The Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens is the standard kit lens provided with many Olympus micro four-thirds cameras. Featuring an all plastic design, this is definitely a consumer grade lens, but can produce sharp, pro quality results if used correctly in the right situations. When purchased as a kit with an Olympus camera body, it is often an incredible value as well. This review offers a real world look at this neat little “plastic fantastic” lens.
Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 R II Lens Specifications
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Maximum Aperture: f/4
- Format: Micro Four-Thirds
- Field of view: 75° – 29°
- Minimum Focus Distance: 9.8″ (24.89 cm)
- Elements/Groups: 8/7
- Aperture Blades: 7
- Weight: 4 oz (113 g)
- Approximate Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.9″ (5.59 x 4.83 cm)
- Filter size: 37mm
The Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens is small “kit” zoom lens that works on all Olympus and Panasonic micro four-thirds camera bodies. This lens is often offered as the kit lens in many of Olympus’ entry-level and mid-grade kits. It’s a “collapsible” lens, meaning that it contracts down into a smaller size compared to what it is when in use. Being that micro four-thirds is a 2x crop-sensor format, the 14-42mm focal length is the full-frame equivalent of a 28-84mm lens.
This is the second generation of this lens, with the original “mark I” version of the lens lacking internal focusing, a bayonet attachment on the front, as well as being ever so slightly larger.
What I Like!
Small Size and Weight
This lens is tiny! While most plastic mount kit lens for even a DSLR are pretty small and light, the M.Zuiko 14-40mm II R is downright minuscule. Weighing in at 4 oz (113 g), this lens is barely noticeable whether it is attached to your camera body, or tossed in your bag.
Of course, it is a collapsible lens, so when in use it does grow in size as the barrel expands out slightly from the body. Even then, this is a small lens that fits well on a small Olympus PEN or Panasonic Lumix body.
If you have never used a lens this small, it can make for a life-changing experience. When paired with my Olympus E-M10 Mark II, the size of the setup feels like it could be a large point-and-shoot camera rather than an interchangeable lens system. And that is the of the beauty of shooting with a mirrorless system right there. It’s so easy to carry, it has been awesome to take this lens around on long hikes, especially if I have a lot of other gear along. It is seriously so small that I won’t even notice it in your pack.
First off, being that this is a consumer-grade kit lens built out of plastic, it is unrealistic to expect professional quality sharpness here. As you probably know, kit lenses often get a bad rap. This lens, however, does perform remarkably well for a lens of its size and type as long as you know how to use it.
At a wide open aperture (varies from f/3.5 to f/5.6 depending on the focal length), the image sharpness tends to fall off quite a bit at the edges of the image. As such, stopping down the aperture about 1 stop usually improves the edge sharpness enough to make the sharpness of this lens more than acceptable across the board. Of course, stopping down too much (beyond f/11) will significantly deteriorate the image as well. Center sharpness is very good or better throughout the focal range.
This lens is also better on the wider end of it’s focal range, with center sharpness dropping off a bit when you zoom past 35mm. Even then, to me, the photos I’ve shot at 42mm are still of acceptable sharpness, but definitely a little softer.
Overall, I try to keep this lens stopped down between f/5.6 and f/8 most of the time. Because I mainly shoot landscape, that is more of the aperture range I want to shoot for depth-of-field anyway. If I need to shoot with an extremely close foreground subject, I focus bracket instead of stopping down beyond f/11. Also, if I need to lengthen exposure times, I use an ND filter rather than stopping down beyond f/11. Following these guidelines, I can achieve amazing-quality landscape photos.
Let me just say that I would never buy this lens for its outright for its retail price. The real draw of this lens, in my opinion, is getting it essentially as a throw-in with an Olympus camera body. For instance, I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II as a kit with the 14-42mm II R and it was a screaming deal! Especially considering the respectable optical performance that can be coaxed out of this lens. If you are already considering buying an Olympus body that offers a kit with this lens, I think it’s a no-brainer to grab it!
What I Dislike!
Once again, I would not buy this lens for its full retail price. Not because this is a terrible price, for what you get, but it is no screaming deal when you can it for next to nothing the next time you go to get a new Olympus body? Furthermore, for a similar price, you could buy the Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6, which is an upgrade sharpness wise. This is also in the range of Panasonic 20mm 1.7 II “pancake” lens that is sharp, fast, and lightweight. I’d rather have either of those lenses for the price, and while I really like the 14-42mm II R, the fact that you can get it on massive discount via a kit at any given time makes the retail price hard to swallow.
What I am Neutral About
There other attributes to this lens that, given the price point, I see as neither positives or negatives, just factors you should also consider before purchasing this lens.
As mentioned above, the build quality of this lens is, besides the glass optical elements, 100% plastic. Although this not surprising given the price of this lens, it is another reason why I would not pay the full retail price. For a throw-in kit lens, however this is perfectly acceptable. Given the exceedingly small size of this lens, the plastic seems more likely to be durable than if it was built for a larger lens that would have more mass to throw around in the case of being dropped.
In terms of the quality of the moving parts, the zoom ring, focus ring, and collapsing mechanism all seem well-dampened and nicely built, at least considering the all-plastic build.
In all, I think the build quality is acceptable when getting this lens as a kit.
Slow, Variable Aperture
With an aperture range of f/3.5-5.6, this lens is not considered “fast”. Of course, an all-plastic kit zoom of this price point is not expected to be fast, or have a fixed aperture. And for novice photographers that tend not to shoot in the most demanding conditions, this will likely be fine as their first micro four-thirds lens.
However, if you are planning on shooting handheld in low light, you will be better served with a fast prime such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II.
A final caveat: this can definitely be landscape photography lens as shooting slow shutter speeds on a tripod and narrow apertures is easily done with this lens.
The Bottom Line
I have repeatedly hit home the point that the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R is a great deal when purchased as kit. Once again, this is a no-brainer, and gets you a small, lightweight, usable zoom lens for next to nothing.
If you are purchasing your first micro four-thirds camera and looking at an Olympus that comes with this lens, you might as well get it! Especially if you are a novice photographer that will get much use out of a standard zoom.
As a landscape photographer that tests gear mostly for this purpose, I think this is a perfectly acceptable lens for landscape photography and is capable of producing pro-quality results when used correctly. The center sharpness in particular is impressive, especially for a kit lens. It probably won’t be a go-to for a pro or enthusiast photographer, but as a pro landscape photographer, I have found this lens usable in many situations, often producing some awesome results.
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A few samples to show what this lens can do. These are not RAW originals, but edited and optimized, then sharpened for web viewing. Enjoy!