E-SYSTEM

ZD 7 - 14mm

ultra wide angle zoom on test


INTRODUCTION:

If you read my review of the ZD 11-22mm lens you'll know I've had my E-1 and ZD 14-54mm kit for almost a year. Like many others I've gradually put together a modest E-system line-up including FL50, ZD 11-22, ZD 40-150mm, ZD 50-200mm and an EC14. In addition I've a heap of excellent legacy lenses from my OM days that can be selectively used on the E-1. Until very recently I had given little thought to my wide-angle needs as I'm no great user or exponent of them - certainly from my OM days anyway. After looking at the WA ZD's and lusting after the 7-14mm, common sense intervened and I ordered the ZD 11-22mm. However, in true 'You wait ages for a bus, then two come along at once', no sooner had I ordered the ZD 11-22mm than I was presented with an opportunity to acquire a ZD 7-14mm that I simply could not resist. Who was it said 'I can resist eveything except temptation?'

In my review of the ZD 11-22mm Super Wide Angle lens, I equated the wide end of this to about that of OM 21mm, one of my favourite OMZ lenses. And yes, I believe it is correct to term the ZD 11-22mm as SWA as in previous (film based) incarnations any Zuiko lens wider than 24mm was designated SWA. As the 35mm equivalent is remorselessly shoved down our throats as the 'comparator' (wrongly, I believe), then the ZD 11-22mm's 22-44mm equivalent nicely covers the old range of wide to super wide. Using the same rationale it is also right to class the ZD 7-14mm as Ultra Wide Angle, especially as it achieves an equivalent 14mm in a non-fisheye presentation.

The ZD 7-14mm boasts a rectilinear image throughout its range (non-fisheye) that delivers a relatively distortion free ultra wide to wide angle perspective. Having been highly impressed by the ZD11-22mm I'm wondering if the Ultra Wide-Angle of the ZD 7-14mm might just prove a little too much for this self confessed 'non-lover of wide-angles'.

(For fish-eye fans, such as the OM 8mm and 16mm, the new ZD 8mm due out soon offers a lens that in capable hands provides this rather unique 'take' on the world).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

My ZD 7-14mm arrives and I eargerly unpack it. Wow, says I, and wow again! This is some meaty piece of optical engineering. Yes, I've seen the photo's of the lens but nothing quite prepares you for the reality. It is much bigger than I'd anticipated and substantial to the point of being over heavy. A huge lens barrel that is finished just before the hood with a ring of polished stainless steel that harks back to the early days of 'Silver Nose' OMZ's. This bright ring is now used to denote Olympus Super High Grade Lenses. The barrel has the now customary ZD square-cut finished rubber zoom grip ring and the manual focus ring is deeper and sports the usual ribbed grip.

Full of anticipation I ease off the front lens cover. What an optic! Instantly reminiscent of the OMZ 24mm Shift lens with a built in and non-removable petal style hood. The front element is a hugely domed piece of optical glass that protrudes some 20mm from where the lens dress ring would be on a normal lens. Having no dress ring, lens nomenclature is placed around the body of the petal hood that is 87mm in diameter. It simply says OLYMPUS ZUIKO DIGITAL 7-14mm 1:4. The serial number (like all other ZD's) is on the underside of the mounting ring. I heft in my hands. I know it weighs over 3/4's of a kilo - 780gms to be exact and it certainly feels like it! Stacked beside the 14-54 and 11-22 ZD's it fairly dwarfs them, standing a full 20mm taller and 15mm wider. The front 'cap' is worthy of mention being made from quite thick guage metal with a rather disappointing OLYMPUS transfer thereon, and lined with what appears to be fine black suede to protect the hood when slipping the cap on and off. On a final note the right-hand embelishing badge to the barrel proudly proclaims ED lens. Forgive me for being somewhat verbose in this section but first sight of the ZD 7-14mm should be relished, enjoyed and remembered.

AESTHETICS:

Looks play a huge role in how we respond to something new. We all know folks who wouldn't consider a model ZX 14G (whatever), regardless of how good it is at its function, because it offends their eye. Powerful stuff, aesthetics. Aesthetics combined with ergonomics plays a vital role in how we reach a judgement about design. We can have an aesthetically perfect product that is incapable of working ergonmically and vise versa. Getting the two to work in harmony is the goal of all design engineers. Apart from my over-enthusiastic comments above (the WOW factor) I do have some quite serious points to make about the ZD 7-14mm. As a piece of lens sculpture it is immensely impressive, no doubt. But, as we know, it can only fulfil its functional role when mounted on a 4/3rds camera. It follows that its assimilation with the E-system bodies (E-1, E-300 & E-500) is imperative as it will be rated by users from both aspects; aesthetics and ergonomics. If it satisfies both sets of criteria it will be judged as a well designed package. It is certain aspects within these considerations I'm not entirely happy with.

ERGONOMICS:

Although I use my E-1 with the HLD2 grip as it provides superior AF speed and immense battery life, I'm first to admit that, to my eyes, it spoils the basic design look of the E-1. When any ZD lens is added to the 'gripped' E-1 body the combined package is immediately thrown out of balance, being front heavy. When putting it down the lens tips the whole thing forward meaning you have to take more care to avoid unnecessary damage to the front bezel of the attached lens. With the ZD 7-14mm attached its large physical weight of 780gm accentuates this and its permanently attached petal hood is at risk of possible breakage if not treat with respect. It may be that the design engineers have ensured the hood is strong enough to take this; however, as a design consequence I'm not over enthusiastic.

Above: the 7-14 mounted on E-1 and placed on a table: See how readily it tips forward.

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To avoid the above problem I tend to put it down on its back but in doing so I create other risks like damaging the screen protector on the camera back or exposing the front element to direct impact from carelessly dropped articles. This means I'm constantly fitting the lens cap. I suppose this is just one of those things I'll have to live with, but it bothers me enough to bring it to readers attention. For you it may be no big deal at all.

Above: my E-1's resting position between shots - Hmmm.

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If I remove the HLD2 grip from the E-1 body the combination takes on a more balanced but squat look. Now it sits comfortably on any surface as the camera base and the lens bottom are in the same plane. Problem solved? Unfortunately not. Apart from losing the benefit of the HLD2 grip another more serious ergonomic issue surfaces. One might think a larger lens barrel might lead to better handling - as with the ZD 11-22mm - well, only partially with the ZD 7-14mm. When fitted to an E-1 without the grip the ZD 7-14's huge barrel ensures the left hand has a better grip and indeed the camera and lens can be easily balanced in the left hand only. That's good isn't it? Not quite.

Above: ZD 7-14mm on the normal E-1 body - without HLD2; see how nicely it sits.

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The larger barrel and no HLD2 means the combination appears to sit nicely in the left hand. It naturally sits with the focus control switch at the base of the left thumb. This feels very comfortable. You curl your hand under and around the lens barrel and it still feels fine. But the consequence is the curling fingers of the left hand (especially using the undergrip) are forced further over the right hand side of the E-1 and naturally assume the space between the lens and the sculpted body grip. When you try to grip the camera with the right hand you instantly see the problem. In my case the fingers of both hands are vieing for the same bit of real estate; i.e. the space between the barrel and the E-1 body grip. This is distinctly uncomfortable. It doesn't happen with the HLD2 fitted because the extra depth the grip provides allows the left hand to 'rest' against the grip, rather than the E-1 bottom, pushing the hand down and left. You may argue it's only a matter of getting used to it. Maybe. I think it's more fundamental than that.

Above: my fingers fighting over the bit of space they all want to occupy. Uncomfortable.

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So much for aesthetics and ergonomics. Whether you like/dislike the ZD 7-14mm or can readily adjust your method to suit is a matter for you. It would be remiss of me not to bring these details to readers attention. As an Olympus fan I'm aware readers may consider I'm a lackey to the company. Not so. If anything I'm a little over-critical. Perhaps this is the case with my comments on the lens ergonomics. But this is my honest opinion.

Enough critique! Let's see if the designers got the optical performance right; In the final analysis this is by far the greater concern.

OUT ON TEST

Today I look for a subject that will firstly show its Ultra wide-Angle capabilities and later its low-light capabilities. It is early November, bright but showery, clouded to the West with associated haze, very cold and windy. As the afternoon draws out the light, already contrast laden, gets almost over-saturated.

The E-1's basic settings for this session are ISO = 100; WB = AUTO; FILE = SHQ; LENS FILTER = NONE - PETAL HOOD INBUILT.

Castle Bolton lies about one third up the Ure valley - Wensleydale; one dale further West than my native Swaledale. The tiny village that sits high on the Eastern escarpment of the valley is in turn dominated by an imposing castle, famous for imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots before she 'lost her head'. Unusually the castle is still partially inhabited with the North wing or Tower (with the flag), being permanently occupied. The castle is open to the public though it has been many years since I 'did the tour'. The castle enjoys a magnificent stand with commanding views over the broad sweep of Wesleydale.

To set the scene my first shot of the castle is from the village boundary and taken with the ZD 11-22mm which I tend to use now as my 'standard' zoom in place of my previously troublesome ZD14-54mm. The long shadows tell you it's late in the year, though early in the afternoon:


Exif: ZD 11-22mm, FL=11mm, f=14, 1/60th, Mode = A, compensation + 0.3

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There is an area in front of the castle that is set out as an ornamental garden and maze. I use this area for framing the next shot, also taken with the ZD 11-22mm:


Exif: ZD 11-22, FL=11mm, f=7.1, 1/200th, Mode = A, compensation = + 0.7

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I now mount the ZD 7-14mm to give you an idea of its wide-angle capability: I realise straight away that my vantage point is not ideal. I'm standing in the gardens to the front of the castle which are quite steep thus making my angle of view much lower than I want. The result is, of course, even tighter converging verticals in the image. However there's nothing I can do. The first image is with the lens at 13mm (14mm was a tad too close):


Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=13mm, f=9.0, 1/125th, Mode = A, compensation + 0.3

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Maintaining my position I zoom out to the lenses widest; 7mm:


Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=9.0, 1/125th, Mode = A, compensation + 0.3

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As I wander back towards the base of the castle I come across this piece of ancient carved stone, now used to grow Lavender. It's a substanstail bit of stone being around 2 foot in diameter and about 27" high. It seems a good subject for a bit of closeup work; this shot is taken from about 10"


Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=11mm, f=9.0, 1/80th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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I now move along the front of the castle to the point where it intrudes onto the carriageway. This is the far left or the southern tower. You can see the outcrop of limestone rock the castle sits upon. Those old builders knew what they were doing!


Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/320th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Here I move slightly back and to the left putting the southern tower to the right of the frame and zoom out to 12mm to give a different perspective:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=12mm, f=4.0, 1/500th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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From the same position I zoom out to 9mm and alter the camera angle to try and balance the converging verticals. This instantly changes the whole effect giving a brooding atmosphere. Notice the touch of flare in the lens from the strong afternoon sun, low and in the west:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=9mm, f=4.0, 1/640th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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I now move back along the front of the castle to show the front face of the south tower square-on:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/500th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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This is the central tower taken to show the lens sharpness when wide open:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=11mm, f=4.0, 1/125th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Here is the central and southern tower:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=9.0, 1/100th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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And finally from the frontal elevations is the 'northern rest' between the centre and northern towers with an old stone seat in front:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/80th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Walking to the rear of the castle (the entrance elevation) we get a whole new perspective. From this side it doesn't look anywhere near as imposing as from the front. Of course that's exactly how it was supposed to work; appearing invulnerable from a frontal attack. This first shot is with the lens set at 7mm:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/640th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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And from the same position zoomed into 14mm:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=14mm, f=4.0, 1/640th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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from another angle at 7mm with balanced converging verticals. Notice the distortion to the stable block on the left; an inevitable consequence of ultra-wide angles lenses:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/500th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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This image is taken in my normal centre-weighted metering mode (I prefer this to ESP). As the metering was done on the upper part of the castle ramparts the exposure was calculated by the E-1 to be correct for the brightest area; the sky. To ensure a dramatic silhouette I apply - 1.0 compensation resulting in no detail in the lower two-thirds:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=9mm, f=4.0, 1/1600th, Mode = A, compensation - 1.0

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From the same position I take the next shot in spot-mode, metering from the same area. Now the camera applies the exposure value as calculated from the spot reading thus giving correct exposure for the lower two-thirds, but blowing away the sky.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=9mm, f=4.0, 1/60th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Behind the castle is the tiny church of St Oswald. The afternoon sun is almost gone and I pop in to see how the ZD 7-14mm handles low light situations. It is pretty dismal in here. This shot is handheld looking towards the altar:

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/5th, Mode = A, compensation nil, handheld.

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The altar end is better lit (but only slightly) and I take this floral decoration again handheld. This is one distinct advantage of the combined E-1, SHLD and ZD 7-14mm lump; you can achieve steady shots at unbelievably slow speeds.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=12mm, f=4.0, 1/2sec, Mode = A, compensation nil, handheld.

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OBSERVATIONS ON THESE IMAGES:

SKIES: The skies throughout this section are a pretty true rendition of reality. You will know the ZD 7-14mm cannot be fitted with any filters though these results suggest use of a circular polariser. Of course the late autumnal light is contrast laden which skews the results too. I'm not alone in noticing this inherent trend of ZD wide-angle lenses to produce a 'polarised' look. In my review of the ZD 11-22mm, I made similar remarks to which Jens Birch offered this explanation:

"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."

However this effect is so striking and seems to be more pronounced with the ZD 7-14mm than the ZD 11-22mm I wonder if there is more than this at work here. It originally occurred to me if the effect was something to do with the telecentric design of the 4/3rds lens 'straightening' the light as it passes to the ccd?


FURTHER SCENIC IMAGES:

These images came from a second days testing. Previous attempts were either spoiled by the weather or my rheumatoid arthritis! However, here are a few selected shots from those sessions.

Certainly the ZD 7-14mm excels at skyscapes. Here is the sweep of mid Arkengarthdale moor looking south-east towards Reeth. At 7mm the lens captures an enormous angle - sometimes more than can be appreciated in the image.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/2000th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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This image is from further up Arkengarthdale, still looking south-east but I'm higher so there is more valley details to be seen. I'm on a small hillock overlooking the view and holding the camera as high as I can to maintain the proper perspective. The dark shadow line along the bottom edge is a result of ultra-wide lenses in low sun situations. I left it in so you can see one of the consequences of shooting so wide.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/1250th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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This is the river Swale running high though not in full spate. The Swale is the fastest rising river in the UK. This water passes through York before discharging into the North Sea.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=14mm, f=4.0, 1/1600th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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I tried this shot to see how the ZD 7-14mm handled being pointed straight into the sun. The small amount of shade offered by the remaining foiliage has been enough to stop all lens flare. The foreground has been thrown into partial silhouette, but not completely. No post processing has been applied; although it would be possible to lighten the foreground. I think the metering system and lens has proved very satisfactory here maintaining the essence of the image.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/1600th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Here are two shots of the footbridge adjacent to the watersplash made famous in the film 'All creatures Great and Small' based on a James Herriott novel. (Alf White actually). Sporting a fresh coat of brilliant white paint it was difficult to achieve the correct metering in brilliant afternoon sunshine casting long shadows. First image is at 14mm.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=14mm, f=4.0, 1/1600th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Here's number two at 7mm. If I remember correctly I eventually metered off the unpainted wooden support beam, the nearest thing to a mid grey tone. Maintaining a balance between the bright blue and white sky with deep shadows to the bottom right is almost impossible in light like this; however the E-1 recreates the scene accurately though as a photograph you may consider it far from perfect. On this particular afternoon the sun was exceedingly bright.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/1600th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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SOME MORE IMAGES:

In this session the day was overcast with a bright 'English' milky-white sky. Selecting the right subject for the lens is imperative. I don't know if I've done that. Maybe these 'tighter' and more commercial type shots might help. First is a listed building renovation close to me. This is the Coach House. Notice a small area of PF created by the overhanging branch against the white sky. Lens is wide open and sharpness is very good.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/60th, Mode = P, compensation nil

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This is the hip end elevation. Again notice the PF along the roof lines. Sharpness is beyond reproach.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.0, 1/200th, Mode = P, compensation nil

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The Hall. This is a big building. At 7mm this lens comfortably captures it and the surrounding area.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.5, 1/60th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Formal pond. After a spectacular summer of magnificent lilies it's sad to see the pond dying back as winter approaches. Notice the areas of PF against the white sky.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.5, 1/40th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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Looking up my garden from behind the pond bushes. Again PF is present around detail viewed against a white sky.

Exif: ZD 7-14mm, FL=7mm, f=4.5, 1/50th, Mode = A, compensation nil

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OPINION:

The ZD 7-14mm lens is aimed at the professional user. I can see why. It is designed for tight interior work or close urban/cityscapes. In professional hands this lens will produce some remarkable images. Remember I'm not a professional and may not have chosen the best subject or technique to demonstrate this lens' capabilities. I don't find it intimidating at all, but it is not easy to use. I much prefer the ZD 11-22mm. Please also remember I'm no wide-angle fan either. Having said that I enjoy using the ZD 7-14mm. It makes me think about the results before pressing the shutter. It has me scratching my head trying to phathom out where I went wrong. On one hand you need not be SO concerned about depth of field for example but you have to be really careful with metering. It seems to exaggerate certain traits.

SHARPNESS: The results I get from this lens are very sharp indeed. I find no fall off in the corners whatsoever.

CONTRAST: Even taking the contrast laden light into consideration, I find the lens is still a tad too contrasty for my taste. Before you ask, no I have not turned my wick down. I have my E-1 set for optimum results from its basic parameters across several ZD's that suit my expectations. Once set I do not like messing about with them. In many ways this is an advantage. It means that I can judge new results against a known constant built up over use and experience of other ZD lenses in my possession. This might be an over-simplification; but it's the way I work. Knowing how to get pleasing results from a combination of lenses on your body by tweaking the basic settings so most lenses perform well within those settings is, to me anyway, better than constantly having to alter such settings to suit an individual lens. (And of course you don't have to remember all the variables). As I get more experience with this lens I may alter my long term in-camera settings a little to accommodate the over contrast, though I'm reluctant to do so; I'll see how things go.

Jens Birch from Sweden, on reading this contacted me with the folowing suggestion from his own methodology: "I have started to tweak the sharpening, contrast, shooting mode and ISO setting for each individual lens and then save them in the custom setting modes. A very effective way of getting into business when changing from one lens to another." An excellent suggestion Jens, thanks. My only reservation is similar to the general criticism of the ISO setting on the E-1. It's just too easy to forget to change it. However, I'll certainly consider this suggestion.

COLOUR RENDERING: I've only had this lens for a few weeks. I cannot say how it will respond in various conditions. To my simple mind it appears to reproduces colour, depth and hue very accurately. Of course contrast affects our interpretation of colour and as said it's a bit heavy on contrast for me. We are all different and what suits Peter can offend Paul. Based on my experience of a colourful world I'm pretty happy with the the E-1 CCD & ZD 7-14mm combo.

RESOLUTION: It's obvious the optical resolution of this lens well out-performs the E-1's 5MP CCD. I imagine it will be equally happy sitting in front of an 18MP CCD. However, I'm not a physicist, so please don't ask me to qualify my opinion.

CHROMATIC ABBERRATION: It's there. Don't let anyone tell you it's not. This lens will purple fringe. However it seems very well controlled and it only PF's in extreme situations like dark outline against a milky white sky and then only on the peripheries. CA and PF seem to raise hackles with some users. Given the quality of resolution and sharpness this lens oozes I'm happy to forgive limited amounts of this problem. After all it's relatively straight forward to remove in post processing. The user can reduce the problem by being aware about those situations that give rise to it and by stopping down.

FLARE: Yes, be careful. This lens is susceptible to flare. With a front element shaped like this how could it not be? The petal hood is OK'ish, but it does not protect in every situation. When you see flare in the VF you can reduce it by using your left hand used as an additional shade. OK this means one hand shooting. Sometimes this simple expedient is all you will need. Like CA/PF, flare is well controlled but not eliminated. As said, use with care.

HANDLING: I've made my feelings known about basic ergonomics in the preamble. Your opinion may differ. As suggested by the church interior shots the combination of E-1, HLD2 and ZD 7-14mm while heavy, allows you to get away with slow shutter shots that would normally be beyond handholding. I believe the advantages of the combination over-rule its weight penalty.

OVERALL:

The ZD 7-14mm is a fabulous piece of optical engineering and even in my amateur hands shows huge potential; more than I'm ever likely to exploit. In a nutshell its advantages are resolution, sharpness, rendition, ultra-wide zoom, speed and high quality construction. Disadvantages are price, weight, vulnerable front element, tad too contrasty, inability to mount front filters and (to me) handling.

Now the difficult part. Knowing what I know now, would I buy this lens again? To be totally honest - it's a very tough call. (And that works both ways). Perhaps when I'm more used to it? Maybe when I use wide-angle more? I'm really not sure. If I were a Pro-user I guess there'd be no doubt! (Would there?) Having said that I know Pro-users who wouldn't thank you for one. But I'm an amateur; an amateur who doesn't use SWA or UWA much. So.......on balance.......no, probably not.

Suprising? Not really. I told you I'm not a dedicated ultra wide-angle user.

PRICES:

UK 1150 - 1200; US $1700 - $2000.


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Posted July 2005 14:04 Copyright © 2005 John Foster