Review: Lumix 20mm For Shallow Depth of Field Photo and Video Captures

Apr 10 2011

Lumix 20mm Review

People often ask, what’s the best lens for my Micro Four Thirds camera? For many people, compactness, brightness and sharpness are the three attributes they are looking for.

In particular, these people want a lens that can capture beautiful images in even the most light-challenging situations. And they want a lens that can produce a shallow depth of field to capture stunning ‘bokeh’, or softly blurred backgrounds.

The Lumix 20mm was my second Micro Four Thirds lens, and the first lens I bought that wasn’t bundled with a camera.

On the day that I bought the lens, I attached it to my camera and it’s remained there ever since. This is how much I fell in love with the lens!

Check prices and availability for the Lumix G Vario 20mm.

Pancakes Go Anywhere

The first thing one notices of the Lumix 20mm is it’s incredibly small size. This is easily one of the smallest Micro Four Thirds lens on the market today. Its ‘pancake’ form makes it a perfect match for such compact Micro Four Thirds shooters as the Panasonic GF2 or Olympus’ E-PL2 and E-P2.

This lens will not add much size or weight to your existing Micro 43 camera. In fact, on the Lumix GH2, it doesn’t stick out anymore than its handgrip!

When I first attached the lens to my camera, I couldn’t believe how much more portable my Panasonic GH1 became; it was like a new camera!

Super Sharp Images

The Lumix G 20mm features seven internal lenses in five groups, with two aspherical lenses for lessening distortion — let’s just say it’s deceptively complex for such a small lens.

The images produced by this lens are often comparable to those captured by full-sized DSLRs. The Lumix 20mm captures amazing sharpness and vibrant color that is easily noticeable. Even though Micro Four Third cameras feature smaller image sensors than that of regular DSLRs, with high quality glass, this gap has been narrowed.

After using the Lumix 20mm in all kinds of situations over the last year, I can safely say that it has consistently produced my best work. Even when I heavily crop a photo, the final image will look amazingly clear and detailed. I simply wouldn’t be interested in using my camera without this lens.

A Magnet For Light

With an unmatched f/1.7, the Lumix 20mm sucks in photons like a vacuum.

The first thing I noticed, after switching from a much slower lens, was that my camera could finally take amazing photos indoors without boosting the ISO (creating noise) or reducing shutter speed (risking blurred images).

In dimly lit rooms or outside after dark, the Lumix 20mm is easily the lens of choice. I always hated how my old lens would destroy the color and detail of my shots in low-light environments – I thought it was just the limits of the camera – but those restrictions seemingly vanished after attaching this lens.

Beautiful Bokeh

A huge reason why people are interested in this lens, and DSLR-style cameras in the first place, is to produce images with softly blurred backgrounds. This is known as bokeh. The Lumix G Vario, with its incredible f/1.7 speed, can produce bokeh better than just about any other lens on the Micro Four Thirds platform.

At f/1.7, you’ll be taking portrait shots where the face of your subject is in focus, but their ears and tip of their nose will not be! The lens gives you serious control over depth of field, which can result in stunningly beautiful shots.

The Lumix 20mm has produced my most intense and artistic looking shots — the kinds of images that get the most attention from friends and strangers alike.

Hey, there’s nothing like flattery to keep you motivated with your photography!

Snappy Autofocus

The Lumix G 20mm features decent autofocus speed and accuracy. The lens will work with your camera in various autofocus modes, such as ones that track objects and faces.

This lens also features a manual focus ring for when you need totally control. The lens implements focus-by-wire, which takes your input and relays it to a motor that does the actually focusing of the lens. The lens may be small, but it’s quite high-tech!

Normal Prime Lens

Because Four Thirds cameras have cropped image sensors, a lens such as the Lumix 20mm actually features an equivalent focus length of 40mm when compared to 35mm film cameras. This focus length is within the ‘normal’ range.

Being normal is a simple a way of saying that a lens will capture images that viewers will perceive as natural looking. In other words, the lens will capture a scene similar to how your unaided eyes would see it.

The Lumix G 20mm posses this ideal focus length, and is thus perfect for street shooting and other types of everyday photography.

Lumix G 20mm For Shooting Video

As you might already know, I happen to shoot a lot of video. In fact, I bought the Lumix 20mm on the eve of a major event that I promised to film for a friend. Because the event was taking place indoors, in a rather dimly lit home, I needed the lens to shoot video without dipping below a 1/50 shutter speed (for normal looking motion blur) or boosting the ISO to ridiculous levels.

With my old f/4.0 lens, this entire event would have been filmed as if the camera was behind a pair of dark sunglasses! But with the Lumix 20mm, and its incredible f/1.7 light sucking ability, the exposure looked perfect and the ISO was kept at manageable levels.

In short, all the benefits I’ve talked about when capturing still images are applicable for this lens when shooting high definition video. You get: insane brightest, very shallow depth of field, and razor sharp 720p or 1080p captured video. This is a videographer’s dream!

Negatives

One feature that some would like to have on the Lumix 20mm is optical stabilization. This spec would also help in video mode, where stabilization can help to remove rolling shutter and just an otherwise jittery picture.

But I think it’d be near impossible to add this feature without adding size and weight to the lens, which would negate one of its prime appeals.

Fortunately, because the lens is so fast, it allows one too shoot at a higher shutter speed. This helps to keep images looking sharp even if your hands aren’t steady or the subject in your scene is moving. Thus, for most people, the omission of Mega OIS (Panasonic’s brand of optical stabilization) will not be a big deal.

Where To Buy

The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 20mm lens is usually in short supply. It’s a fantastic lens with few rivals, but it’s a lens that’s not produced in mass quantities and is quite popular among Micro Four Thirds enthusiants.

The best place to check for stock is on Amazon, where you can read more user reviews and hunt for the best deals (and free shipping!).

Alternatively, you may want to consider a similar lens, the excellent Lumix 14mm. This lens offers a wider view, and a somewhat slower F-stop (f/2.5). Also, this lens is newer, goes for around the same price, and is usually in stock.

 

Comments are off for this post