Thursday, July 07, 2016

Flirting with Legendary Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 Super High Grade Lens

To all my muslim friends and blog-readers, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri! Maaf Zahir Batin. Have a joyous, blessed and happy times with your family and friends, and may your stomach be filled with plenty of Raya goodies and amazing celebration foods! Stay safe everyone!

While I was digging through the hidden sections in the office I found more and more interesting items, some old lenses, and one stood out in particular: the Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 which was a Super High Grade lens for the now discontinued Four Thirds DSLR E-System. I thought, why not bring this lens, attach it to the latest Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, the PEN-F, and give it a spin?

The ZD 14-35mm F2 was a legendary lens, a much sought after lens for all Olympus DSLR users, as well as a bragging right for those who own the lens. While Olympus Four Thirds format has a smaller  image sensor in comparison to APS-C and Full Frame DSLR cameras, the 14-35mm lens at a wide constant aperture opening of F2 consequently bridges the gap between the larger sensor systems, considering the rival DSLR systems have only constant F2.8 zoom. While this effectively is only one stop advantage and may not carry that much advantage when it comes to shallow depth of field rendering, the extra light gathering ability of F2 vs F2.8 is still a huge benefit to have. Furthermore, the 14-35mm F2, being a super high grade lens (SHG), designed to deliver the best optical performance, and being razor sharp even shooting wide open at F2 was truly a God-Sent, considering all other competitor's F2.8 zoom lenses would require some aperture stopping down to at least F4 or narrower to accomplish similar sharpness and lens flaw control (chromatic aberration control, distortion, corner softness, etc) as the Olympus 14-35mm lens.

When I was actively using the Olympus DSLR cameras many years ago (I have the E-410, then upgraded to E-520, and finally had the E-5), I always had the lust for the F2 Super High Grade lenses (14-35mm F2 and 35-100mm F2). I never had the chance to use them, also never a chance with my lowly Malaysian junior engineer's salary can I afford any of these ridiculously expensive lenses. Now, imagine, the lens was right in front of me and I have full permission to use this lens! I know this lens may not be popular these days, due to the rather gigantic size which was disproportionate in comparison to the small newer Micro Four Thirds camera bodies, sporting a 77mm diamater filter thread! Nevertheless, there was that curiosity in me that must be satisfied, so my shutter therapy sessions have been fulfilled with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 SHG lens!

All images were taken with Olympus PEN-F and Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 lens (via MMF-3 adapter of course)

The 14-35mm lens is not a good match to any Micro Four Thirds body, as the lens is too large, and rather heavy. I would not recommend this lens for long hour shooting. 

1/2000sec, F22, ISO200, 30mm

Mithun Kumar, visiting Malaysia again! So we had a short shutter therapy session last Sunday. You should come to KL more often dude, plenty more Malaysian food to try. 
A little note about this image, take a closer look on how Mithun was lighted, there was a building with large reflective surface opposite this building we were in, and that opposite building reflected bright sun light (morning light) creating an intense side lighting, which looked really good!
1/1250sec, F2, ISO200, 35mm

Portrait of a Stranger 1
Check out the bokeh at F2 ! So, so creamy. 
1/320sec, F2, ISO200, 35mm

The close up shooting is not that impressive for this lens, but I think for general use it is more than good enough. Surely the newer Olympus M.Zuiko lenses such as 12-40mm F2.8 PRO allows much, much better macro shooting capability. 
1/100sec, F2, ISO500, 35mm

Powdered Face
1/50sec, F2, ISO200, 26mm

Portrait of a Stranger 2
1/80sec, F2, ISO200, 35mm

Crop from previous image
Though this was a rather old lens, it is still capable of resolving crazy amount of fine details, even fulfilling the needs of the latest 20MP image sensor in the PEN-F. The sharpness is incredible, I would say the sharpness is on par with Olympus prime lenses, such as 25mm and 45mm F1.8. 

Portrait of a Stranger 3
1/320sec, F2, ISO200, 35mm

Crop from previous image

Malaysian Flags
1/800sec, F7.1, ISO200, 22mm

Take note that there is no noticable corner sharpness, no chromatic aberration and no barrel distortion at the widest end of 14mm
1/640sec, F5.6, ISO200, 14mm

So how did the ZD 14-35mm F2 perform on the PEN-F?

First of all the autofocus was excruciatingly slow. Some may even question me, why not use the OM-D E-M1 instead, which as Phase Detect AF built into the sensor which allows much quicker and more reliable AF capabilities than the PEN-F? My answer is, why not try and see what this lens can do on a newer 20MP image sensor of the PEN-F? Yes, I know that the AF will be painful to work with and I will miss some shots (I did, but not too many). However, I am not shooting anything crucial, this was purely just for the fun of it, and I am not delivering the images to clients. As frustrating as it is to work with slow autofocus, I am in no hurry, and I can slow down, pace myself and be more meticulous with my shots. If you cannot live with slow autofocus, you better look away and do not even consider having this lens. Trust me, it can be unbearably slow, it is not reliable enough for any serious photography. Unless of course you are shooting still life or subjects that do not move and you have all the time in the world. 

The large size was a little awkward to handle, and the heavy weight of the lens made the combination of the PEN-F and 14-35mm F2 lens a little imbalanced. As expected, I knew this going in and I was not expecting miracles here. I took plenty of coffee breaks to rest my hands. 

The slow focusing speed, and the rather difficult handling of the lens on smaller Micro Four Thirds camera aside, if you can somehow find yourself to forgive these two shortcomings of the 14-35mm F2 lens, what you obtain out of the lens is nothing short of breathtaking. The images come out super sharp, pleasingly rich with fine details, having high contrast (and micro contrast too) and excellent color rendering. This is possibly the best zoom lens ever created. Purely speaking on the optical quality alone, I grade this ZD 14-35mm F2 a notch higher than the current M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens. I acknowledge that I am not providing any evidence here to support my claims, but if you have shot with both lenses extensively, you will be able to notice the differences. No, the 14-35mm is not exactly a world apart in comparison to the newer M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, but the overall rendering of the image, the "more natural looking" sharpness and overall more pleasing output can be quite easily observed. Just take a closer look at all the sample images that I am providing here. This lens, though a zoom lens, produces image quality close, or equivalent to prime lenses!

And ohhhhhhh the bokeh. Being at F2, a constant wide open aperture throughout the zoom range, it is quite easy to produce shallow depth of field, blurring the background off. The out of focus area is smooth and creamy. 

1/160sec, F4, ISO640, 19mm

1/4sec, F18, ISO200, 28mm
The beautiful thing about using the older lenses on Olympus newer Micro Four Thirds body? You enjoy the full benefit of the 5-Axis Image Stabilization. Hand-held at 1/4 sec shutter speed, to capture motion blur to show movement in the shot, the area that was not moving in the frame stayed completely blur-free. 

Red vs Green
1/200sec, F5.6, ISO200, 14mm

Crop from previous image
Even at the wide end of 14mm, the image contains great sharpness, and full of fine details. 

Cleanliness on the Street
1/200sec, F5.6, ISO200, 35mm

Crop from previous shot
Check out the details on the fabric of the vest!

1/400sec, F5.6, ISO400, 16mm

Reality vs Painting
1/2000sec, F7.1, ISO200

1/400sec, F3.5, ISO200, 28mm

The Making of Bread
1/80sec, F5.6, ISO1600, 23mm

I somehow wish Olympus would create an equivalent version of the 14-35mm F2 lens for Micro Four Thirds! Let's make it 12-35mm F1.8, which would make so much sense. Perhaps it would be impossible to engineer such a large aperture lens and still keep it at a small size, but why not? I know Olympus has the technical know how, and they always push the boundaries with the R&D when it comes to optical development. I am sure they will find a way to make it happen. If the quality is equivalent or surpasses the older version of 14-35mm F2, I am sure many would opt for this "Prime-Zoom" lens. 

Also, make a matching 35-100mm F2 lens! 

I fully believe that the current M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO and 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lenses are super capable lenses, with incredible sharpness rendering and fast autofocus. Nonetheless, I am sure, having an F1.8 or F2 zoom would surely be a game changer for the Micro Four Thirds system. Having that one stop of light gathering advantage, in combination with the already proven world's most powerful 5-Axis Image Stabilization system in the OM-D and PEN cameras, and the possibility of significant image sensor improvements (I remain hopeful, as alwatys) in the near future, the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system would be quite difficult to beat!

One of the oiliest pasta I have ever seen in my life. 
1/50sec, F5.6, ISO640, 35mm

Same pasta, but shot closer
1/50sec, F8, ISO1000 

An Ugly Looking Burger
1/80sec, F8, ISO640

Watermelon Cake
1/60sec, F9, ISO640, 35mm

Watermelon Cake
1/60sec, F9, ISO640, 35mm

Crop from the watermelon cake

Pancake vs Fried Chicken
1/13sec, F5.6, ISO1000, 27mm

1/25sec, F2, ISO200, 35mm

Even at widest 14mm, with F2, you can get shallow depth of field, and bokeh looking totally smooth
1/80sec, F2, ISO400, 14mm

Crop from previous shot

zooming in a little, the background became even blurrier. 
1/100sec, F2, ISO400, 25mm

A Little Deadpool on my Flat White
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO250, 35mm

What Large Lens You Have

Do any of you own, or have used the ZD 14-35mm F2 lens before? Do share your experience using it, I would love to hear your thoughts and your shooting days with that legendary lens. Do you wish that Micro Four Thirds lens has a similar version, but with smaller/lighter construction and super fast AF?

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  1. Very interesting article, Robin.
    I agree that the results are spot on. More than sharpness I am impressed by the colour rendition of the lens. It is a bit more muted, less 'poppy' than more modern lenses. Just beautiful.


    1. Yes Andy! The colors come out more natural and life-like, definitely not somethin easily achieveable using consumer grade lenses. This lens is entirely something else.

  2. Great article! Great pictures!
    I also use since years the 35-100 f2.0 at the E-M1 and am always surprised how good it performs. You should definitely try this lens too.
    Best regards from Austria/Vienna, Christian

    1. Thanks Christian! Wow, you still have the 35-100mn lens on E-M1, that is one amazing lens! Maybe I should give it a try.

  3. It certainly would be interesting to see a modern take on the all three of the f2 lenses (the 14-35, 35-100 and 150).

    They would certainly be much smaller, as both of the f2 zooms are in fact 35mm full frame designs with an integrated matched 0.5x telecompressor added to the design. These designs originated in the Sigma 28-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 (Olympus licensed several optical designs from Sigma to allow them to fill out the lens system when they launched the 4/3rds system, the 70-300 was another such design). Olympus had an in-house designed telecompressor section added to the optical design to produce lenses which are optically a 14-35/1.4 and 35-100/1.4. The f2 aperture is in fact firmware limited and the lens stops down to f2 when powered up.

    That said, any f2 zoom would be on the large side. I have to admit I'd much rather see a set of good f4 zooms from Olympus to provide a midpoint between the small & slow kit lenses and the large & fast f2.8 zooms. Plenty of people don't need f2.8, but do need the level of optical quality that the kit lenses don't quite reach.

    1. Wow, I never knew that these F2 lenses were actually F1.4 lenses, certainly this is quite an interesting fact. I think it would make a world of difference if we do have the 14-35mm F1.4 and 35-100mm F1.4, and he size and weight would have been more forgiveable!
      Surely F2 zooms is something that have been done before, I just thought why not make it again with Micro Four Thirds? Yes I also think that F4, small, compact zoom lenses would make sense too.

  4. Interesting blog. Now you make me want to see what the 35-100 f/2 can do. Next?

    1. Eid Mubarak Mohammad Shafik! Oh yes maybe 35-100m F2!

  5. You probably know that I have the 14-35mm f/2.0 and 35-100mm f/2.0. I also have the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

    The 14-35mm works well on the Panasonic GH4, balance-wise and probably has better AF than on the E-M1. Certainly, the AF is better than on the E-1. It worked equally well on the GH3.

    The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 (as well as the 50-100mm f/1.8) is there to out-do Olympus' fast f/2.0 maximum aperture. If Olympus did such a limited range as 18-35mm, they probably could have done an f/1.8 lens, but the range isn't really enough for versatile shooting.

    The 14-35mm f/2.0 came out whenever I needed exacting clarity--as I was reminded--too much clarity in some situations.

    Glad you chose to test and write about this lens.

  6. Your Food Photography is on another level, Clean lighting and detailed.

    by the way what brand is that head set, I bet it sounds nice with the wooden housing... appears to be wireless though..

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  8. that was fun it all, quite the optics...the micro contrast is a the way..that was a waffle with the chicken:)....I personally would love to see a killer one lens walk around.......12-60mm that would bring a smile to my face ..
    do you do much post work on your images Robin?
    Bruce from British Columbia

  9. Photography is the science, art and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. This post by Robin give great idea for Photography Beginners. Also find the best Photography Classes in your locality at