Review: Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens

Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens


This review will be updated in the future as I use the lens more. For this review, I've used the lens with an EPL2 and GH2.

Design

The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is the first weather-sealed lens for the Micro Four Thirds system.

It is well built, the exterior is hard plastic. It weighs 212g and is comfortable enough to hand around the neck for one whole day. Just for comparison, the kit lens 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 from Olympus weighs 113g and from Panasonic 165g.

The lens has a 52mm filter thread and takes a bayonet mount lens hood (not included).

The front of the lens is discreet and has no markings. Information on the lens is stamped on the body's side. There is no range marker so you won't know if you're shooting at 12mm or at 14mm.

The lens comes in silver and black. Black on looks better. The silver one has alternating straps which looks a bit distracting.

Unfortunately, there's no image stabilization, so it's better when paired with a body with stabilization.

Below's a video comparing the lens build with other lens.



Zooming and handling


The focusing ring is smooth and nice to turn. Manual focusing is focus-by-wire, well implemented and responsive for fine adjustment. Manual focusing has a slight motorised sound.

After focusing ring is the zoom ring that doubles as a zoom mode selector. There are three modes of focus to choose: macro, manual and electronic.

To engage the macro mode, you have to hold the macro button on the body and slide the ring to the front. To select manual focus, slide to the centre, and to the back the electronic zoom. The lens doesn’t change its size while focusing.

When you’re on manual focusing, the lens will somehow “lock” to a limited zoom range of 12-50mm. I say “lock” because there’s a damping mechanism created to prevent the ring from turning indefinitely.

When the lens is on electronic zoom, turning right goes wide and left less wide. The speed depends on how much you turn to the respective side. A slight turn will have a slower zoom than a hard turn. Electronic zoom ensures a smooth zoom during video recording.

The lens handles very well. You can actually switch zoom modes using one hand, but to switch to macro you'll need two hands on the lens, one for the macro button.

Autofocus

Autofocus is instant and silent.

You can have autofocus during zooming controlled by your camera. On the EPL2, I find that the autofocus zoom to be fairly accurate and quick. Sometimes it does miss the focus but with a shutter press everything is locked on again. Autofocus during zoom with the GH2 is as fast as the lens can go. GH2 performs better in this area.

Sharpness



Olympus 12-50mm lens vs the 12mm lens

At 12mm, corners are slightly soft and seems to stay that way throughout. The sharpest seems to be at f/5.6. I'll take a couple more comparison photos in the future to confirm.

It's hard to differentiate between the Olympus 12mm lens when you're not viewing at 100%.

Original files taken with the 12-50mm: f/3.5 | f/4 | f/5.6 | f/8


At 50mm, sharpness is quite good, at f/6.3. Sharpest at f/8.

Chinatown in Singapore (2012) pt 2
24mm, f/3.5, 1/320s, ISO160, GH2

Chinatown in Singapore
24mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO200, EPL2

Chinatown in Singapore (2012) pt 2
50mm, f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 1600, GH2

Macro

Olympus 12-50mm macro picture 01
43mm, f/6, 1/100s, IS01250, GH2

Olympus 12-50mm macro picture 02
43mm, f/6, 1/500, ISO800, GH2

The macro focal length is 43mm and aperture starts at f/6.0. Macro mode has no zooming.

The closest focusing distance is 20cm during macro and 35cm during normal mode. Magnification is 0.72X. While it's not 1:1 like the Panasonic Leica 45mm lens, it's good enough for most purposes.

The macro mode is convenient and useful because it can be used for closeups, for example when you want to capture details, textures, small items, or use for product photography.

Chromatic Aberration

Chinatown in Singapore (2012) pt 2
12mm, f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO160, GH2

Chinatown in Singapore (2012) pt 2
50mm, f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO250, GH2

For Panasonic cameras, chromatic aberration is slightly discernible at the wide end and not visible at the tele end. Olympus cameras have no problems with chromatic aberration with this lens.

Video

This video below was shot with the Panasonic GH2.


Electronic zoom is a delight to use during video recording. Because you just have to turn the ring very slightly to zoom, there's not much handshake.

Conclusion



This lens reminds me of those compact cameras that feature zoom and also have macro. Now there's a lens that can do that on Micro Four Thirds cameras, except less compact.

The other lens capable of 12mm are the Olympus 12mm & 9-18mm lens, and Panasonic 7-14mm. However, this lens covers a commonly used focal length equivalent of 24-100mm.

That extra wideness of 12mm over 14mm can often provide you options you won't normally have, such as stepping back to get an even wider shot, in a narrow alley or inside a tight room. The field of view between a 12mm and 14mm look can be quite different.

This lens serves its purpose well as a walkaround outdoor lens. It's not a fast lens at f/3.5-6.3 so under low light, you'll often find yourself tuning up the ISO dial to achieve a faster shutter speed. I've tried the lens out in a lighted room, and had to switch to the brighter Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens. I think a fast lens as a backup is highly recommended.

Image quality is good, sharpness is not too far away from the 12mm prime lens. The macro quality is not too far from the Panasonic 45mm prime as well, if we don't mind the 0.72x magnification.

While the price is not that of a kit lens, this lens does throw in 12mm, macro and weather-sealing. It's still pricey so it's probably more worthwhile to get it together in a body-kit set.

The main advantage is the 12mm and it's less expensive than the Olympus 12mm lens alone. You don't really need that a fast 12mm lens unless you're shooting wide under low light or indoors frequently.

Speaking of shooting under low light, this is where the lens falls short. Shooting indoors at 12mm f/3.5 is still alright, but the lens becomes too slow when you zoom in. When I've auto-ISO on, and it's almost always goes ISO1600 for anything less wide than 12mm.

Overall, it's a good outdoor lens, worth considering upgrading from the standard kit zoom lens just for the extra features, or if you don't like changing lens.

Or if you really want faster lens, you can choose and use alternative Four Thirds lens, via adaptors, such as the Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lens or the Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 lens

At a glance
+ Wide angle at 12mm
+ Useful focal length equivalent of 24-100mm
+ Fast and silent autofocus
+ Electronic zoom ensures a smooth zoom during video recording
+ Lack of chromatic aberration
+ Not too heavy
+ Very usable macro mode
- Larger than standard kit lens but size doesn't change while zooming
- Small aperture of f/3.5-6.3 is not helpful during low light, especially at tele end
- No image stabilization
- Doesn't come with lens hood

Availability

Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (black)
Amazon (US | UK | DE | FR | IT | JP)

Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (silver)
Amazon (US | UK | DE | FR | IT | JP)

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