I was introduced to the ZD 14-35 SWD about a year ago in Melbourne, when I met my regular photo walk buddy, David. I have tried the lens occasionally, but I have never really experienced what it would be like to really own one. The opportunity arose to purchase a mint copy from a forum a month ago, and after many hours of using this lens personally, I am pleased to present this review to you.
The ZD 14-35 SWD, being the flagship of the Zuiko Digital series is the latest addition to the Super High Grade (SHG) professional zoom lens series with fixed F-values, which comprises of the ZD 7-14mm f4, 35-100mm f2.0 and 90-250mm f2.8 lenses. [multiply the focal lengths by 2 for 35mm field of view (FOV) equivalents]
In short, the 14-35 is a great lens, and should be seriously considered for shallow depth of field (DOF), and low light work. If you like to know more, read on...
Some parties have voiced concerns that the promise of smaller, lighter lenses in the Fourthirds consortium have been negated following the release of comparable lenses from competitors, but that is another fact to be dealt with later.
*The volume of air in any lenses that we use change when the lens elements move during auto focusing, and presents a risk of dust entering the interior of the lens shell. Thus, the white paper states that special ''breathable'' textile materials ensure that the weather sealed properties are maintained even when this occurs. Simply amazing!
With reference to the 12-60 and 50-200 SWD lenses in the high grade category, they are also dust and drip proof, but the SHG lenses take this to a whole new level: most of the lenses zoom internally. Though the 14-35 is not purely so, the very slight change in its dimensions will do more than enough to ensure that as little dust as possible will enter into the lens cavity. The lens is at its shortest at 20mm, and reaches maximum length at 35mm.
The zoom and manual focus rings are coated with two different rubber textures for ease of use. In between is a clear window which houses a distance scale, which alters appropriately according to the distance of the subject from the camera.
Although the hood is rather shallow, they've decided to include a filter handling window which allows users to operate a circular polarizer filter even with the hood attached. Unfortunately I have to say that the filter window isn't that well designed because it can slip off rather easily if if you're not careful (compared with the windows on the 50-200 and 35-100 lens hoods). So do be wary if you're playing with it.
The front part of the lens does not rotate during auto-focusing, so its good news for those who are using circular polarizers.
Although SWD works fine in good light, I feel there is much to be improved regarding the accuracy of the auto focus mechanism, even for bodies optimised for that purpose (aka. the E-3 and E-30). Focusing can be problematic in low light conditions such as night clubs, for example. Hence using the infrared beam on the FL-50R or FL36-R flashes could aid focusing in those circumstances.
I was also asked to compare the AF accuracy and speed of the SWD lenses in dim light. In poor light, the 12-60 and the 50-200 also hesitate in finding accurate AF. If the subject isn't well defined, both lenses will refuse to focus altogether. The 14-35 on the other hand takes slightly faster to lock on focus (because of the larger f2 aperture), and it is usually accurate, although at times it may err. Its not a spectacular result, but that's what it is for the time being.
Left-right : 35-100 f2, 50-200 SWD f2.8-3.5, 14-35 f2, 7-14 f4, 12-60 SWD 2.8-4, 14-54 f2.8-3.5 mk1, 50f2
Mount : Four Thirds Mount
The lens will work on any Four Thirds camera from Olympus and Panasonic, including the new Micro 43rds models (with the use of an adapter).
For a general overview of the Four Thirds system, please refer here
Maximum aperture : f2.0
Yes, you heard that right. The 14-35 is the world's first standard zoom lens to feature a large f2.0 aperture. It is a perfect companion for the ZD 35-100 mm f2.0, and both lenses offer an large, constant f2.0 aperture over a combined focal range of 28-200mm (in 35mm terms).
What's so good about an f2.0 lens, you may ask? (Yes heaven forbid, there are some who still ask this question).
It allows creative use of shallow depth of field, for portraits and other photographic aspects
One caveat of having a fast lens is that you would have to be quite careful and selective while picking which area to focus on in your image. I focused on the Chevrolet text at the bottom of the frame while the rest of the bonnet fades into the background.
Portrait of a local police man during the Anzac Day celebrations in Melbourne. The background is elegantly blurred to render this as an nice portrait.
A larger f2 aperture will also mean that I can save 1 - 1.5 light stops compared to other lenses (which have apertures of f2.8-3.5)
At a constant f2 aperture, it would mean two things:
1. Use of lower ISOs (eg. ISO 400 instead of 800) to ensure less noise appears in the image. This is absolutely welcome, since 43 sensors aren't exactly reknown for their noise tolerance!
For example, the E-3's highest acceptable digital noise score was rated at ISO 571 on DxO Mark tests as compared with other camera models, such as the Nikon D300 and Canon 50D. This means one should not use ISO 500 and above for practical purposes. Of course, your mileage will vary. I do not hesitate to use higher ISOs if deemed necessary.
2. Allows the use of higher shutter speeds to maximise the probability of getting sharp images, especially in low light.
Using this image as an example (please excuse me for the blown out highlights), I was able to use a lower ISO of 400 at f2, and coupled with Image Stabilisation (and proper handholding techniques), sharp images at 1/15 seconds and below are now a reality!
A landscape enthusiast might argue that he / she would probably not require a lens this fast , but an photojournalist / wedding photographer will probably appreciate this gem more. As such, a Zuiko 7-14 f4 would probably do more justice for ultra wide angle landscape use.
Focal Distance : 14-35mm (28-70mm equivalent)
Yes, perhaps its not as wide as the Canon or Nikon 24-70 2.8's, but its good enough for me, and its something that you would have to learn to work around with if you were to acquire the 14-35.
Here are some real world focal distance comparisons with the ZD 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 SWD lens, which is the ''kit'' standard zoom lens for the Olympus E-3.
ZD 14-35 @14mm (28mm equivalent)
ZD 14-35 @35mm (70mm equivalent)
ZD 12-60 @ 12mm (24mm equivalent)
ZD 12-60 @60mm (120mm equivalent).
As you can see here, the ZD 12-60 offers better wide and telephoto coverage than the ZD 14-35, hence its reputation as a good walk-around lens. Some folks prefer the ZD 14-54 /2.8-3.5 mark 2, which is also an excellent lens.
Lens architecture : 17 groups, 18 lenses
The lens incorporates a mouth watering array of optics to ensure optical perfection: 2 ED lenses, an ED aspherical lens and one glass aspherical lens. The ED elements minimise chromatic aberrations, while complex lens coatings minimise ghosting and lens flare.
I pointed the lens directly at a very bright reflection at the top left. Fortunately, flare isn't much of a concern for this lens.
Chromatic aberration is evident in high contrast areas on the periphery of the lens, but it is very well controlled. It would be even better if Olympus employs CA correction which is available on current Nikon SLRs.
The lens also uses 9 circular aperture diaphragms for ''beautiful defocusing effects", aka. better bokeh. Please refer to above for bokeh samples.
Wait, have we forgotten something here?
The more glass the lens is made of, the more power it drains. I was out for a photo walk a few weeks ago with one BLM-1 battery while using the 14-35. After 400 shots or so, the camera refused to function [aka. take a photo] even though it was turned on. Changing fresh batteries solved the problem instantly. Some folks on the forums even reported that the 14-35 wouldn't perform effectively without a battery grip.
Conclusion? Make sure you stock up on batteries!
Shooting range : 0.35m to infinity
I wanted to test the macro capabilities of the 14-35; therefore, I placed the E-3 on a tripod with a timer and disabled Image Stabilisation (IS) to ensure tack sharp photos. Both images were set at aperture priority, f7.1
The 14-35 unfortunately doesn't perform as a macro lens. It only has a maximum image magnification of 0.12x. (0.24x at 35mm) with a closest working distance of 0.35m.
The 12-60 does much better in this respect, with a 0.28X maximum image magnification (0.56x equivalent) at 60mm. It has a minimum focusing distance of 0.25 m.
Like the 12-60 and 50-200 SWD, the 14-35 allows on-the-spot AF / MF switching without having to go through the menus, which is pretty convenient.
At 900 grams (excluding hood and cap) for a lens made for a sensor which is a half the size of a 35mm sensor, this is a hefty lens, although its not much heavier than full frame offerings from Canon and Nikon.
The professional Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 L USM lens weighs 950 grams while the Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f2.8 G ED lens weighs 900 grams.
Filter mount thread diameter: 77mm
As with all other professional series lenses, a 77mm filter thread is required. Of course, it would mean that the cost of a 77mm filter is more expensive compared to smaller sizes such as 72mm and 67mm.
*One of my friends recommended a B + W 007 (Clear) MRC Series as a high quality clear glass protective filter, but of course, the choice is up to you.
There are tons of lenses which we can choose from to compare with the ZD 14-35, but lets stretch the comparisons to include the current Nikon full frame standard zoom lens, the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 G ED lens mounted on a D3 camera.
Why this comparison may I ask? The ZD 14-35 (RRP $2000 USD) has a comparable price tag to the Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 (RRP $1800 USD). In addition, some folks may argue that full frame lenses perform better than cropped frame ones.
All results are sourced from the DIWA labs website. For test facts and analysis, please refer here.
The ZD 14-35 holds its sharpness very well even from its largest aperture at f2. The lens is at its sharpest across the frame from f2.8-8, before steadily decreasing till f22 because of diffraction. This is good news since the lens is optimised for use at wider apertures.
In fact, slrgear.com quotes that ""The Olympus 14-35mm ƒ/2 is a very sharp lens indeed. It is so sharp, in fact, that it is hard to decide on the optimum aperture / focal length combination for optimum sharpness. According to our test results, 18mm at ƒ/4 seems to yield about as perfect sharpness as can be obtained, but in reality, you'll be very hard-pressed to notice any differences for sharpness at any aperture below ƒ/11"
A remarkable result indeed. The ZD 14-35 is as good as a prime lens after all.
The Nikkor 24-70 is also an excellent lens, which holds its sharpness at all apertures from f2.8 - 22.
2. Geometric Distortion
Most standard zoom lenses exhibit the most distortion at their widest focal lengths, which gradually subsides at the telephoto end. The Nikkor 24-70 does exhibit higher distortion due to the fact that its 4mm wider than the ZD 14-35, so its no surprise here. I would have expected the 14-35 to have less distortion at 14mm because it is optimised for a smaller 43rds sensor.
3. Chromatic Aberration
Its not surprising to see that the Nikor 24-70 has more CA's due to light having to strike the periphery of the larger full frame sensor. Fortunately, they have in-camera CA correction for jpegs, so it wouldn't be obvious. As I stated above, it would be good if Olympus had a similar mechanism for CA correction too.
4. MTF / Image resolution
As the megapixel wars rage on, it becomes imperative for camera manufacturers to revamp their film lenses and create higher resolution lenses that offer better detail and sharpness. The Zuiko Digital lenses were created with this fact in mind from the start.
The Nikkor 24-70 has a slight edge in this respect, although the 14-35 offers more consistent results across the frame.
Large aperture lenses are notorious for vignetting (zooms and primes alike), and the full frame sensor on the D3 exacerbates this fact. Usually its not much of an issue, because both Olympus and Nikon apply in-camera vignetting corrections to counter this.
The conclusion? I feel the ZD 14-35 has a very slight edge over the 24-70, but not by much considering the Nikkor 24-70 is $200 USD cheaper. But we have to agree that both lenses are stellar performers in their own right.
Notes on shooting (from the ZD 14-35 user manual)
1. Use the hood when shooting a backlit subject.
Duh.. if you want to avoid flare, a lens hood is the way to go. I still see some people not using their lens hoods even when the sun is high in the sky during mid day!
2. Edges of pictures may be cut off if more than one filter is used or if a thick filter is used.
The 14-35 is a standard zoom lens, so this issue is not too prevalent compared to ultra wide angle lenses. Nonetheless, slim profile filters are recommended for this purpose. Plus , its not a good idea to stack filters on top of each other, eg. putting on a circular polarizing filter on top of a UV filter. Its better to put on one or the other instead of both, except in particular circumstances.
3. You may use teleconverters (EC-14 and EC-20) for further reach at the expense of 1 or 2 light stops respectively. I personally would not recommend the use of teleconverters because they would affect sharpness and AF efficiency when used. I'd rather go for a more versatile lens instead, such as the 12-60 SWD.
The 1.4X teleconverter will give you a full frame reach of a 35 - 98mm f2.8 lens, which doesn't look too bad by the way
The 2.0X teleconverter will give you a 56 - 140mm reach at a slower f4 aperture. Sharpness and AF capabilities would be affected to some extent.
Though not as exorbitant as certain lenses, the ZD 14-35 will make your wallet substantially lighter, depending on where you get it from. It retails around $2000 USD from reputable dealers such as Adorama and B & H Photo Video. In Malaysia, its a bit cheaper from local shops, at RM 6350 (USD 1800 approx). Sorry Shashinki, you are way over the top. Unfortunately in Australia, it is a bit pricy, at AUD 2800 approx before tax rebates.
If you're fortunate, a mint copy save you a quarter off RRP, at approximately USD 1500. For those who're thinking of upgrading to this lens from the ZD 12-60 (USD 900 RRP), you would have to decide if the USD 1100 premium is worth forking out the extra cash.
- Excellent technical image quality at all focal lengths from f2.0-f11. All the zuiko super high grade lenses (the 14-35, 35-100 and 7-14, for example) are in a league of their own compared to the pro SWD lenses (the 12-60 and 50-200). The differences (in contrast, detail and sharpness) are subtle, but noticeable in my opinion.
- Exceptional dust and weather sealed construction (which is even better than the high grade lenses in my opinion)
- Supersonic wave drive (SWD) motor for fast and accurate auto focus.
- Its the only standard zoom with a constant f2 aperture available on the market [at the time of writing]
- large and heavy
- expensive (USD 2200 approx RRP)
- polarising window not well designed
- the lens will sometimes miss focus in low light conditions.
- focal length not as versatile as other standard zooms (eg. 12-60 SWD)
As Ken Rockwell puts it : "Your equipment does not affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster, or more convenient for you to get the results you need."
The ZD 14-35 SWD is not a lens for the masses. If you can appreciate the convenience this lens offers while at the same time make do with its weaknesses, this lens will not disappoint.
Zuiko 14-35mm f2.0 SWD white paper
Photography blog review
SLR gear review
Olympus global press release
Some full sized samples have been made available for your viewing. Please note that they are for personal use only
Yes, I do realise only the police man's cap is in focus. Thats how thin the DOF is at f2!
1. If you're full frame / anti-Olympus purist who just happens to stumble upon this review, well done for making it this far down. It's a miracle that you're here. Olympus makes good photographic gear too, you know.
2. If you're a Olympus user who isn't convinced that the 14-35 is a good lens, so be it. I'm going to continue to take great pictures with the 14-35 and make it worth my dough. It's your loss, not mine. Please do not make senseless comments such as "14-35 no good lens la so don't want to buy,,, phew... ". Mind you, I'll make you eat your words. Seriously.
3. If you have a 14-35 and love it, good on you. Lets take awesome pictures and spread the good news. Please do not use this lens to take lame pictures of fences and playground equipment and post it on our Olympus forums. Its a disgrace, and this lens worth more than that.
4. If you have a 14-35 and aren't using it, shame on you. Its like leaving a Ferrari sports car in your garage and never learning how to drive it. Please sell it to others at reasonable prices so that we can appreciate this lens.
5. If you're longing for a 14-35, but don't have dough, find a way to get one. Get more jobs, eat instant noodles for a month or more, whatever. Scour ebay or photographic forums for a deal. You won't regret it!
6. If you have the dough, why wait? Try one at your local store now.
7. Lastly, If you've any questions about this review, please contact me using the email above.