The Olympus M.Zuiko Lens 12mm f2.0 ($799.99 direct) is an impressively compact lens with a fast aperture and ultra-wide field of view for Micro Four Thirds cameras. Its field of view is equivalent to a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera. This ultra-wide design is great for landscape photography and for capturing action in tight spaces. It’s sharper than equivalent lenses for competing mirrorless camera systems, but is pretty expensive and shows some chromatic aberration. Our Editors’ Choice award for wide-angle prime lenses for compact interchangeable lens camera systems goes to another Olympus lens, the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f1.8. That lens doesn’t cover as wide of an angle, but it’s a smidge faster, less expensive, and also impressively sharp.
The lens measures just 2.2 by 1.7 inches (HD) and weighs 4.6 ounces. Its barrel is made entirely of metal, which accounts for its weight. Autofocus is very quiet, and there’s a large manual focus ring if you prefer to adjust focus on your own. Simply pull the ring back towards the base of the lens to switch to manual focus mode, and push it back forward when you want to go with autofocus. The close focus distance is 7.9 inches; when shooting close with a wide aperture it’s possible to create a very shallow depth of field, which is often not the case with wide-angle optics.
The lens is not weather sealed, which is a concern to owners of the dust- and splash-proof Olympus OM-D E-M5. Olympus does not include a hood with the lens, but it does sell an accessory hood for $89.99; that’s a bit much, and the clip-on design of the hood can make it hard to use the lens with filters. That’s unfortunate as a polarizing filter is a useful accessory with such a wide lens—it will let you darken skies in landscape shots, or minimize reflections coming off of water.
The 24mm field of view can be a tough one for many photographers to master, as there are many elements to take into consideration in order to create a pleasing composition. It’s one of the reasons that we give higher marks to the narrower 17mm lens. Shutterbugs who are looking to add a fast prime lens to supplement the kit zoom will likely find it a more useful tool.
If you are someone who sees the world in wide swaths, the image quality that the M.Zuiko 12mm lens delivers will not disappoint. We tested the lens on the OM-D E-M5, and used our standard 1,800 lines per picture height cutoff as a measure of acceptable sharpness. According to Imatest, the lens records 2,118 lines at its maximum aperture, and delivers impressive edge-to-edge sharpness. Stopping down to f/2.8 increases the score to 2,276 lines. It hits 2,439 lines at f/4, and peaks at 2,490 lines at f/5.6. There is a little bit of barrel distortion, about 0.8 percent, which is nominal for a lens of this type. The only real issue with the lens is that it’s prone to chromatic aberration, which shows itself as purple and green color fringes in high contrast areas. We noticed this on our test chart, as well as during field use. It can be corrected in Lightroom, but can require a bit of work to clear up. Neither the Samsung 16mm f/2.4 Ultra Wide Pancake NX Lens or the Sony SEL16F28 16mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle Lens, which provide equivalent fields of view for their respective systems, manage to cross the 1,800-line mark without having to close down their apertures, which limits the amount of light captured and doesn’t allow for as shallow of a depth of field.
You need to be a lover of wide angles to truly appreciate the Olympus M.Zuiko Lens 12mm f2.0, but if you master its field of view the lens will not disappoint. It’s impressively sharp at every aperture, and videographers will appreciate just how quiet its focus motor is. It’s pretty expensive, and some sort of lens hood really should be included with an $800 lens. Overall we feel that the narrower Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f1.8 is a better value—it doesn’t capture nearly as wide of a field of view as the M.Zuiko 12mm, but it’s $300 less expensive and delivers similar sharpness, without the chromatic aberration.
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