Please see Part 1 here.
Poor weather has delayed proceedings, but I have now done all the shooting I need to in order to reach some working conclusions. I’m aware of the naysayers who will tear apart methodology and technique, so right off the bat I am going to tell you that I have not attempted to go about this like a scientist. The reasons are as follows:
- I do not shoot under laboratory conditions in the field. If differences are not evident with how I shoot, I am not that interested.
- I do not have the patience, or interest 😉
- Re answer #2, I have seen The Shining and don’t want to be Jack and so there is no danger of me changing my mind!
What is clear is that there are some superb lenses in both systems. There are ‘family trends’ and there are a few issues well worth noting too. These legacy lenses won’t be for everyone, but personally I am stunned by the performance of a few of them. In this part, I will look at the wide-angles between 20mm and 28mm. Medium focal lengths of 35mm and 50mm will be covered in Part 3. Because my interest is primarily in building a lightweight, cost effective landcape kit, I am also going to focus on the best overall aperture. In all cases, I found this to be f8-11. I settled on f11, because this was the best overall aperture for most of the lenses tested (and as close to makes no difference for those where f8 was arguably a hair better) While I had intended to post A7 and A7R images side by side in this piece, I now intend to do this separately. It’s just too much to hold together in one article.
‘First Impressions’ – The 20-28mm Wides In addition to the points raised in Part 1, you will likely notice the slightly stiffer focusing on the Zuiko OM lenses compared to the Canon FDn optics. Were I a street photographer, I would probably not want something with a fairly long nose like the adapted lenses (native lenses are shorter overall), but the Zuiko OMs are better if you are going to use adapted SLR lenses. The focus on the Canons is beautifully smooth and perfect for tripod use, but perhaps a touch too light for street. They’re just too easy to move accidentally and this can mean valuable shots missed. For this reason, I also prefer my CV 35 f2.5 pancake over the Leica Summarit-M 35 on Leica M bodies. Sure, the latter is ‘better’, but if the shots are not remotely in focus, all is lost.
General Imaging Characteristics All lenses vary, even within a family, but there are some clear consistent trends here: The Canon FDn set is extremely homogenous. Their fingerprint is essentially identical, from lens to lens (I can see zero difference). You just see focal length changing. Colour and contrast is indistinguishable between the 24 2.8, 28 2.8, 35 2.8 and 50 1.4. You will notice that I left out the 20mm. This is because the 20mm has a hair less contrast and colour saturation. Its no big deal but it does stand just outside the pack if you look very carefully. It is, however, not worth worrying about, because its only a few points of LR adjustment to set in line. I find the Canon FDns to be neutral to warm and to look quite modern. They certainly don’t have a vintage fingerprint look at all and the files stand alongside modern EOS lenses very well. They are not quite as snappy and fresh looking as the best EF lenses or the L line, but you’d be unlikely to fall over the difference when looking through a set of mixed frames. They also look quite similar to the stock FE 28-70 OSS Kit zoom.
The Zuiko OM lenses are also quite consistent, although a little less so. The overall trend is for slightly lower contrast than the Canon FDn lenses, cooler tones and marginally lower colour saturation. My assessment of this is not based on the images I am showing here alone, but based on shooting all sorts of frames and comparing them. The difference is there and much easier to spot in very flat lighting, where the inherent contrast of the lens (rather than scene) shows through a lot more clearly. However, the flip side is that if you shoot in very bright, high contrast conditions, these Zuiko lenses will deliver a little more shadow detail, which can be handy. I will also suggest that the two lens sets have a different ‘curve’. Left to its own devices, the OM shots will come out with slightly more open shadow detail and less highlight contrast. While it is possible that dropping exposure by a fraction will make them look more like the Canon files, I think its more likely due to the inherent nature of the lens (and glass). I saw this difference in enlarger lenses too and much preferred my Durst Neonon 50mm f2.8 over the Schneider Componon-S for this reason. Highlights had more substance with the Durst, as if the print had received a little pre-flash, even though the rest of the range was essentially the same as the Schneider. Below are two comparison shots from which you should be able to see the difference between the FDn and OM lenses in fairly high contrast light. The sun was fairly low, behind and to my right and so this added warmth and contrast to the scene, helping the Zuikos out a little. The Canon lens files look a bit richer, but preference is subjective:
Neither the FDn or Zuiko OM lenses have quite the contrast of the Sony Zeiss FE lenses, such as the 35mm used in the below example images. Here you can see a bit more sparkle and contrast in the highlights and upper mid tones of the Zeiss FE and this is despite the 35mm FDn being at the upper end of performance within the FDn line. If you shoot the FDn or OM lenses in a mixed bag (particularly the latter), along with modern Leica optics, for example, you will notice immediately how much richer the colours are with the Leica-M optics and how much more tonal richness there is in flat light. Its not subtle and will take time in post to balance things out between images, if you desire a homogeneous set. The below images to compare the FDn 35 2.8 and Zeiss FE 35 f2.8, both shot at f11. For some reason the Zeiss frames needed to be reduced by 1/2 stop of exposure in Lightroom to match the same shots using the Canon lens (both captured using autoexposure).
The CA generated by the Zuiko OM and Canon FDn lenses is also surprisingly similar. Below shows two 100% sections, from competing lenses. Look at the edges of the shadows for some ‘in your face’ CA.
When compared to native lenses, its clear what huge gains have been made with ‘digital era’ lenses. The Sony 28-70 zoom makes this clear, with only very minor CA issues. The vintage set it in a different (much worse) category. If you are a casual shooter and don’t ever want to think about CA, then stay away. If you are happy to add ‘remove CA’ in post and possibly do a quick de-fringe (if required), then carry on readying….
Note the total absence of CA from the kit zoom without any digital intervention (see below). Its impressive….
I have not tested flare as this requires seriously careful testing as minuscule variations in angle and position of the sun can change everything. Based on first impressions, I’d put the FDn lenses pretty darned close to typical modern, with the Zuikos and the FDn 20mm a level below. None are flare monsters, but point the 20mm at the sun and you are going to see flare spots; this much is clear (in the viewfinder, of course). Its no 21mm ZM Biogon! The 24mm FDn did a very good job against the sun when I shot a friend on the beach recently and I would have no reason to think the longer focal lengths would do any worse. The Zuiko lenses also surprised me in the form of the 28mm f3.5, because this lens seems to possess more contrast and warmer colour than any of the other OM wide angles, yet is single coated. When you pick up the 28 3.5 and then the newer MC f2.8 version, it is clear that the older lens is quite a bit heavier. There is evidently more glass inside and this does seem to manifest itself at least in terms of contrast being higher. As for the rest of its performance, keep reading.
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