So, I wrote earlier today about Belinda finding the Pen FT 25mm f4.0 lens this week and giving it to me for safe keeping. I threatened that I would subject you to more building photographs as soon as I had time to get downtown. And, now, here we are. We finished our final project a bit early and I had time in the mid-afternoon to rush out into the blazing southern heat and humidity because I knew that finding out how this lens performed might be critical to someone out there.
I parked under a shade tree at Zach Theatre and braced myself for the fiery embrace of August. My omniscient car told me it was 100° outside and warned me not to leave the air conditioned cocoon but how can I test inexpensive, fifty year old lenses for my friends and assorted readers if I'm not willing to take the life threatening risk of walking in a heat wave? Right? Right?
Here is the zesty little lens mounted on the front of the finest
street shooting camera ever produced, the Lumix
GX8. Never better for a hot walk.
When I exited the car my feet momentarily stuck to the pavement because the Vibram soles were melting. I realized I needed to get off the heat soaked black top and onto the cinder trail as soon as possible or my shoes would surrender to the heat, melt into the asphalt and I'd be stuck there like a bug in a roach motel, trapped and waiting to die of heat exhaustion....
I set the camera to "A" and ISO 200 and, for white balance, the like sun icon. I turned on the focus peaking and metaphorically got to work.
Both the focusing ring on the lens and the aperture ring are the best implementations of all metal, structural and haptic engineering ever attempted on a consumer camera product. The feel of the focusing ring is so perfect that when I compared it to a $10,000 Leica lens I found myself feeling sorry for anyone who has wasted their money chasing perfection on the wrong continent.
But the real test is in the look and technical perfection of the finished files and that's where the Olympus excels. I have a special piece of software that allows me to look at images at 2000%. In the seventh photo down, the one of the bridge, there is some foliage over to the left hand, bottom part of the frame. On one of the leaves there was something which, at 400% looked like a dark spot. When I zoomed into 2000% (the equivalent of plastering a print the full height of one of the high rise buildings in one of the frames below). and I had that level of magnification engaged I could clearly see that it was a gnat on the leaf. But not just any gnat. He (yes, I checked) had a tattoo on his back that read: "Gnats Rule." And he had a piece of pollen stuck to his third left leg...
Usually modern lenses tend to fall apart when you examine images from them at 200 or 400% but not the ancient Olympus 25. No sir. And if you think my tale of advanced and astounding resolution is riveting I hesitate to tell you about the nano-acuity and sub-micron level ultra-micro-contrast. I can't really show it off here but just take my word for it; it's amazing.
And it's all the more amazing given that it's a very small lens. But exquisitely built. I checked on the list price at the time it was on the market as a new lens and factored in fifty years of inflation (including the loss of 9% buying power against the Yen in this year alone --- thank you politicians!) and I concluded that to make and sell a lens like this masterpiece now would run somewhere between 12,000 and 43,000 USD dollars. My math may be a little dicey but it's almost certainly in that wide ball park.
Or about 200 Yen.
I also did a bit of testing on the lens's resistance to the elements. At one point I was in the heat for so long my sweat was dripping down my arm and onto my camera like torrent of water from a garden hose. The sweat cascaded off the lens like vodka off a duck's back. Both the lens and camera were unscathed by the experience, and once I rinsed them off with a bath of warm Coca-Cola (for nurturing effect) followed by a quick immersion in highly distilled water they seemed no worse for the wear (be sure to send me your favorite camera if you want me to test it as well!!!).
Well, that's all I can say about this particular lens. We're ramping up security and will no longer keep all the cameras and lenses on the front seat of my car with the doors unlocked and the windows rolled down. No. When people find out about this lens and find out how scarce it is we'll need to lock it in the subterranean
vault, sandbag the studio windows and post armed guards on the roof. The lens is that much of a must have for any true collector's hoard.
Now, as Ming would say, "Please enjoy this curated gallery. Because curation is all about curating. And having things curated. And writing the word, "curate." A lot. But I bet he doesn't have his mitts on the Pen FT 25mm f4.0 yet. So there. I guess I should also mention that I have a pristine copy of the 25mm f2.8 as well. But that lens isn't nearly as exciting. It's 99% perfect while the f4.0 rings the bell. No wonder people stopped designing new optics decades ago and started to concentrate on just making all lenses bigger, fatter, heavier and more expensive. Give the people what they want!
Click through to see the mesmerizing photos writ larger.