OK. I loved this lens the last time (click on the link for our extensive, albeit E-1 based review of three Top Pro lenses). I sold stuff to finace the purchase. And thanks to a friend, I had the chance to spend two days with it. I wanted to try it first, you know. The end result? I am buying one of those $400 50mm f2s on eBay. Why?
Well, the Olympus 35-100mm f2 is an engineering beauty. If you are into para-military hardware, it is a must to buy. It is rock solid, it operates and looks like it was built for really heavy use. It's image quality is also very nice. In fact, I think that the transitions from and to out of focus areas are most Leica-like. The similarity is that its bokeh and transitions are very nice, altough the image is not über-sharp (at least wide open). When I am trying to think about something that I feel difficult to describe, I reach to the word: microcontrast. But it is not only that, but also something else. Do buy at least one of the leica magazine, the LFI, and take a look at the photo essay at the end. You'll get the impression what Leica glass can do to transitions and colours. I do not know a scientific test to show this, but my feel is that the he 35-100mm f2 can do the same.
For me, the 35-100 mm holds (held?) three promises: 1) shallower DOF for better separation, 2) low-light capability, 3) versatile FOV range. Well, the results I got were mixed. Regarding separation, the effect is much better than with anything else, but do not expect wonders. Out of curiosity, I have tried a friend's Canon EF 85mm f1.2 @ f1.2 on the street. As you might imagine, separation was more pronounced, but even that did not yield a kid of separation that I feel pronounced enough to be used effectively as a photographic tool. Shooting portraits is as entirely different issue. DOF can be so shallow at f2 on other camera systems, but the the DOF given at f2 in 4/3 is more than enough - to me.
The 35-100 is most interesting when used in low-light. It is interesting because the largest aperture, f2 predestines the lens to be used under such circumstance.. On the other hand, the almost 2 kilogramms concentrated towards the front of the camera-lens combination can make its handling difficult - being big has its drawbacks. I felt that sometimes it was difficult to keep the 35-100 steady and although IS was switched on on the the E-3, and took care of the movements, sometimes I felt that fatigue took its toll on the images. After one and a half hours of work on a concert, I really felt that in my joints that I was holding almost 3 kg. On the other hand, the FOV range is really convenient - no wonder this has been the standard for so long (this was a new experience for me).
Conclusions? Took me a couple of days to digest the experience. I really wanted this lens, but Olympus's naming scheme is actually quite correct. A pro (or a pro-like amateur) does not necessarily need to live on the edge, as the 35-100 prompts. The 50mm f2 or the 50-200 might be just fine in many cases. The 35-100 if for those who know exactly what they want it to do with the special capabilities and can endure the penalties the lens imposes on the user. Or for the well to do weight-lifters, who are not so rich to be able to afford a Leica.
This is why I am going for the 50mm f2. In short: price and weight. But still I dream with the 35-100mm f2 occasionally.
And one more thing: this is not only about size, etc. I could convince myself (perhaps falsely) that I need the lens. But recently there has been an increase of supply of the 35-100mm f2 on eBay and in on-line stores. I know that many people checked the development of an SWD version and got negative response. Well, I do not know. But still, I prefer to wait a bit. Until then, we expect the 14-35mm f2 to arrive...