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Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital

 
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Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
14-42mm $109
average price
image of Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital

(From Olympus lens literature) The Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 (35mm equivalent focal length: 28-84mm) provides full 3x zoom performance. It is specially designed for the extremely compact E-400, E-410 and E-510. It is a small, light and attractively-priced zoom lens with a range of use from medium wide angle to classical telephoto portrait. This lens comes as a part of the Olympus E-400, E-410 and E-510 kits.

Introduction
As all-purpose lenses go, the 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 is a good example: light, fast-focusing, with a respectable maximum aperture and zoom range. It comes standard with the E-410 and E-510 kit packages, but could also be purchased on its own for around $250.

Since Olympus digital SLR cameras employ the four-thirds imaging sensor, any lens attached to the body will have an effective focal length (in 35mm terms) of double the listed length. Thus, for this particular lens, it will exhibit an effective focal length of 28-84mm. The lens takes 58mm filters, and comes with a petal-shaped lens hood.

This lens isn't a "constant" lens, in that as you increase the focal length, the maximum aperture size decreases. The following table reflects the change as you zoom:

Focal length 14mm 18mm 25mm 35mm 42mm
Max. aperture ƒ/3.5 ƒ/3.9 ƒ/4.7 ƒ/5.3 ƒ/5.6

These figures just correspond to the focal lengths marked on the lens; in actual usage, the widest aperture adjusts quite precisely in conjunction with the focal length setting. As you zoom in and out at the widest aperture, you can see the aperture changing in one-tenth increments.

Sharpness
Wide open at 14mm, the Olympus 14-42mm exhibits slightly uneven corner softness, but not as much as you might typically expect from a wide-angle lens. Image sharpness never becomes truly tack sharp, but by ƒ/5.6 the corners settle down. By ƒ/11 sharpness deteroriates slightly, and even more so by f/22, but at least the softness is uniform. Zooming out to 18mm conceals the corner softness, and is negligible by 35mm. Zoomed to telephoto, performance is admirable, with excellent sharpness by ƒ/8-ƒ/11. Its optimum sharpness can be found at ƒ/8 at approximately 35mm.

For its price level, the 14-42mm is an above-average performer, but it doesn't compete with the sharpness found in more expensive lenses.

Chromatic Aberration
Chromatic aberration is at its most pronounced when the lens is zoomed to telephoto, at ƒ/5.6 and 42mm; you'll see it in the corners without much effort. Wide open at either 14mm or 18mm, some chromatic aberration is visible but it is less pronounced; it's only at 25mm and up that you start to see it in the corners.

Shading (&quot Vignetting &quot)
As with most wide-angle lenses, you see significant shading in the corners when the lens is set to its widest-angle setting (14mm) and the aperture is set to its widest setting (ƒ/3.5). Specifically, you lose a half-stop of light in the corners of the image. There is always some vignetting at 14mm, but at any other setting the vignetting is reduced, with optimum performance achieved by ƒ/8, at 18mm or higher.

Distortion
Also typical of wide angles is a hefty barrel distortion in the wide range. The 14-42mm lens does show some barrel distortion, seen most significantly at 14mm; however, it is well-controlled, showing only a maximum distortion (in the corners) of 1%. As the focal length increases, the distortion decreases quite linearly, until it becomes negligible by 35mm.

Autofocus Operation
The 14-42mm focusses quickly, racking through a full focus in less than a second, with a relatively quiet motor. The lens does not extend while focussing, and the front filter ring does not rotate. Point to point focussing is extremely quick. In low-light situations, unless you get some spotlighting on your subject you may find the 14-42mm hunts forever to find any kind of focus, especially on a telephoto setting where its fastest aperture is a paltry ƒ/5.6.

Autofocusing the Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6.

Macro
Olympus' website indicates a close-focus distance of 25cm (10 inches), and our results bear this out, providing satisfactory results for macro use. It's worth noting that the close-focus range is taken from the image sensor, not the end of the lens, as this produces a practical close-focus range (from the far end of the lens) of just over 2 inches.

Bokeh

Click on these thumbnails for full-size samples:

42mm, ƒ/5.6
42mm, ƒ/8
42mm, ƒ/22

Build Quality and Handling
The 14-42mm is very light, weighing in at 190 grams (6.7 oz); my feeling is there is a lot of plastic in this lens to achieve this. That said, it feels fairly solid, with well-textured grips. There is no distance scale in relation to focusing; thus, there are no IR markings, either. The zoom dial is very good, with less than a quarter-turn moving through the entire focal range. There is no "creep" factor, so it won't slide to the telephoto end of the zoom spectrum while held pointing down.

Alternatives
Unforunately, your options are a bit limited with the Olympus lens system, as four-thirds system lenses are still relatively new and only Sigma is producing third-party lenses to fit.

Olympus 14-35mm f/2 ED SWD Zuiko Digital ~$?
At the time of this review, it's not yet on the store shelves; for what would be a premium price, you probably won't get much better quality than this 28-70mm 35mm-equivalent lens. It won't zoom out quite as far, but with a constant ƒ/2 aperture, you won't get a faster lens in this focal range.

Olympus 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital ~$139-200
This lens was the original kit lens for the Evolt E-330, which has arguably been replaced by the 14-42mm Zuiko. Corner softness is a problem with this lens, obvious at wide angles and apertures; chromatic aberration is also readily apparent until you zoom out further than 18mm. Vignetting and distortion are also worse, but not by much.

Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital ~$430
The extra money spent on this lens gets you silent autofocusing, as well as improved sharpness and reduced distortion; vignetting is about the same, but there are some issues with chromatic aberration due to the wider maximum aperture. With a bit more reach and speed, it's a more capable lens with better build quality, demanding the higher price tag.

Panasonic 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 ASPH Leica D VARIO-ELMARIT ~$900
With on-board stabilization and an aperture control ring on the lens, with 16 elements in 12 groups, this high-quality optic should be an excellent performer. Check this review from cameralabs.com for how the lens-based stabilization works on an Olympus E-510.

Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC ~$109 (f/2.8: $419)
The only non-Olympus lens in this category, we haven't yet tested it but it has received above-average user reviews. For the budget option, this could be a strong contender. Sigma also produces a constant ƒ/2.8 version of this lens, which fits the four-thirds lens system.

Conclusion
Probably the most question for the users of this lens will be whether it's worth the upgrade to the 14-54mm ƒ/2.8-3.5. The 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 stands well on its own, where shots taken in generally favorable conditions will come out well. In low-light conditions the lack of a fast aperture setting becomes restrictive, and autofocusing becomes difficult. Image quality is good: chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting are well controlled for a lens at this price point. There's no easy answer to the upgrade question, other than it depending on what kind of photography you're into. But for general shooting in good light, the 14-42mm is good value for the money.


Sample Photos!
Sample photos are available of two laboratory test targets to help in our readers' evaluation of the lenses we test. 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 f/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.

To see the sample shots from this lens captured with this lens on our test body, just click on either of the thumbnails below, and scroll as needed in the window that appears.


Still Life shot


VFA target

Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital User Reviews

8.7/10 average of 7 reviews Build Quality 7.7/10 Image Quality 8.9/10
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (7 reviews)
    Size, Weight
    Speed

    This lens came with my camera body. I no longer own it, but at times I miss it.

    It's easy to dismiss this lens as a 'simply a kit lens', but I think that's not fair to this lens.

    It's easy to say what this lens isn't. In truth, it's not a lot of things. But that's only because of the trade-off necessary for what it is.

    What it is, then, is a great standard zoom if you want to travel light. It's quite small and is very light. This lens certainly won't be a burden. It's also, like the 25mm pancake lens, rather inconspicuous.

    It does have some distortion and vignetting, but, again, it's small and light. All things considered, they're well controlled.

    It's image quality is about the middle of the road for the Digital Zuiko line-up, but Oly users know that the middle of the Zuiko road is not really a bad place.

    It's biggest drawback is its speed. At its widest it's only f-3.5. In decent light, this isn't a problem. But it starts to be a problem inside and after the sun sets.

    Again, I would consider this a travel lens. Most people traveling are going to be active during the day. While the sun is rising and setting (please put your camera away at noon, unless you're inside) you'll have enough light that its speed doesn't matter. At night you'll be resting.

    If your technique is good, you should be able to get a passable shot having dinner with your new vacation friends, but don't expect the waitress to take a clear photo with this lens unless you're eating in a well-lit warehouse.

    reviewed May 31st, 2012
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    Light weight, color, sharpness, size
    Slow aperture, plastic mount surface, toy like feel

    I have to say, I am pretty impressed with this little lens. I was really worried I would not like the image quality. I was flat wrong. It does very nice work! The price vs. quality is probably one of the best out there by any manufacturer. Hardly know it's on the camera and is very short from front to back. Yes, other Olympus lenses are better, but that's what photoshop post processing is purchased for. You can tighten up this lenses results and make a very high quality image. Don't worry about having the best, most expensive lens available. It's also about getting used to your equipment and learning your craft. Find the strengths, and use it to your advantage. It still takes a respectable shot indoors with proper light and an image stabilized camera.

    reviewed November 6th, 2011
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (6 reviews)
    Compact, good build quality, great price, excellent image quality as for kit lens
    Plastic Mount, Slow Aperture

    I am very happy user of this lens.
    14 mm is very useful.
    CDAF is a bonus for M4/3 users.

    reviewed April 3rd, 2011 (purchased for $100)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (3 reviews)
    Lightweight, Cheap, Small
    Slow Aperture, Plastic Mount, hunts in low-light, Bokeh

    This lens is very good, especially in good light. Almost as sharp as the 14-54mm lens. It is also incredibly small and lightweight and also has a close focusing distance. Although the DOF control is somewhat limited due to its aperture and it hunts in low-light, this lens is one heck of a performer and does not disappoint.

    reviewed March 7th, 2009 (purchased for $100)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (11 reviews)
    Weight, sharpness, colour and contrast, good build for a kit lens, price
    Slow max aperture

    You can't really fault this lens given that it's mostly sold as part of a kit, but even if you do decide to buy it separately, it's incredibly good value for money. I used it alongside the Zuiko 12-60 for a couple of months and while that lens is certainly in a different league, the IQ difference isn't as dramatic as you might expect. This lens is perfectly capable of producing great shots.

    Compared to the Zuiko pro lenses, build quality isn't great but a more fair comparison is to other manufacturers' kit lenses and then it certainly stands up well, with only Pentax' 18-55 II being noticeably better. The lens hood is quite good and the front element doesn't rotate so polarizers are perfectly useable.

    In short, if you get it as part of a kit, don't rush out to upgrade, rather spend that money on other accessories or lenses. If you need a cheap, light and inconspicous walkaround lens to complement a pro lens, you might be positively suprised!

    reviewed March 4th, 2009 (purchased for $100)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (5 reviews)
    Compact, light, sharp and well built
    Slow aperture, limited range

    The best kit lens available, the only real limit is the max aperture but for the price it's a bargain.

    reviewed February 22nd, 2009 (purchased for $115)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (31 reviews)
    Small, lightweight, sharpness, fast AF
    focal lenght

    why the heck Olympus did not do a 12-60 / 3.5 - 5.6. It would have been that much more convenient without big cost impact.

    Apart from this, i am very satified with the IQ of this kit lens.

    It's fast and focuses well.

    reviewed November 5th, 2008 (purchased for $129)