Definitely an interesting, pretty monumental day for this little bit of kit to come in. I feel like I'm drawing away from points that should be more spotlight by posting about it, but since so few issues of the lens seem to have been distributed for evaluation in this production phase of its release... well, why not?
I pre-ordered the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 almost 2 months ago and have been waiting in eager anticipation for its arrival ever since. My primary working genre of photography is real estate, and the 12mm f/2.0 and 12-40mm f/2.8 have only been able to get me so far in that industry. With the expansion of my focal range in the 7-11mm region, it was an obvious call. Many could argue that I should've sprung for the 7-14mm f/4 Lumix lens prior, and they might be right, but I am something of a brand-name loyalist, for better or for worse, in my gear acquisitions, and it just felt weird to pick up an older, differently branded lens to complement my kit.
So, how does the Olympus ultra-ultra-wide hold up in test?
Let me begin.
I met up with my friend Rob at the local gay bar of choice today. With the Supreme Court's ruling this morning, fast as it came, it seemed like an obvious stop, but being in Maryland, a State where marriage has been a right to same-sex couples for some time, there was remarkably little fanfare. We chatted for a bit over beer, and eventually, I asked the bartender at the time if it was alright if I whipped out the tripod and put the lens to proper practice. It was still quiet in the bar, low traffic, and he didn't seem to mind. I quite readily stopped the lens down to f/11, ISO 200, and tried to pick within focal lengths in the middle of the zoom range, 9-11mm specifically, and see how the lens rendered the indoor scene.
The few samples I rendered to JPG speak for themselves.
The lens is wickedly sharp. Which isn't a huge surprise given the sharpness of Olympus' other pro-zoom offerings in my possession, the 12-40mm f/2.8 and 40-150mm f/2.8. Coming from the perspective of a photographer who only ever used prime lenses for just shy of a decade, the results left me stunned. Very little fringing, less so than what I'd grown accustomed to dealing with on my 12mm f/2.0 prime lens, and with a sort of micro-contrast clarity I wasn't used to seeing at all. And at f/11, such amazing starbursts... the likes of which I never saw on my primes nor my 12-40mm f/2.8. Tight, concentric balls of light, with sharp, pointed stems bursting forth. The nearest I'd seen prior came from Voigtlander's Nokton series of lenses, and they were a welcome sight to see on an auto-focusing pro kit zoom.
Subject isolation was also remarkable given the limitations of such efforts on wide angle lenses in such a cropped format. While not necessarily ground breaking, the lens focused close enough to throw backgrounds decently out of focus with a generally acceptable level of bokeh wide open, which was not an expectation from the onset of acquisition. I bought the lens to render rooms and design-heavy spaces with broad, in-focus point of view, certainly not thinking it could be used to capture smaller details with the stylistic isolation such elements of interior design demand. Needless to say, I'm excited to put the lens through its paces in a working environment, which will very well likely be tomorrow.
For regard to its current weaknesses in the widely unsupported post-processing environment, it does present some clear barrel distortion at the very far edges, but it is of a basic barrel type that is easily corrected in Lightroom or DXO with manual, built-in tools. Truthfully, this was entirely expected, given the lens has only now hit the market with pre-order deliveries. For my purposes, once DXO develops a proper module for the lens (which they have frequently done well before Adobe has managed to patch for new lens corrections in my experience), I expect to manage slightly wider than what JPG product out-of-camera produces based on the extra .5-1mm of wide-end focal range DXO's lens corrections seem able to provide. In the the mean time, I'll either settle just fine with JPG results or tweak images in Lightroom for proper results (admittedly slower for real estate work compared to DXO, but no less capable).
When the sun went down this evening I tested the lens for night shooting on my porch to determine viability of the lens' use for astral photography. Going by the good old rule of 500 is did just fine, even stopped down tremendously (granted, it's pretty bright in my area), but I did uncover another quirk to the lens in the form of strong flare at f/11. I've never owner nor used an ultra-ultra-wide angle lens before, so this may very well be a normal limitation to the design of such lenses, but the flare was certainly something I'd never seen before in other lenses, especially with the hood affixed. It may very well have been an instance of strong foreground light, however, so I'll have to try using the lens in a less point-lighted environment tomorrow to see how it functions. I get the impression that it was an anomaly I'll simply need to get used to in working with such an enormously wide focal length.
I did shoot a bit with the lens handheld outdoors, but its implementation, so far as I see, makes the most sense indoors, capturing architectural elements at their finest. Then again, it is a new focal length for me, so it will require some experimentation to fully understand the best uses of its focal range. In any case, I'm enormously pleased with the results so far, and expect to enjoy a second wind of glee once DXO releases a proper module for the optic. Theoretically, this is the next step in real estate shooting I've been biting my tongue over for 3 years, so it should keep me wholly satisfied for some time.
Next up, Olympus... would love to see that patented 25mm f/1.0. :)