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 = Normal
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)
This blog entry is Part 3 of the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens user experience review. If you have not read the previous review write ups, please do so at the following links:
In Part 1 of the reviews, I have emphasized on the capability of the lens in performing macro (or more appropriately put, close up shooting), while in Part 2 I have tested the 12mm wide angle end of the lens to shoot scenery.
For this Part 3 which is the final installation of my reviews for this M.Zuiko 12-50mm lens, I have brought the lens out for my usual shutter therapy session, which is street shooting. The location chosen for the street hunting was Masjid Jamek, Jalan Masjid India and Chow Kit, all in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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.
Why Street Photography?
Street photography is a demanding photography genre, to both the photographer, as well as his equipments (camera and lens). Different lenses will provide you with different perspective and results. Many photographers have strongly recommended the use of prime lenses (single focal length lenses) with various reasons on why that would yield better outcome for street photography. The desired outcome and even the core definitions of street photography have never stayed consistent, and were subject to endless debates over the decades. Similarly can be applied to the implementation and how street photography should be taken. I do agree that using the right tool will get the results that you have envisioned. Nonetheless, setting out all the variables and personal preferences when it comes to shooting aside, for street photography the performance of the lens will be put to test. Will the focusing be fast enough to capture dynamic subjects? Is the lens versatile enough to cover the shooting needs (lens reach, wide angle, etc)? Is the lens sharp enough to deliver enough details to reveal texture and depth of the environment?
50mm, 1/3200s, F6.3, ISO400
50mm, 1/200s, F6.3, ISO500
12mm, 1/320s, F8.0, ISO200
13mm, 1/1000s, F3.6, ISO500
41mm, 1/60s, F5.9, ISO200
50mm, 1/80s, F6.3, ISO500
100% crop from previous image.
Focusing at all focal lengths
I do not shoot with zone-focusing for my usual street photography, and I rely heavily on the ability of the lens to focus quickly, and accurately at the same time. Using the micro 4/3 newer lenses from Olympus, particularly the M.Zuiko 12mm F2 and 45mm F1.8 have raised the standards on how fast and pin-point accurate focusing should have been. I was told by the Olympus representative that the focusing of this new 12-50mm lens is actually faster than the 12mm F2 lens by a margin of 20%. I cannot testify to this fact whether the 12-50mm is actually faster than the 12mm F2 lens, but I can confidently say that the 12-50mm lens is extremely fast in Autofocus, and I have no issue at all shooting at all focal lengths from 12mm wide angle to the 50mm tele end. Focusing never struggled, even when the subject was not static (but do take note that I did not encounter very fast moving objects, mostly just people walking around and having natural movements). I believe this is the new benchmark of focusing speed/reliability that Olympus will adhere to from now onwards for their Micro 4/3 system, which is a very good thing. I want to put more concentration on hunting down my subjects on the street and composing them, rather than worrying of the camera would fail to focus, or wonder if I have missed focus in that last shot I have taken.
General lens characteristics
I have read from other initial user-reviews on the internet that the lens suffer from strong barrel distortion at the 12mm wide end of the lens. I do not deny that any wide angle lens will have certain degree of barrel distortion. From my own photographs shot at 12mm wide, I did notice traces of barrel distortion but it was still acceptable and reasonably controlled. I converted the files which were all originally shot in RAW to JPEG through Olympus’ original software Olympus Viewer 2 (latest update) and I believe that the distortion has been corrected within the software during the conversion process. While some people may think that this is a cheap trick to mask the flaws of the lens, it does not matter much to me, because what I care about most is the end result. I care about the final output of my photographs, and if the original software can deliver the necessary and satisfactory correction, I have no issues with that.
While the lens fares acceptably well in terms of sharpness when shooting macro (as I have reviewed elaborately in Part 1), and still reasonably good when used at 12mm for wide angle shooting, I must say that at 50mm focal length, the lens does appear to be softer than my expectations. I admit my judgment may be clouded after using similar focal length lenses but with much greater sharpness, such as the original DSLR Zuiko 50mm F2 macro or the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 lenses. The images shot from the 50mm end of the 12-50mm lens at first glance still appears good with good contrast and overall sharpness. Once zoomed in to 100% view, it is very evident that there is lack of fine details (eye lashes, pores and wrinkles on the face). Do take note that the maximum aperture opening was F6.3 on the lens, which would have mitigated any miss-focusing (accidental slight front of back focusing) problems.
50mm, 1/1250s, F6.3, ISO400
12mm, 1/200s, F5.6, ISO500
50mm, 1/100s, F6.3, ISO1000
50mm, 1/400s, F6.3, ISO500
26mm, 1/50s, F5.2, ISO500
12mm, 1/4000s, F3.5, ISO200
12mm, 1/1600s, F7.1, ISO200
50mm, 1/80s, F6.3, ISO200
Street Shooting with 12-50mm lens
I find the lens to be quite useful when I was on the streets. It reminded me of the time I was using the Olympus E-5, reviewing it for the first time (click here) with the Zuiko 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 lens. I treasure the ability to zoom, giving me flexibility in terms of shooting with different perspectives and coverage of a single subject. I would say 12mm wide end to 50mm tele end is a generous range, giving you extra wide coverage, and a little bit of the tele end. On the street, one would rarely need anything beyond 50mm I would say, unless you intend to shoot stealthily from far, but a dedicated telephoto zoom lens would have been the better choice for this shooting requirement. For most general shooting on the streets, this one lens is sufficient to cover almost all your needs.
My Conclusion on this lens
The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens is an all rounder performer, trying very hard to do many things. It is very heavily packed with features.
What I like:
1) Useful macro mode: enabling very good close up capabilities
2) 12mm extra wide end to allow creative composition
3) Well-balanced in size and weight, used with Olympus PEN E-P3.
4) Very Fast Autofocus, and reliably accurate all the time.
5) Weather sealing, which negates my worries when I was shooting at the river (in Part 2)
What I wish the lens could have been:
1) Wider aperture. I agree with the online crowd, F6.3 on the 50mm end is a too slow for many practical shooting conditions. I do not expect it to be constant F2.8, but a slightly brighter F3.5-4.5 from 12mm to 50mm would have made a whole world of difference.
2) Manual focus/Autofocus switch. Now that the lens has two dedicated buttons (one for macro and one for focus lock), it would have been very useful to have a quick switch AF/MF button on the lens itself.
3) Lens sharpness. While I agree that the lens performs well in close up/macro shooting, delivering good sharpness and resolution, but the overall details captured in most shooting conditions is nothing to write home about. To be fair the 12-50mm lens is noticeably sharper than the previous iterations of 14-42mm kit lenses, but it is still not nearly as sharp as the older DSLR lenses such as Zuiko 14-54mm or 12-60mm, both have been legendary.
50mm, 1/80s, F6.3, ISO400
12mm, 1/400s, F8, ISO200
12mm, 1/2000s, F3.5, ISO200
50mm, 1/800s, F8, ISO200
100% Crop from previous image
27mm, 1/200s, F5.2, ISO1000
On the whole, I do think that the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 is a good lens. It does not outperform any other lenses in any specific area, but it does considerably well on its own. If you already have a dedicated macro lens, a wide angle lens and a general zoom lens, you may not find this lens to be appealing (unless you need the weather sealing or shooting movie). However, if you are thinking of upgrading from the 14-42mm kit lens with limited budget, this lens can open up a whole world of possibilities for you. You can do a lot with this lens, which makes it a great general multi-purpose lens.
There is a rumor leading to the release of an Olympus Micro 4/3 new camera (with weather-sealing too) soon, and it seems very likely that this 12-50mm lens would be bundled together with that new camera as a kit lens. It certainly does not make any sense to have a weather-sealed lens without a weather-sealed camera body, if you shoot in harsh weather conditions. I believe that Olympus purposely released this lens early as a strong hint to us that, “hey, look, a new camera is coming, and its no joke, it will be weather sealed”. Lets all hope that this new rumored camera will kick ass.
I have come to the end of my user-based review for the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens. I hope many of you find my sharing and photography samples from the lens useful. I also hope you have enjoyed reading and viewing the photographs. I welcome all feedback and criticism, but please do so in polite and civilized manner, and I would appreciate it if you would at least leave a name and email address.
If you have any questions or feedback, kindly leave a comment below, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org