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  • A Review of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    We have to honest. Any time there is an announcement for a fixed-focal length, fast-aperture lens, we get pretty excited. Actually, that is a lie. We get VERY excited. When Olympus announced the 12mm f/2.0 and the 45mm f/1.8 we were happy for the micro four thirds market. Now that there are some years behind the mFT movement, and there are many individuals who have become entrenched in the system, it is great to see some serious additions from Olympus. That is not to say lenses like the 17mm f/2.8 or the 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 are not serious, but these lenses simply feel necessary, unlike the 12mm f/2.0, which took a lot of people by surprise with its announcement. In addition, the physical design of the lens looks like more effort was put into thinking about its look, feel, and use.

    We have heard some people say differently, but we think the 12mm f/2.0 looks great. The compact, clean, and metallic design complements the PEN cameras brilliantly. In addition, the 12mm f/2.0 is extremely light weight at a mere 130g. Normally we are a little hesitant with light lenses. Typically when you feel a light lens in your hand, it feels cheap. And, in our experience, that is usually the correct assumption. A lot of plastic is substituted where metal should have been used. In the case of the 12mm f/2.0, although it is very light, it does feel very solid. It may use a lot of plastic (we aren't sure, but we can see the mount is metal), but it certainly does not feel that way.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Metal Mount of Olympus 12mm f/2.0

    The dimensions of the lens are compact, which is great for use with a mFT camera. The lens does not protrude too much, and the balance feels great in the hands.

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus PEN E-PL2 with 12mm f/2.0

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus 12mm f/2.0 Next to a Nickel

    One of the really neat things about this lens is the "snap focus" feature. This is one of the reasons why we feel like the 12mm f/2.0 is a more "serious" product for the mFT market, and why we feel like Olympus really put a lot of thought into this lens. In many of the lighter, made-for-digital, and more plastic lenses we have seen, the manual focus is horrible. The manual focus usually feels very loose and "disconnected" from the lens. With the 12mm f/2.0, the focus ring actually snaps from auto to manual focus, just by pulling back (towards the camera) on the focus ring.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Manual Focus Engaged

    Once the manual focus is engaged, a distance scale is revealed, and the focus has a well-dampened movement. The dampening is excellent and reminds us of dedicated manual focus lenses, which is exactly the feel Olympus was trying to recreate. In addition, the manual focus with this lens is extremely easy. Easy in the sense that fine focus just seems to "snap" in to place. It is difficult to describe without seeing or feeling. We did create a short video to highlight the manual focus of the 12mm f/2.0, and we hope it gives you a better idea of how it all works.

    In talking about the manual focus, we should not let it distract us from the autofocus of this lens. The 12mm f/2.0 autofocus is extremely quick for mFT, and it is also extremely quiet, which Olympus attributes to the MSC (movie-still-compatible) mechanism. MSC essentially eludes to the fact that the quiet autofocus will not ruin videos produced with this lens because of annoying autofocus noises being recorded by the camera's internal mic. The fast, quiet autofocus is certainly a big advantage for both stills and video.

    With the compact size, light weight, solid feel, and fast autofocus, this lens was a treat to hold and use. In looking at and feeling the lens, it seemed like it had everything going for it, so we were anxious to take it out for some sample images. As much as we were pleased with the aspects of the 12mm f/2.0 mentioned above, we were thrilled with the image quality. Shot after shot taken with the lens left us impressed with the results. We found the sharpness to be top-notch, the contrast to be, well, contrasty, but not overly so, the chromatic aberrations were a minimum, the distortion was manageable for a 24mm (in 35mm terms) equivalent, and the color and clarity was superb.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThis was a difficult shot for a lens, but from this image you would not necessarily think it so. Just out of frame in the upper, right-hand corner was the sun. There were no clouds covering the sun, so it was directly approaching the front of the lens, although there were some trees to shield some of its power. I was surprised that the image held up as well as it did without any flaring or overall decrease in contrast.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe level of detail retained by this lens is very impressive. You can see how sharp the above image really is from this crop.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWe liked really liked and appreciated the overall brilliance, clarity, and color produced by this lens. The colors are pleasing, but still realistic to how we remember the scene.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensWith this image I took some artistic liberty. When I saw this booth, I thought it would be cool if you could see the back and the front at the same time. So, I decided to do just that, and cropped two images and spliced them into one.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensThe image of Charlie was taken indoors and so the ISO was higher than some of the other images I took. Although the higher ISO detracts from the overall detail of the image, you can still see that with this lens there is still plenty of detail even when cropped in close.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensOlympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensIn this image taken outdoors with a lower ISO, there is a great amount of detail. You can pick up spots of dirt on the towrope attachment. Also, notice the color of the overall image. You can feel the warmth of the evening light, and the blues are great.

    Inside the studio, we ran some shots using the 12mm f/2.0 on our lens test chart. We were very impressed with the results. The lens was across the board sharp, from the largest f/2.0 aperture down to the smallest available aperture of f/22.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/22

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/8

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens

    Lowest Right-Hand Corner f/2

    We displayed the images above in reverse order on purpose. Normally you would expect the corner sharpness of a lens to improve as the aperture diaphragm is stopped down. In this case it almost seems like the opposite is true. For an aperture of f/22 it is expected that the sharpness will not be as good as, say, f/8 due to diffraction, so that is a little unfair on our part. But, it is pretty impressive how sharp the 12mm f/2 is at a wide open aperture of f/2. In addition, you can see that the chromatic aberration is pretty well controlled at the corners.

    Distortion for wider angle lenses is typically expected and the 12mm f/2.0 is no exception. The image below shows the barrel distortion caused by this lens.

    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 LensNotice how the center of the image is closer to the bottom of the frame than either of the edges are.

    If you haven't already concluded, we really like the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens designed for the micro four thirds camera system. From its looks, to its usability, to the image quality, this small lens has everything going for it. It does have a price tag that will put it out of reach for some people, and for those who can't afford it, we suggest saving your pennies (as my mother used to say). If you are interested in purchasing this lens, we offer it in our store or on our website here. If you are looking for a fast aperture, wide-angle fixed focal length lens for the mFT system, we just don't see how you can go wrong.

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