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Olympus 12mm f/2 ED M.Zuiko Digital Wide-Angle Lens Review Roundup

2013-04-25 13:34
4/25/2013: Add review by WDC.
4/3/2013: Add review by PCMag.
12/20/2011: Add review by PB.
10/12/2011: Add review by ePhotoZine.
9/27/2011: Add review by PR.
8/25/2011: Add review by PhotoZine.

Along with the announcement of the three new PEN E-P3, E-PL3 (Pen Lite) and the E-PM1 (Pen Mini) compact cameras, Olympus also announces two new premium lenses for the Micro Four Thirds line of cameras:

  • M. Zuiko Digital ED 12m f2.0 lens (24mm equivalent): This high-speed, single-focal-length, wide-angle lens is ideal for shooting everything from dramatic landscapes in low-light conditions to hard-to-get, spontaneous street shots. It has a beautiful full-metal body and a snap ring that enables photographers to pan focus with a distance indicator.

  • M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8 lens (90mm equivalent): This single focal length portrait lens has a beautiful shallow depth of field, which enables the background blurring effects not possible with the 14-42mm kit zoom lens. The MSC mechanism is great for tracking a moving child or pet, and provides a quick and silent focus mechanism for movies and still photography.

These two lenses join the new movie & still compatible (MSC) ED m14-42mm II R f3.5/5.6 zoom lens (28mm-84mm equivalent) which comes standard with the new PEN kit as well as the M. Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm II R f4.0-5.6 lens, an extremely light, wide-zoom range with a 35mm equivalent to 80-300mm lens that offers versatility and portability. Both have been designed to match the body design of the new generation of PEN cameras. Here's the 12mm lens technical specifications:

  • Mount Type Micro Four Thirds System Standard
  • Focal Length 12mm (35mm Equivalent Focal Length - 24mm)
  • Lens Construction 11 Elements in 8 Groups, DSA lens, Aspherical lens, ED lens & Super HR lenses
  • Angle of View 84 Degree
  • AF System High-speed Imager AF(MSC)
  • Closest Focusing Distance 7.85" / 0.2m
  • Maximum Image Magnification 0.08x
  • 35mm Equivalent Max. Image magnification 0.16x
  • Minimum Field Size 162 x 216mm
  • Number of Blades 7 (Circular Aperture Diaphragm)
  • Maximum Aperture F2.0
  • Minimum Aperture F22
  • Filter Size 46mm
  • Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 2.2x 1.7 in. / 56 x 43 mm
  • Weight 4.6 oz / 130g

The 12mm wide-angle Street Photography lens is currently selling at around $799.99, via Amazon.com. Here's the review roundup of the lens:

WhatDigitalCamera, gave a rating of 95/100: "A 12mm focal length sounds as if it should provide an expansive field of view but the MFT chip's 22mm diagonal gives the 12mm a equivalent focal length to that of an old-fashioned 24mm prime, which is fairly ordinary as wideangle lenses go. That said, this particular 24mm-equivalent lens provides a very natural (undistorted) image and as such is likely to be used for a wide range of subjects. When fitted to an optical-viewfinder camera, a fast maximum aperture such as the f/2 found on this lens would aid composition under low light levels but the Olympus E-PM1 used for this review has only a rear screen on which to display the view so the f/2 advantage was not readily apparent in this case. Similarly, it is not easy to preview the narrow depth-of-field that f/2 should provide (but which is considerably diminished by the very short focal length). In short, the f/2 aperture provides a good headline but it is hard to exploit its full potential using an all-electronic camera. There is no doubt, however, about the exceptionally high sharpness figures that this lens achieved in technical testing. The MTF curve did not dip below the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel level (except to an insignificant degree at f/22) and its peak was within 10% of the theoretical maximum level (0.5 cycles per pixel).

Olympus claims its latest innovation, intriguingly named ZERO (ZUIKO Extra-low Reflection Optical) coating, halves distracting and unwanted reflections when compared with pictures taken using lenses that have conventional coatings. That advantage was not tested here but in other respects, especially build-quality, handling and sharpness, this is clearly an outstanding lens."... [Source]

PCMag, gave a rating of 3.5/5: "The 24mm field of view can be a tough one for many photographers to master, as there are many elements to take into consideration in order to create a pleasing composition. It's one of the reasons that we give higher marks to the narrower 17mm lens. Shutterbugs who are looking to add a fast prime lens to supplement the kit zoom will likely find it a more useful tool. If you are someone who sees the world in wide swaths, the image quality that the M.Zuiko 12mm lens delivers will not disappoint. We tested the lens on the OM-D E-M5, and used our standard 1,800 lines per picture height cutoff as a measure of acceptable sharpness. According to Imatest, the lens records 2,118 lines at its maximum aperture, and delivers impressive edge-to-edge sharpness. Stopping down to f/2.8 increases the score to 2,276 lines. It hits 2,439 lines at f/4, and peaks at 2,490 lines at f/5.6. There is a little bit of barrel distortion, about 0.8 percent, which is nominal for a lens of this type. The only real issue with the lens is that it's prone to chromatic aberration, which shows itself as purple and green color fringes in high contrast areas. We noticed this on our test chart, as well as during field use. It can be corrected in Lightroom, but can require a bit of work to clear up. Neither the Samsung 16mm f/2.4 Ultra Wide Pancake NX Lens or the Sony SEL16F28 16mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle Lens, which provide equivalent fields of view for their respective systems, manage to cross the 1,800-line mark without having to close down their apertures, which limits the amount of light captured and doesn't allow for as shallow of a depth of field.

You need to be a lover of wide angles to truly appreciate the Olympus M.Zuiko Lens 12mm f2.0, but if you master its field of view the lens will not disappoint. It's impressively sharp at every aperture, and videographers will appreciate just how quiet its focus motor is. It's pretty expensive, and some sort of lens hood really should be included with an $800 lens. Overall we feel that the narrower Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f1.8 is a better value--it doesn't capture nearly as wide of a field of view as the M.Zuiko 12mm, but it's $300 less expensive and delivers similar sharpness, without the chromatic aberration."... [Source]

PhotographyBLOG, gave a rating of 4/5: "The beautifully crafted, all-metal Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 is a strong performer in the optical department, offering an attractive combination of edge-to-edge sharpness and fast aperture speeds. Peak performance is achieved in the f/4-f/8 range, but the f/2.8 and f11 settings also produce very sharp results. In low-light situations, I would not hesitate using f2 either, as the lens is commendably sharp wide open and the use of a fast aperture will save you from having to crank up the ISO sensitivity to the point where your camera's sensor starts to get too noisy. In some cases, shooting at f/2 will also allow you to separate your subject from the background, although the relatively small diameter of the exit pupil means that you will need to focus rather close to achieve a shallow depth of field. When you manage to do so, the lens offers a quite pleasing bokeh. All is not rosy though, as the lens suffers from considerable light loss in the corners at f/2, as well as some purple fringing along contrasty edges near the borders of the frame, plus a disappointing amount of barrel distortion. And while these issues can be addressed in post-processing - what's more, the distortion is corrected in-camera so you won't even notice it unless you use certain third-party raw converters -, the Olympus 12mm f2 also has some problems with flare, despite its much touted "enhanced multi-layer coating". This can probably be avoided by using the dedicated LH-48 lens hood - but it's an optional accessory that will set you back another $90 or so on top of the price of the lens itself.

In terms of its overall aesthetics, craftsmanship and mechanical quality, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 is a jewel of a lens that's a pleasure to look at and a joy to use. The "Snapshot Focus mechanism" is a useful and well-implemented feature that works really well and makes zone focusing easy. This is good news for all the street photographers amongst you, who haven't exactly been spoiled for choice in this age of modern lenses that seldom feature a distance scale let alone a usable depth-of-field scale. While I have personally found this lens to be a little too wide for my particular style of street photography, I'm sure there are many fellow photographers out there for whom the angle of view of the 12mm M.Zuiko will be just right. Additionally, the lens is an excellent choice for landscapes, architecture and interiors too; as long as you make sure its distortion is taken care of, either in-camera or at the raw conversion stage."... [Source]

ePhotoZine, gave a rating of 4.5/5: "The premium status of this lens doesn't stop at the build quality and features. Sharpness in the centre of the frame at maximum aperture is outstanding and good towards the edges of the frame. Peak quality across the frame is achieved at f/4 where the clarity in the centre is still outstanding and approaching excellent towards the edges. Stopping the lens down further reduces sharpness due to diffraction, but sharpness is still very good across the frame down to f/11. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, just exceeding half a pixel width between f/5.6 and f/8 towards the edges of the frame. This low level should pose few issues, even in large prints or harsh crops from the edges of the frame. As falloff and distortion are corrected by the camera's image processing engine when shooting JPEGs, falloff and distortion will only be easily visible when shooting in RAW format. Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is well controlled, especially for a wide angle lens with a fast aperture. At f/2 the corners are only 1.1 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved by f/4. Distortion is kept low for a wide angle lens, with Imatest recording 1.12% barrelling. As the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, this should also be easy to correct in image editing software afterwards. In use, this lens proved itself highly resistant to flare and loss of contrast, yielding contrasty images, even in harsh contra-lighting situations.

Although this lens comes at a premium price point, you get premium build and premium optical quality. The wide aperture is very useful for taking images in low light conditions and this dinky metal lens makes a perfect companion for street photography due to its compact size and excellent performance at fast apertures."... [Source]

PhotoReview Australia, gave a rating of 7.5/10: "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 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. 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."... [Source]

PhotoZone: "The M.Zuiko lens produces only a slight degree of barrel distortion (~0.7%) which is only rarely noticeable in field conditions. However, this is only a part of the story. Micro-4/3 images are auto-corrected according to the stored lens profile (lens firmware) - this is done either by the camera (JPEG) or by the more popular RAW-converters a la Photoshop. The "untouched RAW" results, showing the original capability of the lens, are much worse with a barrel distortion as extreme as ~5.4% which is rather disappointing for a prime lens. Given its premium product market placement, the Olympus lens disappointed a little bit with respect to its resolution capabilities although it's certainly far from being mediocre here. There's nothing wrong whatsoever with the center quality which is on an excellent level throughout the relevant aperture range. However, the border quality is "only" good to very good. The extreme corners are slightly softer at f/2 but reach the border quality at smaller apertures settings. The centering quality of the tested sample was good but not outstanding.

Upon first contact you will fall immediately in love with the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f/2 ED. The mechanical implementation is fantastic and matches e.g. the Zeiss ZM or Voigtländer VM series. The new "snapshot focus" design for switching between AF and manual focusing is nicely executed and a joy to use although the lens does still rely on the usual focus-by-wire under the hood. Movie enthusiasts will also appreciate the fast and silent operation of the new "MSC" AF. The optical quality of the M.Zuiko is quite impressive but we actually hoped for a little more here. The lens is very sharp in the center zone whereas the border/corner resolution is "only" good-to-very good and not breathtaking. A highlight is the snappy contrast and the good resistance against flare in back-light - possibly a side-effect of the new ZERO coating. The distortion level is fine from a user perspective but technically it relies on a quite drastic amount of auto-correction by the system or a RAW-converter. There's quite some light fall-off in the corners at max. aperture but the vignetting isn't relevant anymore from f/2.8 onward. If you explore the creative options of the large max. aperture in close focus situation you can produce some degree of object isolation via a shallow depth-of-field. The quality of the bokeh is decent in this case - at least for such a wide lens. Although the M.Zuiko 12mm f/2 ED may not be perfect there's much to like about this new little Olympus lens. However, the pricing is a little too steep in our opinion."... [Source]

CNET Australia, gave a rating of 8.8/10: "Olympus has really pulled out all the stops with the construction of this lens (pardon the pun). Thankfully, the 12mm performs like an award-winning lens as well. It has excellent sharpness across the frame, very little distortion despite it being wide angle and very little drop-off when shot wide open at f/2.0. Chromatic aberrations are pleasingly low and bokeh is incredibly smooth, making this lens useful for situational portraits even though it's a wide lens. As the aperture closes down beyond f/2.0, images become even sharper, which makes this an excellent lens for shooting from the hip, street photography and all-purpose photos. It's incredibly easy for casual users to get great images without tweaking any settings and shooting in automatic with automatic focus - though, of course, you will find it difficult to stop touching the all-metal exterior because it feels so good. Autofocusing is precise and quiet as well. Additional image samples from this lens can be found accompanying the review of the E-P3.

The 12mm wide-angle lens matches excellent design with quality images and makes it a must buy for Micro Four Thirds cameras. Local pricing is still to be confirmed."... [Source]

SLRgear: "The 12mm f/2 is an excellently sharp lens. Wide open at f/2, there's just a hint of corner softness, and stopping down to f/2.8 reduces that almost completely. Tack-sharp results are available from f/4 all the way to f/11, where diffraction limiting begins to set in. At f/16 we note some slight softness, and just slightly more at f/22. CA is slightly noticeable in this lens, in the corners; according to the test charts, it's more obvious when then lens is stopped down compared to wide open, but I think that's a symptom of corner shading slightly obscuring the color shift. If you take a look at the sample photos, you'll see slight magenta-green color shifts in areas of high contrast, but nothing to get overly worried about.

With the micro four thirds mount still relatively new on the camera scene, at the time of writing there's little in the way of alternatives. Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 ASPH LUMIX G ~$350 - While not offering as wide a field of view (28mm equivalent instead of 24mm), the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 is less than half the size, weight and price of the Olympus 12mm. However, its performance is almost equivalent - for sharpness, it's a hair softer in the corners wide open, but that's about it. However there is somewhat higher chromatic aberration and slightly more corner shading. Distortion appears the same. The only other difference is that the Olympus offers a slightly wider maximum aperture - f/2, instead of f/2.5. Olympus 17mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital ~$300 - If you don't need such wide angle performance, the Olympus 17mm offers a 35mm-equivalent field of view, and is just one stop slower than the 12mm f/2. It's not in the same league as the 12mm however: it's not as sharp, and chromatic aberration is fairly high. However, it's much less expensive, weighs significantly less, and is much smaller. 

There isn't much to add here that the tests don't already say for themselves - the Olympus 12mm f/2 M.Zuiko offers excellent results for sharpness in a quality package. The price might be prohibitive for some, but if you can afford it, you won't be disappointed."... [Source]

LensTip: "As you see, already at the maximum relative aperture we get a very good result of 60 lpmm - the image quality there is beyond reproach. On stopping down the MTFs are rising to the value of 70 lpmm, which is reached by f/4.0. It is still short of the level represented by the Leica or the Panasonic but, on the other hand, the result is exactly like that of the Panasonic 2.5/14, which has a bit narrower angle of view. A bit better results that those of the "pancakes" you can expect on the edge of the frame. While the maximum aperture is not very impressive, because the result of 40 lpmm is a bit lower than the decency level, on slight stopping down we see this problem disappear. When you stop down even further the Olympus outclasses the Panasonic 2.5/14 effortlessly. On the other hand the 1.7/20 model fares very similarly on the edge of the frame - but in this case we deal with a much narrower angle of view so the standards also are much lower. To sum up the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12 mm f/2.0 ED doesn't perhaps break any resolution records but it is certainly a very solid device, providing good or very good image quality across the frame almost up from the maximum relative aperture.

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12 mm f/2.0 ED is a very solid lens. In most testing categories it fared well or very well; it had some slip-ups but, fortunately, not very serious ones. The maximum MTF values could have been a bit higher and they weren't - it is one thing that you might regret. Lower values can be forgiven in the case of "pancakes" because we know what we get instead. Although the Olympus 2/12 is not big, it is definitely not a "pancake" lens so we expected that its performance would be closer to that of the Leica 2.8/45 than that of the Panasonic 2.5/14. The tested lens's classic appearance and parameters remind us of devices from the Limited Pentax series. By the way you have to pay a similar amount of money for them so if Pentax is able to give with their lenses hoods and cases in the box, Olympus could have done the same. It's a pity it doesn't. So far our summary was rather harsh. To keep the balance we must emphasize the fact that it is definitely a lens worth considering. Buying it you get a really wide angle of view, fast aperture, good image quality - everything packed neatly inside a slight but very solid, metal casing which can ensure you many years of problem-free usage. If the price doesn't deter you, you should consider purchasing it very seriously. Especially that, several months after the launch, the price might decrease and then it might happen that the Panasonic 2.5/14, a lens of lower build quality, with a narrower angle of view and slower aperture, will not be significantly cheaper any longer."... [Source]

User review by B. Fuller, gave a rating of 5/5: "We'll start of with the greatness of this lens. This lens is the best constructed m4/3 yet. It is optically amazing and fast. The autofocus is ultra silent and quick (I only have Pani bodies). The feel of this lens is magnificent. When you pull back the ring to manual focus, it has hard stops and the focus speed is variable depending on how fast you turn the ring. While not up to the quality of Leica (what is?), this lens is a true gem. There are currently only 2 m43 lenses that go this wide (7-14 and 9-18) and they are bigger, heavier, and 2 stops slower. I am not sure why the m43 bunch is caught up on the 28mm length but this lens is a welcome step in the right direction. So if this lens is so nice, then what is the dilemma? The answer to that would be the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5. The 14mm is not in the same league as the 12mm for build quality. However, it is much smaller and cheaper. (Not that the 12mm f/2 is that big in fact it is tiny for what it is, the 14mm f/2.5 is just tiny.) If you don't need the extra Field of View (FOV) of the 12mm then the 14mm is a very good alternative. I just got back from shooting at two automotive museums and the 14mm performed admirably. It was rare I needed a wider FOV. However, for tight location shooting this thing is an absolute gem and now offers a m43 shooter a real professional alternative to a Nikon or Canon equivalent. Now it would be possible to tote the D7000 w/ 70-200mm f/2.8 and a G3 w 12mm f/2. Much lighter than another Nikon DX body with 14-24 f/2.8 or FX body with 24mm f/1.4. 

Overall, if you don't know why you would need this lens over the Pani 14mm f/2.5, then you don't. However, if you need the 9 deg extra FOV or you merely want to use a world class lens then you will be very happy with 12mm f/2. Bravo Olympus. Now please make a 35-100mm f/2 for m43. 

  • Great 24mm equivalent focal length 
  • By far the best build quality of any m43 lens yet 
  • Optically outstanding 
  • Fast silent autofocus 
  • Best handling of any m43 lens yet 
  • Beautiful to look at and hold 

  • Quite a bit pricer than the Pani 14mm f/2.5 (It is actually reasonably priced if you compare it to Voigtlander, Zeiss, or even Nikon and it will get cheaper) 
  • Bigger than Pani 14mm f/2.5 (Takes a Panasonic G3 out of the compact camera size into Mega Zoom camera size range) 
  • There are no real cons of this lens as it is outstanding. However, for most people the Pani 14mm will be the smarter purchase (14mm + 20mm still cheaper than 12mm)
"... [Source]

Sample Photos from Flickr:

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