Subtitle: Lesson learned. Real world experience and personal preference should be weighed more than raw specs, features and opinions.
Disclaimer: Real world, unbelievably unscientific, non-Pixel peeping, personally biased musings below.
So a funny (although not surprising) thing happened when I walked in to the camera store yesterday…
As much as I love photography my real world directives require three things:
The Olympus 17mm f1.8 is a truly great lens, and I have sung it’s praises on this blog. As many wonderful pictures as it has taken one thing continued to nag at me. For my purposes, I had to admit to myself that I missed the portability of the, admittedly optically inferior, Panasonic 14mm that it replaced. What I missed was not feature or technology based. All of the reviews heavily tip in Olympus’ favor and rightfully so. The Olympus delivered the smack down based on all of those criteria.
Sidebar: I only had one functional 17mm f1.8 annoyance. With a focus peaking camera (E-P5 in my case) engaging manual focus via the ring does not automatically engage focus peaking. It has to be invoked manually (set up as a Fn button toggle in my case), which is less convenient than simply toggling manual focus which does engage focus peaking. If there is a way to tie the two together I did not locate it. A non-issue when I used it on an E-PL5 since it did not have the peaking feature. Minor yes, on a truly fantastic lens, but an annoyance nonetheless.
I am an opportunistic (hey that is neat <click>) picture taker and as such I prize portability over capability. To my surprise when the Olympus 17mm f2.8 was recently marked down on Amazon by $100, $299 down to $199, I quickly found my finger hovering over the confirm order button. The issue? What the heck to do with the 17mm f1.8 I already had? There was little sense in keeping two 17mm focal length lenses, right? Especially when I knew that the smaller would spend it’s time on my camera, while big brother sat idle in my camera bag like a precious shiny metal bauble. Plus 4 lenses at a time is my self imposed limit for now. Logically I should sell/trade it, but I find selling things on ebay and craigslist about as pleasant as an eye infection (Through no fault of the websites I usually experience a 5:1 whacko to earnest consumer ratio. Might just be me. I will gladly eat return on investment if it saves time and aggravation.) so off to Southeastern Camera in Carrboro to see what they will give me for it.
Sidebar: Though occasionally maligned I thoroughly enjoyed the (now $99) 14-42mm kit lens that my E-PL5 came with (I had a ball with it my first time out with the camera.) and only traded it in to get the Panasonic. Enter the new 14-42mm EZ. The thought of a freakishly small pocket friendly form factor (closed) matched with the zoom characteristics of the kit lens piqued my interest. Especially considering the fact that it was only $50 more than the similarly sized 17mm f2.8. I do not understand how this could be, but (just like the pricing of the 45mm) thank you Olympus. One unboxing video from Jamie MacDonald aligned with my expectations, but the interweb offered little other information other than a PC Mag review and some dpreview sample shots so it moved off radar given my short attention span.
I walked in to Southeastern Camera and as Chris, the manager, started tallying up the worth of my lens he showed me 1 remaining of 3 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lenses he recently received. I gave it a test spin and was quickly reminded how great it is to shop local. Having taken many shots in and around the store before with many different lenses I quickly realized that, for my purposes, the optical compromise was acceptable when considering the immense gains in portability and flexibility. As an added bonus the lens’ silent focus and motorized zoom combined with the E-P5’s 5 axis image stabilization performed far, far above the demands of my occasional kid’s event video duties. A good thing now that my kid’s bands have elevated their game from the inevitable starting point of ‘name that tune while staring at the program bewildered’ status. (Was that Billy Jean they were just playing or is that what they are playing right now?)
This shot taken with modest lighting inside the store is one of a few that pretty much sealed it:
Day two with the lens and I am still well pleased with the decision. Here are my pros/cons so far:
- Superficial I know, but it looks good on camera and has a nice, substantial heft to it considering it’s diminutive dimensions.
- Agreeably sharp at the wider end. I am sure if the images were dissected one could find fault, but it does an admirable job. I wonder if this lens exploits the on board 5-axis image stabilization (which is as akin to technology as dark magic as I have ever seen) to it’s advantage and if it would perform as well on a non 5-axis body or a body from a few years ago?
- Acceptable isolation via modest bokeh. Reminiscent of the Panasonic 14mm I used to have per my recollection.
- Motorized zoom. This was especially nice in video mode. I have yet to master in video smooth manual zooming so this is a definite plus for me.
- Extending/collapsing on camera power up/down is fantastic and much better than the the kit 14-42mm’s manual process. That caused me to miss a few shots mashing the shutter fruitlessly until I noticed the nice message on the screen alerting me to the fact that I needed to give the zoom barrel a twist first.
- The zoom and focus rings are easily distinguishable by feel, which is no small feat given the space they are working with.
- Portability. Due to it’s size the camera will likely be on me at any given moment since I can keep it in pocket.
- Affordability. Olympus created a motorized 14-42mm zoom barely larger than and only $50 more than their own 17mm f2.8 lens.
- Flexibility. It is nice to be able to zoom. There are times when foot zoom is not an option. Last night while sitting in a drive through lane with my kids while waiting our turn I was able to get a zoomed in shot of some birds taking off and landing across the parking lot.
- Not as sharp as a prime or a pro zoom, but at this price point and physical size that falls in to the ‘duh’ category.
My bottom line? It is not everyone’s cup of tea. Before judging this lens by the raw specs or by what you have read or seen online visit your local camera shop and try it out on your camera. Like I told Chris today when I brought back the balance of materials on my trade, I found that for my purposes it performs well above grade and size. ‘Good enough’ is often seen as a back-handed compliment, but in this hobbyist’s humble opinion getting a ‘good enough’ shot because I have my camera in hand with zoom beats a better shot not taken due to lack of availability or proximity. Your mileage may vary.