Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm 1:2.0 ED Black Limited. This is a rare lens review from me because I am a full framer and I don’t have many Micro 4/3 equipment. I don’t review stuff that I don’t own or used but I did buy the Olympus OM-D EM-5 last year and I had been using it very regularly ever since. I love it and think that the EM-5, see my review here, is possibly the best M4/3 camera today and by far the most usable.
I have many reasons to say that because I come from the full frame and professional background. Indeed the EM-5 is a great photographic tool but all I have is a kit lens. By all means it’s a great kit lens but I thought the camera deserves a better one. I did some research and thought the 12mm might be a good street tool. Ok, it’s a 24mm full frame equivalent, which is a little too wide for street, but I have heard so much good things about it already. Another candidate would be the 25mm Leica (well, it isn’t a pure Leica I know but I just love the focal length – 50mm equivalent and it’s very fast at f/1.4!!). But in the end, I took the plunge and bought the black version of the 12mm instead of the cheaper and common silver chrome version.
So why this lens?
Well, if you are an EM-5 owner, then you will know what I am going to say. A great camera (see my review here) with a great sensor deserves a great lens. Olympus and Panasonic both have been spoiling M4/3 customers since 2012. Olympus in particular has been changing course and focuses on the prime lens market. The Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm isn’t exactly new (launched in 2011) but it’s the first premium all-metal prime lens for M4/3 from Olympus that oozes quality from whichever way you look and feel it. Then the all metal 75mm f/1.8 got everyone’s blood boiling! Finally, the all metal 17mm f/1.8 street lens. Among the three metal lenses, I prefer the 12mm. 17mm, while nice but having tried it myself and found that it’s not as sturdy as the other two, doesn’t give me the sharp images like the 12mm or the 75mm. I don’t really need the 75mm lens either because I am already a full framer and more importantly, I already have the portrait king, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM (though I really like the 75 just because of its look!). The accompanied kit lens from my camera is great for almost everything but its slow speed hinder low light shooting performance. It’s great for video because it is weather sealed and has a very useful powered zoom that is virtually silent nonetheless.
Ok, Olympus quoted this lens as a street snapshot lens. I wouldn’t disagree. I had the opportunity to use it yesterday for the whole day (yes, sorry my twins have used up all my spare time lately!) and man, what a lens. Couple with the OM-D’s lightning fast focus, it’s great for capturing the street scenes and people action. It had bags of depth of field meant that it’s definitely a story-telling lens, great for street.
As with any street photographer, you will need to get up close and personal! Zooming in is not an option and gets you lazy too! Ok, you can isolate the subject but what’s the point of telling the story if you can’t see what’s around the subject? In this respect, the Olly 12mm is perfect. (Did I say it’s black too??? haha). But being a 24mm (in full frame) also mean it’s great for landscape and cityscape.
ALL METAL!!! FULL STOP.
Yes, it’s rare these days, unless you are buying premium stuff like Leica or Zeiss optics. Construction is top notch from Olympus and definitely, in my eyes, worth every penny of it. Ok, my black version isn’t exactly cheap at £899 but considering that it comes with the metal lens cap (only comes with this black edition), a black metal lens hood (also exclusive with this kit) and a UV filter (and it’s rather exclusive with only 3000 samples worldwide!). The cheaper silver chrome version is around £550 but there were no metal cap, hood nor filter. Though I am definitely paying a slight premium for the black colour. The lens itself is made in Japan but the cap and hood are both made in China, there’s no bad thing because they are both very nice and solid!
In operation, the lens is super quiet. The snap focus is a work of genius and manual focus is a joy but why I bother when the auto focus works so well already (ok, in tricky situation I did use the manual focus once yesterday!). I didn’t use the metal hood because it will bulk up the set up quite a bit so I only used the lens on its own with the UV filter.
Overall, I cannot fault the construction! If i have to be picky, it’s not weather sealed so don’t use it in the rain unless you don’t mind the risks.
Using it in practice, good and bad
This little thing is definitely a joy to use. It’s shouting quality everywhere and it does have a nice weight to it without being heavy. So lugging it around all day with the OM-D isn’t gonna tired you out.
During my test yesterday, I found the 12mm to be a very fast street lens. The focus is super quick, somehow I think it’s as quick if not quicker than my full frame L leness. I also find it to be very accurate too. There’s no problem of front or back focusing. f/2.0 is fast enough to use in low light and the beauty is that it has bags of depth of field which is nice in certain circumstances. You can also isolate your subject if you wish but don’t expect anything near as shallow as the full frame lenses. I always use a rule of thumb that the depth of field is equivalent of 2x of what you would expect from a full frame. So f/2.0 is roughly about f/4.0 in full frame but has the light gathering power of f/2.0… if you know what I am talking about.
Because of this, I think this lens is great for indoor group photos! Definitely a must add-on for wedding photographers.
I also tried to test its flare resistance by shooting at some very bright area and it’s pretty impressive too! It means I don’t really need to use that gorgeous metal lens hood either. There’s virtually no lens flare thanks to the new ZERO coating. Coma is non existence and purple fringing is well controlled. There are a little light fall off and a slight barrel distortion but it isn’t uncommon for any fast wide angle lens.
Furthermore, if you are into manual focusing or just want to have a feel of the old-school photography, you will not be disappointed by the silky smooth manual focus ring. Once snapped, the distance scale will reveal itself in its full glory and there’s even locks on each side to prevent ‘overturn’, just like the old manual lenses (it still focuses by wire by the way but it implements like traditional lenses). The focus is so smooth that it’s like condensed milk on butter… awwww….
Overall, I don’t have anything to complain about this lens. In fact, I think it’s perfect. Compact size, super sharp images with very good saturation and contrast with very detailed resolution, super sturdy Leica-like build quality and that, THAT look… especially in black… really melts my heart away.
If you want the best M4/3 lens today, get one of these beauty but that’s if you are ok with 24mm full frame field of view and the no-so-flexible focal length. I know that US has sold out the black one already, so are many countries. There are still some available in the UK and you can certainly get it from Amazon UK, where I bought mine! Please follow the link below.
Anyhow, I will put both of my thumbs up and recommend it to any M4/3 shooters out there!
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