Not looking to start any arguments, but interested in opinions. I've been using the Panasonic GX8 recently and have discovered—big surprise to me—that I'm actually a huge fan of Panasonic lenses.
Micro 4/3 wins the war when it comes to lens size—a whole kit is lovely and compact, easily portable. For all the popularity of Sony's A7 cameras, some of the new lenses are monsters and a kit doesn't really look to offer much "schlepping" advantage over full-frame DSLRs. The Panasonic 12–35mm ƒ/2.8 has been thoroughly overshadowed by Olympus's better-on-paper variant of the same idea, but the 12–35mm is a truly fine lens by all the measures I personally care about. Just a really great all-rounder that scores highly in every way, from its lovely image quality to focal-length flexibility to its constant maximum aperture to size, weight, and operability. If I shot Micro 4/3 you'd have to use a crowbar to pry that lens out of my hands.
If I were going to build a lens kit in the Panasonic lineup, I'd choose four: the 20mm ƒ/1.7 II, ; the aforementioned 12–35mm ƒ/2.8; the "King of Bokeh" 42.5mm ƒ/1.7; and the 35–100mm long zoom, which would be useful in the landscape I currently live in but which I know only by reputation. That would cover all the bases for me.
And that whole kit weighs in at a grand total of 31.12 ounces (882 grams).
Compare that to just the new single normal zoom for the A7 cameras, the Sony FE 24–70mm ƒ/2.8 GM, and you can see where the real advantage of Micro 4/3 over FF lies:
Entire 4-lens Panasonic kit: 882 grams
Single Sony FE zoom: 886 grams
This is not to say there aren't still excellent reasons for going with Sony's full-frame mirrorless offerings, but there's going to be a bit of a portability hit. (Somehow, though, I don't see anyone choosing Sony FE quite yet, much less Sony APS-C E-mount, as the best lens line.)
Here's a size comparison between the Canon D80 and the marvelous EF 24–70mm ƒ/2.8L II and the Panasonic GX8 with its 12–35mm (24–70mm angle of view equivalent) ƒ/2.8. Graphic courtesy CameraSize.com.
Or is it Nikon or Canon? When I wrote a magnum opus magazine article called "The EOS Revolution" for Camera & Darkroom magazine in 1991 or so, Canon was flying high as an innovator. Now, it has the reputation of being complacent and hidebound, a broody hen sitting on its eggs. (That's probably just that "don't mess with success" phase that corporations go through when they insist that the handwriting on the wall isn't actually on the wall.) But its lens lineup is huge and has many high points, including what might be the prettiest normal zoom optically of any, the EF 24–70mm ƒ/2.8L II. Beautiful lens, and it's hardly Canon's only great one. So does Canon get your nod?
The Leica M-mount has as many fun options as Micro 4/3 and likely more, depending on what you count. Of course, many of the tastier of those options have a very high price bar—like a big bouncer at the club door who won't let anyone in. And they lack certain features the market cares for, like, well, that little alleged convenience called "autofocus." Still, I can see Leica M lenses winning the palm for the right person.
I suppose I voted with my wallet when I bought the Fuji X-T1 review sample and 23mm ƒ/1.4 lens two years ago. Fuji's lens line just makes great sense for me. Although so far my investment has lagged—I now own the 23mm and only one additional lens, the XF 14mm ƒ/2.8. The other day Ctein, Moose and I were discussing the Olympus 12mm ƒ/2 that Ctein still doesn't like very much, which allowed me to sing the praises of the XF 14mm. Yeah, I know they make a two-stops faster 16mm, but in my view the 14mm is one of the reasons to shoot Fuji in the first place. (Thanks again to Stephen Scharf, who originally recommended it to me.)
But I still haven't plunked down for the 56mm I need or the longer tele zoom I think might be useful for the hills and lakes of Western New York. (It's the only place I've lived where I consistently see small pictures that are far away!) I suspect my commitment to Fuji might be...weak. Too many good alternatives out there I guess. Or maybe it's a knee-jerk frugality that makes me balk at the combined expense.
But what do you think? All things considered, what gets your vote (even if it's not what you shoot with)?
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Frank Grygier: "Despite a recent dalliance with a Sony A6000 I have been a dedicated Micro 4/3 user. I happen to have all the lenses that you listed except my 42.5mm is of the ƒ/1.2 Nocton variety. I also have many of the Olympus prime lenses. I do find myself gravitating toward the Panny lenses lately and travel mostly with the two zooms you mention. I also pick up the Panny GX8 over the E-M1. I continue to struggle with the selection of Sony lenses for the A6000 and will probably stay with Micro 4/3 because of portability and the investment I have made in the system."
Tom Hassler (partial comment): "...I'm going to cast my vote for the Zeiss Batis line for the Sony FE mount...."
[Please see the Comments Section for the full text of "Featured" comments, where Tom makes some good points about plastics. The Featured Comments are just meant to be samplings of the Comments for people who only have time to read a few. —Ed.]
Craig (partial comment): "I strongly dislike the MIcro 4/3 lens lineups from both Olympus and Panasonic because they seem to have decided that since software can correct for geometrical distortion, there's no need for the lenses to do it. Raw files from most of these lens show really bad distortion. While software can straighten the images out, this unavoidably reduces sharpness toward the corners."
Technical Editor Ctein replies: I have to disagree that raw files from most Micro 4/3 lenses show really bad distortion. Apropos the email conversation Mike and I have been having, I've been looking at a lot of uncorrected distortion figures (because it's the fastest way for me to filter out a whole bunch of unacceptable candidates). Some Micro 4/3 lenses have unacceptable levels of geometric distortion. Most don't. I think you're running into sample bias—the focal lengths that you're interested in don't have good performers.
Note that correcting modest amounts of barrel distortion in software (under ~2%) produces no visible degradation in edge/corner image quality at all. It's an entirely useful tool for designers. It's when you correct large amounts in software that you screw things up, because the degradation goes up with the square or cube of the distortion (not sure which—haven't played with the maths).
Numbers up over 5% are very, very bad, and if you're looking for something in the 24mm-equivalent range in Micro 4/3, you're pretty well out of luck. (I also looked at the various APS-C options. No joy there, either.) Nothing is particularly better than my much-maligned Olympus 12mm, and some are worse. So, no alternative for me, yet (there might be a new Leica 12mm lens coming down the pike, but I ain't getting my hopes up).
But...looking at the same vaguely equivalent-focal-length for the Fuji X cameras, every single lens also has unacceptable levels of distortion. There's nothing in that regard that makes them superior to the Micro 4/3 line.
The 14mm (21mm-equivalent) Fujinon XF ƒ/2.8 has insignificant distortion—0.4%. That's ridiculously good for any ultrawide in any format. It's the sole exception to the pattern. So, what did the designers sacrifice to get that good distortion correction? Vignetting is serious—something like –2.5 stops wide open. That's not a good number. But you can deal with that.
UPDATE: Ctein amends: I have just become aware that DxO and Photozone (where I usually go for lens tests) do the math differently when calculating distortion. Both sites have good and reliable data, but DxO's distortion numbers are precisely half of Photozone's. So...
When I said under 2% distortion's okay and over 5%'s trouble, those are Photozone numbers. Divide by 2 (i.e., under 1% and over 2.5%) if you're looking at DxO's reports.
It's never simple, sigh.
Ryan Cousineau (partial comment): "A very brief, self-deceiving bid for Pentax, as the best value in lenses. The Micro 4/3 stuff is smaller (and the best stuff is very good), and Canikon do Canikon surpassingly well, but if you're a cheapskate like me, the 'obsolete' 50mm ƒ/1.4 from Pentax is still the best value around, and you can find fantastic old lenses for no money at all...."
Ken: "What's the Best Lens Line? Well, that depends on what you shoot, doesn't it? For wildlife, which is my primary interest, I am not aware of any line that tops the Nikon and Canon telephotos."
Jeff: "Well, since the 'best' camera is the Leica S, a lot of its appeal comes from the equally superb S lenses. Not small, and perhaps not the state of the art AF, but all have outstanding IQ and weather sealing, and are pretty, too, on that camera. The weakness is that there aren't enough of them...only 24mm to 180mm (equivalent 19–144 in 35mm terms), and no wide tilt/shift. Oh, and they're expensive."
Stephen Scharf: "I have the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (terrific camera) and some of the Olympus primes for it, but the two lenses that go with me everywhere with that kit are that sweet, sweet Panny 12–35mm ƒ/2.8 and 35–100mm ƒ/2.8. I love 'em. I can fit the entire kit into a small ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 20 bag, and it is small (8.9” W x 6.1” H x 4.5” D), compact and light, so the entire kit is highly schlepp-able. A truly superb and very versatile kit for travel with literally pro level quality.
"My heart really belongs to Fuji X, though. I know you don't use or have shot with the 18–55mm ƒ/2.8–4 zoom, but it is a really good pro-level zoom (David Allen Harvey of National Geographic says is it the first zoom he has ever liked), plus I love, love, love the Fuji 14mm. X-T1, 18–55mm, and the fabulous Fuji Fourteen and color me done...."
sneye: "To me Micro 4/3 strikes the best compromise between size, optical quality and equivalent speed. It has a vast collection of native lenses to choose from. I currently own an Olympus 12mm, a Voigtlander 17.5mm and a Panasonic 25mm (among others—I'm embarrassed to mention them all. Anyway, those three see the most use). Each has its own drawing style.
"That said, Fuji's selection of primes looks excellent too. I only wish they made some more ƒ/2 lenses like the new 35mm. A maximum aperture of ƒ/1.4 seems a bit over the top these days. Pentax offers a few unique small primes I must try one day. Leica? Of course. I keep admiring the subtle transitions which characterize those jewels, but owning one is way beyond my means."
David (partial comment): "Canon lenses are excellent and they have a fantastic array from which to chose. I've used a huge selection of their lenses over the years and they can always be relied upon. The latest 24–70mm is really an amazing performer. Many photographers I know have ditched primes in its favor."
hugh crawford: "Re 'For all the popularity of Sony's A7 cameras, some of the new lenses are monsters': Putting on my pedantic hat:) It's simple math. For a given size Micro 4/3 camera or lens, to scale it up to full frame it will be twice as long and have eight times the bulk and weight. The Sony A7 weighs 27.1 oz. with batteries and the kit lens. The Panasonic G7 weighs 19.1 oz. with batteries and its kit lens, but if it were as compact as the Sony A7 it would weigh less than 3.5 oz. So the real question is, why are Micro 4/3 cameras so darn big?
"By the way, did you know that the Crown Graphic is one of the most compact cameras ever? If it was as compact as a Minox it would be 40 inches wide and weigh around 400 pounds, and if a Minox was as compact as a Crown Graphic it would be smaller than a dime and weigh about as much as a cornflake. Back on topic, the Zeiss/Sony 55mm ƒ/1.8 may be my favorite lens ever. It's certainly the sharpest lens I've ever used."
Peter Filtness: "Best lens line (and value) for me...Canon FD series. Lasted 20 years+ on a Canon F1/F1n and still going strong on my Sony A7. But you gotta love that manual focus ring...."