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Design

The 12-60mm features a suitably solid design, as befits its pro-level aspirations. The lens mount is metal, and the barrel constructed from extremely high quality plastic and metal, providing an excellent compromise between solidity and weight. It also offers the distinct benefit of dust and splash-proofing, including rubber seals around the lens mount and the extending barrel. Overall this feels like a lens which could handle some pretty rough treatment and come out on top.

One design aspect we're extremely pleased to see appear on an Olympus lens is direct mechanically-linked manual focus; this has a superior feel compared to their older 'focus-by-wire' designs, and always gives the impression of superior precision and finesse of control. The focus ring also has a distinct increase in resistance when the focus group has reached either end of its travel, offering a tactile confirmation when the minimum focus distance is reached. It's worth noting that this design also effectively places the camera in MF/AF mode regardless of the on-camera setting, allowing fine manual focus adjustments at any time even with the camera set to autofocus mode.

On the camera

The lens feels ideally balanced on the E-3 body, and complements the camera's solid chunky design perfectly. The zoom and focus rings are well-placed and fall naturally to hand, and are sufficiently different in feel that they won't be readily confused.

On smaller Four Thirds bodies such as the Olympus E-510 or Panasonic L-10, and especially the E-4x0 series, the 12-60mm can feel a little unbalanced and front-heavy, although still quite usable. It will also cause shadowing of the built-in flash on these cameras at wider angles (<25mm).

Autofocus

This lens features Olympus's newly developed Supersonic Wave Drive autofocus motor, which is essentially much the same as the ultrasonic-type motors now used by almost all manufacturers. This performed extremely well in real-world use; it's almost silent in operation, and we saw no evidence for any systematic focusing errors. While optimum performance is certainly attained using the E-3, other bodes will also benefit substantially from the new SWD system, which is noticeably faster and quieter than the micro motors used on lenses such as the 14-54mm. As always it must be noted that focus speed and accuracy is highly dependent upon a number of variables, including the camera body used, subject contrast, and light levels.

We have no way of testing Olympus's claim that the lens offers the fastest autofocus in the world when used on the E-3 (not least because Olympus have provided little elaboration on their test conditions), but it's fair to say that perceptually it's at easily as fast as to acquire focus on a static subject as any competing system (although in real terms, pretty well all are 'fast enough'). In continuous focus mode, the lens can certainly keep up with whatever the camera asks it to do, making the body's AF system the limiting factor in performance.

Lens body elements

The lens features the 'open standard' Four Thirds mount, currently compatible with dSLRs from Olympus and Panasonic. Communication with the camera is all-electronic, via the gold-plated contacts.

The lens mounts by aligning the red dot to that on the camera’s mount, and rotating clockwise to lock.
The filter thread is 72mm, and does not rotate on focusing; good news for users of filters such as polarisers or neutral density gradients.
The bayonet fitting, petal-type LH-75B hood is supplied as standard. It's the only slightly disappointing aspect of the whole package, being of much the same construction as the hood for the 14-42mm kit lens, and therefore slightly thin and flimsy compared to those for other manufacturers' high end lenses. It has ribbed mouldings on the inside to minimize reflections, and reverses neatly for storage.
The zoom ring rotates approximately 75 degrees anti-clockwise from wide to telephoto, with markings at 12, 18, 25, 35, 50 and 60mm. The grip is 21mm wide, and the zoom action smooth and even (if slightly stiff).

The lens extends 46mm on zooming from 12 to 60mm, and there is a noticeable lateral 'play' of the lens barrel at full extension; however this is unlikely to cause problems in normal use.
The 17mm wide focus ring rotates 120 degrees clockwise from infinity to 0.25m, and is smooth and well-damped. A distance scale is provided with markings in both feet and meters, but with only three markings aside from infinity, it's more cosmetic than useful.

As is common with internal focus zooms, the angle of view gets noticeably wider on focusing closer.

Reported aperture vs focal length

Here we show the maximum and minimum apertures reported by the camera at the marked focal lengths.

Focal length 12mm 18mm 25mm 35mm 50mm 60mm
Max aperture
F2.8
F3.2
F3.4
F3.7
F4.0
F4.0
Min aperture
F22
F22
F22
F22
F22
F22
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