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Archive for the ‘Lenses’ Category

A recent change is upon me. I’ve decided to finally swap my M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 for the 17mm f/1.8. Hopefully I’ll have the new lens before the year officially ends and the old one will be getting a home with a new owner rather soon. This move is driven not simply from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), but to also have a bit better two lens walk around kit. The 17mm f/2.8 performs fine, but the f2.8 can sometimes be a bit limiting, as can the slow focusing speed and the quality could of course be higher.

My family is taking a trip back to Florida in a few weeks to take the kids to Disney world, and I am hoping to use a two lens kit in an itty bitty bag with my E-M5, just the 17/1.8 and the 45/1.8. I toyed with the idea of the 12/2 and 25/1.4, but that seemed like it would possibly be too wide too often since the focus is a bit more on “cute kids having fun”. I’ll of course have my whole kit and slightly larger (but still small) shoulder bag along sitting in my room in case I figure I need more backup or a different lens line-up.

That and I find that 17mm seems to be my go to focal length for full body portraits indoors and for better environmental outdoor portraits instead of my 25mm, and the 17/2.8 just isn’t fast enough for a number of those indoor usages, especially with young kids who are NOT fans of holding still (IBIS only goes so far).

The Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 is extremely interesting to me, but my budget just doesn’t come near to stretching the extra ~$150 or so to buy it, even on sale (which, since I am getting my 17mm f1.8 used is the better part of 50% more). Maybe some day my income will catch up with my GAS and I’ll be able to get a 15mm f/1.7 instead (in addition? :-P), but that day is no where close.

Especially not with this rumored OM-D E-M5II on the horizon. I wonder what kidney I’ll have to sell to finance it, the 17/1.8 is already costing me my 17/2.8, no huge loss, but also my Zuiko 24mm f/2.8 OM mount lens :(. I guess a couple more years (or more) before I can really seriously consider that M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

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Lens path

Being lazy (and by lazy I mean crazy busy), I haven’t had a chance to prep the rest of the DC pictures for the blog. They should be up tomorrow. However,  I did have some thoughts on the future, or at least my future, in so far as a lens “road map” goes. This is spurred in large part by Olympus stating a rough release date of the 17mm f/1.8 and the early test reports on the lens.

As much as I dream of owning that lens, and its relatively low price (compared to the 12mm and 75mm lenses), it’ll have to wait. Even with selling my 17mm f/2.8 to give me a little more cash for the lens, it just isn’t happening now. First of all because of other financial commitments over the coming few weeks, but also because I need an ultra wide-angle first.

The higher optical quality of the 17mm f/1.8 and faster/quieter focus are traits I really, really, really want in a 34mm equivalent lens (the extra 1 1/3 stops don’t hurt). However, I need something wider angle more than I need a better 17mm right now.

So that brings me to my “road map”. My next lens purchase, unless someone announces something before then, is going to by the Olympus 12mm f/2. First I need something wider angle than my Panasonic 14mm. Next, 24mm equivalent was one of my favorite lenses when shooting 35mm film. The price makes me kind of sad, but it is a lens I NEED. Sooner rather than later, but it’ll likely be later (this spring/summer probably). After that it’s a bit of a toss up. I could use a longer prime and I am very interested in the 60mm Macro, especially with its relatively low price, but it isn’t significantly longer than my 45mm and it is relatively large (okay, it isn’t really that big and it is light). I could go for the 75mm, but that lens is even more expensive than the 12mm.

So that leads to a dilemma, what medium telephoto prime to get? Honestly I am not sure at this point. I think I am leaning toward the 75mm both for the extra reach and larger aperture. That does mean I’ll probably have to wait even longer because of its price. Which means I’ll probably get the Olympus 17mm first and the 75mm next.

However, by then, who knows what kind of fun and yummy lenses might be out (yes, I do suffer from a certain amount of GAS*).

So, hopefully this coming Spring I’ll get the Olympus 12mm and maybe next fall/winter the Olympus 17mm. After that, maybe the Olympus 75mm, but that might have to wait a year or so afterwards and who knows what will be around by then (a 67.5mm f/2 prime for $499 or less please!)

* G.A.S. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. The only treatment is generally spouses and/or total lack of financial resources.

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Panasonic 25mm f/1.4: f/1.4, 1/320s, ISO200

Olympus 45mm f/1.8: f/1.8, 1/400s, ISO400

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4: f/1.8, 1/320s, ISO400

Olympus 45mm f/1.8: f/2, 1/200s, ISO200

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4: f/2, 1/200s, ISO200

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4: f/4, 1/640s, ISO200

Crop from above left of center

Click for 100% view. Pretty darned sharp in my opinion, especially considering the lighting on the subject.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8: f/2, 1/250s, ISO200

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4: f/1.4, 1/1600s, ISO200

I didn’t want to love the PL25. Okay, I did because I spent a boat load of money on it, but the point is more that is a “big ungainly lens” and I didn’t want that. The thing is just SOOOO stonking good. Quiet and fast to focus, sharp even wide open (even in the corners, my sample is pretty good if not as good as the center) and having a 50mm effective focal length (FF) lens again just makes me happy in a special way. The depth of field control having a lens this fast is also nice to say nothing of the extra hand holding an f/1.4 lens gets you over the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 I had (about 2 1/3 stops when you also factor in that the focal length is a little shorter too).

At least, despite it’s size, the PL25 isn’t really all that heavy and does not unbalance my E-M5, even with no grip.

Now all I need is the Olympus 12mm f/2 and the upcoming 17mm f/1.8 (oh and maybe that 75mm f/1.8 for good measure) and my life camera outfit will feel complete.

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Which is weird to say for something like the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 since it is the same size and weight, more or less, than a number of my old OM film lenses, and not my bigger ones either. It is roughly the same size as my Zuiko 85mm f/2 and 100mm f/2.8, both of which are roughly 48x60mm and 230g and the PL25 is roughly 55x63mm and 200g. So a hair longer and wider but a little lighter. The lens is not unbalanced on the OM-D E-M5, but it does look big.

An hour of use, inside, at night, is most deffinitely not enough to produce a good impression of the lens. That said, early and tentatively the lens is stellar. To inject a moment of enthusiasim well below my years, it is fricken awesome. It is very, very sharp. Other people’s image samples, reviews, etc just didn’t prepare me for how good it really is. I haven’t been able to look in the corners much as the pictures I took the DoF was too narrow to produce in focus corners with what I was shooting (oh, hi, narrow DoF!) The center though is VERY sharp from wide open. I mostly shot from f/1.4 to f/2 (a handful this morning at f/2.8 which I haven’t had a chance to look at other than on the LCD) and the sharpness is just incredible to me.

I am used for 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 equivelent lenses that could produce a usable and acceptable image wide open. I am not used to ones that are extremely sharp wide open (even in the center). My old Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 MC and f/1.8 MIJ I would consider pretty sharp wide open and very good stopped down a few stops. The PL25 is at least as sharp in the center at f/1.4 as either of those other lenses are at f/2.8 or maybe even f/4.

Now for the bad, other than being a larger/heavier lens that I think was really necessary with the design, the focus is slow. It isn’t painful, it isn’t horrible, but in lower light, despite the fast aperture, it tends to hunt a fair amount. When it hunts it is roughly as fast to focus as my Olympus 17mm f/2.8 when the 17mm locks focus right away (I’d guess roughly 3/4 of a second or so). If the PL25 locks focus immediately instead of hunting first, I’d guess it isn’t much off the focus speed of the Olympus 45, but it deffinitely hunts more often in lower light than the 45 does.

I haven’t heard any rattlesnaking in my copy (the aperture opening and closing as you point the camera around at brighter/dimmer light sources), but most users report this only in bright light. Though pointing the lens up close at light bulbs and then away didn’t induce any rattlesnaking and my Olympus 45mm WILL rattlesnake a little (very quietly) if I do that. Focusing is very quiet, though just perceptible in a quiet room. Color reproduction is a little different from my Olympus lenses, but not bad. Maybe a hair warmer?

Overall I like this lens and I think in the long run I’ll love it. I like having a 50mm equivelent lens back. I like how sharp the thing is. I love having a couple of stops of extra light gathering in this FL range over the Sigma 30mm and the wide aperture is enough when shooting wide open or stopped down just a little, to produce nicely out of focus backgrounds (depending on subject distance). It is the equivelent of a 50mm f/2.8 lens on full frame, which in my experience is about what I tended to shot at to produce out of focus backgrounds most of the time anyway in light shade. I am getting a 3-stop neutral density filter both to be able to shoot the 45 and 25 wider in daylight and also for slower shooting for waterfalls. It cuts the butter better than a regular polarizer which is only roughly 1.5-2 stops.

Also, happy half birthday baby girl.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8: 1/60s, f/2 ISO1600

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4: 1/80s, f/1.4, ISO800

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4: 1/80s, f/1.4, ISO200

100% crop of the above from the center (click for full size). Focal point is on the left/near eye.

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4: 1/30s, f/1.8, ISO400

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4: 1/60s, f/1.8, ISO800

Well, I know she at least has good taste in planes (SR71 Blackbird).

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Last night I decided to give my much-loved Zuiko 85mm f/2 lens a try on my OM-D E-M5 body.

The moral of the story, in a lot of ways the lens is really nice. Even using magnification its a little finicky focusing at close distances wide open (the focal plain is VERY shallow wide open close). Also the quality is better on film. Its fine on digital, but on film with my OM-1 I have always loved the lens, it was sharp, great contrast, etc. On my OM-D E-M5 it shows noticeable CA wide open down through f/4. Highlights are haloed wide open (which goes away stopped down to f/2.8) and things are relatively soft until f/4. A different world of lens design entirely, but my m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 is significantly sharper with none of the optical aberrations that the Zuiko 85mm f/2 shows. However, the 45mm is also about 25 years more recent in optical design.

Two things the Zuiko 85mm f/2 do really well however is gorgeous Bokeh. About the best I have ever seen. That and VERY shallow depth of field.

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2, 1/320s, ISO200

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO800

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2, 1/160s, ISO800 

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO800

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2, 1/100s, ISO800

This wouldn’t have been complete without a picture of a cat (taken through double paned glass sliding door).

Olympus Zuiko 85mm, f/2, 1/250s, ISO1600

Lastly, not from the Zuiko 85mm, but from my Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO with Vivitar 1.5x TC added on. I wanted to try to improve upon my handheld shot of the moon from last week and I think I managed to nicely. The moon is still not super, super sharp, but the sharpness is definitely much better. I used a tripod this time and focusing with the 1.5x TC on there was actually a little easier than without it. It didn’t seem to degrade the sharpness much at all, or at least the sharpest images I captured were with it on.

I think the issue I am running in to now is atmospheric quality. Last night the moon was about two hands high in the sky, so I was shooting through probably more than 100km of atmosphere at that angle and it was a VERY muggy and hazy 80F or a little warmer at around 10PM when I was shooting. A nice cool autumns evening with low humidity with the moon high in the sky would likely improve things substantially.

Still and all I like the picture quite a bit.

Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO + Vivitar 1.5x TC, f/8, 1/125s, ISO800

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At the reunion/vacation last week I managed to borrow a Panasonic 20mm for awhile (probably could have borrowed it for a couple of hours, but I only stole 30 minutes of time with it). It was too brief a time to really “master” it, but I feel like it gave me enough use to get an idea for it. This is primarily going to be a comparison of it against the Olympus 17mm and Panasonic 14mm, in large part because I feel those two lenses are closest for a lot of reasons.

Panasonic 20mm, f/2.5, 1/400s, ISO200

On focus speed and noise: The lens is probably closest to the Olympus 17mm in this regard. The focus motor is just a tiny bit slower than the Olympus 17mm on the E-M5, which means in general it is still pretty fast. A rough subject comparison would put it at maybe half the focus speed of the Panasonic 14mm, which on the E-M5 is extremely fast, or maybe about 20% slower than the Olympus 17mm, which on the E-M5 is pretty decent. Noise wise, it is probably about 4-5dB louder than the Olympus 17mm, which means to the human ear at least, not quite twice the volume (the human ear does not have a linear response to sound, 3dB is a doubling of noise amplitude, but it takes about 6dB for the human ear/brain to preceive a doubling in sound volume). The 17mm you’d have a hard time hearing beyond arms length very quiet background noise, the Panasonic 20mm you could probably hear at about twice arms length with quiet background noise.

On size: The Panasonic 20mm is certainly a pancake, but it is a pretty big pancake. Its mostly because it is fat, not because it is long. I could pull up the numbers on it, but subjectively it is about 15-20% larger in diameter than the Olympus 17mm and maybe 10-15% thicker as well as about 1/4-1/3 again as heavy.

Panasonic 20mm, f/5, 1/1600s, ISo200

On image quality: Really nothing at all to complain about here. Wide open I did notice some vignetting, but it really just didn’t seem as bad to me as I have heard a few complain about. Nothing that you shouldn’t be able to correct in your favorite image editor if it bothered you. Distortion wasn’t noticable, but I didn’t test for that. Sharpness, well wide open it is very, very sharp in the center and things only get better as you stop down (not that they can get much better). In the corners, things are just a little soft wide open and they improve upon stopping down. Without “scientifically” testing it, the few pictures I took with it (around 50 or so) I’d guage that maximum subjective sharpness is reached by around f/2.8 and it doesn’t really seem to improve after that. By f/2.8 the corners are very sharp.

On banding: Aye, there’s the rub. I wanted to test the lens to see if I could produce noticable banding like a number of users have reported. I must, sadly, report that banding was present. Whether it is related to the specific camera body or the specific sample of Panasonic 20mm lens, the combo I was using did produce it. The various pictures I shot were at ISO200, 1600, 3200 and 6400. At base ISO nothing appeared. I didn’t test any inbetweens till ISO1600 so I can’t comment on those. I shot maybe half a dozen pictures at ISO1600 from properly exposed to a couple at around -2ev. One or two showed no banding at all, the others showed at least very minor banding, especially in shadows and especially if underexposed, when pixel peeping…but in general I’d hazzard to say none of it would be noticable in those few shots if you viewed them at 25% reproduction size or smaller and maybe even a little bigger if you cleaned up the shadow noise some more. At ISO3200 and 6400 the banding became more apparent, again especially when underexposed (I took about 10-12 pictures at 3200 and then at 6400). At ISO3200 again it was basically just in shadows and with a little noise reduction most shots at reproduction sizes of 25% or smaller probably wouldn’t be too noticable (at a guess  an 8×10 probably wouldn’t show it unless you were getting nose grease on the print or a very rare poorly exposed shot that you raised shadows a lot). At ISO6400 it was much more intrusive on most of the shots and it would probably only not be noticable in a fairly small print or reproduction size, like maybe a 5×7 or around 10-15% reproduction size on the screen even with a little noise reduction. Deffinitely don’t try to raise the shadows/exposure level. Again, that would only be if you are looking carefully though.

Panasonic 20mm, f/5 , 1/800s, ISO200

That out of the way, I’d say the Panasonic 20mm is a very nice lens on the whole. I could wish for faster focusing, quieter focusing, deffinitely a fix for the noise banding, but at the end of the day, it delivers an f/1.7 apeture, is very sharp even wide open and is kind of a nice field of view. Even if the banding is never fixed on the E-M5, I think I’d like to pick one up some day. However, the perspective difference from 17mm is pretty minor, and I think for me 17mm and 25mm are better perspectives, most of the time. So, I’ll just yet again say I hope Olympus comes out with a small, good quality and inexpensive 25mm f/1.8 lens this fall like they are rumored too. I’d snap that up in a heart beat. If that doesn’t happen I am going to have to do a little soul searching on whether or not to get the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 or the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 (even if the later is going to limit using higher ISOs too much, but it does give a stop and a half more light gathering than, say, the Olympus 17mm or Sigma 30mm meaning I could in theory reduce the ISO a stop and a half).

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I have had a bit of a chance to use the Olympus 17mm now and I thought I’d share my impressions. This is by no means a comprehensive test…yet. First off, I like the 35mm equivalent focal length, or in this case 34mm. I liked it on my OM-1 and I still like it on my OM-D E-M5. Its making me think about my lenses, but more on that later. Looking at a bunch of files now, probably over 100, maybe more than that, the files look good. Oh in the corners wide open it is soft, but it sharpens up a lot just stopping down by a third of a stop. I’d still consider it soft in the corners at its sharpest (around f/5.6 or f/8) and in the center it is never as bitingly sharp as any of my other lenses, but comparing to some files from the 14-42 MkII, the 17mm is at least “as good” if not maybe just a tiny bit better at anything like similar apertures and focal lengths.

Olympus 17mm, f/3.2, 1/30s, ISO400

The focus speed, at least on the E-M5 is pretty fast, but again not as fast as the other primes or even the 14-42 MkII or the 40-150. It also isn’t silent, but it is pretty quiet still. CA is high, but not terrible and can generally in most files be removed in LR4.1 pretty easily with just a little bit of slider work. I don’t notice much distortion, but I haven’t taken a lot of photos with clear straight lines where it would be all that noticeable.

So what can I really say about the lens? I love the field of view that 17mm provides, the lens was super cheap, it is pretty light and very small, the image quality it can produce is just fine if not stellar and the focus speed on the E-M5 is fine, just not great. Really I yearn for a larger aperture, faster and quieter focusing 17-18mm lens with better optical quality still in a pancake setup and won’t absolutely break the bank. Until that happens the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 is just fine, especially for sub $150 that I got it for.

Olympus 17mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO200

So on to my thoughts, I am enjoying shooting with the lens a lot and with the Olympus 45mm (those two lenses probably handled 80% of the pictures at the reunion). The Sigma 30mm is just fine and the Panasonic 14mm is also just fine. However, I am finding that the 30mm is often just a tad long or a tad short in a lot of circumstances…the 50% jump in FoV down from the Olympus 45mm isn’t quite enough to be very dramatic, just like the even smaller difference between the Olympus 17mm and Panasonic 14mm just isn’t a big change. The Panasonic 14mm is definitely sharper, quieter, faster focusing, smaller and lighter than the Olympus 17mm though.

Olympus 17mm, f/3.5, 1/125s, ISO400

Anyway, to stop gathering wool, I am thinking what the ideal bag setup would be for me is the Olympus 12mm, Olympus 17mm, Olympus 45mm and I am really, really hoping that Olympus releases that rumored 25mm f/1.8 lens as that would slot in there perfectly. I am really wishing I had a 25mm lens as well as something fast that is wider than the 45mm. The jump from 17mm to 30mm is just too much a lot of times, but the 30mm a lot of times is just a little too long. On 35mm film I shot mostly with 24, 35, 50 and 85 or 100mm lenses, so a 12, 17, 25 and 45 would be the near perfect match to that. If Olympus doesn’t release a 25mm f/1.8 I am thinking I may end up getting the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4…but I really don’t want to spend that kind of money, nor do I want a lens that big in my bag normally, if I can help it. Either way I go would likely mean selling the Sigma 30mm. It isn’t a terrible lens, but I just keep thinking that the FL isn’t quite for me (I get a lot of use out of it, but I think 25mm would just work better for me). The Panasonic 14mm I’d keep and it would probably be in my bag a lot. It isn’t much of a FL difference between the Olympus 12mm (which I’ll get some day) and the Olympus 17mm…but the thing is so darned tiny, light and great image quality…especially stopped down a little that there isn’t really a reason not to keep it and carry it around even if it doesn’t get much use.

I’ll have more pictures from the reunion later this week, probably in a couple of posts, some more photography thoughts and I also had a chance to try out the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 as well, as I borrowed one while I was there for about an hour of shooting.

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