The much overlooked Panasonic 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens

November 03, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

I am predominately a wildlife photographer. Yes I shoot landscapes and nature photography too, but most of what I shoot is wildlife. As a result I have always been very selective about which focal lengths I need, and therefore am prepared to invest in. I am asked quite often via my website "which camera would you recommend?". The answer to that question depends on what type of photography you do. And based on the answer to that question, I would then start to look first at which lenses you would need before choosing the camera body. Glass is an investment for the long term, and generally holds it value much more than camera bodies. 

I remember having a discussion with another of the Panasonic Lumix Ambassadors at Photokina in 2016. They were using the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens and spoke highly of the versatility of the lens and how light and compact it was. In 2016 I had just become a Lumix Ambassador and so I was very much focused on the longer focal lengths such as the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 and if I was going to invest in another lens, I was more inclined to look at constant aperture lenses. I pretty much dismissed the idea of the 14-140mm.

Fast forward to two months ago. I was preparing to head to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in South Africa. Panasonic had released the mark 2 version of the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens. They proposed to lend me one and take it with me to test it out. I knew it was lightweight and compact and wouldn't take up any room in my camera bag so agreed. The mark 2 is now dust and splash proof. It also supports the dual IS system. So how did it work out for me?

Focal length

It is the equivalent of a 10x focal range, which in 35mm terms is 28-280mm. I mentioned it's versatility...well, I confirm, this focal range is extremely versatile. Whilst on game drive in the Kgalagadi I paired it with the GH5. My principle body was the G9 with 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. I found the 14-140mm focal length to be ideal for capturing images of animals in their environment: working at the wider to mid focal ranges. The focal range really does give the flexibility to decide what you want to keep in the composition and what you want to keep out. 

A male lion at 140mm.

The same male lion at 46mm, with the wider view: the lion in the shade of a tree and Oryx looking on. 

 

Variable Aperture

I will admit, I don't like variable aperture lenses. I prefer constant aperture, for the simple reason that I shoot aperture priority mode and at any given focal length I want to be the one that defines the aperture from a creative stand point. I want to be in control of the depth of field not the lens of the camera. The other issue with variable aperture lenses I dislike is in low light situations. If I zoom in and end up at f5.6 or 6.3 I loose at least a stop of light. In fading light you can do with out that. Having said that, being on game drive on safari the light for the most part of the day is enough to compensate for the variable aperture...with the exception of early morning and sunset sightings where you are always fighting the light no matter which lens you use. After using this lens, I am more than happy to accept the variable aperture for the other benefits it gives me.

Sunrise: 40mm, f4.7, 1/25 second, Iso 800, handheld. 

Sunset: 140mm f5.6, 1/320 second, ISO 1250.

Weatherability

What can I say? I arrived in the Kgalagadi to high winds, a sand and dust storm, and then a thunderstorm and rain. I didn't have to worry about this lens. It sat on my camera and just got on with the job. It is dust and splash proof and that I was I need when I go out into the environments I shoot with. 

The view on arrival: a thunderstorm in the distance with rain and dust: GH5/14-140mm lens

My first few days in the Kgalagadi were extreme with sand and dust storms: GH5/14-140mm lens.

Minimum focal distance 

This was the big surprise. The spec will tell you the minimum focal distance is 30cms. I didn't know this when I left for the Kgalagadi. But the minimum focal distance peaked my curiosity as I started to use the lens on coffee breaks during the morning game drives. The picnic sites we stopped at would be a table under a tree. We would stop under the shade of the tree. These trees would have weavers nests in them. And before long these weavers would descend on us, on the lower branches around the picnic table and on the picnic table itself. As I observed that these birds were very habituated with our presence I decided to try something. I took my GH5 with the 14-140mm lens, and placed it on the ground I used the articulating screen to frame my composition. I then placed a few rusk crumbs just in front of the camera. I tethered the GH5 with the Lumix Image Application on my iPhone. I then sat back and waited. The birds started to come. First the more boisterous glossy startling came in, followed by the weavers. I then started shooting remotely. The results were superb. The birds got really close to the lens and were in focus. This really surprised me. 

The glossy starlings: 14mm, f6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO 800.

The sociable weavers: 14mm, f6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO 800.

Image quality

This is an affordable lens. Yet, to my eye, there is no considerable loss in image quality or sharpness. Images I shot were all very acceptable and developed well in Lightroom. If you are reading this expecting a more in-depth technical opinion on image quality for the lens, then this is where I fall short. I suggest going to read a technical review of the lens. That's not my forté!

Versatility for wildlife

This is where the lens excels. Would I recommend it for wildlife photography? It depends. It really does depend on where you are going to shoot. In certain situations 140mm falls short, and you won't be able to fit the frame. That is where you will need the 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 or the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3, certainly the latter if you want to shoot birds. That said, there are certain situations this lens really excelled. Certain situations whereby we got really close to the animal, or had a sighting whereby the animal walked towards us. Having the ability to zoom out was extremely useful. When I first started out in wildlife photography I was shooting with the 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 lenses. But I was shooting on one body. If an animal came from distance towards me, I didn't have time to switch lenses. The 14-140mm lens gets around this problem. It can easily shoot the wider "animals in the environment" shots as well as the more closer tighter portrait shots when you get closer to the animal. The Kgalagadi is basically a dry river bed which allows animals to walk down to a series of waterholes. This means you can see the animals a far and they will eventually come closer in proximity. This isn't the case in other game reserves, you may not have a clean line of sight to the subject. I would say if you have experience in shooting wildlife, then the 14-140mm lens definitely has its place in your lens arsenal depending on where you plan on shooting. 

A herd of Springbok, nice and wide at 46mm focal length. 

A drive by of a well fed female lion: 40mm focal length

Final thoughts...

The 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 mkii lens has really changed my perception of these type of zoom lenses. Without a doubt I really liked the versatile focal length for my style of photography. Combine this with the ability to tether the GH5 of G9 to the Lumix image app for remote shooting, I found it a very creative lens that afforded me a range of different types of wildlife images without the need to change lenses for different focal ranges. Add to this the dual image stabilisation and the dust and splash proof weathering, it is really worth a look if you are just starting out with wildlife of animal photography, or if you are an experienced shooter and want a little easy of flexibility in your kit bag. 

Until next time

 

Jon


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