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Review: Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD Lens

Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD lens

By Joe Farace

Fast powerful zoom for the Four-Thirds System

The Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD is part of Olympus’ new Super High Grade (SHG) lens system aimed at professional photographers and featuring advanced optical/precision technology and crisp, fast auto-focus. The family of Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD) lenses sport a “platinum” (blue) barrel stripe and are compatible with any Four Thirds System camera but are optimized and achieve highest autofocus speeds when used with the Olympus E-3 professional DSLR, which I used to test the lens. SWD lenses have large maximum apertures, making them ideal for available-light photography at weddings and other candid events and are splash proof if you get caught in an unexpected shower.

All Zuiko Digital lenses allow light to strike the image sensor at a near-perpendicular angle, minimizing degradation and light loss, even at the edge of the frame or when using a wide-angle lens. As befits its $2,299 price tag, the ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD features rugged, high-quality construction and is dust and drip-proof. The two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements minimize chromatic aberration and contribute to the lens’ superb optical performance.

SWD is the proprietary name for Olympus’ in-lens motor technology, similar to Canon’s USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) designation for its lens autofocus drive, although Canon uses two different versions of USM depending on whether it’s in an inexpensive lens or the more costly L-series. Supersonic Wave Drive technology is used in the lens to move the focusing lens group and in the camera body to actuate the Image Stabilization unit. SWD motor lenses work on any Olympus Four Thirds System body and will allow an increase in autofocus speed over non-SWD lenses.

This Chevrolet HHR is suspended from a crane at the Denver International Auto Show. The wide aperture of the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD was a big help when working under the low light levels found at these kinds of venues. Exposure was 1/100 second at f/4, ISO 650, with the lens at the 14mm setting. ©2008 Joe Farace

In addition to Olympus’s SWD ultra-fast AF system, all SWD lenses offer a mechanically interlocked manual focusing mechanism, and a large, tulip-shaped lens hood with a removable polarization filter control window (more on uses for this feature later). The lens also features a circular aperture diaphragm that when shot wide open produces what I judge to be lovely bokeh. If you’re not familiar with the term, bokeh (from the Japanese for blur) refers to the appearance of out-of-focus areas in an image that are produced by a camera lens. Different lenses produce different aesthetic qualities.

The lens’ versatile 14-35mm (28-70mm 2X equiv.) focal length, combined with the fast f/2.0 maximum aperture make it a useful lens for all-around purposes, including nature and landscape photography. This image was captured using the Olympus E-3’s built-in “monotone” mode with a red digital filter applied in-camera. Exposure was 1/60 second at f/22, ISO 200, with the lens at the 27mm setting. ©2008 Joe Farace

Because of all that big glass, the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD is a large lens. Balance when mounted on an E-3 body is good but is improved by attaching the optional HLD-4 Power Battery pack, though at the cost of increasing overall weight. I recommend that you never use the lens without a 77mm Skylight or UV filter because at almost $2,300 it’s just too valuable to leave that big front element to chance. A $50 investment in a Tiffen 77mm Skylight Wide Angle Thin Glass Filter (the standard mount costs less) is good insurance.

Even though the lens is relatively heavy (just shy of 2 pounds), the built-in image stabilization feature of the Olympus E-3 allowed me to hold the lens for 1/30 second so that the flowing water in this photograph would be blurred and the rest would be sharp. Exposure was f/22 at ISO 200 in Aperture Priority mode with plus-2/3 stop exposure compensation to deal with the contrasty lighting. © 2008 Joe Farace 

When used at wide-angle settings with the E-3’s pop-up flash, the length of the lens can cause flash vignetting, so you’re safer with the FL-50R external flash. Olympus provides a slide-out panel on the lens hood, ostensibly to adjust a 77mm Polarizing filter when one is attached, but it can be also removed to allow light from the pop-up flash to pass though the lens hood and it works—somewhat. While some of the shadow is filled, an odd shadow still mimics the edges of the lens hood opening on your subject, but that may be distance and aperture dependent. Either way I didn’t like the effect. The easiest solution is just to remove the lens hood when using the E-3 pop-up flash.

The photograph on the left was made with the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD with the lens hood attached and the Olympus E-3’s pop-up flash (click image for large view). Both photographs were made at identical exposures (1/60 second at f/5.6, ISO 640), but the image on the right, made with no lens hood, has more exposure as can clearly be seen on the side of the car and the subject’s face. In addition, the distracting shadow created by the lens hood is also eliminated. Removing the Polarizing filter insert panel from the lens hood allows more light to strike the subject and only partially removes the shadow replacing it with a shadowy edge that mimics the hole in the lens hood. It’s easier just to remove the hood under these conditions. ©2008 Joe Farace 

The Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD is supposed to be drip proof, so I took it out into some wet weather and it performed admirably. The temperature when I made the photograph in the park—if you look closely you will see falling snow in the shot—was an indicated 30 degrees F, but the wind chill factor was 17 degrees. The E-3 and Zuiko lens performed flawlessly, but that wasn't the case for the high-end electronic viewfinder consumer camera that I also had with me. Its electronics and LCD viewfinder would only work for a short time before having to be turned off and on to keep it working.

The Four Thirds system’s 2X angle of view multiplication effectively turns the lens into a 28-70mm, but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked quite well for some exterior architectural photography situations, particularly in cases when you’re not limited in space and can back up to get everything you want in the shot.

Despite its 28-70mm equiv. angle of view, the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD proved to be a remarkably effective lens for exterior architectural photography. This photograph of the new Platte Valley Medical Center was made with an exposure of 1/50 second at f/22 to maximize depth-of-field. ©2008 Joe Farace 

With its relatively narrow focal length range and large maximum aperture, the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD makes the ideal candid photography lens, especially when coupled with an Olympus E-3 and complimentary FL-50R wireless flash. While wonderful for photographing wedding receptions and corporate meetings. While it’s no lightweight—and what do you expect from an f/2 lens?—the Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD is a rugged, high quality lens that’s ideal for candid, travel, and nature photography situations where its focal length range can be used to the best advantage.

specifications: Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD
Focal Length: 14-35mm (35mm equivalent focal length 28-70mm )
Lens construction: 18 Elements in 17 Groups; 2 ED elements, aspherical ED elements and aspherical element
Dust & Drip Proof: Yes
Focusing System: Floating & Internal Focusing System
Angle of View: 75-34 Degree
Closest Focusing Distance: 0.35m
Maximum Image Magnification: 0.12x (35mm equivalent Max. Image Magnification 0.24x)
Minimum Field Size: 149 x 111mm
Number of Blades: 9 (Circular Aperture Diaphragm)
Maximum Aperture: f/2
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Filter Size: Diameter 77mm
Dimension: Diameter 3.3 x 4.8-inches
Weight: 1.98 lbs.
Compatibility with Tele Converter EC-14: Yes (AF/MF available)
Tele Converter EC-20: Yes (AF/MF available)
Extension Tube EX-25: No
Price: $2,299