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A budget-busting wide-angle alternative
The Pro Optic 14mm f/2.8 lens offers a low-cost entry to wide-angle photography. But can it deliver the quality to compete with the more expensive versions?
There is an art to working with a wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, it’s an art many photographers cannot afford to indulge in. The cost of most wide angle lenses is a prohibitive factor (Canon running at $2120 and Nikon at a slightly less expensive $1650). Unless you live in NYC, LA, or Chicago, renting such an optic isn’t really an option.
In the past certain manufacturers have tried to fill this niche with budget lenses that were, at best, mediocre in quality. Knowing this, I was a bit surprised when I was handed the Pro Optic 14mm f/2.8 (available for approximately $370 in Canon, Nikon, and Olympus/Panasonic Four Thirds mounts) for testing. Would it suffer from the severe barrel distortion of the other budget optics? Would it show chromatic aberration so severe, everything would be fringed by red, blue, or green?
I took this lens out into the streets of New York to find out.
The Pro Optic 14mm f/2.8 (here shown in the EOS mount that I used for the review) has a pleasing heft to it. It is lighter and smaller than either it’s Nikon- or Canon-made counterparts. This is most likely due to the fact that the Pro Optics lens is a manual focus affair with no electronic contacts. Without them this lens saves a bit of weight. The loss of autofocus isn’t that much of a deal breaker because optics in this wide of an angle can easily be used at the hyperfocal distance .
Unlike its Zeiss or Voigtlander manual-focus brethren, the Pro Optics lens has no electronic communication with the camera. It transfers no information about aperture or focal length. This forces the camera into using open metering in either manual or aperture priority. Program and shutter priority were unusable. The lack of communication affected the metering of the system somewhat when in multi-pattern metering, causing exposure errors of as much as 1.5 stops at times. Switching the camera to center -weighted metering alleviated many of the errors, but they still occasionally showed up.
The focus ring felt smooth, with little play, though to be honest I like my focus action to be just a tad more resistant. The aperture ring worked like many aperture rings of old, with well-defined detents at both full- and half-stop settings. The only thing I really missed was a DOF scale on the lens, which would have helped in calculating the hyperfocal distance settings.
Unlike many other reviewers, I don’t find any joy in shooting newspaper columns or charts to determine optical quality. I find it far more useful to test in real-world conditions. In this case using it for reportage, sometimes called Street Photography . Wide-angle lenses provide drama, space, and the ability to catch people unaware of the camera, allowing for more natural reactions from the subjects.
What surprised me most was the total lack of chromatic aberration in the various conditions that I shot in.
The level of detail captured also surprised me for a lens at this price point. The color fidelity and level of detail was surprising. Where I found the lens excelled at was in street candids. With it’s nearly infinite DOF, the lens allowed me to get close, point the camera away and still keep the subject in frame. This allowed me to capture subjects at their most natural.
The one thing I did find difficult was manually focusing the lens. Since it uses a stop-down system for aperture, you must first set the lens to f/2.8 to actually see what is happening when focusing, as at f/8 (the aperture I used for nearly all shots) one cannot discern what is or isn’t in focus–everything seems to be. This is where a DOF scale would be highly useful.
In the end would I recommend this lens to anyone? Would I personally own it? The answer to both questions is yes, with a few caveats. I found this lens well suited for what I used it for – reportage. In fact the deep DOF and manual focus made it an ideal “f/8 and be there” lens. It allowed me to just compose and shoot without having to wait for autofocus. It turned my 7D to a very effective DMD (decisive moment digital). To be honest if this were a 40mm lens I would be in total love with it (a mild hint to Pro Optic). I actually am I bit sad I have to return this lens. It was outstanding, and it definitely, from the image quality standpoint, has earned a spot in my camera bag.