While searching for information on this article, I came to the conclusion that the 12 - 50mm Kit lens popularity, vary possibly just that little too much between markets and forum communities. As mentioned elsewhere on the site, it was not exactly clear to me why the 12 - 50mm lens IQ were questioned? That was until I read the review on LensTIP.com. Reading the review, it became clear to me that nobody that read the review would risk buying the lens or support the it on a forum. One cannot help questioning LensTip review’s unbiased opinion or help asking, does the reviewer has an own agenda? I then searched for more reviews on the 12 - 50mm lens and found several really interesting reviews, for example the review on SLRGear.com. I was a pleasantly surprised to see a completely different style of reporting, informative and well balanced. Several other E-M5 reviews also discussed the 12 - 50mm kit lens, generally the lens enjoys a positive to good feedback. The Blog, “SimplyRobin” placed a really interesting review on the 12 - 50mm Kit Lens. For more reviews see the Links page on this site.
To gain a better understanding for the 12 - 50mm kit lens I think it is important to have a look at the following interesting or in some cases unique aspects pertaining the lens:-
It has a fixed length lens body - all the zoom movement happens inside the lens body.
It basically are 3 lenses in one, a basic zoom, a macro and “special” video lens.
In the image below you can see how the body ring, position, determine the lens type.
It has a steel camera fitting typically not found on budget “kit lenses”.
It is dust and splash proof and thus a perfect fit for the E-M5 in challenging conditions.
It has a list of unique focussing characteristics, silent operation, fast focus….etc.
This lens focus accurate and lightning fast on the E-M5 in all modes.
It makes use of lens elements only really found in much more expensive lenses.
The lens body is made from plastic but feels good and of solid nature.
One can fit an accessory lens hood. (Highly recommended)
It has a special motorized zoom motor that is silent and great for video work.
In macro mode the lens switched to a fixed 43mm with 0.72 x magnification.
As zoom lens it has a wide 12mm WA and it will zoom right up to 50mm.
It has no real competition in terms of functionality plus range
In standard form 12 - 50 equals 24 to 100mm in terms of the 35mm format.
With the E-M5, 2x digital zoom this lens will offer a wide range of 12 to 200mm.
Without digital zoom it is a slow kit lens at f6,3 at 50mm
With digital zoom f6,3 at 200mm is not that bad if really relevant….
The E-M5 great ISO performance supplement the 12 - 50mm well...
One can easily continue adding more unique characteristics to the list…..
The barrel design plus glass elements warrants a 5 blade circular aperture assembly….
I like us to take one more look at the LensTIP.com review. The reviewer refers to the use of a 5 blade aperture unit on the 12 - 50mm kit lens and how out-dated that is for manufacturers to use such few blades in a aperture unit. The reviewer then continued to list several problems like Coma, Astigmatism and others to relate to the 5 blade aperture unit. I did the effort to go and research each one of these lens problems listed in the review and could not find any reference that would satisfactory confirm the conclusions made in the review. Instead I found other reasons like misaligned glass or other lens elements that would result in some of the named issues. It seemed to me that Olympus purposely used the high end lens elements plus unique lens floating techniques in this lens to exactly prevent problems pointed out in the review. That combined with the fixed lens tube length, really ensured a save environment for the “rounded” five blade aperture unit. The rounded blades ensuring a nearly perfect round aperture at all times. As one read more about the subject it becomes clear that not only the number of blades but in fact the actual edge profile of the individual blade units, could seriously influence lens performance.
The 12 - 50mm kit lens is described in several E-M5 reviews. See the links page in the E-M5 section for more information on more E-M5 reviews. For the remainder of this article I like to show you practical results using the lens. We will look at the lens strengths and weaknesses to help you know how to optimally apply this interesting lens. The following is a list with the minimum you need when using the 12 - 50mm lens:-
For day to day use, use the zoom ring in its mechanical zoom position.
When using it as a movie lens, switch the zoom ring over to the movie position
When used as macro lens, use the zoom ring in the macro position.
Get yourself the lens hood and use it each time you use this lens.
The lens hood prevents possible problems like lens flare and others
Use the 35 AF frames or the centre 3x3 AF (9 frames) with this lens - important
Use the AF Zoom Magnification function for accurate focussing if required.
The first results I had with my E-M5 plus 12 - 50mm kit lens combo were not that great. That is when I decided to start investigating the camera lens combination in more detail myself. I was fortunate to land a second 12 - 50mm kit lens on a web auction and at a good price. The two identical kit lenses formed the perfect pair to do a few tests on. The results helped me understand, are there inconsistencies between the two lenses, are the problems I experienced, lens or camera related and what can I do to improve my image results. Not all owners could do this exercise and several returned the camera before knowing any better and by mistake I believe.
I kicked of my tests by fitting my E-M5 to a sturdy tripod. Fitting different lenses to the E-M5, I took images at 14mm with each lens, then moved on to 17mm, 20mm plus all the other important focal lengths right up to 50mm. With the E-M5 fixed on the same position, I repeated the images for different aperture settings and different lenses. I ended up with a large set of well controlled images. I then tested these and other MFT lenses in day to day conditions, literally swapping lenses while out in the field to provide me with similar test shots for different lenses. Finally I tested the lenses using one specific lens at a time until I were happy I covered most critical conditions. I literally ended with hundreds of images I had to work through and evaluate.
I decided to do a brief description of my findings and to only give you the most important samples. I trust that will best help you evaluate the lens in your own mind. Before I do that I think it is important to quickly put things into perspective again and to level the playing fields. The 12 - 50 mm Kit is not a SHG (Super High Grade) lens or a replacement for that well known 12 - 60mm SG Olympus lens. It costs a fraction of the price and was designed to be a completely different lens. I paid approximately 250$ for mine as it was included in the camera package. If I had to buy it separately, I saw them selling for 430$ new in the local Swiss market. This compares well with lenses like the EFS 18 to 135mm from Canon, the 18 - 200 from Sigma or any other kit lens in this range. I do not really think there are a good match for comparison for the 12 - 50 mm lens, only because it has so much to offer in one small package. From the start I therefore think we are faced with a lens that offer a lot for the money one pay.
The 12 - 50 mm lens is not one of the sharpest lenses I saw to date. Its centre area is its sharpest and the corners varies in sharpness. The bottom left corner showed the biggest weakness in the different tests I did. Considering its full FL (Focal Length) range, I personally think one should look at the 12mm wide end, as a nice to have only. One can use the 12mm end for movie work, landscape images and preferably in combination with Art Filters. In my tests I found an aperture range from 6,3 to 8,1 resulted in sharpest results at 12mm. Art Filters will best cover any weaknesses at the 12mm end. From 14mm the lens performs better and no special precautions needs to be taken. Right up to 50mm I found it to perform well. Image is less sharp from 45mm onwards. In general I found the following Un-Sharp mask settings to work well with this lens:- Amount set between 43 and 53 and Threshold set between 1,3 and 1,5. When setting the sharpening in LR or ACR I mask out the sky areas while sharpening. Reason is I let the ISO compensate for the slow nature of the lens. Here are a few samples I took with this lens.
All images were RAW images, developed in LR4. Even at its large size the detail are good enough to print these on framed canvas style wall images. As seen in the above image one can use the 12mm end without any hesitation. One can see when problems arise and then one can adjust the image by using Art filters or one could decide to take a different image.
The above portrait image could also have been a typical portrait image taken at a Focal Length of 48mm. The background blur is good plus the centre sharpness of the lens is good enough at this focal length to give acceptable results. Try it on your next model and you will see for yourself the lens does a great job with portrait images. If it was a wedding you were doing for a friend you could easily continue doing your shoot, also when the weather goes bad….
The above image was taken with the lens only. One could still go ahead and add a macro multiplier on the front of the lens for even closer up results. It is a real pleasure doing macro work with this lens, mainly because its part of the standard package, its always included in the lens and it’s really simple to switch over to macro mode plus it focusses really fast.
There are sharper plus slightly faster kit lenses in the MFT lens offer, lenses like the 14 - 42 MKII Olympus Kit lens or the 14 - 45 mm Lumix lens. The 12 - 50mm has the better Olympus color plus contrast I think. Personally I believe it is the unique lens elements used in the 12 - 50mm Kit lens, especially the different ED lens components used in the 12 - 50mm lens. In the past I always found the ED glass elements adds a unique deep blue color to the sky. I always wondered why the Lumix range does not use ED elements.
The 12 - 50mm does seem to have a weakness when pointed into sharp light or sunny conditions. I did not see excessive flare problems, more a case of the lens loosing sharpness or detail. My advice is to use the lens with the light source from behind or from the side for better results. Some lenses does not have a problem when pointed into bright conditions, lenses like the 14 - 42mm Kit lens. The physical size of the 12 - 50 mm kit lens could also be a problem. Must say having both the 12 to 50mm plus the 12 - 42mm kit lenses does seem to be a great combo. The latter is excellent when a small package is required and the 12 - 50 when multitasking is more asked for.
In next articles I will place more comparison images between the different lenses I tried when reviewing the 12 - 50mm lens. If I had to say if I recommend the 12 - 50mm lens then my answer would be yes. For the price you pay you get a lot of lens….