Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: I balready bink bat Ben Bockwell is a bitiot.

The Long Version: The Olympus 7-14mm is one of the most remarkable lenses of the last decade. It's still the widest lens designed for a small-sensor digital SLR, and its rectilinear 114 degree angle of view is only matched by the Nikon 14-24 or the Canon EF 14mm prime on their respective full-frame cameras. (The Sigma 12-24, which was bad on a film camera, doesn't count.) This is an exceptional and exotic lens. But don't take my word for it, Olympus Themseves summarize it thusly: "The great hishakai of field and unique perspective effect make you experience extraoridinary expressiveness." I'm not sure what that means, but it's certainly promising.

The ability to see wider than a right-angle corner, or all four walls in a room, is astonishing. Remember that the angle of view is measured diagonally, so even lenses with an equivalent focal length of 17mm in the 135 film format only barely do this. The 7-14 is the only lens for 4/3 that can accomplish it, as its squarer format gives more height and less width than the legacy film 3:2 ratio. So even before we look at optical quality, this Zuiko Digital lens is one of a small handful in the world that is capable of doing what it does.

When we start to look at optical quality, most other lenses fall behind. The nearly-as-wides for cropped cameras, like the Sigma 10-20 or Nikon 12-24, typically have more barrel distortion, softer corners, and/or more vignetting. Even the Nikon 14-24/2.8, which is unquestionably one of the best wide-angle lenses ever made, has greater barrel distortion than the Olympus 7-14/4. The only competitor to the 7-14 that I haven't had a chance to compare it to is the Canon 14mm f/2.8L mk2, but as a prime lens the Canon is significantly less versatile than its zoom competitors, and the price is higher than the Nikon or Olympus lenses.

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the 7-14 is that it can't take filters. To quote a popular Internet writer who's talking abstractly but with great authority about something he has never used - not that there's anything wrong with that - "I'd personally go for the 7 - 14 mm ... One big problem though: the 7 - 14 mm lens doesn't take screw in filters, so I really can't use it... so you see how simple little features render the Olympus system of no use to me. Whoops!"

While he doesn't mention which filter he desperately needs to bring his photos to the don't-suck level, the only one that changes images in a way that Photoshop can't is a polarizer. But look at the shot below, which has the sun about 90 degrees to the camera: really wide lenses already give a polarized look to blue-sky images. Adding a C-POL filter would just make this even more severe. The 7-14 doesn't have the power of a polarizer to cut glare and reflections, but that's rarely why people actually use polarizing filters.

The 7-14 can't take a 'Protective' or UV filter, either, but I have yet to hear of a single incidence of that large front element being scratched. Given how complaint-happy the internet is, I take that as a very strong testament to the adequacy of a protective attitude over a protective filter. So if you've been boycotting this lens until Uncle Oly adds a filter ring, this is a great time to reconsider. Alternatively, the 9-18 and 11-22 both have filter rings, so if out-of-gamut blue gradients and cheap screw-on scratch protection is your thing, you may be happier with one of them.

My compatriot with the thought-experiment review of the Olympus lenses also writes that "These are expensive. I'm not jumping to Olympus because the same lenses from Canon or Nikon cost much less." (He does not later write 'So take that, Olympus, nah-nah-noodie-nah-hah!', but it's implied.) So you can imagine how chagrined he must feel now that the Nikon 14-24 is being sold by B&H for more than the Olympus 7-14. It's the same argument that's been dogging Apple computers for years: they're not actually more expensive, they're just better than everything else. When there's a direct competitor with the same quality and ability, the prices align quite nicely. Neither the Olympus nor the Nikon are cheap, but they are awesome. It's unfortunate that they cost as much as the do, but at least the Oly lens can be used on much cheaper bodies.

But there's no such thing as 'perfect'. Detail in the corners can be smeared, although I'm not clear on whether this is a lens aberration or just the inherent perspective distortion of an ultra-wide field of view. It's visible in the snow-and-tree photo above, although it's also worth knowing that the camera was less than a foot from the ground when the shot was taken. The 7-14/4 shows slight barrel distortion at all focal lengths, which is generally fixed with an adjustment level of '3' or less in Photoshop's Lens Correction filter, and vignettes slightly until it's stopped down to f/5.6. (Reality check: this also describes the excellent Canon 70-200/2.8L IS at 70mm.) Flare is impossible to prevent in a lens with so much glass and so little hood, but it still does a good job of keeping it under control. The snapshot below hasn't been adjusted or corrected for anything.

Like almost every Olympus lens that costs more than $400 - the exception being the ultrawide 9-18mm - the 7-14mm is fully sealed against dust and moisture. This is better in theory than in practice, because it's impossible to shield the large front element against rain, and snow can actually accumulate on the shallow petal hood. I managed to get some decent ultrawide Niagara Falls photos only by using a soft cloth to dry and protect the 7-14's front element between shots, but even this water-specked shot is better than the ones that people didn't take because their camera was safely buried under their ponchos. The 35-100 f/2 (reviewed) remains my favourite lens for harsh duty.

This isn't a lens that will reward casual efforts; the words "learning curve" apply to the 7-14mm more than any other Olympus lens. As my photos show, getting the most out of this lens takes skill that I don't particularly possess. The difference in size and scale between the foreground and the almost-always-in-focus background makes finding suitable subjects somewhat challenging. The foreground is vital, as anything in it - even if it's nothing - will dominate the photo. And forget about being able to blur out that pesky litter in the background: at f/5.6 and 7mm, when the lens is focused just one meter away, anything from a half-meter to infinity falls within the depth of field.

In many ways the 7-14 is the exact opposite of the 35-100, having extensive depth of field and an exotic focal length, and it produces my lowest percentage of photos that don't suck. But as I said in my review of the 35-100 (gratuitously linked again) this is the other lens that really sets the Olympus E-system apart. To say that it's a specialized lens is a bit misleading. True, I have a hard time coming up with legitimate needs for such a radically wide-angle lens, but they do exist and I'm glad to be prepared for the day when I actually see one. It's an exceptional lens and it deserves to be the second ultra-high/top-pro lens in any Olympus or Panasonic equipment collection.


  1. Thanks for writing an informed review on this lens.
    From the first time I noticed it's abilities on your photoblog (a high altitude city night shot) it has intrigued me with what it offers that others can't (or won't).
    It's a great reason to buy into the 4:3 system for ultra-wide shooters, and also proof that Olympus is thinking instead of simply selling.

  2. Thanks for the excellent review.
    I'm planning to buy this lens this summer (well here in the southern part of the globe). Your review has been quite helpful to me. Currently, I only have one of the "super high grade" lenses from Olympus, the 14-35 f2, which I think is fantastic from the optical point of view, although a bit heavy and large, OK, but is f2. After the 7-14, next in my list is the 35-100 f2. Both of your reviews were significant in order to make my mind
    Thanks again.
    I balso bink be bame babout Ben Bockwell.

  3. Thanks very much for the comment.

    This may seem self-serving, but the more I use my Nikon equipment, the more I appreciate my Olympus lenses. I've never really used the 14-35, but from what I've seen from it - bell, I'm bure it's bot a bisabointment.

  4. As with the review for the awesome 35-100mm (which influenced my decision to buy it), this was also excellent. May be a while though since I just purchased the 14-35, which for me is pretty much the perfect lens. The images are just that much sharper and cleaner, even wide open. Keep up the great reviews!

  5. Ben Bockwell does note that the Nikon 14-24 also does not accept filters. Yet apparently this has not rendered the Nikon system useless to him as it did (theoretically) with the Olympus 7-14mm. In typically overexuberant Bockwellian fashion, he gleefully continues on to espouse the virtues of the 14-24 as the best wide angle lens "on the planet", despite the (theoretically) system-crippling absence of said filter capability:
    "Except that I can't use my ND grad or any front filters with it, the 14-24mm is as perfect as it can get. Get one while you can" Objectivity/continuity/consistency need not apply.

  6. I am from Brazil, I am glad to get some info about this lens I would request you to compare thsi same lens with the Panasonic 7-14mm as well I cannot make my mind yet but I have made my mind about both cameras, thx...

  7. Its Aug. 2012 now and I just bought the 7-14 a few months ago to compliment my E5 with 14-35 and 35-100. These are all WOW lenses but I was worried the 7-14 would not do as well in low light as in churches and concerns of not being able to use polarized filers for landscape photos. Well a few weeks ago I shot a baptism without flash and of course the 14-35 and 35-100 preformed flawlessly mostly shooting at 2.0. When I shot with the 7-14-- AMAZING even at 4.0 this lens sucks up the light and the shots were clear, clear and 4.0 acted more like my 2.0 on my other lenses. Concerning landscape photos Matthew you are absolutely correct about polarizers and 7-14 lens---the skies are just as blue and even more uniform then when I use polarizers on other lenses. Matthew thanks again for your very honest assessments of this wonderful Olympus lens.


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