Sunday, December 18, 2011

Contemporary µ4/3rds Zoom Lens Comparisons

µ4/3rds Zoom Lens Comparisons
ManufacturerMinimumMaximum
Panasonic7mm @f/414mm @f/4
Olympus9mm @f/418mm @f/5.6
Olympus12mm @f/3.550mm @f/6.3
Olympus14mm @f/3.542mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/3.542mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/3.545mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/4140mm @f/5.8
Olympus14mm @f/4150mm @f/5.6
Olympus40mm @f/4150mm @f/5.6
Panasonic45mm @f/4175mm @f/5.6
Panasonic45mm @f/4200mm @f/5.6
Olympus75mm @f/4.8300mm @f/6.7
Panasonic100mm @f/4300mm @f/5.6
I love charts. I guess that comes from being a combination engineer and bean counter. My day isn't complete until I've created some chart somewhere, preferably as a spreadsheet using Excel or whatever equivalent is handy.

I was motivated to do this chart to your right by all the moaning and groaning coming from the Great Photography Forum Commentariat about how Olympus is releasing all these slow zoom lenses for µ4/3rds. So I meandered over to the Micro Four Thirds Lens Produce page and cobbled up the chart to your right.

Allow me to outline a few quick notes.
  1. I've only included the zooms, not the primes. The primes are a good stop or more faster at their given maximum aperture, but then they're fixed focal length lenses.
  2. I've not included every single iteration of a zoom. For example, Olympus has three versions of the 14-42mm 1:4-5.6. This is a chart about zoom types or classes as much as individual zooms. Oh, and Panasonic has two in that range.
  3. This chart includes the announced but not-yet-delivered Olympus 12-50mm and covers several Pansonic X series lenses.
Ignoring duplicates, there are currently 13 native µ4/3rds zoom lenses spanning focal lengths from 7mm to 300mm (that's 14mm to 600mm in 35mm equivalents). That's a greater than 40:1 focal length range, which is pretty good, all things considered. Unfortunately, according to some, the lenses are slow. None of the lenses made by either Olympus or Panasonic are particularly fast. The fastest are the 14-42mm kit zooms that are fastest at 14mm and f/3.5. That's a third stop faster than f/4. And those f/6.3 and f/6.7 speeds are 1/3 to 1/2 (respectively) slower than the "stock" f/5.6 everyone seems used to. Folks, physics is physics. If you want small and light then you get small and relatively slow. If you want fast then you get huge and expensive. You have a clear (some would say stark) choice now.

What I didn't include, because I didn't feel like looking them up, were the dimensions (size and weight) of all the lenses. That would have been real work. And then you the reading audience would have wanted to compare them with the closest 4/3rds and/or competitor lens, and well, that would have been even more work.

No, the reason for my chart is to take the heat off of Olympus and spread it evenly over to Panasonic, which appears to be as in lockstep with Olympus as Olympus is with Panasonic.

Once the Commentariat get going with their complaints about the slow maximum apertures, then they get going about perceived flaws with the lens performance. For that, I'd like to show you a photograph by Bryce Bradford, a rather excellent photographer who has gotten to like µ4/3rds rather much these days.

M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 Sample
M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 Sample
By Bryce Bradford
E-PM1, 300mm, f/6.7, 1/1000s, ISO 400

When you click on that photo selected the full size and look at the head of the robin. Note the crisp detail around the eyes, bill, and neck ruff.

I have the OM 300mm 1:4.5 fixed focal length lens. That lens is almost as large as my ZD 50-200mm. I've used it, even with the E-P2 (with suitable adapters). The 75-300 zoom is only a stop slower but about five times lighter than the OM 300, and from what I can see, the optical quality of the M.Zuiko is superior to the older OM 300mm. The only reason I don't own one is that at the time of its initial release it was $900. At that price I felt it should have had environmental sealing, like the newly announced 12-50mm will have.

If you're not hung up on weather sealing like I am, based on the excellent IQ I've seen from this lens, and considering that the price has now dropped to around $750, the Olympus 75-300mm is at least worth considering. And if you feel the need for a "better" lens for APS-C or larger sensor cameras, go to a store where they'll let you hold one of those little monsters and think about carrying that largish lump of metal, plastic and glass around for more than five minutes. The Pen system might not be perfect, but it's certainly pointing in the right direction of small and efficient photography.

As for myself, Santa is bringing me new µ4/3rds gear for Christmas; an Olympus 45mm lens, another Olympus 40-150mm R zoom, and a Panasonic 20mm lens. I might even break down and purchase an E-P2 kit with VF-2 and 17mm that Amazon is showing for $700. That's less than the cost of the E-P3 body only. I've been going round and round about what to invest in and after looking and holding for some time now I've decided to continue to invest in the µ4/3rds system, with some equipment from Olympus and Panasonic.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Bill.
    I totally agreed with what you said. Thanks for the nice chart showing F-stop number of all M-4/3 lenses. M-4/3 is all about size there is no way we can have a small zoom lens with big f-stop.

    One of the lens that I wanted but still not decided yet is the M.Zuiko 9-18mm. I am still not sure to get the f/2 12mm prime or this little UWA zoom. I think this lens is f/5.6 on the 18mm end not f/4. Wide angle are mostly use stop down so I am not concern with the f/5.6 f-stop but the f/2 12mm look very sexy.

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  2. I just ordered the 45mm 1.8, which doesn't seem to be available yet in Europe (except maybe in the UK). Hopefully it will arrive before my wife's birthday...

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  3. Fan said... I think this lens is f/5.6 on the 18mm end not f/4.

    Thanks, Fan, fixed it.

    ReplyDelete

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