In a small dark corner of the 2014 Cine Expo, I stumbled across the Kowa booth. Three small Micro Four Thirds camera bodies with an equally small sales rep standing behind them greeted me. Kowa better known for spotting scopes and binoculars has stepped into the Micro Four Thirds arena with the introduction of three new prime lenses.
Kowa officially unveiled three new Micro Four Thirds lenses at the 2014 Cine Gear Expo in Los Angeles – the 8.5mm F2.8 super wide, the 12mm F1.8 wide and the 25mm F1.8. All three have manual focus and de-clicked, stepless aperture control similar to the Voigtlander prime lenses. The Kowa Prominar 8.5mm F2.8 caught my eye as a solution for the challenge of shooting wide angles with the crop factor of a Micro Four Thirds camera. Currently Panasonic offers a 8mm F3.5 with a 180° perspective for $640 and Rokinon sells a 8mm F3.5 with a 139.3° angle of view for $330. Both are fish eye lens with heavy distortion, making their use outside of skateboard videos very limited. The new Kowa 8.5mm has a 106° angle of view and a reported distortion value of only 0.12%. I took a couple of stills with the Olympus Pen body the 8.5mm was attached to and struggled to see any distortion on the small LCD . I wish I brought my Panasonic GH3 to demo the lens on. It would have been nice to review the footage and look for distortion at home on a real monitor.
I believe the Panasonic 7-14mm F4 (14-28mm 35mm Full Frame equivalent) zoom lens is currently the best wide-angle solution for Micro Four Thirds. There is definite distortion at 7mm with the diagonal angle of view along the focal lengths being 114°-75°. For those more familiar with full frame the Canon 16-35mm F2.8 has an angle of view of 108°-63°. I’ve found the image produced by the Canon zoom at 16mm useable, but with visible distortion. I prefer to zoom in to 18mm when using that lens as a super wide. The Panasonic 7-14mm F4 has no filter thread and cannot be used with screw on filters due to the protruding lens. I definitely miss the image control a screw on neutral density filters offer when using that lens.
The Kowa 8.5mm F2.8 is positioned to be a great alternative to the Panasonic 7-14mm. The Kowa has less distortion, a wider aperture and is threaded for filter attachment. With a 35mm equivalent focal length of 17mm this prime could be just the Micro Four Thirds lens I’ve been looking for to compliment my Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 and Voigtlander 42.5mm F.95 portrait lens. Though I was not able to get an answer on pricing, there is no doubt it will be a huge factor of the success of this lens. The Panasonic wide zoom comes in just under $1,000 and if Kowa can be competitive with their pricing I believe the super wide prime will be a hit with Micro Four Thirds users. The Kowa website offers a brief description of the 8.5mm and the other two upcoming lens. The release date on their site says summer 2014, but the representative at Cine Gear said a Fall release was more accurate. The Kowa 8.5mm F2.8 was an awesome surprise at this year’s Cine Expo and I’ll continue to keep an eye on this super wide prime. There’s one more wide Micro Four Thirds lens on the horizon that deserves mention.
This Olympus 7-14mm F2.8 will not be released until 2015 and rumor is it will cost around $1,800. It could easily become the premier wide-angle zoom for Micro Four Thirds, but we will have to wait to see how it handles distortion.