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Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 Gordon Laing, Feb 2013
 

Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 vs Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2

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To compare the real-life performance between the Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 and Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 lenses, I shot this landscape scene with both at every aperture setting using a Panasonic Lumix GX1 mounted on a tripod. The Lumix 7-14mm was adjusted to deliver the same 12mm focal length.

The GX1 was set to its base sensitivity of 160 ISO and the lenses were focused on the center of the composition using magnified Live View assistance. Most of the scene is effectively at infinity so even at f2 the depth of field covers the range of distances from top to bottom.
  Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 results
1 Panasonic 7-14mm sharpness at 7mm
2 Panasonic 7-14mm sharpness at 10mm
3 Panasonic 7-14mm sharpness at 14mm
4 Panasonic 7-14mm vs Olympus 12mm
5 Panasonic 7-14mm vs 14-42mm PZ
6 Panasonic 7-14mm Sample images


Once again I shot the scene with both lenses using the GX1's RAW mode and processed the files in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) via Photoshop using the following settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts.

All lens corrections were disabled, so there's no additional software compensation for vignetting, geometric distortion or chromatic aberrations. Normally this would allow us to evaluate the uncorrected optical performance of the lenses alone, but with Micro Four Thirds lenses there are additional corrections stored as profiles within the firmware; these are automatically applied to JPEGs in-camera, and also by most RAW converters including ACR when opening the RAW file. You can't turn them off.

As such it's often hard to see exactly what's going on behind the scenes of Micro Four Thirds lenses without using an obscure RAW converter which ignores the profiles, so instead of trying to chase the pure optical performance of the lenses for the sake of it, I thought it would be much more useful to simply show how they will perform in normal use, at least on a Panasonic body anyway.

Both lenses have their geometric distortions automatically corrected in my results below, but as I understand it, only the combination of Panasonic lenses on Panasonic cameras will additionally apply chromatic aberration corrections automatically. As such, the 7-14mm results below are bereft of fringing as they were taken with a Panasonic body and processed by RAW software that understands the corrections. In contrast the Olympus 12mm exhibits fringing because it's not corrected automatically - it's something you'd need to do at the RAW conversion stage, and as explained above I had all the manual lens corrections turned off in ACR. This is clearly a tricky situation when it comes to comparing Panasonic and Olympus lenses on a Panasonic body as only the fringing on Panasonic's own lenses will be corrected, but that's what I had available at the time of testing, so that's what I'm presenting below.

With all that said we can start looking at the results which are of course kicked-off by the Olympus 12mm with its brighter aperture. The crop from the corner at f2 isn't bad, with plenty of detail recorded, although there's a slight softness to the image, some darkening due to vignetting, and minor fringing on areas of high contrast - although the latter is actually respectably low since it's not being corrected by the body or RAW processor. Apply CA corrections and it cleans up nicely on RAW files, but obviously it'll remain on uncorrected JPEGs.

The f2.8 corner sample looks much brighter due to a reduction in vignetting, but this stop-down hasn't made much difference to the overall sharpness or fringing which remain similar to the f2 sample. Likewise at f4 which is where the Panasonic 7-14mm joins-in the comparison. The 7-14mm crop at f4 appears much darker, again due to vignetting at the maximum lens aperture, but while there's no fringing visible (due to the auto-corrections), the overall sharpness and recorded detail is higher than the Olympus at the same aperture.

With both lenses at f5.6, vignetting is banished on the 7-14mm and you can really begin to compare sharpness. Again the Olympus 12mm isn't bad in this department, and arguably delivers its best result so far, but the Lumix 7-14mm is simply better with crisper details. As the aperture is closed further, the Panasonic maintains a lead in overall crispness that has nothing to do with auto corrections.

Scroll down to see how the lenses compare in the middle of the frame, or if you've seen enough you may wish to check out my Panasonic 7-14mm sample images or skip straight to my verdict.



Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner sharpness
 
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 corner sharpness at 12mm
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f2
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 - f2 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f2.8
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 - f2.8 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f4
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 corner crop at 12mm f4
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f5.6
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 corner crop at 12mm f5.6
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f8
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 corner crop at 12mm f8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 corner crop at f11
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 corner crop at 12mm f11




Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm vs Olympus 12mm at 12mm in the middle

Moving onto the center of the image the Olympus delivers a great-looking result even with the aperture wide open at f2. Likewise between f2.8 and f5.6 where the lens arguably performs at its best. Viewed in isolation you'd be very happy with these results, but put them alongside the Lumix 7-14mm and you may change your mind. The Panasonic lens joins-in the comparison at f4 where it delivers a result that's simply crisper and higher contrast, with the very finest of details being better resolved. This continues throughout their aperture range, although by f8 and f11, diffraction is kicking-in and softening the images making them appear closer in overall detail.

This is a very interesting result as many would assume the fixed focal length of the Olympus 12mm would allow it to out-resolve the Lumix 7-14mm, at least when stopped-down a notch or two. But while the Olympus 12mm does deliver very respectable performance, it's simply out-resolved by the Lumix 7-14mm even when the latter is wide-open at f4. The fact is while the Olympus 12mm is clearly very good, the Lumix 7-14mm is even better when it comes to resolving fine details and delivering them with high contrast. Where the 12mm scores is of course having two stops greater light gathering power, not to mention a smaller and lighter body that can take filters and is also a bit cheaper. But if you're into big landscape or architecture shots that are packed with detail and don't need a filter, the Lumix 7-14mm clearly delivers the goods.

I have one more test for you comparing the 7-14mm against a kit lens at 14mm - you can find this in my Panasonic 7-14mm vs 14-42mm comparison. Alternatively if you've seen enough you may wish to check out my Panasonic 7-14mm sample images or skip straight to my verdict.


Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center sharpness
 
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 center sharpness at 12mm
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f2
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 - f2 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f2.8
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 - f2.8 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f4
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 center crop at 12mm f4
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f5.6
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 center crop at 12mm f5.6
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f8
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 center crop at 12mm f8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 12mm f2 center crop at f11
Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 center crop at 12mm f11


I have one more test for you comparing the 7-14mm against a kit lens at 14mm - you can find this in my Panasonic 7-14mm vs 14-42mm comparison. Alternatively if you've seen enough you may wish to check out my Panasonic 7-14mm sample images or skip straight to my verdict.
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