Over December and January I had the opportunity to use a demo sample of the new addition to the M.Zuiko PRO family of lenses, namely the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO.
This is less of a review and more of a collection of my impressions and opinions of this lens, where I am basing my observations purely on some recreational photography I managed to do over the holiday period. Ideally I would have liked to do some proper work with the lens, unfortunately much of the country is in deep slumber over this period of time, so work didn’t really happen for me while I had the lens with me. Anyway, I did get out with it a few times so this is what I found out about it.
Design & Handling
We all know that this lens is the newest addition to the micro four thirds stable of ultra-wide zoom lenses, (the same angles of view as a Nikon 14-24mm lens on an FX body) but unlike the previous 7-14mm options from both Panasonic and Olympus (the latter in 4/3rds mount), this one has a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. It’s also quite large as a result of this increase in the aperture and while it’s much smaller than the older 4/3rds 7-14mm f/4, it is still bigger and heavier than the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. It totally dwarfs the diminutive Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is currently my go-to wide angle lens for the m43 system.
The build quality of the 7-14 is fantastic and follows the same conventions as the rest of the PRO range. Sleek, fully metal everywhere and truly indicative of manufacturing excellence. The only design issue I have with it is that it also uses the MF/AF clutch system, which has caught out many an Olympus photographer when its accidentally switched to MF. Fortunately the new firmware on most OM-D models lets you turn that off. Panasonic body users will not be so lucky, so they will need to proceed with caution.
I suppose another design issue to talk about is that you won’t be able to use screw-in filters with this lens, but this is something that we see on all ultra-wide zoom lenses these days - none of them have this. I do recall seeing somewhere recently that either LEE or Cokin have developed a filter holder that you can put on the Nikon 14-24/2.8, so maybe they might look into doing something for this lens. To be honest though, I am not so sure that you will get good results with such a system and resin filters, especially at the extreme wide end of the zoom. There’s bound to be some serious optical diffraction unless they make the filters really thin.
In The Field
Like all the modern Olympus glass this one is sharp like a razor blade even at the maximum aperture. I shot with it stopped down a bit and also at the widest 2.8 aperture and honestly, there’s not a lot of difference to talk about. If you’re coming from consumer grade glass for your system you’ll see the difference immediately. That’s what you’re paying for with a lens like this.
That said, sharpness isn’t everything. We need to look at some of the other characteristics of the lens optics and decide whether or not this is the right lens for us. Obviously each photographer who is thinking about this guy might have different needs for it, so what I am going to do is share how I used it during the time I had it and point out what I think are the good and bad points. I had hoped to use it indoors for some architectural work, but as mentioned that part of my business wasn’t active at all during the time I had it.
Let’s take a look at some photos:
One of the first things I did with this lens is climb up onto the roof of my garage and see how wide it looks at 7mm because we have a fairly impressive view from our house. This is what the lens saw at 7mm.
Something I noticed on many of the earlier 7-14mm reviews posted when the lens first came out was that the wide angles looked weird to me, almost like they weren’t quite wide and had been squashed somehow. After puzzling this out in my mind I came to the conclusion that it is the 4:3 aspect ratio that was messing with my head. Because I use my OM-D’s permanently in 3:2 mode the images I got didn’t seem to have that sense of “compressed expansion” I saw on other reviews. They looked proper wide.
So apart from the width of the viewing angle the next thing you will notice about the shot above is that there are three very strong flare dots dead in the middle of the frame. You will also notice that the sun is pretty high in the sky and not in the frame. In the next shot shown below, taken from the same position, but turned roughly 90˚to the left and tilting the camera to portrait orientation, you will see seven flare ghosts running into the frame at an angle. Also take note of the shadow lengths on my driveway. It was almost high noon.
This is a bit of a problem for this lens. It flares very easily, even when the sun isn’t in the frame but where strong light hits the front element directly. I picked this up in many of the shots I took, indoors and outdoors. I am by no means an optical engineer, but there is something else I am seeing happening with this lens in that situation that makes me think that maybe Olympus have tried to correct more for the side effects of the flare than worry too much about the typical element ghosting we see in flare situations. Normally with lens flare the first thing that happens is you lose contrast. No so with this lens. The images retain a terrific amount of punch and colour doesn’t seem to be degraded at all.
A few days later I took the 7-14mm down to the beach for a short stroll to see what I could find. If you look at the two shots above you will get to see the difference in the angle of view between 7mm and 14mm. Also notice that the perspective you get changes dramatically from one end to the other and this can make for some interesting creative effects given the right foreground / background subject relationships. I would love to have used this lens in a live concert where I could get right behind the singer and show the crowd in the background.
In these two shots I have tried to illustrate the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm end, as well as show how the flare issue is more apparent in the first shot, but not in the second.
Towards the end of December one of my cousins’ son was Christened at a local church and in-between shooting the actual event I managed to grab a few shots to illustrate how useful an extreme wide angle can be to show the inside of an expansive space. You can really get some interesting looks with this view. however, take note that the window light has once again caused the lens to flare, even indoors.
The actual Christening (this is an Anglican Church) took place in a small vestibule near the entrance and using the wide part of the lens again I got some shots showing pretty much the entire room while I stood in the doorway. As far as distortion goes I didn’t find anything too objectionable in the bricks, but the head of the lady in the bottom right has been stretched ET style. That’s something you can’t get away from with rectilinear wide angle lenses like this. You’ll get it on every ultra-wide angle lens. Avoid putting people near the edges and the problem goes away.
This next shot I took on 2 January at a gorge not too far from where I live (about 30-40kms by road). You can’t really appreciate the width of the shot but my intention was to try and show as much of the surroundings as possible without plunging headlong down the 70m or so to the bottom!
This is one of the last images I took with the lens and it was just after an actual job I did a couple of weeks ago involving the Natal Sharks rugby team who were doing a signing session at a shopping mall. This shot gives you a good indication of how things get stretched with this lens design. You can fit a lot into the frame but don’t expect it to look “normal”.
Here is the world famous Moses Mabhida football stadium. It’s probably one of the finest sports stadia in the world and has been host to many international matches, including the FIFA 2010 World Cup Semi Final. This isn’t my finest shot ever, but again you can see where a lens like this can come in useful. Also note that again we have flare spots appearing in the frame.
The last shot I have to show you here is taken shooting directly into the morning sun and here you see a different sort of flare problem in the top right of the frame. A talented Photoshop user will easily get rid of these annoying ghosts, but I thought I would show you what happens when you shoot into the sun with the 7-14mm, seeing as I already showed you what happens when you don’t shoot into the sun. I don’t think it’s that bad.
So that’s a look at the performance of the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO in the field. It’s certainly capable of producing fine results, but you will need to be constantly aware of the flare, even when shooting indoors with a bright light source in your frame. This might be an issue that precludes it from being used as an architectural lens, particularly for interiors where dealing with bright lights from windows is a constant. I think that a less extreme lens like the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 would be a better option. I do sometimes use the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 for that type of work and I have not had any issues with flare. It would be nice to get wider than 9mm for interiors, but it’s not essential.
In another thread on Fotozones we were discussing this very thing and I personally would have no problems with Olympus developing a slower, wider fixed focal length lens that I could use for this kind of work. Something like an 8mm f/4.0 rectilinear lens would be a lot smaller than this enormous 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and might actually work better for architectural photography since most of it is done on a tripod anyway. Also, consider that when shooting architecture you’re seldom going to need f/2.8.
So for me the 7-14mm is not likely to find its way into my working kit any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have one, but everything I buy these days has to have a practical and measurably positive impact on my business as a photographer and unfortunately a lens this expensive falls squarely into the “nice-to-have” category. I don’t need it as much as I want it.
Edited by DDFZ