Monday, January 02, 2012

Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 Review: Wide Angle Shooting at Hulu Langat, KL

Ammendment 1 (5th January 2012)
I mistakenly described "Mirror-Lock" in the settings, which was actually correctly termed by Olympus as "Anti-Shock". It is a setting to delay the shutter release.

Side Note:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and developed to JPEG in Olympus Viewer 2.
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color set to OFF), Gradation = AUTO
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. Only exposure compensation (brightness/contrast) and cropping performed for better consistency and overall presentation. Apart from that, the images were as good as straight out of camera (color and sharpness)
5. Some images were taken with other cameras, as mentioned in the captions.

To all my beautiful readers, Happy New Year 2012 !! May this new year bring you abundant prosperity, good health and peace.

This is a the Part 2 of the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens review, a continuation from Part 1: Macro Shooting at Butterfly Park, KL (please click here and read if you have not done so).

In Part 1, I have dedicated a full shooting session to try out the macro capability of the 12-50mm lens only. Therefore, in this entry, I shall not be shooting on macro mode, but focus on another important aspect that makes this standard zoom lens rather unique: the extra wide angle of 12mm (which is equivalent to 24mm on full frame format). Indeed, having that extra wideness can add a lot of flexibility in many shooting situations, which I shall be exploring in this entry.

Photo credit to Fattien
Panasonic G1 with original kit lens.


Photo Credit to Fattien
Panasonic G1 with Kit lens
Me, PEN and the River.


Initially, I have intended to bring the lens and hit the streets this morning, as my usual shutter therapy sessions on normal weekends. However, last night a dear friend, Anston invited me to join him for a landscape shooting session at Hulu Langat. I immediately jumped into the plan, because the 12mm wide angle end of the lens is going to be useful in this particular shooting session !!

User-experience based review

As a reminder, and a note to first time visitors, this review will be written from a photography-enthusiast’s point of view. This will be a user experience based review, sharing on what I think and feel using the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 mounted on PEN E-P3 in real life shooting situations. Therefore, this is not a technical review as there will not be elaborative technical explanations, such as explanation of corner softness, optimum aperture range, chromatic aberration and so forth. In addition to that, I will not be doing direct side by side image and performance comparisons with other lenses. What I am presenting in this entry is merely what I can do with the Olympus 12-50mm lens for my usual shutter therapy session.

Shoot Wide

A lot of people over-looked, or underestimated the importance and capability of a wide angle lens. It does not necessarily have to be ultra wide angle or full 180 degrees coverage such as fisheye lens, which would only be used for specific intended purposes (due to excessive perspective distortion, a characteristic of any wide angle lens). The 12mm allows an additional 2mm wideness in comparison to all other standard zoom lens offerings for Micro 4/3 system from both Olympus and Panasonic, which usually start at 14mm. To most people, the 2mm may not be worth the extra cash burned, but in most wide angle shooting, we know that even if we can fit in that little bit more into the frame, it would have improved the shot a lot. I am not solely talking about shooting wide sweeping scenery shots, or tight large group shots. Wide angle can be used creatively in many situations, providing perspective exaggeration and making interesting close up/macro shots that captures wide background, as well as portraits that includes a part of wider environment or surrounding background and often important accompanying supporting subjects. I find the 14mm on all other available standard zoom lenses to be rather restrictive, and have always wished for slightly wider angle. The fact that the Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 on my DSLR E-5 is my favourite lens shows how much I treasure the capability of a wider angle lens than just the 14mm. Of course, we all have the well received premium lens Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F2 lens, which is very sharp and performs incredibly well on its own, but at a much heftier cost of almost double the zoom 12-50mm lens.


5s, F16, ISO200, with ND Filter, Tripod
Image Sample 1

1/30s, F3.5, ISO200, Tripod
Image Sample 2

Right Bottom corner 100% crop
Image Sample 1 on the LEFT, shot at F16
Image Sample 2 on the RIGHT, shot at F3.5

1.6s, F22, ISO200, Tripod

1/25s, F3.5, ISO200, Tripod
Image Sample 3

Right Top Corner 100% Crop from Image Sample 3

Near Center 100% Crop from Image Sample 3


My Gear Setup for Wide Angle Shooting

The target for this shooting session is the Sungai Tekala river in Hulu Langat, which is part of an elaborate waterfall and stream system that flows all around the surrounding hills. Knowing that we will be somewhere inside the jungle, being covered by thick rainforest canopy, slow shutter would be encountered, hence a tripod is a necessity. I brought along my trusty mini tripod that extends about 2 feet high.

General Camera settings for shooting with tripod

1) Olympus PEN E-P3 with M.Zuiko 12-50mm lens mounted on the tripod
2) Aperture Priority Exposure: Varying from F3.5 to F22, ISO 200-400
3) Center Weighted Metering (with EV compensation when necessary)
4) Slow Shutter Speed of 3 to 5 seconds to achieve the smooth silky effect of the stream
5) ND 8 Filter (Hoya HMC) attached to the lens to further slow down the shutter speed when necessary
6) Image Stabilization OFF completely
7) Anti-Shock 2 seconds, Self Timer 2 seconds
8) Autofocus, at focal length fixed to 12mm widest end.

To prevent any shake blurring, I have used Anti-Shock (to delay the shutter release) and self timer, and OFF the IS.
No special techniques applied when I was shooting the camera handheld.


Lens Shooting Performance on 12mm

In terms of Autofocus, the lens performed flawlessly on the 12mm end. It locked focus extremely fast, without the slightest hint of hesitation at all, and it did not miss even once to nail the shot accurately. This is a reliability that even the most advanced professional DSLR user would envy, I must say. I have moved the focusing area (or boxes) all around the frame, and they all worked the same, the AF locked blazingly fast. Do take note that many of the shots in this entry were taken under heavy shade, though the location is outdoors. It was an overcast day, and the river area was mostly covered with a canopy of trees. Besides just shooting from a far distance, I have also tested the 12mm focal length on close up shooting. Please do not be confused with the macro function, because if the macro mode is enabled, the focal length is fixed to 43mm only and you have no ability to zoom thereafter. When the lens is in its normal shooting mode, the closest focusing distance is 35cm, which is still very respectable, and can produce some decent close up shots. In close up performance, the lens also focuses just as fast, with no hiccup.

General Opinion about the lens so far.

After reading a few other review sites (not many out there at the moment) on this lens, and also gathering the user feedback from online photography community (yes I do read the comments over on DPreview forums and even the 4/3 rumor website, thanks guys for the kind comments by the way), it is evident that everyone is complaining about how soft the lens is at 12mm. Furthermore, corner softness has become the specific issue being attacked on, especially being shot at F3.5. Based on general observation, and limited samples of images available, many have voiced their disappointment over the lens performance in this regard. Is it really that bad? Lets find out.


3.2s, F22, ISO200, ND Filter, Tripod

1/100s, F3.5, ISO200, Tripod

5sec, F22. ISO200, ND Filter, Tripod

1/500s, F11, ISO200

1/200s, F8, ISO200,
Image Sample 4

Near Center 100% Crop of Image Sample 4

Micro 4/3 warriors: Robin, Anston and Fattien
Photo Credit to Anston.
Olympus E-P2 with 9-18mm lens

12mm at F3.5 tests

As you have noticed, I have shot MANY photographs with this 12-50mm lens at F3.5 wide open aperture, and of course ALL photographs in this entry (unless otherwise mentioned) were shot at 12mm widest angle. There are plenty of sample and 100% crops for your further scrutiny. At the center of the frame, I find the image quality of the 12mm end being shot wide open to be more than adequately sharp. I dare to say that it is slighty, yet noticeably sharper than all iterations of the previous M.Zuiko 14-42mm kit lenses, at 14mm widest end. Having wider angle of 12mm, and yet still achieving better sharpness at the center of the frame, is just as I have suspected.

Like all wide angle lenses, the corners will suffer, and this should not come as a surprise. While this lens did NOT pretend to be a premium high grade lens, expectations of superb corner sharpness is a little far-fetched !! I agree, the corner appears to be soft, but seriously, if you want to know what true soft corners are, just find any other manufacturer’s lens (apart from Micro 4/3 and 4/3 system lenses), shoot the standard zoom lens (preferably kit lens) at its widest angle and widest aperture, and you will witness what true corner softness really means. Those soft corners from other manufacturer's kit lenses are so mashed out that you do not even see properly defined lines or any textures at all, and the blurriness is even entangled with annoying severe chromatic aberration. Looking at the corners of the photographs shot with this Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens in this entry, I do not find the corners to be so bad at all. Yes, it is not perfectly sharp, but for what it can do so far, I do not have that much to complain about. I still see lines, I still see textures, and I see details, though I do wish that they could have been better.

Generally, the lens on the whole is still reasonably sharp.

Jasonmumbles
1/80s, F3.5, ISO400, TTL Flash bounced off ceiling
Image Sample 5

Headshot 100% Crop from Image Sample 5

Baked prawns
1/60s, F3.5, ISO400, TTL Flash bounced off ceiling
Image Sample 6

Near Center 100% Crop from Image Sample 6

1/60s, F3.5, ISO640, TTL Flash bounced off Ceiling

1/60s, F3.5, ISO400, TTL Flash bounced off Ceiling

Focal Length = 30mm, i/60s, F5.4, ISO400, TTL Flash bounced off ceiling


After shooting at Hulu Langat, I met up with JasonMumbles, and we both went to Ivy Soon’s house for a hearty home cooked goodness for lunch. We were served with local gourmet delicacies, and I took the opportunity to do some close up shots with the 12-50mm lens, at 12mm wide end. Since it was an indoor shooting, I used the external flash Olympus FL-36R. Thanks Ivy for the delicious lunch !! You are a great cook !!

I do believe that having the slightly wider angle of 12mm can bring a lot of benefits to photography in general. We know there are many other options such as the Panasonic 7-14mm, Olympus 9-18mm, Olympus 12mm, etc, but all those lenses are restricted to the shorter end of focal lengths, and cannot zoom further to, say 50mm If you need to. Not to mention that all those aforementioned lenses costs significantly more than the 12-50mm lens.


Please do not judge the distortion based on this photo, its a reflection of an imperfect wide mirror.

I shall be making ONE more entry on this lens before I return it to Olympus Malaysia. I guess there is no secret anymore, and yes, I will surely bring the lens to the street (how can I not do so, right?).

Do come back soon for the final part of the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens review !!





42 comments:

  1. Thank you for this review, greetings from Poland :)

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  2. Good stuff, Robin. It looks like this will be the best standard zoom for M43 when it is released, but I'm not sure it's worth upgrading from the 14-42 IIR. A pity Olympus has not made micro four thirds versions of the wonderful four-thirds zooms like the 11-22 you mentioned in your review.

    Are you enjoying the E-P3? I know that you normally shoot Olympus SLR. At first I found it difficult not having a viewfinder after coming from Nikon SLR, but nowadays I just love the small size and weight of the E-P3 and wouldn't go back to SLR.

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  3. Hello Thomas,
    Thanks !!

    Hey Kasia,
    Thanks !!

    Hello Newzild,
    Thanks, so far this is the best standard zoom for micro 4/3 indeed. Oh my, if there is the 11-22mm for micro 4/3, I would be extremely happy !!
    I do love E-P3, for its speed and also the image quality. Nonetheless, for serious usage, I still think DSLR is more practical. DSLR is more robust, has better hand grip for balanced handling, and the original Zuiko DSLR Lenses are still more complete (great lenses such as the 11-22 wide angle, 50mm macro and the 50-200mm F2.8-3.5).
    There will come a time when the micro 4/3 system matures and is fully capable to replace the DSLR system, but it is getting closer and closer to reality.

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  4. Eric from Edmonton Alberta1/02/2012 09:57:00 AM

    Hi Robin,

    The 12-50mmm lens is a good lens kit but I still prefer to use my 12-60mm SWD lens plus MMF adapter on my EP3. It may look bulky and unbalanced but it is brighter (f2.8-4) and also weather-sealed. This new lens from olympus does make a very good replacement to their existing kit lens (re:14-42mm). Anxiously waiting for the new weather-sealed camera olympus is announcing within the nest few weeks! Looking forward to part III of your review. Excellent review as always

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  5. Hello Eric,
    Thanks for the kind words again !!
    I totally agree with you, the 12-60mm F2.8-4 would have made a better choice for many photographers out there. Nonetheless, size and weight are still priorities for micro 4/3 line up, hence the 12-60mm exists, alongside with the E-5 of course.
    Yes, I cannot wait for the new PRO micro 4/3 from Olympus, lets all hope that the rumors are TRUE !! Exciting times ahead.

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  6. Eagerly waiting for the 3rd installment. So far so good. Thanks for the great review.
    BTW, the background on Sample Image 2 looks very busy...

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  7. hello moises,
    thanks for the kind words!! I guess having only 5 aperture blades at f3.5 is not really something that produces smooth clean background.

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  8. Robin
    I think the macro performance of this lens is excellent. The wide end is no that impressive but is good enough.
    I prefer the images from the 14-42 II lens. I think they look better in some way than this lens. Unfortunately the macro with the 14-42 is nothing to shout about.
    I must said that your photography make every lens you test look great.

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  9. Cool!!!! I love the group picture.

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  10. Hello Cha,
    Indeed the macro performance for this lens is great !!
    Thanks for the kind complimnents.

    Hello fattien,
    I love it too !

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  11. Once again Robin you provide some stunning images, I'm sure you could almost produce great images using the bottom of a bottle for a lens.

    Of course this now makes my choice of the upgrade path that much harder having seen such great images from the E-P3, just when I had convinced myself I needed an E-5 to be the upgrade from my E-1.

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  12. Hello Macboy,
    Thanks !! I think you were being too kind, but the lens really is good, not exactly the best in anything it does, but generally still is a very good lens.
    E-5 is a huge leap over E-1 in many ways, but I too am always at awe when seeing E-1's perfect colors and what it can do at ISO100. Amazing camera it is.

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  13. Thank Robin. While I am sure you will agree this is not a lens to purchase in itself, I feel it is a good upgrade from the 14-42 kit lens. Really looking forward to the new camera announcement soon, and will happily use this lens at 12mm, as the kit lens with my E-PL1 is not quite wide enough quite often. Not often enough to buy the 12/F2 though!
    As I've said before, I really enjoy your reviews, as they relate to me very well. Off to Petaling Street on Thursday for a session with my 45mm/1.8 (and a break from the kids!).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hello Tom,
    Thanks for the support and kind words !! I appreciate it.
    Yeah, I am very excited about the new body too, lets hope the rumor is true !!
    Petaling street eh? Too bad I am working, or else I would love to join in !! Oh and that 45mm lens, how I miss it so badly.

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  15. Hi Robin, and thank you for the entertaining blog you write.

    Just a question: Have you ever used the Olympus 9-18 lens or the Panasonic 7-14? Some wide angle lens is on my wish list, but I haven't yet decided which one I really want. It could of course also be the 12-50 or the 12mm F2 that I want.

    Rasmus

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  16. Hello rasmus,
    Thanks for the kind compliments. It was my pleasure to do the review.
    I have used all the mentioned lenses, except Pana 7-14mm. Nonetheless, if true ultra wide angle lens is your primary goal in your lens purchase, you should be looking for 7-14 or 9-18mm, providing you real ultra wide field of view. at 12mm it is just slightly wider, though it does make a lot of difference in comparison to 14mm.

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  17. "Mirror Lock 2 seconds, Self Timer 2 seconds"

    How? The camera has no mirror!

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  18. there is a function mirror lock. Look it up. It delays the shutter release. Any experienced olympus user can easily testify to this.

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  19. The lens is a disappoitment so far....
    Do you think that it's made from Sigma?

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  20. I think that the lens is good. It is not perfect or stellar, but its good.

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  21. I apologized for the wrongly termed "mirror-lock". It was supposed to be "ANTI SHOCK".

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  22. As much as I would like to have a wider angle lens, your shots doesn't really show the wide advantages unless if you either mention how far the camera is from the subject, or put a comparison between a 12mm and a 14mm shot. My widest angle currently is 14mm only so i need good justification to add that extra 2mm to my collection :D
    Can never afford or willing to get that Panasonic 7mm, especially without macro.

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  23. Thanks Robin. Nice review. The lens is on my list.

    Regrds, M. Guarini

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  24. Thanks Robin. Nice review. The lens is on my list.

    Regrds, M. Guarini

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  25. Hello kandaq,
    Of course, the lens is not for everyone, especially those with high demands when it comes to optical quality and dedicated functions (true macro, true wide angle, etc). The 12-50mm is an all rounder.
    Also, we cannot expect one lens to be good with everything. The design for a real ultra wide angle such as 7-14mm negates the capability to do true real life macro shooting.

    Hello Marcelo,
    Thanks !! I am glad you found the review useful, and I am sure you will love the lens !

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  26. Some of your readers from Taiwan asking about the test of the 12mm wide angle end. Would you please kindly add some pictures with some lines at the edge such as buildings so that we can see the distortion and others from your next test?

    Thanks for your hard works!

    ching43202

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hello Ching,
    I wish I can help but I have closed my review works. I do not have the lens anymore, I only had a very limited time to try it. I have returned it to Olympus Malaysia.

    ReplyDelete
  28. good review,the 12 at the wide end is just what i need.
    regards

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  29. Thanks for a interesting article, Robin!

    On "Anti shock":

    In fex E-5, "Anti shock" means the mirror is upped a few seconds before actual shutter opening, thus minimizing possible vibrations. The self timer itself can be used without "Anti shock" if one would like to.

    So, why the term "Anti shock" is used in the vocabulary discussing a camera without a mirror that might vibrate is very very strange, if you ask me (If Olympus itself use that word in the PENs menus, I don´t understand why...since "self timer" would be the word for....ehhh, a self timer...

    Now, is there any explanation in the menu (or better, the manual) of the PEN model used in this article for what "Anti shock" actually stands for, or is it (the word) simply just not taken away from language used in some of the E-cameras that possibly happened to follow on to the PEN???

    (I know, by some, "Anti shock" have been read as "image stabilisation" but it of course is not so, just that Olympus have not been very clear to explain if one do not carefully study the E-series camera´s manuals...)

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  30. It's my understanding that "Anti-shock" in a mirrorless system will function the same as self-timer, except there is far more choice over the delayed release timing beyond just options for 2s or 12s (A-S customizable between 1/8s-30s). Eg Robin could have used Anti-shock set to 4s and skipped the self-timer to achieve the same effect.

    You can also use A-S for interval timing when sequential shooting.

    I did a test (E-PL2) using "Anti-shock" of various timings in combination with a tripod & shutter release cable at shutter speeds susceptible to vibrations & found no "vibration/steadiness" difference than compared to using a tripod & shutter release cable without "Anti-shock". Since there is no "mirror-slap" to avoid, this is what you'd expect.

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  31. Hi Robin, thanks for the interesting and insightful review of the 12-50. As I am thinking of getting the E-M5 with this lens as a package, I am eager to find out more about this lens.

    Sorry to say that I am slightly disappointed at the sharpness at 12mm, especially the center sharpness from sample #3. If this is better than the cheaper kit lens at 14mm, then the 14-42mm must be terrible. Could the slow shutter speed affected the sharpness? I know it was shot on tripod. Do you have other pictures shot at faster speed at infinity that show better sharpness?

    There are just two things that I don't like about this lens: 1) rather slow maximum aperture at f6.3 at 50mm, and 2) the (seemingly) softness at 12mm.

    Thanks again for the review. I know it's hard work and time consuming. Your review is much appreciated.

    Yu-Lin

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  32. Loved your review - thank you, Robin!

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  33. stuart goodman3/31/2012 06:02:00 AM

    surely the point of a lens test is to test the lens. the 'arty' images of rushing water blurred by a long exposure are of no use for any sort of evaluation.
    i've used olympus from oms, e20. e510, pens etc... i'm a serious user but this is no help

    ReplyDelete
  34. HI Robin,

    I am new to your site, and I too love olympus cameras and lenses harking back to the OM-1n and 2n, which I still own and use! Love your reviews and honest critiques. I saw that you placed your EP-3 tripod mounted in the middle of a rolling stream of water. Did your camera get wet? weren't you afraid that it might get wet? Anyway if the EP-3 gives that much confidence, that a little splash of water really wont hurt it, then DANG that's one amazing camera. Now making my decision a bit harder EP-3 or OM-5....LOL!!!! Keep up the awesome work!

    Bg.

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  35. the pictures of those prawns just isn't fair! you can't do that to people you know...

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  36. Hi, what kind of tripod did you use for these shots? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Great review and it is from practical point of view
    Simon Teo

    ReplyDelete
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