Cheap UWA Option for Micro Four Thirds Cameras
This is a solution for those who want to take wide angle photos and videos without spending a thousand dollars on an expensive Olympus or Panasonic lens. The lens is the Panasonic 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 with the Ricoh DW-6 wide angle converter attached. This gives you a focal length of 9.5mm (12mm x 0.79).
The image above shows the combination at 9.5mm (f9). The inset image is the 12-32mm at 12mm (f3.5). With the converter attached to the lens it is best to stop the aperture down a little, although f9 was probably too much- f5.6 or f8 would have been better. As you can see the field of view is significantly wider compared to the lens alone at 12mm.
Update 26th March 2018: After re-testing the ultrawide combo I have found that diffraction kicks in at f9 and before. Therefore, I would like to change my original recommendation to f5.6 or f7.1 for the optimal aperture setting when using the wide adaptor with the wide angle zoom lens.
Also, when using the 12-32mm alone stopping it down a little to f4-5.6 is better than at f3.5. These are based on lens tests indoors, whereas the tests on this page were for objects much farther away.
I have also recently acquired the Olympus 9mm f8 body cap lens. It is surprisingly sharp and fun to use. However, when you de-fish images they are not as sharp as the Ricoh Panasonic cheap UWA option.
Sorry, no images to share as I didn’t want it to eat up too much time, but de-fishing the 9mm fisheye resulted in a slightly wider field of view compared to the 9.5mm, as expected. However, the image was noticeable less sharp, especially at the edges and there is noticeable CA (chromatic aberration). Plus getting a fisheye lens properly de-fished is not easy for someone like me who hasn’t tried before. I tried 2 fisheye softwares and neither completely fixed the distortion.
Therefore as of Spring 2018, my option is still the best value ultra wide angle lens for Micro Four Thirds camera, if you already have the 12-32mm zoom. Do keep an eye out for the SLR Magic 8mm though, as it’s price has been fluctuating between $149 and $349. At $149 it provides a solid alternative, but reviews suggest you may have to send it back for a decent copy. Today it is $149, so I would certainly give it a try if I was in a country which allowed returns, such as the USA.
This combo cost me under £140 new, including a 37mm to 43mm step-up ring. However, I probably got lucky with the wide angle adapter with it being sold for around £30 on eBay and marked as new. The Panasonic 12-32mm was new and separated from a kit on eBay. Step up rings are something like £2.49.
How Good is this MFT Ultra Wide Angle Lens and Converter?
This combination really surprised me. I had seen examples from a forum thread on DPReview, so I knew it would work, but I was still pleasantly surprised when I had the combination in hand. The Panasonic 12-32mm lens is a great performer, especially when you consider the price and size. The Ricoh wide angle converter feels and looks like a good quality piece of glass. However, there are some “buts”…
This combination is not versatile. By this I mean you really need to be careful to avoid mushy corners. Below is a test with the lens alone and with the converter. I took more photos but this was the best performer. The top right corner shows that at f9 the “UWA combo” is on a par with the lens alone. It is not as sharp, but when you consider how small this part of the frame is, you should agree that it is acceptable.
12mm is the Panasonic 12-32mm alone. 9.5mm is with the Ricoh DW-6 x0.79 wide angle converter:
At f3.5 there is a more noticeable difference. The UWA combo is worse and the lens alone is sharper, which highlights the difference even more. The 12-32mm is starting to suffer from diffraction at f9, without the converter it is best at f3.5. I am afraid there are no in between comparisons. I would estimate the 12-32mm alone is best between f3.5 and f5.6. Then the combo is best from f5.6 to f8.
I also took some photos with a 37mm circular polarizing filter in between the lens and converter. This resulted in vignetting at the widest setting, it was necessary to turn the lens to the 14mm mark to get rid of this, which still leaves the lens at a respectably wide 11mm. However the image is further degraded if using a cheap filter so it would be best not to use the adapter if a filter is required as the 1mm width gained is not worth it.
Is this ultra wide option worth trying?
If you are on a budget and desperate to go from 12mm to 9.5mm for a wide angle then you will be happy, as long as you understand that this is not ideal for low light. The imperfections of the combination are going to be enhanced when there are certain objects with certain light in the corners. Chromatic aberration is certainly an issue at times. Objects closer to the camera are more likely to result in mushy corners too.
All UWA options for M43
The cheapest alternative is the recently released SLR Magic 8mm f4 lens at around $200. This is not a perfect lens. I expect it will give much more consistent results, but my combination at it’s best settings may still be better or about as good as the SLR Magic option. The Panasonic lens benefits from in camera corrections when used on a Panasonic body, meaning less distortion and chromatic aberration. Bear in mind that SLR Magic charges £780/$800 for their 10mm T2.1 lens. The 10mm is a far better alternative and will be good for low light too. In The States at the moment on B and H, it is only $600, which is a bargain for a premium cine lens with a buttery smooth focus ring. The Panasonic 12-32mm doesn’t even have a manual focus ring, which I find annoying as I have missed focus occasionally with it. Focusing is easy manually for wide shots.
Early summer 2017 should see the Laowa 7.5mm f2 released, which is much higher quality compared to the SLR Magic 8mm. The 0.5mm width difference is surprisingly big too. This one costs $500 and handles chromatic abberation and distortion better than the 7.5mm, as well as having far superior corners. The Laowa is actually on a par with the Olympus 7-14mm in terms of resolution. I prefer a zoom so will skip this.
The Olympus 7-14mm is easily the best ultra wide angle micro four thirds lens. It has a constant aperture of f2.8. The price is $1200 and the only problem is that it doesn’t take filters. For me that was enough to make me not consider this option, especially as video is my priority. Panasonic have an f4 7-14mm for $800, which also doesn’t accept filters and has a nasty purple flare problem making it a poor choice for landscapes, especially on non Panasonic cameras. The final option is the Olympus 9-18mm which is $600 and not as good as the other 2, but it does accept filters.
Personally, I am happy with the Panasonic 12-32mm lens with the Ricoh DW-6 wide angle converter as a stop gap. Because of the vignetting, it isn’t worth using with a filter, but I have had some acceptable results with it whilst I decide on which real UWA lens to buy.
For now, I expect to buy an Olympus 9-18mm soon, then sell it and buy the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f2.8-f4 in late 2017. This forthcoming lens is pretty much guaranteed to be good and accept filters. As long as they don’t let the Leica name push the cost up too high it should be the perfect all around ultra wide angle zoom lens. It could be 10 times the price of the 12-32/DW-6 combo however.
Update 2018: I am still rocking the 12-32 and adapter as my cheap ultra wide angle option. But if I was to start again I would probably skip a camera upgrade to get the amazing Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f2.8-f4 because it has awesome reviews, no major flare issues and it takes filters.