Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm 1:4.0-5.6
Category: Wideangle Lens
Conclusion - Pros
- Exceptionally small and lightweight
- Very good image quality
- Fast, practically silent autofocus
- Essentially no falloff/vignetting
Conclusion - Cons
- Relatively high chromatic aberration
- Corners somewhat soft wide open (but sharpen up on stopping down)
- Slightly plastic build for the price
The M Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4-5.6 is on the whole a fine performer, consistently delivering detailed results across a wide range of shooting conditions. Central sharpness in particular is very high, even wide open, and resistance to flare is impressive. It's not perfect - the extreme corners of the frame are somewhat soft, especially wide open, and lateral chromatic aberration is rather high, with pronounced red/cyan fringing towards the corners of the frame - but this seems a small price to pay for an ultra-wideangle zoom that slips easily into a small jacket pocket.
On the subject of size, the collapsing design sees Olympus further advancing its vision of Micro Four Thirds as a system that is, above all, exceptionally compact and lightweight. This perhaps reflects a desire on the company's part to differentiate the Pen system as much as possible from its Four Thirds SLRs (and therefore a slight difference in emphasis to Panasonic's approach of simply making a smaller, lighter SLR-alike system). But no matter what the reason it's very welcome, as the 9-18mm is impressively tiny when collapsed for carrying, making it far and away the smallest wide angle zoom available (and not much different in size to the 14-42mm kit lens).
The 9-18mm also reveals a significant advance in Olympus's autofocus system design for Micro Four Thirds, with its fast, silent focus motor which also allows continuous AF in video mode without the soundtrack being spoiled by operation sounds. This is a very welcome improvement over the 14-42mm kit zoom in particular, and brings AF performance up to a level genuinely competitive with Panasonic's lenses (including the 7-14mm F4).
Build quality is decent but not exceptional, being distinctly towards the lightweight plastic end of the spectrum. This fits perfectly with the lens's remit of maximum portability, but may disappoint some buyers given the price. On the plus side, though, the action of the zoom ring in particular is beautifully smooth and well-damped.
Of course the biggest decision facing potential buyers is whether to choose this lens ahead of the Panasonic Lumix G 7-14mm F4. Our tests show that optically, there's little between the two, especially for owners of Olympus cameras that don't correct chromatic aberration (although for users of Panasonic bodies, automatic CA correction with the 7-14mm may well be an important factor). Instead the decision can safely be made on other criteria, with the Olympus winning on portability, the ability to use filters, and price. The Panasonic, on the other hand, has a significantly wider field of view, constant F4 maximum aperture, and more solid build. So in the end it comes down to personal preference and budget.
The other most relevant comparison is with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 9-18mm F4-5.6 for Four Thirds, which can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras with an adapter. In terms of image quality, again there's very little in it, with the similar optical designs of the two lenses resulting in near-identical performance. The biggest draw of the older lens is therefore the ability to share it with a Four Thirds DSLR system, while the 'Micro' lens's major advantages come in terms of autofocus and (again) sheer portability.
In summary, then, the M Zuiko Digital 9-18mm F4-5.6 is an impressive little lens that packs a lot of capability into a body that's sufficiently small you can carry it around with you all the time, and therefore actually use it. It's a great match for the rangefinder-style Micro Four Thirds bodies in particular, giving ultra-wide capability with unparalleled portability. It's a lens which, we suspect, will be especially attractive for landscape and travel work. Overall, it's a fine addition to the Micro Four Thirds system.
Ergonomics and Handling
Photographers looking for ultra-wideangle capability in the smallest possible package
Not so good for
Users demanding the widest angle coverage possible
Olympus's ultrawide zoom for Micro Four Thirds offers impressive image quality plus fast and silent autofocus, in a tiny package that makes it easily the smallest lens of its type.
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