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  • A Review of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    We have to honest. Any time there is an announcement for a fixed-focal length, fast-aperture lens, we get pretty excited. Actually, that is a lie. We get VERY excited. When Olympus announced the 12mm f/2.0 and the 45mm f/1.8 we were happy for the micro four thirds market. Now that there are some years behind the mFT movement, and there are many individuals who have become entrenched in the system, it is great to see some serious additions from Olympus. That is not to say lenses like the 17mm f/2.8 or the 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 are not serious, but these lenses simply feel necessary, unlike the 12mm f/2.0, which took a lot of people by surprise with its announcement. In addition, the physical design of the lens looks like more effort was put into thinking about its look, feel, and use.

    We have heard some people say differently, but we think the 12mm f/2.0 looks great. The compact, clean, and metallic design complements the PEN cameras brilliantly. In addition, the 12mm f/2.0 is extremely light weight at a mere 130g. Normally we are a little hesitant with light lenses. Typically when you feel a light lens in your hand, it feels cheap. And, in our experience, that is usually the correct assumption. A lot of plastic is substituted where metal should have been used. In the case of the 12mm f/2.0, although it is very light, it does feel very solid. It may use a lot of plastic (we aren't sure, but we can see the mount is metal), but it certainly does not feel that way.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Metal Mount of Olympus 12mm f/2.0

    The dimensions of the lens are compact, which is great for use with a mFT camera. The lens does not protrude too much, and the balance feels great in the hands.

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus 12mm f/2.0 Next to a Nickel

    One of the really neat things about this lens is the "snap focus" feature. This is one of the reasons why we feel like the 12mm f/2.0 is a more "serious" product for the mFT market, and why we feel like Olympus really put a lot of thought into this lens. In many of the lighter, made-for-digital, and more plastic lenses we have seen, the manual focus is horrible. The manual focus usually feels very loose and "disconnected" from the lens. With the 12mm f/2.0, the focus ring actually snaps from auto to manual focus, just by pulling back (towards the camera) on the focus ring.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Manual Focus Engaged

    Once the manual focus is engaged, a distance scale is revealed, and the focus has a well-dampened movement. The dampening is excellent and reminds us of dedicated manual focus lenses, which is exactly the feel Olympus was trying to recreate. In addition, the manual focus with this lens is extremely easy. Easy in the sense that fine focus just seems to "snap" in to place. It is difficult to describe without seeing or feeling. We did create a short video to highlight the manual focus of the 12mm f/2.0, and we hope it gives you a better idea of how it all works.

    In talking about the manual focus, we should not let it distract us from the autofocus of this lens. The 12mm f/2.0 autofocus is extremely quick for mFT, and it is also extremely quiet, which Olympus attributes to the MSC (movie-still-compatible) mechanism. MSC essentially eludes to the fact that the quiet autofocus will not ruin videos produced with this lens because of annoying autofocus noises being recorded by the camera's internal mic. The fast, quiet autofocus is certainly a big advantage for both stills and video.

    With the compact size, light weight, solid feel, and fast autofocus, this lens was a treat to hold and use. In looking at and feeling the lens, it seemed like it had everything going for it, so we were anxious to take it out for some sample images. As much as we were pleased with the aspects of the 12mm f/2.0 mentioned above, we were thrilled with the image quality. Shot after shot taken with the lens left us impressed with the results. We found the sharpness to be top-notch, the contrast to be, well, contrasty, but not overly so, the chromatic aberrations were a minimum, the distortion was manageable for a 24mm (in 35mm terms) equivalent, and the color and clarity was superb.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThis was a difficult shot for a lens, but from this image you would not necessarily think it so. Just out of frame in the upper, right-hand corner was the sun. There were no clouds covering the sun, so it was directly approaching the front of the lens, although there were some trees to shield some of its power. I was surprised that the image held up as well as it did without any flaring or overall decrease in contrast.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe level of detail retained by this lens is very impressive. You can see how sharp the above image really is from this crop.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWe liked really liked and appreciated the overall brilliance, clarity, and color produced by this lens. The colors are pleasing, but still realistic to how we remember the scene.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWith this image I took some artistic liberty. When I saw this booth, I thought it would be cool if you could see the back and the front at the same time. So, I decided to do just that, and cropped two images and spliced them into one.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe image of Charlie was taken indoors and so the ISO was higher than some of the other images I took. Although the higher ISO detracts from the overall detail of the image, you can still see that with this lens there is still plenty of detail even when cropped in close.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensIn this image taken outdoors with a lower ISO, there is a great amount of detail. You can pick up spots of dirt on the towrope attachment. Also, notice the color of the overall image. You can feel the warmth of the evening light, and the blues are great.

    Inside the studio, we ran some shots using the 12mm f/2.0 on our lens test chart. We were very impressed with the results. The lens was across the board sharp, from the largest f/2.0 aperture down to the smallest available aperture of f/22.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/22

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/8

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/2

    We displayed the images above in reverse order on purpose. Normally you would expect the corner sharpness of a lens to improve as the aperture diaphragm is stopped down. In this case it almost seems like the opposite is true. For an aperture of f/22 it is expected that the sharpness will not be as good as, say, f/8 due to diffraction, so that is a little unfair on our part. But, it is pretty impressive how sharp the 12mm f/2 is at a wide open aperture of f/2. In addition, you can see that the chromatic aberration is pretty well controlled at the corners.

    Distortion for wider angle lenses is typically expected and the 12mm f/2.0 is no exception. The image below shows the barrel distortion caused by this lens.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensNotice how the center of the image is closer to the bottom of the frame than either of the edges are.

    If you haven't already concluded, we really like the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens designed for the micro four thirds camera system. From its looks, to its usability, to the image quality, this small lens has everything going for it. It does have a price tag that will put it out of reach for some people, and for those who can't afford it, we suggest saving your pennies (as my mother used to say). If you are interested in purchasing this lens, we offer it in our store or on our website here. If you are looking for a fast aperture, wide-angle fixed focal length lens for the mFT system, we just don't see how you can go wrong.

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens vs. Non-L Lens Comparison

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM L vs. non-L LensesWhen Canon announced the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens late last year, we took it as very welcoming news. We could not think of a customer who was not happy with their 70-200mm L lens in terms of performance (whatever version it may be, although the f/4 non-IS is our most popular seller most likely due to the size, weight and price), but many of those 70-200mm owners wished they could have just a little more reach without the heft and weight of the 100-400mm L lens, in addition to the more awkward "push-pull" zoom function (the 70-200mm f/4 L is approx. 1.5 lbs., the 70-300mm L is approx. 2.3 lbs. and the 100-400mm L is just over 3 lbs.). The 70-300mm L lens now fits perfectly in that void of L lenses: a good compromise in size, weight, and focal length.

    The non-L 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens has always been a good seller for us. The price is right for the quality and features packed into this lightweight and portable zoom telephoto lens. Our customers on the whole have always been pleased with this lens, although we normally do not market it to the most discerning enthusiasts or professionals. One question that we have been hearing for a little while now is how does this lens compare with the newer L version of the same focal length zoom? In terms of L lenses, the 70-300mm L lens is not necessarily considered expensive, but compared to the non-L 70-300mm lens, it certainly does seem expensive, considering it is close to $1000 more. So, again, customers wonder, how do they compare? Is the L lens really that much better? We decided we had to definitively find out for ourselves, so we got out our old lens test chart from the basement, and had a look. What we found was interesting.

    We first tested both L and non-L 70-300mm lenses at the 300mm focal length. Customers purchasing a longer focal length telephoto lens are most likely purchasing it because they are planning on using the longer focal length. So, it only makes sense to start testing the lens at the longer focal length end of the zoom. We decided to try the testing with the Canon 60D, which is currently our most popular selling Canon digital SLR camera body. We set up the camera on a tripod at 26 times the focal length being tested, and shot with the exact same settings, only changing the lens in between shooting through a couple of apertures. We made sure to turn off any in-camera corrections, like Canon's peripheral illumination correction, noise reduction, etc.. The differences between these two lenses at the 300mm focal length are very, well, different. The L lens, hands-down, wins. Browse through the images below to see for yourself. Each image is a 100% crop of the lowest most right-hand corner of the lens test chart.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/16

    non-L @ f/16

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/16

    L @ f/16

    We took a shot at f/16 to see both lenses closed down a bit. Looking at just the non-L image, you would consider that fairly sharp considering it is a 100% crop at the very edge of an image taken with a lens at 300mm. But, when you scroll down to see the image taken with the L lens, you realize the first is really not all that good. The clarity of the image taken with the L lens is phenomenal. The green and red Chromatic Aberrations of the non-L lens are very unsightly and distracting. The L lens holds them in check quite wonderfully.

    We then wanted to check the lenses both wide open. At the largest aperture, the optics of a lens are put to the test.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/5.6non-L @ f/5.6
    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/5.6

    L @ f/5.6

    As you can see, the non-L lens falls apart and turns to mush while at the largest aperture of f/5.6 for this focal length. Although no longer tac-sharp, the L lens still maintains definition--you can make out what some of the numbers are supposed to be.

    We then wanted to see what the images looked like at the shortest focal length of both these lenses--70mm. S0, we moved the tripod closer to the test chart and gave it another go. Here we are including just the image taken with these lenses wide-open, at f/4.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/4

    non-L @ f/4

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/4

    L @ f/4

    As you can see, at 70mm, there is not as great a difference between the two lenses as there was at 300mm. Both lenses are very sharp. If you quickly scroll up and down the L 70-300mm appears to have a little bit more clarity. As the aperture was stopped down, the differences between the two became less apparent.

    Although we did not have the time (this test was to just quickly see if there was a noticeable difference between the lenses) it would be interesting to try the lenses at other focal lengths to see how they compare. We imagine that most people purchasing a telephoto zoom will be leaning more towards the longer focal length end than the shorter focal length end of the zoom, and in comparing the two lenses at 300mm the L is therefore a much better lens to have in your camera bag. If you are looking for a telephoto zoom that will produce tac-sharp images, the L 70-300mm is an obvious choice. Also, you have to keep in mind that when purchasing this lens, the image quality is not the only part of the equation. The L lens is more solid, and better weather sealed. It just feels more sturdy in the hand. In addition, the speed of the autofocus is phenomenally fast. If you are looking to capture images of wildlife, the L 70-300mm is a great choice for getting quick-moving animals (think birds in flight) in focus and capturing them in a tac-sharp image.

    If you are interested in purchasing either of the lenses mentioned here, please visit our retail website by clicking here.

     

  • Nikon Coolpix P7000 Real World First Impressions

    We've had the Nikon Coolpix P7000 in the store now since September, but we've been so busy we haven't had time to really try the camera out. Yes, there are always the moments in the store when we have a few minutes between customers and we sneak a chance to play with the latest and greatest, but it wasn't until this weekend that we really got to try out the new P7000.

    Nikon Coolpix P7000 High-End Digital Point & Shoot

    For those who are not aware, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 is Nikon's high-end digital point and shoot. This relatively compact digital camera has a lot of advanced features, and many external buttons for the advanced user who wants quick manual control over their picture taking experience.

    The P7000 features a 1/1.7" 10.1 megapixel CCD image sensor. It also features a very useful 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens with a maximum aperture range of 2.8-5.6. Some of the advanced features include a 1/4000 sec. maximum shutter speed and the ability to shoot in RAW. Unfortunately the RAW file type is not the same as Nikon's D-SLRs (NRW instead of NEF), so Nikon D-SLR users won't find it a seamless process editing the P7000, and their D-SLR RAW, files. For a full list of specifications, please feel free to visit Nikon's website, www.nikonusa.com.

    This weekend we took a few pictures of a barn being built in Milton, VT, and a couple other shots during a short walk in the woods in Williston, VT. First, we will show you the images, and then we will talk about real world first impressions.

    Overall we found the P7000 to be a great, relatively compact digital camera. The image quality is impressive for a point and shoot, and we found the lens to be very sharp. As you can see, we really enjoyed the in-camera black and whites. The camera is extremely light, and especially for how rugged it feels, so carrying it around was a breeze.

    The P7000 offers a lot of external buttons, and at first we found this to be a drawback. The number of buttons, and the overall button layout seemed to slow us down during our picture taking. Of course, and as with anything, once we got familiar with the button configuration, handling the camera was a lot more fun. We did find the exposure compensation dial to be one of the most useful external controls, and the camera seemed to react quickly once the exposure compensation was adjusted, and the LCD instantly displayed a preview of what we could expect. The dial on top of the camera that controls ISO and other functions was unlike the exposure compensation. Using this dial felt "laggy", and changing the ISO seemed to take longer than it really should.

    As mentioned above, we found the lens to be impressively sharp. In addition, the zoom range is very useful. We never really found ourselves wanting more, be it wider angle or more telephoto. For a compact, the 28-200mm zoom range seems to hit a sweet, useful spot for us. We did find the autofocus to overall be very quick for a compact camera, but when we were taking a picture of a darker scene, or something without a lot of contrast, the autofocus had a difficult time. In low light or low contrast we often had the camera hunt for focus, stop, and then give us a blank screen with a message that the lens was initializing. We can see how this could be extremely frustrating, especially if something important was waiting to be captured.

    When taking digital photographs we usually like to take advantage of the instant feedback at our fingertips. So, we often review our photographs, checking for sharp focus. With the P7000 we did find this to be a slower process. Zooming in during playback was "laggy", and then zooming back out just doubled that effort. What we saw when we did zoom in made us happy, however; because there we saw accurate, sharp focus.

    Overall we really enjoyed the P7000. We really liked its light, rugged feel. Carrying it on us wasn't a chore, at all. We thought the bulkier size for a point and shoot would be noticeable, but the light weight kept it from being a drag. Our only qualms with it didn't really have to do with image quality. For a point and shoot, it is definitely at the high-end. We did notice reduced color saturation in dimmer lighting, but this is to be expected. The combination of a longer zoom lens that is also very sharp helped with our creativity. As you can see, we really enjoyed the in-camera black and white functionality of this camera, and thought it made some really dramatic black and whites, which, for us, is the joy of black and white photographs. Many photographers looking for a high-end point and shoot will want this camera to function like an SLR. The reality is that this camera is still a point and shoot, and, therefore, very portable, so it should not be expected to handle like an SLR. For those not expecting it to handle like an SLR, but are still looking for a very high quality, portable camera, we definitely recommend the P7000.

    Interested in purchasing the Nikon Coolpix P7000? Find it by clicking here.

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