New Zealand D-Photo


Photograph­er Richard Wong sizes up Panasonic’s new L-mount kit lens for the full-frame mirrorless S Series and likes what he sees


Since Panasonic released its first full-frame L-mount camera, all its cameras and lenses in the S Series have been big, heavy, and solid, targeting profession­al users. Even the Lumix S 24–105mm f/4 kit lens is still almost 700g, despite being one of the smallest lenses in the Lumix S Series L-mount family. But this changes with Panasonic’s release of the new Lumix S 20–60mm f/3.5–5.6 lens, the smallest and lightest full-frame lens from Panasonic. The Lumix S 20–60mm weighs only 350g, almost half the weight of the Lumix S 24–105mm lens. The build quality of this lens is good; however, in comparison with the other Lumix S Pro lenses, it does feel more plasticky. Despite that, it is still dust- and splash-proof and I’ve used the lens under rain quite a bit with absolutely no problem at all. Instead of making it a 24–70mm lens, which is the typical focal length for most of the standard zoom lenses these days, Panasonic chose a slightly different — and, in my opinion, more interestin­g — focal length range. Images 3 and 4 (over page) show you what the lens can capture at its wide and telephoto ends when compared with the typical 24–70mm lens.

If you just look at the numbers, it appears that the 20–60mm loses more on the telephoto end compared with what it gains on the wide end than a comparativ­e 24–70mm lens. But we should look at the percentage difference rather than the absolute numbers; the percentage it gains and loses on both ends is approximat­ely the same.

With the high-resolution cameras we have these days, you can easily crop 10 per cent or so on the telephoto end if you want to turn a photo shot at 60mm into 70mm. However, for the wide end, there is no easy solution if you want to go just a bit wider. It doesn’t matter whether you only want to fit a bit more into your photo when shooting in a tight indoor space, or you want to create a bit more visual impact using the wide-angle distortion — you can’t easily go wider than what the lens allows. The only solution is to take multiple photos at different angles and merge them together, but this is not as easy as cropping the photo a bit, and sometimes it is not even technicall­y possible.

I would happily give up a little bit of telephoto end for a slightly wider lens, especially when I am not planning to bring an ultra-wide-angle lens.

To keep the size of the lens small, this is the first Lumix S zoom lens with non-constant aperture. The maximum aperture is f/3.5 on the wide end and f/5.6 on the telephoto end. However, unlike a lot of non-constant-aperture zoom lenses on the market, in which the maximum aperture would quickly increase to the larger rated number — f/5.6 in this case — the Panasonic Lumix 20–60mm’s maximum aperture increases slowly when you start to zoom in. It doesn’t reach f/5.6 until the focal length is almost 60mm. What that means is the maximum aperture is actually quite a bit larger — smaller f/ number — than in a lot of other similarly rated lenses when you are shooting in the middle of the focal length range.

As with all the Lumix S lenses, autofocus speed is lightning fast when shooting in AF-S mode. Continuous focus for video works very well — the operation is extremely quiet, and there is little focus breathing. It may not be the quickest lens to follow a fastmoving subject, but the transition is very nice and smooth. One little tip: if you want a faster continuous autofocus result when shooting video on a Panasonic S1-series camera, shoot at a higher frame rate such as 50fps or 60fps — or 120fps if you are shooting with an S1H. The high video frame rate provides the camera with more informatio­n for DFD autofocus processing, and, as a result, you’ll get faster continuous autofocus.

If you’re wanting to do a bit of vlogging, previously the 24–105mm would have been the best lens choice, but the new Lumix S 20–60mm could well be the go-to. The 20mm wide end allows you to capture a wider field of view, so you can capture a bit more of the background and your face won’t fill up the screen. You don’t have to fully extend your arm and that, combined with the lighter weight, means that your arm won’t get tired so quickly when shooting vlogging footage.

Since the Lumix S 20–60mm doesn’t have an optical image stabilizer, even though the in-body image stabilizer (IBIS) on the S1H is very decent, the footage shot with the Lumix S 20–60mm is a bit more shaky than the Lumix S 24–105, which benefits from Panasonic’s excellent Dual IS 2 stabilizat­ion system.

Image-quality wise, this is as good as I could have expected from a kit lens. Centre sharpness is excellent, even at maximum aperture, whether you are shooting at the wide or the telephoto end. Corner sharpness is also very decent when shooting at maximum aperture, but if you stop down by one stop then even the extreme corner becomes very sharp. Distortion is quite minimal with the Lumix S 20–60mm. There is only a very small amount of pincushion distortion at the 20mm end, but once you start to zoom in there is virtually no noticeable distortion. Vignetting is also well controlled; I could only see a little bit when shooting wide open. Once I stopped down, vignetting was no longer noticeable. Chromatic aberration is similarly very well managed. When I check all my sample photos, a small amount of colour fringing is only visible in some of the very-high-contrast photos.

If you like to have sun stars in your photo, you can stop down to f/16 and create some nice starburst effects. I prefer the sun stars from the Lumix S 20–60mm to those of the Lumix S 24–105mm, as I find them a little sharper and more beautiful. The Lumix S 20–60mm can focus as close as 15cm at the wide end and you can get the maximum magnificat­ion of 0.43x at 26mm. It’s not 1:1 macro, but it’s good enough for some decent macro shots. The sharpness when shooting at closest distance is also very good. However, the Lumix S 20–60mm has a common problem when shooting close-up photos at wide focal length. Because the lens gets very close to the subject, your camera can often cast shadows onto the subject. You should definitely remove the lens hood and pay attention to the ambient light if you want to minimize shadow on your close-up subjects.

After a solid week of testing and shooting real-world photos and video clips, I can’t find any major weakness in this lens. The image quality is great, and I love how compact and light it is while remaining dust- and weather-resistant. Considerin­g the price and size, I think this is one of the best kit lenses available right now. The only thing I don’t like is its slightly more plastic constructi­on when compared with the other Lumix S lenses. To be fair, though, it’s not any worse than most other kit lenses on the market.

I suspect that Panasonic hasn’t made this lens purely to live as a kit lens for the S1; otherwise it would have done so when the S1 was originally released. I feel this lens signals that Panasonic will very soon expand its S Series camera range to begin targeting the non-profession­al market as well. When Panasonic releases a smaller full-frame camera, the 24–105mm f/4 will probably be too big and this new Lumix S 20–60mm f/3.5–5.6 lens will be the perfect kit lens of choice.

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