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A little gem from Panasonic

I've been playing with a pre-production 14mm lens on my Lumix G1 and I'm seriously impressed. Its 14 mm focal length (equivalent to 28 mm in the film-based world) offers a classic landscape perspective while also being usable for people shots. It's launched today at Photokina in Köln. For some reason they've called it H-H014, but then all their cameras and lenses are lumbered with cryptographic names.

This is the smallest, lightest lens in the world, weighing 50 g (less than 2 oz) without its lens cap. It earns its "pancake" label by protruding less than 2 cm beyond my G1 body. It can focus impressively close - down to 18cm/7in - and does so very fast indeed on autofocus.

Above all, its aperture range is stunning. Not only does it stop down all the way to f22 for massive depth of field when you want it, but it opens up to a mighty f2.5 so you can blur everything except your subject. (Early rumours of f2.8 have been exceeded by one-third of a stop.)

Large aperture also gives enormous scope for low-light photography without flash, and mostly I avoid flash in pictures (other than when used for outdoor fill-in). Because a wide-open lens permits faster shutter speeds, you are less likely to have unwanted blur from camera shake or subject movement.

A big range of aperture restores creative control to a photographer who has become slightly jaded with zoom lenses. They give you lots of focal length flexibility, it's true, but little control over aperture. I'm a fan of the 14-45 kit lens that came with the G1, but its maximum aperture is only f3.5 to f5.6 (and its sharpest performance is in the f8-f11 range). This wee gem of a lens reminds you that photography is about taking control of the image and deciding which aperture to choose.

You may feel that fixed focal length is a limitation, and it certainly means that you need to think a bit harder about composition and probably to walk towards and around your subject. But that might even result in better photography than the lazy "stand still and zoom" approach. The lens is expected on general release by mid-October at a UK price of £350.

Let me share a few snaps from around the garden/field yesterday. All were taken hand-held, in a casual, experimental mood. At the low resolution shown here, you may not see the subtle effects of large aperture, but believe me, at full screen the effect is clear and brilliant. Here is a standard kind of small-aperture (f22) straw bale shot, with distance in focus:


And here is a similar shot with the lens opened up, this time with bale straws spiky sharp but background defocused:


Finally, here is a humble leaf of Virginia creeper, symbol of the equinox and the onset of autumn:



This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 21, 2010 8:05 AM.

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