Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Hath Olympus Wrought?

M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm SilverIt's been 24 hours since Olympus announced their latest µ4/3rds lens, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 zoom with macro capabilities. And based on comments coming out of mouths of the commentariat you'd have thought that Olympus has delivered a lens that's dead on arrival. Being the contrarian that I am, I think they're all full of it.

Let's do a quick run down of this lens' capabilities:
  • Dust and splashproof, similar to 4/3rds HG (High Grade) and SHG (Super High Grade)
  • Macro capability, 1:3 (roughly), 8 to 20 inches closest focusing
  • Electronic zoom for smoother zooming capability during video capture
  • Mechanical zoom for stills
  • Fly-by-wire manual focus
  • Extremely quite autofocus (MSC, Movie-Stills-Compatible)
  • $500 suggested price.
  • Max aperture range 1:3.5 (12mm) to 1:6.3(50mm)
  • A weight of 211 grams
After listening to all the forum monsters moan and groan about its "obvious limitations," especially compared to the 4/3rds Zuiko Digital 12-60mm, you're left to wonder why Olympus released this so-called turkey. Especially when Olympus could have "obviously" released a µ4/3rds version of the 12-60mm.

I own the 12-60mm and use it quite extensively. I love that lens. But that lens is big and heavy and requires a decent sized body, such as the E-1, E-30, E-3, or E-5 to work comfortably with it. Let's do a quick side-by-side comparison of both lenses key features.

Olympus Lens Comparision (µ4/3rds 12-50mm vs. 4/3rds 12-60mm)
Versionµ4/3rds 12-50mm4/3rds 12-60mm
Filter diameter52mm72mm
Cost (New)$500$900

The last two specifications, weight and cost, are real standouts for me. This is the first µ4/3rds lens that comes in at what I consider a fair price in comparison to its regular 4/3rds equivalent. Yes, the 12-50mm is 1 stop slower (1 1/3rd at 50mm) than the 12-60mm, and doesn't go out to 60mm. Boo-hoo.

Here's what I've discovered using my copy of the 12-60mm, which I purchased in December 2008.
  • I usually stop the 12-60mm down one stop for best optical performance, which means I operate the lens from f/4 to f/5.6. That slots neatly into the max aperatures of the 12-50mm (1:3.5 to 1:6.3). And here's a little secret: f/6.3 is only one third stop slower than f/5.6. And I would be willing to spend good money that the 12-50mm's optical performance at max aperture is as good, if not better than, the 12-60mm stopped down one stop. And the 12-60mm ain't no slouch.
  • The 12-50mm is almost 3 times lighter (2.73 to be exact) than the 12-60mm. That's a really nice weight, especially for a small sized  µ4/3rds system. This lens would make an excellent walk-around lens mounted on any of the E-Px series of digital Pens.
  • That cost. The more speedy you want a lens, the more glass you need, and the more elaborate the lens formula. There are folks who feel the 12-60mm is too slow for a zoom, and so purchase the SHG 14-35mm 1:2 zoom, for a mere $2,500. If you think that Olympus charges too much, then you need to look at the Nikon and Canon equivalents for equivalent amounts of money.
Based on what I've read about the lens so far, and comparing that with my experiences using the 12-60mm, I've come to the conclusion that the 12-50mm is going to be another stand-out lens for Olympus, just like the 12-60mm. The complainers and arm-chair lens designers not withstanding. I'm looking forward to the release of this lens in mid-January, and I will probably be one of the first to own a copy.


  1. sounds excellent. I only wish there was a body to match that spec of dust sealed lens.

  2. As you often are, you are right again this time, Bill.

    The whole point of M4/3 is "small and light" and this means compromises have to be made to create a lens with this much capability and keep it from defeating the whole purpose of M4/3.

    Had they built a M4/3 clone of the 4/3 12-60mm lens, it would have been almost as big and heavy as the 4/3 version, and cost significantly more than it does.

  3. What interests me most about this lens is that it's weather sealed, which suggests that there's a camera coming up that can take advantage of it. That could be interesting to see.

    Marketing a lens that f/6.5 at 50mm is going to be tough. f/5.6 is bad enough on a 1.5x crop, but $500 for one that's even darker is a big hurdle to cross even if the lens is stellar in all other respects.

  4. Bill,

    The first thing that struck me was the slow aperture of this lens, and I thought I wouldn't be spending anymore time looking at this lens.

    Then I realised that aperture isn't everything.

    As you've pointed out, if the wide-open sharpness matches that of the 4/3 12-60mm, Oly has a winner that's more affordable, lighter, focuses blazingly fast (from Robin Wong's review), is weathersealed, and has *macro*.

    Think the macro feature has been happily sussed by many. It's a great feature to have at 1:3, and at such a price - a steal!


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