Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II Lens
ReviewsExcellent Prime Zoom for E-620, October 3, 2009
By -Ashi- (San Jose, CA United States)
I bought an Olympus E-620 as my first move from P&S world to DSLR (hooray!). After I read a serious amount of reviews, I decided to go with Zuiko 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II because I believe it's the best first/primary lens for the money.
For comparison purpose, my other lens considerations include: 1) Olympus Zuiko 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 ED SWD (I can't afford it, but it's the highest rated lens of its type; has some complex distortion at its widest end); 2) Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 ED SWD (also highly rated, but I need a prime zoom first before I invest more); 3) Panasonic/Leica 14-50mm OIS (can't afford...). The P&S camera I stepped up from is Panasonic DMC-LX3, which has a fixed Leica Summicron F2.0-2.8, focal length is 24-60mm (35mm equivalent). I did not purchase the kit lens (which is Olympus ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6), so I can't do a proper comparison. That lens is lighter and shorter, and this one is marginally sharper, from what I read. That lens is made in China and this one is made in Japan and with metal body construction (that one does not have metal body nor metal mount).
As mentioned before, this lens is used with my newly purchased E-620; I had no prior experience with DSLR other than playing with my brother's Minolta Maxxum 7D briefly. This is my first DSLR lens, so no other first-hand experience with other lenses. For image quality (IQ) comparison purpose, the Leica Summicron on my Panny LX3 will be used as the benchmark.
2. Balance: This is the kit lens for Olympus's mid-end E30, but it balances with the much smaller E-620 very well. The combination feels very solid. The size of the barrel matches that of the mount on E-620 as if they were made for each other. I ran on a hiking trail with the camera secured in hand without feeling the lens might dive south. That's a good balance. The lens barrel is about 4" long when retracted (at 14mm focal length) and about 4 3/4" long when fully extended (at 54mm). See picture I submitted for detail.
3. Image Quality: Compare with the result coming from LX3, which has a smaller censor (1/1.6" CCD vs E-620's 4/3 LiveMOS), the IQ is marginally better, but cleaner noise level with sufficient natural light. It also has a much better dynamic range (no surprise). The water reflection can look mirror like instead of mushy. In low light condition, LX3's larger aperture will turn into its favor, providing better end result than E-620/Zuiko combination. The image is very sharp corner to corner.
4. Chromatic Aberration (CA): This color-bleeding highlight problem is much better managed with Zuiko lens (LX3 has a rather pronounced purple fringing, but fixable with Adobe Lightroom). I haven't seen a CA from this lens that would kill a photo yet.
5. Flare: When shooting directly toward the sun with the lens hood on, flare can still happen occasionally. I had Sigma's Sigma EX DG 67mm Multi-Coated UV Filter on, so I wonder if that might have anything to do with it, despite it is a high quality filter. Overall, the flare is still very well managed, especially when on consider this lens has no ED glass. When glare does occur, it is quite soft and (I know I'm going to get yelled at) it actually looks kind of nice. It gives that nice sun beam look.
6. Color Banding: I noticed when I shot some sunset scenes with back lighting, color banding problem appeared as concentric circles around the strong light source. After some online research, it is a known problem to Olympus's E-system cameras. It only occurs under very specific circumstance (high contrast lighting) but it should be noted.
7. Auto Focus (AF): AF is very quick, thanks to high speed Imager AF feature this Mark II version provides. However, live view's AF performance is not faster than LX3's, which is in turn, slower than my antiquated Canon S1. If you use Live View extensively, than a P&S will trump a DSLR at any rate. If you use the view finder (the reason why you use a DSLR, right?), you'd be very happy it's just like using a 35mm film camera! Please do read my Olympus Evolt E620 review for AF performance in detail, since it's a topic highly correlated with the camera body.
8. Vignetting: I notice this lens does have dark corners sometimes. I took the filter out to check, and the problem persisted. Only certain situation it'll happen and it doesn't seem to be from a specific focal length. You can use Lightroom to do a white vignette to counter it. Or you can simply crop the edges out. It's not really dark vignette, but it's noticeable. I think it's important to mention this so you can plan ahead and get the most out of your photos.
9. Flash: Like 12-60mm SWD, the longer lens barrel will cast a shadow with E-620's built-in flash even when the lens retracted to its shortest length. Keep this in mind if you are going to use flash often with that body (I don't use flash often). I believe if used with E-30 body or external flash, it shouldn't be a problem.
10. Other: There is one more very important difference between the original 14-54mm and this Mark II version. No, it's not the fancy schnazzy Olympus blue band (which I like), but the aperture is now circular in shape. This supposedly makes the bokeh (or out of focus area) much smoother, which is something photographers are looking for in a macro shot. Indeed, I compare the photos shot with Panasonic G1 seen online (which uses the same LiveMOS sensor), the bokeh is much smoother.
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