Back in the days of the Four Thirds dSLR, Olympus created a brilliant but very expensive and heavy super wide angle lens – the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Super High Grade Pro lens.
This lens was so good, I decided to buy it despite it being well over $2000. Compared to anything I could use on my Canon 1D Mark III, this lens just blew them away in terms of optical qualities – perhaps the only full frame lens to match the optical quality is the highly regarded Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G which is so good, many Canon users bought it for their cameras albeit sacrificing AF.
The Olympus had almost no barrel or pincushion distortion, it was weatherproofed and had excellent build quality.
But that was back in 2007 or so, and now Micro Four Thirds rules with good reason.
One of the big benefits of Micro Four Thirds over the Four Thirds system is that having a much shorter sensor to lens flange distance allows a far more efficient, less expensive, lighter, and smaller lens design for wide angle lenses.
Olympus has finally realised this benefit by now announcing a release date of around June 2015 for their new Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens which also trumps the Panasonic offering which is a 7-14mm f/4 lens.
Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens:
This lens is 1 stop faster than the Four Thirds lens – that is – it lets in TWICE as much light thereby allowing lower ISO to be used in low light, but even with this extra stop of aperture it is a welcome compact size, so let’s look at the specs to see what we get in benefits over the Four Thirds lens:
- shorter: 105.8mm long instead of 120mm
- smaller: 78.9mm diameter instead of 87mm
- much lighter: 534g instead of 780g
- close focus reduced to a working distance of 7.5cm (the close focus of the Four Thirds lens was 25cm from sensor)
- new ZERO nanocoating to further reduce flare
- new manual focus clutch to switch into “analog” manual focus mode with distance scale instead of the default focus by wire mechanism
- new L-Fn button which can be assigned to any of 17 functions on the Olympus OM-D cameras
- AF is now silent and optimised for CDAF live view and videos
- new optical design hopefully maintains the excellent optical performance of its predecessor
- when matched to the Olympus OM-D cameras, the amazing image stabilisation system in these cameras allow such a lens to be hand held down to 1/3rd sec or even slower depending on technique! This opens up amazingly creative options in situations where tripods cannot be used and you want flowing water to be captured such as on beaches or with waterfalls.
- but perhaps best of all is it is around HALF the price at $US1299
Where does that leave the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Four Thirds lens? Well, one would have to say assuming that its optics are not substantially better than the new f/2.8 lens, which appears to be a reasonable assumption given the preview testing, that it will be greatly devalued HOWEVER, it does have one potential trick up its sleeve that the new lens will not be able to do – add a ND100 or ND400 neutral density inside the Four Thirds adapter so that you can achieve long exposures to blur water in bright sunlight.
- hopefully some enterprising company will make such an adapter with in-built ND400 filter
- in the interim, it may be possible to cut a Cokin ND100 P155 filter to fit inside the odd-shaped interior of an Olympus or Panasonic adapter – the Cokin filters are plastic and thus can be cut to shape – see how to do this here
- it would be great if future Olympus camera bodies could have a ND 400 filter activated within the camera body and then all lenses could use it seamlessly, but this is wishful thinking.
Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:
Olympus have a Four Thirds fisheye lens – the Olympus ZD 8mm f/3.5 fisheye.
But now with Micro Four Thirds, Olympus has upped the ante on its rivals by producing the world’s widest aperture fisheye lens at f/1.8 aperture!
Why is the f/1.8 aperture important?
If you wish to take landscape photos at night and include the vast expanses of the Milky Way, you need a really wide angle lens – and the fisheye gives you a full 180deg coverage negating the need for panoramic stitching, but in addition, the f/1.8 aperture allows capture of more stars whilst retaining a low ISO of 800-1600. Another benefit of a fisheye lens for star photos is the shutter can be much longer than the usual 25-30secs (if using a non-fisheye wide angle lens) given the wide field of view, and thankfully, the Olympus cameras not only provide 60sec timed exposures, but the option of Timed exposures which negate the need of holding the shutter release down as in the usual BULB mode, or of LIVE TIMED or even LIVE COMPOSITE modes for further creativity at night!
A 14mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera offers around 114° angle of view and this means one can use a shutter speed up to 25-30secs without star trailing being objectionable. As the Olympus lens is a fisheye, one can’t use the usual shutter speed equation of 400/full frame equivalent focal length, but you can use the field of view to come up with 180 x 30secs / 114 = 50secs, so perhaps 60secs would be a reasonable shutter speed for the fisheye lens for Milky Way shots without tracking – this means you can halve the usual ISO to 800 while the f/1.8 aperture will capture FOUR TIMES as much light as a f/3.5 fisheye lens.
In addition, the f/1.8 aperture will be welcomed by underwater photographers.
This Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens is weatherproofed, has very close focus and is very reasonably priced at $US999 while remaining smaller and lighter than even the 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.
The very close focus allows for creative nature and landscape photography.
Obviously, it will also be image stabilised on Olympus cameras to hand holdable 1/2sec or longer – no fisheye lens on a Canon or Nikon dSLR can be image stabilised nor have such a wide aperture – another reason why the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system means more fun, more creative options, less back ache and less cost.
The optics of the fisheye seem extremely good given the example image of the aurora which shows star shapes are pretty good for such a lens, with only the top right corner stars developing significant aberrations – that to me is a sign this lens should be an awesome lens.
Olympus is well on its way to a full catalogue of weatherproofed PRO level lenses designed for Micro Four Thirds and its face recognition capable CDAF autofocus systems we now have:
- 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
- 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
- 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
- 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO with 1.4x teleconverter
- and coming soon, the 300mm f/4 PRO (equates to an easily hand holdable 600mm field of view lens)
You might well ask, but where are the tilt-shift lenses which pro systems need?
One of the awesome features of Micro Four Thirds, is that the short lens flange distance allows one the option of using a tilt-shift lens adapter which in effect can turn any Nikon full frame lens into a tilt-shift lens!
Why pay a lot of money for a dedicated tilt-shift lens?
Or, if you already have expensive tilt-shift lenses, you can just use the full frame tilt-shift lenses in 2x crop factor (my Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 effectively becomes a 34mm tilt-shift lens with IS), or used with a 0.72x focal reducer (the 17mm lens becomes 24mm f/2.8 tilt-shift with IS).
Perhaps Olympus may develop a super wide angle tilt shift lens to fill the super wide angle gap such as a 7mm f/2.8 tilt-shift – or this may fall to a 3rd party given it does not need AF.
Just awesome, and unlike the Canon and Nikon lenses, these lenses will have their image stabilisation performances improved with each new version of Olympus camera, not to mention fast AF on the closest eye and other class leading functions.
And if you think the image quality of Micro Four Thirds can’t cut it with the full frame world, check out these side by side image samples comparing a Canon 6D full frame dSLR with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens compared to an entry level Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens – the Olympus just blows the Canon away in image clarity and detail edge-to-edge. Furthermore, buying a 50 megapixel dSLR is not going to get you better image detail or ability to make big prints if your lens can’t deliver the image detail you need or you have camera shake because the image stabiliser is not effective enough.