Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm 1:2.8-4.0 review



The Digital Zuiko ED 12-60mm 1:2.8-4.0 SWD is Olympus's latest upmarket standard zoom, announced to accompany its E-3 flagship DSLR in October 2007. Firmly placed in what Olympus refers to as its 'Pro' lens lineup, this lens offers a near-ideal focal length range for a standard zoom (24mm to 120mm in 35mm-equivalent terms), combining a useful wideangle for landscapes and architecture with a telephoto extending nicely into the classic 'portrait' range. Hopefully this 5x zoom range isn't so ambitious as to introduce unacceptable optical compromises. The optical configuration is sufficiently exotic to offer great hopes in this regard; the lens boasts no fewer than three extra-low dispersion (ED) glass elements, one of which is aspherical, coupled with two further aspherical elements, and as the icing on the cake one Super ED glass element. Clearly Olympus has adopted a "no holds barred" approach to lens design here, which can only be applauded.

This lens also sees Olympus finally adopting the now near-ubiquitous ultrasonic motor for focusing, here dubbed the 'Supersonic Wave Drive', and (according to their press material at least) offering the world's fastest autofocus when used with the E-3. This in turn allows the use of a mechanically-coupled manual focus ring, in a welcome contrast to the somewhat-unloved 'focus-by-wire' mechanisms on its previous lenses. Further headline features include dust and splashproofing for protection against the elements, a 25cm close focusing distance, and a circular aperture diaphragm promising pleasing background blur. On paper at least, this makes for a hugely compelling overall package.

Of course the 12-60mm has a hard act to follow, as the spiritual successor to the highly regarded 14-54mm F2.8-3.5, which was the standard kit lens for the E-1. In comparison, the newcomer offers extended range at both wideangle and telephoto, improved focusing, and even better macro performance, but at the expense of a slightly dimmer maximum aperture throughout the range. Of course this all comes at a price, and the 12-60mm is by no means cheap; so do the optics justify the price tag?

Use of the Panasonic L10 as Four Thirds test body

We have chosen to use the Panasonic L10 as our standard test body for Four Thirds lenses purely because it gives the highest numbers in our resolution tests (which we believe is most likely due to it having a relatively weak anti-aliasing filter); this is intended simply to provide the fairest comparison to other manufacturers' systems. The samples gallery contains images taken using various camera bodies (Olympus E-3, Olympus E-510, and Panasonic L-10).

Headline features

  • 24-120mm equivalent focal length range
  • Relatively fast 2.8-4.0 maximum aperture
  • Four Thirds mount for Olympus and Panasonic DSLRs

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