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Full review of the Olympus 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 II R

 

 

Late2012/em5ftlens.jpg
Standard kit lens package with E-5M, and other cameras.

 
 
 
The Olympus E-M5 was used for this review. 
 
For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located at the very bottom of the page.
 
 
Introduction.
 

The Olympus 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 II R lens (Made in China) is a very compact lens, with a retractable design, and was introduced (upgraded from first version) in 2012.  The specs for this lens says there are three aspherical elements used in its construction, see last product shot photo.  This tiny lens uses a focusing system that Olympus calls 'MSC' or 'movie-still-compatible' which is basically a near silent focusing motor inside the lens, especially important for videos.  In reality; the E-M5 camera whine is louder than the lens focusing system, so you'll never hear it if you have that, or a similar camera.

 

Use on micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras only.

 

Fit and finish seem pretty good.  The lens is clad in plastic, with a single plastic extension tube along with a plastic mount.  Focus and zoom rings have a ribbed design etched in the plastic, and are not rubberized.  Two colors are available; black and silver to match the colors of the camera bodies.

 
The zoom action is smooth and damped properly in my opinion, and holds its position well, so there is no zoom creep during normal use.  The lens does retract for carrying but doesn't actually lock in this position.  Focal length index marks come at 14mm, 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, and 42mm.  The EXIF data doesn't always match those lengths exactly, there may be a 1 or 2mm difference, this is no big deal, I'm just pointing it out.  The lens retracts from 14mm as you zoom out, and is shortest around 20mm, then extends and becomes longest at 42mm.
 
In the box: the lens, front and rear caps, and owner's manual.  An optional hood is available.
 
Focusing.  This MSC lens auto-focuses almost silently.  Focusing seems quite accurate at all focal lengths, and reasonable quick in good light.  The front filter ring doesn't turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great.  
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

Late2012/o1442IIblk.jpg
Black
Late2012/o1442IIsilv.jpg
Silver
Late2012/o1442IIhood.jpg
Optional hood
Late2012/O1442IIMTF.jpg
Olympus MTF graph

 
 
 
General information and specifications.
 

Lens

Box contents

Front and rear caps, possibly a matching band, and a user's manual. 

Cost

$299 retail as of 9/2012, or $100 extra with a camera.

Build quality

Good.

Additional information

Comes in silver or black.  If purchased separately, it may come with a mount band near the front element to match the camera color.

Specifications

 

Optical configuration

8 elements in 7 groups

Angle of view

75°-29° 

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Formats

Micro 4/3 only.  With a crop factor of 2x the coverage equals 28-84mm in 135 film format.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Min. focus distance, image plane to subject @ max reproduction ratio

About 9.8"  (250mm)

Min. focus distance, end of lens barrel to subject @ max. reproduction ratio

About 6"  (155mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

No

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

37mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.19x, or 0.38x (1:2.6) with crop factor.

Min. F/stop

F/22

Olympus teleconverter compatible?

N/A

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

1.97" x 2.20"   50mm x 56mm.  Widest at base.

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

2.9"  (73.5mm)  longest at 42mm.                                     

Weight bare (my scale)

4.0oz  (113g) 

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Some large but dull ghosts appear when super bright light sources are close to, or inside the frame.  I'd recommend buying the optional hood if this is your primary lens.

Color fringing (CA).  Very good control, a tiny bit of magenta and cyan along the sides of the image, but easy to remove in post processing.     
 
Bokeh.  Quite 'busy' at all focal lengths and longer focusing distances, but it's hard to get anything out of focus at these short focal lengths and small apertures.
 
Color.   Neutral. 
 
Close up filter.  N/A.   
 
Coma.  None.
 
Regular filters N/A
 
Filter size is 37mm.  This small filter size is common, but a pain to try and get graduated ND filters, that's too bad.
 
Distortion.  You'll notice minor barrel distortion at 14mm, and flat to slightly pincushion distortion at longer lengths.  Check out the cropped samples below.
 

Late2012/1442w14dis.jpg
14mm, corrected Jpeg, slight barrel distortion
Late2012/o1442raw14mm.jpg
14mm, uncorrected from RAW file
Late2012/1442w18dis.jpg
18mm, corrected Jpeg, minor pincushion distortion
Late2012/1442w25dis.jpg
25mm, corrected Jpeg, minor pincushion distortion
Late2012/1442w42dis.jpg
42mm, corrected Jpeg, almost straight

 
Distortion is very strong in uncorrected images like RAW at 14mm, but straightens out quickly as you zoom out.  There is very little in-camera distortion correction going on past 18mm.  Just for clarity, the 'corrected' version is what comes out of the camera when saving images as jpegs.
 
 
Light fall-off.
 

           14mm F/3.5

             14mm F/3.5 uncorrected

Late2012/o1442vig1435.jpg
Late2012/o1442vig1435un.jpg

           42mm F/5.6

             42mm F/5.6 uncorrected

Late2012/o1442vig4256.jpg
Late2012/o1442vig1456un.jpg

 

Light fall-off is not an issue at any focal length or aperture when corrected.  Uncorrected files show small to moderate amounts when the aperture is wide open.

 

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture

       F/3.5

       F/3.9

       F/4.4

       F/5.2

       F/5.6

Focal length

14mm

18mm

25mm

35mm

42mm

 
Above are the maximum apertures you'll get at each focal length marked on the lens.  Usually with kit lenses the aperture closes quickly as you just start to turn the zoom ring, but this lens goes past 18mm with only a drop of 1/3 stop, that's pretty good.

 
 
 
Let's check out the close focus capabilities of this lens.

Check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Olympus E-5M 16mp camera, so don't compare it to others that were taken with 12 or 24mp cameras.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a fairly short 6" (155mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has a good reproduction size of 0.38x, (1:2.6) and it produced a sharp close focus shot at F/7.1.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
 

Late2012/o1442mac181b.jpg
As close as you can get. F/7.1. click for larger image

 

 

Now for the conclusion.

 

The Olympus 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6 II R kit lens offers a very compact design, with super quiet focusing, and a useful zoom range.  Considering the price point of this lens, the optical performance is generally strong at the short end, say 14mm-18mm, however, it becomes slightly soft off-center at the middle focal lengths, and has a noticeable lack of contrast and resolution at the long end: about what you would expect from a standard kit lens.  Ghosting and flare control are about average, which means; I'd get the hood if you decide to use the lens a lot.  Distortion is kept in check by the in-camera distortion correction, and RAW shooters will be happy to know that there is not much correction going on past 18mm, and even the strong barrel distortion at 14mm is easily corrected manually in post processing.  Other pluses include; the reproduction ratio is somewhat high, and it produced a pretty good close-focus shot of the standard woodpecker stamp, and there is no noticeable light fall-off at any aperture or focal length.

 

As a kit lens for the extra $100, I'd say it would be worth it, but buying this lens outright is not really a bargain in my opinion, unless you want a very small zoom with good results at wider focal lengths.

 

 

Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

14mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/3.5

Late2012/o1442ctrf35w.jpg
Late2012/o1442midf35w.jpg
Late2012/o1442cornf35w.jpg

F/5.6

Late2012/o1442ctrf56w.jpg
Late2012/o1442midf56w.jpg
Late2012/o1442cornf56w.jpg

F/8

Late2012/o1442ctrf80w.jpg
Late2012/o1442midf80w.jpg
Late2012/o1442cornf80w.jpg

F/11

Late2012/o1442ctrf11w.jpg
Late2012/o1442midf11w.jpg
Late2012/o1442cornf11w.jpg

 

25mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/4.5

Late2012/o1442ctr25f45.jpg
Late2012/o1442mid25f45.jpg

Late2012/o1442corn25f45.jpg

F/5.6

Late2012/o1442ctr25f56.jpg
Late2012/o1442mid25f56.jpg

Late2012/o1442corn25f56.jpg

F/8

Late2012/o1442ctr25f80.jpg
Late2012/o1442mid25f80.jpg
Late2012/o1442corn25f80.jpg

F/11

Late2012/o1442ctr25f11.jpg
Late2012/o1442mid25f11.jpg
Late2012/o1442corn25f11.jpg

 

42mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/5.6

Late2012/o1442ttf56ctr.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf56mid.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf56corn.jpg

F/8

Late2012/o1442ttf80ctr.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf80mid.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf80corn.jpg

F/11

Late2012/o1442ttf11ctr.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf11mid.jpg
Late2012/o1442ttf11corn.jpg

 

At the short end, the entire frame is pretty sharp at all apertures, even at the maximum aperture of F/3.5.  Moving to 25mm, I see a sharp center, with some contrast loss in the mid-sections and corners at all apertures.  At the long end, there's a lack of contrast and resolution all the way from the center to the extreme corners, although that's typical performance for this type of lens.  Maximum sharpness seems to be around F/5.6 at all lengths, with no real gain by stopping down, in fact, F/11 is quite soft, even in the corners, so I wouldn't use that aperture unless you have depth of field issues you need to deal with.

 

That's it for the review, if you'd like to help out the site, please visit B&H Photo if you're thinking of purchasing the Olympus 14-42mm micro 4/3 lens.

 

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