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Design

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the first thing that strikes you on picking up the 9-18mm really is its tiny size when retracted for carrying. Once extended to ready for use, though, it grows considerably, making it much less pocketable (not that this matters much when you're actually shooting with it). It's physically longest at the 9mm position, and shortens by about 1/3" (7mm) on zooming in to 18mm. Not surprisingly there's a little bit of play to the barrel when it's fully extended.

The second thing that strikes you on handling the lens is how smooth and well-damped the zoom action is (in marked contrast to Olympus's 14-42mm kit zoom). The manual focus ring also has a satisfyingly silky feel to its operation. The barrel construction is primarily of lightweight plastics, with a metal mount - overall the lens feels somewhat better constructed than the 14-42mm kit zoom (but not quite to the level of its Four Thirds equivalent).

Collapsible barrel design

The 9-18mm's diminutive size owes everything to Olympus's clever collapsible barrel design, first seen on the M ZD 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. To extend the lens ready for use, you simply rotate the zoom ring from its 'parked' position (indicated by a gray dot) to the 9mm mark - at this point a lock springs into place, limiting the rotation of the zoom ring to its normal operating range. To collapse the lens back again, you have to slide the unlock switch, which is conveniently placed on the side of the barrel.

On the camera

The 9-18mm is perhaps best-matched to the rangefinder-style Micro Four Thirds bodies such as the Olympus Pens and the Panasonic GF1, giving a package that fits in a large-ish coat pocket, but handles equally well on SLR-style designs such as the G2. The zoom and focus rings fall perfectly to hand, and the unlock switch for the collapsing mechanism is perfectly placed for operation by your left thumb.

It's worth pointing out that this lens isn't terribly compatible with the on-board flash of any of the Micro Four Thirds camera bodies; most of these only cover an angle of view equivalent to using an 14mm lens. At wider angles, the flash will give uneven frame coverage with darkening towards the corners, coupled with shadowing from the lens itself. This is absolutely normal for a wideangle zoom; if you really want to use this lens with flash you'll need to invest in a suitable external unit.

Autofocus

The 9-18mm (like the 14-150mm superzoom announced at the same time) sees Olympus specifically optimizing its lens designs for the requirements of high-speed contrast-detect autofocus. The lenses employ a single element for internal focusing, promising faster speeds and silent operation for movie recording. The good news is that the 9-18mm substantially delivers - focus is practically silent, and a lot faster than the 14-42mm kit lens (which has been much-criticised in this department). It's still not quite as quick as the Panasonic 7-14mm F4 in direct side-by-side comparisons, but the difference simply won't matter in normal use.

Change in angle of view on focusing ('focus breathing')

One immediately obvious feature of the 9-18mm is that the angle of view changes very markedly on focusing, becoming wider as you focus closer. Perhaps the most visible impact of this is that the live view display very noticeably (and slightly disconcertingly) 'twitches' during autofocus operation; however it can also have a visible impact while recording movies.

'Focus-by-wire' manual focus

Like all Micro Four Thirds lenses the 9-18mm employs a focus-by-wire manual focus system, which drives the focusing group indirectly via the lens's autofocus motor. 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.

Our lens (with Firmware version 1.0) showed a slight bug during manual focus: with other Micro Four Thirds lenses, the turning the focus ring initially brings up live view magnification, so you can check the focus position without immediately changing it. The 9-18mm, in contrast, changes focus then brings up magnified view after a slight delay, so you are confronted with an out-of-focus image you have to refocus. This gets a little bit annoying after a while, and we hope it will be fixed in a future update.

Lens body elements

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

The molded grips on the slim silver ring adjacent to the mount aid in mounting and dismounting the lens.
The filter thread is a petite 52mm, and does not rotate on autofocusing, which is helpful when using polarizers or neutral density gradients. Beware that standard (8mm mount) polarizers can give some vignetting, most visible at small apertures and close focus distances.

In a welcome improvement over the 14-42mm kit zoom, there's a proper bayonet mount for a lens hood, but this will be an optional extra (LH-55B).
The ridged plastic grip on the zoom ring is 13mm wide, with a beautifully damped action. It rotates 50 degrees anti-clockwise between the 9 and 18mm positions, with 11mm and 14mm markings in between.

The lens is physically longest at the 9mm position, with the front element retracting back about 7mm on zooming to 18mm.>
The focus ring is just 7mm wide, and while its action is perfectly smooth, it gives no tactile feedback at all during operation due to the 'focus-by-wire' design.

Reported aperture vs focal length

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

Focal length
9mm
11mm
14mm
18mm
Max aperture
F4.0
F4.3
F4.9
F5.6
Min aperture
F22
F22
F22
F22
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