Design and features
Olympus has already released an excellent interchangeable lens camera this year, the Pen E-P3, and the icing on the cake is the announcement of two new lenses including this 12mm model and a 45mm f/1.8 prime lens. The 12mm M.Zuiko lens is made up of 11 elements in eight groups and, as the name suggests, is wide angle with a maximum aperture of f/2.0. The first thing you'll notice about this lens is how good it looks (and feels). With an all-metal construction it's particularly sturdy and suits the E-P3, our test camera, to a tee. In fact, it reminds us most of the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 lens than any other of the previous Panasonic or Olympus offerings.
It also comes with an interesting feature called snapshot focus, where the focus ring can be pulled forward or back around the lens barrel. Leave the ring pushed forwards and it works just like any other Micro Four Thirds lens. Push it backwards and a distance scale is revealed in metres and feet, and the ring movement is slowed down to more closely mimic the feel of a purely manual focus lens. Rather cleverly, only when the ring is pushed backwards does it stop at the focusing extremes rather than freely rotate around and around like in the other orientation.
The filter thread is 46mm; unfortunately, there is no lens hood provided in the box. Like a number of specialist lenses that are entering the market, the 12mm has a special coating designed to reduce ghosting and flaring, called ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical).
Performance and image quality
Olympus has really pulled out all the stops with the construction of this lens (pardon the pun). Thankfully, the 12mm performs like an award-winning lens as well. It has excellent sharpness across the frame, very little distortion despite it being wide angle and very little drop-off when shot wide open at f/2.0. Chromatic aberrations are pleasingly low and bokeh is incredibly smooth, making this lens useful for situational portraits even though it's a wide lens. As the aperture closes down beyond f/2.0, images become even sharper, which makes this an excellent lens for shooting from the hip, street photography and all-purpose photos.
A shot taken with the lens wide open at f/2.0.
It's incredibly easy for casual users to get great images without tweaking any settings and shooting in automatic with automatic focus — though, of course, you will find it difficult to stop touching the all-metal exterior because it feels so good. Autofocusing is precise and quiet as well. Additional image samples from this lens can be found accompanying the review of the E-P3.
The 12mm wide-angle lens matches excellent design with quality images and makes it a must buy for Micro Four Thirds cameras.