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Photography these days has more technology than ever before, yet the very essence of the art is very much analog. And that's very good, since it allows us as artists to focus our energy on the end result, the images.
Wherever we shoot, whatever our subject is and regardless of the gear we use, we photographers always strive to evoke emotion. That emotion might be just our own, being inspired and pleased about the images we create. Or it could be someone else seeing our photos and reacting to them. Without emotion photography is silent and dull.
The emotion of photography has been vital to me. My background is in engineering, so photography has been a way for me to explore my artistic side with technical but creative tools. I like to explore and study photographic technologies and tweak them to my advantage – to create art sometimes in unusual ways. This is what led me to this hobby and keeps me motivated to learn every day.
The spark for this text came from Olympus, who asked if I was willing to try out a new lens which could suit my way of doing landscape photography. I was thrilled to accept, but instead of doing a traditional lens test, I wanted to tell a story through images and my experiences when creating them.
So here goes: my story with the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25mm F4.0 PRO wide-angle zoom.
The majority of my photography focuses on capturing landscapes. I enjoy the outdoors and am constantly on the lookout for new locations to shoot. And since reaching many of the locations I visit requires quite a lot of travel and also hiking, I tend to keep the tools I carry quite minimal.
However, for many subjects I do utilise a tripod in order to smooth out movement of water or clouds with long exposures. Or to composite multiple images in post. Carrying a small tripod from time to time is a compromise I'm willing to accept, but in general I want to remove all extra pieces of kit from my bag.
When starting out in photography I somewhat accidentally bought an Olympus camera, which in retrospect has turned out to be the perfect choice for me. I did not know what kind of subjects I would enjoy and what kind of a photographer I would turn out to be, so at the beginning I was not capable of knowing what I would really need. But since landscape photography took my heart, I have been pleased with the size and other advantages of this nimble system.
But for landscape photography, there is one thing that bothers me and many of my colleagues: filters. I like to use graduated filters, ND filters and circular polarizers in many of my images. And this is somewhat problematic since regardless of the camera system you choose, the widest lenses available will very rarely allow attaching a threaded filter to the lens. The front element is just too large for that, so we need to use filter holders and large square filters on our lenses.
I do want to mention that my camera (E-M1 Mark III) has a trick called LiveND, which works as an electronic ND "filter" and is useful. But it can't replace a graduated filter that can only darken the sky. Nor a polariser.
My first positive surprise with the new lens was that it does work with normal threaded filters! So instead of using the large filter holder system, I could pack just a few small filters. Using a circular polariser is effective on water but also deep in the forests, since reducing the reflections from leaves and grass will let the full deep greens of the forest to really glow in your images. I use polarisers a lot, so a filter thread is very important to me!
Create both art and memories
In the Olympus line-up the closest cousin in the wide-angle zoom lens selection is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO which I have used extensively during the past few years. In comparison to it the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25mm F4.0 PRO lens is obviously one millimetre narrower at the very wide end, but specs on paper and the real world are two different things. During the first day of using the new lens, I noticed that for my type of photography an 8 mm lens is more than wide enough to capture the vast landscapes I shoot, like this morning view from the Cala Bramant shows. Feeling the wind blowing towards me was absolutely breath-taking.
And more importantly, after a real-world side by side comparison, the loss of extreme wideness is smaller than many think – and it can be far outweighed by the other end of the zoom range. Quite often I see people judge their lenses by the extremes and in wide angles people focus too much on the wide end. But a zoom lens is meant to be used at multiple different focal lengths, so what do we get from the longer part of a wide angle zoom?
A traditional wide angle zoom will reach from ultra wide to a more "normal" wide angle, but this new lens extends the range to 25 millimeters. Having an ultra wide view and the equivalent of a traditional normal lens (50 mm equivalent) in one zoom means that you can shoot two very different views of the same scene without having to change the lens!
Usually the best colours of sunsets and sunrises don’t cover all the sky, so getting a little further away from the subject and using the longer 25 mm focal length can magnify the coloured part of the sky to make a much better and more balanced composition.
The magical "golden hour" in southern Europe is more like golden minutes, since the sun rises or sets very quickly. When the light is just perfect, the time saved in not having to change your lens and the filters on it can spell the difference of getting your shot or not.
Additionally, the ability to capture multiple photos of the same view often means that instead of creating the one important image you want you also gather other compositions to support the memory of where you were. To me this is a very important topic, since with my photography I always want to create both art and memories.
Even though I like to let my images speak louder than my words, a few technical topics about the lens are worth touching upon. First of all, if you are worried about sharpness at all, don't be! In my experience the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25 mm F4.0 PRO lens feels every bit as sharp as my trusted M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14 mm F2.8 PRO. It renders contrast and colours incredibly and the images are ultra sharp already at the largest aperture F4.
And this applies to even the very edges of the image, which are near flawless. So worry not, the engineer in me has tested this!
Another positive image quality finding was that the new lens is much less prone to flaring than most ultra wide angles. This is expected due to the protruding big piece of glass of many ultrawide lenses. Even when shooting directly against the sun the flares created by the new lens are very small and easy to deal with. This is a big benefit for me, since it frees me to shoot views that were previously difficult or required a lot of post-processing.
So in terms of image quality the M.Zuiko PRO really checks out! Also externally the lens will be very familiar to current Olympus PRO lens users. The size is very close to the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40 mm F2.8 PRO standard zoom, which makes it very easy to handle.
Like you may have realised already, I am a landscape photographer with all its perks and pains. I love to walk in the forest, sleep in a tent or in a van in the middle of nowhere just to feel that rush when you wake up and you are alone watching those reds and oranges slowly taking over the blues in front of a breath taking location.
An old saying in photography tells us to "F8 and be there". The basic sentiment in this is that being there to take the photograph is much more important than actual technique or the gear used. I definitely buy into this (except that I find that with M.Zuiko lenses you can shoot fully open without any hesitation), but with my own twist. Being there when the light is perfect is critical to good landscape photography. This means that often the photos you want to capture require time, patience and even revisiting places you have already been to.
And with the hiking required to reaching these places, one has to be willing to carry the gear. One big part of why I chose to become an Olympus user and choose to remain so is that with smaller and lighter gear I never have to sacrifice getting to the place I want to go to. Or having the right lenses with me.
That's one of the main reasons why I feel that the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25mm F4.0 PRO is so perfect to me. It covers an amazing range from super wide all the way to the very interesting 50 mm equivalent (in 35 mm formats), so this one lens covers basically half of my focal length needs in one package. Supplement it with either the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 F4.0 PRO or the M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150 F2.8 PRO, and you will feel your backpack lighter than ever.
"I am an engineer, but I always needed to express my “artistic” side in some way… I tried several ways, like guitar, sports, and finally I found my passion: landscape photography. I am proud to say that I am a photographer, I know I am starting, I know I have a lot to learn, I don’t do it professionally, but I love it and enjoy it so much that I am a photographer. As most of you probably are!”
Find out more:
M.Zuiko Digital ED 8-25mm F4.0 PRO