The other morning I took the dog for her usual perambulation along the river, as we were walking along deep in thought (well I was I can’t vouch for the dog) our tranquility was disrupted by the sound of thundering hooves and the odd sound of something being hit at high velocity. Getting closer I was met with a sight redolent of the medieval Eastern European steppes – not what you expect to see in Western Australia in Twenty First Century. But little did I realise that actually mounted archery or more specifically horse archery is quite a popular pastime. It is a new sport in WA, only 5 years old but is quickly attracting enthusiastic participants some of whom are jetting off to South Korea to represent Australia at the World Horseback Archery Championships. What I was seeing was a demonstration that was part of the 2017 York Medieval Fayre. If you are interested you can contact the fine people at the Western Australian Horse Archery Association via their Facebook page and they have regular events at the State Equestrian Centre in Brigadoon.
The above video is a shortened version of this entry.
Cosina are a Japanese lens manufacturer who produce lenses under their own and under companies names. In 1999 they leased the licensing of the Voigtländer name and started making camera bodies and lenses. Sadly they have stopped making cameras but are still making lenses in the following mounts:
VM – or Leica M
Sony E Mount or Nex
There is no need to worry about Cosina’s ability to manufacturer lenses as Carl Zeiss has them make many of their lenses.
This article is about the 35/2.5 P type II VM mount MC version. Which is a way of saying that there have been several versions of this lens with different mounts and lens coatings and this model was introduced in February 2004, I purchased it new that year, and it is still in production. Physically the lens is similar in styling to the Leica pe-aspheric 35mm f2 Sumicron right down to the inclusion of the finger tab on the focusing ring. The vented lens hood is an optional but essential extra, so if purchasing new budget for it, if buying second-hand look for a copy with it included. Readers not familiar with range finders may scoff at the design of the lens hood but the design was necessary so that the hood would not obstruct the view through the viewfinder. Not necessary when adapting the lens to the Sony A7 cameras but it does make the lens look cooler. Yes my copy has a dented lens hood, the lens has been very well used over the years. It also shows that a lens hood provides more protection against damage than a filter ever could.
Lens Vital Statistics
The construction is all metal and for such a tiny lens it has a reasonable heft and feels very dense. So as you can see this is truly a “pancake” lens and makes a very nice all day walk around pairing with a Sony A7. Street and landscape photographers rejoice! The lens also has marked on its barrel along with the focusing scale depth of field markings, this makes zone focusing and setting the hyperfocal distance a breeze. Set at an aperture of f22 everything from 1 metre to infinity will be in focus. The focusing ring has a smooth throw of around 90º coupled with the afore-mentioned finger tab and focusing while the camera is at eye level is just so easy. The aperture ring while admittedly very thin has two tabs on it opposite each other that help you find the ring by touch and adjust without taking your eye from the viewfinder. So while it would be easy to dismiss the lens because of its retro styling these little inclusions show that this is a lens that is meant to be used. To use it on anything other than an M mount camera you will need an adapter.
Mounted to my Sony A7r how does it perform? Unsurprisingly for a pancake lens vignetting is quite apparent wide open at f2.5 along with a magenta colour cast along the edges and in the corners of the frame. The vignetting is a result of the optical design, the magenta cast the result of putting a true 35mm lens in front of a digital sensor designed to use retro-focused lens designs. The lens was designed for film so it didn’t matter that the rear element was so close to the film plane as the silver halide crystals in the emulsion didn’t care whether the light rays were hitting them perpendicularly or not. Digital sensors do require the light rays to hit perpendicular to the sensor plane, if they don’t you get light fall off, smearing and colour fringing. The Sony A7 cameras because they are mirrorless designs have micro lenses on the sensor that help pick up the light rays at acute angles, but the camera needs to know what the lens is before any correction can be applied. This lens has no electronic communication with the camera so the cast remains. The performance of the lens improves considerably as the lens is stopped down, so the vignetting is all but gone by f8 but the magenta fringing continues throughout the aperture range. Happily the colour cast can be removed in post. If you use Adobe Lightroom there are correction profiles for the Voigtländer lenses – the video accompanying this article shows how they work. If you use other processing software have a look at Cornerfix which is a little app that allows you to build lens profiles.
When it comes to distortion – there is some barrel distortion, but that is easily fixed in post as is the small amount of chromatic aberration. Sharpness at f2.5 in the centre of the images is very good with nice edge contrast befitting a modern multi-coated lens. The edges are considerably softer with less contrast. The wide angled rangefinder lens in front of a digital sensor problem comes into play here. A lot of people will complain that there is smearing of detail, and that is true it does happen (Spoiler Alert!) and wait until you see my review of the CV 15mm f4.5 as that has it in spades, but with this moderate wide-angle and it’s fairly sedate maximum aperture of f2.5 the light rays are not being forced to hit the sensor at extreme angles so there is no visible evidence of detail smearing in the corners of an image. Like most lenses used on a 35mm sensor diffraction sets in at f16, it’s not disastrous. Diffraction is not like falling off of a cliff – at f11 everything is sharp then at f16 everything is out of focus. No there is a slight loss of edge definition which is a little more noticeable at f22. Flare is well controlled, but I would still recommend the lens hood and the 10 aperture blades produce nice sun stars.
Well lets look at pricing first. B&H Photo sell this puppy new for just over $400 USD sans lens hood at the time of writing. There are dealers on eBay that sell them for $350 USD and second-hand copies can be found starting at just over the $200 USD mark. This is not a sexy fast aperture lens and the price reflects that. There are only 7 lens elements with no fancy shapes. What you are getting is very compact moderately wide angled lens with a modest maximum aperture of f2.5. It is well designed and for stills photography is a delight to use. For video it is possible to use it, but the focus throw is a little on the short side, the small size makes operating the lens a little harder while filming and the small filter size makes the use of variable neutral density filters a little cumbersome. It is not a lens that lens snobs would consider, but it is a very fine workman like tool that I won’t ever sell because it is well made, functions well and is optically very consistent. If you like manual lenses and see one at a good price buy one. Like the many people who left reviews on the B&H web page you won’t be disappointed.
Hell or high water is the new motto for the Avon Descent and was adopted because recent years have seen decreasing amounts of rainfall falling and competitors have had to carry their craft where there was insufficient water. This year, 2017 and the 45th occasion of the race, the water levels were high which meant potentially new records could be set. The Avon Descent was first held in 1973, and there were only forty-nine competitors. This year there were 370 competitors with many coming from interstate and overseas. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 124 km or 77 mile two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race.
The beauty of this race is that you can pick out a few vantage points from a list put out by the race organisers on their website and follow the whole event documenting the whole story rather than just getting an isolated snap shot. In previous years I’d covered the race for magazines shooting stills and then writing the story. This year I had intended to cover the entire event from start to finish and it was to be first time I’d covered it shooting video. Having planned my weekend around the race it was time to check the maps and the approximate timings for each stage. For instance there was no point heading to the first stage after the start as I would not have had time to get there by car, park, and then walk along the river to find a good location to set up. Also I had to think about the weather conditions, because at some of the viewing points you are bussed in and that would mean I’d have to carry everything with me. As the forecast for the weekend was a cold start it was thermals, and fleece. he key was light layers that could be added or taken off as conditions permitted. Camera and lens choice was hard, and I found it difficult to make a decision. For the Friday shots I could work from the back of the car and it was all to be people shots around Northam and for the sake of mobility using either a monopod or a gimbal. In the end I decided to use the Sony A7r and with Olympus OM Zuiko lenses – the 20mm, 50mm and 135mm. This and the gimbal went in a belt pack. Saturday involved shooting at three sites and I wanted to shoot some time-lapse as well as video footage. So I chose the Olympus OMD EM 1 with 40-150mm f2.8 lens for the video work and the EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 for the time-lapse. I couldn’t set up a tripod at the start as I was going to shoot on the swing bridge so I used a monopod for the video and for the time-lapse I clamped the Syrp Genie Mini to the bridge safety barrier with a Manfrotto super clamp. All this went into my photo back pack. Sunday was the biggest problem with no car access to Bells Rapids everything had to be carried. So I took the Canon EOS6d with 24-70mm, 70-200 and a x2 converter. I’d also need plenty of batteries and memory cards as there would be no nipping back to the car. I decided to carry all this in pouches on a belt as I needed to be able to scramble up some rocks to get a good vantage point. At Bells I mounted the camera on a tripod but at the finish line I shot just using a monopod.
The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicked off on the Friday with the competitor registration at the Northam Swimming Pool and then their craft were taken down to the race marshalling area on the banks of the river. Late in afternoon and into the evening was the Avon River Festival with a huge fireworks display on the Avon River, stage shows featuring a variety of local talent, a family fun zone, rides for all the family, sideshow alley and roving entertainment, a community street parade, markets for avid shoppers, and food. On Saturday morning the event kicked off proper. As I arrived I could see hot air balloons drifting lazily above the river. The power craft were away quickly and smoothly and then it was the turn of the paddle craft. I was surprised to see that someone was competing for the first time on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). Barely had half the paddle craft left than the news came through that the first power craft had reached Toodyay. It was going to be a very fast race with little hope of getting shots of the power craft. I spent a total of an hour and half standing on the swing bridge -it is a wire suspension bridge that bounces a lot, the police constable standing next to me complained of feeling seasick from the constant motion. It didn’t effect me but it really made me glad that I had the in body stabilisation activated on the cameras. After the start I went to Williamson Weir stayed there for an hour and a half. The Weir is man-made and its concrete lip and rock wall are hazardous to boat and paddler alike so around half the competitors choose to portage around it. Thankfully the other half run it and you get the thrills and spills with plenty of encouragement from the watching crowd. Finishing up in Toodyay for the day is great. There is always a great vibe with a tremendous crowd and a party like atmosphere. When I got there the town was packed and in full on carnival mode. It took an age to find some parking and get down to the river. Here there was a team change over area, and along the riverside were lots of anxious looking paddlers all staring up river for any sign of their team mates. As the first canoes started to come round the corner and pass under the timing gate they got their first sight of their team mates and their faces would burst into a huge grin of relief. The spectators would burst into rapturous cheers as the fresh team-mate paddled away heading for the Boral Campsite that marked the halfway point and the end of day one.
I couldn’t face getting up at 4;30am in the dark and freezing cold to get to the start at Boral Camp for day two so I just headed out a bit later and went straight to Bells Rapids in Walyunga National Park. You have to leave the car at the nearby state equestrian centre and then you taken in by bus. From there it was a quick walk to what I call the media rock. It’s a nice big rock that juts out into the river which gives a good view of the competitors coming under the bridge and through the rapids. I got there just as the TV crews were claiming their spots and setting up. I squeezed onto the end closest to the bank and put my tripod up to mark my territory. When the press photographers arrived they gave us a filthy look, but as they were shooting hand-held they didn’t need as much space. A little while later a hopeful photo enthusiast asked if could join us on the rock, one of the guys I know from the papers said it was OK if he didn’t talk about equipment – his or ours – and if he did he’d get thrown in the river. He decided that he couldn’t not talk about kit and took himself off somewhere else. After a couple of hours I knew that I’d have to get my skates on if I was to get to the finish line.
The finish line is in Bayswater a suburb of Perth. A huge screen had been put up and there was a live commentary being given. I positioned myself by the finish line as I find that the images taken as the paddlers beach their boats and walk ashore tells a very powerful story. It does not seem to matter whether they are newbie’s in their first race or veterans each face has a similar look etched upon it. It is a mixture of pain from the sheer physical effort, relief from finishing, and disbelief that it is all over. Some will swear that they will never do it again, but most know that even as they hit the finish line that they will be back next year.
So now a week later, I’ve edited the 50Gb of footage and made a 7 minute clip. As I write this I’m thinking about how things went and what I would change if I were to do it again. Well to start with I wouldn’t bother with the Sony. It produces very nice images, but the screen is terrible. It is winter here and the days aren’t as bright as they can be, but the Sony’s rear LCD panel is virtually unusable. The other thing that puts me off is that the user interface isn’t very intuitive and so adjusting some settings in a hurry is a pain in the nethers. The OMD EM1 mk i is constantly a surprise when shooting video. The touch screen is a pleasure to use and the phase detect auto focus does very well. It is tempting to run off and get a mk ii for the 4K and the improved focusing. The Canon EOS 6d was the surprise, the autofocus is crap, but Technicolor’s CineStyle Profile and Canon’s superb lenses produce gorgeous images. All it needs is a flippy flappy touch screen and dual pixel auto focus and it would be perfect. “The 6d mk ii has that!” I hear you say, but (and there is always a but) the mk ii’s video compression is worse than the mk i. What Canon give they take away! There is always the EOS 80d. I might try to hire one for the next project I shoot. I wish I’d used the gimbal more instead of the monopod, accepting the fact that I couldn’t use it for the long lens shots. Sound could be a lot better – it is the aspect of video I always struggle with. I’m also beginning to think that I’ve out grown iMovie – a better editor would give me some more options. I’ve downloaded DaVinci Resolve to give that a whirl on my next project. In many ways I’m no different to the competitors in the race – I’m already starting to plan for next year!
The Sony NEX mount was made for sad old gits like me. “Hold on Paul…” I can hear you say “do you mean that Sony engineered a whole camera line specifically for you?”. No! There was a happy accident that had some unforeseen benefits. I’ll explain. This is going to be a bit beardy and nerdy.
Just over 100 years ago, or to be precise in 1909, the film (or movie depending upon where you are from) industry standardised on a film format of 1.37 inches in width with four perforations per frame. The decision was economic, it meant that cinemas didn’t have to have different sized film projectors. In 1913 the first commercial 35m film camera was produced – the Tourist Multiple. made by Herbert & Huesgen of New York. Unfortunately this achievement is largely forgotten because the story of Oskar Barnack inventing 35mm film for stills and the Leica camera has become the accepted history, but that is FAKE NEWS as a certain orange haired buffoon is apt to say. Not long after these small format cameras as they were then known took two distinct evolutionary paths the rangefinder (which was the first) as pioneered by Leica and the Single Lens Reflex as pioneered by K. Nüchterlein’s when the Kine Exakta launched in 1936.
Rangefinder cameras initially were very popular. The technology was available and relatively simple and the cameras and lenses were very compact. The photographer looks through a window on the camera and sees an image with a fainter duplicate from a rotating prism over laid. The photographer adjusts the rangefinder until the two images match up exactly, then the image is in focus. This system was called the split image rangefinder and had been developed to sight artillery pieces and was well understood at the time. The disadvantage is of course that the photographer is not seeing what the lens sees, only an approximation which can lead to inaccurate framing due to parallax errors. Interchangeable lenses were facilitated by having a screw mount and Leica adopted as their standard the L39 or LTM (Leica Thread Mount) which is 39mm in diameter with a Whitworth thread of 0.977 pitch and a flange distance of 28.8mm. Other manufacturers made variations on a theme i.e. the Canon M39 (aka J Mount) and the FED 39 which all share the same diameter but the thread pitch and flange distances are different. By the 1950’s photographers were looking for a faster way of changing lenses and so short throw bayonet mounts were developed. In 1954 Leica introduced the M mount and this is characterised by it having an external diameter of 44mm, a bayonet consisting of four claws and a flange distance of 27.8mm.
With the advent of digital imaging camera designers were suddenly allowed to consider alternative designs where there were no moving parts. It was hoped that eliminating the mirror and using an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and taking a direct readout off of the sensor would allow cheaper and easier manufacture. The autofocus system would be more accurate because the readings could be taken directly off of the sensor and the use of electronics allowed more accuracy than mechanical linkages. With no flappy mirror to interfere with things the flange distance could be reduced along with it’s radius. So the Sony NEX mount has a flange distance of 18mm and a diameter 41.6mm which means that just about any lens can be mounted to a NEX body via an adapter and as long as it has an imaging circle big enough so that an image can be projected on the sensor. The NEX mount covers both so-called full frame format (35 x 24mm) and the APSC format (24 x 16mm). This is the happy accident because I’m sure that when Sony adopted this standard they didn’t realise that it would allow legions of photographers all over the world to mount legacy lenses (lenses made for cameras that are no longer produced) to be mounted to the new Sony mirrorless cameras. Now I am the first to admit dear reader that as a photographer I have been promiscuous. I have not stayed faithful to one brand or lens mount which means that I have a fair few lenses sitting in a shoe box that I no longer have camera bodies for. Now I’ve already talked about mounting my old Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on my Sony A7r here. This and a few subsequent posts are going to be about using L39 and M mount lenses.
“So who in their right mind would want to do this?” Well you’re probably right to want to do this would be a sign of mental infirmity to some, but for many people (myself included) auto everything cameras are a bit boring and modern lenses while being technically very good can be a bit characterless. While Leica lenses are wallet puckeringly expensive there are plenty of more affordable alternatives made by Minolta (now absorbed by Sony), Konica (initially taken over by Minolta and then swallowed up by Sony), Ricoh, Voigtländer, Rollei (both of these as part of Cosina’s licensing of their names) Zeiss and those produced in Russia such as Zorki and Fed. These lenses are beautifully made with metal barrels and mounts, buttery smooth focusing, and exquisite clicking aperture rings. I’ve got a Canon L macro lens, and while it produces wonderful images the plastic body is somewhat underwhelming considering the price Canon charge for it and it’s not something I’d pick up for the tactile experience and as for the whole joy of ownership – well let’s not talk about it. These older lenses just feel so satisfying in the hand that makes you want to do some serious lens fondling. They just engender a joy of ownership that plastic can’t. I told you there are mental health issues with this.
Another reason why rangefinder lenses are attractive is that there are fewer optical design compromises. SLRs have a big flippy flappy mirror between the lens and the film/sensor. This meant making wide-angle lenses next to impossible because the rear lens element would foul the mirror. In 1950 Pierre Angénieux invented the retrofocus lens which is a kind of “reverse” telephoto design where the lens elements closest to the film plane have a negative effect making the image smaller. The downsides are more glass elements means more air to glass surfaces which means more refraction which means more potential chromatic aberration and distortion. More glass means more weight. Here’s an interesting fact – a cubic centimetre of glass is heavier than a cubic centimetre of concrete. Range finders are mirrorless cameras so there isn’t a restrictive mirror flapping about, this has the net effect that your 28mm lens can be a true 28mm lens without a whole bunch of extra glass causing problems. It also means that rangefinder lenses are much smaller than their SLR counterparts.
However, it is not all unicorns at the bottom of the garden. Rangefinder lenses were designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematic from whatdigitalcamera shows. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica M8 to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.
Why not buy a digital M and be done with it? There is no way I could afford a digital Leica as I’m not a “Trustafarian”, and also and perhaps more importantly, my lenses are not made by Leica they are the much cheaper Voigtländers so I’m not going to drop nearly $10K AUD just to use them again. But as I had a Sony A7r for experimenting with my collection of Olympus OM Zuiko lenses I thought I’d just buy a M to N adapter. Because the Sony NEX mount is a much shorter flange distance than a conventional DSLR its sensor does have micro lenses to cope with the native wide angles. However, the fly in the ointment is that just having them alone does not fix the problems with M mount lenses because there is no in camera correction via firmware. So straight away the situation is more complex than using old SLR lenses. The answer is obviously to fix the problems in post. Users of Lightroom can rejoice as there are profiles for Voigtländers lenses in the developing module. They are easy to use but given that they are somewhat generic they sometimes don’t fix the problem entirely requiring a little extra fiddling about. If you are really keen then you can build your own profiles using Cornerfix.
Well now we’ve got that out of the way lets talk about adapters. At their most basic an adapter is just a tube with a male bayonet mount at one end and a female at the other. For the sake of brevity I’ll limit this to just dumb adapters i.e. you’re not trying to get auto focus and stabilisation to work. There are a huge range of prices for essentially the same thing. I’ve paid as little as $15 including postage from China to as much as $200. So what do you get for your money? Not a lot. I got a Voigtländers VM II Adapter – Leica M Lenses to Sony E Mount for $200 AUD from an Australian seller. It looked nicely made but it had a serious flaw, there was no spring in the lens release button which means that your lens could fall off as it wasn’t secured. I don’t know if that is typical but I had no luck with trying to exchange it with the seller so I was kind off put off spending a lot of money. The next adapter I bought was from a Chinese seller on eBay and it cost a grand total of $15 AUD and it worked fine. A little agrarian in the looks department but it did the job nicely. Then I noticed that Voigtländer made a close focus adapter which took my fancy. Generally rangefinder lenses only focus down to 1 metre and I like to use wide angles closer than that for dramatic effect and it also meant that my 75mm was suitable for tight portraits. So my interest was definitely piqued, but my wallet was a little bit shy about coughing up $389 AUD after my experience with the other one. Then I discovered the Fotodiox DLX Stretch for $170 AUD from B&H Photo and for half the price of the Voigtländer coupled with B&H’s excellent customer service I was in like Flynn.
When the DLX Stretch arrived in its plain brown wrapper I quickly reassured the significant other that it wasn’t anything X rated (“No luv I said photographic accessory not pornographic accessory!”) and got down to playing with it. Basically what it is is an adapter with its own built in variable extension ring. The extension is achieved via a helicoid with a long throw. The amount of extension is not great about 2-3mm but that is enough to reduce the minimum focusing on my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar from 70cm to 30cm. As my Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar and Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar are both L39 screw fitting I promptly ordered two L39 to Leica M adapters so I could use them with the Fotodiox DLX Stretch and the results were just as impressive. For the 75mm the minimum focus is 100cm and is then reduced to 65cm, and for the 15mm the minimum focus was reduced from 30cm to 12cm.
In terms of construction the DLX Stretch is reassuringly weighty (unlike the cheap Chinese adapters which feel so light that they may be made from a lacquered toilet roll tube). Both the male and female mounts are chrome plated brass. The aluminium body is anodised a natty orange colour that matches the orange lens mount trim on Sony A7 series cameras. The ring that moves the helicoid is knurled and has a prominent finger tab and has a nice smooth action although saying that it is difficult to use while videoing without creating camera shake. There is no wiggle or play with the extension and the unit attaches to cameras and lens snuggly with evidence of any play or light leaks. To further install confidence in the product Fotodiox warranty the adapter for 24 months.
Overall I can see some photographers scoffing at the concept saying they have no need. Myself I like it very much and am using it a lot especially with the Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar.
* Easy musical reference this week – it is of course the title track off of Bob Dylan’s first album produced during his Christian phase – Slow Train Coming. It marked a couple of departures for his Bobness. Firstly The use of Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers, from Dire Straits, on lead guitar and drums respectively to add a more polished sound. Secondly the use of Jerry Wexler,who originally coined the term “Rhythm and Blues” and was famous for producing Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, to produce a bigger funkier sound. Although the song was used as the Title Track for his first Christian album the song actually predates the album and was used by Dylan as a sound check. The song has no Biblical references and is more a rant by Dylan over the direction the USA was taking. Many critics at the time found it to be racist and jingoistic but some forty years later many are saying that it was prophetic and showed the gradual moral, economic and political decline of the country.
The other morning I got up at stupid O’clock to shoot a dawn time-lapse of the York Town Hall. So what do you do while you’re hanging around waiting for it to finish? Why take photos of course! So while the Leica D-Lux clicked away doing it’s time lapse thing I set up the Sony A7r and started taking snaps of the town hall. Good job I did as the time lapse wasn’t that crash hot.
The Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 was one of the original lenses released with the OM1 in 1972. It is fair to say that the lens has tended to be ignored somewhat since the release of the f2 version, this was true in the days of film and it is especially true today with the current trend of mounting legacy glass on cameras such as the Sony A7r. Demand for a product dictates the price and copies of the f2 change hands on eBay for over $1000 USD while the f3.5 goes for around $350 USD. Apart from the aperture what other differences are there between the two? Well asymmetrical-type ultra wide-angle lenses are designed for optimum performance at infinity and unfortunately when used at their closest focusing distance picture quality has a tendency to deteriorate. The 21mm f2 lens incorporates a floating element system for improved sharpness from its close 0.2 meter (0.7 ft) minimum focusing distance to infinity and ensuring its superlative optical performance be extended to its closest working range. So what are the advantages of the 21mm f3.5? Well it fits Yoshihisa Maitani’s design criteria for the OM system – being lightweight and very compact. This thing is
absolutely tiny. It is about the same size as the Fotodiox OM to NEX adapter. Most other camera systems would call this a pancake lens – it’s not, it’s just that most modern DSLR cameras are very bloated and unnecessarily large. Optically it has 7 elements in 7 groups, is 31mm (1.2 inches) long, 59mm (2.3 inches) in diameter and has a filter thread of 49mm. Like most Olympus OM lenses there are different versions of the lens – the original weighed in 185g (6.5 oz) while the newer MC (multi coated) one, which is tested here, is 180g (6.3 oz) while sharing the same optical construction and exterior dimensions. Although it does not have the floating rear element of the f2 version it still focuses down to 20cm (7.87 inches) and the quality is reasonable.
Using my standard book shelf test it is immediately apparent that the lens has noticeable barrel distortion. This is not uncommon in wide-angle lenses and occurs where the image magnification decreases with distance from the optical axis and makes parallel straight lines look like the edges of a wooden barrel. These days this can be easily corrected in post. Looking more closely it is easy to see chromatic aberration on high contrast edges, again easily corrected in post. Wide open at f3.5 the centre of the image is sharp with what would now be construed as having low contrast but is actually quite good and can easily be improved on with a quick adjustment in curves. The edges are very soft and lacking in contrast – not mush but would be easily noticeable in architectural shots. At f8 the centre has improved and you can forget the thoughts of a contrast adjustment. The edges have improved but they are still not good. It is at f11 where things start to come very good, the centre is excellent and the edges are not far off. Any further stopping down and optical quality will drop off due to the effects of diffraction. Vignetting is very apparent when wide open – maybe 2 to 2 1/2 stops difference between the centre and the corners. Things improve significantly by f8. Flare is very well controlled considering the angle of view and the sun stars are quite nice considering there are only six aperture blades.
So keeping in mind this is a sample of just 1 and I have no idea if this is a good example or a bad what can I say about this lens. Well I happen to own a Canon EF 20mm f2.8 and while not one of Canon’s primo L lenses it is considered quite a respectable performer when stopped down. When we compare the two the first thing that comes to mind is the size difference. As I said before the Olympus is tiny, and it still looks small when attached to the lens adapter. Vignetting on the Canon is very well controlled, this is the big benefit of that large front element (72mm filter size compared with 49mm). Chromatic aberration is no better and no worse. It is the wide open corner sharpness where the Canon beats the little Olympus, but not hugely so and by f5.6 they are both pretty much the same. The big advantage the Olympus has over the Canon is filter use – the smaller size makes filters more affordable and I would hazard that is one of the few, if not only, ultra wide-angle lens that safely use the Cokin P system (84mm in width). My Canon still vignettes with the larger Cokin Z-Pro system (100mm in width).
Real World Examples
Well my only criticism of this lens is really nit-picking. It is just that aperture of f3.5 is a little dim and if I were to use it on an SLR (digital or analogue) it would make focusing using a split screen finder a little bit tricky. With the EVF of the A7r it makes no difference as the view can be made brighter and the focus peaking is easy to see. Probably this is not the lens to buy if you’re into astro, but if you shoot landscape and architecture as I do then it is a worthy addition to the camera bag.
The other OM lenses I’ve looked at are: