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Olympus continues to push digital’s optical envelope with the industry’s widest non-fisheye lens for sub-full-frame DSLRs. A 14-28mm equivalent ($1,595, street), even by 35mm standards, this lens is extremely wide.

Its unusually large and double-sided aspheric elements, plus multiple elements of extra-low- and super-extra-low-dispersion glass (a total of three) help deliver performance unequalled in the ultrawide digital-only zoom category.

HANDS ON:

At 1 pound, 12 ounces, the lens is quite hefty by digital ultrawide and fixed-aperture standards. In comparison, fixed f/4 models from Nikon, Pentax, and Tokina, all 12-24mm, weigh only a pound (roughly). The Olympus is also more than an inch longer than these other lenses. However, it is internal-zooming — the length doesn’t grow as you zoom it out.

Other physical distinctions: a fixed lenshood, extremely smooth manual focusing, fast but slightly noisy AF, and protective gaskets and O-rings to repel dust and moisture. It does not accept threaded filters — common with front elements as convex as this one.

IN THE LAB:

At the three tested focal lengths, SQF tests found sharpness and contrast well into the Excellent range, very slightly ahead of most of the comparable lenses we’ve tested, especially at larger output sizes.

DxO Analyzer 3.0.1 tests of the distortion control found only Slight barrel distortion at 7mm (0.27%), and almost imperceptible pincushion distortion at 10mm and 14mm (0.12% and 0.15%, respectively). This, too, was nearly at the top of the ultrawide class, ahead of glass from Canon, Sigma, Sony, and Tamron, and second only to the stellar Pentax DA 12-24mm f/4 among digital-only ultrawides we’ve tested recently.

Light falloff was gone from the corners by f/5.6 at 7mm. At 10mm and 14mm, we found no detectable vignetting at all — easily making the Olympus the leader in this category.

Maximum magnification ratios at the uniform close-focusing distance of approximately 9.65 inches ranged from 1:16.3 at 7mm to 1:8.7 at 14mm, an average showing by today’s standards.

CONCLUSIONS:

Four Thirds system (Olympus and Panasonic) shooters who want to scoop up broad stretches of distant backgrounds, or squeeze tight interiors into a frame, or get within inches of a foreground subject while still filling the frame with plenty of sharp, undistorted background detail, will be well served by this lens. Its truly ultrawide angle of view and superior optical performance should finally silence any complaints that the 2X lens factor limits the wide-angle potential of the Four Thirds system.

SPECIFICATIONS:

7-14mm (n.a.-13.79mm tested*), f/4 (f/3.68 tested), 18 elements in 12 groups. Focusing turns 180 degrees counterclockwise. Zoom ring turns 80 degrees clockwise. Focal lengths marked at 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-, 12-. and 14mm.

• Diagonal view angle: 114-75 degrees.

•Weight: 1.75 lb.

• Filter size: None.

• Mounts: Olympus Four Thirds.

• Included: Lenshood, hardcase.

•Street price: $l,595.

*Widest measurement not available, due to instrument limitations.

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