Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm 1:4-5.6

It is more than a year since a standard category ultrawide-zoom has appeared on the Olympus roadmap. On 13th May Olympus announced the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm 1:4-5.6 lens. The announcement is surprising because Sigma has just released the FourThirds version of their 10-20mm EX DC HSM lens. Many people thought that this lens will substitude the standard category ultrawide in the roadmap, but here is a real Zuiko Digital lens now.

What is the similarity between super-telephoto and ultrawide lenses? The extreme wishes of people. I tried many times the Zuiko Digital 7-14mm lens and I can say that it is a very special tool. The 7mm gives unusual perspective, we can take some spectacular photos at first try but the persistent and creative work is hard with it. I think Olympus has found the best compromise in focal length. The 9mm is enough for most photos which require ultrawide lens but this lens is realizable in small size. Its 280g weight is the lowest in the class. Angle of view is 100 degrees diagonal, 88 degrees horizontal and 72 degrees vertical. These data are perfect for landscapes and photos of buildings in most cases. When I was working with 7-14mm lens, I noticed that sometimes I intuitively adjusted it to 9mm focal length because the perspective distortion was not as aggressive as it was at 7mm. I think this is visible well in following comparison which shows the difference between the field of view of shortest 4/3 lenses.

After the first happy minutes I read the anticipated price of this lens. FourThirds users do not have many choices but $600 is unusual in standard category. I know that ultrawide-angle lenses are more complex than others. The ZD 9-18mm has 13 elements in 9 groups, including ED and Dual Super Aspherical lens elements and metal mount so the price is reasonable from this point of view. But let's take a look at some competent products:

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 Pro DX ($570): A truly professional lens designed for APS-C cameras with full metal body. It reaches the highest resolution results at photozone tests in its class. It is a whole stop brighter than Zuiko. Maximum angle of view is 104 degrees diagonal and 94 degrees horizontal on Nikon APS-C cameras.

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM ($700): One of the favourites of Canon APS-C users. Plastic body with average build and decent optical quality. It is a third stop brighter than Zuiko. It has ultrasonic AF drive.

Sigma 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 EX DC HSM ($430 - available for 4/3): Similar optical quality than Canon EF-S 10-22mm. Build quality matches the semi-pro category with HSM AF drive. Sigma is often criticized for quality variation, but I could see many good qualty photos with this lens. Brightness is same like Zuiko, and this is a significantly cheaper lens.

After this short comparison the $600 is not as reasonable as it looks at first sight. I am optimistic and I hope this price will be commensurable to optical quality of the new Zuiko. The 7-14mm was the world's first standard production lens with large diameter DSA element and here is another lens with this complex technology. The gaps in FourThirds line-up are smaller and smaller and I am sure that this lens will be in bags of many photographers who have been using only Pro lenses till now.

Where is (my) Zuiko Digital 100mm macro?

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