Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 Lens Review

Discussion in 'Featured Articles, Reviews & Posts' started by Amin Sabet, Jul 25, 2010.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    I received an Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 lens from B&H Photo for testing on Serious Compacts.

    As many reading this review are aware, the M.ZD 9-18mm is a native Micro Four Thirds with the same focal length and aperture range as the well regarded ZD 9-18mm lens for regular (non-Micro) Four Thirds. The M.ZD 9-18mm is the second ultrawide angle zoom for the Micro 4/3 system, the first being the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm lens.

    The Olympus M.ZD 9-18mm is an impressively small lens. Like the Olympus 14-42mm "kit" lens, the M.ZD 9-18 remains extended for use and collapses for storage.

    For the purposes of this review, the M.ZD 9-18 will be compared with the Panasonic 7-14 and Panasonic 14-45 lenses, since those are lenses I own. Here's how the three lenses compare in size when collapsed:
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    P1060425.jpg

    Here are the lenses extended (the Panasonic 7-14mm lens does not change in length when zooming):

    P1060427.jpg

    The M.ZD 9-18 comes with the usual pinch-style front cap. Olympus does not include a hood with this lens, whereas the Panasonic 7-14mm lens has an integrated hood to protect the bulbous front element:

    P1060426.jpg

    Though lightweight and unabashedly plastic, build quality on the Olympus 9-18mm zoom seems very good. The manual focus ring is a bit smoother than that of either of the Panasonics. The zoom ring has a very short travel and reasonably smooth, damped feel. There is no significant "play" (wobble) in the barrel when extended, and the mount is metal.

    The Olympus lens covers the traditional focal length range of an ultrawide zoom, providing the same angle of view as a 18-36mm zoom for the 35mm format. The Olympus lens zoom range better suits my "walkaround" needs, from ultrawide to wide normal, than does the more specialized Panasonic 7-14mm lens.

    Here is a comparison of the wide field of view provided by these three lenses at their shortest focal length setting in 3:2 aspect ratio on a Panasonic GH1 (Pan 7-14 at 7mm, Oly 9-18 at 9mm, Pan 14-45 at 14mm):

    Wide-AOV.gif

    The same three lenses at their longest focal length settings (Pan 7-14 at 14mm, Oly 9-18 at 18mm, Pan 14-45 at 45mm):

    Tele-AOV.gif
     
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  2. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Both the Olympus 9-18mm lens and the Panasonic 7-14mm lens have a significant amount of barrel distortion at the 9mm setting. This is automatically corrected in-camera for JPEGs as well as by the manufacturer-specific RAW converters and some of the major RAW converters.

    Here's a comparison of the uncorrected barrel distortion at 9mm with those two lenses:

    Distortion.gif

    As you can see, the Olympus lens has significantly more barrel distortion at this setting.
     
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  3. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Next we'll look at the performance of the Olympus 9-18mm lens and the Panasonic 7-14mm lens with both lenses at 9mm. Since most individuals will choose to use in-camera JPEGs or a RAW processor which corrects for the distortion, I chose to use Adobe Lightroom 3 to process the RAW files used to compare lens performance. Adobe Lightroom 3 automatically corrects the distortion for both lenses, although it leaves a touch more barrel in the corrected Olympus 9mm images than it does in the corrected Panasonic 9mm images (data not shown).

    Note: All images were taken using a sturdy tripod and self-timer with image stabilization off (when applicable), and all crops are representative of several nearly identical results taken with each lens at any given setting. These samples are not adequate for judging color, which is largely a function of the RAW converter chosen. Likewise, they are not appropriate for judging dynamic range or light falloff, given modestly changing light conditions (cloud cover).

    The following are all 100% crop comparisons of images processed from RAW in Lightroom with no luminance noise reduction and sharpening to bring out apparent detail.

    Picture-1.jpg

    Both lenses show excellent performance in the center at f/4.

    Picture-2.jpg

    Near the left edge, both lenses do well again, with the Panasonic a bit stronger in terms of detail and resistance to color fringing.

    Picture-3.jpg

    Close to the upper left corner of the frame, the Panasonic looks stronger, while the Olympus isn't bad at all considering this is the near-extreme corner of the frame with the lens wide open.

    Picture-4.jpg

    The absolute extreme corner of the foreground is a torture test for ultrawides. Here in the extreme bottom right corner with both lenses wide open, the M.Zuiko struggles to keep up with the larger, heavier, and more expensive Lumix lens.

    Center crops at f/5.6:

    Picture-5.jpg

    Nothing to complain about here, the Lumix looking a touch crisper still.

    Picture-6.jpg

    At the left edge, not much has changed at f/5.6. Likewise for the upper left corner:

    Picture-7.jpg

    Picture-8.jpg

    At f/5.6, the Olympus near-field extreme corner has improved quite a bit but still lags behind the Panasonic.

    Here are the f/8 crops without commentary:

    Picture-9.jpg

    Picture-10.jpg

    Picture-11.jpg

    Picture-12.jpg


    Next we'll look at some crops comparing the M.ZD performance at 18mm to that of the Lumix 14-45mm lens at 18mm.

    Picture-13.jpg

    Here in the center, both lenses have an excellent showing.

    Picture-14.jpg

    If you look closely, the Olympus shows a bit of chromatic aberration here at the left edge and is just a bit less crisp than the Panasonic.

    Picture-15.jpg

    Both lenses put in a good extreme corner in the right foreground, with the Panasonic coming out slightly ahead.

    Now the f/8 crops at 18mm:

    Picture-16.jpg

    Picture-17.jpg

    Picture-18.jpg

    The Olympus has caught the Panasonic here in the extreme corner at f/8.
     
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  4. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    RAW files from the above comparison for download:

    Oly 9mm f4.RW2
    Pan 9mm f4.RW2

    Oly 9mm f5.6.RW2
    Pan 9mm f5.6.RW2

    Oly 9mm f8.RW2
    Pan 9mm f8.RW2

    Oly 18mm f5.6.RW2
    Pan 18mm f5.6.RW2

    Pan 18mm f8.RW2
    Oly 18mm f8.RW2
     
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  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Other issues to consider with the Olympus M.ZD 9-18mm lens:

    • Flare resistance: As the Olympus lens doesn't ship with a lens hood, one naturally wonders how well it resists flare. In use, I found it to be highly resistant to flare spots with the sun in the frame. On the other hand, it was moderately susceptible to veiling flare with incidental light sources. For this reason, I'd be on the lookout for an aftermarket hood.
    • Autofocus: AF with the M.ZD lens is both quick and quiet. It isn't the absolute fastest to focus, but I had no complaints.
    • Light falloff: Negligible. A bit better than the Lumix 7-14 in this respect with both lenses at 9mm.
    • Filter friendly: Unlike the Panasonic 7-14, the M.ZD 9-18 will accept standard filters. It has an internal focusing mechanism, so the front element doesn't turn when focusing, and it shares a 52mm filter size with my Panasonic 14-45mm and 45-200mm zooms, which is very convenient.
    • Wallet friendly? That depends on your perspective, but the Olympus lens is substantially less costly than the Panasonic ultrawide offering.
     
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  6. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    The M.ZD 9-18mm lens is a compelling offering from Olympus. While the sharpness viewed at 100% pixel crops isn't class leading, overall performance is very respectable. The small size suits the strengths of the Micro 4/3 system, and many who enjoy wide angle photography will find the zoom range of the Olympus to be "just right".

    Strengths:

    • Remarkably small due to innovative collapsing design
    • Versatile, useful zoom range
    • Filter friendly
    • Fast, quiet AF
    • Build quality seems very good
    • Minimal light falloff
    • Good sharpness
    Weaknesses:

    • Not quite as sharp as the Panasonic competition
    • Susceptibility to lateral chromatic aberration in the periphery of the frame
    • Lens hood not included
    • f/4-5.6 is slower than the competition (price you pay for small size)
    Other Olympus M.ZD resources:


    Thanks to B&H Photo for loaning the Olympus lens for review. If you found this review helpful, please check B&H for pricing and availability of these lenses:

     
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  7. arpoador

    arpoador Lounge Regular S.C. Charter Member

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    Thanks, Amin -

    Great, readable review.

    I already have the 9-18, but now I'm looking forward to your reviews of the new µ4/3 lenses as they are released.
     
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  8. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus Subscribing Member S.C. Charter Member

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    I'll add my thanks, too, Amin. I have the 9-18mm, as well. In your photos it does appear that the Panasonic is generally superior, but thankfully what I've found on my own photos, at least from my point of view, is that the 9-18mm works really well for me with my E-PL1. I will say that it seems that I either go for the 9mm or the 18mm, which is I find kind of interesting.

    Appreciate your taking the time to run these comparisons!
     
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  9. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Thanks José and BB!

    I received email feedback that the mZD RAW conversion shown here was "terrible" and "crap". These conversions were straight Lightroom 3 conversions using "Auto tone" and subsequent "Smart Sharpen" in Photoshop.

    This was not an attempt to show the best possible result from each lens, else I would have eliminated the CA and applied more sophisticated noise reduction and sharpening. The point here was to use a commonly used (probably the most commonly used) RAW converter which doesn't smear detail and compare the performances of these lenses directly.

    There is no "best" way to do the processing for these types of lens tests, which is why I provided the direct comparisons (if conversion is "crap" for one, it is "crap" for the other) and the RAW files for download (best for seeing how the images compare using your own workflow).
     
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  10. bilzmale

    bilzmale Super Moderator Emeritus Subscribing Member S.C. Charter Member

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    A nice thorough review - glad my purchase of the 7-14 'holds up'.
     
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  11. PeterB666

    PeterB666 Lounge Top Veteran S.C. Charter Member

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    Its an excellent review, thanks for that.

    I have had the 9-18mm lens for quite a long time. I got an early one from Japan and I use it 90% of the time. I love the generous depth of field and it is well suited to the MFT cameras. I also like that it can happily take filters on the front. This is essential if you are into shooting at dawn which again is one of my current interests. It would have been nice to have a f/2.8 lens for framing and focusing in poor light but the cost and size would soon take its toll.

    Happy owner.

    Cheers

    PeterB666
     
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  12. Djarum

    Djarum Lounge All-Pro Subscribing Member S.C. Charter Member

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    Does panny correct lateral CA or just purple fringing.
     
  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Dj, I virtually never shoot JPEG and so don't know for sure, but I'm 95% sure I read that the Panasonics fix color fringing including lateral CA for the in-camera JPEGs.
     
  14. Djarum

    Djarum Lounge All-Pro Subscribing Member S.C. Charter Member

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    Thanks Amin for the review. Now you see the same sort sort of criticism( and praise) those guys at dpreview get when judging lenses and cameras.
     
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  15. Björn Utpott

    Björn Utpott Lounge Rookie S.C. Charter Member

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    M.Zuiko at 18mm versus Lumix G 20mm

    Excellent and carefully executed comparison, Amin. I've never used the M.Zuiko 9-18, but I've always felt that the Lumix 7-14 is the sharpest lens I've ever owned. As I use the 7mm end of its range a lot, it is probably also the better choice for me.

    The point you make about the 9-18's zoom range making it an ideal general purpose (one lens) solution is certainly valid. I wonder though, for those of us who also own the Lumix 20mm pancake, if we would ever use the 18mm end of the 9-18. You could put the pancake in a pocket - it only weighs 100g - and use it instead of zooming in with your 9-18. Not only would you have a lens which is 3.5 stops brighter, but presumably a sharper one as well. To that end, it would be interesting to compare the M.Zuiko at 18mm to the Lumix G 20mm (with the M.Zuiko a little closer to the subject to make up for the difference between 18 and 20mm). Does that sound like an interesting project?
     
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  16. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Thanks, Björn. Other than convenience of not having to physically swap lenses, I can imagine having a one lens solution may help to get the shot in certain situations. I don't shoot much "street photography", but when I do, 10-20mm (actual not equivalent) is where I tend to stay, and it's very practical to be able to quickly make that change by zooming rather than switching lenses.

    I would be happy to do the comparison you suggested. I'm pretty sure of what we'll find, but it will be interesting to see.
     
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  17. Björn Utpott

    Björn Utpott Lounge Rookie S.C. Charter Member

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    It's true, swapping lenses can make you miss a shot. Often though, especially in the shadows or indoors, street photography isn't feasible at the f/4.0 maximum aperture of the 7-14. You just can't get fast enough shutter speeds at reasonable sensitivities. That's why if you were to force me to take only a single lens, it would have to be the pancake - as much as I love the 7-14. I can certainly understand what Olympus was trying to achieve with the 9-18. As such it is a good one lens solution; compact with a versatile range but with limited light gathering ability. For me though, if I can't have more than 200g of lenses with me, I'd rather compromise by swapping lenses. So I would love to see a super compact 9 or 10mm f/4 prime.

    Your comparison between the 9-18 and the 20 will be challenging as the pancake is sharpest at apertures not available on the zoom :) It will be interesting to see the magnitude of the difference. Have fun testing.
     
  18. eric_floch

    eric_floch New to the Lounge S.C. Charter Member

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    Excellent review. Helped a lot in making up my mind in the direction of the pana 7-14 for my GH1. However I wanted to know if the in-camera software also corrects distortion while shooting video. I've seen very well corrected images in jpeg/raw, but no info about this correction in the video mode. I also found some videos but the vast majority at 7mm, which IMO shows a lot of distortion at the edges. A good test would be to shoot both a photo and a video file of the same subject, at the different focal lengths. Thank a lot.
     
  19. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet   Administrator Subscribing Member

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    Hi Eric, thanks for the kind words. I'll check out the video and get back to you as soon as I can.
     
  20. pictor

    pictor Lounge All-Pro S.C. Charter Member

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    There is one problem with this statement, if you compare this with the 7-14mm: AFAIK, Lightroom corrects the chromatic aberration of Panasonic lenses but not that of Olympus lenses. Since you do not take this into account, your otherwise very fine review may be misleading in this respect, since it suggests an advantage which might not be there or at least not as big.
     

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