wide-open, and the sweet-spot for overall image quality is about f4. Chromatic aberration (CA) is well-controlled by the in-camera processing, and what little remains isn’t objectionable in most output sizes. Below, a 100% crop and the marked area of interest:

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The effective Depth-of-Field is fairly generous, even at wide open, which is due mostly to the Four-Thirds sensor. Bokeh is difficult to evaluate with wide-angles. Using what opportunities there were to get sufficient subject-background separation, the defocusing effects were not objectionable.


Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 extends the number of excellent native Micro Four-Thirds primes available, and is an outstanding optical performer, despite its small size. Owners will delight in its robust build, fine handling, and superb image quality. It was hard to pack up once the evaluation was over.

Please see the complete gallery of samples at: Panasonic 14mm f2.5 Samples - Mu-43 Gallery


_____________________

Armando J. Heredia is an amateur photographer living in scenic New England on the US East Coast. He is a new reviewer to Mu-43.com as well as Chief News Editor and moderator at Nikonians.org. When he’s not chasing after the next photo or story, Armando works in the Financial Services industry and spends time with his loving family and a menagerie of pets. -Amin


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sebastel

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not your business
just one (stupid?) question: what is a "Tessar-style format"?

i know "Tessar" only as the name of a lens design developed by the zeiss designer paul rudolph in 1902 (Tessar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). the characteristics of this design are four elements in three groups. as the lumix 14mm lens features six elements in five groups, it can impossibly be a tessar ...
so obviously, the author refers to something different, leading me back to my question.
 

MaxElmar

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Great review and supporting photos! Well done. This is a lens everyone should have. On an E-PL2 or something smaller, it really makes for a great, dare I say it, "pocketable" set up. Well, it fits in some of my pockets - not an oxford or polo shirt pocket. And the 20/1.7 fits in the other pocket and so with both, you are good to go. Sharpness is really good and it's the fastest focusing lens in M43 land...

There have been "pancake" tessars (The Nikon 45/2.8 comes to mind) but many of these newer designs don't fall into easy categories from the 20th century...
 

Covey22

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Many thanks to you all for your comments! It was a pleasure writing a review for such a diverse and talented community of photographers. I can only hope it will be helpful to those considering the lens for their next purchase.

Sebastel - you are absolutely correct that this lens would not fit the optical definition of a Tessar. It's actually faster than most Tessars for starters. :smile:

I took some writer's liberty to use the term in the sense that many classic pancake lenses can be Tessar design, to help draw a visualization in words. I may not have had to since I had product shots, but I'm an old-style author - using anything to help the reader draw comparisons to something they may already be familiar with is part of my toolkit. I claim no other aspersions to the term . :thumbup:
 

Amin Sabet

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Thanks for the excellent review, Armando!

I'll just add my 2 cents of agreement that this is a terrific lens - very sharp, very fast to focus, well corrected (through combination of optics and automatic software correction by camera or Lightroom).

I compared it with a Pentax 21mm f/3.2 and found the Panasonic to be at least as sharp as the Pentax with nicer rendering of out of focus areas.

Some representative 100% crops to illustrate comparative blur rendering. In each case, the Panasonic crop is on the left:

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MaxElmar

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Another nice comparison Amin. No question the Panasonic has a better OOF rendering in these. This is the little lens that brought me into m43. Since I was a Pentax user for a fair number of years - and I still miss a few of my SMC lenses to this day - I'm very surprised to be making that statement.
 

Gwendal

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Thanks for the excellent review, Armando!

I'll just add my 2 cents of agreement that this is a terrific lens - very sharp, very fast to focus, well corrected (through combination of optics and automatic software correction by camera or Lightroom).

I compared it with a Pentax 21mm f/3.2 and found the Panasonic to be at least as sharp as the Pentax with nicer rendering of out of focus areas.

Some representative 100% crops to illustrate comparative blur rendering. In each case, the Panasonic crop is on the left:
Amin, thanks a lot for that comparison - were all shots made at max aperture ?
 

Pelao

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Thanks for the review. I have had this lens for a few weeks, and I am still exploring it's capabilities within my photography. It's a pleasure to use, and I love the results, though when off the camera it's remarkably easy to lose...
 

kevinparis

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Gent, Belgium
I wish I could get excited about this lens... but it ain't happening... every shot I have seen from this lens...including the ones I took in a shop in scotland back in January just seem dull and lifeless. I love the physical size, but the 'look' it gives leaves me cold...it doesn't seem to have the 'bite' that the 20/1.7 has. Which is why I walked out the store not buying it.

hopefully the oly 12/2 will be more interesting

K
 

Pelao

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I wish I could get excited about this lens... but it ain't happening... every shot I have seen from this lens...including the ones I took in a shop in scotland back in January just seem dull and lifeless. I love the physical size, but the 'look' it gives leaves me cold...it doesn't seem to have the 'bite' that the 20/1.7 has. Which is why I walked out the store not buying it.

hopefully the oly 12/2 will be more interesting

K
So interesting. The look that a person likes is incredibly important. I also prefer the look from the 20: better contrast I thin, but I am not entirely sure what it is. My Canon ef50 1.4 on my 5D had this incredible texture that I loved...
 

pjohngren

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I wish I could get excited about this lens... but it ain't happening... every shot I have seen from this lens...including the ones I took in a shop in scotland back in January just seem dull and lifeless. I love the physical size, but the 'look' it gives leaves me cold...it doesn't seem to have the 'bite' that the 20/1.7 has. Which is why I walked out the store not buying it.

hopefully the oly 12/2 will be more interesting

K
Kevin - I love this lens, and it has plenty of bite. Check out these rocks.

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kevinparis

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Maybe 'bite' was the wrong phrase... I have no doubts about its sharpness... It just doesn't seem to have a character in the way that the 20mm has. That may be down to the focal length and the slower f-stop.

The 20mm seems to me to have a more analog than digital feel, more like older legacy lenses.

But everybody has their own tastes and desires

cheers

K
 

pjohngren

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I mostly hope to use the 14 on the GF1 walking in the woods and trail hiking. Likewise, I will use the 20 and the GF1 for street photography. From my old backpacking days, a 28mm was the most useful lens for bringing back the experience, and that is mainly why I got the 14. A 50 (or 40) seemed best for street photography.
 

Janine4d

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Best, Netherlands
It just doesn't seem to have a character in the way that the 20mm has.
Hmm... I think this lens has a LOT of character actually. :smile: It's just that way less people have this lens and therefore you'll find less of the really good photos taken with it.

I used to love my 20mm lens, but the 14mm has totally stolen the show and it's been on my camera about 95% of the time now since I've had it. Maybe it's the subject matter I like to photograph, but this is now my favourite lens. Probably my best photos are with this lens. It just keeps surprising me, like yesterday evening when I was planning to take pictures of a windmill but I started putting the flowers in the foreground into focus instead. I love the buttersmooth bokeh! Just makes me want to take more photos like this one.

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Dutch Nature by Janine4d, on Flickr

All my recent photos have been with this lens, if you want to see some more of it, feel free to check out my 14mm flickr set: Panasonic 14mm lens - a set on Flickr
 

kevinparis

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Hmm... I think this lens has a LOT of character actually. :smile: It's just that way less people have this lens and therefore you'll find less of the really good photos taken with it.

I used to love my 20mm lens, but the 14mm has totally stolen the show and it's been on my camera about 95% of the time now since I've had it. Maybe it's the subject matter I like to photograph, but this is now my favourite lens. Probably my best photos are with this lens. It just keeps surprising me, like yesterday evening when I was planning to take pictures of a windmill but I started putting the flowers in the foreground into focus instead. I love the buttersmooth bokeh! Just makes me want to take more photos like this one.

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Dutch Nature by Janine4d, on Flickr

All my recent photos have been with this lens, if you want to see some more of it, feel free to check out my 14mm flickr set: Panasonic 14mm lens - a set on Flickr

Thank you for proving me wrong :) - great shot.... and I even like your HDR shots.... and some people round here will know I HATE HDR :)

K
 
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