Most morning I walk the dog along the Avon River and regular readers will have seen some of the photos I’ve taken while doing so. We walk past this garden which is home to a sheep, an alpaca and these two kids. The kids are about four times the size from when we first met them. Frida is fascinated by them as they come to the fence and prance about. They certainly aren’t scared of her. The male puts his head to the wire and Frida does the same, generally they just push but sometimes they gently but each other all while the alpaca watches on disapprovingly.
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).
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:
This is my fifth look at classic Olympus OM Zuiko lenses and how they perform on a Sony A7r.
Many years ago I had a very basic camera kit consisting of an Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm f1.8 and 135mm f2.8 lenses with an Olympus OM20.One summer I made a series of portraits of friends down on the beach at Bognor Regis and shot a couple of concerts using the 135mm. The speed and shallow depth of field enabled me to get some shots that sold very well and that cemented the idea of my turning professional in my mind. Unfortunately I was seduced by the lure of zoom lens convenience and part exchanged the 135 for the Olympus 35-105mm. While the zoom was very good and became my photographic workhorse I regretted letting the 135 go.
Fast forward some 30 years and I’ve been re-appraising my OM lens collection by mounting them on a Sony A7r. The results have exceeded my expectations so a little while ago I found my trawling EBay idly when I found a brand new OM 135mm f2.8 lens – and I mean brand new, never used complete in its unopened box. So I hit the “buy now” button and waited patiently for the lens to arrive. When it finally got here it was like being re-united with an old friend. The lens feels gorgeous – reassuringly sold and just oozing quality.The detents of the aperture ring cause it to have a very pleasing click as the ring is turned, and the focusing ring has a wonderfully smooth dampened action. The built in lens hood is a delightful touch in this day of $100 options one has to pay to get one for many modern lenses.
The E-Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8 was one of the first lenses released when the OM system was launched in 1972. It is easily identifiable thanks to the chromed front filter ring (the so-called “silver nose”). In 1977 it was replaced by the Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8. Other than the improved multi-coated optics and some cosmetic changes (notably the loss of the silver nose) the lenses are largely the same with an optical formula of 5 elements in 5 groups and both versions come in at a svelte 360g (12.7 oz) The lens departs from the common Olympus filter size of 49mm and uses one of 55mm to allow a larger front element to facilitate the extra light gathering capability of this over the f3.5 version. This is a very modest size though in this day of 77 and 82 mm filter threads used on many modern lenses. Common to all Olympus OM prime lenses the aperture ring is forward of the focusing ring which makes the lens well-balanced in the hand and easy to use. In this day and age of F1.4 and f1.2 primes the maximum aperture seems a little pedestrian, but the aperture range of f2.8 to f22 allows for depth of field control when combined with the compression effect of a true telephoto.
So down to the nitty-gritty – how does the lens perform on a modern digital camera. The quick answer is very well. Barrel distortion is virtually non-existent. In term of sharpness wide open the lens is pleasantly sharp although lacking in contrast and this improves when the lens is stopped down to f8. At the edges at f2.8 predictably the lens is very soft and has poor contrast. This is not altogether surprising considering the very simple design with no exotic elements. Things improve by f8 although it does not reach the standards of the centre.Vignetting is obvious wide open and again clears up as the lens is stopped down and disappears at f8. There is some chromatic aberration but it is very mild and easily fixed in Lightroom. The bokeh is nice and smooth but with only 8 aperture blades the “bokeh balls” turn into octagons as you stop down. When stressed by shooting into the sun veiling flare is very apparent, the solution to this is use a lens hood and that is easy as it is built into the lens.
One of the things I noticed when using this lens is that the weight and the resistance of the focusing ring shows the short comings of the Fotodiox adapter. You can feel the lens moving in the adapter as you turn the focus ring. The cheap no-name Chinese version was a lot worse. I am thinking about getting some longer lenses, but after this I think I’ll have to investigate a better adapter such as the one made by Novoflex.
So to sum up – to get a better lens you’ll have to spend a lot of money on a more modern highly corrected design. With the softer edges the lens makes a very good portrait lens and you could make a strong argument that the decreased contrast in the centre at f2.8 and f4 would make it very suitable for glamour photography. The true telephoto effect of this focal length makes it a useful lens when you wish to compress perspective when shooting landscapes. The focus throw is a little over 180º and that makes finding focus a precise affair and would appeal to film makers. All in all if you want a manual focus telephoto for use on a full frame sensor then seriously consider this one.
So far I have looked at the following Olympus lenses:-
Those who regularly follow my blog will know that I’m currently the artist in residence at Beverley Station Arts in Western Australia. So for this entry I’ll talk a little about the place. The town of Beverley is located some 130Km (or 80 miles for those still using imperial measurements) east of Perth in the Avon Valley in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia. The Beverley Arts Gallery Committee was inaugurated in 1967 with the aim of establishing a venue for the fine arts in the town. Sir Claude Hotchin a noted arts benefactor donated work from his collection with the aim of starting the fledgling gallery off. The collection is now housed in what was the old railway station in Beverley.
Beverley Station Arts also utilizes the former station masters living accommodation for the artist in residence program. This allows an artist to base themselves at the gallery and produce work, put on an exhibition, run workshops and generally interact with the community. Recently an open air stage was built which is suitable for all the performing arts. It has a seating capacity of 500 and local audiences enjoy music, theatre, movies and dance under the stars during the summer months. On Saturday 10th September 2016 the venue hosted the Voice Moves Country Choir Bash. This year there were eight participating choirs:
As is usual in country Western Australia a sumptuous afternoon tea was provided in the intermission. The event was great fun and enjoyed by both the audience and the participants alike. Below is a short video featuring the Beverley Station Singers.
The second instalment in my look at classic Olympus OM Zuiko lenses and how they perform on modern full frame high megapixel digital cameras. This time we are looking at the Olympus OM Zuiko MC 24mm f2.8.
This is the second iteration of the versions produced by Olympus – the silver nosed H.Zuiko, the MC and the NHC. All three share the same construction of eight elements in seven groups in a compact body that is 31mm long and weighs 185g for the multicoated versions and 180g for the earlier single coated design. The filter size is 49mm.
Barrel distortion is very obvious as is a small amount of CA wide open at f2.8. The CA clears up quickly by f8. Wide open the lens is reasonably sharp in the centre and soft at the edges. By the time it is stopped down to f8 the centre improves as a consequence of an increase in contrast and the edges while appreciably improving still aren’t as sharp as the centre of the image. Flare is impressively controlled on a lens of this age (its been raining a lot here so haven’t had much sun to poke it at) and so I’ve not felt compelled to whack a lens hood on the front.
OK! OK! This isn’t the sexy f2 version, but with the modest aperture of f2.8 you get a very compact lens that is a very capable performer. Yes it does not exhibit the modern fetish of corner to corner sharpness but don’t let that put you off – this lens will handle landscapes, environmental portraits and reportage with aplomb. This lens will do most of heavy lifting work in my up coming new project so will end up with a Cokin P-series filter adapter mounted on it with a single lens hood extension and there are no signs of any vignetting with it mounted. Gotta love vintage glass – such modest filter sizes.
Well I’ve done it. I’ve gone full frame digital with Olympus. No I’ve not got access to some top-secret prototype from Olympus. Instead I’m mounting OM Zuiko lenses on a “full frame” (I hate that term, I much prefer 35mm sensor) camera digital – the Sony A7r to be precise – with a Fotodiox pro OM-NEX adapter.
“If you date your cameras, you marry your lenses.”
I was left with a collection of Olympus OM lenses when Olympus in their infinite wisdom decided to abandon the OM mount – this did not occur with the advent of digital imaging, but back in the film era. I migrated to the Canon EOS system reluctantly and left my lovely jewel like Zuiko lenses sitting in a drawer. Every now and again I would get one out and fondle it. Oh the beautiful feel of the buttery smooth focusing ring with its long throw. The cool feeling of the metal body with that heft that instantly denotes high quality precision engineering. To cap it off and send me into a rapturous state is the aperture ring – firstly there is one, and then there is the feel and sound of that ring as you change aperture. Just thinking about sends me into the throes of ecstasy.
Now it is a little known fact that when Yoshihisa Maitani designed the OM system he chose to make the flange distance a mere 46mm. At the time he probably thought that this would make a very compact SLR. But the unforeseen benefit of this decision is that it makes the OM lenses very easy to adapt to other cameras. Indeed when Canon brought out the ground breaking EOS 5d I was aware that you could buy an adapter to fit Olympus lenses to the body. But the experience was to me somewhat dismal. DSLRs really aren’t made to use manual lenses. It’s like expecting to find meat in a chicken McNugget. A disappointing experience. When Panasonic and Olympus announced the birth of micro four thirds in 2008 one of key features was the jettisoning of the mirror box found in SLRs. This has a couple of benefits. Firstly it means that a much shorter flange focal distance can be used. In ordinary speak this is the distance between the sensor/film plane and the lens mount on the camera body. Micro four thirds has a distance of 19.25mm which meant it was ideally suited to adapting lenses. I talked about this in April 2013 and again in April 2016. The second benefit was the provision of focus peaking. Focus peaking had long been found on video cameras by dint of them having an electronic viewfinder, it was quickly added to the feature list of mirrorless cameras. I first used it with the EM10 and was very happy with it. But there was a fly in the ointment. My carefully considered lens collection had been altered by virtue of the crop factor, basically a 50mm lens on m4/3 gives an angle of view equivalent to a 100mm lens on a 35mm sensor. Bugger! So apart from video use I put the old lenses away again.
A little while later Sony heralded the launch of their A7 series of full framed mirrorless cameras and initially my interest was piqued but the reality of buying into another camera system (I was already running Olympus m4/3 and Canon EOS) was just not an option. So I feigned disinterest. But an interesting thing happened, Sony update their models with incredible speed and that meant the prices of second-hand A7 and A7r dropped faster than an Essex girl’s knickers. All of a sudden my beautiful OM lenses were restored to their full frame glory.
To test the lenses I shot a standard scene which was composed of a book shelf in my sitting room. Mounting the camera on a tripod I then framed up so that the complete height of the shelf filled the frame. The shots were taken wide open and then stopped down to f8. To see more detail in the test shots just click on the image and it will open in a new browser. This will be an evolving series of articles about using various OM lenses.
The first lens most people whack an adapter on is a fast standard. The 50mm f1.4 was one of the original lenses that was introduced when the OM system was launched at Photokina in 1972. The original silver nosed (a term referring to chromed front mount ring) had a single lens coating and was 36mm in length.The newer MC version was introduced in 1984. Along with the new improved lens multi coating the design was changed resulting in a length of 40mm with a weight of 280g. The lens construction is seven elements in six groups. Despite being a fast lens it has a modest size and has a 49mm filter thread.
Shooting my test subject one of the very first things I noticed is that the image displays very slight barrel distortion. This is where image magnification decreases with distance from the optical axis and makes parallel straight lines look like the edges of a wooden barrel. This phenomenon is usually associated with wide-angle prime lenses or the wide end of standard zooms. It does happen in standard primes lenses but usually only at close focussing distances so it was surprising to see it here. Wide open lateral chromatic aberration (CA) is perceptible and at f8 cannot be seen. In terms of sharpness at f1.4 the image is universally soft and lacking in contrast. Stopping down to f8 improves the image and the lens is sharp across the frame. The lens renders beautifully with a gentle fall off in tones and the bokeh is a delight being soft and smooth. The lens is quite resistant to flare and I haven’t felt any great need to put on a lens hood.
In conclusion – well I always thought that it was a very good lens when I shot film and now having had the opportunity to mount it on a high megapixel digital camera I am not disappointed. If adapted lenses are your thing I would definitely recommend you to acquire a copy.