ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 18~180MM X F=3.5~6.3
ZD 10x ultra zoom lens on test
Equivalent to 36-360 lens on a 35mm Film Camera. Ultra zoom lens for flexible use. Close focusing distance of 0.45m at any zoom position.
The ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 18-180mm 1:3.5-6.3 lens offers an equivalent range of 36-360mm on a 35mm film camera. This an super zoom lens for wide angle to tele shooting just in one lens. It is extreme compact for a lens in this zoom range.
Model Name EZ-1818
Focal Length: 18-180mm; equiv = 36-360mm
Maximum Aperture: 1:3.5(18mm)~6.3(180mm)
Minimum Aperture: 1:22
Aperture (f) sequence: 3.5; 4; 4.5; 5; 5.6; 6.3; 7.1; 8; 9; 10; 11; 13; 14; 16; 18; 20; 22.
Lens Construction: 15 Elements in 13 Groups; 2 ED + 2 Aspherical
Angle of View: 62~6.9°
Number of Diaphragm Blades: 7pcs
Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.146m.
Maximum Magnification: 1:0x
Filter Size: 62mm
Lens Hood: LH-62B
Dimensions: Diameter 78mm x Length 84.5mm
Tele converter EC-14 = Yes.
Extension tube EX-25 = Yes.
Lens cap: LC-62B (62mm) Back cap LR-1
Box contents: Lens hood (LH-65), lens cap (LC-62B), lens rear cap (LR-1), instruction manual, warranty card.
Having been quite impressed with the performance of the 18x (28~504mm) lens fitted to the Olympus 550SP I tested earlier in 2007 and knowing the ZD 18-180mm is the nearest thing you can currently buy as an E-System ultra zoom lens, it struck me as reasonable to try it out. Before we go any further I'd like to point out that all zoom lenses are a compromise between resolution and brightness and the greater the zoom range the bigger the compromise(s) will be. Certainly the performance of the SP550 at wide angle (28mm) left a little to be desired, but the fact that it offered such an incredible spread is a huge attraction. Ultra zoom compacts are popular with offerings from all the major makers and it is easy to see the attraction of a package that offers the spread of an interchangeable lens DSLR without the hassle of carrying and mounting multiple lenses. I can see why Olympus have produced an ultra zoom lens for their E-System as it offers some of the convenience of these compacts alongside the larger sensors of DSLR machines.
I have read much opinion about the ZD18-180mm which claims this lens is generally soft and that at maximum telephoto is too slow. These are the very compromises I refer to; no interchangeable lens with this spread is going to be sharp all the way through, nor can it be consistently bright at both ends. Remember too that wide-angle pushes the centre of the frame away to get more in at the sides and inevitably resolution suffers. Do not expect 100% or pixel level examination of wide angle shots to provide crystal imagery - it won't. What is important is the degree of compromise made by the optical engineeres and how this translates against your reasonable and educated expectations.
The ZD18-180mm is a 10x zoom and if it could be made to hold its brightness throughout its focal length (at f=3.5) it would be huge (larger than the ZD90-250mm), and if it could be made to ensure sharpness across its range it would be massively expensive. The ZD 18~180mm is designed as a travel companion offering a balance between wide-angle and long reach telephoto in a small and lightweight package. Do not expect a miracle; it's not going to happen.
Recommended retail price is £379. The most resonable web based price I could find was £325 + postage. I bought mine at the Darlington Photo Centre owned and run by Paul Woodhouse at an offer price of £299. Paul's shop is the last independent camera shop in Darlington and it was great to see this lens on special offer locally. The only way we can hope to keep our local camera stores is to support them. Incidentally, I've been told that UK prices for all Olympus lenses are set to rise by about 12.5% in autumn of 2007.
The box is the usual silver livery with black markings. The first thing I see as I take out the contents is there is no lens case provided - I find this irksome and it means I have to look around for a separate case. The lens comes with its front and back caps and a semi-petal shape lens hood; not a typical petal and not a tele-tube. There's an idiot's guide of do's and don't's, a warranty card and that's about it.
The lens itself is larger, heavier and meatier than I imagined. Its construction is a mix between budget (standard) grade and and high grade. Its size is only slightly smaller than the ZD 14-54mm high grade lens. It is larger and heavier than all the other budget/standard grade lenses except the first style ZD 40-150mm. It shares the same new style 'deep finger' front cap. Both zoom and manual focus rings are rubber clad unlike the other budget examples where the manual focus ring is made from of hard ribbed plastic, not rubber. The lens nomenclature is printed in white lettering directly on the lens barrel immediately in front of the zoom ring and not on an embossed or printed 'plate'. No distance scale read-out window is provided. There is ribbing to the mounting grip ring and the usual red nipple acts as the mounting guide. Underneath is the serial number plate and (I was surprised to see) the whole lot is 'Made in Japan'. The front dress ring bears the typical nomenclature plus the filter size of 62mm. The mounting ring is stainless steel. On first sight you could mistake it for a high grade lens.
There is a novel feature provided on this ultra zoom and that is a lens locking tab. This is a small square button on the users left (with lens mounted) that when clicked forward locks the lens at 18mm. I can see the advantage of this lock button but it may have been more useful if locking notches were provided across the zoom range, say at 35mm, 50mm and 100mm as well as fully closed.
Weight is 435g and this lens is quite substantial. Size is a tad over 3" (78mm) diameter by 3.35" (84.5mm) front to back in closed (wide-angle) position and 5.52" (139mm) fully extended. Thus extended it is much taller than the extended ZD 14-54mm and almost as tall as an extended old style ZD 40-150mm. The zoom extension is facilitated by two constructional plastic tubes along the lines of the new style ZD 40-150mm lens. I have quite large hands but even so the ZD 18-180mm feels quite big and chunky to me.
Being almost as large as the high grade ZD 14-54 and having a large front element only 1.5mm less, I like the look of the ZD 18-180mm. The coatings reflect green, gold and purple indicating multi-coating. The lens looks purposeful and promising.
As with all ZD lenses both control rings fall nicely to the fingers and it's nice to feel the zoom ring is quite tight on this ultra zoom. Zoom coverage is achieved in about 30 degrees of left-handed movement; doing so in one sweep of the wrist is possible, albeit ambitious. The manual ring reflects 'fly by wire' feel and is just the same as any other ZD. The lens feels fine on the large E-1 as well as the lesser sized bodies. It falls well to either an over or under hand stance though on the E-400 under-hand is the better modus operandi.
AF SPEED & ACCURACY
The AF motor is as quiet as my other ZD's and it appears to be the same overall speed.
OUTDOORS: Accuracy in normal outdoor conditions is just fine and the more light the better. But, even in deep shadow, it never failed to give a first time and accurate lock. To me this lens behaves the same as any other ZD.
INDOORS: In a 14' x 14' room lit only by a standard 100W bulb the AF worked most of the time. Its biggest number of fails was at full telephoto in darker corners (to be expected). At full tele the aperture is only f=6.3 so in dismal conditions the AF system is not receiving a much light on which to do its phase detection routine. As with other ZD's the AF seems to work in a three step process; search: approximate lock: final lock. Occasionally when focusing away from a close object on to a non-too contrasty surface the AF system would be confused and wind in and out again before locking. In darker areas the AF relies on a strobe from the on-board flash to provide illumination for AF lock (except E-1 that has an IR system). In dismal lighting this worked 'reasonably' though you need to help the technology out by applying a little common sense. Yes, there were occasions when I could not obtain AF without the strobe and occasionally with it too! In such circumstances avoid using full tele, chose a nice contrasty point, pop up the flash and if all else fails switch to MF. I have no criticism of the lens AF performance providing you are prepared to intervene when required. Its main problem arises because the lens is innately slow especially at the telephoto end. The system just lacks light! Having limited experience with other manufacturers' systems I'm not in a position to compare them.
I use MF with ZD lenses very little; it's there if needed which may be in dismal conditions when the AF refuses to lock in. However in these conditions focusing by eye on a small and dismal screen is going to be pretty difficult. Older generation manual lenses could be set for a specific distance or the user could take advantage of hyperfocal distance focus range using the distance scale. Budget ZD's have no focus scale and on more expensive models where they do, no aperture scale is provided. AF is convenient certainly, but we seem to have forsaken a lot of the advantages manual lenses offer. Oh well, that's the price of 'progress'.
This lens is designed to appeal to those looking for an 'all-rounder' or a travelling lens. It will be interesting to see how it performs in light of the various comments I have heard. I set up the tripod to do some test shots against my normal target which is a stone gate pillar with a small house sign (landscape A4 size) that is some 230 feet from the camera-on-tripod position.
For all sessions of testing I use the E-400 with these base settings: A mode, ESP, ISO = 200, WB AUTO, NR= OFF, S-AF, File = SHQ, VIVID, COMP 0, tripod mounted and shutter tripped with remote. (NB: there's no mirror lock-up on the E-400).
And here are the first set of crops from the ZD18-180mm lens mounted on an E-400 in A mode with the lens wide open at each focal length stop of 18, 35, 50 100,180mm. The day was quite dull and overcast; about 11.00 in the morning, it had just stopped drizzling. A typical UK autumn day.
To be fair I did not expect cracking results at 18mm (nor did I get them). More concerning were the images at 35mm and 50mm. It seems obvious the lens is not at its best wide open. I repeat the test within minutes this time locking the lens at f=6.3 at each focal length to see how much the images sharpen up.
OBSERVATIONS ON STANDARD TEST:
Well, I did not expect miracles and the results show I haven't got them! The crops above show how the design compromises applied to all zoom lenses affect the overall results. Any 10X zoom with an ultimate reach of 180mm (360mm in 35mm) is bound to suffer somewhere and the wide to mid-range focal lengths crops show where the biggest of the compromises appear to have been made. But please remember the standard target is 230 feet from the camera and wide angle shots push the centre away so resolution inevitably suffers. My main concern is the results at 35mm which seem to be consistently poor in those particular lighting conditions.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER LENSES:
It would be wise (before we even begin to think of condemning the ZD18-180 lens) to do some direct comparisons of results from this lens with other ZD lenses. For this I've used previous examples of my standard test from the ZD14-54mm High-grade lens (2x the cost) for shots at 18mm; the ZD35-100 Super High Grade lens (8x the cost), for shots at 35mm and 100mm; and the Sigma 30mm x 1.4 prime lens (about the same cost) for a final comparison. This might be a useful exercise as it is easy to forget how other lenses perform and how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusion.
OBSERVATIONS ON COMPARISONS WITH OTHER LENSES:
In some ways this exercise has eased my mind a little. The direct comparisons show the ZD18-180mm competes with my ZD14-54 at 18mm but not with the prime Sigma 30mm (to be expected). The comparison with the ZD35-100 was done so you can see how the Super High Grade lenses resolve my tiny target and just what you get for your money! I remain somewhat disappointed in general performance of the ZD18-180mm in typical UK autumn conditions as the lens has some very attractive other features, not least its spread.
To re-cap; I'm concerned about lens sharpness when using wide open. This lack of sharpness is worse in the corners and it also produces an 'all-over' softness that detracts from image quality. There's also a fair bit of purple fringing/CA in certain conditions that can be annoying. The lens is already slow and to have to close it further to overcome these problems is going to be very restrictive. Below is an image summary of my three main concerns:
STANDARD TEST 2
Being disappointed in my standard test results I feel that further exploration is required. Some of the comparisons with other lenses I have shown above were not all achieved at the same time; is this skewing my interpretation? As the first test was done on a dullish day and the examples I've used from other lenses were done toward the evening (not the Sigma 30mm) perhaps the lighting conditions had a detrimental effect. Is my overall criticism justified or am I being super-critical, or am I clutching at straws?
On another day in bright and contrasty lighting conditions and using a different target, I undertake some further test shots using various lenses in the same session.
I use the following lenses; ZD18-180mm, ZD14-42mm, ZD14-54mm, ZD35mm Macro. Each lens is set to 35mm at f=5.6. No hoods or filters are used. My justification for the choice of lenses is based on the fact that I am very familiar with results from my ZD14-54mm and know it's not the sharpest, the new ZD14-42mm ED is extremely good and the ZD35mm Macro when used as a standard lens, produces some pretty good results. This selection should provide a good range of results by which I can better judge the performance of the ZD18-180mm.
OBSERVATIONS ON CENTRE CROPS:
Having concentrated my efforts on the 35mm focal length that showed such poor results in test one above I'm pleased to see in this test the pervading softness-cum-haziness is not as bad in these shots. However this was achieved by closing the aperture to f=5.6 thus restricting usage to brighter conditions - or suffer the consequences.
All that said, to be honest there's now only marginal differences between the above results. The expensive ZD14-54mm performs best with the new model ZD14-42 ED coming a close second. Third place goes to the ZD18-180mm and the ZD35mm Macro comes in last. The ZD14-42mm ED continues to impress!
To complete the series I'm including crops of the top right area of the roof for comparison.
OBSERVATIONS ON CORNER CROPS:
Before examining the crops I notice the angle of view and area of capture is different for all four lenses even though they were all mounted on an unmoved camera and all register 35mm in the exif. The ZD14-54mm has applied the most telephoto and the new ZD1442mm ED has the widest viewpoint. The other two lenses are close to each other but not exact. This is internal lens configuration differences at play.
The peripheral results are somewhat different from those at the centre. Looking at the edge crops the clear winner is the ZD14-42mm ED shortly followed by the ZD14-54mm. Third is the little ZD35mm Macro with the ZD18-180mm coming in last! It is obvious the ZD18-180mm is not a great performer at the edges at 35mm FL even in good lighting conditions. Is this is a little too soft to be acceptable? I've had to use the lens at f=5.6 to get some consistency but it is still soft in the corners.
However, bearing in mind the advantages the lens offers and the compromises discussed earlier this is one of the prices paid. Certainly this edge softness will hardly be noticeable at medium sized printing or 'ordinary' monitor size viewing. It is only when you pixel peep do you start to ask questions. [Once again the new ZD14-42ED impresses.]
OBSERVATIONS FROM A USER:
Before continuing with the rest of this review I must point out that I've been contacted by a user of the ZD18-180mm who, whilst agreeing in general with my comments, points out that the lens does improve significantly when closed to f=8 or f=11. Geoff also says that it's unlikely that many folks will use this lens wide open in any case and, that being so, their results may well be better than mine.
Of course Geoff is correct in many ways. Given good light it is likely the aperture will be closed significantly. But remember that if you use P or Ps then the camera will always choose the highest shutter speed (therefore the widest aperture) to reduce the risk of camera shake; that's just what it does. My other point is that I only test one example of the lens and there are always differences in quality between examples from the same production run. I cannot compare the results from say 5 of these lenses to be more explicit in my findings, so I can report only my actual findings with the one example I am using in the conditions that apply at the time.
USE WITH EC14 TELECONVERTER:
I'm aware from readers' comments that many are interested in how the ZD18-180mm performs in conjunction with the ZDEC14 TC. I'm a great fan of the EC14 as it is the first converter I've used that has no impact on image quality. I've tested it with virtually all my ZD lenses and am happy to conclude that any loss of image quality is as a result of increased magnification of any innate softness in the principal lens, rather than a problem with the converter. And, as the name suggests, the teleconverter generally performs best when increasing lens focal lengths already at telephoto. The target for this test is my nearest neighbours house, currently being improved. I'm including images taken at maximum wide angle and telephoto as well as a usual series of non-centre crops.
The lighting conditions today are good and should suit the ZD18-180mm. I've set the lens aperture wide open as at least a stop is lost with the EC14. All other settings are the same as used in the rest of this review.
OBSERVATIONS ON TELECONVERTER:
Images at the wide to mid-range end of the lens are reasonable providing you do not crop or otherwise magnify them. They are perfectly acceptable for monitor viewing or 'EN' print size photos. Performance improves dramatically at the telephoto end of the principal lens leaving you some room for cropping or enlarged prints. Bearing in mind the fundamental use of any teleconverter it is unlikely you will use the EC14 for anything but enhancing the longer end of the lens in any case.
This was a useful exercise as it exaggerates the inherent softness the ZD18-180mm that shows consistently at wide to mid-range focal lengths. I believe it shows the ZD18-180mm is best NOT used with the EC14 at anything other than 100mm and above. Otherwise the results will be simply too soft for all but the most accepting users.
BARREL & PINCUSHION DISTORTION:
With a new test chart I've tested the ZD18-180mm at both ends:
Finally here's a few shots I took around my garden just to show we probably shouldn't get hung up on a touch of unsharpness at pixel level. The days lighting conditions suited the lens and providing you make allowances for enforced use wide open the ZD18-180mm is capable of producing some very acceptable shots. It just won't be your first choice of lens on a dull and overcast day.
OBSERVATIONS ON GENERAL IMAGES:
The above garden images appear quite sharp and are certainly well rendered for colour and contrast. It undelines the point that for 'normal' use the ZD18-180mm can produce very acceptable images provided you don't go pixel-peeping. If you do, then at certain focal lengths (wide to mid range) there is some degree of unsharpness depending on the lighting conditions. Against this you must weigh the huge range advantage the lens offers and make up your mind.
Yes, at first I was quite disappointed. The ZD18-180mm's performance in its wider to mid-range leaves something to be desired. Its innate softness when wide open between 18mm and 85mm tends to spoil its general promise. This wide to mid-range softness is improved by closing the aperture - the last thing you want to do when the light is not perfect. The detail is there but it is simply not sharp enough straight from the camera. Personally, I don't like to wind up the in-camera sharpness setting to get a good image, prefering to sharpen up images in post processing. (None of the above have been sharpened either in-camera or PP). This appears to be the price you have to pay for the convenience of a 10X zoom. Between 100mm and 180mm the lens performance is perfectly acceptable, producing pretty sharp images that require no further PP sharpening. But, of course, at telephoto the lens becomes slower being f=6.3 at 180mm - pretty slow.
However, the more I've used the lens the more I've accepted that its lack of wide to mid-range performance is simply a part of its 'character'. In providing such a fabulous spread of focal length range you have to expect some heavy downsides. It is possible to tweak the camera settings to provide a reasonable compromise at the wide to mid-range lengths without over-sharpening the telephoto end, but it's a delicate balance. It is also quite possible to obtain acceptable output with a little effort in PP and providing you do not print off larger than A4 you should be satisfied.
It is far from a perfect lens, in fact some areas of performance might be described as quite poor, but yet it still attracts for its pure convenience; something we have to pay for by lowering our expectations.
For users coming from ultra zoom compacts the combination of a DSLR body with its inherent advantages and a 10X zoom will be attractive and may be what this lens was originally designed to accommodate. I genuinely hope the Olympus lens designers do not push this idea further by trying to offer an even greater range in an all in one zoom as the ZD 18-180mm performance is already stretching the limits of acceptability.
SHARPNESS: It's a mixed bag of unsharpness when used wide open at wide angle that cures itself at telephoto.
CONTRAST: In good lighting conditions this lens might be a tad too contrasty for some tastes. But, this contrast does add a perception of sharpness which does not go amiss when lens sharpness is degraded by conditions.
COLOUR RENDERING: Appears OK to me though rendering also suffers where there is any softness.
RESOLUTION: At certain focal lengths and used wide open I suspect the lens resolution is below that of the sensor. Once again, please remember not only is this a 10X zoom but it is also a budget lens.
CHROMATIC ABBERRATION: I do notice CA with this lens. Not dramatic but enough to annoy.
BARRELLING: Yes, this lens suffers. Not unusual for a wide-angle zoom but the amount here is significant. A touch of pincushion too.
USE WITH EC14: Providing you restrict use to the long end of the ZD18-180mm and, given bright conditions it produces acceptable images. But remember at 100mm with the converter you are down to F=8.0 so increasing ISO is a must.
FLARE: With the hood in place I did not find flare an issue.
HANDLING: Good. A chunky lens that requires quite large hands. Everything is smooth. In use the zoom requires two movements of the wrist to complete.
There's little more to add. If you decide to go for this lens be prepared to make allowances and do not expect too much in other than good to excellent lighting conditions.
Do I recommend it? I'm struggling with this one! Much depends on you. This will not be the first review you'll have read and you will have picked up on the negative comments circulating the forums. The general concensus is correct; the lens is soft wide open and it is slow. These inherent problems are exacerbated by having to close the aperture to sharpen up the images thus making it slower still. But given good light and sensible use it will turn out respectable images. It boils down to this:
If you are thinking of exhibition stuff from this lens look elsewhere.
If you think it may do for inside stuff, forget it.
If you want a useful spread on your camera for general snapshot photography this lens will suffice.
If you want one lightweight ultra-zoom for holidays this lens is probably your only choice.
I made the call and bought the ZD18-180mm. I don't regret it though it is not a lens I automatically reach for.
It offers much but I have made significant allowances. You must do the same or give it a wide berth.
IMPORTANT NOTE - WITH E-3: Since writing this review I have tried the ZD18-180mm on the new E-3 body. The performance of the lens is definately improved by the E-3's AF system, achieving AF lock-on in quite dark situations without the AF assist light enabled that was well beyond the AF abilities of the E-400 with the same lens. The improvement is by no means 'earth-shattering' but certainly worth noting.
ACTUAL PRICES (MRRP):
UK £379; Available on-line for about £325; Best US price $400 at B&H Photo.
NOTE: This article seeks nothing other than to inform. Only you can decide what equipment you want/need for your use. Bear in mind I own both cameras and lenses, out of my own pocket; I have nothing to gain or lose by publishing this article, photographs, examples or opinion.
|Posted September 2007||Copyright © 2004/2005/2006/2007 John Foster|