* 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.
This post came about as a response to post on a Google+ group I belong to. The post contained a link to an article at the website Olympus Passion by Chris Corradino (whom I don’t know) called “Full Frame vs Micro 4-3 Revisited with Pro Olympus Lens” where a canon EOS 6d with 17-40mm f4 L lens was compared with an Olympus OMD EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens. Nothing wrong with that, it serves as a potentially useful comparison of two popular cameras and lenses. In the article he posts two pictures of the same scene taken around a year apart, one used a polarizing filter one didn’t and the Canon 17-40L is not the best lens in the line up, and comparing a wide-angle zoom to a standard zoom doesn’t really tell anything. Also Olympus uses in camera software correction of its lenses to the RAW files whereas the Canon doesn’t and one has to manually apply correction when processing in Lightroom or ACR. So I thought about it and decided to do my own test. Now before I start I’d like to say that testing zoom lenses is fraught with difficulty and the reason why is very ably demonstrated by Roger Cicala’s excellent article “Painting Zoom Lenses with a Broad Brush – Roger’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity” which is enough to make any sane person throw up their hands in horror at the enormity of it all.
I’m not really the scientific type, but I know that to make any form of comparison you have to compare like with like and remove all variables. The cameras and lenses tested were as follows:
Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 pro
Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L
Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS
Why three cameras and three lenses, well mainly a case of why not, but also I wanted to see how a budget kit lens performed against the two “pro” lenses, and I was using it as a control as I had previously looked at it. Each lens was shot at the wide end and the long end, with the wide end an architectural shot to look at how the lens behaved at infinity and close-ups at the long end.
Typically standard zooms behave best at the wide end and the performance deteriorates as you zoom into the long end. All the lenses were tested at an aperture of f8 for the two shots previously mentioned and wide open to test for vignetting. For each shot the camera was mounted to a tripod, there were no filters on the lenses, any image stabilisation was turned off and the shutter was tripped via the self timer. All metering was done using a handheld incident light meter – Minolta Auto Meter V f. Because the base ISO of the EM1 is 200 all the images on all cameras were shot at value. The only DSLR in the group was used in live view mode to avoid mirror slap. The images were all shot as RAW files and then converted to 8 bit jpgs using RawTherapee (version 4.2.1) which allows you to switch off any embedded lens correction. There was no sharpening, noise reduction or correction for chromatic aberration. Ok that’s the methodology lets look at what happened. Click on the images to see them at full size.
Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens
Built for the micro four thirds system this lens is equivalent to a 24-80 mm lens and that’s all the talk of equivalency you’ll get out of me, if you want more see this. The lens was launched at the same time as the EM1 in 2013 and it heralded a new line of “Pro” lenses. Of the three lenses here it is the only one with a metal outer construction and it has a splash proof and dust proof design. Its vital statistics are 84mm in length, a diameter of 69.9mm, has a filter thread of 62mm and weighs in at 382g. Not that it counts for much, but it feels nice in the hand and the manual focus clutch (reminiscent of the ones found on Pentax’s 645 range of lenses, is a very nice touch. Optically there are 14 elements in 9 groups – there are 1 aspherical element, 1 dual-sided aspherical element, 2 ED glass elements, 2 HR glass elements, 1 EDA glass element, 1 HD glass element. It is the most optically complex lens of the group. For bokeh aficionados there are 7 rounded aperture blades. The minimum focusing distance is 0.2m.
At the wide end the centre of the image is what you’d expect from a modern zoom, it is sharp and contrasty. At the edges the image is still sharp but the contrast has fallen off a little giving the appearance of softness. The chromatic aberration (CA) is very apparent. At the long end in the centre the image is still sharp but the contrast is lower than what we found on the wide end. The edges exhibit a little softness. The CA virtually non-existent. The results from the long end caused me a little consternation as it was the first time I’d seen images without any in camera correction applied so I repeated them just be sure and got exactly the same result.
Testing for vignetting and distortion I found that the lens exhibited marked vignetting and barrel distortion at the wide end at f2.8. The vignetting had disappeared on stopping down to f5.6.
At the long end there is only slight vignetting and very mild pincushion distortion. What is interesting is that there is significant variation in the exposure, remember these were metered using a handheld incident meter. The long end is nearly a whole stop darker than the wide end. This shouldn’t happen with a constant aperture zoom.
Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L lens
This is the most expensive lens in the group with a retail price of around $1200 AUD. It is also worth pointing out that this is the budget standard zoom in Canon’s L range. This lens was introduced in 2012 and was intended to be a kit lens for then newly announced Canon EOS6d. The body is made of some variant of ABS plastic which is somewhat disappointing considering the price, but with a weight of 600g it has a satisfying heft. The optical construction is 15 lens elements in twelve groups with 2 aspherical and 2 UD elements. The aperture diaphragm is comprised of 9 rounded blades. Unsurprising it is the biggest lens of the trio being 93mm long, 83.4mm in diameter and has a 77mm filter thread. Image stabilisation is built into the lens and is good for four stops. The minimum focus distance is 0.38m, but the lens has a rather nifty macro feature where you press a button and turn the zoom ring and that takes it down to 0.2m and a maximum magnification of 0.7x.
At 24mm the centre of image is extremely sharp and contrasty and the edges are the same. At the tele end it is a repeat. Chromatic aberration is non-existent at both extremes.
Shooting wide open at 24mm vignetting is very apparent, I would say that there’s probably 2 stops difference between the corner and the centre. The barrel distortion is not excessive but is noticeable. At 70mm a small amount of vignetting can be seen and there is some mild pincushion distortion.
Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS
The joker in the pack and the cheapest on test at just under $350 AUD, and boy when you pick this one up it certainly feels like it. When I originally wrote about it on 3rd July 2016 I was very skeptical of its durability, well nothing adverse has happened to mine, but, Kirk Tuck wrote today that his met a tragic end courtesy of a dog’s tail and a hard floor. Well what do get for your $350? Well unsurprisingly at this price point this is largely made of plastic – the cheap kind – and is very light coming in at 295g. There’s not a lot of glass either just 9 elements in 8 groups made up 1 extra low dispersion and 3 aspherical elements. The simpler optical design and low price makes this the only variable aperture lens in the test group. The aperture diaphragm is made up of 7 blades. Size wise it is a compact 83mm long, has a diameter of 72.5mm and has a filter thread of 55mm. The plus points are that it is dust and moisture resistant, has built in image stabilisation, has a respectable minimum focusing distance of 0.4m and comes with a lens hood. As an aside I believe that every lens should come with a hood.
At 28mm the lens is again just like any other modern lens – sharp and contrasty. At the edges there is a drop off in contrast but they remain sharp. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and easily fixed in Lightroom. The slow variable aperture means that vignetting is not a problem and there is only slight barrel distortion. At 70mm the centre is sharp and has good levels of contrast, the edges are sharp with a slightly lower contrast. There was also some evidence of coma. Again very little vignetting and a slight trace of pin cushion distortion.
So is the Olympus 12-40 the Canon killer that Chris Corroding says? Well without in camera software correction it is only just a bit better than the Sony which is half the price. It is the correction that elevates this lens to very good. Having said that the Canon 24-70 f4 is probably one of their very best zoom lenses and produces very good images straight out of the camera. Apply the Lightroom lens profile and it is even better. Is that surprising? No considering its cost I would hope it be optically very good. This is the rub – for $350 AUD you get a surprisingly good lens with the Sony and most people would be very happy with it. The Olympus at $870 AUD sees some significant improvement. The Canon at $1200 AUD sees only incremental improvement over the Olympus. The law of diminishing returns is very clearly at work here.
When it comes down to sensor performance the Sony A7r rips the head off of the EM1 and EOS6d and spits down the stump. I have been amazed by how well it performs – the dynamic range is very, very good, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter means that with good lenses insane amounts of detail can be rendered, and the high ISO performance is also very good. The Canon EOS6d’s sensor is capable of very nice colour rendition, especially skin tones, but it is not the best when it comes to dynamic range. It is what I’d call workman like. For the Olympus EM1, well the dynamic range is very good, high ISO performance not so. The lack of anti-aliasing filter helps you get the best out of the lenses. I really like my m4/3 Olympus cameras and lenses, I use them more than anything else, but I really feel that the sensors are holding them back. I’ve yet to get any long-term usage out of the new 20Mp sensor that is found in the EM1 Mkii, but I do think that if they got access to the latest BSI sensors from Sony and reduced the base ISO to 100 that there would be quite a sizeable performance boost. But all this is moot as all three are capable of excellent results if I do my part.
It is important to remember that I only have access to one of each lens so I have no idea of what the sample variation is for any of them. What does this all mean in terms of real world usage? Well I’ve used my Olympus 12-40 far more than the Canon 24-70 and I am more than happy with how it performs. I hardly ever use the Sony 28-70 as I only really use the A7r with legacy lenses.
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).
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:
If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.
So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than
longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.
Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.
I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.
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:-