Build Quality, Ergonomics & Price
The Zuiko OMs do feel more solid and robust upon first inspection; however, its not that simple. I may only have bought five lenses of each (which is not the largest sample size), but here are my impressions based on that
None of the Canons have any play in the focus or mounting. Three of the Zuiko OMs do. One is only just noticeable, one in the middle and one quite noticeable. None of this impacts use or performance, but it is there. Is this a matter of build quality, just quirks of the type, age or usage? I don’t know and don’t really care, but it in my case every single one of the Canon FDns has absolutely perfect silky smooth focus with no play anywhere. I do hear that in the 24mm there are some rubber bushes in the focus mechanism that can perish and cause 1mm or so of play in the focus, but mine is not affected.
Overall, I do not think the Canon FDns are built to a lower standard in so far as it matters to the photographer. The 35mm and 28mm are ultralight and have more plastic than the 24mm and 20mm etc, but they still feel very well put together and perfectly able to do the job required of them. Personally, I am not too interested in extra weight unless it serves a purpose. With the FDns, it does not feel like anything is missing. Interestingly, cosmetically, the Canons look like they have stood up better to use as well. I was not expecting this.
The Canons are a touch more fiddly to mount due to the little lever thingy that needs to be positioned correctly against the little retaining bar inside the adaptor to ensure the lens stops down when the aperture ring is moved. This takes all of about ten seconds to figure out the first time and one whole additional second to mount each lens. Big deal.
I prefer the aperture feel from the Zuiko OM lenses and it just seems a bit easier to grasp, but the Canon lenses do half stops, where the Zuiko lenses do not. I’ll take the extra exposure flexibility of half stops personally, but YMMV. If I don’t need to stop down to f16, where diffraction is setting in, but can use f13 where it is less so (and where I have a touch more DOF than F11), I will. It may seem like hair splitting, but if we are going to get the most out of these wonderful sensors, it matter and little things add up (like weight!).
Filter sizes: The Zuikos are all 49mm, which is useful. The Canons are all 52mm, except for the 20mm, which is 72mm. I not own a Canon 85 1.8, but see it is a 55mm thread. Certainly if you use glass filters, you will be able to standardise on 49mm with the OMs even with 21mm and 85mm included and this is preferable.
As a final issue, it is clear that the Zuiko OMs are not as well sealed. There were FAR more cases of lenses for sale being declared as infested by fungus or dust/debris. From my selection of lenses, the Zuiko OMs clearly have far more dust ingress than the Canons. In fact I was shocked by the number of fungus ridden Zuiko OM lenses on ebay and cannot imagine that they have all been stored in more humid conditions than other manufacturer’s lenses.
The Zuiko OM’s are appreciably more expensive in many cases. A quick calculation based on a 20/21mm f2.8/3.5, 24mm 2.8, 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8/2 puts the Zuiko kit at 50% more expensive off ebay. This is from considerable internet watching and comparing like with like (i.e. multicoated lenses) and its pretty accurate as a rule of thumb. If you compare Canon FDns (which are all multicoated) with single coated Zuiko OMs this will come down somewhat, but the Zuiko set will still be more expensive. There are individual focal lengths where prices are pretty close (such as between 28mm f2.8/3.5 lenses and 50mm f1.4s, but head into 20mm territory and a multicoated 21mm f3.5 Zuiko will not only be quite hard to find, but about 80% more expensive than the Canon 20mm. The same goes for the 24mm f2.8s). I did not buy a 21mm f3.5 Zuiko as I was not prepared to pay what was being asked for them. Clean MC examples were selling for around £300! I picked up my Canon 20mm for less than half that.
- Significantly cheaper
- Smoother/nicer focus feel. Tolerances feel tighter,
- Less dust ingress
- Half stop aperture settings
- More compact (particularly as stand-alone lenses)
- More metal ‘feel’ (if this matters to you)
- Slightly clearer aperture settings, by feel (the Canons are much finer and harder to nail. Some also feel a bit tight at one end)
- 49mm filter threads throughout.
By this point I was quite surprised. I was expecting the small and revered Zuikos to be giving the Canons a kicking. I was expecting the Canons to feel horribly plasticky (based on internet chatter) and to feel cheap in comparison. I was also not expecting the extent to which the smaller adaptor would level things out and the additional heft of the smaller OM lenses.
In my book, the Canon FDns are just in the lead at this point (based on my priorities), but it all counts for nought if their optical performance is noticeably inferior to the Zuikos. Does the compactness of the Zuiko OM lenses come with an optical penalty? Does each line have consistency in look? Are they remotely comparable to modern optics? I will answer these questions with a mixture of sample images and comment. Lets just say the truth is already out there on the internet, but it is fragmented and there is a lot of complete garbage being spouted along with it. In these articles I will draw a neat line through it all and give you something solid to work with when it comes to making your own decisions. Certainly the impression I have is very clear and in my opinion, one system does represent the ‘better buy’ for those who do not already own lenses or one type or the other. That’s not to say that there aren’t some absolute crackers in each system, because there are…
In Part 2 we will run through the imaging characteristics of these lenses before discussing other considerations and buying advice in part 3.