Very few lenses give us everything we want. And the clever Olympus 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ zoom ($349) is no exception.
On the plus side you get a very compact, handsome power zoom that's quiet with auto-on and an accessory auto lens cap. The optic focuses quickly and accurately. It's the perfect choice for quick-draw candids. What you give up is some edge sharpness with a dash of color fringing on contrasty lines.
My definitive test for this zoom was photographing a landscape under ideal conditions, with favorable camera settings. The image below was recorded mid-morning after a storm. I used the "Low ISO" setting on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and captured in both RAW and Jpeg Fine. (You can download the full size version on Flickr and study the image yourself.)
I used a mid-range focal length (21mm) on the 14-42mm zoom at f/5.6, 1/640th of a second. I processed the RAW file in Olympus Viewer 3 and the Jpeg in Aperture 3.5. (This version is from the RAW file.)
During RAW processing I removed the slight color fringing on the white fence (had to magnify to even see it) in Olympus Viewer. I also made a few tonal adjustments.
I then made a 13" x 19" print on Red River Paper UltraPro Gloss 2.0 with the Epson R2000. I like to make prints when evaluating lenses. To me, it feels like the "real world" test.
The image looked good through all phases of production on the computer. I had to magnify to see the flaws, notably the color fringing on the white fence. I did detect the sharpness falloff on the edges when viewing the image on my MacBook Pro Retina Display. But it was easier for me to draw my final conclusions by studying the 13" x 19" print.
The Bottom Line
The Olympus 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ zoom is the standard lens that I keep mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M10. It reacts quickly when I power up the camera, so it's well-suited for grabbing a quick shot. The quiet power zoom is easy to use and helpful for video recording.
But when it's time for more serious landscape work or architecture, I recommend switching to one of the excellent primes by Olympus or Panasonic. Even at f/5.6 on the 14-42mm, the edges are not as sharp as the center. And the color fringing, which can be removed in post, still appears on hard edges in bright areas.
The Olympus 14-42mm EZ zoom is a marvel of engineering: compact, quiet, with lots of features. It will help you capture images that you may have otherwise missed with a more traditional optic. But when it's time for the best edge-to-edge sharpness, switch to a prime.
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