As many of you know I am currently, and very successfully, transferring most of our DSLR inventory to compact mirrorless systems, most notably the excellent Olympus OMD. Choosing a competent camera which suits your own individual needs is one thing, but I think we all know that what matters more is the availability and choice of suitable optics. And this is where Micro 4/3 systems really shine – the lenses are phenomenally good. I now have a terrific lineup of lenses for my OMD which cover me in all of the situations I will find myself in, both professionally and personally. However recently one of my readers asked for my opinion on the kit lens which generally accompanies this camera. I responded that I hadn’t used it, because kit lenses don’t normally have a place in my kit bag given that I will probably use the professional lenses I’ve purchased instead. But the question got me thinking, and I asked myself if there might be situations where the Olympus M Zuiko ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ would prove useful to me. And actually, the answer is yes. So when would an inexpensive kit lens like this come in handy? Will probably fairly often, because this lens has some very useful features such as the ability to switch between power and manual zoom, the fact that it’s weather sealed (fantastic if you live here in the UK), it’s very lightweight, it covers a useful field of view equivalent to 24-100mm, and it has a macro feature which works very well. That sounds great, so what are the downsides? Well, inexpensive kit lenses are usually designed just to get you going, they don’t have the expensive lens coatings and lens construction of their much more expensive professional counterparts, and most important of all they often have a slow maximum aperture. This is very much the case with the lens in question, it is very slow when fully zoomed which means you are generally limited to using this particular piece of kit in good light. And due to their construction, kit lenses often fall down on the attributes we pay so much for when we invest in pro lenses. Namely the fact that cheaper optics will not resolve as much fine detail, or colour, contrast. But even so I decided to give this one a whirl as I walked around the beautiful Sheffield Park yesterday. For once the sun was shining so the whole outing was relaxing and pleasant.
Unfortunately when I unwrapped the lens I discovered that Olympus don’t appear to supply a lens hood (unlike Panasonic) and so the poor thing would be subjected to sunshine – quite a test of its ability to resist flair. So in this sense the test was a little bit unfair but I decided to go ahead anyway. And I’m glad I did, because in well lit walkabout situations this lens is extremely useful to have. Don’t expect it to be one of the “hidden gems” that we occasionally find in the budget lens world, but even so it was better than I expected. Sharpness and detail proved to be more than adequate for most walkabout purposes and the zoom range is very useful. Contrast and colour are easily corrected during post production. So all in all, this one is worth hanging on to for sheer convenience, weather sealing, and the macro capability. Like many inexpensive lenses this one does show colour fringing on high contrast areas, but that is easy to fix during post production.
I was last at Sheffield Park a couple of months back doing my very first OMD and XE1 tests. You will see from the pictures below that the images look a little different. This is because the light is rarely the same on any given outing as the temperature of the light will vary hugely given the time of year and the amount of sunshine we encounter. Last time the winter sun was positively glaring, soaking everything in a rich warm glow with extremely high contrast. Yesterday it was very sunny in part, and slightly overcast at times, so the colour temperature was a little cooler. I like to leave the colour temperature more or less as it appeared on the day, hence these pictures look a little more blue than the last lot.
More images from this lens can be seen here: Butterflies at Wisley
The 14-42 pancake zoom is discussed here: 14-42 f3.5-5.6