Olympus 12mm f/2 ED M.Zuiko Digital
Lab Test Results
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July 15, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
The Olympus 12mm ƒ/2 ED M.Zuiko Digital was released in June 2011 alongside the E-P3 camera. The lens is designed to fit the micro four-thirds mount, and will not mount on standard four-thirds bodies.
As a four-thirds lens, it produces an equivalent field of view of approximately 24mm. It does not ship with its rectangular LH-48 lens hood - this optional accessory is not widely available in North America at the time of writing, and is rumored to cost approximately $100. The lens takes 46mm filters, and is available now for approximately $800.
The 12mm ƒ/2 is an excellently sharp lens. Wide open at ƒ/2, there's just a hint of corner softness, and stopping down to ƒ/2.8 reduces that almost completely. Tack-sharp results are available from ƒ/4 all the way to ƒ/11, where diffraction limiting begins to set in. At ƒ/16 we note some slight softness, and just slightly more at ƒ/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.
There is some corner shading when the lens is set to ƒ/2 - the corners are 3/4 EV darker than the center at this setting - but at any other aperture, there is no corner shading to speak of.
Distortion is about what you'd expect for a 24mm-equivalent lens - +0.5% barrel distortion in the corners, and easily correctable in post-processing if you like your straight lines straight.
The Olympus 12mm ƒ/2 uses Olympus' MSC (Move-Still-Compatible) technology, making the lens fast and near-silent to autofocus; the lens focuses between close-focus and infinity in less than a second. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focusing ring.
The lens does not provide any useful macro ability - at its close focusing distance of 20cm (around 8 inches) it provides only 0.08x times magnification.
Build Quality and Handling
The Olympus 12mm ƒ/2 M.Zuiko looks and feels like a premium offering, with an old-school aesthetic and all-metal construction. Being a micro-four thirds lens, it's not big, and not particularly heavy, either (4.6 oz), and it mates well to the PEN series of cameras. The size of the lens belies its complexity - its optical architecture is made up of a concoction of 11 elements in 8 groups, including DSA (Dual Super Aspherical), Aspherical, ED (Extra-low Dispersion), and Super HR (Super High Refractive index) lens elements. The diaphragm is made up of 7 rounded elements to provide pleasing out-of-focus results.
There are no switches or control surfaces on the lens other than the focus ring - all lens functions are controlled by the camera. The focus ring is an interesting design element of the lens. The ring is metal with raised ribs, about a 1/2-inch wide. The ring can be pulled backward from its default configuration to enter a manual focusing mode, which exposes a distance scale in feet and meters; a distance scale is omnipresent, but isn't of much use unless you pull the focus ring back to display the distance scale. There is no infrared index.
The operation of the focus ring deserves a bit of explanation. In regular use, with the focusing ring covering the distance scale, the ring operates as PEN users are familiar with, moving the focusing element of the lens with a fly-by-wire system at a more or less constant speed, as well as activating the manual focusing mode of the camera and bringing up a magnified view on the LCD. When the focusing ring is pulled back, exposing the distance scale, the focusing speed is variable, dependent on how quickly the ring is turned. This emulates the feel of manual focusing, in that on a purely manual lens the lens will focus as fast as you turn the focusing ring. In addition, there's a little extra resistance when the ring is pulled back, offering a bit more fidelity to make small adjustments. Finally, in this mode the focusing limits are presented as hard stops - when you hit infinity focus or close-focus, the focusing ring will stop. This offers about ninety degrees of travel.
For a more detailed look on the lens' pairing with the Olympus E-P3 body, you may wish to read the Imaging Resource review.
As mentioned, the lens hood for the 12mm ƒ/2 is a fairly pricey add-on, and we didn't have one for testing. The LH-48 is a slick rectangular hood, which slips on and is attached with a setscrew. It doesn't appear to reverse onto the lens for storage.
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 ƒ/2.5 ASPH LUMIX G ~$350
While not offering as wide a field of view (28mm equivalent instead of 24mm), the Panasonic 14mm ƒ/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 - ƒ/2, instead of ƒ/2.5.
Olympus 17mm ƒ/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 ƒ/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 ƒ/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.
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 12mm f/2 ED M.Zuiko Digital
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Olympus 12mm f/2 ED M.Zuiko Digital User Reviews
8 out of 10 points and recommended by PeterB666 (11 reviews)Reasonably compact for a fast-ish lens of this focal length, great manual focus clutch mechanism.Feels like a metal clad plastic bodied lens, buy the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 instead.
I liked the 12mm f/2 Olympus a lot when I got it along with my Olympus Pen E-P3 but no longer use it now that I have the Olympus 12-40mm lens.reviewed March 19th, 2017
Image quality is good, flare resistance is very good for this focal length, distortion is low as is vignetting but I actually expected more from this lens. The standout is the clutch manual focus which despite being fly-by wire provides a great feel and the Olympus system is fantastic implementation of manual focus this type of lens.
I don't particularly like the build quality which initially seems impressive but the more you handle this lightweight lens, the more it feels like a gilded lily, a metal clad plastic lens body.
It is a pretty expensive lens for what you get and I would think paying a small bit extra for the 12-40mm is a no brainer unless you want this lens as a compact walkabout lens. You have to choose between recommend this lens or not - I would put it as "depends".
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Airy (16 reviews)Very good optics, excellent IQNone.
Some say they prefer the 12-40 at 12mm, but not me. I am in particular impressed by its near-Leica rendering (in B&W). The wide aperture is very useful for creative close-ups.reviewed June 16th, 2015
Good behaviour at night; as a matter of fact it is my favourite for night cityscapes (on a par with the Zeiss 35/2 on full-format cameras).
Need I say more ? ah yes, only the 75/1.8 might be even better, but that's another FL...
9 out of 10 points and recommended by dda (13 reviews)light/ sharp/ good built Qnone
I don't use it that often, but when I use it ... it keeps on impressing me !reviewed December 25th, 2012
10 out of 10 points and recommended by kinematic (13 reviews)Fantastic build quality, super fast AF, snap focus ring, low distortionExpensive, no lens hood or pouch included. Kind of pointless wide aperture.
I'm a wide angle snob but I must say this lens does meet my expectations. Low distortion, and fantastic image quality out of this lens. One of my favourite shots out of this lens is this one:reviewed September 30th, 2011 (purchased for $749)
Superb build quality and although I am a wide angle snob, this lens does perform really well in low distortion, great corner to corner sharpness, and excellent control over CA overall. It is an expensive lens for this category of camera, but it does put the Pen into a professional level with this and the 45mm F/1.8. I've already begun using this lens professionally in my work and very satisfied with the results.
My only beef is the lack of lens hood or pouch. For the price you pay for this lens, it should have definitely included the pouch.
I did mention the pointless wide aperture. One of the things that I was attracted to this lens was the wide aperture. It is beneficial in using it in low light photography, but if you were hoping to use this as an environmental portrait lens, the F/2 just doesn't really cut it. You need to get very close to the subject to really isolate the background much, and by that point, you may as well just give your subject a kiss while you're at it. However that said, it is still possible to get a nice background blur when you plan it out, for the most part, I wouldn't use it in this way much.
The snap focus is my favourite thing about this lens. I think Olympus needs to include this feature in all of its lens designs from this day forward. For street photography this makes it a joy to use, and zone focusing with this lens and the Pen is that much easier to do.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by CFBSr (1 reviews)Manual focus easy with stops at both endsHave to buy expensive shade
Light and comfortable, the 12mm Zuiko is a dream. Feels even better than old fashioned lenses. Sharp from lowest to highest aperture and smooth operation. Very high recommend.reviewed September 6th, 2011 (purchased for $799)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by aaxx (1 reviews)
Best imagereviewed August 11th, 2011