Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens

Many people have high regard for the normal view--i.e., the view that humans are supposed to commonly have.

Using Four-Thirds, the normal view lens was not readily available.  Sure, you could use a zoom lens, and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 had great image quality, but there was no 25mm fixed focal length lens.  Eventually, Olympus designed and built the very average 25mm f/2.8 pancake lens.  Panasonic also had a 25mm lens, with an f/1.4 maximum aperture, designed by Leica, and supposedly hand built by Panasonic, mainly for the Leica Digilux 3.  I have one, and it's a great lens, and even works well on my Panasonic GH3, aperture ring and all.  It was difficult to find.

Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 on GH3 body, not sitting flat
E-5 with Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4

When micro Four-Thirds arrived, there was no 25mm lens.  Eventually, Panasonic had another Leica-labeled 25mm f/1.4 available.  It's about half the price of the Four-Thirds version and much, much smaller--46mm filter size vs 62mm.  Still, at US$599.99, it's not cheap.  The image quality isn't as good as the Four-Thirds version but it's not nearly as huge or heavy or pricy but there sometime seem to be back/front-focusing problems, typically a Sigma problem.

micro Four-Thirds users needed a cheap(er) alternative.  If you can go out and buy a Canon 50mm f/1.8 for US$89.99, why can't you buy something similar for micro Four-Thirds?  Of course, the 50mm lens on cheap Canon dSLRs is equivalent to 75mm in 135 format terms.  A 35mm f/1.8 (effective 52.5mm) will be quite a bit more expensive.

So, Olympus has introduced their 25mm f/1.8.  It's not like the Four-Thirds version at all, thankfully.  It's not a pancake-style lens.  If you've seen the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens, you already know the basic shape of the 25mm f/1.8 lens.  Since it's not a pancake lens, it's likely to eschew all those nasty compromises.  It should focus much faster than Panasonic's dear 20mm f/1.7 lens, which doesn't have enough room for a faster motor.  However, the new Olympus 25mm lens is US$399.99.

I realize that it's 2014 and that products aren't cheap and that Olympus can't price it as though they're going to sell 1 billion of them.  They should be including the lens hood at that price.

However,  the only inexpensive lenses they have for micro Four-Thirds are the kit zoom lenses and the body cap lenses.  The 9mm f/8.0 fish eye body cap lens looks quite useful but still rather expensive, US$99.00, for the image quality and lack of electronics.

What bothers me is that all of the Four-Thirds High Grade lenses were a bargain, especially when you counted that they were weather-sealed, and yet Olympus has produced many expensive micro Four-Thirds lenses which are susceptible to the elements of nature.  I've used the 12mm f/2.0 extensively and it's lovely, but how is it worth the price when it can be destroyed by weather so easily?

I think that this is also a problem for the new 25mm f/1.8 lens.  At the price, it should be more functional and more protected.

I've found Robin Wong's view of the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 vs the Panasonic/Leica design f/1.4 lens to be interesting.  You may want to look.  Apparently, he's gotten a huge number of rude comments that were unnecessary.  I've read his findings again and find no reason to doubt them.  He could have a fine copy of the Olympus lens and a bad copy of the Panasonic lens.  I certainly haven't had any luck with my own micro Four-Thirds lenses at all.  My next purchase was to be the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens since it's so amazing, even on my Panasonic GH3.

The incorrect focusing problem of the Panasonic lens seems like the typical Sigma problem.  Why does that pertain?  Sigma is supposedly responsible for the manufacture of the Panasonic 25mm lens, even though it was designed by Leica Panasonic, approved by Leica.  Sigma has had quite a few calibration issues in the past.  They even have a special lens dock to help you correct the calibration problems at home.  (Apparently, the latest 18-35mm f/1.8 lens that is well-regarded has focusing issues.  I'm looking at buying one with a Nikon mount for use with a Metabones SpeedBooster for video recording on my GH4.)

As with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, the 25mm f/1.8 is more than the sum of its parts.  It's not economical in a way that the Canon and Nikon dSLRs 50mm f/1.8 lenses are, but then, they have many drawbacks, such as having to stop down to f/2.8 to get decent sharpness, or f/5.6 to get optimal sharpness and they're not normal view lenses (for Nikon, 75mm equivalent in 135 Format terms) for the majority of the APS-C-sensored bodies on which they're used anyway.  Who would put a US$100 lens on a 135 Format frame camera body like the D800 or 5DMkIII?

I can understand that people feel that their purchase of the Panasonic lens was under attack in Robin's blog entry, just because there was a comparison that didn't validate their purchase 100%.  The truth is--it doesn't matter.  You buy the lens, you use the lens, you like the lens--why should that change?  You shouldn't attack someone because his findings don't agree with your findings or your opinion.

For 99% of the users for such a lens, will they even notice?

It reminds me of a software contractor I knew who invited me to his house, as he was auditioning speakers for his stereo system.  He played a number of classical pieces and I having played many of the piano pieces on 30 or so models of pianos was skeptical.  He and his friends switched cables, and they all came up with various witty comments, discerning invisible (to me) differences.  (I could have been wrong, but I've heard so many pianos from the keyboard, that it's difficult to not know the sound.)  At some point, he switched back to his original set, and played the various pieces again.  I could identify every piano being played, almost immediately.

If the product suits you, does it matter what anyone else thinks?  Do the numbers matter more than the experience using the product, or more than the results you get from using the product?

Update 2014.03.16: Apparently, more than a few reviewers have been pleased with the 25mm f/1.8.  I have no need for the lens but I'm sure that it would work well.  I'm just thankful that my lens is fully supported on the GH3.

Update 2015.04.08: I traded the GH3 for the E-M1 back in June, and finally got the GH4 in December 2014.  I'm still pleased with the Four-Thirds version of Leica's 25mm f/1.4 using the adapter.  I've used it on multiple occasions at skate parks in the evening and it's as amazing as it always was.  It's unfortunate that it isn't weather-sealed.

Update 2015.11.22: I just bought the new Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens for US$99.00 instead of US$249.00.  At the full price, I would consider paying the premium for the Olympus lens.  However, at the reduced price, minimal differences are ever minimized.  What would be good would be a 25mm lens with image stabilization.

Given that I now have 3 micro Four-Thirds bodies, this will be of good use.  It is small, light, and useful.  At the price, it did not stop my plans for any other lens.  While I love the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 that works well on Four-Thirds bodies, it can be a problem on micro Four-Thirds.

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