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M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ - Olympus Micro Four-Thirds Lens Roundup

M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ

The Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ is the first exclusively power-zoom lens for Micro Four-Thirds. Olympus experimented with a dual zoom mechanism in their Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F/3.5-6.3 ED EZ
Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm F/3.5-6.3 ED EZ
which offered a clutch system to switch between Mechanical Zoom and Power Zoom modes, although that made it larger than lenses of comparable focal-range. With the 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ, Olympus is offering a third kit lens which collapses down to a very small size.

This third-generation kit lens covers the a range similar to most DSLR kit-lenses, with a 3X optical zoom starting at a wide-angle 28mm-equivalent and reaching 84mm. It offers exactly the same aperture range, starting at a moderate F/3.5 and closing down to a rather dim F/5.6 at the long end. Given this narrow aperture and 2X crop-factor associated with Four-Thirds sensors, this is lens cannot produce blurred backgrounds seen in typical portrait photography. The focal-range though is suitable for general photography from landscapes to typical indoor scenes.

Body Design

This lens is built of 3 concentric plastic barrels which remain completely collapsed when the lens is powered off. In this state, it barely exceeds an inch (2.5cm) in depth and takes virtually no space. Once the lens is powered by the camera it is attached to, it automatically extends out by just over an other inch. The lens collapses back immediately when the camera is powered off. Swapping this lens for another therefore requires to properly power off the camera first, which is the right thing to do anyway to minimize dust adhering to the sensor. Otherwise, the lens will remain in its larger extended position.

The base of the lens barrel is rather thin and it is followed by an unconventional fly-by-wire Electric Zoom ring which is ¼" wide. Unlike a standard fly-by-wire ring which rotates indefinitely, the zoom ring of the M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ can only rotate a few degrees in each direction from its resting position. Twisting to the left zooms in, while going right zooms out. The lens zooms in the set direction until it reaches the end of the zoom range or the ring is let go which causes it to spring back to its original position.

By twisting further in either direction, the lens zooms faster. There does not to appear to be any zoom steps, so zooming is quite precise, although the delay when releasing the zoom ring for it to return to its resting position can make exact framing error-prone.

An even slimmer fly-by wire focus-ring is found at the end of the fixed portion of the lens barrel. This is a more typical fly-by-wire ring which rotated indefinitely in both directions. Its movement is completely ignored until the camera is in MF or DMF mode. When manual focus is available, focusing is quite precise and responsive. There is a good amount of throw so that accurate focusing does not become too tedious.

The M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ is extremely light and composed of plastic, other than its optics of course. Both the zoom and focus mechanism are very smooth and steady. This lens accepts 37mm filters which are not very common and do not come in much variety. A 37-to-58mm step-up ring exists to use more filter types.

Optical Performance

There is some barely measurable barrel distortion near wide angle but it quickly dissapears zoom in. Vignetting is clearly more pronounced and easy to notice at anything wider than F/5.6 when it reaches about 1/2 EV. From F/8 onward, vignetting stabilizes at 1/4 EV yet never goes away completely.

The rather simply optical formula is particularly prone to chromatic aberrations with significant frinding around high contrast edges. Oddly, it becomes even more pronounced stopped at F/5.6 which is the maximum aperture possible towards the telephoto end.

Click on image for full-resolution

Sharpness

The performance of this lens differs significantly at wide-angle than at telephoto. Near wide-angle, there is general softness throughout the image which gradually gets stronger towards corners. While the center is acceptably sharp wide-open, corners are truly soft and only show moderate improvement at F/8, without every becomeing acceptably sharp.

At the long end of the zoom, sharpness is quite acceptable and highly consistent throughout t he frame. Even wide open, images are usable corner-to-corner. F/9 maximizes corner sharpness which produces highly usable images while never delivering critical sharpness.

Overall, these results puts it around the middle of the pack of kit lenses, while admitedly being considerably smaller which is itself an acheivement. It would be more usable in the hands of photographers shooting long than wide. Interestingly, the previous M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 II MSC performs much better near wide-angle and worse near telephoto.

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 20x15". On a computer display, these may appear much larger which magnifies image defects.

M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ ED Sharpness


Upper Left
Upper Right
Center
Lower Left
Lower Right

Summary

This dimminutive lens is the most compact zoom lens among mirrorless cameras. As one would expect, it compromises optical performance to acheive this. Between this and the mechanical zoom kit-lens, it is a tough call since they are both identically specified and are quite compact. The electronic zoom makes operation less efficient and a little more difficult to use yet should provide smooth even zooming while shooting video.


Click on image for full-resolution

Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ ED

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By on 2018-03-08

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