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Olympus 12-50mm sample variation - my experience

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by aidanw, Sep 25, 2014.

  1. aidanw

    aidanw Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 19, 2012
    Wellington, NZ
    I got an Olympus 12-50mm with my E-M5. While I loved the concept of splashproof with a useful range at either end and a basic macro, the reality was I found the image quality to be so below what I became used to with the primes (PL14 & PL20 at that stage) that I stopped using it.

    In particular, anything over 35mm on my 12-50mm was so soft I wouldn't bother using it for any photos I really cared about. It didn't matter much if I stopped it down or not.
    The wide end was quite passable though, so sometimes it was useful as a 12mm wide lens.

    I had read much about sample variation - some people think the 12-50mm is an under-rated gem, others a worthless zoom lens - I was definitely in the latter at this stage.

    Then, a cheap second-hand 12-50mm came up. I decided to take the risk and bought it. Surely those who thought it was a great value lens weren't completely misguided?
    The "new" 12-50mm arrived so tonight I did some comparisons, and the difference was immediately obvious. Sharpness is significantly better most noticeable at 50mm, but also at the wide angle. The colour rendering is slightly different as well - less yellow.

    The one I bought has an *earlier* serial number of the same series. It is also made in China. There are no visual differences.

    Except, one copy is sharp as a tack at 50mm and has great resolving (still below a PL20 but very good), and the other is the worst lens I have, below even the cruddy Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens (not the nicer 14-45mm one - although funnily enough I have one of those, and it's been in the "to sell" pile for awhile, always so unimpressed with the "look" of it's photos).

    So if you have a 12-50mm and it's soft - sell it cheap (be honest about it!) and try buy another one. You might be surprised!

    Old soft 12-50 serial number = ABP307xxx. New sharp 12-50 = ABP206xxx.
    • Like Like x 2
  2. SkiHound

    SkiHound Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2012
    I had a 12-50 and just found the IQ unacceptable. Never really knew how much was in my head from reading mediocre reviews, and how much was poor IQ. I'd used a Zuiko 12-60 quite a bit and it just blew the 12-50 IQ out of the water. Don't miss it.
  3. LowriderS10

    LowriderS10 Monkey with a camera.

    May 19, 2013
    I like mine quite a bit:


    Is it an optically superb lens that dethrones heavy-hitters like Zeiss? No. Is it an excellent lens capable of very good results for anything from landscapes to macro in all sorts of weather conditions? You bet!

    One more from my recent trip to China...@50mm with the 2x DTC on:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    Panda in Shaanxi, China by Tamas V, on Flickr
    • Like Like x 2
  4. Ross the fiddler

    Ross the fiddler Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    • Like Like x 1
  5. MayaTlab

    MayaTlab New to Mu-43

    May 20, 2014
    I've had an absolutely dreadful experience with Olympus and Panasonic quality control. My first 12-40 was totally unacceptable at the long end on the left side, the second one is the best zoom I've ever had. Out of seven copies of the 25mm I tried, only three had a plane of focus (or rather, a sphere, to take into account plane curvature) that wasn't heavily titled on one side (i.e., when focusing at for example 10 meters in the centre, it would focus roughly in the same ballpark on one side, but at 2 meters on the other). My first Panasonic 14mm was sort of fine (it isn't perfectly centred, but probably begrudgingly acceptable for a 300 euros prime), and the only Panasonic 25mm I tried was even more titled than the worst Olympus 25mm copy.
    Oh, and quality control regarding bodies isn't much better.
    I never believed I could have a worse experience than with Fujifilm with QC, but I did.
    The problem with this level of sample variation is that, taking for example the 12-40, one pays the exact same price for two items that have a completely different value. I'm not sure I'd have even spent 200 euros for the first copy, while I'd gladly pay 1300 euros for the second one if Olympus could guaranty that I wouldn't encounter such wide variations.
    That's an example from the first 12-40 (upside down test, i.e. both sides of the lens were tested on the same subject and compared, here at almost infinity). The second one is beyond reproach in comparison.

    Attached Files:

  6. parka

    parka Mu-43 Regular

    May 12, 2012
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Ericherz

    Ericherz New to Mu-43

    Sep 29, 2014
    How do you like it as a basic macro lens?
  8. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    It is annoying to have to do an "acceptance test" on every lens I purchase. So far pretty lucky given how many lenses I have. Had a dud 17/1.8. I may have had a dud 40-150, its close performance was just fine but infinity performance as rather poor in the corners. I've seen other people report the same problem, but others claim (without any supporting sample photos) that their 40-150 was fine at infinity. On the flip side my 45-200 which I bought pretty early on and was notorious for having a lot of bad copies appears to be one of the best copies around. The 45-175 had OIS problems with shutter shock at introduction and so I returned it but a few years later picked up another on a deal at Amazon and that one is quite nice. I believe my 15/1.7 and 25/1.4 each have one corner a bit worse than the others when wide open, but not bad enough to exchange and not an issue at all with how I shoot those lenses. I expect some variation in the corners wide open if pixel peeping, but of course some copies of lenses are just awful and deserve to be returned. I've definitely seen people who I trust to test a lens correctly deal with multiple bad copies - especially when early adopting a new lens.

    Thing is that this problem exists with all of the manufacturers. I had three copies of a Sigma zoom that were all bad on a Canon APS-C years back. My first RX100 had poor decentering wide open at the widest angle. I had good luck myself with Canon L glass but that was certainly just luck, both the 17-40/4L and 100-400L were pretty notorious for sample variation.

    Purchase with a good return policy, test when you get it and if it fails just return it. Warranty service is typically useless in these cases, they will just return the defective lens as "in spec". That is one place some other manufacturers are better - if you send a Canon L lens back they will usually actually correct and calibrate the lens.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. aidanw

    aidanw Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 19, 2012
    Wellington, NZ
    It seems to function okay for larger flowers and insects. The fixed and slow aperture make it a little difficult to have much control.
    Sharpness is acceptable on the second 12-50, but definitely not on the first.

    I had both the 12-50 and my full frame camera using extension tubes with a 50mm f/1.8 out recently and there's just no comparison. Obviously the shutter speed is a huge factor, as well as less background blurring on the 12-50 at f/6.
    Still I'd rather have it than not.
  10. Ericherz

    Ericherz New to Mu-43

    Sep 29, 2014
  11. sammykhalifa

    sammykhalifa Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 22, 2012
    Pittsburgh PA
    How is it as a relatively inexpensive way to get 12mm? How is it at 14 compared to the, uh, 14?
  12. ahinesdesign

    ahinesdesign Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 6, 2011
    NC, USA
    Its an inexpensive way to get 12mm for sure, but at 14mm I think the 14mm pancake and 14-42 II (Oly or Panasonic) are better. I have not used the 12-32, but it is probably better just looking at test reports...
    • Like Like x 1
  13. LowriderS10

    LowriderS10 Monkey with a camera.

    May 19, 2013
    And let's not forget it's weathersealed! That was the big selling point for me, and in that capacity it's come in handy a few times. When I shot the panda picture above, it was pouring for 6 hours straight...no other lens of mine would have been able to handle that! Whether the IQ is excellent of just good, in that case, it was better than ALL of my lenses and it made the difference between taking no pictures or ones like the one above. :) 
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