Micro four thirds kit lens / standard zoom comparisons + raw file samples

Buying cameras with kit lenses is a cheaper option than just buying camera bodies. The kit lens can always be sold for more than it cost in the kit, so its a way of making the body cheaper. However, I seem to have accumulated three of them in addition to my 12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic zoom, I currently have a Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, a Panasonic X 14-42mm "pancake" f/3.5-5.6 and an Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6.

I compared them with the 12-35mm f/2.8 on a tripod mounted Panasonic GX1, at ISO 100 at the apertures of f/3.5, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16. 

You can access a zip file containing all the OOC jpgs, and the raw files by clicking on the image above or by following this link. (Be warned it is BIG - close to 500MB)

The image I shot is shown below, and I did it this way to show how the lenses render both in and out of focus areas. As usual I much prefer to shoot three dimensional test shots rather than charts or flat still life constructions, since thats how I'm going to use the lens. (Plus I like taking pictures of my guitars. Sad isn't it!!)

There isn't a huge amount to say about the results. The 12-35mm f/2.8 is marginally sharper at all apertures and the other three are almost identical. I'm sure that there are marginal differences but the files from the two Panasonic and Olympus "kit" zooms are VERY similar. There is also no optical advantage from the X "pancake" zoom but then there is no disadvantage either which I think says quite a lot about how well designed and made it is. 

So, you pays your money etc. The 12-35mm is the best lens of all for me. Its wider, though shorter at the telephoto end, faster with the fixed aperture throughout and much better build quality. The extra sharpness, though not by much, is also something I appreciate. However all the lenses have their advantages. The Panasonic 14-42mm is cheap, especially when bought as part of a kit, plus it has automatic image stabilisation when fitted to a Panasonic body. The Olympus 14-42mm is also cheap as part of a kit and very lightweight. I also think it looks great, especially with the "leicaesque" hood I got for it off ebay. No IS of course. Not a problem with the body stabilisation in Olympus m4/3 cameras but if you feel you need it you won't get it with a Panasonic body. The 14-42mm X pancakes advantage of course is its weight and size, and it is small when the barrel retreats into the body. Plus it has IS. It is however somewhat more expensive either on its own or as part of a kit.

I haven't really dealt with either CA / fringing or distortion, since this can differ depending on what body you try them on and what processing software you use. This is the reason I've provided the raw files, since you can see how it fits in with what you prefer. Certainly with the new version of ACR, I can get "clean" files off all the lenses, and with what I shoot distortion isn't a problem anyway. However if this is important to you, the raw files should reveal all.

I have to say I would be very happy to use any of these lenses for "real world" shooting. m4/3 is the kind of system where people often don't go beyond these kit lenses so they tend to be pretty good. For example the difference between them and the 12-35mm in sharpness is easily cancelled out by just a small move of the sharpening slider in your raw processing software. If you want the ultimate image (and build) quality for a standard zoom in a m4/3 camera then the 12-35mm is the best, though be prepared to pay for it. If you want something small and light then the X lens looks great, and I'll be trying it out in the next week or so. However, if none of this is that important to you then I firmly believe that you are loosing very little by using either the Panasonic or Olympus basic kit zooms. Remember that these are cheap because firstly they make an awful lot of them and sell them bundled with a kit. As you are probably aware they can be quite pricey as a stand alone lens and with good reason, they are actually rather good.

These things can often be underestimated and I've often been fooled when editing images by assuming that the excellent quality file I've been working on was taken on a "better" lens only to find I took it on a kit zoom. So there's no reason to stick these in a cupboard or sell them on (Unless you have three of course!!) and they are genuinely useful lenses for shooting in good light. When you add in the Olympus 12-50mm bundled with the OM-D there are now 5 alternatives to choose from and all are fine lenses, not the best you can get for m/43, but then they aren't the worst either. (I give that dubious honour to the old Panasonic 45-200mm and the Olympus 17mm - though to be honest I do actually like the latter and use it quite a lot)

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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