The size of this lens makes it a tempting addition to a small camera kit, but a focus on small size often leads to compromises in other areas. One obvious compromise is in lens speed. The maximum aperture of this lens is variable, and moves very quickly from f/4 to f/5.6 as focal length increases, which will limit the amount of background separation one can achieve. Luckily, one of the compromises that isn’t made is optical quality.
The 35-100mm f/4-5.6 is a surprisingly sharp lens. Given the design priorities on the lens, I expected good, but not excellent performance in this area, and I’m happy to report the 35-100m handily exceeds my expectation in this department.
The lens is very sharp over the central 85% of the frame right from the maximum aperture at all focal lengths. The edges and corners have some slight softening, but are still very usable. Shooting around f/5.6-6.3 is the sweet spot for the lens, and stopping down beyond doesn’t gain additional sharpness and has a minor detrimental effect due to diffraction, but overall, I feel confident using this lens at any aperture. Designing such a sharp lens that is this small is no small feat.
Well, if sharpness isn’t compromised, then surely bokeh has to be poor, right? Again, This too is wrong, as the 35-100mm puts in a very good showing with regards to out of focus rendering as well. In the vast majority of situations, the lens produces background blur with a relatively creamy character. Specular highlights are round and evenly illuminated, and what generally small amount of background blur you can achieve is very pleasing. See the image below for an example, taken at 100mm and f/5.6.
Contrast, Color and Chromatic Aberration
In this department, the 35-100mm does fall about where you’d expect a consumer grade lens to fall. Contrast is even and fine, but the images are lower contrast out of camera than what one might get with some of the top-tier Micro 4/3 lenses. Color is fine, but also unexceptional.
The lens does put in a nice showing with regards to chromatic aberration as well. At most shooting apertures, the amount of CA is minimal, though it increases somewhat as the lens is stopped down. Still, a very nice showing all around here. Note that when shooting JPEG or in most major RAW converters, the minimal CA that is present will be automatically corrected.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The 35-100mm features automatic distortion correction built into the RAW files, but when examining the uncorrected images, I found very little distortion anyway. The lens is corrected very well optically in this department.
The 35-100mm shows a mixed performance with regards to flare. In some instances, minimal flare can be observed, but put the sun towards the edges of the frame and you are rewarded with a multitude of ghosts and significant veiling flare reducing contrast significantly. It’s worth keeping an eye out in the viewfinder when shooting with bright lights in the frame. Vignetting is very well controlled, with no field-relevant corner shading visible, even at wide apertures.
Overall, the lens is very good optically. It’s a slow lens, but it’s great to know that the lens can deliver excellent results, even at the maximum aperture.