My main objective in visiting the Philippine Orchid Society’s Orchid Show at Quezon Circle was to test out the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ. While I’m not really an Orchid enthusiast, I didn’t expect to be enamoured by nature’s natural patterns and beauty especially looking through macro eyes. The M.Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 may be one of the most underrated lenses in the M43rds judging from the slowness of aperture, but how does it perform in real world use?
Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-50mm: The First Weather-sealed M.Zuiko
Initially, I wasn’t really convinced that it’s a good lens when Olympus introduced the M.Zuiko 12-50mm (24-100mm on 35mm) since it looked huge on the photos and the aperture was a big dismay after having their excellent M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 fast aperture lens. The specs however begs not to be overlooked:
- A weather-sealed lens (perfect pair for the Olympus OM-D EM-5)
- A wider than usual 12mm (24mm on 35mm equivalent) lens
- .36x (.72x on 35mm) Macro-Mode
- Switchable Motorized-zoom
- Ultra Fast and Silent Autofocus
- Additional Lens Function (L-Fn) Button to temporarily stop Autofocus during video
Build on Hand
Surprisingly, the Lens is not as big as I thought on hand but it’s not small either since I’m used to using the Panasonic Pancake 20mm f1.7. It’s light at 212g and the hard plastic feels really solid. The lens have an internal motor and no protruding element when it zooms. The zoom ring is very responsive and comes in 3 modes: the E-Zoom mode using the motorised electronic zoom where sliding the zoom ring left of right zooms wide or long; the M-Zoom mode is like regular mechanical rotating zoom of traditional lenses even with stops; the last Macro mode, one has to press the macro button then push the zoom ring forward to enable the mode.
Once the Macro mode is enabled, the lens focus would be fixed at 43mm (86mm) focal length and the biggest aperture would be at f6. Olympus claims it can focus as close as 20cm but I found I can get real close up to probably 15-20cm which was really impressive. It really got me to appreciate the details of the different types of orchids on the show. The extraordinary patterns and textures. It brought me back the fun of shooting macro.
AutoFocus on Photographs
My primary use of the Olympus 12-50mm was on photographs and not on video. I don’t have a way to measure the speed but the focus was indeed very fast and silent. Locking in to focus in a split second in good light. I tried capturing a colourful cotton bug running around on a bromeliad plant and the ratio of 8 out of 10 images locked in focus. I also tried it on low light with incandescent light source and the focus was still snappy. It was already late when we dropped by the commercial area where many stalls were selling plants. I tried shooting from the hip with the OM-D screen tilted upward to me. It was already dark after the rain but I got some real good photos of a few stalls with sharp focus.
Compared to the regular Kit Zooms (like the 14-42mm 3.5-5.6), looking at the image I thought it images were decently sharper than the kit lens and captured a lot of detail but gets slightly soft on the edges. The colour contrast looks very good as well. On the wide-end, I noticed some slight distortion during lens correction on the Olympus Viewer 2. The bokeh (especially on macro) was just okay, not that creamy but not too distracting either. Personally, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it is, it’s not spectacular like say my favourite Zuiko 12-60mm 43rds lens but it delivers good results for general use.
I find the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ a “jack-of-all trade lens but master of none”. It’s Olympus trying to pack a lot of features while keeping the cost down. That’s not to say its a bad lens, as it’s actually well-rounded in features and delivers very good image quality as long as you are aware of its limitations (obviously its lens brightness). For a walkabout lens like this, the addition of the a very useful Macro Mode made a difference. It definitely is comforting to know that I can shoot macro on a button press and ring push with this lens. The Weather-sealing is another plus feature as I often find myself under the elements and it does compliment the weather-sealed Olympus OM-D, like the sudden squall in the tail-end of the afternoon at the orchids show. And if you shoot videos, the quiet E-Zoom would come in handy.
So, is it worth its US$499 price tag? By itself, it can be a bit pricey but if you are looking for a lens that is wide-angle, weather sealed, macro mode, and very good image quality, this is worth considering. However, if you do plan to get the Olympus OM-D E-M5, it’s much more of value since you get it with the body for around US$300 and would be a nice combo for a weather-sealed set-up.
Sample Images from the Orchid Show
The Philippine Orchid Society Orchid Show is running until September 10, 2012 at the Quezon Memorial Circle (East Avenue Entrance) with an entrance fee cheap at P30 pesos. If you like plants or gardening its a fun exhibit to visit. Appreciated it more when we were accompanied by our horticulturist friend, Nids, check out her Nature and Plants Blog. Never thought I would be taking home a few potted-plant friends to bring home from the commercial area.
Notes on the images:
- Images were shot in RAW, converted with Olympus Viewer 2 with no other processing except for lens distortion correction.
- Camera Noise Filter setting was turned to OFF
- No filter in front of the lens
- Lens was fitted on an Olympus OM-D E-M5
Disclaimer: This personal field review is not in any way endorsed or sponsored by Olympus Philippines.
More sample photos at my SmugMug Gallery.