It’s been awhile since we last talked about Olympus’ line of professional zoom lenses. Both the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO are the cream of the crop for Micro Four Thirds users, so it’d only be fitting to ensure the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO measures up.
In short, it does. It most certainly does. In fact, Olympus latest f/2.8 professional zoom could be the best zoom in the system. From tip to toe, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is stellar. Build quality is among the most solid I’ve ever put my hands on. Autofocus speed is commendable. Image quality — especially wispy blue skies with high off cirrus clouds — is superb. Even bokeh is pretty impressive.
But shooting a wide angle lens isn’t for everyone. At least it’s not for me. Shooting a wide angle involves more planning and more story telling, especially if you live in a relatively mundane setting like I do. Isolating photographic elements is difficult with such a wide lens, and only more so when in the hands of an inexperienced wide angle shooter like myself. Only a handful of images pushed through the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO are keepers in my collection. A lens like this takes practice to use, no matter how impressive its tangible features are.
So, in reality, I’m not the appropriate guy to be reviewing this lens. It’s hard for me to give it a fair shake. It’s my least favourite PRO lens in Olympus’ lineup, solely because I don’t know how to shoot with it.
Yet, for its purposes, I think it is probably the best zoom lens you can buy for your Micro Four Thirds camera. I’ll admit I wish I could buy a zoom lens like this for my Sony a7II.
I’ll be right up front about this: Olympus sent me this lens for purposes of review. A friend of a friend got me in touch with an Olympus Representative, and before I knew it, I had a few Olympus products in my hands to complete this PRO lens review series. It was a fantastic opportunity and an overall pleasant experience working with Olympus.
Evidently though, I haven’t allowed the review opportunity to get in the way of my thoughts of the lens. I can’t. That’d be disrespectful. I just wanted to give readers a heads up for transparency’s sake.
The Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens sits at the wide end of Olympus’ PRO zoom lineup. In full-frame terms, the lens covers the 14mm-28mm range — a definite must-have for landscape, architecture, and real estate photographers.
Just like the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO, the f/2.8 aperture allows in a substantial amount of light across all the lens’ focal lengths. However, due to the Micro Four Thirds sensor size, the depth of field at f/2.8 is effectively doubled, making blurry backgrounds and subject isolation more difficult than in the full-frame world. Fortunately, you don’t purchase a wide angle zoom lens for taking portraits, so this is of little concern.
In comparison to the same kind of lens for an APS-C or full-frame system, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is small and light. The lens weighs 534 grams or about 19 ounces. This is about 50% heavier than the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, and comes about thanks to the built in lens hood and relatively complex 14 elements in 11 groups build design.
This is mostly a bunch of jargon, but it has real world implications. For one, the weight of the lens makes non-gripped OM-D camera bodies front heavy, making for less than perfect ergonomics. You’ll also feel the weight of this lens in your bag, but it won’t make or break carrying the lens with you on a trip. And because it’s 50% heavier than the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, you’re likely to want the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO strapped to your camera more often than the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO — mostly because the 12-40mm has a more appropriate set of focal lengths but also due to the weight.
Finally, that “14 elements in 11 groups” jargon? Well, it plays into the price of this lens. A more complex lens to build results in a higher price, generally speaking. Further, Olympus’ PRO zooms have always been priced on the premium side. The 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO sits at the lower end with a $1000 price tag, and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO is more expensive at $1500. The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO sits in the middle at $1300.1
Is $1300 expensive for a wide angle zoom like the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO? You bet it is. When the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO first came out, my eyeballs jumped out of my brain when I saw the price.2 And no matter how much justification Olympus does in terms of build quality, autofocus speed, image quality, and overall shooting experience, that price is steep.
On the other hand, with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II in hand, along with the 7-14mm, 12-40mm, and 40-150mm, you’ve got every focal length you’ll ever need for under $5000. When you look at prices of other camera systems, that’s pretty inexpensive.
Looking back at my prior reviews of the 12-40mm and 40-150mm zooms, I realize now I was dealing with some of the best build quality in the industry from the onset. The 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO was one of my first lenses, immediately making it the standard for all build quality comparisons to come. To follow up, the 40-150mm topped it. Not a single lens I’ve used in other systems (like the Sony FE system) has surpassed the 12-40mm or the 40-150mm in terms of build quality.
The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO tops both the 12-40mm and 40-150mm. Plain and simple.
Just putting the lens in your hand exudes quality. It’s heavy — that much I’ve already made clear. But it’s not heavy for the sake of being heavy. You can feel the all-metal construction and the dense glass inside. The built-in lens hood adds permanent weight as well, but it’s the most durable lens hood Olympus ships with any PRO zoom lens. And the lens mount is 100% metal, ensuring you won’t accidentally snap off the lens if you don’t pick up your camera by the camera body.
Moving up the lens from the mount, the first ring you’ll set your fingers on is the zoom ring. The ring spins the same amount as the other PRO zooms, which means you can be more precise in focal lengths with the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO due to the shorter focal range. This is more important at the wide end of focal lengths, but is a nice thought from Olympus.
The zoom ring turns smoothly and with the right amount of friction. The ring has very small grooves to provide a comfortable feel and some extra grip when your hands are sweaty. This is par for Olympus’ PRO zooms, and is a far cry better than the all-rubber rings found on the FE-mount Zeiss Batis lenses.
Although not immediately apparent, turning the zoom ring actually moves the front element forward and backward. Technically speaking, the lens zooms externally. The front element moves forward and backward depending on where you are in the focal range, meaning the lens does zoom externally. However, no matter where you zoom to, the lens length never physically changes and the front element never extends past the built-in lens hood. In essence, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is a hybrid zoom lens; the lens zooms externally, but it has no real impact on the physical dimensions of the lens.
Above the zoom ring is the perfectly executed manual focus ring. All of Olympus’ PRO zooms come with a manual focus clutch mechanism, whereby pulling the manual focus ring towards the mount forces the lens into manual focus mode. When pulled back, the ring reveals a scale to help determine focus distances. Generally, when I pull back the ring, the electronic viewfinder’s focus peaking kicks in and highlights all the areas in focus. Turn the manual focus ring and the highlights change. It’s a wonderful experience.
The manual focus ring has hard stops at infinity and 20 centimetres, ensuring you don’t need to twist the focus ring for an eternity to find the right points. I love Olympus’ manual focus rings — hard stop focus rings and a clutch mechanism that never ceases to gum up or falter make Olympus’ manual focus implementation best in class.
As I’ve mentioned already, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO comes with a built in lens hood. I despise lens hoods. They take up extra space in your bag, require you to reach inside and remove a lens cap, and very often have little bearing on your final image. Generally, if you want to eliminate flares in your images, you can hold your hand beside the lens to block out unwanted light.
But, like Olympus’ manual focus rings, Olympus lens hoods are always best in class.3 The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO’s lens hood has an unmatched build quality. On the outside, the hood feels like very durable plastic. On the inside, the hood is ribbed to help eliminate those unwanted sun flares. Most importantly however, the lens hood extends just enough to ensure the moveable front element of the lens doesn’t protrude at any point. Due to the design of the front element, the lens hood has to be large enough to help prevent scratches or scrapes. In every aspect I can think of, the built-in lens hood delivers.
Except that it’s a lens hood.
I don’t think the lens hood would need to be permanent if not for the front element. The front element is bulbous. Meaning it’s not a flat piece of glass. It’s a beautiful bulbous front element, but it’s bulbous none the less. And this is a big no-no for landscape photographers looking to strap a filter to the front of the lens. The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO’s front element has no filter threads, meaning there’s no chance for a UV filter or a circular polarizer to cut down on harsh sunlight.
The only filter option you have with the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is a filter system, like the expensive Lee filter system or the Cokin filter system. But, as expensive (and worthwhile) as these filter systems are, they don’t help protect the 7-14mm’s front element. I assume Olympus has no choice but to implement a bulbous front element with such a wide angle lens, but having no way to protect the front of the lens is a misstep.
The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO comes with a lens function button just like Olympus’ other PRO zooms, and this is just as handy on this lens as it is any other. When using the 12-40mm or the 40-150mm, I had the lens function button set to reset the focus point in the frame. Due to the wide angle nature of the 7-14mm, this function is a bit less useful as you don’t need to change focus points as often in wide angle photography. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to have an extra customizable button to suit your needs.
Also like the rest of the PRO zooms, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is entirely weather-sealed. This is a must with a lens like this. Unless you’re shooting indoor real estate photographs, any wide angle lens — in my mind — needs to be weather-sealed. These lenses are destined for the outdoors, and need to be built to withstand the outdoors. Coupled with a weather-sealed OM-D, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is very clearly meant to be taken outside into harsher environments.
And if the lens’ build quality features aren’t enough, Olympus has sent along some of the highest quality accessories I’ve seen in a lens package. The lens cap fits right over top the built-in lens hood, meaning it’s substantially larger than any other lens cap I’ve seen in the past. That said, it’s exceptionally well built and is sure to take the bumps along the way with ease. The included carry bag is made of the same canvas found in the 40-150mm’s carry bag. If memory serves correctly, the carry bag for the 12-40mm was made of a higher quality material yet. So although the 7-14mm’s carry bag isn’t the very best Olympus sends to its customers, it’s still far better than what you’d get from other lens manufacturers.
It’s become clear that Olympus has designed the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO alongside the 12-40mm and 40-150mm PRO zooms. These three lenses are meant to be used in conjunction with one another. They are all designed the same way, feel the same in hand, have the same features, and interact with the camera body in the same way. When you pick up the 7-14mm for the first time, you know how it will behave before firing the first shot. I’m a big fan of consistent lens experiences from different camera manufacturers4 and Olympus nails the PRO zoom build quality and experience in all three of its Holy Trinity lenses.
The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO’s physical features all culminate in an exceptional shooting experience.
Ergonomically, the lens is a bit front heavy. The bulbous front element has a lot of weight for such a dense lens, and I found shooting without the OM-D E-M5 Mark II’s add-on grip was less pleasant than I’d like. When the grip on the camera is attached, the base of the lens is thick and doesn’t provide much room for your fingertips to wrap around the camera grip. It’s not as bad as the Panasonic Leica Nocticron’s girth, and it still allows you to reach the front function button on the E-M5 Mark II, but it’s no where near as comfortable as smaller diameter lenses.
The front heavy nature of the lens is only exacerbated when you have a less heavy camera body. I shot this lens a lot with the OM-D E-M10 Mark II when testing, and the non-weather-sealed and all-plastic body of the E-M10 Mark II made the package feel comically front heavy.
This is a wide angle lens, meaning you’re right to expect fast autofocus times at just about any given aperture. And the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO won’t let you down.
It’s hard to test autofocus speed without being anecdotal. In short, the lens is faster to focus than any other Micro Four Thirds I’ve ever tried. It locks into position quickly and silently. If it locks onto the wrong subject, using Olympus’ on-camera buttons to quickly relocate your focus point is a breeze. More often than not though, your focus point is more dependent on how far away your subject is from the lens than exactly what you’re trying to focus on. This only helps speed up the focusing process.
I’ll keep autofocus thoughts to a minimum. In short: The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO’s autofocus speed is on par with — or faster — than other PRO zooms. Add to that the fact that it’s a Micro Four Thirds lens with less depth of field to work with, and you’ve got yourself a lightning, stunningly silent autofocus system.
Finally, the meat and potatoes. No matter how awesome the lens is to work with and to shoot with, if the results don’t measure up, it’s not worth your cash.
Micro Four Thirds lenses in general are pretty sharp, and Olympus’ PRO zooms lead the way. The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is right up with the best of them. Which is to be expected.
Here, we have a simple image of a statue shot at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The image is 100% unedited other than exported and shrunk to make loading this article a bit easier on your data plan.
Next is an approximate 100% crop of the image. At the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO’s widest aperture, the details on the face of the statue are clinically sharp. Although it’s rare you’ll need to focus this closely on a subject with this kind of lens, the up close pixel peeping is fairly impressive. You should never need to stop down with this lens to improve sharpness.
Again, it’s very unlikely you’d ever use the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO for portraiture. But in a pinch, you never know what might be thrown your way. At the long end rests a coveted 28mm full-frame focal length, so some opportunities may pop up from time to time.
If you do need to shoot a portrait, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO has surprisingly smooth backgrounds. In this image of a simple white fence, you can see the focus fall off fairly smoothly as you look away from the foreground. Focus doesn’t abruptly change and the far off fence posts are smooth and free of distracting lines.
The lens focuses as close as 20 centimetres, making for some awkward portraits. In order to achieve any real background blur, you’ll likely need to stand less than a metre away from your subject. As a rule of thumb, the only person I tend to enter the “metre zone” with is my wife. If I need to get closer than this to achieve any subject isolation, I think it’d be worthwhile to switch to a different lens. That said, with an inanimate object, 20 centimetres is an impressive close focusing distance and makes for some interesting macro photography.
Like I said, you won’t be using this lens to shoot bokeh and blurry backgrounds all that often. If ever, really. But, if you have to, it shouldn’t let you down.
Flare, Distortion, and Fringing
Flare, distortion, and fringing are real pixel peeping measurements for a lens like the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO. Flare will pop up when sunlight bounces off the lens’ glass elements. Distortion often occurs in wide lenses and can be seen in non-straight lines on the edges of an image. And fringing can occur in high contrast spots of an image. Overall, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO handles all these measurements well.
Flare is the least successful yard stick jump for the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO. Due to the sheer number of elements inside the lens’ body, there are many opportunities for unwarranted light to bounce around before hitting the sensor. I shot some test photographs on a perfectly clear and sunny day to test out flare, and I didn’t need to look to hard to find examples.
Flare isn’t horrible and doesn’t render any of these images useless. You can easily ignore it and, in many cases, actually lends some artistic substance to the photograph. If you are looking for a perfectly clean photo though, flare spots will likely pop up.
I’d like to look at distortion anecdotally and subjectively. Any lens wider than 35mm has some sort of barrel distortion, so you can certainly expect it with the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO. It’s especially noticeable when you shoot an image at an upward angle. In the image above, you’ll quickly notice how large the base of the fountain appears. In reality, it’s far from being that large.
Lastly, color fringing is managed exceptionally well by the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, even if you can quickly nerf any fringing in post-production. In my test images, I couldn’t find a specific image that looked like a good example of fringing. In the above image, you’ll notice an ever so slight amount of purple around the branches and twigs. A quick defringing brush adjustment in Lightroom would get rid of this in a heartbeat.
In summary, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO works hard to limit the effect of its inherent issues of flare, distortion, and fringing. As fringing and distortion can largely be handled once you pop your SD card into the computer, the only major aspect you’ll need to deal with is flare. And even that can be artistic at times.
Color rendition is a unique aspect that I haven’t touched on too much in my lens reviews in the past. I instantly fell in love with the Leica-branded Panasonic lenses because of their color rendition, but usually that’s where it stands.
The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO brings a new aspect to the forefront: polarization. If you attach a circular polarizer to the front of a threaded lens, you can adjust the polarizer to eliminate harsh bits of light and reflections from glass, water, or any other shiny surfaces. Circular polarizers also dramatically boost color saturation and vibrance in your photos.
When I first shot the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO against a blue sky, I quickly returned to my iPhone to look up whether a polarizing element was built into the lens. The two images you see here are entirely unedited. The brilliantly blue skies and the darker navy blues towards the edges of the image make for a dramatic photograph. This is straight out of camera and 100% unintentional.
I absolutely love how the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO renders these colors. They make for some great storytelling and really bring out an extra element in landscape photographs.
Below are a few further image samples. The first two images outline the difference in focal length from one end to the other. The first image showcases a photograph at 7mm, while the second is at 14mm.
I had three Olympus products on loan in the month of February for review purposes: the OM-D E-M10 Mark II, the 8mm Fisheye PRO, and the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO. I came out of my month of testing far differently than I expected heading into it. I figured I’d fall head over heels for the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and giggle at the relative uselessness of the fisheye lens.
Instead, I feel ambivalent about the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and actually want to purchase the fisheye for myself.
This may come as a surprise, as most of my words above have outlined how impressive the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO handles whatever you can throw at it. The lens could be the most solidly built lens I’ve ever used. It focuses incredibly quick. It handles distortion, fringing, and flare pretty well for a wide angle lens. And the color you can pull from blue skies is stunning.
But you have to know how to shoot with a wide angle lens. You have to have interesting-enough scenes to shoot with a lens like the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO.
It’s pretty clear to me now the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO had an uphill battle the moment it landed in my hands. In order for me to consider purchasing it in the future, it had to overcome the biggest hurdle: me. My shooting style and preferences don’t align with the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, even though it could be one of the best wide angle lenses you can purchase today for any system.
This being said, I have definitely found an interest recently in shooting indoor real estate images. When shopping for a house, there’s nothing more fun than seeing staged photographs of a beautiful interior with loads of light pouring in through the windows. These images are all photographed with a wide angle lens. If I looked further into shooting this style of photography, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO would be the very first — in fact, probably the only — lens I’d purchase for the job. It’s just too good to be ignored.
But if I put me aside and take in the bigger picture, it’s very easy to see the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO fitting in alongside the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. It’s the perfect climax to the Holy Trinity lineup of Micro Four Thirds professional zooms. With those brilliantly, amazingly, stunningly blue skies, I’d venture to say it’s the best of the three PRO zooms.
This is another win for Olympus. But it might be a win for your pocketbook if you don’t know how to — or don’t want to — shoot ultra wide angle photographs.
All of these lenses are “on sale” on Olympus’ site as well as Amazon. I say “on sale” because the lenses have been down to these prices for quite some time. ↩
Also, when introduced in Canada, we were at a significant disadvantage in foreign exchange rates. This lens started at $1600 CDN, which was actually more expensive than the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO because they hadn’t adjusted the 40-150mm price point. At that time, this lens was a definite “do not buy” in my books. ↩
I’m especially hopeful Olympus’ consistent work with the PRO zooms will be a stolen idea for Sony’s line of G-Master lenses. ↩