Since turning digital in 2004 I’ve been using Canon cameras (mainly the original 5D and 5D MkII) with a set of f4 L zoom lenses for my landscape work and have been very happy with the results. The f4 zooms save a bit of weight over quality f2.8 lenses, but the full kit is still fairly weighty for a long hike so I’ve been considering switching to the Olympus system for a while, having had the lovely little OM-D E-M10 as my backup camera for about 18 months.
I got the tiny powerzoom 14-42mm EZ kit lens with the E-M10 which makes a lovely take-anywhere camera for hand-held shooting, but the extra small design obviously compromises a bit on quality, so I recently ordered the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens to try out on the E-M10 body. The lens arrived at the weekend so I was out on Monday morning putting it through its paces (well, I did have a quick go on Saturday but this was the first time setting it up on a tripod and looking at the results critically).
I headed round to Knaresborough Castle top to photograph the viaduct across the Nidd (my usual starting point with a new bit of kit!). I also took the Canon 5D MkII and 24-105mm f4 L along to take some comparison shots, and for good measure I had the Olympus 14-42mm EZ lens with me as well. The 12-40mm lens is obviously much smaller than the Canon lens, but feels very solid and well-made. The zoom and focus action feels positive and the AF/MF clutch is a great idea – you just pull the focus ring back to switch to MF which exposes the focus scale as well, so it’s easy to do whilst looking through the viewfinder.
I took a number of shots around the middle of the zoom range on all three lenses and apertures selected to get good depth of field and matched them up so the depth of field should be the same on both systems (so I used f11, f16 and f22 on the Canon compared with f5.6, f8 and f11 on the Olympus). The church shot above is an unsharpened section from the featured image (top) taken with the Olympus 12-40 Pro lens at f8 (equivalent DoF to f16 on the Canon).
I have to say I’m mighty impressed with the results. The Olympus 12-40 lens is nice and sharp at f8 and easily as good as the Canon lens and (as you might expect) significantly better than the 14-42mm EZ. The Canon lens is a shade softer stopped right down to f22 – and so is the Olympus 12-40 at f11 but still acceptable. At f16 and f22 the Olympus lens is softer again, but I’m unlikely to use those apertures, even for landscape, due to the depth of field available at f8.
Last time I compared two camera systems at the viaduct it was between the Deardorff 45 Special with 5x4in Fuji Velvia film against the original Canon 5D and, having made an A2 print from the 5D I never used the Deardorff again! I may still need the Canon for a while longer as I’ve not got a long lens for the Olympus system yet, but I’m now convinced and it’s only a matter of time…