Saturday, 4 March 2017

Panasonic 14-42 PZ compact zoom lens, the perfect all-rounder

I'm the proud owner of the Panasonic GX7 micro four thirds camera. I have a small collection of lenses. A couple of years ago I just had just two prime (non-zoom) lenses. It was a great way to learn because using a prime fixed focal length helped me with composition. You start to 'see' the picture before taking it. However, I found that frequently changing lenses when I was on holiday was a bit of a pain. Sometimes I'd be using my Oly 45mm and I would miss a wider shot because I was too lazy to switch to my 20mm or I just didn't have the time to get the shot.

One day I noticed a Panasonic 14-42mm PZ zoom was on sale in a local camera shop. It was second hand but in good condition, the price was attractive, I decided this could be a good move. I have not been disappointed.

Here's the full name of this lens:
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS
Catchy isn't it!?! ;-)  I'll just refer to it as the 14-42mm PZ in this article.
GX7 with the Panasonic 14-42 PZ, retracted (camera OFF)

Here with the lens extended (camera ON)

The Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens is compact, just a little larger than the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens. You can buy a lens cap for this lens that will open automatically when you switch on the camera. In the photos here you can see I have this mounted. It does make the lens slightly bigger but it's worth it for the convenience. I think for a travel/holiday lens having no cap to lose is a real boon. The lens cap is called JJC and you can find it on eBay or Amazon.

JJC automatic lens cap, open

Focal Length
The 14-42mm is a good zoom range, 14mm is wide enough, 42mm is fine for a close-up or a portrait.

The only down side of this lens is that the aperture, it starts at F3.5 at the wide end to F5.6 at 42mm. For the most part, when on a holiday trip I haven't found it a problem. Usually I am shooting in daylight anyway, so having a smaller aperture (higher F-stop) is better. Also, for taking photos of a group of people, it's easier to get all their faces and the background view in focus with a smaller aperture (higher F number). In the evening sometimes I wish I had my 20mm F1.7 to deal with the low light but having said that, the 14-42mm really does a great job at F3.5, at the wide end, for most situations it is enough.

The Panasonic 14-42mm PZ... why the "PZ"? There's no manual zoom ring to turn on this lens. Instead there is a rocker lever. It's an electronic zoom, the PZ stands for Power Zoom. I have found it to be smooth and of course this is a good choice if you are into video. The focal length is displayed on the camera screen. The zoom is fast enough, at least for me. When I switch on my camera there is only a small delay. If I was using a manual zoom then in any case I'd have to extend the lens myself, in the case of the 14-42mm PZ, it extends on its own of course. Having no manual zoom nor focusing ring means the size of the lens is small.

Image Quality
From what I've said so far it sounds like there are a few trade-offs or compromises with the 14-42mm PZ. Well there are of course, most notably the low-light capability. However, I can live with these trade-offs and I really do recommend this lens because of the most important thing about any lens - the quality of the photos! This lens is great, I can't complain about the quality at all. For most holiday style pictures it's more than enough. In daylight shooting it's sharp and you can even get some bokeh (background blur) in your shots.
Panasonic 14-42mm PZ, taken at 42mm, F5.6, ISO 320

The lens can focus closely, to 20 cm. That's not macro exactly but it is good enough for taking flowers. The lens has stabilisation which helps you take better shots in low light. It works well and works for video also, which is the best choice for a camera like the GX7 where there's no in-built image stabilisation for video, using this lens with it makes a difference. The auto-focus speed of this lens is also excellent, faster than the Panasonic 20mm.

If you are looking for a compact all-purpose zoom which will not break the bank, this is a good option. As it isn't a new lens model it means if you look carefully you should be able to find this lens at a bargain price. Because of this and how useful it can be to have a fuss-free lens like this when on holiday, I think it's a very good choice. For myself, I originally got this lens as a stop-gap but I'm still using it two years on.


A video review by David Thorpe:

For more information and the full specification of the 14-42mm PZ take a look at DPReview:

JJC auto-lens cap:

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