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Design

The most striking aspect of the 14-42mm is inevitably its tiny size; indeed it's scarcely bigger than many 35mm format primes, and extremely light. However, build quality doesn't seem to have suffered significantly as a result, and in some regards even feels superior to equivalents from other manufacturers. Like most kit lenses, the mount and all of the visible external casing is made from lightweight, but quite solid-feeling plastic.

The zoom ring has a smooth, if slightly uneven action, and the focus ring is particularly well-damped. Focusing is internal (uniquely for a kit lens), and the front element therefore does not rotate, which will be welcome news to filter users. Completing the package is a deep petal-shaped lens hood, which is likely to be far more effective at protecting the front element and combating flare than the shallow bowl-shaped hoods which are used by Nikon, Canon and Sony, due to the rotating front element designs of their kit lenses.

'Focus-by-wire' manual focus

The most unusual feature of this lens's operation is the focus-by-wire manual focus system, which drives the focusing group indirectly via the lens's autofocus motor (as opposed to the direct mechanical connection found in most lenses). As a consequence, the feel of the manual focus ring never changes, regardless of whether the camera is set to auto or manual focus, or the focus has reached the limits of its travel (either close or infinity), and this lack of tactile feedback can be a little disconcerting in some situations.

One slight concern we noted with this lens was a tendency for the image to 'jump' laterally when changing the direction of rotation of the focus ring, which was distinctly visible when focusing manually in magnified live view mode. This suggests rather relaxed tolerances in the positioning of the internal focusing group, with some potential for detrimental effects on image quality.

On the camera

The lens is a perfect match for Olympus's compact SLR bodies, such as the E-510 and E-4x0 series. The zoom ring falls naturally to hand, and overall the lens is perfectly well behaved, although manual focus can be decidedly hit-and-miss with the small viewfinders on these models (to be fair it works very well on bodies which offer live view with magnification). It does feel almost comically insubstantial on the pro-level E-3 body, but in truth is still perfectly usable on this camera.

Autofocus

Autofocus is driven by a micro motor in the lens body, which works just fine. It's pretty quiet in operation, although not quite as refined as ultrasonic-type motors. Focus speed and accuracy is dependent upon a number of variables, including the camera body used, subject contrast, and light levels; we found focusing to be generally fast and accurate under most conditions, although with a certain tendency to struggle a bit in low light, especially at the telephoto end with its slow maximum aperture of F5.6.

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 58mm, and does not rotate on focusing, which will be a bonus to filter users.
The hood is unusually good for a kit lens, being a deep petal-type design with a bayonet mount. It is failry solidly-made from black plastic, with ribbed mouldings on the inside surface to reduce light reflection into the lens, and reverses neatly for storage.
The zoom ring rotates a miserly 45 degrees anti-clockwise from wide to telephoto, with markings at 14, 18, 25, 35, and 42mm. The finely-ribbed rubber grip is just 14mm wide, and the zoom action smooth if slightly uneven. The extension on zooming is 18mm.

There's a little wobble to the lens barrel at full extension, but overall the diminutive Olympus feels better than most of its competitors in this regard.
The manual focus ring is the widest on current kit lenses at 10mm, and is extremely smooth and well-damped. The focus-by-wire internal focus system also allows a remarkably generous travel of 270 degrees from infinity to 0.25m, and has sufficiently fine focusing steps to take full advantage.

Overall this is certainly superior in operation to the rather imprecise front cell focusing found on many competitors.

Reported aperture vs focal length

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

Focal length 14mm 18mm 25mm 35mm 42mm
Max aperture
F3.5
F3.9
F4.7
F5.3
F5.6
Min aperture
F22
F22
F22
F22
F22
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