Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Olympus small talk - Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II Zuiko Digital lens

I was browsing through Google reader today and lo & behold, an update from the imaging-resource news desk!

Olympus America has today announced its forthcoming firmware version 1.3 for the company's flagship E-3 digital SLR. According to the company, Olympus E-3 firmware v1.3 has the following changes:

  • Allow E-3 users to select the AF target by pressing the arrow keys - hmm, i'm not sure what the problem is with this one, but so far, the fastest way to change AF points without going through the menu is by selecting the AF points button and the front/ rear wheels
  • Improve AF accuracy when using fast lenses with f2.0 aperture - there have been problems prevalent with the AF accuracy of the Zuiko 14-35 which are a constant source of debate among dpreview olympus owners, but i don't mind if my 35-100 can fully utilise this feature too.
  • Improve C-AF performance- yes, the C-AF can do a bit of improvisation over here. I reckon hasn't quite caught up with Nikon's 51 point 3-d tracking system.
  • Improve battery life when using the HLD-4 battery holder - so far, one of my friend's said that he could only 800 shots with the battery holder, so it would be interesting to see how much more juice can one suck out from the BLM-1 with this update.
* Olympus notes that the update process does reset all camera settings to factory defaults, and hence recommends users to manually record the camera settings before updating their firmware.

There has also been some hype regarding the Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II Zuiko Digital lens recently released by Olympus in conjunction with the E-30 launch. I do not have this lens, so my comments are based on the 14-54 mk1 which I still have at the moment.

the 14-54 mk 2

the original 14-54

From the SLR gear forums, there have been several improvements in terms of

sharpness - it is satisfyingly sharp, and is at its sharpness at f4, all the way till f11 (before diffraction kicks in)

some people comment that the lack of ED elements make this lens not as sharp and contrasty as the 14-42 kit lens, and what more the 12-60swd.

brightness - it also holds its maximum aperture for a longer period compared to its predecessor, as evidenced by


14-17mm - f=2.8 - (14-18mm)

18-21mm - f=2.9 - (19-25mm)

22-25mm - f=3.0 - (26-34mm)

26-28mm - f=3.1 - (35-37mm)

29-35mm - f=3.2 - (38-43mm)

36-44mm - f=3.3 - (44-48mm)

45-50mm - f=3.4 - (49-51mm)

50-54mm - f=3.5 - (52-54mm)

chromatic abberations - similar to the 14-54 mk1, nothing new here. stopping down the lens will not reduce CA

shading - quite well controlled, up to 0.5eV at widest apertures. the original was already an excellent performer

AF performance - its not as quick and precise as the SWD motor of the 12-60, but its barely audible in most cases. with regards to "when the lens racks through the entire focus range that the serious motor noise comes into play", there is noise, but not in any irritating manner (unless you're a picky photographer that demands totally silent lenses)

macro - similar to the mk1, close focus range of 22cm (from the camera sensor) which gives a magnification of 1:3.8

build quality - very similar to the superb quality of the mk1; weathersealed, with textured zoom/manual rings, no creep, no front rotating element (to ease use of polarisers)

distortion - they've managed to eliminate distortion at 17mm, while in the mk1, distortion only dissapears at 23mm

bokeh - the new lens should perform better due to its new rounded blade diaphragm

price wise - as noted with wrotniak the price difference between a brand new 12-60 and the 14-54 mk2 is negligible (currently at $136), so i'd still advocate the 12-60 for its better optical performance, SWD motor and 2mm wider FOV (albeit not having contrast detect AF)

otherwise, if you're out for a bargain the 14-54 mk1, should do the job extremely well. these lenses can be as cheap as $250 on forums / ebay.

How does the 15-54 mk 2 perform in lab tests? For that, you would have to refer to the DIWA lab tests.


the14-54 mk2 is satisfying sharp at the centers compared to the corners at all focal lengths. differences in edge and corner sharpness at 14mm are quite noticeable; however.

How does it compare to the more expensive 12-60?

I first read in a Practical Photography magazine article that the 12-60 is quite soft when used wide open. I thought it was a joke at first, until I viewed the results here. there is a slight blur at the edge corners when used at 12mm and 60mm. You won't notice it in everyday applications, but its good to know nonetheless.

Geometric Distortion

the 12-60 exhibits 'acceptable' distortion at 12mm compared to 'hardly visible' 14mm on the 14-54 mk2, which is to be expected. surprisingly, distortion control on the 14-54mk2 is very good at 22mm and 54mm compared to the 12-60's 24mm and 60mm. kudos to the 14-54 mk2 for that.


noticeable vignetting can be seen at 14mm / f2.8 on the 14-54 mk2. the 12-60 has excellent vignetting performance, so it wins in this respect.

MTF (modular transfer function)

a lens with sufficient resolving power is required to enable a high resolution sensor to record sufficient data. it just doesn't make sense to pack extra megapixels on a sensor when a lens cannot record additional detail. refer to the cameralabs test of the canon EOS 50D and the Canon EF-S 18-200mm lens for details.

the 14-54 mk2 shows excellent resolving power at f4 at all focal lengths. the MTF for both lenses reduces steadily beyond f/11 (which reduces sharpness and contrast and hence, image quality), so its advisable not to use any aperture beyond that.

CA / lateral chromatic aberration

manifesting itself as 'purple fringing', this occurs most evidently along edges of strong contrast areas. it is interesting to note that the 12-60 has CA in 'annoying' levels at 12mm and 60mm at maximum apertures. the 15-54 has CAs in this category only at 14mm.

So there you have it.. the 14-54 mark 2 may be better than the 12-60 in some aspects (image-quality wise), but for versatility and SWD, the 12-60 is a hard one to ignore.

For example, compare both of these images taken with the 14-54 and 12-60. which one would you prefer this instance? i'd prefer the wider one, thank you!



Alvin said...

bro, no diff between the photos man! hahaha 2mm is NOTHING on a DX. U should really go full frame man! I DARE U!

brandon said...

lol.. i know its nothing on a DX, but i have the 7-14 which gives me as wide as 14mm on FF which is fine with me.

next time i'll get a d700 to complement what i have now.. perhaps. :p

Anonymous said...

Is there some converter to fit Oly lenses onto Nikon FX bodies? :)

Vinsant said...

I prefer the non-wider one, simply because you framed it better. :p

@WS, the only conversion possible for lenses to lenses is for older screwmount lenses to most newer conventional mounts.


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