An exciting if not controversial Micro Four Thirds weatherproofed macro video-optimised power zoom kit lens from Olympus

Written by Gary on December 14th, 2011

The announcement today by Olympus of this new Micro Four Thirds system zoom lens is exciting because it is the 1st Micro Four Thirds lens to be weatherproofed and thus signals a long awaited weatherproofed high end Micro Four Thirds Olympus camera is on the way – assuming Olympus survives its current corporate turmoils.

The Olympus m.Zuiko digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ macro power-zoom video-optimised MSC lens.

But first, let’s deal with the controversial part – f/6.3 aperture at the long end:

  • let’s face it NONE of us want a lens with f/6.3 as it’s brightest aperture if we had a choice
  • but photography is all about compromise, especially when factoring in the following important characteristics:
    • price – this is extremely important in the mirrorless sector as most adopters would baulk at lens prices over $500
    • size – the whole point of mirrorless cameras is compact size so a large heavy lens would not suit most adopters
    • quality – the reason many choose Micro Four Thirds is that it gives great image quality for the size and optical quality is critical for success
    • convenience – adopters want an all-purpose lens they can take almost anywhere, even if it starts raining and use it for macro if need be
    • HD video – this has become increasingly important over the past few years, and this lens has been optimised to address this
  • so Olympus could have made this an f/2.8-4.5 lens but one or more of the above would have to be compromised and you would still need the 45mm f/1.8 lens.
  • in the end, perhaps the f/6.3 compromise is the easiest to manage as most adopters should have the affordable 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens as well to manage this issue.
  • perhaps a bigger compromise is the length of this lens at 83mm, it is the same as a 10x zoom lens for Micro Four Thirds – this may actually be more of a show-stopper for many!

Let’s have a look at some of the interesting features of this lens:

  • 24-100mm field of view in 35mm camera terms – perfect for most people including travellers and nature photographers
  • weatherproofed – just what we have been waiting for – the past Four Thirds weatherproofed pro lenses were highly prized but were big, heavy and expensive (most were over $1200)
  • macro mode – allows macro to 0.72x in 35mm terms (ie. smallest area 36x48mm at close focus of 0.2m)
  • non-telescoping zoom – does not need to extend during shooting – zoom elements are contained within the lens barrel to make it easier to weatherproof
  • motorised zoom (power zoom) – zoom ring controls speed and direction of zoom for smooth zooming during video
  • faster, near silent autofocus – new linear MSC focus-drive mechanism enhanced by new linear motor for faster, smoother AF performance
  • superb optical design – 10 elements in 9 groups (Dual Super Aspherical, Aspherical x2, HR and ED Lenses) with a floating lens design which optimises internal lens element positioning which maximises zoom and focus performance at all capture distances.
  • circular diaphragm blades for nicer bokeh
  • small 52mm filter size – thus cheaper filters
  • light and reasonably compact – only 211g and measures a constant 57 x 83mm
  • AF lock setting – the L-Fn (Lens Function) button suspends the autofocusing operation temporarily to avoid unintended focusing on obstacles that appear suddenly between the camera and the subject.
  • reasonably affordable – estimated street price $US499

Olympus generally tend to judge the lens market quite well and assuming it is as good optically as we have come to expect from Olympus, I think this lens will find a lot of fans once they get over the f/6.3 psychological hurdle.

To me it makes a lot of sense as a general kit lens and gives users another very handy option indeed, and if they offset the f/6.3 issue with a 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens then they will have a very useful compact kit indeed.

On the other hand there will be a lot of users like me who just want the near impossible, a 12-50mm constant f/2.8 weatherproofed lens with macro in the same size lens but for $699 – that is just not likely to happen. Olympus do have the excellent 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Four Thirds lens but this is substantially bigger and heavier.

This would be a brilliant lens for the helmet-cam/body-cam sports videographer:

I could imagine a downhill snow ski videographer mounting a compact weatherproofed Micro Four Thirds camera with this lens onto his helmet to shoot some very exciting video sequences.

The f/6.3 aperture would not be an issue as he would be wanting a reasonable amount of depth of field.

The AF lock could be crucial so he could lock focus before he starts and know that all the motion is not going to upset the focus point, and AF on a rapidly moving camera is not going to be very successful anyway. I am assuming this L-Fn will operate like this as there is little detail regarding this function – of course, it may just be what it says, if you think someone is about to walk between you and the subject, you just press this button and AF is temporarily suspended to avoid change in focus. The question is for how long is AF suspended – until you take your finger off, for a specified time interval, or until you press it again?

The large power zoom ring would be very easy to operate with gloves so he could quickly adjust his field of view.

The weatherproofing obviously becomes a critical feature in such conditions.

So many great kit lenses for Micro Four Thirds users – kind of puts the kit lenses for entry level Canon dSLRs to shame in terms of optical quality and build quality – just head over to lens reviews on dpreview.com to compare the optical performances to see what I’m talking about.

Now, to eagerly await a weatherproof camera from Olympus to match the lens!

More info here.

See here for more Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Please Mr Olympus, can I have the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 in a more compact, Micro Four Thirds autofocus version, if not, a 100mm f/2.0 would be brilliant.

 

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