The little Panasonic GM-1 really blew me away when I first started using it several years ago. Since then, it has contributed quite a few images to my portfolios, including a significant portion of the series Afghanistan 50K, which was shot from the air while transiting Afghanistan. It is tiny, produces good file quality and comes as a kit with the comically small (and stabilised) 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 G lens. No, it cannot compete with a full-frame camera, like the Sony A7 or A7R, in terms of file quality, but it is dramatically smaller. The kit zoom is of remarkable quality and far better than most, which is surprising considering how small it is! This combo provides far greater flexibility than the astonishing Ricoh GR (which comfortably exceeds the GM-1 and rivals Leica + prime for sheer image quality) by virtue of its zoom lens and interchangeability. Most reviewers considered the little extendable 12-32mm lens a knockout and about a year ago along came the Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G Mega OIS Lumix to go with it. I have been watching prices and now that they seem to have bottomed out, I bought one. Actually, I bought two, because the first one was a lemon!
So what does a Lemon look like?
Well, whenever I buy a lens, I run through a very quick test that takes about two minutes just to check it is working as they should. If a lens looks fine (and the majority are), I then go and do more detailed testing to check its optical performance in more detail and I look for decentering, as well as performance through through the apertures. To be honest, most inexpensive lenses show some slight signs of imperfect centering, but its not a problem as long as it within price-performance (and usage) expectations. However, the first Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G was pretty appalling and did not get past the first ten frames without sending my eyeballs spinning in their sockets. Some of you have asked ‘what does a decentered/tilted lens look like?‘ This was a great example – see the end of this article.
In the case of the first example, the left side was soft at the 35mm end and it switched to the right side by 100mm. In the middle of the range it was still softer on the left than the right but the centre was going fuzzy and the camera did not know where/how to focus. The prize for the worst decentering I have ever seen on a lens goes to a Zeiss/Sony 55mm f1.8 FE, which is a much more expensive lens.
As you can see, it wasn’t hard to spot with my first copy. In fairness to Panasonic, Amazon UK does not always pack lenses as well as they could and I suspect some are getting smacked about in transit. Regardless, if it’s a la milk bottle it’s not much use to us! So, the very next day the second copy arrived. Thankfully, it was nothing like the first one, so here goes Part 1 of the review!
Design & Specifications
Panasonic has tried to follow in the footsteps of the diminutive 12-32mm kit lens that comes with the GM-1 and GM-5. They have succeeded too, because the Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G is absurdly small, even compared to other 35-100 M43 lenses, like the Panasonic 35-100 f2.8. The Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G weighs 136g (rather than 360g) and is 6cm long (rather than 10cm). 136g is about half the weight of a Leica 50mm Summicron!
The 35-100mm f4-5.6 G uses the same retractable ‘pop out’ design as the 12-32mm kit lens and with only a 46mm filter thread (same as a Leica 24mm f3.8 Elmar, or 21mm Zeiss ZM Biogon) it is entirely pocketable. If you are wearing a jacket, this lens will drop into the one lower pocket, with the GM-1/GM-5 and kit lens in the other. So there it is, a travel kit that will shoot from 24mm (equivalent) to 200mm vanishes into your clothing, allowing you to walk normally, look normal and just enjoy feeling unencumbered. With built in stabilisation, much of the time you can forget about needing a tripod, as well.
As per the kit lens, it comes in black or silver.
Build Quality & Handling
It’s light weight and made mostly of very thin metal alloy. If feels better built than most kit lenses and will stand up to small knocks and abrasions fine. Weight is important if you’re carrying it in a jacket pocket and I think Panasonic got the balance just right here.
The pop our design works well, though sometimes you will forget it is retracted if you have not been using it for a while. Its so short, you may as well just leave it extended unlike you are stowing the lens. The zoom action ‘works’, but don’t go expecting Rolls Royce refinement. At £260, one can only commend Panasonic.
It’s quick, just like all native M43 lenses. It is almost instant and always silent.
Resolution & Contrast
The Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G is very good indeed. In fact mine is a little better than my 12-32mm (because it is noticeably better at 35mm than the kit lens is at 12mm). I find the 35-100 is a little stronger in the middle of the zoom range than at either end, but it is remarkably consistent and manages to always put in a very good performance from wide open too. f5.6-8 is the sweet spot at the wide end and f7.1-9 or so at the long end. Contrast is high, colour saturated and it has plenty of bite. This lens will punch out 20×16 prints with no room for excuses.
Performance is similar throughout the range, peaking in the mid-range of the zoom.
The short version is that this lens absolutely shows up the lower priced offerings from Canon and Nikon in the 70-200/300 range. From what I am seeing you would not be able to tell this lens on the GM-1 from the Sony 70-200 f4 G (a £1000 lens) on the Sony A7 at A3 (for sure) and it would be a close run thing at A2. I really cannot see what (aside from speed) is being compromised in this tiny package. I certainly feel that this little optic on a 16MP M43 camera will produce better end results under normal conditions than many Canikon kit lenses on a 24MP SLR, simply because this lens ensures that each pixel counts.
Vignetting, Flare & Bokeh
Vignetting is quite significant wide open, but it hugely improved one stop down. It’s not something I thought about in use.
Flare resistance is definitely better than the 12-32mm. I noticed that quite quite quickly. Bokeh looks excellent.
What a superb little lens. It has no flaws at all, assuming you recognise that you are not going to get the subject isolation at 100mm (and f5.6) that you would get from the 35-100 f2.8 at f2.8. However for scenic orientated travel/landscape work, you are unlikely to care one bit, because you’re likely keen on obtaining sufficient depth of field for all scenic elements to be in focus. Shot wide open, this lens does very well. Shot a stop down it is very crisp across the frame and does a genuinely superb job. This is an absolute must have lens for GM-1 and GM-5 owners IMHO. It pairs beautifully with the 12-32mm and seeing as both are pop out lenses, you will get into the groove of using them. Sure, you can travel unencumbered with the Ricoh GR, but it is only a 28mm camera (unless you use the electronic zoom or 21mm converter). The beauty of this Panasonic 35-100mm f4-5.6 G is that it allows you to build a 24-200 (equivalent) rig for less than £550 (using the GM-1 + 12-32 as the base). And let’s face it, there isn’t much you cannot shoot with this. If you want to, perhaps add a 25/45mm f1.7/f1.8 and what else would you realistically need to wandering around a foreign city, or taking a stroll beside the river?
Who Is It For?
Everyone who appreciates not being weighed down by camera equipment!
I got the chance to spend a few hours shooting with the GM-1, 12-35 and 35-100 in Budapest a few weeks ago, so will post those shots in ‘Part 2’ very soon. I did not get to spend long shooting, unfortunately, but could not fail to notice the flexibility this little kit gave me. My appetite was whetted for a proper photo trip to say the least…
I shot plenty of images taking care to ensure I was nicely square with the fence and the below are ‘representative examples’