The Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F4 ASPH is a compact lens with a reassuring heft and density. The design is dominated by the large integrated hood at the front, which is made from thick black plastic and feels solid enough to protect the front element from knocks. Behind it sit the ridged plastic focus ring and the broader zoom ring, which has a more tactile rubberized grip. The barrel section adjacent to the mount is finished in Panasonic's familiar steel gray color, and overall the build quality feels a notch above Olympus's featherweight 9-18mm.
The zoom and focusing action all takes place within the confines of the barrel, so the lens doesn't change in length at all. The front element moves backward within the hood on zooming to 14mm, which means that it gets maximum protection from stray light.
On the camera
The 7-14mm is particularly well-matched to Panasonic's 'faux-SLR' bodies such as the G10 pictured here. But it still handles perfectly well on the smaller rangefinder-style cameras such as the GF1 (above right) and Olympus's Pen series. It's not as portable as its most obvious alternative, the Olympus M ZD 9-18mm F4-5.6, but it's scarcely a backbreaking load either. In use the lens handles well, with the zoom ring falling naturally to hand and the manual focus ring easy to spin with a fingertip on the rare occasions you need it.
It's worth pointing out that this lens isn't terribly compatible with the on-board flash of any of the Micro Four Thirds camera bodies; most of these only cover an angle of view equivalent to using an 14mm lens. At wider angles, the flash will give uneven frame coverage with darkening towards the corners, coupled with shadowing from the lens itself. This is absolutely normal for a wideangle zoom; if you really want to use this lens with flash you'll need to invest in a suitable external unit.
Orientation sensing on Panasonic G series cameras
One design quirk of the Panasonic G series is that the lens's image stabilization sensors are used to detect the camera's orientation, and mark images for rotation accordingly (as opposed to a conventional sensor mounted in the body). Obviously this can't work with lenses which don't have an OIS unit, such as the 7-14mm. This means that Panasonic owners will find all of their portrait-format pictures shot with this lens resolutely displaying the wrong way round.
Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds zooms generally exhibit hugely impressive autofocus performance (placing the Lumix G system right at the head of its class in this regard), and the 7-14mm doesn't disappoint. Focus is near-silent and exceptionally fast - indeed noticeably faster even than the M ZD 9-18mm F4-5.6, which is Olympus's fastest focusing lens to date.
Change in angle of view on focusing ('focus breathing')
The 7-14mm shows practically no perceptible change in its angle of view on focusing. This, coupled with its extremely quiet autofocus, means it will probably be a better choice for movie recording than the Olympus M ZD 9-18mm F4-5.6, which gives quite pronounced angle changes on focus.
'Focus-by-wire' manual focus
Like all Micro Four Thirds lenses the 7-14mm employs a focus-by-wire manual focus system, which drives the focusing group indirectly via the lens's autofocus motor. As a consequence, the feel of the manual focus ring never changes, regardless of whether the camera is set to auto or manual focus, or the focus has reached the limits of its travel (either close or infinity), and this lack of tactile feedback can be a little disconcerting in some situations. Fortunately this isn't the kind of lens you're likely to have to focus manually all that often.
Lens body elements
Reported aperture vs focal length
Apertures from F4 to F22 can be selected at all focal lengths.