MichaelShea's reviews

  • Olympus 35-100mm f/2 Pro ED Zuiko Digital

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very sharp at all apertures and focal lengths; attractive colour rendition; accurate focus of still subjects
    Heavy and expensive; focus struggles somewhat with erratic moving subjects

    I don't (yet) own an Olympus E-M1, but the manufacturer was evidently hoping to keep its faithful old Four Thirds customers happy with a camera that finally enabled some absolutely fantastic lenses to perform almost as well as they did on the platform they were originally built for. My understanding is that the E-M1 falls slightly short of the mark, because none of its focus sensors are cross-hatched and that's bound to inhibit the powers of the lenses, which rely on a phase detect autofocus system to operate properly when subjects are moving.

    I find it personally quite sad that this particular lens, billed as the world's first digital zoom with an f2 aperture, is more of a minority item than ever and it deserves a better fate than that. You won't find new online reviews of it by the popular and trusted sites because the Four Thirds system is dead. In my opinion, based on a satisfying experience of shooting with four of its finest lenses, these are amongst the best digital lenses ever made by any manufacturer.

    Other reviewers have pointed out that Olympus 'High Grade' lenses are uniformly excellent at the very least. I consider the 50mm f2 macro to be superb, incidentally. However, I agree that this 'Super High Grade' specimen is on a different level altogether to either the ZD 11-22mm f2.8-3.5 or 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 zooms respectively. The build quality is absolutely top class and better than I really need it to be. It's also faster than I personally need it to be, but even wide open on the odd occasion I've tried it that way, the results are wonderful. What stands out is that there is very little discernable difference between the edges and corners of the frame and the very centre. A rare achievement indeed to produce results as outstanding as this throughout the zoom range.

    My own solitary Four Thirds camera is an E-3, which produces 10 megapixel images. This does scant justice to the resolving powers of the lens and I find it difficult to see that 12 megapixels would be much of an improvement. Possibly the E-5 focuses faster than the E-3 and if it does, then that would be a reason to choose one camera over the other. I have yet to see 16 megapixel images taken with the lens by a micro four thirds camera and I would very much like to take some pictures of my own at that resolution or preferably higher. But aside from the focusing considerations, the strong impression I have is that the lens would be far too front heavy and generally badly balanced on the E-M1, unless you added a battery grip to it.

    Returning to the qualities of the lens, I must admit that it's the nearest to being a perfect model of all the many I've used by various manufacturers. Chromatic aberrations and distortion are not apparent at all and there is no vignetting on any of the pictures I've imported to Lightroom so far. My understanding is that results against bright light sources are not too impressive, but my photography doesn't really involve backlighting very often, so I can offer no guidance here.

    I would not recommend this lens to micro four thirds users at the present time because Olympus has produced a new lens that is far more suited to the native system. My hope is that the successor to the E-M1 has an enhanced phase detect autofocus system build into it. No doubt both Olympus and Panasonic will continue to produce cameras that resemble DSLRs, and phase detect autofocus probably offers the best route towards mirrorless cameras offering genuine opposition to DSLRs when it comes to photographing wildlife and fast-moving sports.

    Unfortunately for me, my ZD 35-100mm f2 lens is far too good for my present camera and to some degree wasted on me. But I enjoy the results from it very much and I'm sure you would too.

    Postscript: My overall rating has been downgraded by one point after an unsatisfactory morning's photography at a show jumping event. The lens was mounted on my E-3 and at mostly large apertures it failed on the majority of occasions to pick out moving horses or riders and tended to choose static vertical structures instead. Continuous autofocus was a complete let-down and selecting a narrower range of focal points not a viable option, given that I did not normally want my critical focus to be in the centre of the frame. Very disappointing.

    reviewed February 27th, 2015 (purchased for $1,914)
  • Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM

    6 out of 10 points and not recommended
    Fast and accurate focus; sharp frame centre; attractive colour rendering
    Soft corners; field curvature; colour fringing

    If you were actively seeking a review of this lens, the chances are that you've already seen another one written by Mr Ken Rockwell, who I believe it's fair to say divides opinion on many photography matters. It was he who claimed this lens possesses so-called 'Intelligent Field Curvature' and that its most obvious limitations can be overcome with good composition, careful selection of focal points and then the application of modern lens profiles when post processing. Unfortunately most of this is nonsense.

    It is right to draw attention to field curvature, as photozone.de have also done, because it compromises the sharpness qualities and general usefulness of any given lens. There is nothing intelligent about having a focal plane that isn't straight and it's particularly inconvenient if you are predominantly a landscape photographer like me. In short, it's impossible to obtain pictures that are sharp from corner to corner with this lens.

    Being pre-warned about this issue is helpful however, as it forces you to take action to mitigate the potential damage. The best thing you can do in my opinion, whether you're producing a landscape, or anything else for that matter, is not to choose a focal point that is too far into the distance, or else your foreground is going to be noticeably out of focus. But be warned that even if you follow this advice, the edge of the frame will not be sharp in the far distance anyway. Go to f11 to achieve an improvement in the corners, but the results still won't be great or even very good.

    I have made a conscious decision to work within the limitations of the lens and to some degree follow Mr Rockwell's advice, by ensuring that nothing of great interest is left in the far distance especially at the corners of the frame. To some extent this will improve my photography technique, because in order to make my pictures more appealing I'll get even closer to my main subject, which is never a bad idea with a wide-angled lens anyway.

    Post processing software removes vignetting at large apertures and any of the chromatic aberrations that you will surely notice at all apertures when your light contrast is high. It does absolutely nothing for the curvature issue though and you might have thought it strange that Canon would have brought a lens out in 1992 before the onset of the digital age in anticipation of such software. And of course they didn't. To be honest, the lens should be superseded by something on a quality par with the image stabilised EF 24mm f2.8 model and then everyone would be satisfied, including me.

    I don't want to appear totally negative about the lens because I fully appreciate that there are other uses for it besides capturing scenery. Colours are typically Canon, focus is fast and completely reliable and it's reassuringly solidly built. The lens balances well on my 5D3, which means it's very easy to keep still. My main reason for buying it used at roughly half the recommended retail price of a new one is that I wish to keep my kit fairly light and small and it's suitable for that purpose. I don't own any Canon zoom lenses, but I'm fairly sure that optically it offers no advantages over many average to high-end zooms out there by various manufacturers.

    So it's not all bad news, but this is not a lens with a perception that is going to improve with age. With Canon about to launch a 50 megapixel camera I feel its failings will be laid bare once and for all and it won't survive in general circulation for very much longer.

    reviewed March 4th, 2015 (purchased for $345)
  • Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Quiet, unobtrusive, well-balanced on 5D mk iii, extremely sharp, reliable & quick autofocus, effective stabilisation
    Serious vignetting, but easily removable in post processing

    A perfect match for the 5D Mark iii, in that it's a versatile, genuine walkaround focal length and exactly the right build quality, weight and size to feel comfortable mounted on the camera. My first full frame lens and I suspect it will be a very hard act to follow. Possibly only trails to the Fuji 23mm f1.4 amongst similar class and angle of view lenses that I've been lucky enough to use.

    The absence of a lens hood is admittedly quite ludicrous and Canon's marketing ploy of saving basic accessories for its 'L' range is indefensible. However, it's possible to obtain fully functional replica hoods from the far east at low cost.

    It's conventional wisdom that image stabilisation properly belongs to telephoto lenses or for the benefit of video shooters. This is complete tosh because the difference that can be observed on stills photographs where IS is applied, in this instance through the lens, is glaringly obvious to me. But there again, lenses often get referred to as 'tack sharp' when they are obviously anything but. That does actually apply here, from approximately f4 to f8 incidentally. More to the point, the IS works splendidly with this lens.

    I won't get into the argument over whether the lens was overpriced when first introduced, but would like to thank Sigma and others for forcing Canon to think carefully about its pricing policies. It used to be the case that full frame cameras and supporting lenses were characteristically big, heavy, unwieldy and expensive. I admit all that put me off for several years, but now am very glad to have belatedly made the move to Canon full frame and do not expect to look back. This new lens sets a very high benchmark by which others will be judged, but it represents a very promising start as far as I'm concerned. Thoroughly recommended.

    reviewed January 6th, 2015 (purchased for $653)
  • Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    Fairly lightweight and compact; near silent, precise autofocus; attractive colours; extremely effective image stabilisation; low distortion
    Lens hood is essential but not provided; adequate sharpness but not outstanding

    From my own extensive research of the worldwide web, I fully expected this lens to be somewhat inferior to its 35mm f2 similarly image stabilised sibling, which in fairness would have been far easier to construct. But the difference is significant and whereas the 35mm lens stands out as a class apart from typical universal zoom standard, to be honest this wide-angled model does not. But it has its own merits and if the focal length is particularly important to you, perhaps for street shooting purposes, you will surely enjoy using it.

    It is not bitingly sharp at any aperture and for a landscape lens this is both a disadvantage and minor disappointment. The acid test is with distant, small objects at the edges and corners of the frame. It really doesn't make a great amount of difference what setting you choose between f4 and f8, the results are not mushy by any means, but not overly impressive either. However, it is certainly true that on the 5D mark iii at least, raw file sharpening in Lightroom improves the situation a good deal. After some trial and error, I found that settings of 45, 0.9, 30 and 6 respectively worked very well for images taken in the great outdoors. My 35mm f2 lens did not require any amplification of the default sharpening settings at all and that tells you all you need to know about the gulf in class.

    Autofocus with this lens is so fast it's almost unnerving, especially for the likes of me with my recent diet of Fuji XF and Olympus four-thirds lenses, wonderful though they are in other respects. I mention these manufacturers because it is only fair to point out that they have each produced fine wide-angled lenses that are in terms of colour, contrast and sharpness, at least equal and in some instances superior to this Canon prime. This might be a bitter pill for some Canon fans to swallow. The Fuji XF 14mm f2.8 lens in particular covers a wider field of view, but is superior to the Canon in every respect. Most notably in terms of sharpness from corner to corner. As a cropped sensor lens, it also exhibits far less in the way of vignetting, but that flaw on full-frame is forgivable and it can be corrected quite easily after the fact.

    Build quality is very good. I'm not particularly bothered whether a lens is made of metal or plastic, so long as it looks and feels as though it is built to last. The mount is of course metal and the exterior moving parts are solid and unshakable enough to appear permanent. The absence of a supplied lens hood is unforgivable in my opinion. My Chinese replica version is in the post and Canon knows full well that this is an essential accessory for any wide-angled lens. My first session in the low winter morning sun didn't produce any disasters, which suggests that work against bright light is good. But sooner or later either flare or poor contrast will become factors unless I deliberately avoid pointing my camera towards the light.

    Colours from the lens are typically vibrant Canon and all have a magical tendency to look warm and punchy without being artificial or over-saturated. This makes even thumbnail images look pleasing. The lens does not exhibit very much visible distortion, which is helpful because even with camera profiles, the process of correcting it can often cause blurriness at the edges and the less that needs to be done the better.

    By nature, I am a zoom rather than prime shooter. And I was a reluctant full-frame convert because I have been accustomed to lightweight equipment. I eventually opted for the Canon 5D mark iii because of its superior focus system, but only decided to buy the camera because I eventually came around to the view that I could also buy lenses that were of a convenient size and weight, without being compromised in terms of image quality. This particular lens balances well on the camera and helps justify my decision to throw my hard-earned cash in Canon's direction.

    In summary, the lens is a joy to use and the results from it are pleasing, if not exactly top notch. Therefore, with some slight misgivings I can recommend the lens and hope this review has been of some help to you.

    reviewed January 18th, 2015 (purchased for $630)
  • Olympus 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Great build, smooth handling, dust free, lack of distortion, centre sharpness, excellent contrast
    Mediocre against glare, disappointing edge sharpness at widest settings

    This is the only lens model I've purchased twice and despite its shortcomings remains my favourite wide-angled zoom. I have only ever used it on micro four thirds cameras and my original copy was wholly and necessarily manually focused on a Panasonic Lumix G1. I was instantly struck by its biting centre sharpness, superb colour rendering and interesting contrast. I found it a perfect zoom range to fit in with my own photo priorities, which involve architecture and landscape subjects.

    It has a very solid and reassuring build quality and on DSLR-shaped cameras balances well. Even without image stabilisation, I have always found that it is easy to keep still. Manual focus 'by the wire' is rather a noisy affair, but accurate critical focus brings some outstanding results.

    I came to regret parting with the lens during 2011, and experienced variable results with Pentax and Fuji systems respectively in a three year intervening period, before re-discovering (micro) four thirds recently. My newest MFT camera is a Panasonic Lumix G5 and by no means state of the art, but a marked improvement in terms of dynamic range. A few weeks ago I bought an ex-demo 11-22mm lens for a bargain price, to add to my 50mm macro and 14-54mm mk1 zoom.

    To be brutally honest, the somewhat larger sensor of the G5 draws greater attention to edge blurring at wider zoom settings. Even in the middle of the zoom range, there is an obvious marked visible disparity between results in the centre and sides, and this is particularly apparent when the objects under scrutiny are distant and small. But the middle of the frame is still absolutely brilliant and the overall punchiness of the output makes all pictures taken with the lens memorable.

    I feel however that contrary to many published reviews by Olympus four thirds users with smaller sensor cameras, the 14-54mm universal zoom is now pound for pound a better purchase, not merely because it covers a far more versatile focal range, but given that if anything, the overall image quality taking the whole of the frame into account is actually superior.

    Low morning or early evening sun is a bit of a problem for the lens. Catch it at an angle and you are likely to experience flare and a purple tint. Use of the hood is essential, although that won't eliminate the issue altogether.

    I should add that a neglected virtue of the 11-22mm lens that sets it apart from any zoom I've ever used for architecture pictures is the almost total lack of distortion. Never mind about software that removes it after the fact, the problem is never there in the first place because of the optics of the lens itself. So straight vertical lines remain straight, so long as you keep your camera level. And on seascape pictures, the horizon is dead level regardless of how close it is to the top or bottom of the frame.

    Single shot auto-focus is acceptable on my G5. Video and moving subjects don't interest me much and if they did, I would not be buying four thirds lenses in this day and age, superb build quality or not. In due course I'll probably get an E-M1 for even better results, but it's a complete myth that four thirds lenses are unusable on other MFT bodies. The photographers who believe such nonsense have missed out on some of the finest enthusiasts lenses ever manufactured. This one is not in the very top drawer, but not very far down either.

    Overall, I love this lens very much and can recommend it, subject to the provisos above. The pros still outweigh the cons and it is a joy to use.

    reviewed April 26th, 2014 (purchased for $361)
  • Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Edge to edge sharpness in middle of zoom range, great build, lovely colour rendition
    No real advantages over cheaper offerings at wide end, some chromatic aberrations visible

    This will be a short review aimed predominantly at potential second-hand buyers for the micro four thirds system. Let me straight away state that I can thoroughly recommend the lens for stills photography of static subjects. I'm not qualified to comment on results that you might expect from video, sports etc.

    No doubt the mark 2 version of the lens represents an improvement in terms of auto-focusing speed. But as far as accuracy is concerned, this lens is very good indeed and far better incidentally than most of the digital Pentax K-mount lenses I've used. If you have an object showing clear vertical markings, that should guarantee complete accuracy. Otherwise, you might want to consider manual focus adjust. Many of my early pictures have featured golden sand containing very little obvious contrast and yet my failure rate has been minimal.

    Now that's out of the way, let's concentrate on the image quality. This is simply first rate. At anything between around 18-40mm, the results are at least as good as any prime lens I've used on my various MFT cameras. Peak results are probably between 20-30mm, where edge to edge sharpness is outstanding from f4-8. At all zoom settings and apertures, colour is stunning and up with the very best traditions of Olympus digital lenses. Olympus four thirds lenses make Panasonic cameras colour and contrast output look interesting and that is no mean feat.

    An unknown feature for me until I took delivery of my lens copy was its close-focusing abilities, which are bordering on macro standard. I'm not saying you should forget about any dedicated macro lenses you already own, but if you are considering a macro and not committed to a particular preferred focal length, this is worth considering in its own right.

    The build quality is of semi-professional standard. It repels dust and grime and feels as tough as old boots. It balances quite well on my Panasonic Lumix G5 camera (S-AF) and even better on my G1 (manual focus only). If you have become accustomed to small size and light weight, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you are like me, the universal zoom range is sufficient to make this the only lens you are likely to need for most of your photography.

    Because this lens has been superseded by a newer model, it is easy to obtain second-hand copies at bargain prices. If the middle of the zoom range is roughly your typical focal length of choice, or if you are procrastinating about a zoom for (micro) four thirds that is a cut above the flimsy plastic kit offerings, look no further. This is an excellent choice.

    reviewed April 27th, 2014 (purchased for $331)
  • Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Outstanding lens with corner to corner sharpness and absence of distortion; excellent build
    Vignetting visible on raw files; lens hood blocks part of OVF visibility on X-Pro1

    Without question the sharpest wide-angled lens I've ever used, taking the (micro) four thirds, Pentax and Fuji systems all into consideration. I suggest you disregard SLRGear.com's unfavourable and unfathomable comparison with the Fuji 18mm f2 in this respect - the latter lens by common consent is the weakest prime in the present Fuji line-up and I own five of them, including both of these models. The 18mm f2 is useful but flawed, whereas this lens is getting quite close to perfection.

    I'm never really sure why so much is made of a lens's capabilities wide-open, unless it is the kind of lens that is typically going to be actually employed in this way. The maximum aperture of this one is neither one thing nor the other, but I would expect most potential buyers will be considering it for landscape and/or architecture, when f4 or f5.6 is far more likely. At these apertures and up to at least f8, the results you will obtain are nothing short of superb. The only limit to the quality you can expect to see is the raw converter you choose and I could ramble on about that, but won't because it will only distract and confuse matters.

    Zone focusing with the aid of the manual focus clutch ring is a useful tool to have, although I can't say I've ever really needed it for the kind of photography that I do, which doesn't normally involve people walking across my field of view. Auto-focus is quick and completely reliable. I've not had a single failure yet.

    The lens is fairly substantial in comparison with other mirrorless camera system alternatives, but it rests very comfortably on my X-Pro1. The only poor fit with that particular camera is that around a quarter of the frame is missing from view when the optical viewfinder is chosen, because of the sheer bulk of the petal lens hood. The EVF of the X-Pro1 is not its strongest point, but that is once again another story.

    Vignetting is removed from jpegs inside the camera, but this doesn't apply to raw files. Even at f5.6 the evidence is very apparent, but Lightroom can remove it with ease and there is no visible loss in image quality as a result.

    Distortion is genuinely non-existent with this lens. This means you will retain the whole of your image without needing to resort to software that will either chop off the edges and/or blur what's left afterwards.

    This is an exceptionally good lens from a very impressive Fuji stable. In my opinion, in a very short period of time Fuji has assembled a wonderful collection of high quality optics that will ensure the APS-C format remains intact for the mirrorless camera market long after DSLRs become exclusively full-frame or completely redundant.

    reviewed April 28th, 2014 (purchased for $1,031)