E-SYSTEM

ZD 11-22mm

super wide angle zoom on test


INTRODUCTION:

I've had my E-1 and ZD14-54mm for almost a year. I have a modest line-up including FL50, ZD 40-150mm, Sigma 55-200mm, ZD 50-200mm, EC14 and now my first wide angle lens, the ZD 11-22. In my review of the EC14 I laboured the point that I'm no great user or exponent of wide angles but it's become plain that I need to have something in my bag that matches my favourite OMZ wide angle, the 21mm. First I looked at the 7-14mm and following a bout of pure lust decided that, for now, such a lens was not for me, less so my poor wallet! So I turned my gaze to the next widest ZD and spent much time searching the Internet for a review of the 11-22 with limited sucess. The only article I found was posted by Skip Williams and compared the 11-22 with a non-Olympus SWA prime (the make of which I cannot remember). Such a lack of posted opinion came as a surprise to me for I know quite a few E-system users who have the 11-22 and rate it highly, but there appears to be no documented opinion to mull over. This made my decision making a little harder as it's always easier to base your thoughts on others experiences. After a lot of thought I decided to give it a try.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

After a wait of some 9 days my 11-22 arrived. There's nothing like opening a brand new box and taking out a pristine bit of photographic equipment is there? Well, perhaps a new car! It's nice to think the last hand to touch your lens was the product packer in the Suwa factory in Japan when it rolled off the line (not literally of course).

I've seen this lens but never previously handled one. It is similar in weight and dimension to the ZD14-54, heavier by 50gms, marginally larger in volume by 6% (being slightly longer and wider) with a 72mm filter thread rather than a 67mm. Optically the 11-22 has 12 elements in 10 groups, with an image angle range of 53 to 89 degrees and a rather bulbous front element. The zoom and manual focus control rings are finished with a heavily textured rubberised material and provide a good tactile feel. Like other Olympus 'High Grade' lenses the finish is very good though I still miss the brass-bodied lenses of the OM era and can't help but wonder about the longevity of modern engineering plastics, though some would say why worry. This is a typical HG ZD lens in look and feel; nice!

I've now discovered that the chassis construction of the ZD 11-22, (but not necessarily the entire range of other High Grade ZD's), is a typical mixture of modern materials; a metal alloy body for strength and lightness with engineering plastic overlays and control rings. Even better!

ERGONOMICS:

Although only marginally bigger than the standard 14-54 zoom the 11-22 feels much chunkier. On the E-1 it is well balanced offering a substantial barrel to grip with the left hand (whether over or under grip is used) with a smooth but slightly noisy zoom action. The front element and frontal part of the lens physically moves outwards by some 10mm during a full zoom 'throw' from 22mm to 11mm. From 22mm to 18mm on the zoom ring all lens movement is internal, achieved by the inner element carrier moving backwards. At around 17mm on the zoom ring the frontal section begins its forward travel as the inner carrier continues backwards with both counter-moving parts reaching their maxima at the focal length of 14mm. The zoom ring travels some 47mm in its throw, slightly further than the 14-54mm's 45mm. Because of the englarged barrel on the 11-22, zoom throw feels substantially more than this 2mm suggests. Having 47mm of movement for just 11mm of focal length compared to 45mm for 40mm of focal length on the 14-54 zoom, focal length selection and adjustment is more generous and therefore more precise on the wide-angle zoom - how it should be, I suppose.

OUT ON TEST PART 1:

OK, off we go. Let's look for something to show off the WA capabilities. Today is dry and bright though quite hazy, It is 2.00pm when I set off.

The E-1's basic settings for this session are ISO = 100; WB = AUTO; FILE = SHQ; LENS FILTER = HOYA SKYLIGHT.

Olliver Duckett is a 17th century Dove Cote (Shortened to Dovecott then bastardised to Duckett.) It lies on the western approach to Richmond and overlooks a splendid panorama of the upper reaches of the Vale of York. However, herein lies a problem. The Vale of York is low lying and therefore attracts fog and mist as well as the modern view spoiler - atmospheric pollution. Today is no exception as can be seen in the sample shots, though I've seen it far worse.

I set my tripod up at about 30 feet away from the Duckett. Making sure the target is central I line up a horizontal grid line on my screen with the foundation line on the building.

When I'm happy I set the ZD 11-22 to 22mm and take my first image:


Nice! I like the sky; it is a very true rendition. I'm not using a circular polariser (C POL) here, only a Hoya Skylight 1A to protect the front element. A friend recently sent me some images from his ZD 7-14mm about which he commented on their look of being polarised (which they weren't). I'm wondering if the telecentric design of the lens that endeavours to fire the light into the sensor wells as near perpendicular as possible, creates this 'polarised' effect. Certainly with film 35mm I would need a C POL to create such a sky. NOTE The answer to this has been answered by one of the readers:

"I would like to comment on your remark about the apparent polarizing observed with the ZD 7-14: It may come as a surprise to you but there is indeed a polarizing effect with wide-angles just by the sheer fact that the light strikes the lens surface at a variety of angles, including the so called Brewster angle where the reflected light is 100% polarized and the transmitted light is partially polarized. This angle of light incidence is reached on different areas of the objective lens element depending on the shape of the element and the zoom setting. It could in theory also happen internally but I doubt that, considering the retrofocus construction."

Thank you Jens. I begin to understand.

Now satisfied I set the lens at 11mm and take image 2:


Wow! That's even nicer. Reminiscent of OM 21mm, though 'different' which I believe to be the aspect ratio at work. (I've read a few comments from owners of this lens about this perceived 'difference'). I know what they mean and this is the only explanation I can offer. At 11mm (equivalent 22mm this lens should be slightly less wide than a 21mm, but it doesn't seem it to me). I'm warming to this lens already. Now to see how much inherent distortion there is when I start moving the camera on the tripod head.

Keeping the horizontal as near perfect as I can I swing the camera round to move the Duckett to the far left of the viewfinder:


Yes, sure enough, there's the anticipated vertical distortion. Not too bad though considering the massive wide angle view. Had my tripod been absolutely level and plumb and another 2' taller this distortion would have been reduced quite dramatically. (However at 7'6" camera height I would not have been able to frame the shot!) This is the consequence of shooting wide-angle and something you have to live with.

Keeping the horizontal as near perfect as I can I swing the camera round to move the Duckett to the far right of the viewfinder:


This time the distortion is not as bad. This shows my tripod is not exactly plumb. Unfortunately I have no bubbles on this one. But from these shots you can appreciate the effect at work; the side to side distortion across the 'swing' would be equal if all else was both plumb and level. With this in mind I consider the amount of converging verticals displayed to be more than acceptable. It's just physics. You can reduce it by either raising or lowering the camera, but you can't eliminate it.

I move as near to the Duckett as I can still being able to get the top in with the camera still horizontally level. I take image number 5:


I'm within about 3 feet of the of the Duckett walls. At this close proximity the ZD11-22 at 11mm easily captures the whole Duckett. I could get closer and still get it all in, but the ground is especially uneven here to try and keep the camera near horizontal and plumb. (No-one said it was easy!) I'm very pleased with this lens' capability; more so - I'm impressed.

The distortion effect is what attracts many people to wide-angles. Using this inherent distortion you can exaggerate it to produce some dramatic effects. Now satisfied with the first part of my field test - well, I'm in a field aren't I? - I see what effects I can make.

Moving to within a foot of the Duckett wall and tilting the camera well back I frame this next shot:


Using a central vertical grid marking on my screen I ensure the external vertical arris of the Duckett is centre of the frame and follows the vertical grid line on my screen. This ensures that the central area of the photograph is vertical to the eye - making it easier for the brain to forgive the other highly distorted verticals. If you don't do this the brain has difficulty accepting all the distortions and the image becomes uncomfortable to view and dipleasing on the eye.

Moving the camera even closer to the Duckett stonework I frame the next shot:


Here the cameras CCD is about 70 degrees of backward angle to the Duckett. There is no central vertical line to follow my grid screen so the shot is framed using equal distances from top and side to give the shot some equilibrium. Once again the brain is happy to acknowledge the distortions because there is some balance between them.

The final shot is framed entirely by eye:


This time I've used the top of the Duckett in which to place a point of reference for the eye. The two round indents are as near level as I can get them in the viewfinder and these draw the eye's attention. Using this reference point the eye accepts the assymetrical nature of the image. There's not a single vertical or horizontal line that's plumb here; yet the image is still pleasing.

Did you also notice the deeper blue skies in the latter shots? I wondered why; once again Jens offers an explanation that continues from his previous observations:

"I can see such a polarizing effect in the sky of pictures #5 and #6. You see, those pictures are taken a sunny October afternoon with the sun in your back. Thus, the maximum polarization of the sky will be somewhere at 40-50 above the horizon. Look back through the images and see how the sky gets darker high in the the sky (and then eventually brighter again but that can be an effect of varying exposure). I would have expected the blue sky to be pretty uniformly blue on a day like that."

So, that's what does it! Our thanks again.

However, the various effects of Super Wide Angle's (similar to those illustrated here) can be, and often are overdone, producing uncomfortable images we've all seen. It's good to experiment but don't overdo it.



OUT ON TEST PART 2:

As the weather is still holding I head a little more easterly to take photo's of a roadside house next to a Roman Road called Dere Street, linking Piercebridge to Catterick. The house is clad in Virginia Creeper and in this first week of October it should be nicely turning red.

Sure enough it is a wonderful sight:


I've noticed that reds are not best reproduced by Olympus. However this is a quite good rendition, matching my eyes perception of the scene well. I wonder if the lens has anything to do with this better 'red reproduction', or is it just the shade of red? I use the long buildings and exaggerated wide angle perspective to emphasise the property's length.

I'm warming to this lens. It seems far superior to the ZD 14-54 even though it offers 'only' an additional 3mm at the wide end and stops 32mm before the standard zoom. It's sharpness is excellent. The 2 x zoom is not at all restrictive. And of course it nicely covers either side of 40mm (35mm equivalent) reputed to be the eyes preferred point of view. Whatever it's doing I rather like it.

A little further on I come across this delightful scene HERE:


This image is deceptive. It appears quite a small tree. It's spread was surprising broad. I wanted to see how the ZD 11-22 would deal with the repeating verticals of the metal paling fence and cottage verticals behind. You can see I didn't need the lens' maximum and this is captured at 16mm (about 35mm in film camera terms); this result is very easy on the eye.

Just around the corner is the pleasant village of Pirecebridge with a lovely tree clad green. This mature specimen is just starting its autumnal change:


Large trees are difficult to photograph. I can never capture the tall and spreading majesty of a mature deciduous tree. This Chestnut is at least 80' high. With the ZD 11-22 at 11mm I could get very close indeed and tilt the camera back to get the tree top in. Look at the distortion in the house behind to judge the lens angle. Even so it still looks like a small tree!

The following image is of Piercebridge village church:


Like all these images I've not touched them other than re-size. I especially like this. Once again the ZD 11-22 in portrait mode at full 11mm has produced a delightful image. To give the eye a true vertical I use a line from the top of the 'spire' down through the support pillar of the double arched bell chamber through the centre of the deeply recessed narrow window just below the bottom of the recessed arch in the fancy gable buttress, and let the lens sort out the rest. The remaining verticals are distorted of course, but that's WA for you!

On the outside I spot this bit of carved sandstone. This will demonstrate the close focus capability of this lens:


I take this from about 5" at FL of 22mm. With an image size of around 4" I struggled to work out the ratio and thank Jens Birch for putting my first attempt right. It is (I'm assured) the equivalent of around 0.13:1 in macro terms. Detail is adequately sharp though I admit I could have perhaps found a better target to show close-up capability. Oh well.

On the way home I call at Gilling West, a long straggling village reknowned for its larger, more ornate church. I have a look in. I'm no lover of church interior shots but wanted to see how the lens performs in low light. Well it's certainly low light in here! I realise I've left my tripod in the car but being an idle so and so I make do and handhold.

This reflection catches my eye:


The size and weight of E-1 outfit make hand holding readily achievable. I'm very pleased with this result. The muted colours are remarkably true as are the many textures of the stonework and the overall atmosphere and softness of the scene (not softness of the lens). Very nice. This lens just gets better.

On my way back to the car I couldn't resist this:


Gilling High Street basking in late afternoon sunshine, reflected in this immaculate brass knocker on an equally immaculate front door.

To make up for the close-up selection shot I did this the day after my field test:


Tripod mounted at distance of 5" from subject to front element. Maximum D of F with lens at f=11.

Here's the top right hand fragment, approximately 1/14th of the original capture:


Image 16 (above) was enlarged to 1:1 (or 100%) in Photoshop then I cropped the corner fragment out to reproduce here. You'll see from the original image basic exif details I used the lens at 22mm with an aperture of f=11.0 to give good (but not maximum) depth of field. This is about 7% of the original image and displays the 11-22's native sharpness. No post-processing sharpening has been applied. If you needed further demonstration of how competent this lens is, here it is.



OPINION:

I'm sold. The ZD 11-22mm lens is a delight to use and its results are way better than the standard 14-54 zoom in its overlapping 8mm (14-22mm). They are different animals - different like chalk and cheese. This wide-angle ZD zoom packs far more quality into a mere 11mm of focal length than the figures might suggest. This makes some sense; 11mm of zooming focal length in a barrel bigger than the standard zoom. With this lens the Olympus lens designers have concentrated on obtaining 11mm's of pure wide angle quality without other consideration or constraint.

I'm not a physicist so I can't explain its performance in mathematical terms. But I am a keen photographer - maybe not a particularly gifted one - and I instinctively know when something is right. As I knew my ZD 14-54mm was below par and had to be returned for repair, I know the ZD 11-22mm is simply excellent. When I set out on this field test I took my standard zoom along thinking it would be useful to compare the overlapping millimeters of focal length. In the event I never took the ZD 11-22 off the camera. I didn't have to. More pertinently, I didn't want to. It was obvious this lens is way ahead in terms of sharpness and colour/contrast/texture rendering, with a delighful way of dealing with what can be the downside of SWA work.

I really can't add anything further. I'm not competent to discuss technical specifications or merits and why it does what it does. These images speak for themselves. If you are contemplating buying the ZD 11-22mm, do not, for one moment, let its 'limited' (2x) zoom or its 'overlap' with the lower end of the 14-54 put you off owning this extremely fine piece of optical engineering. And for the future? As far as I can see this lens has enough resolving power for whatever imagers Olympus choose to fit to their 4/3rds camera bodies in the future.

It is truly amazing what you can do with only 11mm!

PRICES:

UK 560 - 625; US $700 - $850.


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Posted July 2005 14:04 Copyright © 2005 John Foster