Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED M.Zuiko Digital
Lab Test Results
May 3, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
This is the third M.Zuiko series lens we have tested, the first being Olympus' diminutive 17mm prime. The M.Zuiko lens series is designed specifically for Olympus' PEN series of digital interchangeable lens bodies.
The 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6 lens uses some revolutionary components, including a new lens element called a ''Dual-sided Super Aspherical'' lens. The lens element has a remarkable shape and must require some pretty amazing moulds to make. In addition, the lens is designed with video in mind, using a new silent autofocus motor.
The lens is designed for the four-thirds sensor system, meaning it will provide an effective field of view of 18-36mm (a 2x ''crop factor''). The lens is compatible with regular four-thirds camera bodies via an adapter. This lens isn't a "constant" lens, in that as you increase the focal length, the maximum aperture size decreases, though the minimum aperture size remains the same. The following table reflects the changes as you zoom:
The lens is slated to be available in May 2010, and should retail for approximately $700. It's unclear whether the lens ships with its unusual square-cut lens hood (LH-55B). The lens takes 52mm filters.
When used wide open (ƒ/4-5.6) the Olympus 9-18mm M.Zuiko provides nicely sharp results in the central portion of the frame, in the range of 1.5-2 blur units. There is some light corner softness, most noticeable at 9mm and 11mm: at the extreme, it's 6 blur units at the top right at 9mm. On the average, it's around 2-3 blur units in the corners.
Stopping down improves both central and corner sharpness; it's still sharper in the center, but now we see results between 1-2 blur units across the frame. Stopping down further doesn't actually do much to improve image sharpness, and diffraction limiting sets in around ƒ/11. If I were to pick, I'd say the optimum settings for this lens are 9mm and ƒ/5.6.
Fully stopped-down, the lens provides average performance - 3-5 blur units at 9mm, but improving as it's zoomed in towards 18mm, where it shows around 3 blur units on average.
CA shows up substantially in the corners with this lens, though it's not noticeable in the central region of the image. According to our tests, it's at its best when the lens is used at the 9mm setting, and at its worst at 11mm and 14mm. Chromatic aberration appears as a magenta-cyan discoloration at areas of high contrast.
Corner shading isn't really an issue with this lens, with image corners exposing a quarter-stop darker than the center of the image at all focal lengths and apertures, with one exception; used at 9mm and ƒ/4, the corners are a half-stop darker than the center.
It's not surprising to see a fairly high level of distortion in this wide angle lens, though the distortion is consistently barrel-shaped and easily correctable in post-processing software. At the widest setting (9mm) the lens shows a full 1% distortion in the corners. However, the lens is optimized nicely, and by 18mm there is very little distortion to speak of at all.
The 9-18mm autofocuses quickly, going from closest focus to infinity in less than one second. It is virtually silent in its operation, as there is (according to the Olympus press release) only one lens element which moves to focus. Point-to-point focusing is very quick. The front element does not rotate during focus operations.
The Olympus 9-18mm M.Zuiko doesn't offer much for macro work: just 0.1x magnification, and a minimum close-focusing range of 25cm (around 9 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
The Olympus 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6 M.Zuiko redefines the word tiny, at around 2 inches in both length and diameter. The lens doesn't weigh much either, at just 5.5 oz (155 grams). It uses plastic construction to achieve this weight savings, its exterior a matte black finish. The lens mount is metal, and the 52mm filter threads are plastic. The lens does not have a distance scale or depth of field markings, and there is only one switch, which locks the lens in its open position.
The last remark requires a bit more description. To make the PEN camera even more compact, the designers engineered a zoom lens system that retracts the body of the lens into itself for storage. However, to keep the mechanism from retracting fully as you move from the 18 to 9mm position, there's a lock to limit its travel. This slider must be released for the lens to collapse back into the fully retracted position.
The zoom ring of the lens is plastic with raised ribs, about a half-inch wide. The ring takes about 45 degrees to move through its range of focal lengths, as well there is a bit of extra play for retracting the lens into its storage state. There is some lens extension with this lens - it's at its longest at 9mm, extending an additional 1.25 outward, and then retracting as the lens is zoomed in to 18mm. With a lens this small, zoom creep is not a factor; there is a zoom lock switch, but it doesn't operate as you'd expect, locking the zoom into a storage state. The camera will not operate with the lens in its locked position; see above.
The focusing ring of the lens is an ndented ribbed plastic just 3/16 inch wide. The ring uses a ''fly-by-wire'' system to achieve manual focus results, and the E-P1 provides some interesting manual focus functionality. When you turn the focus ring with the MF assist option on, the camera brings up a magnified center view to allow you to precisely focus. The ring will turn forever, as there are no hard or soft stops in the focus ring, and there's no way to know how many ''degrees'' of turning action are available. The fly-by-wire operation does allow for an interesting option: you can set the focus ring direction to either left or right, from the camera's menu.
At the time of writing it's not clear whether or not the 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6 M.Zuiko ships with its interesting LH-55B lens hood; we didn't get one with the sample we tested. The lens is a rectangular-shaped hood, which attaches via a bayonet mount.
Olympus 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital ~$500
While we haven't yet tested this lens, the most obvious alternative would be the non-M Zuiko equivalent of this lens design, which can be used on the PEN series of camera with an adapter. However, it's twice as heavy and slightly longer and wider. For the price premium, you're getting the storage functionality of the M.Zuiko.
Olympus 7-14mm ƒ/4 Zuiko Digital ~$1,500
If wide-angle is your goal, then this is the lens that would let you do it on a PEN series camera - offering a 14-28mm equivalent field of view. We haven't yet tested this lens, though it has received raves in our user reviews. With an adapter it would be usable on a PEN series camera, though at 27 ounces, the lens is over two times as heavy as the camera, which could make for some awkward usage.
Panasonic 7-14mm ƒ/4 ASPH LUMIX G VARIO ~$1,000
The Panasonic 7-14mm ƒ/4 is compatible with the Olympus PEN series of camera, and compared to the Olympus 9-18mm, the lens is sharper, provides better results for chromatic aberration, and less distortion. The Panasonic lens is more expensive, larger, and doesn't store like the Olympus, however.
Sigma 10-20mm ƒ/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ~$480
With an adapter, the four-thirds mount version of the Sigma 10-20mm ƒ/4-5.6 (or the newer ƒ/3.5 version) should be compatible with the PEN series of camera, and while we've tested it, you'll have to use your imagination on our test graph to compare its performance with the Olympus 9-18mm. The lens is less expensive, and would provide an equivalent field of view of 20-40mm, though it would be heavier than the camera itself, making for a potentially unwieldy combination of lens and camera.
For its size, the Olympus 9-18mm ƒ/4-5.6 provides impressive performance. While there are other lenses which provide similar or better performance, none offer the diminutive size and storage functionality of the 9-18mm M.Zuiko. While the retracting lens function may take some getting used to for some, it's hard to believe that this is a camera system that you can carry around in your pants pockets.
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 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED M.Zuiko Digital
Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED M.Zuiko Digital User Reviews
7 out of 10 points and recommended by LowTEC (4 reviews)Extremely light weight, ultracompactExcellent sharpness only at narrow range and aperture, so so construction
Extremely light weight, small size, and decent image quality out of this lens. Samples of my favourite shots out of this lens:reviewed June 7th, 2014 (purchased for $600)
Smooth operation and the extension action doesn't bother me, although I find the lens a bit wobbly when extended but that doesn't affect the IQ. I like light weight plastic body with metal mount, decent corner to corner sharpness at 9mm f5.6-f8 and the benefit of able to mount a ND filter when need. It was a no brainer for me to carry it to anywhere since it is so compact.
Since then I have replaced it with an used Panny 7-14, which is much sharper corner to corner, but I am doomed by the purple blob issue with my E-M5 and E-PL5, and lack of filter mount bothered me when i shoot day time long expsoure
7 out of 10 points and recommended by iffo (7 reviews)Compact and light weight High optical quality: high resolution, low weight and limited distortion Large viewing angle Low priceVisible chromatic aberration Construction feels cheap
Especially at the smaller focal lengths, the corner sharpness remains behind the centre sharpness. This lens, like the Olympus 45 mm 1.8, is an inexpensive lens that offers first class optical performance: a very high resolution, low distortion and low vignetting. Chromatic aberration visible at 100% cropping, which you can easily correct afterwards, is the only disadvantage when you evaluate it's optical performance.reviewed July 19th, 2012
10 out of 10 points and recommended by naveedakhtar (5 reviews)tiny, sharp enough, wide enoughcan't complain at this size and price
Well ok, its not the sharpest and widest you can get on M4/3, Panny 7-14 is excellent in that regard. But how much it matter, is really something that matters :)reviewed December 31st, 2011
I had Panny 7-14 before and I loved it, but later I couldnt hold my >800£ in drawer for more than a year, so had to sell it. Lets admit, ultra wide is not a lens you would want on your interchangeable lens camera all the time. Its application is mostly limited to some specialized work.
Recently I planned again my trip to MiddleEast, this time Jerusalem, I found this little lens available, (two years ago only UW option was Panny) at roughly half the price of Pan 7-14mm, reviews were not bad, so I gave it a try and here is my opinion:
+ Its ultra light, ultra small and very easy to carry in a corner of your jacket pocket. Specially, its collapsible design is amazing.
+ Its budget king and give you some impressive standard coverage as well. In day light I don't really need to switch on my 20mm f1.7 as often as before.
+ Its sharp enough, don't compare with Panny at pixel level specially at corners and you are fine. Little PhotoShop RAW adjustment and there you go. I found it shapest at f5.6 and 9mm.
+ It takes filter so add on a small UV filter (Hoya HD Pro UV is my choice) and you are safe with the glass. I lost the lens cap (at western wall), so UV filter is all I am having on it now. Actually its good in a way, I dont have to keep worrying about removing and placing cap, all the time now.
+ Its wide enough, though 7-14 was wide, insanely wide, this in my opinion is mostly what I needed, there were very few times (less thab 5%), when I missed the wider coverage.
The only complain is they don't bundle a carry pouch or lens hood. But then this is like a normal Oly practice these days.
If you want to see some real world result on this, have a look at my recently uploaded photo set dedicated to this lens:
So in nutshell I will only suggest Pann 7-14 if you really need 14-film equivalent coverage.
7 out of 10 points and recommended by Ocean (21 reviews)great sharpness and brilliance, very smallcrappy socket, no hood, CA, cheap plastics
I like the small little zoom.reviewed November 22nd, 2011 (purchased for $600)
but I am not used to the extreme cheap-construction Level without lens hood and I got dust between the lenses
Optics are good with a bit to much CA. With weekly practice it's getting worse.
The price is to high, it's just a cheap-starter Zoom.
The Panasonic 7-14 mm ist by far better.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by ecle (1 reviews)weight, sharpnessfield curvature (depends on copy)
Sadly my copy has field curvature at 18mm.reviewed October 20th, 2010 (purchased for $697)
I have to stop down to at least F8 and focus to ~8m instead of infinity. It's acceptable with these settings.
The performance from 9 to 14mm ist very good. Can't complain here.
The lens is really small. Big advantage over WW slr lenses.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Perry Rhodan (36 reviews)Excellent IQ, small, light, very cheap for the IQnon
This single lens is reason enough to get into m4/3! It makes the EPL1 really shine in IQ, AF and portability. On the epl/2 it shines equally. Buy this lens! Waiting for the OMD5 to try this gem. Downrated the construction quality by one point. Only for the wobbly feeling, no IQ effects. Waiting for the mkII, because I really like what Olympus did with the 14-150 mkII !reviewed July 19th, 2010 (purchased for $500)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by PeterB666 (11 reviews)Very compact when stored, great image quality, excellent flare controlNo lens hood or pouch supplied
This is an outstanding lens, and despite the cost, great value for money. I got my lens from Japan and the price paid includes EMS shipping and currency conversion fees. It wound up cheaper than the Four Thrids equvalent lens is locally (Australia) so very pleased as this lens will be selling at a premium.reviewed May 19th, 2010 (purchased for $697)
The lens feels good on the Olympus PEN cameras. Although a telescoping lens, there is only minimal play when extended.
It focuses reasonably fast and is absolutely silent as far as I can tell.
It is a joy to use and the only caveat I place on that is that as the lens is so compact, I found that you can accidently change the focus (I shoot a lot of MF) when you zoom the lens. Once you get use to it, that problem is essentially eliminated.
There are no problems with using Cokin P series holder and filters which keeps me very happy. There is no vignetting with the filter holder at 9mm even when 3 P series filters are stacked. One of the advantages of the compact design thanks to Micro Four Thirds.
There is a lot of detail in the photos and they seem pretty sharp from edge to edge. Flare is minimal at 18mm and low at 9mm.
The lens is still small enough to fit with the camera into some compact camera pouches.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by irpm (1 reviews)9-18 good fit for wide to normalprice
This could easily be my main lens, good range for the way I (and a lot of people) shoot. Like the way it folds away for easy carrying.reviewed May 16th, 2010 (purchased for $699)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Esa (1 reviews)Size, qualityprice, no hood in box at this price
Really fantastic objective to holiday trips.reviewed May 16th, 2010 (purchased for $690)