Saturday, 5 August 2017

Which lens is best - Panasonic 12-32 or 14-42 PZ?

Previously I wrote an article praising the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS lens. I recommend it, especially for a holiday trip, as that lens is small and versatile. I've been happily using this lens for a couple of years.

Recently I received a new GX80 camera! It came with the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH. What to do? Will it replace my 14-42 PZ as my all-purpose lens? Maybe, in this article I'll list some of the differences, the pros and cons of each, just in case you are considering one of these lenses for your camera bag.

Panasonic give their lenses very long names. In this article I'll refer to them by the shorthand of 14-42 PZ and 12-32.

GX80 + 12-32mm lens extended

Image Quality
From my non-scientific view I feel these lenses both produce amazing photos. I don't think you could make a decision of one lens over another based on image quality. Both are superb.

Auto-focus Speed
Both lenses are fast, I don't see a difference between them.

Focal Length
With the 12-32 lens starting at 12mm (24 equiv.) means you have a wide angle lens but it isn't too wide, you don't usually see any distortion. It allows you to get more into the shot and it even works well for selfies when holding the camera out at arms length. 12mm is an advantage over 14mm, I feel those 2mm make a difference. However, at the long end the 14-42 PZ has an extra 10mm of zoom range. That does make a big difference if you want a lens that can really get in close and for portrait shots it's easier to get some background out-of-focus blur using the 14-42 PZ. Having said that, there are better lens choices for portrait photography, the Olympus 45mm F1.8, for example (my favourite lens!).

With focal length it comes down to what you use the most, the wide or more telephoto end. If you like to get close having the ability to zoom to 42mm can be handy. 32mm (64mm equiv.) can be a bit restrictive. Of course both lenses are covering the all important classic focal lengths of 35 and 50mm equivalence, that is 17mm and 25mm with these Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Minimum Focusing Distance
Both lenses have a 20cm minimum focusing distance when at their widest focal lengths. This is fine for taking flowers and the like, neither lenses are good for photographing insects though. Because of the longer zoom range of the 14-42 PZ, it is the better option for this kind of photography.

If macro or close-up photography is of interest and you are on a budget, consider the Olympus 45mm and macro converter combination. I've used this and it's excellent, you can read more about it here.

Both have a variable aperture of F3.5 (wide) to F5.6 (telephoto). As the focal length ranges are different, when zoomed, on paper the 14-42 PZ is the better low-light performer. For example, the 12-32 at 12mm will start at F3.5. Zoom to 14mm and the aperture goes to F3.7. The 14-42 PZ starts at 14mm F3.5.

When using the 14-42 PZ, I zoomed to 32mm and the best aperture I could set was F5.5. We can say in simple terms that when zoomed, the 12-32 is one stop less efficient at light gathering.

In the real world this probably won't make a huge difference. I have found F3.5 to be good enough for most casual evening photography, especially on holiday where both these lenses would be ideal. Just keep either lens at its widest focal length.

If you really need a good low light lens, consider a prime lens such as the Panasonic 20mm F1.7. It is also small and compact.

Physically both lenses are small and compact. When not in use they both fold to a pancake size. The 12-32 is very small. The 14-42 PZ is bigger in diameter. The two switches and styling of the 14-42 PZ give it a slightly bulkier appearance. But both are compact lenses, great for taking on a trip. When fitted to a camera like the GX7 or GX80, they fit nicely into a small shoulder bag or even a large winter coat pocket.

Build Quality
Both are well built. The 12-32 is all plastic. The 14-42 PZ has a metal lens mount, otherwise it is plastic too. But both are made from good quality feeling plastic. The 12-32 in particular, it feels good to the touch. I can't really fault either lens.

The 12-32 is the better looking lens. It is minimalistic, no red dot, no switches and bumps like the 14-42 PZ. Personally I prefer the neater look of the 12-32.

GX80 + 12-32 lens not extended

With the 12-32, switch on the camera and then twist the zoom ring to extend the lens before use. The 14-42 PZ is named PZ because it is a Power Zoom lens. Switch on the camera and the lens automatically extends ready for use. It is fast too. If you are used to point and shoot cameras, you'll feel right at home with the 14-42 PZ. It works well with one hand, at least I have using the GX7 and GX80 cameras. The 12-32 has an advantage though, you can extend and set it to the desired focal length before switching on the camera. It is probably down to personal preference which is better. For me, I like both methods but the powered zoom very convenient.

Both cameras come with a small manual lens cap that's easy to lose! You can buy automatic lens caps from eBay, I have one on my 14-42 PZ  and it has worked well. I believe one is also available for the 12-32 lens.

This is where there is a lot of difference. The 14-42 PZ has a rocker switch for zooming. The 12-32 has a conventional zoom ring. For stills I prefer the conventional zoom as you can set that to what you want visually. But the 14-42 PZ can be good for films because you can zoom consistently with the powered zoom.

It is possible to remotely control the zoom from the Panasonic app on your phone. That might be a nice feature for a filmmaker.

The 12-32 does not have a focus ring. Instead, for manual focus, you must use the onscreen controls in the camera. It is ok but not ideal. The 14-42 PZ has a rocker switch for manual focusing, it is easier to manage. Do you focus manually often though? With a standard zoom lens probably not so much.

The zoom rocker switch on the side of the 14-42 PZ lens

Image Stabilisation (IS)
Both lenses have IS meaning that you are more likely to get shots without blur when shooting one-handed or in the evening (low light). The newer 12-32 lens has an advantage, when used with a modern Panasonic camera such as the GX80, you will get Dual-IS which means the lens IS and in-body IS work together.

Real world use
I was using the 14-42 PZ for a couple of years or more. I know that lens. The 12-32 is still new to me but so far I am impressed. I like prime lenses with their fixed focal length, the 12-32 feels similar because you set your focal length and then shoot. With the 14-42 PZ the tendency is to point it and zoom. There is no right nor wrong, both methods get the job done.

I have found the extra wide 12mm focal length handy. Out at a restaurant it was particularly useful in easily capturing everyone at the table. The F3.5 aperture was more than adequate for the job.

With the 12-32 only zooming to 32mm is a bit of a pain sometimes. I want to reach further but I just can't.

I think for convenience the 14-42 PZ is best, especially when the automatic lens cap is attached. The 12-32 makes photography more deliberate as you set your focal length ready to shoot. It is a more tactile experience. Having the wider field of view is also a welcome advantage for the 12-32. Standard zoom lenses are always a compromise. In this case it is down to what's important to you. There are other factors too, such as will you carry another lens with you? I have the Panasonic 35-100mm F4-5.6 lens. It is styled in a similar way to the 12-32. It is compact and great for travel. Maybe with those two in my bag I will not miss the ability to zoom to 42mm, as I can get that and more with the 35-100mm. Decisions decisions! The good thing here is that whatever you choose, you get great quality for a reasonable price.


David Thorpe's video for the 12-32 lens.

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