ZUIKO DIGITAL 9-18mm x F=4~5.6 ED

ZD 9-18mm uwa zoom on test


MANUFACTURERS DESCRIPTION:

* Ultra-wide-angle performance 9-18mm (18-36mm) 1:4.0-5.6

* Super compact (76mm) & light weight (280g)

* Extreme wide angle lens with 2x zoom

The ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm (35mm equivalent focal length: 18-36mm) is an ultra-wide-angle lens offering a 100 - 62 angle of view. With its lightweight (280g), compact design (just 73mm long) it is outstandingly portable and makes super-wide-angle photography friendlier and more affordable. (Errors amended by me.)

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS:

Focal length 09 mm - 18 mm: Focal length (equiv. 35mm) 18 mm - 36 mm

Lens configuration 13 lenses 9 groups

Aspherical glass elements 2: ED lens 1

Lens mechanism; floating focus mechanism

Angle of View 100 - 62

Closest focusing distance: 0.25 m

Maximum image magnification 0.12 x 0.24 x

Number of aperture blades = 7

Maximum aperture 1:4.0 (wide) / 1:5.6 (tele)

Minimum aperture; 1:22

Filter diamater = 72 mm

Dimensions; 79.5 mm , 73 mm length

Weight = 280g

Compatible to Tele converter EC-20 - Yes

Compatible to Tele converter EC-14 - Yes

Compatible to Extension tube EX-25 - No

CHARTS:



Lens architecture and MTF charts courtesy of Olympus Imaging, Japan.





Depth of Field chart courtesy of Olympus Imaging, Japan


INTRODUCTION:

Olympus UK sent me this lens for review the moment they had a batch, for which I thank them. I understand the lens will go on general sale around the middle of October 2008. It seems a very long time since the first announcements of this lens and this might indicate how difficult it has proved to design and manufacture. I own the highly rated ZD7-14mm x f=4.0 which has proven to be a stellar performer (even though I'm not a fan of UWA lenses) in many ways, except of course, the price! Obviously Olympus have recognised the price issue and produced a 'budget' type offering to satisfy the many Ultra-wide-angle fans out there. Yes, the new lens is 2mm longer than the ZD7-14mm but it is 2mm shorter than the popular ZD11-22mm, so I think it's a good compromise. I also believe most users will be interested purely in its wide-angle capabilities over its zoom qualities. The new lens is considerably less expensive than the ZD7-14mm and about 20% cheaper than the ZD11-22mm (in UK).

BOX CONTENTS:

Lens, front centre-pinch cap and standard back cap, petal hood, warranty and idiots guide of do's and don't's ; no case. Looking through my soft cases the ZD14-54 supplied case will easily hold the 9-18mm (though not with its large hood) so softcase LSC 0816 will offer the lens some protection and these are normally available on Amazon.co.uk here for 6.69 + postage.

HOODS & FILTERS:

As said there is a petal hood supplied; good news. The hood is large at 72mm but quite shallow. For filter lovers it is possible to front fit filters to the threaded front ring, again 72mm diameter. UWA lenses have an innate capability to render skyscapes as though they had a CPol fitted and I have certainly never missed a CPol on my ZD7-14. But I understand many folks just want to protect the front element with a plain glass filter or a UV. I have very mixed feelings about this type of use for a filter and no longer install filters for this purpose; your mileage may vary.



The ZD9-18mm shown with included petal hood affixed.





ZD9-18mm top and bottom-up views.





ZD9-18mm from side complete with 72mm centre-pinch cap.

PRESENTATION:

As you can see the construction and finish is typical of the 'budget' range of lenses with the twin chrome and blue ring (ala ZD14-42mm) and 'dashed' ribbing to the wide rubber zoom ring. The manual focus ring is not rubber but rather ribbed hard plastic. The lens does not have a distance scale and the nomenclature, including ED, is printed in white around the ring between manual focus and zoom rings as well as being repeated on the front dress ring. The lens barrel itself is (surprisingly) the same as the diminutive ZD14-42mm at 62mm diameter but the front element is contained in a plastic final carrier that has a filter ring of 72mm diameter. I suspect the object of the enlarged final ring is is to give sufficient additional width to the attached hood and/or any filter to negate vignetting. The lens is quite light weight (280g), but well made. The front element reflects mainly green but there is purple too from the inner elements.

The lens architecture indicates 13 elements in 9 groups, complex in design with a floating focus mechanism. Sporting three different optical glass elements/groups and multi-coating, aberrations should be kept to a minimum. With a minimum close focus distance of 25cm (10") it offers much in a small package and promises to be a great wide-angle companion. The mount is stainless steel, not plastic, and the usual red nipple acts as the mounting guide. Underneath is the serial number plate and the lens is printed 'Made in Japan'.

The ZD9-18mm is 'budget' construction and therefore is NOT dust and drip proof as are the 'high grade' and 'super high grade' offerings.

The overall size of the ZD9-18mm lens generally 'suits' the smaller machines like the E-4XX series. However it does not look out of place on the larger E-3.



Above: the ZD9-18mm on its own; looks slightly out of balance due to the enlarged final carrier ring.





And here's the ZD 9-18mm fitted to the E-3. (Image taken with E-330 and OMZ35-80 x 2.8 zoom)





And here's the ZD 9-18mm fitted to the E-330. (Image taken with E-3 and OMZ35-80 x 2.8 zoom)





And here's the ZD 9-18mm fitted to the E-400. (Image taken with E-3 and OMZ35-80 x 2.8 zoom)


FOCAL LENGTH/APERTURE PROGRESSION:

The ZD9-18mm is rated at F=4.0~5.6. It is interesting to see how quickly the aperture closes when zooming. The focal length/aperture progression of the lens is:

* 9mm = f4.0

*10mm = f4.1

*11mm = f4.2

*12mm = f4.4

*13mm = f4.5

*14mm = f4.7

*15mm = f5.0

*16mm = f5.2

*17mm = f5.3

*18mm = f5.6

There is a full stop of light difference across the zoom spread. Looking at the aperture progression light performance has been weighted in favour of the first three millimeters of focal length (9-11mm) at the wide end. At 14mm the ZD9-18mm enjoys an aperture of f=4.7.

The ZD9-18mm has a 100-62 degree angle of view.

COMPARED TO THE ZD7-14mm:

It is natural to draw comparisons. The nearest ZD lens to compare the ZD9-18mm with is the more expensive, fully dust and drip proof ZD7-14mm. The ZD9-18mm with its fastest aperture spread of F=4.0~5.6 may seem a tad slow at the longer end, but as most users will be interested mainly in its widest angle performance, i.e. 9mm (f=4.0) at this focal length it is equal in light gathering performance to its twice the price sibling, the ZD7-14mm at 9mm. On the ZD9-18mm f=4.0 is only available at 9mm; as soon as you set 10mm the aperture drops to f=4.1; however, as said above the light performance is weighted towards the wide end making the budget version only 2/3rds of a stop slower at 14mm than its expensive sibling. Whether the additional 2mm of focal length offered by the ZD7-14mm suits you/your photography, only you can decide. (Bear in mind the ZD7-14mm is f=4.0 all the way through; has an angle of view of 114-75 degrees, and is a 'Top Pro Grade/Super High Grade' lens).

FOCUS MODES:

Manual focus is typical 'fly by wire' being light and reasonably responsive, is quite generous in movement but please remember accurate manual focus is limited by viewfinder reproduction. Obviously, manual focus is easier to achieve on the larger screen of the E-3 (&E-1) than the smaller screens of the E4XX and E5XX series. Focus confirmation (beep and green dot) works in manual focus mode.

In AF mode, focus is quick and robust with little difference between use on the 'older' E-400 or the E-3. However, and quite surprisingly, low light AF performance is only marginally better on the E-3 body. In fact I found in very low-light conditions those E-cameras with focus assist lights (E-1 with IR lamp and E4XX/5XX with flash strobe assist) performed better due to their AF assist lights. All focus movement is internal so the end tube does not rotate in use making the use of filters and especially CPols more attractive.

I have been contacted by one new owner of the ZD9-18mm who has found the following focus issues with the lens in combination with his E-510: (At 9mm only):

1. Sunny conditions, average or better contrast: no problems

2. Sunny conditions, little or no contrast: focus confirmation after a delay of 1-5 seconds

3. Overcast/shade/indoors/evening, lots of contrast, focus confirmation after a delay of 1-5 seconds

4. Overcast/shade/indoors/evening, little or no contrast, no focus confirmation at all.

I reviewed the lens on E-3 body only and found no focus issues at all. However, in light of the above comments I will try the lens on my E-400 and report back. This will take a few days. (note posted 14/10/08)


BARREL DISTORTION TEST IMAGES:

I set up the tripod indoors with my 'test chart' and 'just' fill the frame with the chart at both ends of the zoom travel. I have the chart as level and plumb as I can get it, as well as the camera. The ZD9-18mm is fitted to the E-3 for this test. I do not use flash.

When complete I usually examine the results in PhotoShop and mark the captured image horizontals with red lines above and below the rendered top and bottom line on the chart, but I've decided to leave these results untouched so you can see for yourself the degree of barrelling and/or distortion. Here are the results at 9mm and 18mm:



Here you can see some complex distortion of both verticals, more defined on the left. The level of barrel distortion for a 9mm lens is less than I anticipated. But, the complex distortion may take some sorting out in post-processing.





At 18mm the level of barrel is greatly reduced and is an exceptional result for this focal length with the horizontal lines being almost perfectly rendered. However there is still a touch of complex distortion of the left hand vertical.


STANDARD TEST:

I set up the tripod to do some test shots against one of my normal targets - my summerhouse with an Olympus advert stuck in the window! Distance from tripod to front of summerhouse is 35 feet.

For all sessions of testing I use the E-3 with these base settings: A mode, ESP, ISO = 100, WB AUTO, NR= OFF, S-AF, File = L Super Fine JPG, COMPENSATION = 0; tripod mounted and shutter tripped with RC-C1 (Generic version of RM1) remote.



This is my target shot taken with the ZD9-18mm set to 9mm.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/125th; f=4; ISO=100; Comp=0.



The following two sets of crops are taken from a series of images shot at 9mm and then zoomed into 18mm and taken at an aperture progression of F=4, 6.3, 8, 11, 16:



This first set of crops shows how the lens performs at 9mm wide open (f=4) to f=16; as you can see it is soft wide open but sharpens up nicely at f=6.3, stays quite sharp at f=8 but softens again as f=11 is reached and at f=16 is softer than it is wide open due to diffraction. Effetively this means for critically sharp images you have approx f=5.6 ~ f=10; all else will be a tad soft to very soft.



The second set of crops shows how the lens performs at 18mm wide open (f=5.6) to f=16; because the zoom has brought the subject closer the crops appear much sharper as the image is proportionally larger. I've reproduced both sets of crops at the same size so you can judge them directly. Again, at f=5.6 the result is a little bit soft but nicely sharp at f=6.3. If anything it gets marginally sharper at f=8 but softens a tad at f=11 and by f=16 the image sharpness is about the same as at f=5.6. This is a much better result than that at the 9mm end and is to be expected. Certainly, at 18mm, the mid range of f=6.3 ~ f=10 will provide the best results, but even wide open and up to f=11+ the results are very acceptable.



COMMENTS ON STANDARD TEST:

These results are generally in line with most other 'budget' lens offerings from Olympus and follow the accepted norm of being a tad soft to soft wide open, sharpening up rapidly and in sequence as the aperture is closed up to around f=11 when softening sets in again as diffraction affects performance.

During my time with the ZD9-18mm I found f=6.3 delivered the most consistent results. At 9mm your aperture choice is limited if you are strictly concerned about 'critical' sharpness. However, the results do sharpen up in post processing with some sensitive application of unsharp mask. However, at the 18mm end, sharpness performance improves significantly and good results can be had from apertures between f=5.6 and F=11.

We simply cannot expect to have sharp images wide open from these 'budget' offerings compared to the 'top pro grade' series which also benefit from faster glass and weatherpfroofing.

I'm pretty impressed with what I've seen so far. Of course the ZD9-18mm is not perfect; it has a bit of complex distortion and is a bit soft wide open - but generally it is a good performer. Please remember it is not that long ago that an OM Zuiko prime 18mm lenses would set you back 950 and the widest Olympus zoom you could buy was the OMZ28-48mm f=4 (equivalent to a ZD14-24). All lens design is a compromise but it's obvious to me this generation of lenses is far more sophisticated than the previous prime generation and the designers are really working those computer models hard to find the ultimate compromises. Things have surely moved on a pace.

COMPARISON WITH ZD7-14 at 9mm against the same target:

It seems natural to compare the ZD9-18mm with the only other UWA lens from Olympus, the ZD7-14mm. To me this is hardly a fair comparison because the wider, brighter and Top Pro Grade lens will surely out perform the budget UWA. Let's see:



There's a slight colour shift here by the ZD7-14mm and the same lack of sharpness wide open. As with the ZD9-18mm the images sharpen up as the aperture is reduced with the sharpest results occurring at f-6.3~11 but there is a slight difference in the two sets of results; the ZD9-18mm having the edge.

OBSERVATIONS ON COMPARATIVE TEST:

Well, this is a surprise. The results from the ZD7-14mm at 9mm appear to be very similar to the budget offering. But, in fact when I was putting together the crops I compared the full size images directly and, if anything, the results from the budget lens are marginally better than from the expensive ZD7-14mm. Perhaps this is due to the colour and contrast difference between the lenses as the ZD9-18mm renders colour a little better and has marginally more contrast leading to the perception of greater sharpness. Or is it due to the ZD7-14mm being 'in the middle' of its zoom range i.e. away from the comfort of its widest setting, I don't know. But, the more I examine the results from the original files the more I have to admit, the Z9-18mm has the edge with this test.

I'm going to have to revisit this comparison when I have more time so please keep popping back and I will provide another series of comparative shots.


FIELD EXAMPLES:

In my quest for samples for your perusal, I decide to have a trip to Easby Abbey, a ruined 14th century monastery, followed by a short detour through Richmond to 'The Batts', a waterfall and rocky outcrop in the path of the River Swale. The morning is pretty clear and bright with wondeful blue skies but this lasts only 35 minutes before it dulls in with heavy cloud cover. Damned British weather....



Hertitage Sign: This is the sign at the main entrance to the Abbey grounds. I thought it might prove useful in later determination of what bit is which. This shot was taken at f=4; 1/160th; comp = 0; ISO 100; all else standard; heavily cropped. I have added the legend only to give you a sense of place for the following images.





This is the secondary chapel marked A on the heritage map.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/500th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (7.7MB file) here





And here we are inside the secondary chapel marked A. The bright and low sun cast some horrendous shadows and for this shot I metered off the darker wall on the right. The ESP metering held both highlight and shadow without blowing the sky.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/160th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (7.6MB file) here





As far as I can ascertain this is an area that sits between the main Abbey (E) and the courtyard (D).

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/800th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.





This wider angle shot shows all that is left of the Abbey from this aspect, namely the secondary chapel marked A and the main Abbey's front entrance at E.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/500th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (8.25MB file) here





Looking at the rear buildings (F) from a small arched window.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/100th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.





Similar to above from a different angle.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/100th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.





Recessed arched slot window overlooking the courtyard D.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/500th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.

This is a 100% crop taken from the bottom left of the full size image - unprocessed.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (9.4MB file) here





Some architectural detail in the main body of the Abbey E.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/200th; f=5.6; ISO=100; Comp=0.





This is looking over Richmond from Maision dieu. It is locally known as the 'Toy Town' view. So popualr is this view the local Town Council installed a special low-walled promentory at the appropriate spot. This first image is taken at 9mm and suffers a little from too much foreground.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/500th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.





The second image is at 18mm and you can see the difference between widest/nearest zoom settings. The trees need cutting back to restore the view which is poorer now than I remember from 15 years ago.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/500th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp=0.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (7.3MB file) here





The first image of 'The Fosse' (literal translation is 'pit') is at 9mm. It is quite subdued today. When the Swale is in spate this is an awesome sight and appears to be one huge fall stretching from near to far banks. The Swale is the fastest rising river in England and one of the most dangerous.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/320th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp= -0.3.

This is a 100% crop taken from the bottom left of the full size image - unprocessed.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (7.3MB file) here





And the second image is at 18mm using the same focal point. I've seen trout leaping up this waterfall, but not today. As usual in this type of light I have applied my almost customary -0.3 compensation.

EXIF: E-3; A mode; 1/320th; f=6.3; ISO=100; Comp= -0.3.

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (7.14MB file) here


SOME INDEPENDENT FIELD EXAMPLES: Report from Freek Vos, Holland

It just so happens that an Olympus Circle member from Holland bought one of the first ZD9-18mm's in readiness for his recent holiday in Italy. We agreed that it would be a great idea if he could provide some 'field' images from his trip for this article. I've just received them tonight (15/10/08) so I can now include them - enjoy! The benefit of someone else's perspective is to bring another dimension to this review - that of another photographers eye and interpretation of the scene and how best it may be captured, offering another totally independent result for you to study.

The following is directly from Freek Vos, an early adopter of the ZD9-18mm:

"My pictures were taken in northern Italy, on the edge of the Italian Alps (the province of Belluno in the Veneto region). And my opinion of the lens? I am actually very pleased with it. I am an UWA lover, and one of my misgivings with the 4/3 system was the lack of an affordable UWA, and the fact that the legacy (U)WA's become just average performing standard focal length lenses. With this lens, the transition from my OM-mount collection (20mm, 21mm, 24mm) to the Zuiko Digital has gone much smoother."

"I think the quality of this lens is very good. Colors are accurate, sharpness and contrast are fine. There is just a little bit of unsharpness in the extreme corners, and there is some CA/PF when contrast is pushed to the limit. But these aspects are to be expected of any UWA and are in fact well under control. I especially like the fact that the lens goes up to 36 mm EFL, making this an excellent choice for my standard lens (I do not have the 12-60mm). 35mm was the standard for most compact-camera's, and I still have some great pictures taken with the old Mju-1. The price for the 9-18mm is now around 500 euros in Holland, which in my opinion is great value for money (actually only a third of the 7-14mm lens)."

"Combined with the 14-42 and the 70-300 I now have almost the complete 18 to 600mm EFL range covered with just 3 lenses, which is great for hikes and bike-trips."

These are the basic camera settings for the following images with EXIF shown below each image:

E-510: Color natural; sharpness -1; contrast -1; saturation -1; gradation normal; color space sRGB; WB auto; IS1 on.

(From Editor: If the way this review has been put together seems a little disjointed this is because it's being constructed in real time and is responding to dynamic happenings over which I have little control. However it is reflecting real experiences - exactly what you, as potential buyers of this lens, want.)



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/500th; f=4; ISO=100



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/10th; f=8; ISO=400

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (6.23MB file) here



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/10th; f=8; ISO=1600

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (6.8MB file) here



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/400th; f=5.6; ISO=100

There's a full size untouched JPG of the above to download for your later study (6.56MB file) here



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/160th; f=8; ISO=100



EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/100th; f=8; ISO=100





EXIF: E-510; A mode; 1/100th; f=8; ISO=100

Please help yourself to the zip files (uncompressed) to peruse at your leisure. It is a bonus that this article can offer images from two photographers in different countries and in varying conditions. It adds to the efficacy and honesty of the review and, hopefully, will help you to reach your own conclusions before committing yourself.


OBSERVATIONS ON (MY) EXAMPLES:

Please bear in mind I'm no lover of ultra-wide-angle lenses and as such I don't use my ZD7-14mm as much as I should. The ZD9-18mm being slightly longer at both ends than the 7-14mm suits my modus operandii marginally better. This is a very useful lens that lends itself well to many situations, especially architectural and street scene shots. I've never been convinced that very wide angle lenses are best for sweeping landscapes as they tend to include far too much foreground. But I see they have their place.

The ZD9-18mm has a pretty good level of inherent sharpness and I especially liked its accurate colour rendering. Its contrast level is just fine to my eyes, being heavy enough but not over-cooked. My only concern is the lack of speed at the longest end and the way the aperture progresses over the zoom range. Taking into account that diffraction starts its effect at about f=11, this means you only have f=5.6 to around f=10 to play with at 18mm IF critical sharpness is crucial. However, the relative slowness of the lens across its zoom range will present no problem on good, bright days, but is going to be restrictive when conditions are not great or when working inside. That said, this is a 'budget' lens, and a fine one too.


OPINION:

I'm very impressed with this lens' overall performance; I didn't know what to expect, especially as I own the ZD lens with which many will compare the new 'budget' offering. But this little lens holds its own without doubt.

SHARPNESS: Very Good: I was surprised and delighted to see levels of sharpness akin to the more expensive ZD7-14mm.

CORNERS: Very Good to excellent: to me there was no loss of sharpness in the corners on relatively close subjects. Corner sharpness will drop a tad on longer shots though - inevitable with UWA's

CONTRAST: Very Good - contrasty enough, but not over-done.

COLOUR RENDERING: Excellent: accurate, slightly warm but no major issues here.

RESOLUTION: Very good to excellent; bearing in mind its 'budget' status this lens competes very well.

CHROMATIC ABBERRATION: There is a touch of CA (PF) on areas having high contrast areas. Nothing dramatic.

BARRELLING: Average at 9mm, excellent at 18mm: This is a wide angle lens and as such is prone to a bit of barrel.

FLARE: I did not find flare an issue but I did not take off the hood. I'd expect flare when the sun hits the lens periphery.

HANDLING: Good, smooth zoom, manual focus the same as all Fly By Wire ZD's.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you have any desire for an ultra-wide-angle zoom and have about 450 to spare, then the ZD9-18mm offers exceptional value for money. It offers output on a par with that of the Top Pro Grade lens, the ZD7-14mm costing two and a half times the price. As a piece of optical engineering I think Olympus have played a great card here by creating a 'budget' UWA offering a sensible compromise focal length spread, sitting comfortably between the ZD7-14mm and the ZD11-22mm. It is lenses like these that show the true lineage of Olympus as first class optical designers and manufacturers. This is a winning lens.

Will I be buying one? As I already have the ZD7-14mm, the answer has to be no. But if I didn't have the ZD7-14mm I'd be flexing my plastic, for sure even though I'm no lover of wide-angles.

ACTUAL PRICES (MRRP):

UK 499; Available on-line for about 429; Not available in US as of October 2008. EUR price Euros 600 Now down to 500.


NOTE: This article seeks nothing other than to inform. Only you can decide what equipment you want/need for your use. Occasionally I test cameras/lenses on loan from Olympus UK for website review; the ZD9-18mm UWA lens is one such piece. However; I have nothing to gain or lose by publishing this article, photographs, examples or opinion. Olympus UK have no input into this review.


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Posted October 2008 Copyright © 2004/2005/2006/2007/2008 John Foster