Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The most wanted imaginary lens for the FourThirds system.

The DSLR system of Olympus is often criticized for the lack of inexpensive, good quality prime lenses. The benefits of these lenses are smaller size and larger aperture in the wide-angle and the normal range - the just announced Zuiko Digital 25mm 1:2.8 is perhaps the first answer to this desire. Bright telephoto lenses are usually expensive, so it is very important to find the proper combinations of focal length, aperture and price to successfully market such a lens. As the product palette seems to have gaps in this sense, it is worth looking at it from this point of view.

The manifest strategy of Olympus is to produce smaller lenses than others do. Due to near telecentric design, this advantage is hardly or not visible at shorter focal length (and in the case of the Top-pro range, where the comparison does not exist in other brands' lineup). The real difference is in telephoto applications. The Zuiko Digital zoom lenses produce relatively constant image quality across their focal length range, but further increasing the quality is impossible for the most of FourThirds users. With nature photography becoming more and more popular, but this is not supported by Olympus, because Top-Pro lenses have breathtaking price.

We have to be honest with ourselves. We are not buying costly equipment just to make compromise all the time. The zoom lenses with teleconverter attached or the adapted small-format lenses can't satisfy the demands of professional or serious amateur photographers. I could always show a photo of relatively good image quality taken with the combination of the Zuiko Digital 50-200mm and the EC-20, but those was not as perfect as prime lenses could be. The Zuiko Digital 70-300mm does have not sufficient resolving power to exploit the features of the E-3, and the F5.6 aperture is insufficient. The pictures taken with them look nice when they are resized for the web, but if only a part of the picture or large prints are needed, we are often displeased with them. I have never seen a really sharp picture from Bigma in original, 8-10 megapixels size. When I say "sharp", I think about a photo with lot of real details (such as feathers of a bird), not an overprocessed, oversharpened one.

The product palette of both Canon and Nikon contain high quality long telephoto lenses with medium brightness. I would count the 300mm 1:4 and 400mm 1:5.6 into this category. People often seek my advice before making a purchase, and I can tell that these pieces of equipment attract them like magnets. Their price, size, weight and image quality are in perfect harmony, and they are also available second hand. Pentax announced a lot of DA/DA* prime lenses in last three years. This marking means that these lenses are optimized to the size of sensor. The upcoming Pentax 300mm 1:4 is a DA* lens too. This is important, because the K20D has similar pixel-size to that of the E-3, and if we cut out a the center of the image, we would virtually get a combination of a 10 megapixel sensor and a lens with 600mm equivalent focal length.

We all want more and more millimeters, but it is important to keep our sense of reality. Longer focal length for the same price means less brightness and limited extendability (eg. via teleconverter). There were some extra long lenses in the OM lens range, but the longest really professional telephoto lens was the Zuiko 350mm 1:2.8. After a lot of talking with nature photographers who own any E-system camera I think the solution is a 300mm 1:4 lens in Pro (High-Grade) category. Teleconverters could be used efficiently on a lens like this: the EC-14 can convert it to a 420mm 1:5.6 lens, making the system very flexible - such a setup would complement the Zuiko Digital 50-200mm perfectly. Considering the possible size of the lens as well as the pricing strategy of Olympus and competing manufacturers, I predict a $1800 selling price. I am sure that the interest would be overwhelming. Of course, this lens should use the newest AF motor of Olympus, so we can guess its name already: Zuiko Digital ED 300mm 1:4 SWD. Nevertheless, I can imagine many alternatives: 250mm 1:3.2 or 350mm 1:4.5 for example.

Some years ago when I launched a website to popularise the FourThirds system in my home country, I started a petition topic in its forum, but my motivation wasn't sufficient to finish it. I am a member of a few internet forums, and I can see that more and more people having a wish similar to mine. I was very pleased when I saw that many experienced photographers who shoot amazing pictures wrote the same lens parameters what I dreamt of. So I have decided to try it more seriously this time, and repeat the petition with an appeal to international co-operation. Maybe it seems naive, but I think such a move can deliver only benefits. We can assist to the birth of the lens we wish to have and we would get the answer to our questions about the lack of prime lenses. Although I have no affiliation with Olympus, having been offered a pro membership by Olympus Europe, I am in the position to deliver the petition directly to Olympus and add a bit more thrust to it than it would have otherwise.

If you agree with this petition, the following link will take you to our petition website where you can read the details and sign.


There are

people who have already signed!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Weekly digest #1: 14/4/2008

We are planning various types of entries here, the weekly digest being one of them. There is a lot of pieces of information floating around and we found it useful to pick out the technically important of them. You'll find that many of these refer to dpreview forum entries. No wonder - the most lively Olympus forum operates over there.

There are two important product announcements that has been keeping us interested during the past week (weeks). The E-420 is out with the ZD 28mm f2.8 and so is the ED 14-35mm f2. Besides the newcomers, weak points (?) of the E-3 and its more serious kit lens, the E 12-60mm f2.8-3.5 continues to be discussed.

There does not seem to be reliable information available on whether the E-420 shares the sensor of the E-3, but colour rendition and banding seems to be similar. On the whole, the former is great news! E-3 image quality in such a small package is wonderful. Of course, other aspects of the E-420 are discussed wildly, including SAT, high iso performance and a comparison with Sigma's DP1. I am not crazy for SAT - perhaps as I am afraid of everything that is uncontrollable, but the high iso performance of the E-420 does not fail to impress me. Although Michael Reichmann seems to be fond of the Sigma because of its sensor size, I think that even if the Sigma's IQ was somewhat better, usability (speed of AF and in general, that is) puts the E-420 way ahead of it, sensor size notwithstanding.

Photo courtesy of takuhitosotome

With the possibility to attach to any 4/3 camera, the 25mm f2.8 pancake is clearly aimed at users of the E-420. Looking at the MTF curves, we have already seen a couple of weeks before that it will not be bad at all, although clearly setting aside the aim of telecentricity. Not many really nice sample pictures are out yet with either part of the minuscule setup, but the shot of Takuhito Sotome of his Leica shows the important point of the lens well. It is quite sharp, but because of the lack of ED elements, it clearly shows chromatic aberration, especially in the out of focus areas (thanks to Takuhito for the image and the fact that we can zoom in on to 100%).

On the other extreme of the lens range, we find the monstrous but potentially wonderful 14-35mm f2. We know that producing a really high quality lens is truly a challenge. Creating a zoom with similar qualities is even harder. Well, Olympus could not do it either: the 14-35 is almost a kilo. But how is image quality? Both and was kind enough to post full-size samples for us to scrutinize, the former even posting RAWs. The lens is clearly very fine and even without a side by side comparison, we can see that it delivers superb microcontrast and almost CA-free bokeh and edge rendition (see church and bumper of the car in particular).

Regarding the E-3, the problem of the strong anti-aliasing (AA) filter seem to come up all the time. Although we are not saying that this should go without any comment, it seems that people can not believe their own eyes when they see a sharp E-3 shot and are not comforted by the fact that Getty has approved the E-3 as one of the "base" cameras. Krisztián has already produced a thorough introduction to aliasing, AA and Moire, but it is available only in Hungarian at the moment. If there is a need for it, we shall translate it.

Regarding the 12-60, there still are issues with its wobbly front barrel and now a possibly related problem of off-axis alignment has appeared. What can I say? It's sharp, it focuses fast, but I am happy with my 14-54.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. One of the busiest thread was the one suggesting that Olympus produced a 300mm f4 tele lens. Well, this idea is not without history. We shall talk a bit more about it next time.

Until then: happy shooting!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008 started!

Well, the wait is over - at least our wait. Being Olympus four-thirds camera users for almost three years, and amateur photographers for a longer period, Krisztián and I have thought it's time to wrap up things. Making comments on various (but mostly on the dpreview) forums, we had the impression that occasionally, we hit a nerve here and there. Most recently, we showed some weak and strong points of the Olympus E-3 (ever heard about strong banding in weak light or the stellar sharpness that puts the AA naysayers in shame?), but have followed the development of the system quite closely and analysed points that appeared the most important to our eyes.

However, all this information has been scattered over various places and is somewhat difficult to put together. Why would anyone ever want to do that - you might ask. Well, that's a good question, and the very reason this blog is up only now. However, the 24000+ hit on our review of the Top Pro / Super High Grade lens line and mails we receive convinced us that it might be worthwile to try out a different approach.

5 tavasz / 5 springs
Image taken with the ZD 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 lens @ f5. Background blur - one of the greatest headaches of those unfamiliar with the four-thirds system - is nicely rendered even with this relatively "harsh" lens (note the funny way the out of focus lines are separated). Although it is clear that greater sensors can provide shallower depth of field (DOF) if we hold everything else constant (and thus greater flexibility in this respect), often it turns out that one does not want such shallow DOF for one reason or another, or can compensate for it by more carefully adjusting the relative distance of camera, subject and background.

So here we go: although blogger allows comments on entries, our aim is to turn forums inside out so to speak and create a single place where information (appearing most important to our eyes) can be found. We are not trying to replace formus, rather contribute to them - in fact, you will find lots of pointers here to forum threads. We shall continue to monitor news related to the four-thirds system, write comments on them, clarifying matters that appear to be confusing. We shall post images that demonstrate the capabilities of the system and write honest analyses showing both strengths and weaknesses - just as we always did. The only difference is that you will find every information in a single place.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. You asked why is it four-thirds? The "dead end of camera evolution"? Well, obviously we don't seem to think it is a dead-end and been happy users for years now (even though we could buy into other systems). We think that it is not, because.... well, let me explain this later.

Until then, have a good day and check back later!
Zsombor & Krisztián