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UK Diving
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Olympus Four Thirds SLR Lenses

Olympus are famous for one thing above all else, glass. Their background in medical optics and an eccentric, single minded approach to product development has led to many great lenses and some opportunities which just aren't available from other companies.

My interests are primarily underwater photography, but it's quite easy to develop a lens fetish so this selection includes the range I've collected for use above and below the waves: Olympus have 3 overlapping lens ranges; Standard, Pro and Top Pro. As you would expect quality, cost and size increase up the range. The top two ranges are sealed against water and dust whilst the Top Pro grade lenses are constant (large) aperture monsters. SLRs are surrounded by jargon but I'll assume you've know a fair bit and just throw in that because Olympus use a sensor half the size of 35mm film the lenses give a view equivalent to a film lense of twice the focal length (other manufacturers have their own factors). This means that the wide lenses aren't as wide as they might appear but the telephoto lenses are more powerful.

Just in case you were wondering the bulky rubber rings on the lenses in the photos are so that the zoom rings can be controlled in underwater housings - not a standard feature. The list is in order of increasing focal length.

7-14mm 1:4 1,200

It's fitting to start the summary with this lens. It's the biggest, most expensive and most exotic lens I have. Because of the crop factors which other small sensor digital SLRs have this lens is unique. It is rectalinear - not a fisheye and apparently spectacularly distortion free. That mumbo jumbo means that it gives the impression of amazing clarity and fascinating detail in even the most humdrum shots... the downside of the 114 degree field of view is that unless you are on top of the subject it can dwindle into the distance... which is where the option to zoom in to 14mm/75 degrees (the equivalent of 28mm in film terms) comes in and prevents this being such a specialist lens that it could only be used on high days and holidays. As a top grade lens it goes without saying that this is waterproof.

A stunning lens in most respects, even gets envious glances in the street and hushed respect from photo shop employees! Really amazing when you need it.

9-18mm 1:4-5.6 350

The latest member of the 'budget' lens range. This has a 2x (
100 - 62), from 9 to 18mm (18-36mm in film terms). It's a very handy late addition filling the gap between the headliner above and the mild wides below.

It's a stop darker than ideal but since it's sharp wide open you can actually use its maximum aperture without worry. Practical is this lens' middle name, it can wear filters (72mm) and is just a little bigger than the kit zooms - so it's easy to add to your kit for a day out. The build is a little better than the other 'budget' babies - costs more too - the mount is metal and the bigger glass weighs 50% more.

This could have been made for going underwater. It fits behind the standard Olympus dome without any extension tubes and can wear the same zoom ring as the other budget lenses. The angle of view is very usable underwater... not too wide and the 2x range allows for a little more choice when your subject are a little shy.

12-60mm 1:2.8-4 700

The latest and greatest 'kit' zoom. Unlike most this has a 5x rather than 3x range, from 12 to 60mm (24-120mm in film terms) and so very useful - wider than most and as long as a typical macro less. It can focus within about 3cm of the glass, is helpfully bright and has super fast, super quiet focus motors. So it's perfect? Well not quite, the extension of the lens makes it difficult to house. Behind the Olympus dome and two extension tubes it will work but doesn't have a custom zoom gear yet. It would not be possible to use the full range behind a sensible flat port. As a mid range lens it is waterproofed (for use in the rain not while swimming)

On the surface it is superb, I just hope it can be exploited underwater.

14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 160 or part of a kit

The smallest of the new kit lenses, designed to complement the tiny E-400. As such it is so small it could be a conventional (non AF) lens and weighs only 190g. Nerd type tests have shown that this is not just a little lens it is a very, very good design - built to a low cost but not compromised by design.It has its own flat port and can be used behind the dome with no spacing required. Underwater the tele end is rather dark which slows focus if there isn't much light, although it can focus down to 7cm from the glass.

An ideal holiday or walkaround lens when you don't want a workout. Very
versatile underwater and light on your luggage allowance

14-45mm 1:3.5-4.5 160 or part of a kit

The old E-330 kit lens. Optically good but limited underwater as the minimum focus distance is about 15cm from the glass. Has its own port but not the first choice in the face of better options.

Not bad but stays in the drawer as the other options are better

35mm 1:3.5 Macro 130

Until very recently this was the lightest 'made for digital' SLR lens. Like the 14-42mm it is very light but not to its detriment. As a 1:1 macro lens you can get super, sharp close ups but you do have to be very close up.  Even inside the standard macro port it is capable of focussing on the front glass which means it can't quite be fully exploited underwater. That said it's much easier to use than the extreme macro setup I normally use as the greater depth of field allows you to move from subject to subject more quickly - nice for more general use in poorer conditions.
With the 2x factor associated with 4/3 lenses it can be considered a 2:1 lens.

Tests show this is superbly sharp, at the price why don't you have one? Useful macro/general close up lens underwater.

40-150mm 1:4-5.6 160 or part of a kit

The big brother in the new twin lens kits, barely bigger than the 14-42mm but reaches to the equivalent of 300mm in film terms. Not the kind of lens you would use underwater but the first choice for a longer lens on a holiday. It focuses down to about 2 feet from the glass so it's useful for edgy tropical wildlife which gets tantalisingly close but won't pose within reach. Not a hardcore birding lens but its reach is quite disproportional to its size.

Another cheap, sharp, compact, light kit lens you don't have to upgrade in a hurry.

50mm 1:2 Macro 350

I haven't tried many competing lenses but the test nerds who write reviews rate this as one of the sharpest lenses available anywhere. Even non-Olympus types looking for an argument will start their rant with 'Well apart from the 50mm...'. It is bright and offers wafer thin depth of field - if you want it - which is the aspect which needs a little acclimatisation. When you're taking pictures of tiny stuff you'll neeed to stop it down to get more than nose hair in focus and when you swap from subject to subject the next can be so far out of focus that you may need to use a sequence of intermediate objects to get it close enough for the actual target to pull in or accept some hunting while it does it itself. It doesn't offer the magnification of the 35mm but has more useful reach for fish and nervous subjects. Coupled with the tele-convertor the reach is enhanced and the results are superb. For some reason this is classed as a mid-range rather than pro-range lens, but they are waterproof too so what's in a name?

The picture also shows the 1.4x teleconvertor between the lens and body.

A lovely lens worth getting to know. Peerless, apparently :-)

50-200mm 1:2.8-3.5 700 - now superceded by an upgraded version

Another waterproof midrange lens. 2 stops brighter than the kit tele lens and so much more useable for wildlife at a distance or where flash can't be used. Not really a birding lens but good for the bird table and great for wildlife portraits. Very sharp even wide open, so no need to stop down for detailed fur or feathers even in winter. This lens was an indulgence as I knew I would never use it underwater but now I use it as much as any other lens on land and wonder how to fit it in my dive housing. That will take some doing as once fully extended it is very much a boy's lens and can't really be wielded with any stealth, but compared with other brands 400mm equivalent lenses it is still much lighter.

A real treat and a pleasure to use. I'm really glad I bought this.

1.4x Teleconverter 350 - there's now a 2x convertor too

This useful little gizmo adds less than an inch to a lens but neatly snips the middle out of a lens' normal view. This preserves the minimum focus distance and so is a great aid to macro and boosts the far end of telephoto lenses. The cost is one stop of light as the area cropped out is halved, not a problem with fast lenses such as the 50mm and 50-200mm but use with more mundane models needs lots of light. This loss is just a function of maths and you can't make a 'faster' teleconvertor. Although it can't really be possible this device appears to have no negative impact on optical quality... so I tend to use it all the time with the 50mm underwater. Of course it can be used with any lens so it gets plenty of use.

A really useful, really good bit of kit. Gets extra use out of any lens.

Vivid Oceans and Secret Seas