Lenses and Optics

A Weekend with the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8

Published June 30, 2012

Tyler has an amazing ability to purchase hard to find items and get them to Lensrentals. Today he amazed even me —  a brand new Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 OIS lens arrived when, in theory at least, there are none available anywhere in the U. S. None of us know how he does it. I’m pretty sure none of us want to know how he does it. I have it on good authority, though, that this particular lens traveled by donkey, dugout canoe, camel, and pirate ship to get here.

You may have noticed that it’s not listed for rent yet. That’s because since it has travelled such a great, and largely undocumented, distance that I would not want our renters subjected to the possible risk that it carries some strange emerging disease or other. Falling back on my barely-remembered medical training I have decided it must be quarantined for 14 days to assure that it is safe before it will be available to rent. No need to thank me. Your safety is my only concern.

To make doubly certain the lens doesn’t contain some jungle fungus that might damage your camera, I have decided it will stay mounted to my ‘camera of the month’, the Olympus OM-D I spoke of a couple of posts ago.  That way, by the time it actually goes out to rent, you can be assured that the lens is indeed safe not only for humans, but also for their cameras. As long as it has mounted to my camera for safety reasons, it seems reasonable to do a bit of testing with it. Perhaps even some photography.

My Expectations

I try to acknowledge on the front end what my expectations for a lens are, because they will inevitably affect my opinion of it. In this case, I was hoping to find the equivalent of the 24-70 f/2.8 that is among my most used lenses when I shoot with SLRs. I did not expect “prime-like” sharpness, but I certainly hoped the lens, at f/2.8, would be as good as the existing m4/3 zooms were at their f/4 to f/5.6 or so apertures. Since I would be shooting on my Olympus OM-D, I was also hoping distortion and aberrations wouldn’t be too severe, since I would not have in-camera correction. (Or perhaps would have less in-camera correction as someone correctly pointed out. I’m still not exactly sure what kind of things Olympus and Panasonic cameras do with the other brand’s lenses.)

Imatest Results

I only have one copy of the 12-35 so I’m not able to report on a number of different copies as I’d like to. But the Imatest numbers are excellent and I’ve checked the lens thoroughly. I’m quite comfortable this is a good copy. For comparison purposes, I’m listing the results of the 12-35 done at both 12mm and 35mm and have put some of our previous results with other lenses in the table for easy comparison. As always, these are MTF50 numbers, the first number being peak center resolution, the second average resolution over the entire sensor.

Panasonic 12-35 Imatest results

Olympus 12mm f/2.81000845
Panasonic 12-35@12mm f/2.8875710
Panasonic 12-35@35mm f/2.8865760
Panasonic 14-45 25mm f/5830670
Olympus 12-50 25mm f/4.5825680
Sigma 30mm f/2.8825690
Panasonic 7-14 f/4@14965765
Panasonic/Leica 25mm f2.8960820
Panasonic 12-35@12mm f/4
Panasonic 12-35@35mm f/4

I put the 12-35 results at f/2.8 first and at f/4 last, with an assortment of other zooms and primes and the aperture and focal length they were tested at in between. (There is a nice new feature in the table, though, that lets you sort it differently if you’d like.) This is supposed to be a ‘professional’ quality zoom, and I think the results support that claim. The resolution numbers for the 12-35 at f/2.8 are exactly what I would expect: better than the consumer-grade zooms shot at their widest apertures, not as good as the best primes shot at f/2.8. Its results are very comparable to the Panasonic 7-14 f/4 zoom, which until now has clearly been the best of the m4/3 zooms.

The Imatest results met my expectations, but didn’t exceed them. The resolution of the lens is quite good, particularly on the edges and corners. Given the price I would expect just that.

Other Stuff

I find the size very reasonable for an f/2.8 zoom. The AF is fast and accurate (and this is on an Olympus camera — it might be even better on a Panasonic, but I no particular reason to think that is so). The manual focus and zoom rings are reasonably thick and have a nice, smooth feels to them. I could manually focus quite accurately and easily. The hood is included, which it should be at this price. It’s a petal-type hood and not very deep, though, and if there’s sun in your field-of-view the flare can be rather dramatic.

Some Actual Use

I’m not a professional reviewer. I don’t have the patience or the skill set for that. But in this case I had a real question I wanted answered. I’m using my m4/3 camera more and more for everyday shooting. I wanted to know if the OM-D with Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 would be a reasonable replacement for a Canon 5D Mk III with 24-70 f/2.8 for everyday shooting. I considered that a reasonable choice: the Canon lens is about the same price as this Panasonic. It’s not the greatest zoom available, being a bit dated and soon to be replaced, but it’s certainly good and I use it a lot. I didn’t think a comparison with a D800E with Nikon 24-70 was really reasonable; I’m pretty sure I know the answer on that one without testing. There’s also the point about having a Canon setup handy, and not having the Nikon readily available.

Not having the time or inclination to wander around creating artistic photographs for comparison purposes I just spent some time shooting what was available, taking the same shot with both cameras. Again, these aren’t tripod-mounted, mirror-lock-up critically measured photographs. They’re simply some handheld-from-the-same-position shots, in plenty of sunlight, trying to answer my own question “how much will I lose carrying the OM-D with 12-35 f/2.8 and leaving the big camera at home”. (As an aside, though, I will mention that doing this does reinforce just how damn fast an SLR focuses and shoots compared to even the best of mirrorless cameras. That’s certainly not critical for my kind of shooting, but it was noticeable, and may be more critical for some of you.)

Of course, like most of my great ideas, this one wasn’t well thought through and from the first image it became apparent this couldn’t be a simple comparison. Not only the megapixel difference, but also the sensor shape were going to result in slightly different images when taken from the same spot at equivalent focal lengths. The two shots below, taken from the same spot at 12mm for the Panasonic (top) and 24mm for the Canon (bottom) illustrate it rather nicely.

Panasonic @12mm (top) and Canon at 24mm (bottom)


But still, I could make some 100% crops and see if there was noticeable difference in the image quality. Can’t say I see much difference in the center except the buffalo moved a bit while I changed cameras, as buffalo often do.

24mm center crops at 100% (Canon top, Panasonic below)


It was hot and the buffalo didn’t seem very interested in anything but grass and water, so I got a bit closer and took some 70mm shots. 100% crops from the center are pretty similar, but remember, the Canon shot (bottom) is cropped more heavily than the Panasonic shot (top). My reason for this was along the lines of “if I’m shooting the same subject of interest at maximum focal length, what will I get” rather than comparing resolution directly. To me, the detail is about the same. This crop does emphasize another difference though: look at the grass in the background to see the difference in depth of field.

100% center crops, Panasonic top, Canon bottom.


To try comparing the edges of the frame a bit more accurately, I framed this shot so the house framed the same side-to-side (obviously they couldn’t be the same vertically since the sensors are different shapes).

Comparing 100% crops from the center and either side was fairly straightforward.

100% crops from center, left, and right sides, with Panasonic on the right, Canon left.


The Canon has more pixels dedicated to each feature, so while the sides of the Canon images certainly look softer on my monitor, that may not be the case if we were printing the same-sized image from each shot. I uprezzed the Panasonic crops using Bicubic Smoother in Photoshop to try to approximate how they might print.

Panasonic crops (right) uprezzed to be similar to Canon crops (left)


I think there’s clearly a difference in favor of the Panasonic / Olympus combination here. Now, before any Fanboys have a  stroke and spit their beer, the Canon lens used was optically tested 3 days ago. It’s perfectly fine and has no problems. The 24-70 wide-open, near its wide end and at distance is not going to have great edges and corners, that’s not its strength. And to make sure I hadn’t misfocused I did this in live view and then again with center AF. They were the same. This is about the worst-case scenario for the 24-70 lens, which is part of the reason I took a shot like this.

For the vast majority of shooting, especially at closer distances, the Canon often resolved more detail, and of course demonstrated its much narrower depth-of-field. In general, I found the Canon gave a bit more resolution in the center, especially at closer shooting distances. The edges, particularly at longer shooting distances, seemed to slightly favor the Panasonic. My point, though, wasn’t to say one was better than the other, but rather to see if they were roughly the same. My conclusion was that they were.


When I gave up comparing things and just took pictures with the Olympus – Panasonic 12-35 combination, though, I was totally pleased. It focuses close enough to function as a pseudomacro . . .


And once I adjusted to having an increased depth of field, I realized there were a lot of shots that were better because I didn’t have to stop down to get everything in focus.



At the end of the day (and looking at another 50 or so shots) I would not say one lens is clearly better than the other. There were certainly some shots where the Canon seemed better in the center. There were some where the Panasonic seemed better in the edges and corners. Like the Imatest results, it was about what I’d expected. The Canon lens is an older design, being replaced as we speak, and was never known for its sharp edges and corners. Plus it’s covering a much larger full- frame sensor.

My expectations of the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8, then, were met. It is an excellent, pro quality zoom. I won’t hesitate to take this combination anywhere and it will let me leave with just the camera and one lens when I just want a walkaround (compared to the several primes I have been taking). Distortion seemed limited to a tiny bit of pincushion at the long end, but there’s quite a bit of barrel at the shorter end. The flare, when it occurs, is pretty awful, but I didn’t see it unless the sun was actually in the shot.

As I said, my expectations were met, but they certainly weren’t exceeded, especially given the price. There are no other options that will do the job for me, so I’ll be buying one.  If you’re a “glass half full” person, you probably think the $1299 price tag is reasonable when compared to $1800 for a Nikon 24-70 and $2200 for the upcoming Canon 24-70 f/2.8. On the other hand, this lens costs quite a bit more than the camera I’m mounting it to (which at $1099 is one of the most expensive m4/3 cameras). If you used the same proportions, the Canon 24-70 II is a bargain at 65% of the cost of a 5D Mk III, as is a Nikon 24-70 at 65% of the cost of a D800.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to buy one, it’s a very good lens and it serves a need (OK, a want) that I have. But those of you with more patience than me might wait a bit, to see if perhaps the price drops. If this lens cost the same as the excellent Panasonic 7-14 f/4 zoom ($900), for example, I’d consider it a good buy. At $1299, I consider it a ‘buy if you really need it’. Or, in my case, really want it.


Roger Cicala


June 2012


Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Lenses and Optics
  • Jon R


    I have a question about O.I.S vs. the IBIS in the OM-D. Which one is better? There’s been a lot of talk of how good the 5 axis IBIS but I’m not sure if it would be better than lens based O.I.S which the Panasonic zooms typically have. Thanks ahead and I look forward to hearing your opinion.

  • Roger Cicala

    JW, I leave the camera OS on, the lens turned off. That’s the only way I’ve tried using it and it works well. I assume if I turn them both on there would be reverse polarity and a giant Sta Puff Marshmallow Man would ravage the area I’m shooting in.


  • JW

    Was wondering since the lens has OIS stablization.. and the camera also has a stabilization feature. Do you use both of them simultaneously? Ok to have them both ‘on’?
    Thx for your insight and expertise.

  • Luis C. Aribe

    Interesting review and I thank you for it as I’m interested in this lens. I do wish, however, that you would not use “it’s” when it should be “its”. For example, you write “near it’s wide end” when it should be “its (wide end)”. “It’s” is the contraction of “it is”, “its” is the possesive. Sorry, but it does detract from the quality of the article.

  • Roger Cicala

    JW – you do not need any adapter, it works perfectly. I guess Panasonic wants you to buy one of their cameras along with the lens 🙂

    I can’t really comment on weather resistance, I’ve not had it out in anything but sunshine.

  • JW

    I tried to get a straight answer from Panasonic with no luck… so can you tell me- did you need any adapter to use that lens with the OMD? Also, that lens is not as weather resistant as the OMD claims to be correct? I know some of the Olympus lenses claim the same weather resistance (as the camera).. but none are as good as this lens.

  • Roger Cicala

    JW, it is the same lens, just shot at f/2.8 and then at f/4.

  • JW

    oops… a slight typo… just meant all the sharpness numbers for the f/4 were higher than for the 2.8.

  • JW

    Am looking to buy the OMD and was trying to get the best one lense to leave on all the time – so with that in mind have one question… on your charts at the top the sharpness, etc numbers for the Panasonic 12-35@35mm f/4 are higher than those for the 2.8. Would the f/4 be the better lense? or better to get the less sharp of the 2 and gain a stop?

  • Joseph P Worthington

    Mirrored cameras are going to go away or be relegated to a niche. Sure they work, but they’re an aged, bulky, 20th century design. Mirrorless is going to continue to close the gap and eventually be the preferred standard. I’m inclined to not spend any more money on mirrored architecturally designed lenses. That said, I have been impressed with the m43 lenses out today by Panasonic and Olympus. I think m43 definitely has a future.

  • A

    Thankyou for another interesting report Roger!

    I’m thinking these shots were all JPEGs? I’d be curious to see how they compare when shooting RAW.

  • John

    Ron — you can disagree — I get it. I’m saying that the cost-per-format versus overall performance isn’t there for m4/3rds yet. I’m a financial specialist — I counsel people on how to invest. You have people running around now buying FF Nikon D800s and Canon MKIII, then buying complete m4/3rds systems for when they think the other format is too much to carry. Most probably have a decent compact all-in-one pocket cam too. I see that as a waste of money.

    Sure, for a street photographer to be point-n-shooting with a D4 and 300m f2.8 is beyond ridiculous. But it isn’t at all as if carrying a D7000 with a 17-55 lens on a hike is going to “wear you out” compared to an OMD-EM5 and a 12-35. Given the cost-performance ratio between the two systems (just as RC did comparing the 2 lenses herein), my point is that the justification for investing in multiple systems isn’t there.

    If a serious pro wants to abandon DX or FF in FAVOR of m4/3 then so be it. But what we’re REALLY seeing is an overlap where serious photographers “find themselves” reaching for the smaller, lighter cameras for day-to-day shooting or vacations, yet sticking with the bigger formats when things like shallow DOF and focus tracking are important, since m4/3 isn’t on par with these systems.

    Like I said, the gear lust in me says the OLY/12-35 is nice. Sure. Agree. Is it $2300 nice? I think that’s a heck of a lot of money in this economy for someone already vested in DX or FF. That isn’t some preposterous notion. If rich amateurs want to keep chasing the next-gen iterations of these things then so be it, but I come from the school that says a better investment is mastering the already-excellent cameras on the market today and investing the dough into workshops, post-processing software (still cheaper than new camera bodies and lenses), or going to the great places to photograph in the world. Not everyone will see it that way, and will choose instead to buy the OM-6, then the OM-7, then dump it for the next new thing next year which is bound to SMOKE this year’s stuff, etc etc etc….quite the rat race that is.

  • ronnbot

    @John H: I get your point but did you miss my second point? No doubt the D3200 is a fine entry level camera, but it (with its kit lens) is not in the same level as an E-M5 + 12-35/2.8 in terms of feature set (touch sensitive OLED, IBIS, etc.), ergonomics (i.e more physical controls), responsiveness (9 fps), and robustness (full magnesium and weather sealed). A D7000 + 17-55/2.8 is more comparable. For one thing, the lens is similarly bright f/2.8 with fixed aperture throughout the range. Just like the E-M5, the D7000 is weather sealed, has dual exposure dials and so on. However, that Nikon combo is much bigger and definetly more expensive. And if you read this blog post, notice the E-M5 + 12-35/2.8 is being compared to a 5DmkIII + 24-70/2.8; a combo that is even more expensive and bulkier and yet the m4/3 combo yielded sharper images!

    “My point is that a small dslr like the d3200 with a kit lens performs on par with m4/3 for a fraction of the cost. ”

    Why compare an Olympus’s top m4/3 camera (E-M5) and Panasonic’s top m4/3 zoom (12-35/2.8) to Nikon’s cheapest/lowest body (D3200) with a kit lens and then complain about price? There are much cheaper m4/3 cameras if you’re after good value and don’t need all the advanced features. E.g. the Panasonic G3 is $250 cheaper than the D3200. If you don’t need the viewfinder, then there are even cheaper m4/3 options, like the Olympus E-PM1 for $400.

    “Frankly, I don’t see how amateur photographers afford complete dx / fx systems in conjunction with a decent compact AND a 4/3 format as well. Seems crazy to spend this much money on the same thing just to save a few ounces in weight and a bit less bulk.”

    If you haven’t had the (mis)fortune of lugging around a fullframe camera with a few lenses (as well as a beefy tripod to support it), then you won’t fully understand the benefits of m4/3. Case in point: E-M5 + 12/2 + 25/1.4 + 45/1.8. To cover the same focal lengths on FF: 5DmkII + 24/2.8 + 50/1.4 + 85/1.8. The Canon is much bulkier/heavier/pricier and you get no stabilization; the E-M5 has a really effective IBIS so a tripod (even a really light one) may not even be needed. Read this and see a few professionals/enthusiates converting:


  • John

    @ ronbot: $2400 would be the msrp for these products. You’re actually going to correct me over $100 eh? I’m also familiar with what other smaller formats cost.

    My point is that a small dslr like the d3200 with a kit lens performs on par with m4/3 for a fraction of the cost. There is no doubt that this mid-market, small sensor equipment doesn’t offer anything more than a size advantage over a standard apsc camera when considering specs. I’m not knocking it — it’s got the cool factor. The fact remains that this segment is still very much emerging and the retail cost of higher-end systems like the oly and fuji cameras reflect that.

    Frankly, I don’t see how amateur photographers afford complete dx / fx systems in conjunction with a decent compact AND a 4/3 format as well. Seems crazy to spend this much money on the same thing just to save a few ounces in weight and a bit less bulk.

  • John H

    @ ronbot: $2400 would be the msrp for these products. You’re actually going to correct me over $100 eh? I’m also familiar with what other smaller formats cost.

    My point is that a small dslr like the d3200 with a kit lens performs on par with m4/3 for a fraction of the cost. There is no doubt that this mid-market, small sensor equipment doesn’t offer anything more than a size advantage over a standard apsc camera when considering specs. I’m not knocking it — it’s got the cool factor. The fact remains that this segment is still very much emerging and the retail cost of higher-end systems like the oly and fuji cameras reflect that.

    Frankly, I don’t see how amateur photographers afford complete dx / fx systems in conjunction with a decent compact AND a 4/3 format as well. Seems crazy to spend this much money on the same thing just to save a few ounces in weight and a bit less bulk.

  • ronnbot

    @John H: Firstly, the E-M5 body ($1000) and the 12-35/2.8 ($1300) adds to $2300. Secondly, the more comparable Nikon setup is a D7000 ($1100) with the 17-55/2.8 ($1440) that will set you back at least $2540.

    The $800 Nikon kit you mentioned does not have weather sealing, enough manual controls, a fixed aperture zoom, etc. If you don’t need those things, then there are many m4/3 cameras that are cheaper. For example, the Panasonic G3 + 14-42 is only $550 but has swivel touch screen and large view finder with 100% coverage; neither of which the $800 D3200 have.

  • John H

    Given the cost of a Nikon d3200 w/ 18-55mm zoom @ $799….wow….a m4/3 combo like this at $2400 just seems crazy. I don’t think the value points have yet been met for high-end smaller systems.

  • Mark

    Man, am I in the wrong business 😛

  • Roger Cicala

    L.P.O., I completely understand it’s not possible to make the same image with an m4/3 sensor – I really thought the post demonstrated just how different the images are.

    My goal was to be able to get a high-quality image with a lens that let in sufficient light to minimize the frequency that I needed high ISO. The images will be different, of course. When I’m doing things that require a narrow depth of field, I’ll be using my SLR.


  • Roger Cicala

    Thanks Roger. I heard you and fixed the herd 🙂

  • Roger Knight

    A horse is a horse of course, of course, but I’ve never heard of a heard of buffalo. 🙂
    I enjoyed the article as usual.

  • L.P.O.

    Dear Roger,
    I thoroughly enjoy most of your articles, but here I believe you’ve made a basic mistake.
    Why you would compare a quarter-frame lens at 12mm f/2.8 to a FF lens at 24mm f/2.8 when the images are not equivalent is beyond me. f/2.8 is just a number and just the focal length it cannot be unchanged when going to one sensor format to another.
    If you want to take the same image with both lenses, of course you’d stop down the FF lens two stops: in this case to f/5.6 (and appropriately high up the sensor ISO by two stops if your shutter time gets too long). Otherwise you are taking different images from the get-go, and there can be no meaningful comparison.

  • Roger Cicala


    It is the Olympus 12.0mm f/2 shot at f/2.8

  • Newbie

    I’m new to DSLRs so I’m probabably missing something obvious to you/others. The “Olympus 12mm f/2.8” listed in the table; is this the Oly 12mm-60mm@12mm 2.8? The way it is listed I would think it is a prime, but the only 12mm Oly prime I can find is f2.0. Thanks for your patience with a newbie.

  • Roger Cicala

    One of the cool things about Shelby County is it has one of the largest urban parks in the US: 4500 acres in the middle of Memphis that has, for reasons I don’t know, a herd of buffalo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelby_Farms

  • Charles L

    Vignetting is also corrected on Olympus cameras. I believe the only difference between the two is that Panasonic does CA and Oly doesn’t.

  • PS

    If y’all are in Shelby County, where do they have buffalo? As a former Memphian it intrigues me.

  • For a coat pocket, one-camera-and-a-zoom-lens, option this seems outstanding.

    As always, it looks like investing in decent glass first and investing very occasionally in a camera which has made a real jump forward looks like the way to go.

  • Sylvain

    Roger, thanks for the review. Much appreciated.

    Just a note though :
    “Since I would be shooting on my Olympus OM-D, I was also hoping distortion wouldn’t be too severe, since I would not have in-camera distortion correction.”
    Roger, if I’m not mistaken, distortion is actually the only parameter that is equally corrected between Panasonic & Olympus lenses and bodies. CA removal&Vignetting being exclusive to Panasonic, I think. It’s easy to check if you mount the lens without clicking it on its contacts and turn it until it connects, camera on.

    Good times for MFT.


  • Thanks for the review. I’ve got this one on preorder – I was planning to buy the apparently very good 12mm prime, but decided to go for this one, as no matter how much I like my primes, there are always occasions where having a single zoom lens makes sense. Glad to hear this lens performs well.

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