Speaking as someone who reviews cameras himself, I sometimes wonder how useful I am. Do I inform or am I just adding to the background noise and confusion? I’m asking because I have just read a forum post which quotes figures from a technical test showing that pictures taken with a particular lens are sharper on some MFT cameras than others.
That defies logic. A lens is a sharp as it is. Nothing changes that. If I put any of my lenses on my GH3 or GX7 Panasonic or my Olympus E-PL5, they all look razor sharp to me. So when some technical report tells me they aren’t all as sharp, I question my own perception. For myself, I always fall back on my own perception. If it looks sharp, it is sharp.
I have been into MFT cameras and lenses for quite a long time now and I can honestly say that I have never come across a bad MFT lens. There may be bad ones in the sense that they have been whacked in transit or even the maker’s quality control has slipped but bad optical design, no. It seems to me that now lenses are computer designed, poor lens design is thing of the past. Differences in lenses, especially zooms, are now more a matter of where the unavoidable compromises are made.
For myself, I am prefer a lens where centre sharpness is maintained across a zoom range and if necessary corner sharpness is sacrificed. If you shoot a lot of architectural imagery, you will prefer a compromise which sacrifices centre sharpness to greater consistency right cross the frame. The fact is though, that outside of specialized applications, you cannot now buy a lens that is not fit for purpose.
A while ago I borrowed an Olympus 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 zoom from my friends at SRS Microsystems Most of the the reviews I’d read about this lens praised its versatility but made it plain that it was not the sharpest tool in the box, so I was surprised at how enthusiastic Chris Harland and the guys at SRS were about the lens. I soon found out why. Not only did it have a good wide zoom range, light weight, power zooming, close focus and good price – it was plenty sharp. As sharp as the very top of the range f2,8 zooms? No. But still as sharp as anyone save an accutance addict could want. So where did the half-hearted press stem from?
Here’s my theory. When you work for a magazine, you get all the latest equipment sent in for review. Much of that stuff is exotic and expensive to the ordinary amateur. How do you justify £1000 for a lens when the central heating boiler needs fixing? But to a reviewer, the personal cost is zero and you have handled all the exotic f0.95 lenses and high speed zooms out there. A lens like this little Olympus turns up and it is interesting. But the technical tests show that it doesn’t set the world on fire. You’re a reviewer. Just as a car tester who has just driven a Ferrari finds a Ford Focus slow, so our lens reviewer finds the little Olympus’s the optical performance ‘not the best’, ‘ordinary’.
None of those statements are untrue but they don’t reflect the judgement of someone like me, who without any testing equipment just has to look at the results to see that subjectively it looks like a good lens. Of course, there is also a problem with a subjective judgement in that a lens would have to be pretty awful for me to deem it bad. And then you start to look like a fanboy.
So, invaluable guide or further confusion? My answer would be ‘both’. And if that doesn’t confuse you, nothing will.