Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ
“This is my kit lens. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my kit lens is useless. Without my kit lens, I am useless.”
There’s something special about this lens, and I’m not talking about the amount of dust in my softbox.
The Olympus 12-50mm has been sold for a very long time as a kit lens, sort of a “starting step” from which to upgrade. This is a very common practice for camera manufacturers: selling a camera body alone, bundled with a cheap kit lens or with a high-end lens.
The 12-50mm is a lens that is widely available in the second hand market due to its kit lens status, but it’s a lens that you should definitely keep under consideration if you’re looking for a walk around zoom lens with a very convenient zoom range and a couple of tricks up its sleeve.
12-50mm in the M43 world are the equivalent of 24-100mm in full frame terms. This means that it’s possible to go from fairly wide for landscapes:
to mid-telezoom range for subjects that are slightly far away:
It’s an extremely useful range, and while it clearly lacks the image quality of Pro lenses or primes, it still delivers fairly good results.
This is one of the weakest points of this lens
While f3.5 is acceptable on the wide end, f6.3 at 50mm is atrocious. Not only does it limit the possibility of modifying depth of field, it also means that the lens will only let through a small(er) amount of light, forcing the user to raise ISO or lower shutter speed. I often find myself swapping out this lens after sunset, in favor of some of my prime lenses that will be able to perform much better in low light.
Build and handling:
This lens is made of good quality plastic. Compared to many of the compact zooms available from Olympus and Panasonic, the 12-50 is a gargantuan lens. At 57 x 83 mm and 211g it’s in a league of its own. It uses 52mm filters. The hood LH-55B is not included, shame on Olympus.
Olympus lenses have no image stabilization, it’s already included in camera bodies. One neat feature for a kit lens: it’s weather sealed! Using it with one of the M43 bodies that offer weather sealing means that it’s possible to have a cheap kit that won’t be scared by some splashes of rain.
All the zooming and focusing is done internally, so the lens will not extend or rotate which is always a nice feature.
The lens has two zooming systems: a manual one, which is like any other zooms on the market, and an electronic one. The eletronic zoom is much slower but smoothly transitions between all focal lengths, great for video. Switching between the two modes is done via a switch on the barrel.
The L-Fn button can be customized by assigning it a function in the camera settings. What is much more interesting is the macro switch, though.
Setting the lens at 50mm, pushing the macro button and then pulling the zoom ring backward (WHO THE HELL DESIGNED THIS PROCEDURE?) sets the lens in macro mode. This will lock the lens at 43mm and allow it to focus much closer, allowing for some nice closeup pictures of small object and some semi macro work.
The lens offers a 0.72 magnification. True macro lenses usually offer a magnification ratio of 1, meaning that objects will be captured by the sensor in their true size. 0.72 is not bad though, and adds a lot of versatility to this lens.
If macro pictures are what you enjoy the most, then a dedicated macro lens will be the best option for you. If you only occasionally shoot extreme closeups of small subjects and don’t want to spend extra money, this lens will work absolutely fine. Ideally, an external flash activated off camera via cable or wirelessly would be great for this. Some Olympus cameras have a built in flash, but due to the necessity of getting very close to your subject it’s very easy for the lens to cover all the incoming light.
Disclaimer: I think that the image quality of each lens should be judged based on what kind of lens it is. Prime lenses give up the versatility of zooms in favor of better optics, contrast, more pleasant bokeh (out of focus areas) and a larger aperture. Also, I focus on “real world” performance, so in this and future review you won’t find charts, scores and stuff like that.
A zoom lens with a 12-50mm focal range is designed to be carried around and cover as many bases as possibly. Image quality is not the trump card of this lens, but for its purpose I find it absolutely satisfying.
In macro pictures I can easily count the speckles of dust in each image, and my “daily life” images when viewed at 100% detail on my 27″ 2560*1440 monitor look fine. Of course results from this lens are not as good as those from one of my primes, but we’re talking apples and bananas here.
The lens’ autofocus works fine and is reasonably fast. My only missed shots (as in bad focused) are usually caused by the camera body,a nd I’ll write an article on this issue at a later time.
This is a tough one! If you head on to B&H, Adorama, Amazon or any other major outlet, you’ll find the Olympus 12-50mm lens priced close to 500$.
At that price the value of this lens is not particularly good and I wouldn’t reccommend it to anyone.
The second hand market is full of these lenses, I was able to buy mine in great conditions with included hood for 110$. At that price, this lens is a steal.
I’m not a huge fan of kit lenses. They’re a good tool to familiarize with a camera and find out which focal lengths are used the most, allowing the user to plan his future purchases. They’re usually very boring lenses though, and I eventually sold them all. Even the Canon 24-105 f4 L only spent a couple of weeks with me.
The Olympus 12-50mm is a lens that I’ll never sell. It encompasses everything that a good walkaround lens should have.
Useful focal range? Check.
Good enough image quality and af performance? Check.
Weather sealing? Check.
An extremely useful macro function that works great to take closeup pictures and opens up a lot of creative possibilities? Check.
Good price? Eh, it sure is, if you buy it second hand.
The only major negatives that I can find in this lens are:
Size: not really pocket friendly
Aperture: f6.3 on the long is fairly atrocious and makes it rather difficult to use the lens in low light, unless you stick to the wider end which is f3.5
If you need a walk around lens to keep on your camera all day (as in: during daylight), that will allow you to play around with macro photography and that can deliver really good results, keep your eye on the second market for this lens, it’s truly a small gem. Well, not really small, but…you know what I mean.
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