M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 Review
Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F/2
The M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 is actually the first Olympus Premium lens for mirrorless cameras. It introduced the hybrid focus-ring which later made an appearing on several more M.Zuiko lenses. With a 12mm focal-length and a bright F/2 maximum aperture, this ultra-wide prime lens is fantastic for both indoors and outdoor architecture photography.
The small and compact 12mm F/2 is extremely light at only 130g. Barely over 4cm in length, it is shorter than the width of the lens mount. It accommodates unusual 46mm screw-on filters at the front. Generally though, such bright prime lenses are rarely used with filters as the whole point is to be light and quick. One can also use a filter on the larger 12-40mm F/2.8 PRO if need be, since it covers the same focal-length, only a full stop less bright.
Given an ultra-wide 24mm-equivalent focal-length, depth of field rarely becomes shallow, which is fine for its intended use. It can capture plenty of light though which makes it great for urban night photography.
The body of the M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 is made mostly of metal with a plastic inner barrel which extends while focusing. Since this is a prime lens, it only offers a single ring around the middle of the barrel. This is the famed hybrid fly-by-wire and mechanical focus ring which makes it quick to switch between AF and MF. It also improves responsiveness and avoids any display lag which was a problem with older mirrorless cameras but is no longer an issue. The focus ring turns extremely smoothly.
Although, it does not match the top-notch quality of the M.Zuiko PRO series, the 12mm F/2 is sturdy. It is not not weather-sealed though, since it was introduced before weatherproof mirrorless digital cameras existed. Originally, a silver model was introduces, followed by a black Special Edition one. Outside of their color, these are identical, including their list price now.
Olympus designed the M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 to produce top-notch images. When wide open, this lens starts with good center sharpness which turns to excellent at F/2.8 and reaches its peak at F/3.5. Edges though start moderately soft at F/2. They improve gradually until F/5.6 where they remain slight soft yet completely usable for most common print sizes.
The 12mm F/2 does not show any geometric distortion at any aperture. It does show moderately high vignetting at F/2 and F/2.5. This drops to a slight yet noticeable darkening of corners from F/2.8 onwards. This is easily compensated by most Olympus mirrorless. Chromatic aberrations though are present and visible along edges of over-exposed areas. There is simply less room inside this lens to correct for every optical issue.
What is shown below are 5 crops taken from a photograph, repeatedly captured for each combination of focal-length and aperture. The smaller pieces are cropped from the extreme corners of the image, while the middle wide crop comes from the center of the image. Select an aperture in a row for a desired focal-length to see the crops from the corresponding image. When judging quality, keep in mind that these crops come from a 16 MP image which is normally used to print an image up to 20x16". On a computer display, these may appear much larger which magnifies image defects.
M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 Sharpness
The 12mm F/2 really is a nice prime to have since it is so light and complements well qualities of a mirrorless system. Optically, it can produce fantastic images from F/2.8 while giving the opportunity for smaller prints when low light demands a brighter aperture. Mechanically, it is a pleasure to use. The innovative hybrid fly-by-wire and mechanical focus-ring has made its way to several over lenses which is a tribute to its success.
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