Reviewing micro four thirds equipment is getting challenging. Not in the sense that the gear is getting boring, nothing could be further from the truth. New bodies, new lenses, new ideas, innovation and improvement are routine in this restless corner of camera design.
It’s getting challenging because no-one is making bad stuff any more. Finding things to criticize becomes an exercise in nit-picking. I’ve just reviewed Olympus’s gorgeous little 17mm f1.8. My criticisms are, first are that it isn’t weather sealed. Yes, but nor are most lenses and weather sealing doesn’t really have any meaning anyway. What weather is it sealed against? A sand storm? A light rain shower? No-one ever specifies and the reality amounts to whether they’ve put a rubber ring somewhere where it might stop water getting to that particular part of the lens.
In other words, you might be able to use your lens unprotected in a the monsoon or you might not. But if you do, weather sealing or no, your warranty won’t be valid. So you will cover the lens while using it in the rain. Just as you would if it wasn’t sealed.
My second criticism is that the lens doesn’t come with a lens hood. It really ought to at the price but it’s only a big criticism if you are a brand junkie, in which case the lens hood will cost you £60, the best part of $100 more than €70. Otherwise, you can get one on Amazon for just over 3 quid. So my two major criticism’s don’t amount to much more than a teenager’s shrug and ‘whaa-ever’.
So what’s the challenge, you ask? The challenge is not to have your review sound like it coming from come from the mouth of some sycophantic fanboy whose dad owns a camera shop. Camera after camera, lens after lens, there isn’t a bad one.
You have two major manufacturers producing equipment whose specification was only finalized a few years ago. Digital DSLRs were already common, so the MFT was designed from the ground up as a new standard, incorporating software lens correction to make optically impractical lenses and all the experience of previous digital cameras to make a sophisticated and quality system truly of the digital age.
With computer aided design, if you put in a set of requirements, the computer will come up with a range of possible solutions. Lets say you want to design a standard zoom with a 12mm to 50mm range. You can have a physically long one one with a shifting and restricted aperture (Olympus 12-50). Or a more compact one (14-42mm) with shifting and restricted aperture, both relatively cheap. You can have a faster one with constant aperture (Panasonic 12-35 f2.8), bigger, or wider range (12-40mm f2.8) but bigger still and both expensive. You could have a 12-50 f2 constant aperture. But it would be comparatively massive, very, very expensive and have compromised optical quality. And so on.
This makes MFT different from DSLR. Ditching the mirror gives you much more freedom in lens design. The MFT sensor means you can build a camera as tiny as Panasonic’s GM1 or as big as Olympus’s E-M1. In film days, the half-frame never really caught on with serious photographers because it had to use a smaller area of the same sensitive material as its larger siblings. MFT has new sensors specifically developed for it.
This has changed things. As a professional I used Hasselblad and Mamiya 6×7 equipment for studio, centre spreads and magazine covers, 35mm for out and about stuff. Today full frame is the studio format – and the out and about format. But MFT seems to be making a small breakthrough in some professional areas for reportage with reports that some Magnum photographers are using them. The M4/3 format is coming good. It becomes harder and harder to see the point of the smaller sensor APS_C DSLRs. They have too many of the disadvantages of full frame with not enough of the benefits of MFT. I’m not saying that they have no advantages, only that they do not outweigh the advantages except in specific cases.
Which brings me, at last, to the point of this blog entry, the Reviewers Quandary. There is not a camera or lens currently in production for MFT that I would not happily recommend to my best friend. There are no bad ones, no dogs, all the tools in this shed are sharp. It makes reviewing difficult.
Much more fun to write ‘the PanOly 6-100mm f1.4 zoom is a heap of junk compared to OlyPan’s superb 7-210 f1.4. The Olypan is twice as sharp, half the size and weight and built like a Swiss watch. The Panoly has the resolving power of a bucket of sand as well as resembling said bucket in size, weight and build quality.’
Instead, it’s “on the one hand this and on the other hand, that, however there is little to criticize about these lens so if the extra 10mm of the Olypan is worth more to you than the 1mm less of the Panoly, buy the Olypan. If not, buy the Panoly. They are both superb lenses and i personally would be happy with either’. Yawn……………..
So, here’s my pleas to all MFT manufacturers in 2014 and forward. Would you please make some crap lenses, some fuzzy lenses, lenses that not only rattle but fall to pieces, camera focusing mechanisms that are 6 feet out every third shot, burst modes that promise 20fps until the SD is full but stutter to a halt after only 3 frames and 2 fps before catching on fire.
What about you pay £400 for a lens….and they try to charge another 60 quid for a hood? What? They already do that? No, really?