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Panasonic reveals new Micro Four Thirds lens line

Video-friendly operation and more compact designs are the highlights of the Lumix X lenses.

Panasonic's 14-42mm X series Micro Four Thirds-mount lens Panasonic

When a company more or less tells you that Leica can't effectively come up with a high-quality lens for its mount, that makes you pause. But that seems to be the rationale behind Panasonic's latest X series "premium" lens announcements. In this case, the term seems to apply less to the optics--Leica's reputation is safe there--than to the features and technology. And I have to admit, when Panasonic briefed us about the lenses, they seemed pretty cool. Dubbed the "Lumix X series," they incorporate lever-based electronic zooms along with manual focus and servoelectronic zoom rings (depending upon the lens) in decidedly more compact sizes than standard MFT lenses.

The 14-42mm X lens expanded and collapsed. Panasonic

Note that they're not "premium," because they're not wide-aperture fast; though they use coatings to improve their optical properties, Panasonic is not touting these as great glass. Instead, they're notable for their video-friendly features and size. Because they use electronic zoom levers, you don't face the contortion or torque problems that occur when trying to zoom while shooting video and they're presumably much quieter. Panasonic developed a new stepping motor that should deliver a more continuous zoom, as opposed to the stepped zoom that you've probably encountered with point-and-shoots. The cameras also incorporate the Power OIS (optical image stabilization) that the company uses in its camcorders, which allows for better compensation if you're shooting while moving (walking, for instance). Their build quality is a bit better, as well; for instance, they have metal mounts compared with plastic for the lower-end lenses.

Panasonic Lumix X 45-175mm f4-5.6. Panasonic

Panasonic will launch with two models. The Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 becomes the more advanced kit lens, sold by itself for $399.99, and Panasonic will be offering it with the Lumix DMC-GF3 as the GF3X kit for $749.99. The beauty of the X 14-42mm is that it automatically collapses when powered off into a package just slightly bigger than a pancake prime lens. Olympus' competing model requires manual collapsing, can become annoying, and doesn't get as thin. One potential drawback: there's no manual focus ring, just a lever. I'm not sure how well that will fly for photographers. And I really wish it had an electronic lens cover as well.

Here are the specs:

  • 9 elements in 8 groups (4 aspherical lenses , 2 ED lens)
  • 7 aperture blades
  • Minimum Aperture f22
  • Closest Focusing Distance 7.9 inches (14-20mm), 11.8 inches (21-42mm)
  • Diagonal Angle of View 75 degrees(wide) to 29 degrees(tele)
  • Filter Size 37mm
  • Overall length 1.1 inches
  • Weight 3.4 ounces (excluding lens cap and lens rear cap)

The second lens offering is the $749.99 Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f4.0-5.6, which does have both manual zoom and focus rings in addition to the power zoom.

  • 14 elements in 10 groups (2 aspherical lenses , 2 ED lens)
  • 7 aperture
  • Closest focusing distance 3 feet
  • Diagonal angle of view 27 degrees(Wide) to 7.1 degrees(Tele)
  • Filter size 46mm
  • Overall length 3.5 inches
  • Weight 7.4 ounces (excluding lens cap and lens rear cap)

Both lenses will work with the DMC-G3, GF3, and GF2 out of the box, but all other models--and Olympus' cameras, presumably--will require firmware updates. Both lenses and the GF3X kit will be available starting in October.