Saturday, July 13, 2013

Olympus 15mm f8 Review (BCL-1580)

Olympus 15mm f8 Review (BCL-1580)
July 2013, Carl Garrard
Olympus 15mm f/8 Review (BCL-1580)- July has been a hot month for reviews on Photographic Central. Today I review the somewhat new and definitely unique Olympus 15mm f/8 Lens on a silver Olympus E-PL2 (the most beautiful Pen design yet I say). In case you didn't know, BCL in its technical name stands for Body Cap Lens. Indeed this little lens is just that, similar in size and weight to a DLSR or Mirrorless camera's body cap. Prices range from $39.99 to $69.99 here in the USA, and mine came in at the lower price. This lens is a fixed aperture lens with a mechanical focus lever offering a surprisingly wide range of focusing, including what Olympus calls "close" focusing.

Olympus BCL-15mm f8.0 Best/Current Amazon Price

Olympus BCL-15mm f8.0 Best/Current Amazon Price

Olympus 15mm f/8 Review (BCL-1580)- Size and Features

In terms of its size, sometimes a direct comparison is in order. Here we have the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 (left), the 15mm f/8 (center), and a body cap (right) so that you can really see the size of this lens. And as you can see below, this lens is the tiniest lens that you can pretty much get these days - with any focusing type at least.

Now that's what I call a very small lens. It surprised me by its weight and size holding it in my hand, I don't what I expected exactly but I know I didn't expect it to be as small and light as it is. That of course is not a bad thing at all. Lets get on to using it though.

First off the bat, lets talk about it's close focusing (via focus lever on front see image at top of page). The closest you can get to your subject is about 12" away and expect sharp results. Therefore the minimum captured area is quite large actually, and with its fixed f/8 aperture on a m4/3 sized sensor, bokeh is a foreign word to this lens. Samples below.

Olympus 15mm f/8 Review (BCL-1580)- Optical Characteristics
You can plainly see the vignetting, but the center is pretty sharp still. Also, the vignetting is darker in the right hand corner than the left, no matter what lighting or subject. Quality control or design or both? It's hard to say without testing other copies of this lens. Here is an outdoor sample close up.

Doesn't look too shabby outdoors you say, and for close ups that's generally correct. For landscape photos, or bright background subjects though it's a different story. Here is a street scene with focus adjusted slightly past the infinity marker on the lens (when magnified I found more sharpness just past that mark, quality control or design?).

Center is pretty sharp, but I had to work at it to get it there. Use the focus lever and image magnify feature on your camera. I highly recommend you do that.

For the shot above, I had to be extremely still and ramp up the ISO even with pretty ample indoor light. Still if you click on the image you'll see some blur on the lines/text of the lens in front. So my warning to you is either use a tripod or be rock steady if you don't want blur. Pay close attention to your shutter speed. Even though wide angle lenses are a bit easier to keep images sharp, you'll have difficulty doing so with this lens. Trust me.

Olympus 15mm f8 Review (BCL-1580)- Final Conclusion

For its price this lens should be a hit for Olympus. I like its 30mm (full frame 35mm equivalent) field of view, it's price, and its diminutive size. I'd challenge Olympus though to produce a similar lens with a fixed f/4 or f/5.6 aperture and the same type of focusing lever. Improve the optics slightly along with the focus lever action (dampened for example), and that lens would probably sell hand over fist. As is the 15mm f/8 has challenges optically, but for its price you can't seriously complain and have anyone take you seriously. But for the curious, it's best to give my opinion of its optics.

Fact is this lens is like shooting with a pinhole lens. The corners are dismal in terms of sharpness, it vignettes heavily (and unevenly), and it lacks contrast in any area less about 50% of the center of the frame. Flare unfortunately is also a problem (although I don't have an example here). For accurate focusing and salvaging as much sharpness as you possibly can, one would need to manual focus using a magnify feature on the LCD or EVF and move the lever till you find your optimal sharpness. The infinity setting unfortunately is not the true infinity setting according to my tests, and a bit of fiddlying with the focus lever yields a lot sharper results in the center of the frame.

For those of you who could care less about technical achievements, and just want to go have fun... I salute you. I tend to be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to shooting with cameras. On one side I have to be a technical reviewer, and the other, a photographer. The latter half of me enjoys shooting with this lens in bright light. I found that I do have to slow down and be very careful about movement considering the constant f/8 aperture. Blurry photos are easy to make with this lens. Otherwise, for the price, it's a kick to use and I'm glad I have it around.

I do warn however that this lens' novelty could wear off pretty quickly unless you are dedicated to getting to know and use it. It's a charming little lens to put on the camera and look at, but in use you have to be diligent to get any decent photo's. For those who consider vignetting and lack of contrast "artistic" more power to you. Olympus has a pinhole art filter that can do the same (if not better job) compared to this lens, but it's up to you if you want a permanent look to your images.

For the price, it's hard not to recommend, without reservations. Try again Olympus with a fixed f/4 or f/5.6 lens slightly improved in quality for under $100.00 USD and watch them fly off the shelves too.

Be safe and happy shooting,

Carl Garrard

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1 comment:

  1. I question the need for this lens when Panasonic offers a 14mm f2.5 pancake lens that is very good optically and priced reasonably.