I can’t get any sharper, Cap’n, I’m giving you all she’s got…

I’m pretty sure my ongoing quest for sharp images has peaked out, at least with the equipment available to me.  It’s always been my challenge to push any tool I’ve got to limits beyond what I ever expect of it and then dial back to a working space, comfortable in the fact that there’s that extra bit available when needed.  It’s what I’ve been doing with lenses and cameras for a couple of years now and I’m ready to call it quits.

No, I’m not through seeking sharpness.   It’s just the next level requires a complete change of equipment or buying reconnaissance quality gear from the government, neither option I’m interested in pursuing.  Besides, I’ve pulled back from printing really large sizes and am perfecting my craft in the 11×14″ range for the near future.

What got me to this point?  I just purchased the rare and highly praised Olympus 35-80mm f/2.8 lens, a lens built for the OM line of film cameras.  The general consensus on all the research I’ve done is this is the best lens Olympus made for their film line.  I’ve only seen one for sale in the past five years and when another popped up on KEH.com in excellent condition I jumped on it.

I’ve only had a day or so to test it and under pretty miserable conditions of clouds and rain.  Still, I’m very impressed and expect great quality from this lens.  Here’s one comparison:

ISO 100, f/8, 1/20 sec. - 35-100mm f/2 Olympus digital lens

ISO 100, f/8, 1/20 sec. – 35-100mm f/2 Olympus digital lens

ISO 100, f/8, 1/20 sec. - 35-80mm f/2.8 Olympus film lens

ISO 100, f/8, 1/20 sec. – 35-80mm f/2.8 Olympus film lens

Digital lens, same image as above, crop of 100% view

Digital lens, same image as above, crop of 100% view

Film lens - same image as above, crop from 100% view

Film lens – same image as above, crop from 100% view

Both original images received slight sharpening via NIK Output Sharpener Pro.  No other adjustments were made to exposure.

If I stare at them long enough I swear the film lens is sharper than the digital lens but I could be imagining it.  They are both frighteningly sharp, giving a nice clearly defined aspect to the full scene.  They are very, very close, certainly close enough for me.  Not bad for a lens that’s got to be 20+ years old, predating the digital revolution.

Sharp eyes among you probably noticed my comparison lens, the 35-100 f/2, and are asking “why buy another lens covering similar focal length?”  Well, the digital Olympus lens weighs 4 pounds and is almost a foot long by itself, not counting the large hood that fits on it.  The film lens weighs 1.5 pounds and is less than 4 inches in length.  Yes, the digital lens gives me one more stop of light at f/2 vs. f/2.8 which may be important during early morning wildlife photography.  However, it’s a beast to walk around with and definitely is not subtle around other people.  The film lens gives me just about the full focal length range of the digital one, is lighter to carry and much less conspicuous.  I can see the film lens being my “walking around” lens and the digital one for outdoors.

Besides, the film lens will fit on my film camera (OM-1) to make a very nice little street photography kit.

So, that’s it.  I’m done.  If I can’t live the life of an outdoor photographer with two of the sharpest lenses ever manufactured then I guess it’s back to the view camera….

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