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.


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1 comment:

Bob Crowley said...

Telephotos are all over the place in dslr land.

What we need is something that works just like the 24mm macro that was made by Sigma for 35mm. That lens provided a super sharp 90 degree AOV and focused to within 4 inches! How about something like that? Who needs all these bulky slow zooms?