Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Perfect M4/3 Holiday Companion, Panasonic 35 - 100 f4-5.6

45mm f5, my wife Wendy and the love of my life on holiday in Rome


Just so we are nice and clear, when I test lenses I only use carefully exposed raw files processed in Iridient Developer, I never judge jpegs as they are at the mercy of the camera's processor and may not actually reflect the lenses potential. It needs to be also noted that a lenses performance could be quite different depending on the body it's attached to.

I always disable all lens parameter corrections in the Raw converter, i.e. CA, distortion and vignetting to get an accurate picture of how the lens performs at its core, I also look closely at the lens performance with my own custom vignetting/CA correction and sharpening settings applied.

You won't find test charts on walls or indeed the classic brick wall test, basically even minor field curvature renders most of these tests meaningless for regular distance 3D shooting needs, the exception being when testing a macro lens, flat field performance is a significant parameter for macro lens performance and uses.

I'm not paid in any way by any lens or camera manufacturer or supplier and I only test equipment I have purchased or obtained from clients and other photographers.

Lastly, I test only one copy, I am not about to buy several copies just so I can write a review, the point is my reviews should only be seen as a guide as to what you might expect, you could well buy a better or worse copy than the one I have.

Ok, let's move on...

The little knobs on the barrel are not standard,  I machined those up to make touch focus and zoom adjustment a bit easier.

An M4/3 lens That  Makes Good Sense

While there are many fast and fabulous lenses available for the M4/3 format, it could be argued that many of them are not in keeping with the design intention of the m4/3 format.  One of the primary drivers of the Micro 4/3 format at the outset was to create a system where a camera body in combination with several lenses takes up so little space in your camera bag and weighs so little that you'd not be concerned to carry the kit around for an entire day.

As an example, the Olympus 40 to 150 F2.8 is an absolutely brilliant lens performance-wise. However, its weight and physical proportions mean there's nowhere near the expected M4/3 advantage over equivalent APS-C or even full frame formats.  I'm not saying by that by any measure the 40-150 f2.8 is a large lens in absolute terms, just it doesn't actually play to the advantage of having an M4/3 camera.

Of course we could argue about other aspects of the system, like super duper image stabilisation and blazing capture speeds as in the EM1 MK 2 but first and foremost the system was initially designed to be compact yet still high performing and to this day that remains the primary driver of M4/3 system purchases.

To my mind, M4/3 really comes into its own when compact m4/3 bodies are combined with small, high-quality lenses, for example, the tiny but excellent Olympus 45 mm and 25mm f1.8s.  Generally, the pro-grade zoom lenses and neither light nor particularly compact though I grant the optical performance is universally quite exceptional.  Sometimes, probably most times for many shooters, you need reasonable, convenient and economical, rather than exceptional.
This is where the Panasonic 35 to 100 F4 to 5.6 comes into play, yet despite its diminutive size, it's not exactly small on performance, in fact, I'd say it's really rather better than reasonable.

100mm @ f7.1, edge to edge clarity is just lovely, this image is slightly cropped for compositional purposes.

Practical Purpose

At around 145g we have a telephoto zoom you could literally put in a reasonably sized pocket and carry around with you all day, it actually does deliver on the core M4/3 promise.

Initially, lens was designed by Panasonic for use on the tiny GM series cameras and when you see how small those cameras are you'll understand why both this lens and it's sister act the 12 to 32 mm pancake are so tiny, those GMs bodies are hardly any bigger than a medium sized compact!  

There's no reason why the 35 to 100mm Panasonic has to be used on the GM series of cameras. The 35-100 mates perfectly with either Olympus or Panasonic cameras, and frankly I find the GM series babies just too small for my finger pushing comfort, despite being rather lovely cameras.

What we have here is a good quality general-purpose telephoto zoom lens that covers the traditional 70 to 200 mm range, which for most shooters is probably as much as they need.  There are of course other reasonably priced options which will go both wider and more telephoto within the micro 4/3 stable but none are anywhere near as light nor physically compact is this little baby, and most of the non-pro lenses seem to fall off a cliff performance wise in the post 100mm territory anyway.

Boring test shot at my standard lens testing location, the railway station in my hometown of Goulburn, Aus, this was taken at 100mm @f7.1 which is about the perfect aperture for this focal length though it's really plenty sharp at f5.6.  Check out the 100% crop below taken from the left of centre, it's pretty sharp by any standard.

The Design

Much of the size of the benefit is a achieved by having the lens collapse into a small package, collapsed it's only 50 mm in length!  Mini collapsible zoom lenses are usually quite flimsy and prone to physical slop in the lens barrel, that's not the case here.  The 35 -100 may be made of plastic, but it's quite secure and well constructed, with everything fitting nicely together, of course, it's not as "nice as Zeiss" but then at this price you wouldn't expect it to be.

The collapsing nature is probably the only annoyance I have with the entire lens. It's not the collapsing that bothers me, just that when I mount it onto the camera and go to use it I always get that little error message to tell me that the lens needs to be unlocked to be used. Other than that minor irritation I have no complaints regarding the design or practicality.

If you want to know all the specs etc. I suggest you have a look at the review of this lens on the "Imaging Resource" site.

Here we have a 35mm frame from the same location as the above shot. Except this is taken at f4.5, edge to edge and corner to corner the whole frame is fully resolved, pretty impressive really.

Another boring test frame, 35mm @ f5.6, seriously there's no need to stop down any smaller than this unless you really require more depth of field, check out the 100% crop of the upper right side, no issues at all.


The Panasonic 35-100 isn't a fast lens, the max aperture range extends from f4 at 35 mm through to f5.6 at 100 mm, still that's a stop faster than the standard 14 to 42 mm kit lenses offer.  Most kit lenses are typically closed down to F5.6 by the time they have ventured beyond about 24 mm.  The Panasonic 35-100 reaches F5.6 at around 80 mm and hovers around f5 @ 50 mm which is far more useful altogether.

Generally, most M4/3 kit lenses need to be stopped down one stop before their image quality levels out, this lens seems to perform excellently at maximum aperture regardless of the focal length which makes it all the more useful compared to many other kit telephotos zoom lenses. Most competing cheap telephoto zooms I've tried actually needed to be stopped down about 1 1/2 to 2 stops from maximum before they reach the same level of performance of this lens achieves wide open!

35mm @ f6.3 and all very nicely resolved, this raw file has not been corrected for vignetting either, but I really can't see any issue to worry about.  Very fancy street lights in Barcelona, what a great city!


No, this lens is not a scalpel, I have definitely come across some other lenses which are marginally sharper on the micro 4/3 format. In particular, the old Olympus OM 100mm 2.8 from the film era seems to be slightly sharper than this lens at the 100mm setting, though it has considerably more chromatic aberration. (I will be posting a review of this on my blog soon)

However, the fact remains that Panasonic 35-100 mm's cross frame clarity is very consistent at all focal lengths and I wouldn't hesitate to use it even if I needed high critical sharpness. In truth, the only reason for using a more expensive lens would be to access wider apertures for a shorter depth of field rendering.

On the issue of clarity, I've some great news if you happen to have any of the 14 to 42 mm kit lenses. You'll be pleased to know that in the 35 to 42 mm range the performance of this lens is vastly better than all the kit 14-42s on the market and that includes Panasonic' own highly regarded 14-42 series 2. Additionally starting the focal length range at 35 instead of 40-50mm adds a little extra flexibility for holiday pics meaning you may not have to swap out lenses as often.

If you had both the standard kit lens and this baby in your camera bag, you'd be well advised to choose this lens in any situation that required focal lengths exceeding the 35 mm setting.  The difference in perceived clarity is surprisingly significant, most of the kit lenses are far weaker at the long end than they are at the shorter end of their range, and you'll have up to a stop wider aperture choice to go with it!

35mm @ f5.6 cropped top and bottom, that dog was huge!

50mm @f5.6, you won't tell it from this downsized web image, but you can honestly make out the finer hairs on the guitarists head in the full res raw file.

Kids and bubbles, they just go together, 100mm @f6.3.


It's difficult to make any definitive statements on focus speed as in the M4/3 world it depends very significantly on the camera the lens is mated to.  Olympus lenses seem to focus a bit quicker on Olympus cameras and Panasonic lenses on Panasonic cameras.  

I've found that the 35-100mm focuses quite a bit quicker than the Panasonic 14-42 series 2 lens I have, especially when the light level or contrast drops away. The focus only seems to be caught out by either deficient light levels or scenes with almost uniform contrast.

My take, it's not super fast focuser like the pro lenses and certainly won't give the Olympus 45mm or 75mm f1.8 lenses any competition, but for standard uses it's perfectly OK on my Olympus EM5 mk2. 


Vignetting is mercifully low. However, it appears from my tests the lowest levels (before software correction on Raw files) are found around the 50 mm focal mark with slightly higher levels as you go towards the extremes. I judge the 100 mm focal length to have the highest degree, but truthfully it looks very similar at the 35 mm setting, in any case vignetting is a non-issue at pretty much any focal length and disappears quickly with a little stopping down.

Usually, I choose not to correct the vignetting as I find a small amount of vignetting often adds to the overall look of the photo.


Seriously you would not buy this lens if you were after that super creamy shallow DOF look, but actually, the out of focus areas are not at all bad and in many cases really pleasing. I found the bokeh smooth enough for most of my needs, and if you go in close to focus for a tight portrait at 100mm I think it looks rather tasty, and many other testers seem to have come to the same conclusion.

My take, within the design parameters and compared to the opposition it's more than satisfactory and if you need a more shallow DOF rendering on the M4/3 format then you would be far better off with something like the Olympus 45mm f1.8 or 75mm f1.8 which to my eyes for sensible and sweet looking bokeh are really super lovely.  

The really cool thing is that even if you combined the this lens with the 45mm f1.8 in your kit they'd still only add about 270 grams in total and take up way less room than one of the "Pro" lens options....oh and it would cost way less too!

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration performance is a particular high point of this lens, of all the kit lenses I've tested I've no doubt this lens exhibits one of the lowest levels of CA I've seen, it's even better than many medium priced telephoto zooms.

Given a choice, I would always much prefer a lens which has low native chromatic aberration. Generally, the colour will be better right out towards the edges/corners of the image, and outer edge clarity will also be much better as extreme CA correction generally has an adverse effect on fine details even when properly corrected.

35mm @f6.3, really a very nice general snap shooting setting.

The forum in Rome at 100mm and f7.1, again its hard to tell in a small web image but there is excellent clarity throughout the entire frame.


There is a vanishingly small amount of distortion at the 35mm setting, it's not even worth fixing, and I doubt anyone but the most anal retentive architectural shooter would ever notice it.

The news at 100 mm setting is also excellent, there's some pincushion distortion but to be honest, it's difficult to see and would only be noticeable if you had straight edges in the image that we are running closely parallel to the side of the frame.

Generally, then I can say that the distortion is irrelevant and that's gotta be great news.


Well, I can't comment on how it works on the Panasonic bodies, I've not got around to testing that, but I assume it would be okay, especially on the models which have dual stabilisation options.  

On my Olympus EM5 MK 2 the lens/body combo works excellently, I think it's the cumulative effect of the lenses lightweight and good balance on the camera body, combined with the excellent "in body" IS of the EM5 MK 2.  The net result is that looking through all the images I have taken there's almost none that show any camera movement including many frames taken at speeds longer than 1/4 sec even at 100mm!

Let's just say the stabilisation is confidence inspiring and reduces considerably your need to grab your three-legged friend.

Flare resistance

I rarely ever have any trouble with lenses flaring, probably because I hardly ever shoot directly into the sun or towards bright light sources, so maybe take my words with a grain of salt,  I'm not about to go out and deliberately attempt to create a flare fest just to prove that  "hey this lens has some flares". To my mind flare tests are about as useful as "dropping the lens from 1 metre onto concrete", or the "sanding the front element with 180 grade wet and dry" tests.  Yep, it's going to cause problems but for any practical usage is sort of irrelevant. 

I note that some sensible testers have claimed this lens exhibits a reasonable amount of flare, that's probably true when aimed at the sun or bright lights. All I can say is for hundreds of photos I've taken with it none exhibited enough flare to disturb me or have me searching for a fix, but your mileage may vary.

Flare resistance is closely related to lens contrast, and this one shows a pretty high level of contrast, not Zeiss like but a long way removed from soft and dreamy.

Oh, I should point out I always shoot with a lens hood and the one I use isn't the one that comes with the lens but a rather more narrow solid metal hood. My hood choice may have some positive bearing on my results, BTW I didn't choose to go with an alternative hood for performance reasons, it's just the standard one's too big to fit into my very compact M4/3 travel kit box.

Busker in Rome, 73mm @ f5.5, which is wide open for that setting, no issue at all.

35mm @f5, not all lenses are ideal for mono work, many lack the ability to render that fine textural detail which nice mono work relies on, not this lens, fine textures render very nicely.


You couldn't really consider this to be a macro lens, Panasonic has only given it a moderately close focusing distance. However I have taken photos with both a short electronic extension tube and also diopter 1, 2 or 3 close-up filters,  in all cases, the results have been very acceptable. 

I often carry a 2 diopter close-up filter with the lens for those occasions where I need to go a little bit closer and don't want the extra weight of a macro lens in my pocket, and it works really well.

No, it's not a macro lens, but when combined with a no 2 close-up filter it does a reasonable impersonation of one, bear in mind this is the full frame, that stocky little yellow fella in the middle is just 6 mm wide.  Interestingly the web is even sharply resolved out to the corners, which is not how things generally work with cheap close-up filters, so I guess we can say the lens and filter are a good match.

Here's another close-up shot taken with the close-up filter, 100mm @ f 8, again that old light meter is quite small, oh and the longitudinal chromatic aberration is also pretty well controlled, a nice bonus.


To sum it up in one sentence, it's consistent, consistent in every way that matters to regular Micro 4/3 users. 

It's an easy lens to use, very compact, super light, optically strong and generally it doesn't need to be stopped down to become sharp, overall it's probably worth far more than the modest price being asked.

The only reason for me needing alternative lens would be to access either wider apertures for a shorter depth of field or perhaps if I desperately needed a slightly longer focal length.

In summary, I reckon this lens probably represents about the best bargain you'll find in the Micro 4/3 system and anyone who needs a short-medium telephoto zoom would be crazy bananas to not at least consider it. Sure it's not sexy, fast or likely to impress the great unwashed in a bar bragging photo gearhead contest, but I reckon you, and they, would be impressed by the overall photographic results.


If you're thinking of purchasing one of these little babies I suggest you do some homework. From a casual examination of prices on eBay I've seen them range from as little as $180 through to $400 plus. I paid $145.00 for mine from an Aussie retailer on a crazy that's a bargain!  Honestly even at say $350.00 it would represent solid optical value.

Do a little bit of comparative shopping and I have no doubt that you too can probably get one of the best bargains in the micro 4/3 system.

48mm @f4.8, shop on centre and even bit of shallow DOF for good measure, this guy really could move!

50mm @f6.3, The shutter speed to a little too slow for critical clarity but I had zero time change anything and the auto focus was actually pretty quick.

48mm @f7.1, I stopped down a little to get full depth of field, not to access greater clarity.

35mm @ f6.3, no issues with field curvature, it renders flat objects sharp from edge to edge.

Selfies of selfie shooters, 50mm @f6.3, works fine for quick grab shots.

88mm @f6.3, stopped down just 1/3 from wide open.

And finally, another 100mm shot, this time cropped a little and shot at f6.3. 

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