Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm F3.5-5.6 Review
The latest addition to the L-Mount range of full-frame lenses comes in the shape of the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6.
This weather-resistant standard-zoom lens is Panasonic's seventh L-Mount lens, with many more compatible lenses from Sigma and Leica. Even still, there really is no other L-Mount lens like the 20-60mm.
Here you have the smallest and lightest lens for the Panasonic S-series of cameras by a long way. Also, at £619 RRP, it is less than half the cost of Panasonic's S 24-105mm f/4 lens, which is the next most affordable.
Now, we potentially have an indicator as to how low a price Panasonic's L-Mount lenses are going to get. It is hardly 'cheap', more reassuringly expensive. At this level, the lenses have their work cut out to realise the image quality potential of Panasonic's full frame S-Series cameras and to match the build quality.
Billed as 'built with video in mind', the ultra-wide 20mm angle is particularly helpful in tight spaces (especially given the typical 16:9 aspect ratio of video), plus it is paired with a versatile minimum focus distance of just 0.15m. Panasonic also claims that the lens suppresses focus breathing and packs a fast and silent focusing motor.
Yes, the maximum aperture may not excite, but we are likely looking at a well built, sharp and extremely versatile lens here. Could the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 be the go-to multi-purpose photography and video lens for the Panasonic full-frame S Series? Read on to find out.
Ease of Use
Panasonic S series cameras boast formidable build quality and they are chunky too. As such, attaching a compact and lightweight lens such as the 20-60mm is appreciated.
Compared to the other lenses in the range, it is positively miniscule, measuring just 87.2mm and weighing 350g. Attached to the S1R that we used for this test, the size is a great match while you barely notice the extra weight.
Build quality impresses too. It is the same weather-resistant metal barrel as Panasonic's S PRO lenses that are significantly more expensive.
One feature that differs from most of the other L-Mount lenses is the MF/AF switch for focusing modes - it's the only switch on the barrel. Other S PRO lenses feature a (wonderful) manual focus clutch instead.
By default, manual focus distances are observed on screen as you make changes. We love how the focus range (depth of field) is also displayed (in green on the range slider), so you can appreciate the impact of aperture on the focus range. Focus peaking provides an additional manual focus aid.
While not billed as a macro lens, the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6's minimum close focusing distance of 0.15m and maximum magnification of 0.43x (at the 26mm focal length) enables close up work. This really is a versatile lens - landscapes, indoors, portraits, closeups, all in photo and video.
There is a mechanism within the lens that suppresses focus breathing. We mounted the camera and lens to a tripod and manually focused the entire focus range at various focal lengths to check how well the mechanism works. There is still focus breathing, but it is kept to a bare minimum. Impressive.
Focal lengths are marked on the zoom ring and it's an easy quarter turn to transition between the wide and telephoto settings. When shifting from wide to telephoto, the lens length extends to approximately 120mm, that's an additional 33mm.
The zoom ring is beautifully dampened, enabling smooth zooms. By default the focal length is displayed on screen while any changes are made, plus it's easy to make precise changes to the nearest 1mm.
Like the zoom ring, the focusing ring handles well. Tiny focus changes are possible and fast transitions are smooth.
Both ridged rings feel great in the hand and we would expect them to stand the test of time. They are in good proportion for a lens of this size, plus positioned intuitively with the focus ring at the end of the barrel and the larger zoom ring closer to the camera.
When used with the S1R for photography, the autofocus of the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is wonderfully rapid, plus it's silent. And of course silent AF is appreciated even more for video. What we especially love is the behaviour of autofocus for video, where it is geared differently to the photo mode.
Our key ask for video AF performance is whether focus transitions are noticeable. For instance, it's possible to be too snappy, too sluggish or downright all over the place. The Panasonic S1R and 20-60mm lens combination are none of these things - autofocus transitions are smooth as silk, without dragging their heels, plus focus hunting is kept to a minimum.
Image stabilisation does not feature within the lens, which means that you're relying on the camera's in-body stabilisation instead. No problem, the S1R used for this test has 5.5-stops of image stabilisation system when used with a non-stabilised lens like the 20-60mm, so you're in good hands.
For video there are additional 'e-stablization' and 'boost I.S' options and with everything activated, smooth and steady handheld videos are entirely possible.
Other little details that we have appreciated are that both the supplied lens hood and front lens cap lock on securely and are removed easily. Lens filters with a 67mm thread are accepted. Sadly, it appears that the lens is not supplied with a protective case.
From its lightweight and solid build quality to easy handling and impressive focusing performance, the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 is indeed a breeze to use.
The 20-60mm focal length gives an angle of view of 90° (wide) to 40° (tele) on a full frame sensor.
We have taken our images in raw and JPEG format and with all lens corrections turned off to ensure any lens distortions are present. Having looked through hundreds of images for chromatic aberrations in the form of chroma (e.g. green, blue, purple) fringing, we have struggled to find any.
Pushing the lens to its widest 20mm focal length, we captured a forest scene featuring high-contrast detail of a backlit tree and branches at a range of aperture values. At this limit, we found blue fringing in the corners up to f/5.6, which was all but gone by f/11. This was also true in the matching JPEG images.
Elsewhere, we couldn't really find fringing in bokeh (out-of-focus) areas, which is perhaps less surprising given the modest maximum aperture.
Any fringing we found was easily corrected in basic editing software such as Adobe Lightroom CC, though we would recommend RAW capture when pushing the lens to its limits. In short, CA is very well controlled.
Light Fall-off and Distortion
By the look of our unedited RAW images with no lens correction applied, light fall-off (also known as vignetting which is the difference in brightness between the centre and the edges of the frame) is pronounced at the maximum f/3.5 aperture (which is only available at 20mm), by an estimated 0.6EV.
Light fall-off is more like 0.3EV up to f/5 and any discernible light fall-off has gone at f/5.6. At the telephoto end, the maximum aperture is f/5.6 and again there is virtually no light fall-off.
When shooting videos in the standard 16:9 aspect ratio, light fall-off is virtually negligible at any aperture due to the crop of the aspect ratio.
Lens distortion-wise (as seen in curvature of straight lines in a shot like architecture), we have been pleasantly surprised by the respectable control of barrel distortion at the wide end.
Again, pushing the lens to its limit by placing it close to a wall (but with a level plane), barrel distortion is only seen a little at 20mm and at 24mm barrel distortion is hard to see.
The 60mm telephoto lens setting is still too wide to expect pincushion distortion and indeed we have not observed pincushion distortion at all.
Overall, such a strong control over light-fall off and distortion is impressive and appreciated for a multi-purpose lens like the Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6, where you'd want sharp and clean image quality. Again, where present, can be corrected post capture.
The Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens comes supplied with a compact lens hood that clicks in place easily and reduces the impact of lens flare. There is nothing untoward about lens flare - like with any lens if you shoot into the light there will be flare. As for sunstars, at f/16 you get a pleasant if unspectacular spread and size of light rays.
The minimum focus distance of 0.15m is very close for a full-frame standard-zoom lens. This close focus distance is available up to the 26mm focal length, but extend the lens to 60mm and the minimum focus distance is increased to 0.4m.
As such, you can work with the lens in tight spaces for photo and video, plus focus on subjects very close to the lens. With a maximum magnification of 0.43x at the 26mm focal length, you'll be able to get plenty of detail in those close up subjects.
Panasonic has not billed the Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 as 'macro' (technically a 1.00x magnification gains such status), but this truly is a multi-purpose lens. This uncropped image show how close you can get to a CF card.
In terms of bokeh (describing the quality of out-of-focus areas), we wouldn't have particularly high demands or hopes of a lens like this with a modest maximum aperture range. For example, this all-purpose lens is not really designed to make portraits with beautifully smooth bokeh.
The Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens features nine aperture blades, which is actually a reasonable amount for such a small lens and increases those chances of a pleasant rounded out-of-focus detail. Even still, with a maximum f/5.6 aperture at the telephoto end, those blades can be seen in out-of-focus areas at any aperture. With the lens aperture set to f/3.5, bokeh is more rounded, but not perfectly. The expected reality is a reasonable if unspectacular bokeh.
In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.