These primes all produce stronger resolution than the Sony 28-70mm OSS kit lens at most working apertures. If you own the Sony Zeiss 35mm FE, but want a wider lens, buying the 24-70 f4 Zeiss or 28-70 Sony now has alternatives if you are only after a wider view. Both the OM 24 and FDn give it a whipping. The only advantage the Sony has is slightly more modern colour and contrast compared to the OMs.
On a budget, you can pick up an adaptor for £10 and FDn 28 f2.8 for £35 (or 40 or so for the OM 28 2.8 MC). You’ll pay considerably more for a used kit zoom, if you can find one. I know which one I would take on an important trip.
At the distance the test scene was shot, on average, the Oly OM lenses are a touch stronger in overall resolution than the FDn line up at distance, but this is unlikely to be visible in anything but large prints of perhaps 30” plus. Even then, for practical purposes, it’s not terribly important.
I have shot the OM set against the FDns in the UK as well, at a closer distance (15m) and it was my view that the Canon FDn lenses performed noticeably better in the outer field when focused at closer distances than they did in this test. The OMs were clearly a touch better on centre (as they are here), but to my eyes the Canons turned the tables in the outer field (which is the opposite of what we see here). What this goes to show is that lens testing is very difficult to do in such a way as to tell the whole story. Lenses do change in performance depending on focus distance. This is very obvious for macro lenses vs normal, but people assume it not to be the case for other lenses. My Eos 24mm TS-E II, for example, is not that brilliant at infinity at the edges. It’s decent, but clearly not as good as my 24-70 II zoom. Focus it at 5-10m and it’s utterly uniform from centre to edge and far corner at working apertures, so its not an ‘old lens thing’.
In overall terms, I regard both the FDn and Olympus OM lens systems to be pretty close in performance and I would have little hesitation using either. In doing these tests, of course I have not been able to include two important lenses: a 35mm Zuiko MC and a 50mm Zuiko 1.4 MC, which could potentially swing an overall verdict in one or other direction. The 35mm Zuiko f2.8 does not have a particularly good reputation (whereas the comparable FDn tested here does) and the FDn 50 1.4 tested is known to be absolutely superb, so it seem both systems have their strengths and weaknesses from an optical perspective. The overall message, which is perhaps reassuring, is that either system is a fine choice (or dip into both) and its my firm opinion that variation between samples is going to make a lot more difference than lens family choice.
I’m going to do more shooting or real life subjects and process the files to the end state. This is probably going to tell me a lot more about what matters than this test. But either way, rest assured, I’d have no hesitation packing either system for a serious landscape project or for travel. I think the Zuiko files would take a little more work in post for colour than the Canons. They just look a little ‘dull’ and at times a bit weak in the highlights to my eyes, but there is no doubting the superb performance of the wide-angles. How both translate into B&W files remains to be seen, but the difference between them will surely manifest itself here too. I hope to do some simple tests a in the 5m range to see what happens in the outer field when the Zuikos and FDns are compared again….
Pick of the Pack
- GOLD – Canon FDn 50 1.4: Glowy for portraits at f1.4. Sharp as hell at middle apertures for everything else.
- SILVER – Canon FDn 35 f2.8: One of the sharpest 35mm lenses I have ever used at landscape apertures.
- BRONZE – Oly OM 50 3.5 Macro: Sharp corner to corner. Competent at long distances when stopped down, but stunning up close and with beautiful bokeh.
Adapted Lenses = More Variables
There are a number of factors at play here that may explain the differences between the various test session results when comparing the FDn and OM lenses:
- Focus distance. It matters.
- Sample variation and decentering.
- Adaptor decentering (which can play games with the above).
- Technique and focus accuracy.
- Lens idiosyncrasies, such as curvature of field (interacting with the above).
Shooting adapted lenses is a compromise. I have not measured my adaptors, nor tested a large sample, nor a large sample of vintage lenses. What we have here is a classic pickle that will take far more time to unravel than I have any inclination to invest as a photographer first and blogger second! It has made it clear to me that you can either spend a heck of a lot of time trying to perfect too many links in a chain, or enjoy adapted lenses for what they are: a relatively cheap solution to achieving very high quality, with a few caveats:
- Wide open shooting is likely to be compromised, or at least inconsistent. If anything is off centre, you are going to see degraded performance… somewhere, especially with wides where fractional deviations make a big impact.
- Some degree of testing is needed to know what your body, adaptor, lens, technique combination has yielded and what limitations to apply.
There is a large grey (black actually) monster in the room: I have one zoom lens that beats every single one of the tested 20-28mm wide-angles in resolution, colour, contrast and CA and that is the Tokina 16-28 f2.8. It weighs 1Kg, but its performance is literally perfect from 16mm-22mm at f8. At 24mm it’s the tiniest hair less than perfect and a fraction less sharp than the Canon 24-70 II, but not enough to matter. At 28mm, you need to be at f11 for the best performance, but it will still equal the best of these lenses at this aperture, with more saturated colour and contrast.
If you want the best possible wide-angle performance, adapt a Tokina 16-28 or Nikon 14-24mm, or 24-70 L II. Alternatively, wait for the forthcoming Sony Zeiss and Zeiss primes and see how they do. I suspect the manual focus Zeiss offerings will be spectacular… however, if your goal is to get ‘very good’ wide angle performance on a tight budget and with low weight, these lenses are superb options. Were I to travel and need to carry my kit for hours and hours, I’d probably pack a 24mm and 35 at the wide end for about 1/3rd the weight of an adapted 16-28/24-70.
In the next article I will comment on where I see these lenses being useful to me, because they most definitely will be. I brought them to Afghanistan to shoot a new project and that’s exactly what I am going to do! After that, I will do a shorter piece on the 85mm f2 Zuiko OM, which I have, erm, fallen in love with.