Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ ED M.Zuiko Digital
Lab Test Results
August 29, 2014
by Andrew Alexander
It seems Olympus has been in a continual development cycle for the kit lens of its cameras: the Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 EZ ED M.Zuiko Digital lens is no less than the seventh lens they have designed in this category since they started designing for digital, and the third in the M.Zuiko series in particular.
Olympus has continued to refine the design of this lens, making it even smaller and more automated than previously. The lens saves space by retracting its elements internally when not in use, and extends automatically when the camera is powered on.
The lens is designed to fit on micro four-thirds camera bodies such as those produced by Olympus and Panasonic, and the lens will work interchangeably on either system. It features a variable aperture design, so the widest aperture you have available changes as the lens is zoomed towards 42mm:
The lens takes 37mm filters, but no lens hood is available for it. It is available now for around $400, or as part of the OM-D E-M10 Premium Kit option.
The Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ED EZ is decently sharp when used wide open, but the best results for sharpness will only be seen when the lens is stopped down to ƒ/8, at any focal length. At the 14mm setting the lens exhibits some corner softness when set to ƒ/3.5, which is marginally better when stopped down through to ƒ/8.
At the 42mm setting the lens is quite good, offering decent sharpness from corner to corner - it's made better by stopping down to ƒ/8 (at this focal length, your maximum aperture begins at ƒ/5.6), but again, it doesn't reach an especially sharp result.
The mid-range of the lens is where is shows its weakness - at 28mm, the lens isn't particularly sharp at its maximum aperture of ƒ/5 - it's pretty good, but not great. It benefits from being stopped down to ƒ/8, where it achieves a good result.
The lens begins to exhibit diffraction limiting at ƒ/11, but it's not noticeably until ƒ/16 and ƒ/22. To summarize, this lens is a good outdoor shooter, where there's a lot of light to comfortably shoot at ƒ/8 or smaller.
Chromatic aberration is noticeable in any photograph taken with this lens, appearing in the corners and areas of high contrast as magenta-green fringing. It's most easily noticed in the wide angle (14mm).
There is a little bit of corner shading for the Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ED EZ: the extreme corners are about a half-stop darker than the center when the lens is used at its widest aperture. At any setting, this shading is reduced and it's basically negligible.
You can tell there is a bit of distortion correction going on under the hood in our test pictures, as it nicely scales to 0% at the 42mm setting. At other focal lengths, we see some fairly noticeable barrel distortion, topping out at the 14mm mark.
The Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ED EZ M.Zuiko is very fast to autofocus, taking less than a second to go through its entire focusing range. The lens uses Olympus' MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) design, making it ideal for use in both still and video applications. The front element does not rotate when focusing, making life that much easier for polarizer users.
The lens isn't designed specifically for macro work, but it's not that bad: a minimum focusing distance of just under 10 inches (25cm), with a magnification ratio of 0.23x.
Build Quality and Handling
The Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ED EZ M.Zuiko is an plastic lens, and is the smallest Olympus has designed in this category: it's very aptly described as a pancake zoom lens. It's less than an inch long in its retracted form, and only 93g (3.3 oz) in weight . The lens mounts well on the OM-D E-M10, and is available in both matte black and silver finishes. The plastic filter threads take 37mm filters, and the body mount is metal. There is no distance scale, depth-of-field scale or infrared index, or in fact any switches of readouts of any kind.
Olympus has enjoyed creating a lens that retracts into itself to become further compact, but has struggled to create something that's easy for the casual shooter to use. Previous designs require the user to turn the zoom ring to extend the body of the lens so it's ready to use, accompanied by a helpful text on the camera body. Olympus has taken it a step further, by turning this into an automatic power function: now the lens extends just by turning on the camera. This has the added benefit of giving the lens a power zoom function, which is useful in movie creation.
Given the small size of the lens, it's not surprising that the zoom ring is just 3/8'' wide, plastic with raised ribs sections that run lengthwise to the lens. The lens uses a power zoom function, which operates very smoothly and silently, and features two speeds, useful when you want to zoom smoothly while shooting video.
The focus ring is located at the end of the lens, a plastic ring that's just 3/16'' wide. The ring is a fly-by-wire design, controlling focus electronically, so there are no hard stops at either the infinity or close-focus ends. Given that focus is electronically controlled, you can assign the direction of focus to be either left or right. The front element doesn't turn during focusing operations.
There are plenty of Olympus kit zoom lenses in the 14-42mm range to choose from, but none of them feature the power zoom functionality of the current model.
Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 ED M.Zuiko ~$?
The original 14-42mm kit lens was very much a first effort from Olympus: it felt a bit cheap. The new lens is sharper and better controlled for chromatic aberration.
Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 II M.Zuiko ~$300
Olympus' second iteration of the kit lens was a marginal improvement: it felt more solid, and offered much better sharpness than previously. It's still not as sharp as the current lens, but it's on the same level for its other optical properties.
Olympus 12-50mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EZ M.Zuiko ~$500
If you're looking for a more versatile lens in the same focal range, you might consider this lens, which offers a bit more wide angle and a bit more zoom, as well as a dedicated macro function: it's a bit sharper, too.
Olympus 12-40mm ƒ/2.8 Pro M.Zuiko ~$1,000
If you'd like to step up from the kit lens to a more rugged, professional equivalent, this is your destination: sharper and better in pretty much all respects.
The Olympus 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 EZ ED M.Zuiko Digital lens is a well-executed lens. It achieves what appears to be a goal for the smallest size possible, as well as adding in new functions (power zoom) and improving on its optical properties as well.
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 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ ED M.Zuiko Digital
Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ ED M.Zuiko Digital User Reviews
8 out of 10 points and recommended by jwdw (1 reviews)light, fast, tiny ,very acceptable image quality for a zoom this sizeexpensive lens cap , don't expect prime lens image quality
I am using this lens as walk around lens. It stays on my olympus EPL3 most of the time. used it also on my OM-D . Image quality is absolutely satisfying for this type of lens. they are sharp, and the contrast is good enough. Its "friendly" , feels good too . On the EPL3 it's at its best ( i think because of the lower resolution sensor). i don't compare it to my prime's ( 20mm1.7, 45mm1.8 or 60mm 2.8)reviewed October 9th, 2014 (purchased for $359)
4 out of 10 points and not recommended by waterfoot (3 reviews)Size, build qualityAlmost everything else
I bought to make a "pocketable" camera (along with a E-PM2 body) to do much the same job as something like a XZ-2, say.reviewed September 6th, 2014 (purchased for $300)
Boy was I disappointed; I expected performance similar to other Olympus kit lenses but this one comes nowhere near. It lacks "bite" (low microcontrast) at any focal length and aperture, producing rather dull, tonally flat images.
Just to add insult it sometimes misbehaved on startup/shutdown and occasionally failed to focus, although this was rare. I tried hard to "get to like it" but failed and sold it for a loss, replacing it with the (excellent) Panasonic 12-32. The little Panasonic lens is in a different league optically, challenging my Olympus 12-40/2.8 in the centre of the frame even wide open.
I usually like Olympus lenses, often getting attractive results from lenses that are brushed aside by the "sharpness is everything" fanatics (the 17/2.8 springs to mind) but the 14-42 EZ has no redeeming optical characteristics to mitigate its lack of resolution.
Definitely not recommended.
4 out of 10 points and not recommended by nippa (3 reviews)Nicely made , very light and a great built in lens cap ( extra accessory )It's not sharp enough for me
I've tried two copies of this lens and while its size and build makes it highly attractive I've been unhappy with the limited sharpness.reviewed September 2nd, 2014
The mediocre resolution means that I've given up the convenience of the lens for the old Lumix 14-45 and thereby lies a tale.
If I compare your resolution charts for the two lenses I see very little difference but in practice one is fit for A4 prints and one for A3.
If small size is important this lens will do the job although a good quality compact will do much better.
Watch for shutter shake as I found with my E-M10 ; after using the electronic shutter resolution improved.
PostScript... I've tried to like this lens but it's the poorest piece of glass I've ever purchased. If you never print large it will do but why tolerate it when something like a tiny Sony RX100 blows it out of the water for IQ?