DesignThe Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f/2 lens is full-metal with a smooth finished surface. The build quality is excellent. Unfortunately, it comes only in silver so it might look a bit strange when mounted onto black bodies. I find the silver lens and black camera body to be particularly eye-catching. I've noticed people looking at my camera more than other combinations.
This lens will give you 24mm (35mm camera equivalent) focal length on a Micro Four Thirds camera.
The lens weighs 130g, just slightly twice that of the 14mm f/2.5 lens. It's also twice the height of that pancake lens. It's however smaller than the kit zoom lens. This lens is small compared to other 24mm lens from full-frame and cropped DSLRs.
This is how it compares to other ultra wide angle lens, the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens (middle) and Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 lens (right).
There is no image stabilization.
The focusing ring is a snap type that you can pull back. When it's pulled back, a distance indicator is revealed on the barrel. With this snap ring, you pull it back to get into manual focus mode, push it back up and you're in auto focus mode. There's no need to get into menus to switch focus modes.
The lens has a 46mm filter thread, which is similar to that of the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens and 14mm f/2.5 lens.
Unfortunately, the lens doesn't come with a lens hood, which Olympus is selling separately for an overpriced US$100.
FocusAutofocus speed is snappy and operates silently.
The lens can focus from a minimum of 0.2m to infinity.
SharpnessCentre sharpness is excellent so let's just look at the edge sharpness.
The images below are taken from the edge of a photo. They are shot on tripod with timer. The differing exposure are from moving clouds.
There's slight softness at the edges across all aperture sizes. It's not drastic so it's not a major issue.
Now, let's compare with other wide angle lens that can shoot at 12mm focal length, namely the Olympus 9-18mm lens and the Panasonic 7-14mm lens.
The images below are from the corner of the photo. They are shot with the Olympus E-PL2 on tripod with timer. Again, ignore the differing exposure.
The 12mm lens is basically tied with the 7-14mm lens for sharpness. It shows how sharp both those lens are at 12mm. You can see the vertical lines on the bottom right front facing wall. When stopping down, some of the lines have meshed together, indistinguishable from one another.
The 12mm lens has the advantage of 2 additional stops of sharp images. By the way, the 7-14mm is one of the best Micro Four Thirds lens around - it's sharp at all focal length.
The 9-18mm doesn't perform as well at the corners. But for most uses, that edge softness might not really a factor unless you've strict requirements.
The bokeh is beautiful and creamy. However, as a wide angle lens, you won't see much of that shallow depth of field unless you're shooting wide open and really close to the subject, risking distortion.
DistortionThere's some degree of distortion that comes with shooting this wide, but it's expected from a wide angle lens. You have to take account of this especially when taking photos of people. Human subjects will appear stretch near the edge of photos, short people might become taller. People standing nearer to the lens will appear much closer than those standing slightly away.
Chromatic AberrationOn Panasonic cameras, the pictures have slight chromatic aberration. They are not as visible on Olympus cameras as they are corrected by the software.
It focuses fast and quiet. It's great for video.
What this lens is for
A lens this wide will require you to get in real close to your subject to fill the frame. Sometimes, you literally have to get in-your-face close. In the photo above, the depth of field isn't as shallow even though I was shooting quite near the guy.
In the example above, I didn't get close enough. I had wanted all the items to fill the bottom of the frame.
Composition with this lens is challenging, but you can always crop, which will be most often the case if you don't get close enough. If you don't like shooting so close to people, you might want to use a lens closer to 35mm, 50mm equivalent or longer.
This lens is great for landscape photography since it's wide enough to capture the scene.
With the f/2 aperture, it's great for low light indoor shooting, in tight spaces. Wide angle lens also have the ability to accentuate lines, which can sometimes make images more dynamic.
AccessoriesThis lens doesn't come with a lens hood or lens pouch for the price.
Olympus is selling the official lens hood for this lens at US$100. I say wait for the imitation to appear on eBay.
This lens uses a 46mm filter thread just like the Panasonic 20mm lens. If you're using the vented lens hood for the 20mm lens, that particular lens hood will cause heavy vignetting for the 12mm lens. That lens hood isn't wide enough.
If you intent on shooting f/2 wide open under broad daylight, it's highly recommended to get a Neutral Density filter. I've a 2-stop (4X) ND filter from Hoya which suits me just fine. You can check out various ND filters on Amazon. It's recommended to get a good one, Hoya or B+W brand.
ConclusionYou have to know what type of photography you like before considering this. It might be too wide for daily use. Composition can be tricky.
The other lens to consider seriously is the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 which is cheaper and performs relatively well.
It's also a tough call to choose between this and the Olympus 9-18mm lens which is arguably more flexible.
The most important question you have to ask is whether you need the f/2? Do you shoot in low light situations often? If you need to shoot wide indoors, this is the lens to get unless you want to use a tripod all the time.
While the lens is expensive, the performance is still worth paying for if you're in need for this focal length and aperture.
At a glance
+ Excellent build quality
+ Small, light & portable, relative to DSLR equivalent
+ Very good image quality
+ f/2 aperture is great for low light shooting
+ Fast and silent focus
+ Focusing snap ring can be used to get into manual focus instantly
+ Accepts filters
+ Worldwide warranty
- No lens hood included
- No lens pouch included
AvailabilityOlympus 12mm f/2 lens is available on Amazon (US | DE | JP).
Be sure to check out more reviews on Amazon.