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Olympus Zuiko Digital 35-100 mm f/2.0 Review

Avtor:Matjaž Intihar
29.09.2005 13:16
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Olympus as a brand has hugely positive connotations to me. I've been using their products, on and off, since 1976 – from the legendary OM-1 to their tiny little mju mini zoom, which served me long and well as a backup camera for my SLR. I replaced it with the digital mju 300, which was one of the first all-weather digicams. Still another Olympus in my arsenal is the C-7070, which I use as a studio camera for product shots, such as the one you see above. All in all, Olympus has been in my life for some time, and it was always a good thing.

 

In 1986, they stopped manufacturing film SLR cameras. They just couldn't see the benefit from investing huge amounts of money into developing an AF system with all new lenses. Still, they remained one of the leading manufacturers of compact cameras, and when it comes to the original Zuiko lenses, well, that's the stuff legends are made of.

 

In 2002, a new Olympus revolution was announced. Olympus would be returning to the ranks of SLR manufacturers, this time with a digital SLR. They introduced their own system and their own way of thinking. The 4/3 system, which was concieved decades ago for Vidicon tubes, was adapted for use in their own DSLR. The Olympus E-1 was designed by Olympus engineers, while the CCD sensor and the electronics were sourced from Kodak. Back then, Olympus engineers told me about the advantages of the 4/3 system. »Besides all other technological innovations, our system makes it possible to have lenses that are lighter and smaller, yet have the same viewing angle as the competition.« It really did turn out that way. The first two widely available lenses the Zuiko Digital 14-54 mm f/2.8-3.5 (28-108 mm equivalent) and the Zuiko Digital 50-200 mm f/2.8 – 3.5 (100-400 mm equivalent) performed exactly as advertised. (Indeed. I still consider the Zuiko Digital 14-54 to be the best zoom lens I owned, both when it comes to versatility and image quality. The 50-200, while still excellent, took ages to focus in bad light. -J.)

 

 

 

From the side, the weight distribution is very obvious – the thing is severly nose heavy.

 

Then came the surprises. First, I was shocked about the size and weight of the Zuiko Digital 7-14 mm f/4 (14-28 mm equivalent). But then again, that was a pretty unique lens, I thought, so I guess the size and weight had to be there to get image quality up to par.

With this lens, however, I don't get it. With focal length of 35-100 mm (70-200 equivalent), I just can't get my head around the fact that the thing is 213.5 mm long, has a diameter of 96.5 mm and a weight of 1650 g (more than 3.5 of those decidedly non-metric pounds), or even 1800 g (4 of the abovementioned pounds) with the tripod ring attached.So where did the promised size and weight advantage go? The Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS USM has a length of 197 mm and a weight of 1570 g. The Nikon AF-S VR 70–200 mm f/2.8 has a length of 215 mm and weighs in at 1470 g. Sure, the Zuiko has an aperture of 2.0, but it has half the focal length. Put a Canon or Nikon 70-200 lens on a 4/3-sized sensor, and you get a field of view of a 140-400 mm at f/2.8. Something fishy here. So where did the promised size and weight advantage go?

 

 

The bayonet fits snugly, with no play.

 

Zuiko Digital ED 35-100 mm f/2.0

After the mixed success with the E-1, Olympus seems to be hell-bent on producing as many lenses as possible. From the hobbyist lenses (14-45 mm, 40-150 mm, 18-180 mm) to pro lenses. Following that, they'll produce a camera that will do what the E-1 failed to do - get the pros to switch to the 4/3 system and buy those expensive pro lenses. The 35-100 is supposed to be one of them.

The small sensor size is the way Olympus chose to produce lenses with shorter focal lengths, yet still the same viewing angles as the competition. Not only that. The Zuiko Digital 35-100 mm f/2.0 clearly shows that it's possible to produce a zoom lens with an aperture that was up to now only available in primes. This is where Olympus did the giant leap forward. But there was a price to pay. For this class, the lens is extremely large and heavy. It lay heavy on my mind, too.

It took me two weeks to finally sit down and write this article, because I simply couldn't figure out why Olympus engineers made this lens. There seemed to be only one answer – it was a technology demonstrator, a proof that they can make lenses that are a stop faster than the competition. This, however, didn't work out as planned. We have yet to see what the customers will go for, the usability or the aperture.

 

 

The lens takes 77 mm filters.

 

The first thing I did when I got my hands on this lens was to compare it with other 70-200 f/2.8 lenses from Canon, Nikon and Minolta. They're about the same size, but also about a 100 g lighters, and all of them have a form of image stabilisation - Canon and Nikon have in-lens stabilisation, while Minolta (and now Sony) has in-camera image stabilisation. (Note that this article was written in 2005, before Olympus got their hands on image stabilisation.)

But while most of these differences are due to different approaches and won't even bother most photographers, the thing that bothered me was the weight distribution. This thing is nose heavy. After holding the E-1 and the 35-100 f/2 for a few seconds, my arm started trembling. It's all about weight distribution, I can hold the Canon 70-200 for much longer. As it was, the muscles on my left arm were sore the next day. It was as if I was using a much heavier lens.

The shorter focal lengths and an aperture of f/2.0 should provide an additional advantage. Namely, it should offset the need for image stabilisation, which must be used in low light with traditional 70-200 mm f/2.8 lenses. (Again, this review was written before E-510.) However, the weight distribution ruined everything. The left arm in particular gets very tired, starts to shake, oh, and look down the drain, there goes your shot. I found this aspect of the lens disappointing. I was expecting a small, light lens. I got the biggest lens with an angle of view of approximately 34-12 degrees (70-200 mm, 35 mm format).

 

 

Despite the small sensor size, the exit pupil is quite large.

 

The technical specifications are impressive. The lens has 21 elements in 18 groups. It is also extremely well made, suggesting that it could survive a few bumps every now and then. Both focusing and zooming are internal. In other words, the size of the lens doesn't change while zooming, and the front element doesn't rotate while focusing. The aperture has 9 blades, making it possible to achieve lovely bokeh. (That's a fancy term for how nice the background blur is.) The lens can be stopped down to f/22, which should be more than enough. Both the zoom and focus ring function smoothly - the lens really is well built. Minimal focusing distance is 1.4 m. The lens is also sealed against the elements, further enhancing its pro image.

 

 

This lens deserves something better than the E-1. Olympus already has a lineup of 15 lenses, covering focal lengths from 7-300 mm (14-600 mm equivalent).

 

In practice, however, I was disappointed. In sunlight, but with quite a few clouds in the sky, the 2.0 aperture was just too much. Even at 1/4000 s shutter time, some shots were overexposed. Also, image quality at f/2.0 and f/2.8 is very mediocre. To be honest, I expected more. Also, focusing speed is just not up to par for sports and photojournalism. Again, if I compare it with the competition - the one stop of difference between f/2.0 and f/2.8 can be offset with a higher sensitivity, which is not something that E-system cameras do well. However, I do believe that the E-system will get better sensors. (It did, the E-510 has a lovely one.)

 

Too bad, though, this lens really looked promising. What we got is a bulky lens that can't really bring its main advantage - that huge apertue - to shine. I still think it would be better if Olympus produced smaller, lighter lenses with a 2.8 aperture. A small, light 35-100/2.8 would be far better than a big, bulky 35-100/2.0, in my opinion. Besides, it would probably have better image quality.

 

Take a look at some other Olympus lenses, such as the Zuiko Digital 300 mm f/2.8 (see page 3) or the 150 f/2.0, which were among the first E-system lenses to be introduced. These two lenses are what the E-system is all about - smaller and lighter than the competition, with excellent image quality. And let's not forget the biggest one of them all, the Zuiko Digital 90-250 f/2.8 (http://www.e-fotografija.si/templates/?a=1060&z=93).

 

However, there is one redeeming feature. The Zuiko Digital 35-100 mm f/2 created a lot of buzz. After all, it's the first lens with this viewing angle and an aperture of f/2.0. However, what the Olympus E-system really needs to attract the pros is a good pro camera. Before this happens, even the best Zuiko Digital lenses are of no use.

 

 

Looking at this beast, you'd never guess that a 213.5 mm lens has a maximum focal length of only 100 mm.

 

 

The lens is bigger and heavier than the Canon EF 100-400 L.

 

All these images were taken with a preproduction Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 35-100 mm f/2. For this reason, this is not a comparison to other lenses, I'm merely giving my personal opinion on the usability of this lens. However, I don't believe that production samples will fare much better. With cameras, a lot can be done with firmware tweaks, but with lenses, little can be achieved in this way.

 

Nevertheless, Olympus is developing and expanding the 4/3 system. That's what counts. Besides, new lenses generate more buzz than new cameras, as they are rarely introduced. One final word of advice to Olympus engineering department - stick with the small size and image quality.

 

 

78mm, ISO 100, 1/4000 s, f/2 A fast lens is meant to be usable at all apertures. There is no point in using it at f/5.6, if a slower lens would perform just as well, for less money and less weight. A good lens, like the Zuiko Digital 90-250 is reasonably sharp at all apertures. With the Zuiko Digital 35-100 f/2, here's no real sharpness at f/2.

 

100mm, ISO 100, 1/500 s, f/2 Looking for sharpness at all focal lengths.

 

 

50mm, ISO 100, 1/500 s, f/2 It's becoming more and more apparent that at f/2, the lens just isn't very sharp.

 

 

40mm, ISO 100, 1/1000 s, f/2

 

 

100mm, ISO 100, 1/800 s, f/2

 

 

73mm, ISO 100, 1/4000 s, f/2 The E-1 doesn't focus very quickly. I was focusing on the girl, but the focus was too slow, so the rear part of the bicycle is in focus.

 

 

93mm, ISO 100, 1/60 s, f/2 In such conditions, image stabilisation would have come in handy.

 

 

81mm, ISO 100, 1/800 s, f/5.6 The sharpness is reasonably good from one edge to the other. It's the medium apertures that are usually the sharpest.

 

 

100mm, ISO 100, 1/3200 s, f/2. At f/2.0, at 100 mm, and with near subjects, the DOF is extremely narrow.

 

 

Centre sharpness.

 

 

Depth-of-field.

 

 

Only about a centimeter away from the focal point, and it's already out of focus. In long lenses, large apertures are often useless because of the extremely shallow depth of field they provide. In most cases, not enough of the subject is in focus.

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