Panasonic Lumix 12-32 f3.5-5.6

The Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. Lumix G Vario lens was originally the exclusive kit lens for the equally tiny Panasonic GM1. The lens is a tiny collapsible “pancake” zoom lens. Now it is often claimed that one of the chief benefits of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, particularly of the micro-four-thirds variety, is their small size. Without a doubt, mirrorless cameras are smaller than DSLRs, sometimes significantly smaller. However, a camera is only as small as the lens you put on it. Put a large lens on a small camera, and it’s no longer small. Rather, it’s a franken-camera: not small enough to be compact, but too large to be comfortable to handle. The Olympus M. Zukio 7-14 f2.8 wide angle zoom weighs more than my Pentax DA 12-24. The Olympus M. Zukio 12-40 f2.8 weighs more than three of the five zoom lenses I’ve used in recent years for landscape photography on my DSLR — and two of those lenses are full-frame!

While Olympus has not been afraid to go big with their “pro” lenses, Panasonic has endeavored, for the most part, to keep their lens line-up as small as possible. No where have they done small quite so well as with this 12-32 zoom lens. It weighs only 70 grams! Its is less than one inch in length. That would be small for a prime. But this is a zoom lens with a 2x+ range. Can a lens so small, so compact deliver the optical goods? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s an image shot a 12mm, f7.1:

Here’s a center crop:

Here’s a corner crop:

And here’s an edge crop:

The center is quite good, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it outstanding. A premium lens would be a bit sharper, with a bit more snap. The corner is quite good considering this is a compact consumer grade zoom lens. The edge crop, curiously, fares the worst, although this may have to do with focus point being much closer combined with field curvature. Let’s examine an image that features much less depth to it. Again, we have a shot at 12mm, f7.1:

Now the center crop:

And the edge crop:

Again, we’re losing a little bit of resolution along the edges, and although the sharpness, even in the center, may not quite reach the superlative level, it’s still pretty darn good.

Now let’s take a glance at how the lens performs wide open at 12mm:

Center crop:

Corner crop:

While the center remains quite decent, wide open, the lens loses significant resolution at the edges. Fairly typical wide open performance for a consumer grade zoom lens, particularly on the wide, fast aperture end of the lens.

Now lets examine an image shot at 16mm, f7.1:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

This result here is very close to what we got at 12mm: very good center, with a loss of resolution at the far edges and corners.

Now let’s see how the lens performs wide-open at 16mm and f3.9:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

Center is pretty good, the edge less so.

Let’s see what the lens does at 22mm, f7.1:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

It seems to me that we’re maybe losing a little resolution at 22mm compared to wider focal lengths. Still, the result is more than decent. Edges are definitely softer.

Here’s an image shot at 25mm, f7.1:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

While, strangely enough, the center seems a bit sharper than the 22mm shot, there’s less fine detail here, so maybe that’s the reason it seems sharper. Edges are pretty decent, although there definitely is less resolution as one moves toward the far edge.

Now let’s look at a 25mm shot at f5.2 (i.e., wide open):

Center crop:

And the edge crop:

We’re losing a little resolution in this image due to high ISO (800) and the general darkness of the subject. But still, we’re getting respectable performance in the center, less so toward the edges. The Lumix 12-32 is not really a low light lens, particularly on the narrower end, where the maximum aperture is quite high.

Now for an image at the far end of the lens, 32mm, f7.1:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

It seems to me that the lens is not at its very best at 32mm. Still good performance, but the lens’ consumer grade status is definitely making an appearance here. Edges are even worse.

One more 32mm image, this time taken wide open at f5.6:

And the center crop:

I won’t bother with an edge crop, as none of the edges are in the plane of focus with this image. As is typical, the lens seems sharper up close. Certainly respectable performance. This image also shows what sort of bokeh one can expect from the lens, although you have to be pretty close to your subject to hope to blur out the background, thanks to the slow aperture and the m43 sensor.

The lumix 12-32 performs pretty well, at least in terms of resolution, for a super compact slow aperture consumer grade lens. It’s fairly sharp in the center, and doesn’t seem to suffer all that much loss of resolution toward the far edges and corners. To be sure, it does seem to perform just a little better at the wide end of the lens rather than the long end. But the differences are hardly dramatic.

How does the lens perform in other respects? Well here we run into some more problems. Making a zoom lens that is this small and compact involves compromises. While the compromises don’t have a huge effect on sharpness, it does effect the lens in other ways, such as flare control and coma. Consider the following two images:

The images are nice and crisp, with good contrast, but the flare is pretty bad. Coma is among the worst I have ever seen in a lens:

Other than that, there aren’t any major issues with the lens. While it is true that there’s a fair amount of distortion and some chromatic aberration issues, those are easily solved either in camera or in a raw converter. What the Lumix lens provides is good image quality in a very small package. Contrast and color rendition is actually very good — better than what we get in most consumer grade lenses. Indeed, when it comes to perceptual image quality (as opposed to testable image quality), I would rank this lens slightly ahead of most other micro-four-thirds consumer grade lenses, including the Olympus 12-50, both versions of the Olympus 14-42, the first version of the Panasonic 14-42, and the Panasonic 14-45. While the lens does not in any way present outstanding performance, it would be unreasonable to expect pro-grade performance in a consumer grade zoom lens.

More samples from the lens, starting at 12mm:

At 13mm:

At 14mm:

At 15mm:

At 16mm:

At 17mm

At 18mm:

At 19mm:

At 21mm:

At 23mm:

At 25mm:

At 26mm:

At 29mm:

At 32mm: