During this time of year we have not much light even during daytime and the weather in Southern Finland has been quite cloudy and rainy. Because of that I decided to do a traditional test target shoot to compare the new zoom with some of my other lenses.
Above is my test setup. I used two targets, one in the center and the other in the right upper corner. I shot the same "subject" (marked here as grey area) with different focal lengths. Of course distance varied accordingly to keep (subject) area the same. I used studio flashes and used their power settings to keep exposure on sensor constant in every picture. Accuracy was 1/10 stop. This way the differencies in lens diaphragm did not affect the results. I also focused center and corner targets separately to compensate for possible curvatures in lenses´focal planes. All test pictures were shot at ISO 200. Camera was Olympus E-P3. RAW images were opened in Lightroom 3.6 and I did a basic normalization of tones, correction of chromatic aberration and added sharpening. Those are the same basic tweaks I would do to real pictures. Possible distortions were not corrected as can be seen in corner shots.
Focal Length 12mm
The first comparison shows the center of 12-50mm zoom at full aperture F3.5 and closed at F5.6. Focal length is widest, 12mm. These are 100% crops, like all other target images here. The image quality gets better with smaller aperture as would be expected here.
Olympus´4/3 series zoom lens Zuiko D. 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 is the perfect comparison lens for any lens having the same focal length range. Here we can see center targets. This result is in line with Olympus´MTF curves below: 12-60mm zoom is a great lens, and especially its resolution (orange curves) is higher than with the new zoom. You can find more of these MTF curves at Olympus web sites. They are good tools when comparing lenses.
In upper line of this picture we have the corners of 12-50mm zoom at apertures F3.5 and F5.6. Contrast and resolution gets better with smaller aperture, but radial (sagittal) and tangential (meridional) lines have a very different resolution. It can be also seen in MTF curves, where continuous line is sagittal and dashed line is meridional transfer function. For comparison we have corner shots with 12-60mm zoom at F3.5 and and M.Zuiko 12mm f/2 prime at F4.0. 12mm lens is not too good in corners, but it has this reasonable level all ready from F2.
Focal Length 14mm
As a further comparison lens we have M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II kit zoom. Above its results at 14mm focal lenght and apertures F3.5 and F5.6. Left side images are from center and right side images are from corner. Now 12mm and 14mm focal lengths are so different that they should not be compared directly. That´s why I have below a common focal length of about 19mm.
Focal Length about 19mm
Here I set the shooting distance with Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 prime. After shooting with it, I shot with those three zooms from the same spot while setting zoom or focal length so that the cropping was always equal. Zoom rings did not show 20mm because Lumix actually has not a 20mm focal length. It is maybe close to 18,5mm. These crops are from center. Lumix 20mm and Olympus 12-60mm zoom show almost identical performance. Wide open 12-50mm zoom has a good resolution but its contrast is not up to 14-42mm zoom.
Looking at corners, 12-50mm zoom has again nice resolution but contrast performance is very modest. Thus it is practically a draw with kit zoom. Maybe it comes as a surprise for some people but Lumix 20mm is not much better in the corners. Number one from these lenses is quite obvious.
Closing down to F5.6 makes Lumix 20mm markedly better in the corners than these zooms.
Focal Length 42mm
This comparison has on the left centers at full aperture and on the right corners, again at full aperture. 12-50mm zoom gets better all the time as focal length grows. 14-42mm zoom on the other hand sees especially contrast dropping at its longest focal length.
Focal Length 50mm
Uppermost, on the left, we have 12-50mm zoom´s center at full aperture. All the other crops are from the corner. 12-50mm zoom shows just slightly better contrast in corners when closed to F8. Still contrast performance is lower than resolution. As new lenses I included M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 at the same aperture F4 as earlier were Lumix 20mm and M.Zuiko 12mm. 50mm is 4/3 series Zuiko D. 50mm f/2 Macro.
As close up test I did a watch image. At macro setting 12-50mm has a 43mm focal length. It can not be changed as zoom ring does not move when macro setting is engaged. Largest aperture is F6.0. Here we have the closest focusing distance of 200mm.
I tried apertures F8 and F11. The smaller aperture shows already effects of diffractions but on he other hand the better depth of field can be a bigger benefit. How ever, the 12-50mm lens is capable of very nice images with close up subjects. This is a 100% crop.
For comparison once more on the left the new 12-50mm zoom and on the right Zuiko D. 50mm f/2 Macro. Aperture is F8. Focusing differs between these images, please look for the sharpest details in both images.
Zuiko D. 12-60mm f/2.8-4 is one heck of a lens. I guess that´s old news. The images should tell quite clearly the differencies. However, we must remember that this kind of very precisely made test target comparison is a lot harsher than any normal shooting. The differencies in normal shooting would not be in the same league, there are too many disturbing factors. Even slight differencies in exposure, focus or camera shake could obscure a lot. But, yes this is what you get when everything is optimized.
M. Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 is a very reasonable lens for photography with its longer focal length and especially for close up shooting. Otherwise it fits better for video because of its silent and fast focusing and silent power-zoom. For video it has plenty of quality. You can check this by scaling test shots into 50%. Then they correspond to Full HD quality.