The Lumix only opens up to a maximum aperture of f/4.0, and that rapidly diminishes to f/5.8, which means it can really only be used for daylight exteriors, unless you’re bringing in a lot of light, or don’t mind cranking the gain all the way up. (By the way, that “5.8” is not a typo. What’s f/5.8? A little bit darker than f/5.6, apparently.)
First, I planned to do an apples-to-apples comparison on an interview shoot. But, I wound up being 20 minutes late, and when I saw how the Lumix looked at 50mm – dark, and with an unattractively deep depth of field, given the background I was working with – I didn’t even waste time trying to dial in the correct amount of gain and exposure to compensate; I just popped on my Canon FD 50mm f/1.4, opened the aperture all the way, and shot the interview with lovely selective focus.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “maybe this is really an event lens.” So, I figured I’d take it out for a spin on one of the very few events I shoot. But, after careful consideration, I realized that I needed the ability to smoothly zoom in and out while recording. Since the lens has no servo control on the AF100, there’s no good way to do that. So, I wound up using my old Sony HVR-S270. Ah, trusty ol’ HDV!
So, I gave up on using the Lumix on a real gig, packed up a bag of lenses, and went out to shoot scenics.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Canon’s “FD” series of lenses are optically very similar to the current, “EOS” line, but instead of electronic focus and aperture control, each lens has manual focus and aperture rings. This makes them ideal for adapting to third-party cameras, because you can maintain complete control over the lens, without sacrificing optical quality. Better yet, there are a vast number of these lenses floating around, and they can be purchased quite inexpensively.
I didn’t kill myself trying to do a scientific head-to-head analysis of how the different lenses compared at identical apertures. DP Review can do that kind of thing. I’m more interested in real-life use, so I found a few different shots that I might plausibly want to use for b-roll, and shot them with both lenses in the way that I would actually do it normally. To me, this is much more relevant of an evaluation than a technical comparison.
I found that dialing the Lumix lens to a specific focal length was actually somewhat challenging. It seemed to jump from, for example, 132 to 138. For the most part, I was able to deal with this, but you’ll see that the shots at 135mm are not as close a match as I would like. Because I was using whatever aperture I would use in real life, I matched the exposure as closely as I could by eyeball, and although they aren’t exact, I am confident that any of these shots could easily be graded to match any other.
As you can see in the video, the Lumix 14-140 is an excellent lens. It delivers more color than the FD primes, and is extremely sharp. The FD lenses, on the other hand, allowed more opportunity for selective focus, and – in my opinion – consistently shot images that seem more film-like than the somewhat clinical-looking Lumix footage.
Unlike my discovery that the Sigma 12-24 was significantly softer than the Lumix 7-14, I found that the 20 year-old FD lenses were just as sharp as the state-of-the-art Lumix lens. Moreover, this was true even though I was shooting the FD lenses at much wider apertures. This isn’t surprising, of course; as I explained in an earlier blog post about zooms vs. primes, the increased number of optical elements in a zoom lens means less light and less clarity.
The Lumix 14-140 is certainly a sharp lens, but I found it difficult to focus with on the AF100. This camera BADLY needs an expanded focus function!
Ultimately, what this means for the AF100 shooter is that you can go out and get a set of Canon FD primes which will be faster, sharper and cheaper than the state-of-the-art Lumix lenses, and feel good about it. The Lumix retails for almost $1,000, so if you put that money towards FD primes, you could get the lenses I used in this test – the 20mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2.5 – and still have about $400 – $500 left over!