The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f2.8 PRO ($1,299.99) is one of a pair of ultra-wide zooms available for the Micro Four Thirds camera system—the other being the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 ASPH. ($899.99). The Olympus lens is more expensive, but captures twice the light at its widest aperture, and is sealed against dust and moisture. It’s an excellent performer, especially when you consider its extremely wide field of view and zoom design, and earns Editors’ Choice honors.
Like the other lenses in Olympus’ top-end PRO series, the 7-14mm makes no compromises in build quality. It features a metal barrel and is sealed against dust and moisture, pairing well with a sealed body like the OM-D E-M1. The lens measures 4.2 by 3.1 inches (HD) and weighs 1.2 pounds. That’s a bit heavy for a Micro Four Thirds lens, but it balances fine on the E-M1, which has a deeper handgrip than many other mirrorless models.
The bulbous front element precludes the use of screw-in filters, which is a downer for landscape shooters who employ graduated neutral density filters to balance the exposure of land and sky. Thankfully there are numerous third-party filter holders available, including a 3D printed adapter that can be used in conjunction with the popular Lee filter system.
The lens hood is integral to the design. Olympus includes a slip-on lens cap that covers it and the front element entirely. There’s one control button on the barrel, labeled L-Fn—its function can be customized. There are two control rings—a large zoom ring and a smaller manual focus ring. The zoom control sits toward the base with markings at 7, 8, 10, 12, and 14mm positions. If you’re used to thinking about field of view in full-frame terms, those correspond to 14, 16, 20, 24, and 28mm. There’s no image stabilization—an uncommon feature in ultra-wide lenses—but Olympus builds that feature into its cameras, and Panasonic photographers can opt for the GX7 or GX8, both of which support in-body stabilization.
A smaller ring sits just behind the lens hood. It’s the manual focus control. When pushed forward the lens is in autofocus mode. Pulling it back reveals a focus scale and switches the lens to manual focus operation. The manual focus ring delivers excellent tactile feedback, with slight physical tension when turning it. It’s still an electronic focus system, but one that gives you the feel of a traditional mechanical manual focus ring.
Close focus is often a strong point of ultra-wide lenses. The 7-14mm can lock onto subjects that are just 7.9 inches from the image sensor. It’s not a macro lens, but you can use it to work close with a subject while still capturing a wide swath of background behind it.
I used Imatest to evaluate the 7-14mm’s performance when paired with the 16-megapixel OM-D E-M1. At 7mm f/2.8 the lens scores 2,463 lines per picture height on a center-weighted test. Thats’ better than the 1,800 lines we want to see at a minimum. Image quality is even through most of the frame, but the outer third portion is weaker, though it still shows better than 1,900 lines. Image quality is basically the same as the aperture is narrowed through f/5.6. At f/8 the edges improve, scoring just shy of 2,200 lines. Diffraction is a minor issue at f/11, but the lens still shows 2,384 lines. At f/16 there’s a more noticeable drop (1,983 lines), and you should avoid using f/22 as the sharpness decreases drastically to 1,383 lines.
Sharpness results are similar at 10mm. At f/2.8 the lens scores 2,326 lines, though the outer edges of the frame are softer, showing just 1,400 lines. The overall score doesn’t improve dramatically when stopping down, but edges show marked improvement at f/4 (1,515 lines) and f/5.6 (1,716 lines), before really getting sharp at f/8 (2,120 lines) and f/11 (2,414 lines). Again, diffraction is an issue at f/16 and f/22.
At 14mm f/2.8 the lens maintains strong performance. It scores 2,266 lines, with edges that show about 1,800 lines. At f/4 the average score improves to 2,482 lines, and edges hit 2,200 lines. It hovers around 2,500 lines through f/8, and shows just a slight drop at f/11 (2,435 lines). At f/16 and f/22 diffraction takes its toll; at those very narrow apertures images show 2,014 lines and 1,483 lines respectively.
Imatest also checks for distortion. The 7-14mm is a rectilinear lens, so it does its best to capture wide images without the fish-eye effect that lenses like the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO produce. There is some modest barrel distortion at 7mm, about 1.7 percent, which does give straight lines a curved appearance, but not nearly to the same level as a fish-eye. And as with any ultra-wide lens, you’re going to contend with perspective distortion when working close to your subject. Put the lens near a dog’s nose, for example, and its features will be noticeably exaggerated and distorted. The same is true for framing subjects at the left or right edge edge of the frame when shooting wide—they’ll appear slightly stretched horizontally, with the effect more exaggerated the closer the subject is to the lens.
Finally, we use Imatest’s Uniformity tool to see how even illumination is from edge to edge. Results are similar throughout the focal range—at f/2.8 the corners of the frame are about 2 stops dimmer than the center, with edges that are about 1 stop dimmer. That’s not a bad result at all for an ultra-wide zoom, and it’s easy enough to make illumination more even using software tools like Lightroom. At f/4 and beyond the issue is ameliorated; corners are less than a stop dimmer than the center, and the sides of the frame only lag behind by about a half-stop.
The Olympus PRO lens line continues to impress. The M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f2.8 PRO is a fine complement to the standard-angle M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO and the M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. It’s sharp throughout its zoom range and shows nominal distortion for a lens of this type. Add a sturdy build, an excellent manual focus experience, and a weather-sealed design and you’ve got a big chunk of glass that’s worthy of Editors’ Choice honors.