Monday, April 5, 2010

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH review

Okay SLR nerds (I like to call you guys "SLeR Nerds"), here's a camera-related review to sink your teeth into: the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH for Micro Four-Thirds review.

Like I said in an earlier post, this lens stole the show when I bought the Olympus E-PL1. The two seem to be made for each other. With the relatively flat 20mm Panasonic mated to the Olympus E-PL1 body, the duo is remarkably retro, exuding the same old-world charm as a Leica M8 (okay, maybe that's pushing it). But you will get strange looks from SLR nerds who aren't exactly sure what you've got in your hands -- an old rangefinder perhaps?

It is what it is though. As a 20mm lens, it's good for 0.2m to infinity. There's no zoom whatsoever, so if you want a tighter shot, you'll have to walk closer to your subject. This will require some adjustment in the way you shoot and makes some shots  impossible (paparazzi shots from halfway across the nude beach, for example). You'll just have to live with it.

The quality of the photos that this lens produces makes it all worth it. Comparing the photos to those from the 14-42mm lens included with the Olympus E-PL1 makes you want to chuck the more versatile Olympus lens into the trash bin -- and that's not a bad lens everything considered.

Photos from the 20mm Panasonic are sharp and lovely. The lens lets in oodles of light, so you can shoot in dark rooms without a flash. We managed to shoot in one dark press event without popping out the flash a single time. On automatic mode, the camera didn't even raise the ISO all that much.

The lens produces great bokeh -- that blurry background look -- if you're into that. Photos had lots of depth. Put your aperture at f/1.7 and you get an awesomely shallow depth of field. Or you can sharpen things up easily by reducing the size of the aperture. James Cameron must have felt this way when he was shooting Avatar.

Autofocus was, for the most part, fast enough, but when the camera has trouble getting a lock, the lens goes backwards and forwards more than it should. Going manual can be slow going because you'll have to turn the focus ring quite a distance for even the most basic photo. It's there though.

The only real downside is the noise this lens produces -- not image noise but aural noise. It's not for the faint of heart. The lens sounds something like throwing your car keys into a blender: scratchy, metallic and bad. Don't worry; this is normal.

At $400, this lens is by no means cheap. It's available locally for 25 grand (try V-Mall in Greenhills). You can also get it with the Panasonic GF1 body (you have the option of the 20mm lens or the 14-42mm lens).

Compact and discrete, but big on image quality, make no mistake about it, if you have a Micro Four-Thirds camera, this lens is a must-buy.


tradback said...

Do you know where I can buy the same panasonic 20mm lens you used?

The Third World Nerd said...

Digital Walker carries Micro Four Thirds cameras but precious few accessories and lenses. I spotted a 20mm lens in one of the stores in V-Mall, Greenhills, but it was gone the next time I came around. They tell me there's an Olympus Store in SM North (Annex). I've been hunting for a VF-2 electronic viewfinder and they pointed me there, but I've yet to visit the place. Kimstore is also worth a shot. I saw Panasonic lenses on the site, but alas, no 20mm.

The Third World Nerd said...

Oh, Kimstore is also supposed to have a real store in St. Francis Square. Maybe you can order.

tradback said...