Olympus Wide Angle Zooms 9-18 vs 7-14 Review Part 1

This is the first part in a series of three.  I have spent a good amount of time with both the 9-18mm and the 7-14mm wide zooms that Olympus offers.  I am going to review both, and compare them directly to each other.

Let’s talk about the 9-18 first.  It’s a tiny collapsing (the barrel closes into itself for storage and then extends for use) lens with an aperture of F/4 – F/5.6.  9-18 is a focal length with the view of 88-degrees – 51-degrees roughly.  In a 36mm equivalent terms its about 18-36.  So it offers an extra wide view down to a wider normal view.  The lens is threaded for filters in the front.  More about that later…  This lens is somewhat slow, but often we use these lenses stopped down.  Many situations that use a really wide lens also tend to want a great bit of depth of field.  The lens is usable wide open, but I would most often use it at F/7.1 which I find is the best aperture before diffraction starts entering the image.

Lens collapsed
Note the front threads and removable hood.
Lens open for use at 9mm
Lens shrinks down a bit at 18mm

Honestly the lens feels exactly like what it is.  It has a plastic housing, and it is very light.  The focus ring feels ok, and the folding lock is decent.  It is exactly what you would expect from a consumer line lens.  The barrel even wobbles a bit when extended.  I thought this would affect image quality, but I did not experience that.  On the positive side, being so small and light means you forget you are carrying an extra lens.

I shot this lens entirely without a hood and never had a serious issue with flare.  I would still always use a hood, but the performance was great for what this lens is.  Distortion is surprisingly minimal.  The cameras themselves correct for this under the hood, so it may have a lot but we don’t see it in the final image.  That’s fine with me.  Close focus is pretty good as with all Olympus lenses.  Not much to say spec wise…lets just jump into some examples.  All of the following shots were with an E-M1 and just had basic lightroom adjustments as needed.  Really nothing more than a few clicks in my basic presets.  I wanted to show real world examples that you can expect.

18mm F/5.6
9mm F/4
A stitched panoramic of two images

Take note in this shot of the slight perspective distortion at the lower right corner.  Typical of very wide angles, this gets more exaggerated the wider the focal length.  Remember to keep key elements out of corners when shooting wider than 12mm (24mm-e) or so.

Pumpkin pyramid
3-shot Lightroom HDR

This shot was made shooting directly into the sun.  Notice the flare and edges of branches and such are quite tame.  Rendering has a good look to it.

Hand held and later keystone corrected.

No tilt shift lens with you?  No problem…compose at the focal length you would and the distance you want and then zoom out a bit wider.  The you can crop back in to the proper view to simulate a shift.  I also corrected straight lines in this.

These images were of a client owned resort.  We wanted to make a few unique views of the new garden plantings as accessory shots and social media images to support the main imagery we made earlier that day.  This lens allowed me to have some fun and play with very different perspectives.  Get close, get low, look up, etc…  Wide lenses can be very interesting to explore with.  The following images are a few more with long exposures and filters.

ND filter & Polarizer
ND filter & Polarizer

One of the best things about this lens is that you can use filters on the front.  Having such a small front element, even cokin P series filters and grads are usable.  Unlike other very wide angles that need 4×6 filters, you square filters are much more portable, and you can use round filters like a polarizer with no issue.  You can’t do that with the 7-14 Pro!

So I am a little torn with this lens.  I love the size, love the filter usability, love the colors and rendering, and I love the focal length.  What I don’t love is the plasticky build.  The image quality is very good.  All across the frame the performance is fairly even for a lens of this kind, and more than what you would expect.  However, I find it’s ultimate resolution was a little low.  Micro contrast and fine detail rendering was not at the same level as the pro version.  Then again, I would hope not for the difference in price!  We will look at that difference more closely in the later part of this review so you can decide for yourself.  All in all I was quite satisfied with the lens.  If you only shoot extra wide occasionally…or like having the option but it is certainly not you go to kind of lens… I would not hesitate buying this lens over the pro.  You are not losing out much, and you wouldn’t notice necessarily if you didn’t have images side by side from the pro version.  I love the fact that I can carry such a wide lens that accepts filters and not even notice.  It is so small and light.  That is one of the major benefits of this lens.  It also fits into the theme of going small and light while having excellent quality.  It really is a decent lens.  You can’t have everything at this size.  On an E-pl8, E-M10, or Pen-F you have an almost pocketable camera with a very wide zoom.  Pretty impressive.

Up next in part two will be the 7-14mm Pro lens.

December 21, 2016

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