First Test of Faith

I arrived at work today a little unsettled. I like the 12-100, but still struggle with the idea of having a lump of a zoom lens in the kit, no matter how good.

As fate would have it, a 12mm f2 Olympus prime appeared as if out of nowhere (the one that got away?). This lens is a rarity in the shop as most people want the 12-40, 12-100 or 7-14 which are all a match for it in performance, especially across the frame and are comparatively good value in comparison.

I grabbed a camera and took a couple of quick test shots. Unfortunately, the light was very different to the other day, greeting me with very strong contrast and deep saturation as well as a different angle of shadow. Basically perfect photographic conditions, but I think I got enough to know.

The 12mm looks to be much the same in the centre, but a little weaker on the edges (a little better than the bulk of the other lenses the other day at 12mm). The lens has always had a shadow over it for me, with some reviewers such as Ctein reporting some variation lens for lens and some other odd behaviour. The odd behaviour Ctein noticed was a strange “wobbly” blur in the outer frame creating almost the impression of a double image with fine details. This is likely due to an aspherical element doing good things, but showing a little transition point that cannot be corrected.

 Lots of work done here, but still a nervous look. All of the other test shots from even weaker lenses look either sharper of more controlled than this one.

Lots of work done here, but still a nervous look. All of the other test shots from even weaker lenses look either sharper of more controlled than this one.

 Odd thing is Olympus can control it with in camera JPEG processing, but I could not with a RAW processor. The far corner looks better to.

Odd thing is Olympus can control it with in camera JPEG processing, but I could not with a RAW processor. The far corner looks better to.

One odd thing I noticed with this lens and going against common belief, was no discernible CA. Just could not see any. It may have been the day, but none, anywhere? Keep in mind that the 12mm is over half the price of the zoom, so it should be stronger generally, not having to be a swiss army knife lens. The zoom, even accounting for the softer light, matched the prime and was a touch better on the edges and corners (more normally behaving slight sharpness drop off), but did have some minor CA.

Prime on the left, beautiful day accepted. Really hard to tell in different light, but the zoom needed less minor processing for sharpness (it did need a bit of CA correction). The prime however did sharpen up well enough I felt for a 12x16” print. Would this matter in the reality?

Prime first again and the sign is well lit in that shot. I think the zoom has the edge again considering it shows similar detail without the benefit of the more contrasty light. You can nearly make out the writing. If the conditions were reversed, I would bet the zoom would retain even more detail as it seems to have excellent flare control.

Why bother testing it after all I have written about my thought processes to this point?

Indeed, why bother posting this at all?

The reality is, I don’t like zooms. The 12mm would be useful as a travel/street lens and do duty as a landscape lens more proportionately for my landscape needs. It is a vastly smaller lens although I do have to consider the clutch of other primes needed to do the job (15/25/45). The zoom adds versatility and some other performance benefits, but would it be a single task tool, one which I am still struggling to justify? Realistically, perfect framing capabilities aside, I could take any 2-3 of the tiny 12, 30, 25 and 45mm lenses in a super small hiking outfit.

All focal lengths are well served by solid, proven primes except maybe a small compromise at the 12mm end edge to edge. The 15, 25 and 45 have no noticeable advantage over the zoom, but loose nothing either.

The zoom is probably not much bigger overall, but would always be the heavier and bulkier single option. Would I take it to Japan as a wide angle option?

Another issue is the $200+ of filters I have to get. The smaller prime shares the same filter thread (46mm) as most of my other lenses and I have those as well as stepping rings for the less used filters.

Finally, the zoom may need a heavier tripod or at least larger head to work successfully, where the small prime will sit perfectly on the smaller ones I have already.

It would be fiddly. It would possibly be less successful overall and it will definitely be less flexible in the field for landscapes (but add options for travel), but it may be better suited for me. For the cost of the zoom I would also get the Leica 15mm, providing a stable semi-wide between the 12 and the 25. This methodical way of working, using a selection of fixed lenses and taking what comes is normal practice for most seasoned landscape shooters, but I have a genuine option of a premium zoom.

I suppose what it comes down to is, can I justify a big, expensive zoom just for specific tasks and run a separate preferred kit for all else?