The Best 12mm Lens In The World

Olympus 12mm Lens Photo by Scott Bourne

That’s not a click bait title. That’s just the way it is. Well at least in my opinion anyway.

I am of course talking about the venerable Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2 Lens. This lens is very special to me. It was one of the first Micro Four Thirds lenses I ever purchased and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of the Micro Four Thirds format.

I had shot with Olympus way back in my college days. I had (and still have) an Olympus OM-1 camera with a 50mm f/1.8 kit lens. I always loved that camera. Even before Olympus started making Micro Four Thirds gear, they still made small, powerful, compact, lightweight cameras.

Fast forward to June 2011. Olympus released the 12mm f/2 lens which delivers an equivalent field of view of 24mm. It’s very small, taking 46mm filters and weighing less than six ounces. SIX OUNCES! That’s half the weight of the human heart.

Here are the basic specs for the 12mm…

*Aperture range is f/2 to f/22

*Two aspherical elements

*Aspherical, DSA, and Super HR elements

*One extra-low dispersion element

*Movie & Still Compatible (MSC)

*Seven blade diaphragm

*Snap focus ring with distance scale for manual focusing

Like the 75mm f/1.8 lens from Olympus that I wrote about here, the 12mm is solidly built. It uses metal construction and feels very good in the hand, with heft but not weight. While this is technically not one of Olympus’s “Pro” lenses, it has the look and feel of pro-level glass.

Also like the 75mm f/1.8 lens, it originally shipped in silver only. Then Olympus started making a black version. If you read older reviews mentioning that it is only available in silver, you can disregard them.

Olympus 12mm Lens Photo by Scott Bourne

Like the 75mm, the 12mm f/2 is DEADLY sharp. At the center, it’s one of the sharpest lenses I have ever seen, touched, owned or used. And that is saying something since right now I own 25 lenses and over my lifetime have owned hundreds of difference camera lenses.

While not much help at all for my bird photography, this lens is good for nearly everything else. It can be used for environmental portraiture, but where it really shines is landscape, architecture, street and celestial photography. One of my friends who is an avid street photographer loves this lens. Why? Like lenses of old, it has a distance scale with focal depth indicators, with which street photographers can make use of zone-focusing.

I also noticed that lately, that lots of drone photographers are using this lens. Because it is so small, compact and lightweight, it fits on many drones. I also know lots of landscape and celestial shooters who swear by this lens. In other words, it is very versatile and has a place in almost every shooter’s bag.

I have owned this lens for longer than I have been an Olympus Visionary. I end up making excuses to use it. Before Olympus came out with the new “Pro” trinity, i.e., the 17, 25 and 45mm f/1.2 lenses, the OLD trinity was the 12mm f/2, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F1.8 Lens, and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 Lens. For less than $1400 (street price) you could buy all three of these and depending on the kind of photography you do, never end up needing another lens.

Olympus 12mm Lens Photo by Scott Bourne

With fast, sharp, prime lenses that are this small and compact, not to mention lightweight (you can carry one in your shirt pocket) there’s no need for zooms. Olympus makes the best zoom lenses on the planet, and for the last three years I have been using these zooms. This is uncharacteristic of me since I have always believed that prime lenses offered the best image quality. My use of zooms is mostly tied to bird photography. BUT! If I were not a bird photographer I’d switch to all of Olympus’ prime glass. There’s just something very freeing about knowing you have a lens in your shirt pocket that can produce world-class, super sharp, beautiful bokeh-filled, images, and do so affordably.

Since this is an older lens, you probably don’t hear much about it. But you need to hear about it. For a lens to sell in this price range that measures just 2.2 by 1.7 inches and offers near-Leica rendering (especially in B&W), well that’s pretty crazy. The lens is incredibly sharp, has a great bokeh, is contrasty and for a super wide, has very little CA and lens flare is not a problem when you use the lens hood. There is also virtually no vignetting. Whether you shoot in RAW or JPEG, there’s no problem with vignetting. Even at wide open, the vignetting is barely noticeable – maybe a quarter of a stop. Comparing this to my older wide primes, I might expect those lenses to deliver 1.5 stops of vignetting when shot wide open.

Besides its incredible image quality, the 12mm has great handling characteristics. The lens is VERY comfortable, and carrying it or using it is like a dream. It feels even better than some of my very favorite old fashioned lenses. Did I mention it is super sharp? It is sharp from the lowest to highest aperture and smooth operation.

Mt Rainier Photo by Scott Bourne
Photo of Mt. Rainier made with the M.Zuiko 12mm Lens

CONCLUSION

I can think of no other super wide lens with a street price of $699 that can touch this lens. It meets or exceeds my expectations in every way (other than one – see the caveat below.) If you own a Micro Four Thirds camera, such as an Olympus, Panasonic, Black Magic Cinema camera, etc., then you should own this lens. It’s the kind of lens you keep for your whole life. You look at it over time as an old friend. A very, very, very sharp, compact, lightweight, friend that is cute as a button but tough as nails. It’s an older lens so there’s no telling how long Olympus will keep selling it. It’s $100 off (or more) at Hunt’s Photo & Video. See the contact info below and give Hunt’s a call. Tell them I sent you to get the best deal.

Very highly recommend!

CAVEAT

I love this lens but man I wish Olympus would just include the metal lens hood. Unfortunately you have to buy it if you want it. It is $59.95 and I realize that is expensive. You can spend $10 and get a third party aluminum hood. All I will say is that the Olympus LH-48 Lens Hood for 12 mm f2.0 Lens is very cool, very functional and while it makes no sense to spend that kind of money on a lens hood, I did and I am glad. I can always find $59.95 somewhere. But it’s nearly impossible to find a metal lens hood of any kind these days, let alone one that is this cool.

P.S. I made these product shots myself instead of using stock shots. The only thing I regret is that I couldn’t use the 12mm f/2 lens to make them 🙂


Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com or Alan at alansamhunts@gmail.com or Gary at: gfarber@huntsphoto.com. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.