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Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED SWD Zuiko Digital

 
Lens Reviews / Olympus Lenses i Lab tested

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
12-60mm $849
average price
image of Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED SWD Zuiko Digital

SLRgear Review
April 13, 2009
by Andrew Alexander

The Olympus 12-60mm ƒ/2.8-4 ED SWD was announced in October 2007, coincidental with their E-3 flagship digital SLR body. The lens is designed to fit the Four-Thirds body mount specification, meaning it will mount also to Leica and Panasonic bodies. The lens is one of the first designed by Olympus with its new SWD (supersonic wave drive) autofocusing technology, enabling fast and silent autofocus. Olympus claims that when this lens is mounted on the E-3 body, it provides the fastest autofocus on the market.

The Four-Thirds specification employs a 2x ''crop factor,'' producing an effective field of view of 24-120mm. The lens uses a variable aperture, meaning the maximum (largest) aperture will decrease as the lens is zoomed out. The following table sets out the changes:

Focal length 12mm 19mm 24mm 35mm 49mm 54mm
Largest aperture ƒ/2.8 ƒ/3.2 ƒ/3.4 ƒ/3.7 ƒ/4 ƒ/4
Smallest aperture ƒ/22 ƒ/22 ƒ/22 ƒ/22 ƒ/22 ƒ/22

The Olympus 12-60mm ƒ/2.8-4 ED SWD lens comes with a petal-shaped lens hood, accepts 72mm filters and is available now for approximately $950.

Sharpness
The 12-60mm lens is very sharp, though we did have some issues in the lab getting it to produce optimally sharp images. I'll go into further detail in the autofocus section. Let's look at the results.

The lens produces extremely sharp images, even shot at its widest aperture; central sharpness is in the 1-1.5 blur unit range, and wide open there's just a slight amount of corner softness: around 2 blur units. Stop down to ƒ/4, and this corner softness is almost completely eliminated. Optimal sharpness is achieved by ƒ/5.6, though we're talking about fractions of a blur unit in the corners. Diffraction limiting appears to set in at ƒ/8, though again these are still very small numbers - optically, the lens is still producing images in the 1-1.5 blur unit range all the way to ƒ/16.

Image quality stopped down is still very good: around 2 blur units across the frame at ƒ/16, and about 3 blur units across the frame at ƒ/22. Things get slightly uneven at ƒ/22, but nothing to write home about.

All in all, excellent results for sharpness here.

Chromatic Aberration
Chromatic aberration is optimized for the mid-range (~35mm) of the lens, with slightly noticeable results showing in the corners at the wide and tele ranges. Average CA performance throughout the frame is good, less than 3/100ths of a percent, meaning that if you see CA, it'll likely be in the corners.

Interestingly, CA increases as you stop down below 35mm, but is more prevalent with larger apertures above 35mm.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
Corner shading isn't too big an issue with this lens. The only remarkable numbers we note are with the lens set to 12mm and ƒ/2.8 - at this setting the corners are 2/3 of a stop darker than the center. Wide open at 19mm and 24mm, the corners are a 1/3 of a stop darker. At any other setting, corner shading is a quarter stop or less.

Distortion
The lens contends well against distortion, but given the wide / tele range it has to cover, it's not surprising to find evidence of some. Barrel distortion is prevalent in the corners below 17mm; after this point we start to see pincushion distortion in the corners. At 15mm the corners transition from barrel distortion to pincushion distortion. The numbers aren't terribly huge in any case: at 12mm, we see +0.75% barrel distortion in the corners. At 19mm pincushion distortion is at its highest: -0.25%, which is really not much at all. On average there is a very slight amount of barrel distortion throughout the frame, just under +0.1%, but this shouldn't be an issue unless you need to have absolutely straight lines in your image.

Autofocus Operation
Olympus advertises the 12-60mm as the world's fastest autofocus lens, when mounted on the E-3 body. We use an E-510 as our Olympus test body, and even then we can say it is a very fast lens for autofocus, and virtually silent. As regular readers may know we don't use autofocus in our lab tests, but we do for our sample scene shots, and for these we had a very hard time getting consistently accurate focus. We upgraded the firmware on both our camera and the lens, but it didn't really help: we finally ended up using live view and 10x magnification to get acceptable results. Obviously, this problem could be related to our lens, camera, or both, but it's worth mentioning only in that you may want to try before you buy, if possible.

(A side note: Reader Urs Shenker wrote in to let us know that there is a product advisory out for this lens, alerting owners to possible focusing issues, and offering a free repair if you encounter a problem. We checked to see if our lens fell into the range of affected serial numbers, but found that it did not. (Ours was serial number 230005175, while the affected range is 230005416 to 230010688.) So, as noted, the problem could well be with our E-510 test body, which has seen a lot of use by now, and has never been serviced. Still, thanks to Urs for pointing this out to us. For any of our readers who own this lens and see any focusing issues, check your serial number against the range mentioned above.)

Olympus has designed this particular Zuiko model more conventionally in comparison to its more recent lenses: it's manually coupled to the body, so you can focus manually while the camera is powered down. Autofocus results can also be overridden at any time by just turning the focus ring. As well, attached 72mm filters don't rotate during focus or zoom operations.

Macro
The 12-60mm provides respectable macro performance, with a 0.28x magnification and a minimum close-focusing distance of 25cm (just under 10 inches).

Build Quality and Handling
The lens is of plastic construction, but solidly built; there is no flexing or rattling to speak of. As part of Olympus' lineup of ''High Grade'' lenses, the construction of the lens makes it resistant to dust and water. The appearance of the lens is an all-black, semi-smooth finish except for a two-tone blue/silver ring near the end of the lens barrel. The lens has no buttons or switches on it at all; everything is controlled from the camera. A windowed and recessed distance scale is provided in between the zoom and focus rings, with markings in feet and meters, but there are no depth of field markings or infrared index. The zoom ring is located near the camera end, and the focus ring is located at the far end of the lens. Both rings use the same soft rubber material but with different ribbed patterns. The lens mount is metal, and the 72mm filter threads are plastic.

The 7/8-inch wide zoom ring uses a lined pattern running parallel to the length of the lens, but the thick lines are broken up into boxes; it's easy to tell the rings apart just by feel. A ninety-degree turn zooms the lens through its range of focal lengths. There is a nice resistance to the ring, eliminating the possibility of zoom creep. There is a fair amount of lens extension as the lens is zoomed out to 60mm: the lens gets 1 3/4 inches longer, adding 75% to its total length.

The focus ring is 3/4 wide and uses a ribbed texture to differentiate it from the zoom ring. The ring turns about 90 degrees to go through its entire focus range, and it could be that the short focus throw contributes to its quick speed. The ring provides soft resistance through its focus range, making it nice for manually focusing, and an increase in resistance at either end alerts you that you're at either infinity or close-focus. The focus ring can continue to be turned, however. The lens will focus slightly past infinity.

The lens comes with a LH-75B petal-shaped, bayonet-mounted hood. The hood ribbed on the inside to reduce flare, and adds 1 1/2 inches overall to the length of the lens. The hood reverses onto the front of the lens for easy storage.

Alternatives

Unfortunately, there really aren't many other options in this particular body mount and zoom range.

Olympus 14-54mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 II ~$600
A fair bit less expensive than the 12-60mm, the 14-54mm also produces very sharp images, perhaps a hair less than than the 12-60mm. The cost here is a lens that has slightly less focal range, though it is uses Olympus' latest technology. Chromatic aberration and distortion are slightly better controlled, light falloff is slightly worse.

Sigma 10-20mm ƒ/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ~$500
This lens is one of the few that Sigma produces for the four-thirds mount, and isn't really comparable to the 12-60mm except for its wide-angle coverage. It's hard to do a direct comparison as our test for this lens was done on the Canon 20D, using a 1.6x crop sensor, but a little creative interpretation suggests that it would be nicely sharp on Olympus 2x sensor bodies. CA is relatively high, typical for ultrawide angle lenses, and distortion as well as light falloff are also less controlled in comparison to the Olympus 12-60mm.

Conclusion
There's not much more to say about this lens for which our tests don't speak for themselves - the lens is a winner optically, producing very sharp images even wide open. Chromatic aberration is well-controlled, light falloff is minimal and image distortion is better than typical for the range of focal lengths the lens has to cover. It's superfast to autofocus, though we had difficulty using the lens to autofocus for our test scenes. This could certainly not be typical of the lens: your mileage may vary. When everything works though, it works beautifully; the lens is definitely worth the price premium.

Sample Photos

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED SWD Zuiko Digital User Reviews

9.8/10 average of 12 reviews Build Quality 9.6/10 Image Quality 9.8/10
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  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (13 reviews)
    Sharp - extremely sharp / build quality
    none

    I sold my Olympus gear and went over to the Nikon side - two things I miss however : my 12-60 and my 50-200.

    Both lenses were perfect ...

    If it wasn't for their SLRs, I would still be with Olympus. The lens quality is just ... awesome.

    reviewed July 18th, 2011 (purchased for $750)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (4 reviews)
    image quality, build quality, extremely fast focus, weather sealing

    After a small problem with my 14-54 I i decided to get a 12-60 SWD for my E-3...best decision i could have made. It is very universal to use, has great image quality, is weather sealed (important for me because i have the camera with me in any weather). Yes it is expensive, but seeing how awesome it performs it's definately not overpriced. The extremely fast and silent focussing is another big plus.

    reviewed October 18th, 2010 (purchased for $1,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (26 reviews)
    Very sharp across the entire focal range even wide open
    Just a little bit heavy but balances nicely on the E-30

    I recently purchased this lens from BHPhoto/Video using the current promotion by Olympus. I was somewhat reluctant because I already have the Oly 14-54 F2.8 I and was very happy with it especially for the price I paid a year ago. However, as most users of the 12-60 attest, this is an incredible lens very sharp and super quick to focus accurately. On both my E-620 and E30 it performs brilliantly. Add the Oly 1.4 TC and it increases the versatility of this lens even more without any appreciable loss in IQ.

    If you are in the market for this lens, as of the date of this posting, BHPhoto/Video has it for sale at $787. It is completely worth the price as it provides a level of performance for 4/3 users unmatched by other DSLR formats. Read the reviews by SLR Gear, DP Review, and Photozone as they are completely accurate assessments of this incredible lens.

    reviewed December 9th, 2009 (purchased for $787)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (3 reviews)
    Sharp, great zoom range, quick to focus, acurate color rendition
    Not a fixed 2.8, can hunt in low light, and wish it took 67mm filters

    I bought this lens with an E-30 to replace my E-510 and 14-54. The mechanical focus ring is SOOOO much nicer to use the the focus by wire on my 14-54. The best lens range for the price from ANY manufacturer . Outperforms the Canon-Nikon 17-55 lenses at every focal range. I would have liked a bit more speed at the 60mm range (f3.5, or 2.8) but the weather sealing and lightning fast focus make up for it.

    reviewed April 13th, 2009 (purchased for $1,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    Sharp, fast, bright, waterproof
    Quite big, quite heavy, not cheap

    This is a killer general purpose lens. A great upgrade over the good but not as good as this kit lenses.

    Fast on all the bodies and lightning fast on the E-3. At home out in the elements, in a studio or even underwater. The results speak for themselves - I've had Nikonians gasp at the accuracy and pixel level sharpness from this lens. So good you can crop harder than an average lens, if you need to :-)

    It's sharp, really sharp, really really sharp. Worth the money? Absolutely!

    reviewed April 13th, 2009 (purchased for $850)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (31 reviews)
    Sharpness, versatile focal lenght, fast focus
    Weight, F4 @60mm, price, Slow AF in LV, tends to hunt in LL

    No doubt, this is the killer lens. I found one for 750$, 2 month old. That was the end for my ZD 14-54.

    The whole lens adds another 100g of weight in comparision to the 14-54, however, the image quality and the versatile focal lenght of 12 to 60mm makes it truly worth.

    The price here in Switzerland is so incredible high, roughly 1500$, that it was a no brainer, till i found the LNIB one ;)

    Get it if you can afford it or if you have a lucky hand to find a used one.

    Edit: Some drawbacks from my earlier review.
    - TheAF in LiveView Mode is slower than the 14-54 II. SWD does not give a benefit.
    - In low light situation it can miss the focus.

    Edit 9.5.09: Much better with E-30 FW 1.1

    I have it on my E-620. Well balanced, tack sharp, fast AF makes this to one of the most versatil lenses of Olympus with superior image quality.

    reviewed December 11th, 2008 (purchased for $750)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (82 reviews)
    Quiet, fast, sharp, almost perfect!
    Just a little pricey.

    This is a versitle lens...macro, landscape, portrait, the works! Sharp, good color and contrast. Oh, did I mention, quiet and fast!

    Sample Hi-Res shots taken with an E-3

    -Lex

    reviewed November 27th, 2008 (purchased for $755)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (11 reviews)
    Great range, optical quality and build quality. Very sharp when stopped down a step, and only mild distortion at the wide end.
    Slight distortion at the wide end, not fixed aperture.

    This is a very good lens without any serious flaws. It is quite sharp even wide open and stopped down a step performs remarkably from edge to edge. There is very little vignetting and CA, and only slight problems with distortion at the wide end (12-18). Having used it extensively at 12 mm I would consider this a very minor problem that doesn't really impact the overall image quality in real world situations (I shoot mostly nature and landscapes).

    You can't really complain about the price either, as this is cheaper than the few similar lenses available from other manufacturers (can only really think of the Canon EF 24-105 on FF to be honest). This, after all, is a fully weather sealed semi-pro lens that offers a fast aperture throughout. Sure, it's more expensive than the 14-54 and that I think has to be the main thing to consider for most potential customers. It offers a slightly broader range although the 2 mm at the wide end are SUBSTANTIAL - 24 vs 28 (35 mm equiv.) is a world apart - and supposedly faster AF operation, but the price differential is still quite big. Only you can decide whether it's worth the extra money.

    I really can't find anything to complain about. As a general purpose walkaround lens, this is as good as it gets and it easily deserves a 10 out of 10.

    reviewed March 28th, 2008 (purchased for $1,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (13 reviews)
    great range and superb optical quality
    price

    This is a great all purpose lens, equal to a 24mm-120mm optic. It focuses incredibly fast, is razor sharp with great color and minimal distortion. Images are awesome. It is also very well sealed against the elements. I used this in the mountains East of Seattle this past weekend in the snow and very wet conditions - no problem at all. This one will get a lot of use. It couples extremely well with the E-3.

    reviewed March 8th, 2008 (purchased for $1,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (5 reviews)
    Wide range 24-120 KB equivalent, good optical quality, Fast AF
    none

    The best lens available if you don't want to change lenses.

    Sharper and with less chromatic aberation than the 11-22!

    Using maximum aperture there is a little vignetting, if you take pictures of the sky, but if you use a RAW-Converter, you can correct this with one mouse click.

    Fast SWD-AF!

    reviewed January 23rd, 2008
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (3 reviews)
    excellent range (24-120mm equiv), fairly bright (f 2.8-4), very low distortion, fast focus
    zoomring is not as smooth as I would have liked

    Got a bit fed up with the 14-45 mm lens provided with the Olympus 330 kit. The 12-60/2.8-4 should be the standard lens for everyone using the Olympus E-series. Distortion is inconspicuous over the whole zoom range; the image is clear and sharp with good contrast, and the autofocus is fast (the available software update makes it even faster). For twice the price one could have had an aperture of 2.8 over the whole zoom range, but there is always something to desire, isn't it?

    This is a great lens to carry around all the time -- the range from 24mm wide till 120mm equiv tele is a very useful focal distance: lusciously wide for buildings and landscapes, good tele for portraits and also landscapes.

    Only for some corner softness at 12mm/2.8 (needs about 2 f-stops to diminish) pictures have a constant quality throughout the f-range.

    As I shoot RAW, I have only one minor issue: vignetting at 12 mm. is just present, but disappears one f-stop down; at the 60 mm end, it is more visible and takes about two stops to disappear. Shading compensation in the Olympus camera will get rid of it, but that only works for jpegs, not for raw-files.

    Oh, and get a normal flash for your E330: the lens blocks part of the light of the built in flash.

    reviewed December 30th, 2007
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    sharp as a razor, fast focussing
    zooming a bit heavy

    Enormeus qualitydifference with the kitlenzes.

    reviewed December 6th, 2007 (purchased for $950)