Selecting a Telephoto Zoom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Panasonic Lumix LUMIX G X VARIO 35-100mm Lens

For the last three years or so, since moving to the Olympus OM-D micro four thirds system, the longest focal length lens I’ve had the need for is 60mm. For the types of photography I do, travel, portrait and the occasional bit of macro, the range between 12mm and 60mm has been more than sufficient for my needs.

A few weeks ago however, as documented here, I did a shoot for a fashion show which I knew was going to require a longer (than 60mm) focal length as well as a short telephoto length. From my research leading up to the show consensus seemed to be that the ideal range of focal lengths for doing catwalk fashion was 70 – 200mm for 35mm size sensors. For micro four thirds this translates to 35-100mm. This being the case I had four options for my OM-D E-M1, two from Olympus:

and two from Panasonic:

Each manufacturer makes a high end, relatively large aperture (f/2.8) fixed over the entire zoom range as well as a lower cost variable aperture (f/4.0-f/5.6). The Olympus has the advantage of an additional 50mm focal length on both lenses with the added size and weight this brings.

Although it would have been good to get one of the cheaper variable focal length lenses the slightly smaller maximum ‘f’ number (i.e. f/4.0-f/5.6 as opposed to f/2.8) really discounted both the cheaper models. One of the other things I read in researching the best lens to use at this type of event was that you need as bigger aperture as you can afford as low light can be a problem. This meant it was either the Olympus f/2.8, 40-150mm or Panasonic f/2.8, 35-100mm.

I had tried both these lenses at the Photography Show earlier in the year so knew they both handled well and were of solid construction and it would be a difficult decision to choose between the two. These two lenses naturally go head to head in lots of comparison tests, most of which I must have read in deciding which of them to buy (including this one and this one). The temptation was to go with the Olympus lens as it would complement really well the mid-range telephoto zoom, the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, I already owned. However, in the end it was the Panasonic I went for. Here’s why:

  1. Although the Olympus has an extra 50mm of focal length that also comes with an extra 400g of weight (760g as opposed to the 360g of the Panasonic) and 60mm in length (160mm as opposed to 100mm). I knew I was going to be spending several hours holding the camera and lens and a tripod was not an option so weight rather than focal length mattered.
  2. The Panasonic seemed to me to balance better on the OM-D and I felt was more in keeping with the design ethic of micro four thirds (less is more).
  3. These days I’m a great believer in using the minimum kit that gets the job done. I’m not a wildlife or sports photographer and have no real interest in these two genres. Although 150mm sounds tempting I am pretty sure I will rarely use the maximum focal length offered my the Olympus. I’m taking a bet that 100mm will be more than enough for most of the things I photograph.
  4. The Panasonic can be got for £100 less. Maybe not a huge saving given the price range we are talking but not to be sniffed at, especially when the extra money is probably being spent on something I won’t use (i.e. and extra 50mm of focal length).
  5. Finally, and admittedly the least good reason for going with the Panasonic, I wanted something that fitted into one of my existing bags. As discussed here finding the right camera bag has taken me a while and having finally settled on a couple I didn’t want to go off spending further time and money looking for another bag. The Olympus was just a bit too long to fit the bags I have (with other lenses) so this was probably the clincher for me.

So, was it the right decision? Obviously I’ll never know if the Olympus would have been a better buy but, for the purpose I bought this lens for, the 35-100mm on the Panasonic worked really well. Here are a couple of example images from the shoot at both extremes of the lenses focal length range. The first is of the model just as she comes out from behind the screen and the second of her at the end of the runway.

Here is the shot at 100mm (ISO 1000, f/3.2, 1/200s)…

ZFSUK Fashion

Designer: House of Hohwa, Model: Amarachi

…and here is the shot at 35mm (ISO 1000, f/3.2, 1/200s)

Designer: House of Hohwa, Model: Amarachi

I’ve gone on to use this lens at a portrait session where again the extra focal length for tighter head shots proved useful so overall I’m pretty pleased with my purchase. and would recommend this lens.

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