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

      Photo Review 7.5

      In summary

      A fast, solidly-built, wide-angle prime lens for Micro Four Thirds System cameras.The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12m f/2.0 lens is a ‘fast’ prime lens that covers a field of view equivalent to a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera. Ideal for landscape photography, its wide maximum aperture also makes it suitable for candid and street photography in poorly-lit situations. Unfortunately, its high price tag could deter many potential purchasers. . . [more]

      Full review


      The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12m f/2.0 lens is a ‘fast’ prime lens that covers a field of view equivalent to a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera. Ideal for landscape photography, its wide maximum aperture also makes it suitable for candid and street photography in poorly-lit situations. Unfortunately, its high price tag could deter many potential purchasers.

      Built for the Olympus PEN series of Micro Four Thirds System cameras, this lens is also usable on Panasonic’s G-Micro cameras and operates almost silently, thanks to Movie & Still Compatibility (MSC) technology. It also supports continuous re-focusing during movie recordings without the noise of the focusing motor being picked up by the camera’s microphones. The front of the lens is threaded to accept 46mm filters and angle-critical attachments can be fitted as focusing is fully internal.


      The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12m f/2.0 lens. (Source: Olympus.)
      The optical design of this lens is quite sophisticated, with 11 elements in 8 groups. A number of exotic components are used, including Dual Super Aspherical (DSA), Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) and Super High Refractive index (Super HR) glass elements. It’s also the first Olympus lens with Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical (ZERO) coating, which claims to reduce internal reflections by up to 50%.

      The iris diaphragm is assembled from seven blades and closes to a circular aperture to provide pleasing bokeh (out-of-focus backgrounds). However, although the maximum aperture of f/2 qualifies as ‘fast’ with respect to light capture, it provides a similar depth of field to f/4 with the smaller MFT sensor, which means you can’t expect this lens to provide the same bokeh as a 35mm (or even APS-C) lens. In fact, it’s difficult to see much difference in depth-of-field in shots taken at apertures smaller than f/4 (examples are provided below).

      Build and Handling
      This lens is built to match its high price tag and has a full-metal body and robust metal mounting plate. For the price, it should also be weatherproofed, although no mention was made in any information sheets supplied with the lens, so it probably isn’t.

      In addition, no lens hood is supplied, which we consider very poor form, given the price of this lens. A lens hood is available (LH-48) but it’s not listed on the local Olympus website so you may need to look off-shore if you want it.

      The front of the lens protrudes approximately 43 mm in front of the lens mounting plate. This makes the camera+lens combination too large to fit easily into a pocket.

      The focusing ring is located 15 mm from the front of the lens. It’s 5 mm wide and is ridged to provide a secure grip. This ring uses Olympus’s new ‘snap focus’ system for switching between auto and manual focusing.

      Pulling the ring back towards the camera body sets into manual focus mode, which uses focus-by-wire and a quick-clutch mechanism. Focusing speeds depend on how fast the ring is turned but the system is a bit less responsive than normal mechanical focusing.


      The two positions for the focusing ring. (Source: Olympus.)

      The ring will only move between the focusing limits, which involves just over a quarter of a turn. A distance scale with settings from 0.2 metres to infinity is revealed when the ring is in the manual focusing position.

      Pushing the ring forward switches the lens to autofocusing and covers the distance scale. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too easy to shift the ring backwards inadvertently and end up with a sequence of unsharp shots. No infrared index mark is provided.

      Ribbed sections are also provided on the camera end of the lens barrel to provide a secure grip when the lens is being removed and replaced.

      Imatest testing showed the review lens to be a good, though not stellar, performer on the basis of JPEG files from the PEN E-PL3. Best performance was at f/2.5. There was a gradual decline in resolution from f/5.6 on as apertures were reduced, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below.


      Edge softening could be seen at wider aperture settings and this was expected as a result of our Imatest testing. However, it was barely visible from f/4 on. Diffraction kicked in around f/9 and optical performance deteriorated markedly thereafter. We wouldn’t recommend using this lens stopped right down.
      Lateral chromatic aberration was mainly low, just dipping into the negligible level between f/2.2 and f/2.8,
      where the lens delivered its best resolution. In the graph below, the red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.


      We detected a small amount of cyan fringing in shots taken with the 9mm focal length setting but none at other focal lengths. Barrel distortion was also apparent at this focal length, as you would expect, although the inherent distortion produced by such a wide angle-of-view is somewhat more visible.
      Vignetting (edge darkening) was evident at wide apertures but negligible from f/2.8 on. Slight barrel distortion could be found if you were looking for it. But it was seldom noticeable in normal shots. This is to be expected as distortions are automatically corrected in the camera on the basis of the stored lens profile.

      Autofocusing was nice and fast and very quiet. This makes the lens ideal for shooting video clips.
      Backlit subjects were generally handled well and the lens was almost flare-free as long as the light source was outside the frame. A lens hood would improve contrast in such situations. Bokeh was much as you’d expect from a wide-angle Micro Four Thirds format lens.

      Buy this lens if:
      – You want a well-built, wide-angle lens with quiet autofocusing for shooting video.
      – You’d like to explore the creative options of the wide maximum aperture.
      – You want good manual focusing.

      Don’t buy this lens if:
      – You need close focusing and macro capabilities.
      – You require excellent edge-to-edge sharpness.
      (based on JPEG files from the PEN E-P3)




      Vignetting at f/2.


      Vignetting at f/2.2.


      Depth-of-field at f/2 with a normal scene.


      The same scene photographed at f/4.


      The same scene photographed at f/8.


      The same scene photographed at f/22.


      ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/5.6.


      A crop from the above image enlarged to 100% showing traces of cyan and purple fringing.


      Close-focusing capability; ISO 400, 1/4000 second at f/2.


      Flare in close-up shots; ISO 400, 1/4000 second at f/2.


      Flare with backlit subject; ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/4.5.
      Additional sample images can be found with our review of the Olympus E-PL3 camera.




      Picture angle: 85 degrees
      Minimum aperture: f/22
      Lens construction: 11 elements in 8 groups
      Lens mounts: Micro Four Thirds System
      Diaphragm Blades: 7 (Circular aperture diaphragm)
      Focus drive: MSC drive
      Stabilisation: No
      Minimum focus: 20 cm
      Maximum magnification: 0.08x
      Filter size: 46 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 56 x 43 mm
      Weight: 130 grams






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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • Versatility: 8.0
      • OVERALL: 7.5