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Conclusion - Pros

  • Tiny size and extremely light weight
  • Decent sharpness, remarkably consistent across all apertures from wide open to F8
  • Proper manual focus ring and non-rotating front element

Conclusion - Cons

  • Chromatic aberration visible across much of the frame
  • Noticeable barrel distortion
  • Impractical screw-in lens cap

Overall conclusion

The Olympus Zuiko Digital 25mm F2.8 Pancake is an idiosyncratic little lens with its own unique 'personality', and therefore really rather difficult to categorize. Unusually for a Zuiko, we're not exactly shouting from the rooftops about its optical quality; it's sharp enough for sure, but the simple retrofocal design results in relatively high levels of chromatic aberration coupled with modest barrel distortion, which may come as a shock to old-time 35mm SLR shooters who remember their 50mm primes as near-perfectly corrected. In fact this lens isn't really optically any better than Olympus's alternative 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens, and is soundly trounced by their classic mid-range zooms such as the 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 or the superlative 12-60mm F2.8-4 (both of which are of course very much larger and more expensive), so there's little point in buying it on image quality grounds alone. It's also not really all that fast (in aperture terms), so won't hugely increase the camera's low-light capabilities either. It therefore doesn't really deliver on the main reasons for which people tend to buy primes, i.e. improved image quality and light gathering power; although to be fair this is as much testament to the excellent quality of Olympus's zooms as it is a criticism of the Pancake itself.

But of course this lens isn't necessarily just about optical quality, it's also about being the ultimate in portability and discretion. Indeed when combined with the E-420, it perhaps come closest in philosophy to the lightweight, unobtrusive 'street-shooter' than any digital camera system currently available aside from the Leica M8, and at a price far more accessible to the average photographer. Indeed it has to be said that us photographers here in the DPReview studios have really rather enjoyed using this lens; it certainly makes a refreshing change from bulky SLR bodies and large zoom lenses. Ultimately this is the 25mm F2.8's strongest selling point; on those compact Olympus bodies it gives a proper DSLR system which can fit into a coat pocket, and which is sufficiently lightweight and unobtrusive to carry around all day, every day without a second thought.

This is therefore a lens where you'll either 'get it', or you won't; indeed most casual users will likely wonder what all the fuss is about. However judging by ongoing reports of supply problems in the months immediately following its release, it certainly seems to be a lens which has captured the imagination of the Olympus faithful. It's therefore a great example of a 'cult' product, for which the concept is arguably more important than the technical quality of the results. But the biggest problem facing the 25mm F2.8 Pancake is that Olympus's tiny 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit zoom gives equally good, if not better results in a package which is still pretty compact, and with the framing flexibility of a zoom to boot (although comparatively lacking in both low-light capability and depth of field control due to the smaller maximum aperture).

Ultimately Olympus has to be applauded for producing something a little different, and designing a prime lens for the average consumer at a time when the other camera manufacturers (with the honourable exception of Pentax) seem to consider them as exotica of interest only to professional users. So whilst the 25mm F2.8 is certainly not a lens which will appeal to all users, we'd still encourage those who have hitherto only used zooms to consider giving it a try. And if only Olympus could produce a matching 12mm F2.8 wideangle, we'd be impressed indeed.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8
Ergonomics & handling 8
Features 7
Image quality 7.5
Value 8

Recommended (with reservations)

Recommended

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Samples Gallery

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Olympus 25mm F2.8 Pancake Review Samples

20 images • Posted 23 June 2008 • View album
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