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Review: Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds lenses

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  May 28, 2010 12:19 PM

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OlyPanaWideZoom_MatchupGraphic_595px.jpg

Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f4 (Four Thirds mount) vs.
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f4 (Micro Four Thirds mount)

Review by the Staff of Head2Head Reviews

(Ed. Note from Wikipedia: The Four Thirds system is a standard created by Olympus and Kodak for DSLRs; the Micro Four Thirds system is a standard created by Olympus and Panasonic for compact digital cameras and camcorders. Both systems provide a standard that allows for the interchange of lenses and bodies from different manufacturers. Micro Four Thirds shares the image sensor size and specification with the earlier established Four Thirds system. Unlike Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds does not provide space for a mirror and a pentaprism, allowing smaller camera bodies to be designed. But it also has a smaller lens mount that is incompatible with Four Thirds. Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds camera bodies with an adapter, but Micro Four Thirds lenses cannot be used on Four Thirds bodies. Read more here.)

Introduction: The Matchup
Olympus and Panasonic engineer quality lenses for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds formats that match or surpass those available for APS and full-frame DSLRs. Both companies offer 7-14mm zooms that correspond to a 14-28mm lens on the 35mm format with an angle of view of 114 degrees. The fundamental difference between the Olympus 7-14mm and the Panasonic 7-14mm is that the Olympus has a standard Four Thirds mount and the Panasonic has a Micro Four Thirds mount.

Design and Interface
The Olympus lens is much larger than the Panasonic. As we tested the lenses, the difference seemed greater because the Olympus had an adapter on it to make it fit the Micro Four Thirds test camera.

Handling and Usability
Ultra Wide lenses are versatile and lend themselves to experimentation; however, the vast perspective creates some challenges for photographers interested in a realistic reproduction. The distortion and the falloff we note in each lens would frustrate us in post-processing if we were trying for natural-looking shots. For architecture, these lenses are thoroughly problematic -- their images are distorted in complicated ways, have significant and odd falloff, and in the case of the Olympus, distractingly bad image degradation in the corner.

Performance Highlights
Resolution
The strength of these lenses is their ultra-wide settings. Though it's a convenience to be able to zoom, if they don't give good results at 7mm, they aren't worth the trouble. Both Olympus and Panasonic seem to agree: their lenses have pretty consistent performance across their zoom ranges.

Distortion
The striking result here occurred with the Olympus zoom lens at its widest focal length. At 7mm, the Olympus lens shows linear distortion that changes as the focus setting changes. We noticed the phenomenon as we watched the camera seek focus while we shot. The image goes from noticeable pincushion (horizontal and vertical lines bend in toward the center) to noticeable barrel (the lines bend out) as focus shifts from near to far. This does not occur with the Panasonic lens. (See below.)

OlyPanaWideZoom_Distortion_550px.jpg

Flare
We're pleased to say that both the Olympus and the Panasonic can tolerate a little light on the lens without creating those distracting and odd forms. We noted better performance from the Panasonic in the field. We were able to shoot closer to a light source while avoiding flare with the Panasonic than with the Olympus.

Falloff
With ultra-wide lenses, we expect falloff to be a problem. The Olympus and Panasonic lenses both have significant falloff -- darkening away from the center of the frame. It's hard to say that one's better than the other in this respect, even though their characteristics aren't all that similar. The Panasonic has darker falloff, but it's more symmetrical. At some apertures, the Olympus lens's darkest points are along the sides of the frame, rather than the corners, and the right side of the frame is consistently darker than the left. It's also notable that both lenses fall off more in the bottom half of the frame than the top.

Edge Consistency
In short, the Olympus's resolution falters in the corners, with a sort of smearing effect that looks like motion blur. The Panasonic holds up better, but still takes a hit toward the edges of the frame. Both lenses show significant color fringing, but the Olympus is better on that score. (See below.)

OlyPanaWideZoom_EdgeConsistency_550px.jpg

Conclusion
Beyond the physical size and design of these two ultra-wide zooms, each lens holds comparative strengths and weaknesses optically. On axis, the Olympus is sharper. It has less falloff, and controlled color fringing better. It works on Four Thirds DSLRs as well as Micro Four Thirds cameras. The Panasonic has better resolution in the corners and shows less flare. It's smaller and less expensive. We'd say that post-processing images from the Panasonic will be easier -- if only because there's no way to recover the resolution that the Olympus loses in the corners.

Read the complete review of these lenses on H2H Reviews.

Want to learn more about the Four Thirds system? Check out 4/3 Rumors.



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