Olympus M. Zuiko 9-18 f4-5.6

Olympus describes the lens as follows:

The super wide-angle M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 zoom lens (35mm equivalent 18-36mm) offers a 100° angle of view, and overturns the rule that super wide-angle zooms have to be big and heavy. With a length of just 49mm and a weight of just 155g, it less than half the size and 60% of the weight of the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6. With its wide angle of view, it makes it easy to include background scenery in group photos, and can be used to create unique images with a sense of dynamically exaggerated perspective.



The size is what really makes this lens stand out. In its collapsed state, it’s not much bigger than a normal prime lens. If micro-four-thirds is about keeping things small, then the Olympus 9-18 could be the poster zoom lens of the platform. It is not only small, but it’s a very fine lens, a cut above the compact standard zoom lens which it is grouped with by Olympus. But while it may perform better than the ubiquitous 14-42 kit lenses, how does it stack up against the better sort of glass? I would describe the lens basically as follows: in terms of lens contrast and color rendition, it’s right there with the better primes and pro glass in Olympus’ micro-four-third line-up. In center resolution, it is very close, if not quite matching, the higher end glass. What prevents the Olympus 9-18 from matching pro glass performance are the edges corners, which lack the resolution that a lens like the Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40 achieves toward the edges of the frame. A glance at some crops will give one a better idea how the lens performs in real world shooting situations.

First shot, taken at 9mm, f7.1:



The 100% corner crop:



The 100% edge crop:



The 100% corner crop:



I have added both an edge crop (taken from the middle edge) and a corner crop because I suspect the lens is sharper along the edges than in the far corner. And I think these crops testify to this. Center resolution is very good, although not outstanding. Edge resolution is good, but the corners are not particularly sharp.

Another 9mm, f7.1 shot:



The 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Again we find very good resolution in the center, with resolution only weakening in the far corners.

Now a 10mm, f7.1 shot:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% edge crop:



The 100% corner crop:



This image and its crops allow us to see how the lens does in capturing a much wider scene, with close foreground and distant ridge of trees. What we find is curious. At a distance, we do seem to lose a little bit of resolution, but that’s only natural. What is more interesting is the edge crop: quite soft, which suggests the lens suffers from a serious dose of field curvature. The corner crop is better away from the far corner, but the far corner is still soft.

Now let’s see what’s going on at 11mm, f7.1:



The 100% centerish crop:



The 100% corner crop:



The pattern persists: very good sharpness in center, soft in far corners.

Let’s take a glance at a 12mm, f7.1 pic:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Again, sharp in center, soft in far corners.

We move to a 13mm shot:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



The far corners may seem a little better in this shot, but that’s only because they are covered in darkness.

Now let’s try a 14mm, f7.1 shot:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



And a 15mm, f7.1 shot:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



Here’s a 16mm, f7.1 shot:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Again, we find the lens maintaining that same general profile: sharp in center, soft in far corners.

Let’s see what the far end of the zoom reveals. Here’s a shot at 18mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



And the 100% edge crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



I think we’re achieving performance comparable to the earlier 10mm shot of the same subject. Fairly sharp in the center (though some resolution lost due to distance of subject); soft along edges due to field curvature; soft in corners. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but the 10mm shot does seem a tad worse along the edges and a tad better in the corners. However, if there is a difference, it is not enough to be significant.

Here’s another 18mm, f7.1 shot:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



And one last 18mm, f7.1 shot:



And the 100% crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



These crops, and other shots that I have seen, all seem to suggest that the corner softness issue with the Olympus M. Zuiko 9-18 is a bit worse on the long end of the zoom than the short end. It’s not dramatically different or anything to get particularly uptight about; but it’s there nonetheless. I also seem to see a slight drop in lens contrast at the far end of the lens. Again, nothing major, but there nonetheless. Otherwise, the lens performs quite well throughout all of its range, with only a very slight diminishment of performance at the long end.

All the shots above were taken at f7.1. Going through my library, I see that I have very few shots taken with the lens wide open. The Olympus 9-18 is not exactly a lens made specially for hand-holding in low light. This is an outdoor, landscape, architecture lens. The few shots I did have that were taken wide open also have low shutter speeds and high ISOs. They are not true indicators of what the lens is capable wide open in optimal conditions. But because the lens will more likely than not be used wide open under difficulty lighting scenarios, the following image, shot wide open at 18mm (i.e., f5.6), will give an indication of what can be achieved in the field. ISO here is 800; shutter speed is 1/13 of a second; sharpening and noise reduction were added in post:



100% center crop:



100% edge crop:



Here the results are pretty good. A little bit more noise, a little less sharpness than what we would find shot at base ISO; edges maybe a little less sharp than we would find if we shot at f7.1. Perhaps what is most impressive in the shot is the 5 axis IBIS of the Olympus EM-5. I can’t really detect any blur from camera stability issues in the 100% crops.

To sum up: very good sharpness in center; less sharp toward the edges, due to a combination of decreased resolution and field curvature; soft in the far corners. Fairly good consistency across the zoom range, although the lens is perhaps not as good at far end (18mm) as it is elsewhere. With its very good lens contrast and color rendition, the Olympus 9-18 is capable of producing beautiful images. It’s definitely superior to Olympus’ other variable aperture consumer grade glass for micro-four-thirds. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of pro glass, particularly in terms of sharpness along the edges and in the corners, one should keep in mind both the price and the size of the lens. The Olympus 9-18 retails for around $700, which may seem pricey, but the Lumix 7-14 goes for at least several hundred dollars more and weighs twice as much. And the forthcoming Olympus 7-14 f2.8 will not only be larger (I would guess as much as three times as heavy), but will likely cost $1,000 more. In the Olympus 9-18 you get an ultra-compact zoom lens that isn’t ridiculously expensive. The trade-off is a bit less resolution, particularly toward the edges and especially in the corners.

This tiny wide angle zoom is capable of producing exquisitely lovely images. Here are some samples.

At 9mm:









At 10mm:







At 11mm:







At 12mm:



At 14mm:



At 15mm:



At 16mm:





At 17mm:



At 18mm:







And, finally, a multi-pic panorama shot at 17mm:





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