Review Olympus 12mm f/2.0 Special Edition


The Olympus 12 mm f/2 Limited Black was released in 2012 in a production run of 3000 copies. Apart from the appearance, the limited edition is produced in black, the lens design is the same as the Olympus 12 mm f/2 from 2011. That one is silver, comes without a sun cap, without a metallic lens cap and without a filter, and it’s 200 euros less expensive. Most photographers will choose the silver edition. Especially for the collectors among our readers, we’ve reviewed the black collector’s item, which became unavailable for purchase recently. And for everyone who already has the silver edition of the Olympus 12 mm f/2 or is planning to purchase one.


Test Olympus 12mm f/2.0 Special Black with OM-D E-M1

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Olympus 12 mm f/2  @ f/2, 100 ISO, 1/320 sec (edited RAW)

If you like to photograph with a wide-angle lense, and you would really like to isolate the subject from the background, then the Olympus 12 mm f/2 (in terms of field of view and focal depth equivalent to a 24 mm f/4 lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor) is currently perhaps the best choice in the ample offerings of micro-43 lenses. You do have to get quite close to your subject. With a shortest distance setting of 20 cm, that’s fortunately possible. 

Build and auto focus

The Olympus 12 mm f/2 is solidly built, despite the light weight of 130 grams. “A distinct, classic appearance” is what I read somewhere as a description of the look of this lens. I’ll second that. The lens makes use of internal focusing, which means the length of the lens remains unchanged and the filter mount does not turn during focusing. Like many lenses today, the Olympus 12 mm f/2 makes use of electronic focusing, whereby you normally don’t have a hard stop at infinity or at the shortest distance setting.

This lens has a distance scale with focal depth indicators, with which street photographers can make use of zone-focusing. The black LH-48 Metallic Sun Cap, LC-48 Metallic Lens Cap (shown below as second from the left and much handier than a normal lens cap—you slide it onto the lens) are exclusive for the Limited Edition and are not available separately. Olympus’s Movie & Still Compatible (MSC) mechanism works silently (handy when shooting video) and precisely.

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Olympus 12mm f/2 vs Olympus 12 mm f/2 Special Edition


In terms of image quality, according to Olympus there is no difference between the two versions. When we compare our review results with those of Photozone, then we see with our sample less vignetting at full aperture and the other results are the same. The Olympus 12 mm Special Edition is made in a luxurious metallic matte black, while the regular Olympus 12 mm is only made in silver. The hefty price difference of 200 eurs between the two versions is partly due to the extra black metallic sun cap (LH-48), the handy black metal lens cap (LC-48) and a protective filter. The metal lens cap cannot be used simultaneously with the sun cap. When you use the sun cap, you have to use the standard lens cap.


You will not have trouble from vignetting with this lens, whether you shoot in jpg or RAW. Even at full aperture, the vignetting is less half a stop. In comparison: For a standard lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor, one and a half stops, so three times as much, is not unusual.


Olympus 12mm f/2 sample image
Olympus 12 mm f/2  @ f/1.8, 100 ISO, 1/320 sec


Here too there’s not much to notice. A barrel-shaped distortion of half a percent is so low that in practice you will practically never see it. When you open a RAW file in Lightroom or Photoshop, you might come to the conclusion that there’s no software correction of distortion done, because the RAW file opened in Photoshop or Lightroom shows so little distortion. That’s because they’re corrected for distortion. If you avoid the automatic correction, then you see a barrel-shaped distortion of 5..5%. That’s also the explanation of why we give a bit higher score to the sharpness of RAW files: if you avoid the correction of distortion, then the corners are even sharper.




There is a sun cap included with the Olympus 12 mm f/2 Limited Black as a standard. That’s really nice. You probably won’t often really need it, because in many situations, even when you photograph directly into a bright light source, this lens has practically no trouble with flare or ghosts. Even so you can sometimes encounter a purple flash, such as in the partial enlargement shown here, if you don’t use the sun cap. The square-shaped sun cap is thus not only for looks.




The first thing that’s immediately noticeable about the sharpness of this lens is the high, very even sharpness. Just as with the Olympus 25 mm f/1.8, which we reviewed a short time ago. Actually, the sharpness in the center is equal to the sharpness in the corners. And that’s starting at full aperture. That is a very good performance and expands the usability of this lens. Many bright lenses have clearly softer corners at full aperture. Where sharpness is concerned, with this lens you’re completely free to use every aperture between f/2 and f/11. The amount of sharpening is somewhat a matter of personal taste. For me, the standard jpg files of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 are a bit too sharp. But there are many photographers who find that perfect. View the image below at 100% and form your own opinion.

In order to compare MTF50 results for this lens with MTF values for lenses tested on cameras with an APS-C or full frame sensor, we set the micro-43 test camera to a 2: 3 ratio. In other words: we tested this lens with a resolution of 14 megapixels (2:3 ratio) instead of 16 megapixels (4:3 ratio). Using the native 4:3 aspect ratio will yield slightly higher MTF values.

Olympus 12 mm f/1.8  @ f/1.8, 100 ISO, 1/320 sec
Move your mouse over the image above for a detail at 100%

Chromatic aberration

A DSA (Dual Super Aspherical) lens element and ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) coating is applied to minimize aberrations and internal reflections as much as possible. This lens has little trouble with lateral chromatic aberration, and we did not encounter any disruptive color bokeh. Color boken, that is to say magenta edges at sharp contrast transitions in front of the focal point and green edges at contrast transitions behind the focal point, often appears with bright lenses (<f/2.8).In contrast to lateral chromatic aberration, color bokeh does not only appear in the corners, but across the entire image.


For a nice bokeh with micro-43, you can best choose a longer focal point (Olympus 75 mm f/1.8!). The Olympus 12 mm f/2 Special Black always delivers pictures with really nice focal depth, sometimes a nice bokeh and sometimes a rather noisy bokeh as shown here. A good presentation for a micro-43 wide angle.


Olympus 12mm vs 12-40mm vs Panasonic 7-14 mm vs Panasonic 12-35mm

In our list of reviews with results at unusual focal distances, you can directly compare the image quality of the Olympus 12 mm f/2 with a number of other micro-43 lenses, such as the Olympus 12-40 f/2.8, Panasonic 12-35 mm or the Panasonic 7-14 mm f/4. In terms of image quality, the professional Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8 scores the highest, in particular with the high sharpness in the corners. Actually, these lenses differ little from each other in terms of image quality. The Olympus 12 mm f/2 distinguishes itself in a positive sense with the high brightness, the compact measurements and the low weight. A professional photographer might choose the Olympus 12-40 mm due to the higher sharpness in the corners. Personally, my preference from that list of micro-43 lenses is for the Olympus 12 mm f/2 (Black), if I head out for the day with an Olympus OM-D E-M1. 

Conclusion Olympus 12mm black 2.0 Special Edition review


Look in our list of reviewed lenses or in our list of reviewed micro-43 lenses to compare the performance of this lens with that of other lenses.

NCWYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, whereby you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: “What you see is what you get”. 

testcamera: Olympus OM-D E-M1

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NCPure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file is saved in the camera as a RAW file. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or DxO Optics for the conversion of RAW files, then the RAW scores are the same as the jpg scores. 



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  • High image quality
  • Handy format
  • Includes very nice sun cap and luxurious lens cap
  • Much nicer than the silver version


  • Not sealed against dust and splash water
  • More expensive than the regular version
  • For Panasonic cameras, no built-in image stabilization

Fashion-conscious people happily spend hundreds of euros extra for nicely made clothes. With photography, that’s less of a given. I know few photographers with a hand-cut, Italian (or British) suit. Given equal quality, we usually choose the less expensive version. That is in this case the Olympus 12 mm f/2, and that is indeed just as good.
And yet… If you’ve had this little black jewel on your camera for a while, then you’ll probably want to keep it, just like us. Because not only is the finish of this compact wide-angle lens perfect, the level of pleasure from using it is high, and the image quality is as well. The Olympus 12 mm Limited Black deserves to become a collector’s item.

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