A Note on Ultrawide Micro Four Thirds lenses

When digital APS-C cameras started appearing on the market in the early 2000s, conventional wisdom was that you needed film (or full frame) for wide angle work. In that environment this made sense – almost all lenses were made for full frame, which meant a crop factor when put on an APS-C body. Thus to get the widest possible image from a lens, you needed a full frame sensor.

This changed when the Canon 10-22mm and other wide lenses with an APS-C-sized image circle were released, as these are much wider without being ridiculously large. So if you still think full frame is better for wide angle, please think again. Other than the natural resolution and high-ISO advantages of the sensor, there is nothing inherently superior about full-frame cameras for wide-angle work, and wide-angle DSLR lenses in particular have a substantial disadvantage to mirrorless when it comes to size.

One advantage of mirrorless cameras is the reduced distance between the lens elements and the sensor (the flange distance). At the telephoto end, this results in significantly shorter lenses, but not lighter ones – you still need the same amount of glass, it’s just that the distance between the lens elements can be shorter.

The light passing through a telephoto lens is relatively parallel, so the shorter distance between elements doesn’t result in significantly larger elements, but in a wide angle lens, the light is entering from much sharper angles. Thus, reducing the distance between the lens elements means that the outer lens elements can also be smaller, which means a reduced diameter.

This seemingly does result in smaller wide angle lenses, which is great, but for some reason the cost of wide-angle zooms for micro four thirds is unreasonably high. I don’t know why this is; perhaps it is because there is no competition from third-party lens manufacturers. Or maybe making such small complex lenses is just very difficult.

Either way, your only options for a rectilinear wide zoom on MFT are the Panasonic 7-14mm, the Panasonic 8-18mm, or the Olympus 7-14mm pro (not to knock the Olympus pro lenses, which are optically excellent, but I always find it funny that a F2.8 lens on MFT is considered “pro”, whereas F5.6 on FF would be “slow”).

Compare that to Canon’s APS-C cameras, where you have the excellent EF-S 10-22mm, the cheap (and good!) EF-S 10-18mm, or for Canon mirrorless there’s the compact and reasonably-priced EF-M 11-22mm (although buying anything EF-M mount today wouldn’t be wise when it’s rumoured to be discontinued).

All these Canon lenses are under £500, in some cases well under – the 10-18mm is under £200 and has IS! Yet all the MFT lenses are over £700. Let’s compare the cheapest Canon and Panasonic ultra-wide zooms in full-frame terms:

  • Canon EF-S 10-18mm f4-5.6
    • Cost: £195
    • FF equivalent: 16-28mm F6.3-9
  • Panasonic 7-14mm F4
    • Cost: £739
    • FF equivalent: 14-28mm F8

I do realise I’m comparing a 14mm to a 16mm lens here, which isn’t really fair, but that also helps the case – there is no reasonably-priced 16mm option for MFT (the Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm is even more expensive). For most people, spending more than 3x as much for those extra 2mm, a constant aperture and smaller size is simply not worthwhile, especially when the Canons are not exactly large themselves, and the 10-18mm throws in IS for good measure (although most Panasonic bodies have it built-in).

Thus, until we get some reasonably-priced wide zooms for Micro Four Thirds, it’s difficult to recommend it for ultrawide work, unless you find the reduced size worth paying a substantial premium for.

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