Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lets Talk Lenses

When the image quality of a photo produced by a camera is questioned, there are several contributing factors that usually come in play. The most common factors would be two major elements that compose a camera of any sort: the first being the image sensor that converts light into digital signal, and secondly, the lens that gathers light into the sensor. The quality of sensors and lenses on a camera directly affect the overall output of the image, and none should be viewed and weighted in any less importance than the other.


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Over the past year, since the day my compact camera died, I have been poisoned by so many people with differing opinions on DSLRs of various brands and their respective lenses. There was a group of people who told me that everything about Canon beats the crap out of everything else. There was another group who told me that Sony is the future. There were many people telling me Olympus is crap, and their lenses suck. There were Nikon worshippers whispering their superb high-ISO performance being the most important thing in photography. Different people. Different opinion. I get it. But when it comes to facts, the comparison in technical details cannot be argued as subjectively as opinions. Unless of course, you choose to believe that the earth is flat, and the moon goes around the sun. I can't blame you really. Some people just refuse to accept the truth no matter how obvious it was put before them.

Then one fine weekend, as I was doing my reading spree at Borders, I chanced upon this photography magazine that did something not many other magazines would dare to do, they compiled comparisons of lenses for different brands in the similar class. The more I read it, the more I realized that it has reassured my decision of choosing Olympus was undoubtedly the right one.

Canon users. Be very afraid


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1) Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 => 92%
2) Nikon 17-80mm F3.5-4.5 => 90%
3) Canon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 => 85%
4) Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 => 84%
5) Pentax 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 => 79%
6) Sony 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 => 74%

This particular group of lenses are the standard kit zoom lenses that are typically provided as a bundle with the entry level DSLR cameras. For beginners, this would most probably be the first lens they would come to know and use extensively before upgrading for other classes or replacements. Of course, for professionals or for those who know what they are doing with their cameras, they would just opt for body and go straight for better lenses. Nonetheless, this group of comparison strongly proved my belief that Olympus and Nikon produced the best optics for entry level DSLRs. I am a proud owner of Olympus 14-42mm F3.5-5.6.


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1) Olympus 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 => 90%
Olympus 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 => 90%
2) Nikon 17-55mm F2.8 => 89%
3) Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 => 88%
Canon EF 14-40 F4 L USM => 88%
4) Canon 17-85mm F4.0-5.6 => 80%

Now when a learning/improving photographer is getting tired of the restrictions of the kit lens, most definitely the replacement with longer zoom range, or wider aperture would come in consideration. This upgrade not only improves functionality, but also guarantees higher image quality on the whole in terms of sharpness, less distortion and less chromatic aberration. Also, some of these lenses are available as combos with higher end DSLR camera bodies, usually semi-to professional level cameras. I have always known both Olympus' replacement kit lenses are rather superb in performance, but little did I know they topped the rest in the class !!! Again, my point is proven, Nikon and Olympus are both extremely strong when it comes to optics.


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1) Nikon 14-24mm F2.8 => 93%
2) Olympus 7-14mm F4 => 92%
3) Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 => 90%
4) Samsung 12-24mm F4 => 84%
5) Canon 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 => 80%
6) Tamron 11-18mm F4.5-5.6 => 74%

I am not in a rush to consider an ultra wide angle for my collection of lenses at the moment, but the effect and flexibility this particular lens can offer when shooting in tight spaces, architectures and my favourite photography category: landscape.... it will be very worth it. Oh, have I mentioned Nikon and Olympus are usually the best when it comes to optics?

As I was turning pages, holding the magazine upright with one hand and a camera on the other to snap those pictures in Borders, the security guard standing not too far away from me was already staring me with the kind of look that lion would give if you found him when he is really hungry. Then he was kind of starting to walk towards my direction, so I obediently placed my camera into the bag, zipped it, and continue flipping the magazine like nothing happened. Oh well, he just went by me and I just assumed nothing happened.

There was of course a section for telephoto (high zoom) lenses, which I did not manage to snap any pictures of. Nevertheless, I think my point has already been sufficiently made clear.

Olympus has had a long history of making quality lenses, and the optics they produced not only made it to the photography scene, but to medical optical usage as well. The lenses they produce for DSLRs are amongst the sharpest, and this would probably be one of the silent kept facts that Olympus users are proud to bear, and refuse to argue over and over again with certain ignorant group of people who talk down on Olympus Four Thirds system. I am not saying 4/3 system (which is a format for both the sensor and the lenses for the sensor) is better than others, but it is an insult to underestimate its capabilities.

Of course a single reference may not be adequate to justify the comparisons on the whole, but I dare you to dig up respected online professional reviews on digital photography such as www.dpreview.com, and you will find similar facts suggesting both Olympus and Nikon lenses outperform the others. If you truly do not agree with what this entry has to tell you, then you take it up with the magazine. I am just simply conveying their seemingly unbiased message.

So many people have asked me if I have regretted choosing Olympus, or do I have any thoughts of "jumping ship" (switching brands). But why would I do so since I have always been constantly amazed by what the camera could do for me, and even the kit lens that came with it unexpectedly did heaps of wonders. Combine the unmatched strength of optics, heavy packed features, considerably low-price point and amazing built quality, I would say what I currently own (E-520 with kit lenses) is quite tough to beat in its category (entry level).

Ok Canon worshippers and Olympus haters, come grill me alive already.


  1. Hohohoh I just a fansee for the art of photography on its own..

    so no grilling here XD

  2. hey jian,
    LOL... but others will not be so open minded ahhaah lets just see.

  3. I personally don't care about the rating, i mean what's the statistical significance between one rated 85% and one at 90%?? Not much.

    Anyway, it's all down to the photographer, if a lousy one owns a Leica or even a Hasselblad, the pictures will still be rubbish.

    Oh, I still like my camera though =)

  4. hey allen,

    hey ven,
    you have a point. But usually others talk bad about olympus, not the other way around, hence the statistical significance.

  5. i think a photo speaks for itself. its more important to go for quality than being brand conscious whether if its in photography or everything else. if u know for yourself, then let no one else sway your ideas.


  6. So, which group I am in? :D

  7. hey marcus,
    very well said, it is true that the photographer plays a more important role in producing the pictures, rather than blaming the equipments.

    hey chong,
    LOL neither. You are the neutral and not a fanboy like u have mentioned remember? LOL, and u were not there like someone we knew when I was deciding on which DSLR to buy LOL

  8. And for the record, I poisoned you to buy a dSLR, not a Canon. :P

  9. well put robin. Like you, I'm a proud owner of E-520 plus the awesome kit lens. I understand why you write this. I just hate it when ppl talk down or ridicule Olympus dslr without knowing the actual fact which are: 1) The soul behind the camera is more important that the camera itself, 2) Olympus dslr are among the top rank in the market, only their marketing sucks har har har..


  10. hey jasonmumbles,
    I love you too.

    hey wannaza,
    yeah, gotta admit they have to do something with their marketing. Glad that you love your E-520 with the kit lenses. How have you been exploring so far? Must go for the next TT and I wanna hear all about it !!

  11. LOL

    I read that exact SAME magazine that you were holding. while i'm impressed that the kit lenses, the 12-60 and the 14-54 are holding up very well, i wonder how the zuiko 14-35 f2 would hope up against its canon/ nikon/ carl zeiss 24-70 2.8 counterparts.

    as ven says.. a few points doesn't make mch of a difference if the photographer is crap as.. I just hope i've done justice to my 7-14 and 35-100 :p

    BTW i've just tested the E-30 here:

  12. hey brandon,
    yeah that fact is true, the person behind the camera is the one that makes all the difference.
    Whoah... E30?? Hmmmm