Lots of doubt had surrounded my taking the new Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro to Barcelona with me. For one, it's a pretty heavy lens. For two, it's a pretty large lens.
As such these aren't problems, but large and heavy is just not part of the Micro Four-Thirds 'gestalt' and certainly wasn't my idea of having a fun time shooting in a hot and humid city.
I had even bought the much smaller and lighter Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens to take along with me, so I could leave the 7-14mm behind and take to the streets with a lighter wide angle zoom.
Now, after four days in Barcelona, I find once again that life is full of ironies: I haven't used the 9-18mm at all. It's been sitting in the bag, untouched. And I haven't used the 7-14mm wide open in the cathedral I most wanted it for, instead stopping it down for more sharpness.
Ok, moving on.
So, the 9-18mm is still in the gear bag it which it arrived in this city. Instead, the 7-14mm has been on my camera or with me every day I carried one of my Olympus OM-D E-M1s on walks and tours.
Yes, it's pretty heavy and large, but not too heavy and not too large. It never bothered me, as long as I carried a small bag where I could put it when I put another lens on the camera. Let me explain that last bit: I prefer to not carry a bag at all and just have one key lens on the camera and maybe one or two small primes in the cargo pockets of my shorts. The tiny Olympus primes are perfect for that, but the 7-14mm or any other f/2.8 zoom is a bit much. It didn't really matter this time, because I carried a small bag for one or two lenses most days so far as I wanted flexibility with my lenses, not knowing the city at all yet.
I'm actually not much of an extreme wide-angle shooter. I generally tend to work as of 28mm and longer. But an extreme wide angle is handy in European cities with their city squares, narrow alleyways and cathedrals. The latter was a key reason I wanted the f/2.8 zoom with me: to have as much latitude in relatively dark cathedrals, especially in Sagrada Familia, the world's most extragavant cathedral, designed by Antoni Gaudi.
As I said, I actually didn't use the 7-14mm as intended in the Sagrada Familia. Instead of shooting it wide open, I opted for maximum sharpness and shot at around f/5.6. This was a mistake, by the way, as noise crept in at the higher ISOs I was using. I probably would have been better off shooting at f/2.8 and a lower ISO.
I did love the extreme wide angles I could use in this cathedral and in the Gothic cathedral in the heart of the city, a more traditional design and much darker than the Sagrada Familia, leaving only the option of f/2.8. While wide angle views of city streets and plazas are nice for memory's sake, I don't warm to them photographically. But in cathedrals and in some other circumstances, a lens like this really expands the possibilities.
I'll return to this topic in a future post, when I discuss the various pieces of gear I used in Barcelona and my experiences with them. For now, when I was actually visiting sites instead of just walking the city, I made the most use of this 7-14mm and of the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, one capturing the expanse of a place, the other its details.
The 7-14mm is like any other Olympus Pro zoom. That's a good thing. It's well-built, fast and oozes quality. It generally focused extremely fast, with the sole exceptions being dark areas of a cathedral ceiling where I needed to move the focus point so the sensor could see more contrast. From a usability viewpoint, no complaints.
Well, except one: I can't put a filter on it. I was shooting the sunrise at the beach with both the 7-14mm and the Sony 28mm f/2 on a Sony A7R and could use a polarizing filter on the Sony, but due to the bulbous front of the zoom, couldn't put anything on the Olympus.
That bulbous front is also the reason I generally always put the zoom back to 14mm so I wouldn't damage the lens and the reason I used the lenscap each time I put the lens in the bag, something I never do with other lenses when out shooting.
Some commenters have complained that this lens isn't good enough in the corners, especially not wide open. Others said it's a fine piece of glass. To be sure I wasn't taking some piece of junk across the Atlantic, I took boring pictures of our house prior to leaving so I could test the corners and I found them perfectly fine.
Truth be told, I only look at the far corners of images when doing these kinds of tests and then never again. I haven't encountered an image yet where my eye was led toward the extreme corners. Must be my fault.
Anyways, looking at the images I took with this lens in Barcelona on my MacBook Air, I'm happy with the results. There's a bit off falloff of sharpness in the extreme corners at f/2.8 but nothing that bothers me. Image quality improves when stopping down, as it should, but in practical terms there's really no need to buy this lens if you tend to stop down your aperture. Get a cheaper and smaller option instead.
In short, I can recommend this lens. That is, if you're into these kinds of wide angles. I consider the other zoom lenses in the Olympus Pro range, the 12-40mm f/2.8 and the 40-150mm f/2.8, essential for a serious photography kit. Not so with this one. It will do a great job if you want to shoot wider than the equivalent of 24mm, but many photgraphers can live without going to those edges.
By John van Rosendaal