Until now, anyone looking at the lenses being made for the new breed of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras could be forgiven for believing they're just slightly downscaled versions of conventional SLR optics. This isn't actually true, of course - ILC lenses are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and incorporating video-friendly features such as fast, silent internal focusing and stepless aperture control. But from the outside, nothing much has changed; they're all cylinders with zoom and focus rings. Until now.

Panasonic's Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS is, however you look at it, a strikingly different prospect. Because while its specs may suggest just another kit zoom, even a passing glance shows it's something rather different. In reality it's a tiny, collapsible optically-stabilised zoom that's barely larger than the popular Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH pancake prime when retracted. Panasonic has achieved this remarkable downsizing by discarding the mechanically-coupled zoom ring mechanism and the conventional manual focus ring, and replacing both with levers that operate motors inside the lens barrel. This allows the whole lens mechanism to be collapsed, much as it would be in a compact camera's lens. Like the co-announced Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS telephoto, the lens is a power zoom.

Crucially, given the Lumix G series 'hybrid' stills/video philosophy, the inclusion of power zoom also enables smooth zooming during movie recording, something that's not easy when using a lens with a conventional rotary zoom ring. This ties-in with the lens's 'HD' tag, which designates that the lens's aperture and focus systems are optimized for movie use.

When retracted the PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 is scarcely larger than the 20mm F1.7 pancake

Power zoom is nothing new, of course; in the past Canon, Pentax and Minolta all dabbled with the idea for their 35mm SLRs. However the concept failed to gain widespread acceptance amongst enthusiast photographers, mainly because motorized zoom controls have historically been unable to match the speed, directness, and precision of composition offered by conventional mechanical zoom controls. (Then again it's worth remembering that the built-in lenses of compact cameras are overwhelmingly powered, and they seem to sell OK.)

Panasonic has addressed this by making the zoom control multi-speed. Pull the lever on the side of the barrel down slightly, and the lens will zoom slowly; pull it down further and it will zoom quickly. Again, this isn't a new idea, but how well it will be accepted by Micro Four Thirds user remains to be seen. Users may also be perturbed by the fact that there's no easy way to check visually what focal length you have set (except with the latest Olympus PENs, which display this on the screen). Manual focus is also controlled by a lever, which works in much the same way.

Equally notable about the PZ 14-42mm (and the PZ 45-175mm too) is the new 'X' branding. Panasonic is keen to point out that while the first lenses with this designation are 'HD' powerzooms, that's not what the 'X' means. Instead it simply designates a premium line of high-performance products; indeed the company is promising that the X 14-42mm will offer better image quality than both the existing 14-42mm kit lens and its highly-regarded predecessor, the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS. However upcoming 'X' lenses could be of any type: prime, power zoom, or conventional mechanical zoom.

In keeping with its premium status, the 14-42mm uses Panasonic's latest 'Nano Surface Coating' to minimise flare and ghosting caused by internal reflections. It also incorporates Panasonic's 'Power OIS' optical image stabilization technology, which promises a greater degree of correction to minimise the effect of shake when shooting hand-held videos. These features place it firmly as a higher-end alternative to the existing 14-42mm kit zoom, rather than a replacement.

Of course this is a Micro Four Thirds lens, and can therefore be used on Olympus PEN models as well as Panasonic's own Lumix G series. Olympus owners need have no fear about whether it will work - according to Panasonic it will be fully compatible with their cameras (and we've found no problems with it in early use).

The Panasonic Lumix G Vario X PX 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Power OIS is fully compatible with Olympus PENs

Headline features

  • Extremely compact collapsing design
  • Power zoom promising smooth, silent zooming during movie recording
  • Lever-controlled zooming and focusing
  • 'Power OIS' optical image stabilization
  • 'HD' optimized for video
  • Nano Surface Coating

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS specifications

Price • $399 (US)
• £tbc (UK)
Manufacturer's product code H-PS14042
Maximum format size Four Thirds
Focal length 14-42mm
35mm equivalent focal length
Diagonal Angle of view 75º - 29º
Maximum aperture F3.5-5.6
Minimum aperture F22
Lens Construction • 9 elements / 8 groups
• 4 aspherical elements
• 2 ED glass elements
• Nano surface coating
Number of diaphragm blades 7, rounded
Minimum focus • 0.2m (0.66ft) at 14-20mm
• 0.3m (0.98ft) at 21-42mm
Maximum magnification 0.17x
AF motor type • Micromotor
Focus method Internal focus
Image stabilization • Yes (Power OIS)
Filter thread • 37mm
• Does not rotate on focus
Supplied accessories • Front and rear caps
• Storage bag
Weight 95g (3.4oz)
Dimensions (retracted) 61mm diameter x 27mm length
(2.4 x 1.1 in)
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds