E-1 kit - disappointing results
ccd, meter, zd 14-54mm, or all three?
BRIEF NOTE: Before you settle down to read this review, some regular site visitors have commented that my lens tests do not include critique of barrel and pincushion effects. True. The reason is straightforward; I do not have a handy simple target I can use in any weather conditions; I'm thinking of a largish area of good brickwork (all properties here are stone built) that I can mark, use and compare. I'm working on this and when resolved I shall post the images and amend my reviews to accord. For now please forgive this omission.
I bought my E-1 outfit in October 2004. From day one I suspected something was amiss. Basically the E-1 was incapable of producing sharp well exposed images regardless of any tweaks in any direction I applied; it was just inconsistent. But, having never owned or experienced a DSLR before, and after taking advice from any source I could find (including Olympus) I was persuaded to persevere. I did just that and it seemed to settle down and improve but in the long term I should have relied on my instinct; I wasted several months in trial, error and frustration. In spite of the intermittent results I was determined to undertake some basic lens testing - both ZD and OM Zuiko's - and I set about finding a suitable target. I soon abandoned any ideas about testing my collection of OM Zuiko's on the E-1 as the results I was getting were unreliable. As it happens the limited amount of ZD testing I did has proven useful as it evidences the early problems and by repeating these tests I can compare results from both before and after the subsequent repair/re-calibration.
My standard target - RGBY and Black
After much searching I came across this! It was sat in my office all the time! It is the box label from an Olympus microscope and satisfies my requirements in terms of what I'm testing the lenses for - native sharpness, colour rendition, edge definition and contrast.
I scanned it, re-sized it to 10" x 7.5" (4:3) and printed it on A4 (calibrated printer, highest resolution) and then laminated it. It prints out somewhat less bright than shown here, even with a profiled printer. In turn this is fixed to a black faced board about 1" greater in dimension. This is mounted level and plumb on the south facing aspect of our garden shed. (There is sufficient space in front to test all but the longest lenses). It is fixed in the middle of a larger 4:3 area marked around with 4 white tipped screws. This enables consistent cropping in post processing.
For any test I set the camera on a tripod at a predetermined distance from the target. This distance is calculated as the minimum focal length of the test lens x 85% in feet. This is based on much trial and reflects the need both to push the lens' capability and to provide an image that can be displayed on the web without over processing. This simple formula can be applied to any lens thus offering repeatability.
Camera is set to A mode with aperture at maximum throughout the zooming range, ISO 100, SHQ. Camera settings are Sharpness -1, Contrast CS1, Saturation 0. In addition I also set the mirror lock-up to 3 seconds to ensure a shake free exposure. Post processing is kept to a minimum being restricted to cropping and auto balance only. No sharpening is applied.
I try to pick a bright but overcast day to avoid direct glare from the sun. Whilst this is the intention occasionally I have to test in conditions not perfect. As with all 'amateur' lens testing the results only represent findings on one day in one set of circumstances and should only be taken as indicative, not definitive.
I tested my original kit on this basic set-up. I take at 14, 18, 25, 35 and 54mm (the standard lens marked focal lengths), with the aperture kept at the lens' maximum. On examining the EXIF data from the first series of test shots in October 2004 it shows I had set the aperture around mid spread as the day was quite bright. If I remember correctly I originally had the 14-54 wide open, but the results were terrible (worse that those below). As I was desperate to get some decent results from my outfit, I closed the aperture. The results below are the best of a bad lot from several test sessions!
The second test with the repaired/re-calibrated Zuiko Digital 14-54mm is a repeat of the first test with images taken at 14, 18, 25, 35 and 54mm (the standard lens marked focal lengths), with the aperture kept at the lens' maximum. Note: only one set of test shots was needed to produce good results.
When I saw the poor results from my October 2004 tests I did a similar tests with my C5050 and my wife's C4040. These resulted in some consistent test images - consistent being the important word. I could not work out where the problem lay. I tried every adjustable parameter on the E-1 and, of course downloaded all firmware upgrades. To make matters worse my early results were not consistently 'off' and at times my outfit produced quite acceptable output (outside of the above test conditions). This led to much doubt and a lengthy delay in returning my outfit to Olympus.
You can compare results from the both tests through the range of focal lengths. I think it adequately serves to illustrate my disappointment in the ZD 14-54mm performance.
Comparative set 1 - ZD14-54mm at 14mm before (left) and after (right)
Comparative set 2 - ZD14-54mm at 18mm before (left) and after (right)
Comparative set 3 - ZD14-54mm at 25mm before (left) and after (right)
Comparative set 4 - ZD14-54mm at 35mm before (left) and after (right)
Comparative set 5 - ZD14-54mm at 54mm before (left) and after (right)
I've grouped the results together in batches of two at the same focal length to enable you to make direct comparisons of the results before and after re-calibration. Also be aware that the E-1 body was also re-calibrated as I complained about poor AE performace as well as the lens being producing soft and 'lifeless' images. The left-hand images illustrate this lifeless quality - soft and dingy. And the situation was made worse by the fact that sometimes the camera would get everything spot on, making me doubt my eyes and gut feelings.
NOTE: Your eyes are perfectly OK - I've re-coated the wooden board wall with a richer colour treatment. You'll also see my target is now mounted on a black background as opposed to being pinned to the wood boarding. None of this makes any difference to the images of the test target. Apart from a slight cropping inaccuracy in set 1, the images are identical in size indicating very similar set-up separated by many months. The differences between the images are striking: the right-hand set are far superior in every way.
I'm not going to attempt to reach a conclusion, or even comment - I think these images speak for themselves.
Other than bringing the under-mentioned comments and observations to your attention I think comment is unnecessary. Whatever the problem was, it appears to be resolved.
It had been my original intention in October 2004 to test the ZD 14-54mm primarily for sharpness as, with many others, I had heard (and now know) that the E-1 kit lens is not renowned for being pin sharp. I may return to this issue later but I've got to say that I am quite happy with the lens now it has been repaired. While not incredibly sharp it's sharp enough. These tests show that my particular example of the ZD 14-54mm is not pin sharp and also (by default) that while ZD's do perform well wide open aperture they prooduce best results at around mid f-stop range.
There's an important lesson to be learned here. Never doubt your own expertise or experience. Within minutes of getting back my repaired E-1 kit I could see just how 'OFF' it had previously been. It was like using a completely different camera. Now I can catch up on all those photographic tasks I had to temporarily shelve.
I'm sure you'll agree:
(1) A return was necessary (and)
(2) Olympus technicians have done a good job.
Incidentally the turnaround by Olympus was under two weeks. The outfit was sent to Prague (the European & UK centre for 'Pro' camera repair) and was returned in excellent condition with replacement flash shoe and synch plug covers - a thoughtful touch. My supplier recommended I return the camera packed in the original box. If you are asked DON'T. Find another box that will protect your outfit and wrap everything in bubble wrap. My original box came back a little worse for the experience. Yes, I know it's only a box, but.....................
I've been asked by other owners of the kit lens who are a little dubious about the native sharpness of their 14-54's if they should bother returning them to Olympus. YES, absolutely. Here is the evidence that servicing/re-calibration really makes the difference.
If you have any observations please contact me here.
|Posted 26/Feb/2005 14:04||Copyright © 2004 John Foster|