Any Zuikoholics would know that Olympus has a clear line in defining the lenses in the E-system. Apparently, it is categorized in three distinct grades: Standard Grade (SG), High Grade (HG) & Super High Grade (SHG).
For a normal consumer, this does not mean much, except that the higher the grades go, the higher the price.
Now for shutterbugs, more questions are abegging. What really matters if I move to a higher grade? What to gain? Nothing to lose? If it's getting better, will the high price justify it?
For me, I had started with the SG lenses namely the kits of 17.5-45mm & 40-150mm. These lenses were the defacto for my early foray in E-system; though, I have to admit that since I was not a beginner in photography when I got my first E-system camera, I did purchase the 11-22mm beforehand. And, it is a HG lens!
With the 3 lenses, I found myself understanding the precise difference of the grades. Olympus did not simply grade the lines by the differing optical speed, but also the overall quality.
I quickly found that the 11-22mm was really kicking the two kits' "asses"!
Optically superior, better build quality and superb tactile response were the immediate attributes that I quickly appreciated. Once I saw the images on the computer screen, the 11-22mm lens yearned for a better companion.
This was really an example of how Olympus really put the grades on their Zuikos. Simple and true!
Let's look at the current line of Zuikos. There are about 20 or so lenses, which is about 7 lenses per grade. Well, I stopped counting...
With the SG the most obvious trait is that these lenses tend to have f/4-5.6 openings. In no way fast; however, they are very compact and light! Ingenious optics with the ultra wide and generous spread of ED elements for telephotos mean that the SG is in now way inferior. Optically may be a bit lower than the HG range, but by not much!
I have also tested the 9-18mm and 70-300mm lenses, I found them to be high performers! The only gripe I have with these range is the slightest tend for chromatic aberration at strong contrast at the periphery of the frame. Nothing too serious, though!
For the price, I will not complain much on the build quality and ergonomics. It is simply as good as it gets!!
As time went by, I slowly sold the kit lenses and replaced them with the HG lenses. Along came the 14-54mm, 50mm and 50-200mm. The 11-22mm was not lonely anymore, and these lenses had f/2.8-3.5 openings as a minimum! That's fast!!!
The funny thing was, I was shooting with the E-510, which was not weathersealed!! Odd, wasn't it. Part of the HG lenses were for this feature, and the body was not up to par!
The most notable uniqueness of the HG line is the ability to provide high zoom range from 12mm to 200mm with just 2 lenses, with the speed honorably starting at f/2.8. And the close focusing distance of these lenses are just great for pseudo-macro shooting, too!
Olympus put a HG sticker on these lenses for a reason, and this means that it's not really the best of the Zuikos! And, from my assessment, this is true!
Don't get me wrong. The HG lenses are exceptional, but there a quirks that need to be told to understand why it's not the Top-of-the-Line Zuiko!
I never really got the 8mm Fish Eye, and it's such a specialized lens, I hadn't found a reason to own it.
From the 11-200mm range, I could tell that the 11-22mm was the best performer!! The 14-54mm was not sharp enough unless at f/4, the 50-200mm had annoying bokeh, and the 50mm macro simply was a focusing nightmare! If you can live with these quirks, you are Okay with the Zuikos. There's no need to look much further!
I couldn't! I yearned for higher performance!
Enter the 14-35mm. This was the first SHG lens that I bought. And boy, this was an optic marvel. I paired this with the 50-200mm, and boy did the 50-200mm struggled to keep up. This eventually made me move up to 35-100mm. Alas, to fund for it, I had to sell off all of the HG line except for the 50mm macro.
The SHG are high performance lenses. Big, fast, and heavy! I kid you not. Essentially, the biggest attribute of the SHG lenses is not the mind-boggling F/2 aperture, specifically designed for low light and more creative control.
In practical terms, it is catered for Full-frame type of shooting. You see, the behaviour of these lenses matches the Canikon F/2.8 variants. I think that Olympus is really trying to penetrate the pros by matching it as close as possible with the Big Boys. I won't comment on their market success; but, suffice to say that Olympus took the telecentricity aspect a bit too far and made a behemoth of lenses that are optically superb!
What I learn when I move up to SHG, I have to change my shooting style. And this is by no means an easy feat!!! Focusing distance are much farther than the HG variants, and the weight! Boy, these lenses are really heavy!! Back pain and arm stiffness may be the common ill-effect after hours of shooting, but the soothing of the eyes appreciating the optical perfections made all pain go away. It's really worth it. If you have the dough, please splurge on it!
There... my observations on the Zuiko grades. They may be different, but they are alike all the same. All the ranges have their own strength and weaknesses. Learn your needs, and buy the right lenses. Do have confidence when putting the lenses on, as the performance of Zuikos are actually above par from the competition.
Grades... who needs them, actually? It may be good for marketers, though!