SIBLING RIVALRY

 45-175mm zoom

 WHICH OF THESE SIMILAR PANASONIC ZOOM LENSES IS BETTER FOR YOU?

It may be surprising to see that of these two lenses, the one that is bigger, heavier and possesses the greater zoom range is also the less costly of the two. The difference in diameter is particularly interesting given that the two zooms  aperture ranges are exactly the same, yet one has a 52mm filter thread whereas the other can make do with 46mm. Clearly, despite their external similarities, there are some significant differences inside.

PANASONIC LUMIX G VARIO 45-200MM F/4.0-5.6 MEGA OIS

MICRO FOUR THIRDS ZOOM WITH A FULL-FRAME FOCAL RANGE OF 90-400MM

A zoom range of 45-200mm does not sound particularly i noteworthy until you realise that Micro Four Thirds sensors are half the size of full-frame sensors. So, in full-frame terms, the Lumix 45-200mm covers the same angle of view as lenses with focal lengths from 90mm to 400mm. That s a lot of lens in a small package, since the lens measures only about 13.5cm when fully extended.

Even so, some might say the lens looks a little too big for a Micro Four Thirds body, as the zoom is wider than the height of the camera (in the case of the Olympus PEN Mini used for this review, though it s quite at home on a Panasonic G3 or GH2.) That may cause a problem with some tripod-mounting plates, which could foul the zoom ring, but careful positioning ought to avoid this.

The zoom ring is broad and occupies most of the rear-half of the lens barrel. The manual-focusing ring is at the front while a slider that activates the Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) is located between the two rings and falls conveniently under the user s left thumb. The lens is very comfortable to hold thanks to the same bulk that makes it look a touch too big. That said, the zoom ring would be more easily reached if it were at the front of the lens, and the focus ring at the rear. The resistance is about right on both rings.

There are no distance markings on the focusing ring and neither are there any depth-of-field markings on the barrel. A generous lens hood is supplied making the lens even bulkier when stored.

Technical testing produced a set of steep MTF curves that reached an impressive maximum level of resolution (between 0.4 and 0.5 cycles-per-pixel) but with a rapid decline towards smaller aperture settings (larger f-stop denominators). It would have been nice to have had a bit more consistency but the biggest problem was colour fringing at the 200mm end, which is also where the resolution was lowest.

Panasonic has sensibly limited the minimum aperture setting to f/22, by which point the MTF curves for all three focal-lengths tested were below the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel threshold.

Field testing the lens with a viewfinder-less host body made it clear that performance would vary depending on exactly how the camera was being held. External display screens have improved in quality but are still difficult to use outdoors in bright sunlight. Consequently, some pictures were out-of-focus due to the camera having chosen the wrong focusing point because it was not possible to anticipate this from the screen view. The colour fringing seen during technical testing was apparent in some real-world images but not often to an obtrusive extent.

Overall this lens works impressively well, and itpossible it could have performed even better on a different body, one with a grip and viewfinder. It s only the slight chromatic aberration at the tele end which lets it down-otherwise it s a winner.

PROS Responsive AF CONS Colour fringing at 200mm

 

PANASONIC LUMIX G VARIO PZ 45-175MM F/4.0-5.6 HD

PREMIUM  X  VERSION OF LUMIX S 4X ZOOM LENS

Being smaller and having a slightly reduced focal-length range does not make Panasonic s 45-175mm zoom inferior to its 45-200mm sibling. In fact, as a slightly elevated price-tag indicates, it is better specified.

The newer 45-175mm zoom is part of the Lumix  X  premium range, promising to deliver  superb image quality while maintaining compact and light design . All these lenses feature extra-low dispersion (ED) elements, aspherical profiles, nano surface coating and an integrated Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS).

The 45-175mm zoom s overall diameter is so small that it seems there can surely be no room for an OIS drive inside. In fact, Panasonic has somehow squeezed the motors into a lens that is no bigger than a conventional, non-OIS lens, although the usual mechanical switch has had to be forsaken in favour of activation via the camera s menu screens.

Instead of an OIS switch the lens has a rocker that drives the zoom mechanism. Panasonic claims this is the first time that such a system has been fitted within an interchangeable lens, and the rocker is easier to use than a rotating ring-albeit with slightly less precision.

Despite that, the lens is still equipped with a conventional zoom ring. There is also a much narrower focusing ring at the front out no markings for focused distance or depth-of-field owing to the free-turning nature of the collar.

The lens s barrel-diameter fits within the profile of the camera, ensuring there will be no problems with the lens fouling on a tripod s mounting plate. There is a degree to which the lens is so compact and lightweight that it feels somewhat plasticky, but this is only a subjective impression and there is, at least, a metal mount at the rear to ensure accurate location on the host body.

Technical testing generated a good set of curves but also revealed that the lens behaves differently at 45mm from how it behaves at medium and long focal length settings. Testing was repeated to confirm this result, which is due mostly to a drop in the MTF figures at f/4. To put this in context, the lens performed well above the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel threshold down to f/16 (including at f/4) and peaked at 0.44 cycles per pixel. Chromatic aberration was visible to only a very slight extent at 45mm and was even less at other focal lengths.

Overall this lens has a solid performance. The power-zoom rocker is an interesting addition but having to resort to the camera menu to control the OIS system is annoying (as it is on other cameras that use in-body stabilisation). Probably the cleverest parts of this lens are tucked away inside, leaving only a modest but very competent face visible to the world.

PROS Bargain price-point CONS OIS controls in camera menu

CONCLUSION

On balance there is nothing to separate these two lenses. Yes, one is slightly cheaper yet has the higher MTF figures (although both are similarly strong here), whereas the other exhibits less chromatic aberration and offers a power-zoom rocker control but provides a smaller range of focal lengths. Instinctively, the bigger 45-200mm zoom feels more solid but the reduced mass of the 45-175mm version might be welcome-and it certainly it looks aesthetically more pleasing on a Compact System Camera body. The hardest question to answer is not which is the better lens but why Panasonic feels the need to offer two such similar zooms when there is so little for potential buyers to use to decide between them.

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