Monday, March 07, 2016

Battle of the Basic Kit Lenses: Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 ED vs M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ED Pancake

I originally intended to shoot a tennis tournament happening in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend and subsequently do an extension review for the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS Pro lens. However, the weekend was filled with meeting friends who came from all over the place, and I decided that catching up with precious friends was more important than shutter therapy, and I had a blast with my mates!

Therefore, I moved on to the next item of my to-do list on this blog: to do a comparison review between two of the possibly most used lenses for Olympus PEN and OM-D users: the kit lenses M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 and M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 pancake lens. Although both 12-50mm and 14-42mm pancake lenses were designed as kit lenses, they are actually quite different in characteristics and real world shooting applications. In this blog entry I shall do my best to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each lens and supplement my findings with plenty of photographs which I have taken over the weekend. 

Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 (on the left) and M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Pancake (on the right)



Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 (on the left) and M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Pancake (on the right)

OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO 12-50MM F3.5-6.3 ED LENS

This lens was first introduced ahead of the launch of the now legendary first OM-D camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, which also happened to be the kit lens designed specifically for the E-M5. To complement the E-M5, the 12-50mm lens is weather-sealed just like the camera body. While this 12-50mm lens is larger and heavier than the 14-42mm pancake lens, the wider angle focal length of 12mm vs 14mm, the slightly longer reach of 50mm vs 42mm, weather-sealing as well as a very capable macro feature built into the lens made this quite a compelling choice. Obviously with the added wealth of features, the 12-50mm lens is priced more expensive than the 14-42mm simpler, smaller designed pancake lens. 


OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO 14-42MM F3.5-5.6 ED LENS

The most notable trait of the 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 pancake lens, is the pancake design. At the collapsed position (the lens extends out when the camera is powered on, and retracts into a slim, compact resting position when the power is off), the lens being mounted onto a small camera body results in a truly compact system, even pocketable in some cases.  (I am not talking about tight jean pockets, please). This pancake kit lens was introduced as the kit lens for the OM-D E-M10, which came out more than a year after the original E-M5. While this pancake lens lacks all the rich features of the 12-50mm lens, the slim design and compactness made this a popular choice to be an easy carry-around do it all, general purpose lens. Many users, as well as review sites have reported that the 14-42mm pancake lens has better optical performance, producing slightly sharper images in comparison to the older and bulkier 12-50mm kit lens. 


12-50MM VS 14-42MM PANCAKE

I will not be able to test everything, but I will do my best to address the most commonly asked questions. My test approach is very simple, non-technical (no graphs, no charts, no numbers), but straight to the point, practical shooting. I went out to shoot plenty of photographs with both lenses on two identical camera bodies (the latest PEN-F), I made sure the settings and framings were as consistent as I could, and based on the image results I write my conclusions here. 

Here are the questions I wish to explore in my comparison review:

1) Wide angle coverage, how much advantage does the 12mm focal length benefit wide angle shooting, as opposed to 14mm? Is the 2mm difference significant?

2) Generally reviewers and users have reported that 12-50mm is not a very sharp lens, some even dared to comment having "disappointing" results. On the other hand, most users who have used 14-42mm pancake kit lens are satisfied with the images. In terms of sharpness, at different focal lengths, which lens is superior?

3) 12-50mm lens has a dedicated macro function, which the 14-42mm does not have. How much difference will this make when it comes to macro/close up shooting?

4) How about other lens characteristics, such as Chromatic Aberration and Distortion?

Before we move on further, please be reminded that these two lenses are basic kit lenses, they will surely not outperform higher grade lenses such as PRO lenses (12-40mm F2.8 PRO) or the prime lenses (25mm F1.8, 45m F1.8). Therefore, please do not view the photographs with ridiculously high expectations of seeing razor sharp images void of technical imperfections.


12-50mm lens
12mm, F5.6, 1/40sec, ISO200

14-42mm pancake lens
14mm, F5.6, 1/80sec, ISO200

12-50mm lens
12mm, F5.6, 1/1250sec, ISO200

14-42mm Pancake Lens
14mm, F5.6, 1/1250, ISO200


WIDE ANGLE 12MM VS 14MM - FRAMING COVERAGE

Looking at the direct comparisons between 12mm focal length framings vs 14mm, the extra 2mm wide angle does provide more flexibility, and I would believe to be beneficial to wide angle photography. Speaking from experience, I do think that 14mm to be mostly sufficient for most of my wide angle shooting needs, but there were a few incidences when the 12mm wide angle can make a big difference in creating a better composition. 


DISTORTION & CHROMATIC ABBERATION

Both 12-50mm and 14-42mm pancake lenses, when used at their widest angles (12mm and 14mm respectively) exhibit noticeable amount of distortion, even after the camera runs the JPEG processing corrections. In my tests, I found that the 14-42mm showing more curvature in the lines which were originally perfectly straight, than the 12-50mm lens. Nonetheless, the distortion is not serious enough to undermine the usefulness of the final image output. Shooting with both lenses under high contrast conditions (near noon), I do not observe any trace of Chromatic Aberration (usually purple and green fringing), and this could be due to the aggressive software correction working in the Truepic 7 Image Processing engine of the PEN-F camera. 

WHICH ONE SHARPER AT THE WIDEST?

Honestly, both lenses produce soft images at their widest angle, but this is the usual case for most zoom lenses, especially basic kit zoom lenses (true for any manufacturers/brands). There was nothing to write home about when it comes to the wide angle shooting with these lenses, but for basic usage, general day to day use (non-professional) the quality of the zoom lens at wide angle is adequate. Sharpness can be improved by stopping down the aperture to F5 or F5.6, so avoid shooting at F3.5 when possible. I personally think that the 14-42mm Pancake lens is just a little bit sharper at 14mm in comparison to 12-50mm lens at 12mm. 

12-50mm lens
12mm, F3.5, 1/6400sec, ISO200
Chromatic Aberration Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
14mm, F5.6, 1/6400sec, ISO200
Chromatic Aberration Test

12-50mm Lens
12mm, F5.6, 1/20sec, ISO200
Distortion Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
14mm, F5.6, 1/20sec, ISO200
Distortion Test

12-50mm lens
12mm, F5.6, 1/3200sec, ISO200
Sharpness Test at Wide Angle

12-50mm lens
100% Crop from previous image
Sharpness Test at Wide Angle

14-42mm Pancake Lens
14mm, F5.6, 1/3200sec, ISO200
Sharpness Test at Wide Angle

14-42mm Pancake lens
100% Crop from previous image
Sharpness Test at Wide Angle

Now that we have seen the lenses performed at their widest angle, let's zoom to the furthest telephoto distance. 

ZOOMING IN TO THE LONGEST 

At the full zoom, both lenses produce very similar looking images, and are both equally sharp. In the following images I have taken samples from a far distance, as well as a close up subject. For the close up test, do be mindful of the depth of field difference. In order to obtain similar framing, obviously I needed to move myself closer to the golden statues with the 14-42mm lens (42mm vs 50mm). The lens being nearer to the subject, and shooting at F5.6, the depth of field was shallower. Therefore, please ignore the out of focus area. Setting that aside, it is difficult to distinguish the difference of sharpness between the two lenses at their furthest telephoto zoom. 

HOW ABOUT OTHER FOCAL LENGTHS IN BETWEEN?

I have also done tests ranging from 25mm to 35mm focal length range, and I have scrutinized the images very hard to see the difference, yet the conclusion I have is: both lenses performed very closely to each other. 


12-50mm Lens
50mm, F7.1, 1/1000sec, ISO200
Telephoto Sharpness Test

100% Crop from previous image
Telephoto Sharpness Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
42mm, F7.1, 1/1000sec, ISO200
Telephoto Sharpness Test

14-42mm lens
100% Crop from previous image
Telephoto Sharpness Test

12-50mm Lens
50mm, F6.3, 1/50sec, ISO800
Telephoto Sharpness Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens, 
42mm, F5.6, 1/60sec, ISO800
Telephoto Sharpness Test

100% Crop From Previous Images
12-50mm on the left, 14-42mm on the right
Telephoto Sharpness Test

12-50mm Lens
30mm, F5.4, 1/60sec, ISO200
Mid Zoom Sharpness Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
30mm, F5.4, 1/60sec, ISO200
Mid Zoom Sharpness Test

100% Crop from previous images
12-50mm lens on the left, 14-42mm on the right

12-50mm Lens
35mm, F5.6, 1/8sec, ISO1250
Mid Zoom Sharpness Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
35mm, F5.6, 1/8sec, ISO1250
Mid Zoom Sharpness Test

100% Crop From Previous Image
Mid Zoom Sharpness Test

CLOSE UP/MACRO SHOOTING

The 12-50mm lens has a built in macro function, with the ability to produce 0.36x magnification, as opposed to the 14-42mm which can only manage a 0.23x magnification. We are looking at more than 50% more magnification capability with the 12-50mm lens, which is a massive difference when it comes to close up shooting situations. 

12-50mm Lens
Macro Enabled, 43mm, F6, 1/8sec, ISO400
Close Up Shooting Test

14-42mm Pancake Lens
42mm, F5.6, 1/10sec, ISO400
Close Up Shooting Test

CONCLUSIONS

M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 Advantages
12mm wide angle - 2mm makes a lot of difference. 
Superb Macro Function 
Weather-Sealing

M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 Pancake Advantages
Small, light and ultra-compact. Complements smaller PEN and OM-D cameras well
Overall image quality is slightly better, but in practical use, the difference is negligible

If you own any of these two lenses, it only made sense that you keep them and continue using them. If you have the 12-50mm lens, I see no reason to go for the 14-42mm pancake option, unless you really do need the ultra compact slim design of the lens, and do not mind giving up the wealth of features (12mm, macro function, weather sealing). If you are using the 14-42mm pancake lens, the lens should suffice your basic needs in general shooting. If you do need upgrades for better lens to be used in specific shooting conditions, there are far more capable lenses available: 9-18mm F4-5.6 for the ultra wide angle needs, a dedicated macro lens, the 60mm F2.8 Macro, or a full upgrade to the PRO lens option, 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens, all upgrades enabling you to do a lot more than the basic 12-50mm lens, which is still a kit lens. 

I have had plenty of opportunities to shoot extensively with both the 12-50mm and 14-42mm pancake lenses, and I do think both are capable lenses. I loved the image output from these lenses, and I do carry around at least one of them most of the time for my wide angle shooting, just in case. (as you all know I shoot mostly with 25mm F1.8 or 45mm F1.8 lens on the street).

Do you own any of these two kit lenses? If you have had experience handling these lenses, do share your experience!

I shall end this post with a few more sample photographs.

12-50mm lens
30mm, F5.6, 1/80sec, ISO800

12-50mm lens
20mm, F4.6, 1/800sec, ISO200

100% Crop from previous image

14-42mm Pancake Lens
42mm, F5.6, 1/60sec, ISO400

14-42mm Pancake Lens
20mm, F5.6, 1/200sec, ISO200

12-50mm Lens
35mm, F5.6, 1/20sec, ISO200


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22 comments :

  1. 14mm to 12mm seems only 2mm. But in terms of angle of coverage, it is 75 degrees vs 84 degrees - that is a 9 degree difference which is a lot. I used to love 12mm (equivalent to 24mm FF) because the perspective made scenes more dramatic for any camera, even compacts and ultrazooms. I don't have a small easy to carry 12mm - the 12mm MFT prime is too expensive for me. For a time, I yearned for the tiny 12-35 Panasonic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have yet to try the Panasonic 12-35mm but I believe many people speak positively about it.

      Delete
    2. You probably mean 12-32mm? :)

      As 12-35mm is as big and heavy as Olympus 12-40mm PRO ;-)
      (BIG and Heavy only in sense comparing to smallest ones like Olympus 15mm bodycap, but small and light compared to FF)

      Delete
  2. Thanks Robin for considering this review. The most sought after and cheaper workable alternative for beginners. Well written

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Robin for considering this review. The most sought after and cheaper workable alternative for beginners. Well written

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Robin,
    Interesting review with nice photos as usual!
    Since using the tiny Panasonic 12-32 I'm happy with the wide angle. Of course there are better options but as seen in your review the kit lenses do a reasonable job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, kit lenses often is more than sufficient for many of the shooting conditions, and people often underestimate what kit lenses can do!

      Delete
    2. Many do, and even the fact that 12-40mm PRO is a kit lens like a 12-50mm or 14-42mm EZ are, doesn't make it bad.
      Usually only the Canon and Nikon kit lenses are bad as they heavily need to save money when selling DSLR for 350-450€ prices daily in markets and other casual user places.

      Delete
  5. Thanks, Robin. That's a useful comparison for those considering their first or even additional Olympus camera. I don't have the 14-42 EZ, but did get the 12-50 with my EM5, my first M43 camera. One thing I noticed about Olympus and Panasonic kit lenses. The Olympus ones focus closer, sometimes considerably so, than the Panasonics. I recently picked up a Panasonic 12-32 as a pancake zoom, and it doesn't focus as close as I'd like, although it's good in other ways. Of course, I love your photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Close focusing helps especially when we are shooting every day subjects, eg food, text, flowers, anything that requires larger magnification. Unless you have a dedicated macro lens, having a kit lens that focuses much closer can open up better opportunities!

      Delete
  6. Hi Robin, I got the 14-42 mark II (which is neither of those you tested). I got it in kit with the e-pm1 and it seems to me quite a good lens. Obviously it can't match my 45 mm f:1.8, but it matches my 17 mm f:2.8. I also bought the wide angle converter which yields a 11 mm focal length (and is quite good). Actually, I think that the converters are a very strong advantage of the old kit lens. Thank you for your pictures, I greatly enjoyed several of them, especially those of the temple. Andrea

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love the 14-42 EZ for the size on my E-PM2. With the addition of the "automatic" lens cap, it is as fast as using a point and shoot and not much bigger. I have had the 14-42, 14-42 ii R, and 12-50. The compact 14-42 EZ is at least as good, maybe slightly better than the other lenses. Often, taking my E-M5 out with a larger lens is inconvenient, and the E-PM2 or even the E-M5 is a great package with the 14-42 EZ.

    I notice the lens you test does not have the "EZ" designation for Electric Zoom . Is that regional variation or has Olympus recently change the lens marking?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Robin.
    Love the blog. I write my own blog about using my EM-5 MkII (nzdigital.blogspot.com) and am very envious when you get to use all this new gear!
    I obviously use the 12-50mm EZ with the EM-5 MkII and I have to say I really rate it as a great lens. I love that it goes to 12mm at the wide end, and the macro function of this lens is fantastic. Weather sealing doesn't hurt either!
    I'm sure it could be sharper, but for the price and the quality images it can produce it's really a fantastic bargain. I have a couple of primes as well, but never feel that I'm compromising image quality when I use the 12-50mm. It's on my camera 90% of the time.
    For a 'kit' lens, it's an absolute winner.
    Thanks for another great review.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very interesting comparison. Most "reviewers" totally ignore the "kit" lenses, even though as you point out they are probably the most popular lenses around - though not in most forums. I had the 12-50 when I first purchased the EM-5. Now have the 14-42EZ which I love on my EM10-II. (Even sold my refurbished 12-40 PRO because I just did not use it enough because of its size and weight - just feel the smaller m43 bodies deserve - for me - smaller lenses.) The lens I am looking at with interest is the just announced Panasonic 12-60 3.5/5.6 lens. Great zoom range for a walk-around/travel lens. Hoping the IQ is good.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think kit lens is a misnomer for a macro sealed lens with ED GLASS and such a great range 12 to 50. But maybe it's cause of Olympus lower prices for "kit" lens. PLAN TO SHOOT SOME veggie burgers next week and will try this kit in macro mode, 12mm - 40mm f2.8 pro zoom at 40mm and Pan/Leica 25 mm 1.4. Maybe I'll send it comparisons if your intetested. See veggiepowerburgers.com for the recipe for vegan Boston baked bean burger. Sorry can't let you taste them. I'll use Oly off camera flash, EM1 AND teflectors. Of course I always do eat the samples. Robin thanks for your wonderful blog. When can you review new firmware features? I might try it with burger shots. But usually I don't want the entire photo super sharp... just the burger sticking out of bun.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Robin, if you only had primes (14, 25, 45 and the 60mm Macro).
    Which of the kit lenses for a general lazy days walkabout would you buy?
    Or would you bite the big bullet and have the 12-40 Pro?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I've often brought my 14-42 ez with my E-P5 in addition to two primes as a light weight alternative. However, one 'kit' lens I use a lot more is a silver, first generation 14-150 superzoom that was bundled dirt cheap (around US$150 including 25% VAT) with one of the older E-PM or E-PLs some years ago here in Norway. It's perfect for holidays where photography is not the goal, and also along with one prime. I plan on getting the new weathersealed one bundled with the E-M5II in the second hand market in a couple of years!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi! Thank you for the review.
    I got 12-50mm as a kit lens with the OMD E-M5.
    I have an impressionS that the 12-50mm lens produce a bit darker and less contrast.
    I would be more happy to have the 14-42mm as a back up and go any where pancake lens if i can choose. Anyway, this is my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The 12-50 is a complex lens, with both video-zoom and macro functions, and the first sample I had kept failing with a "check the lens" message. It was 'repaired' by Olympus but soon failed again, so I demanded a replacement. The second sample is, so far, working well but I keep a 14-42 in my pocket 'just in case'.

    Probably, I was just unlucky but I am more confident of the reliability of simpler lens constructions. My 12-50 also seems to play little tunes at times, which I find irritating!

    With those reservations, I find the 12-50 a very versatile lens and I frequently use the macro function.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Nice write up. When I bought my first m43 camera, a e-p5, I bought it with the 14-42 ez and the kit 40-150 zoom. I now own several more lenses and an e-p7. The 14-42 with either camera is my general walking around kit. I can put it in a coat pocket and with the e-p7 I can even put it in my pants pocket. Maybe not the sharpest but very easy to always have with you and produces results I am very happy with.

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  16. I only recently got an E-M10 with the pancake zoom. Shooting some flowers in the wild the other day, I was pleasantly surprised how close I could get with that lens. It's not a "macro" lens, of course. But zoomed in at 42mm you can just about fill the frame with most subjects.

    ReplyDelete