Olympus Zuiko 11-22 f2.8-3.5

The Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm f2.8-3.5 lens was first released back in the early day of the Four-Thirds SLR system. It was the wide angle zoom in Olympus’ “High Grade” line-up, along with Zuiko 14-54, 12-60, and 50-200. As a wide angle zoom, it is somewhat unique in its focal range. It’s the least wide of any such zoom in recent history, with a FF equivalent 22mm at the wide end. It barely touches upon the ultra-wide territory, but goes all the way up to “true” normal, with a FF equivalent FOV of 44mm. Some have complained that it really isn’t wide enough. And if you absolutely must have a conventional wide angle zoom, that complaint is true enough. But the real question is whether the range covered fits one shooting style. I must say that, for myself, this zoom covers my favorite range to shoot in, and would be self-recommending for that reason alone.

Let’s take a quick glance at some of the specs. The Olympus 11-22 weighs a little over a pound (485 grams), features 12 elements in 10 groups, including two aspherical glass elements:

Nowadays, with the old Four-Thirds system largely defunct, the 11-22 would most likely be used on a Micro-Four-Thirds camera, via an adapter. Since the lens is too large for most m43 cameras and focuses rather slowly on all but the expensive OM-D EM-1, it will not likely be anyone’s first choice for a wide angle zoom for the m43 camera. Yet if you can bear the weight and handle the slow auto-focus, then you’re in for a treat. This is a very unique, special lens, not merely in terms of focal length, but in performance. To become better acquainted with it, let us first look at how it perform in terms of resolution.

Let’s begin by taking a look at what the lens can do at 11mm, f5.6:

Let’s take a look at a crop close to the center:

And a corner crop:

Here we discover what we often find in all but the very best wide angle zooms — namely, that the center is sharper than the corners. It’s only the very far corner that tends to be affected with the Oly 11-22. And honestly, it’s not something that is probably going to be much noticed in ordinary use. Nonetheless, it’s there, and should be noted.

Let’s glance at an 11mm image, f7.1 image:

Here’s the center crop:

And the edge crop:

At f7.1, corner performance seems a tad better, although it’s still sharper away from the corner.

Now let’s get an idea of what the lens does wide open, at 11mm, f2.8:

Let’s glance at a (near) center crop:

Center crop:

Edge crop:

While the center is decent enough, wide open at 15mm the edges turn to mush. While part of the issue here might be field curvature combined with a narrower depth of field, I still suspect it is best to stop the lens down at the wide end of the lens.

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

The center crop:

And the corner crop:

Again, we’re seeing a slight reduction of resolution in the corners, but otherwise strong performance across the image.

Next we will look at a shot taken at 14mm, f3.5:

The center crop:

And the corner crop:

This is really very good performance at a third of a stop from wide open. Corners are less sharp; but we would expect that even at slower apertures.

Now let’s try an image shot at 15mm, f7.1:

The center crop:

And the corner crop:

Now there are a couple things that make this particular image tricky: (1) it contains a lot of very fine, hard to resolve detail; and (2) the point of focus — i.e., the center of the image — is further away than the corners, so that it is difficult to determine to what extent any sort of softness noted in the corner is caused by depth of field issues, rather than lens performance related issues. But I include this set of images merely to provide a chance to see how the lens operates in real world situations, rather than the artificial (and not always duplicated in the field) results from lab tests.

Here’s an image that displays what the lens can do against a flat field. This image is shot at 16mm, f7.1:

The center crop:

The corner crop:

Here the corner, while less sharp than the center, is still pretty good. When combined with the results of the last test, this suggests the lens does not feature a huge amount of field curvature — at least not in the middle of its range.

Next we’ll glance at shot taken at the long end of the lens, at f3.5. Let’s see how well the lens does shot wide open:

Center crop:

And the corner crop:

This is really quite good wide-open performance, both in the center and in the corners. The lens may be a bit sharper stopped down; but the difference are minor, and the lens is perfectly acceptable wide-open at the long end of the lens.

Now for a 22mm shot at the more respectable aperture of f7.1:

The center crop:

And the corner crop:

This repeats what we’ve seen all along at mid aperture settings. The Oly 11-22 is sharp in the center and less sharp in the corners. Still, very nice performance, resolution-wise, on a sensor four times smaller than the old school, “full-frame” sensor.

One more 22mm, f7.1 example:

Center crop:

Corner crop:

Except for the far edges and corners, the Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm f2.8-3.5 is a fairly sharp wide angle zoom, especially when shot at mid-apertures. Wide open, it performs better across the frame at the long end of the lens. Near the wide end, it performs better wide open at closer distances. Since this is a lens perhaps best suited for landscape and architecture, mid-apertures are best. Indeed, if I were to offer any criticism of the lens is that it’s too fast: the extra speed adds weight and cost. Because its a four-thirds lens, it isn’t that expensive on the used market. But it did, at one time, feature an MSRP of just under $800, which is a fair amount of money for a lens which only covers a sensor one-fourth the size of full frame. Image an 11-22 m42 lens, f3.5-4.5, under 250 grams, with similar performance as the old four-thirds HG lens!

The lens does suffer some minor CAs, particularly at the wide end; but these clean up easily in any decent raw converter. Good distortion control as well, for those who care about such things.

Opinion does seem to be divided on this lens. Some people really love it; others think its over-rated. Those in the latter camp usually complain about the “softness” along the edges and corners, particularly at the wide-end of the lens. Some people complain that it’s no better, in the range held in common, than the (even less expensive) Zuiko 14-54 f2.8-3.5. And nearly everyone concedes that the Zuiko 12-60 f2.8-4 and the M. Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 are better lens in the range held in common, and also feature better focal range to boot. So why, in the face of all this criticism, most of it based on sound, factual principles, do some of us still persist in thinking highly of this heavy, slow-focusing (on current m43 cameras, the EM-1 excepted), short focal range lens? In brief, I suspect it has to do with what I call the tonality of the lens: the contrast, the color, the overall rendering of the lens. The Olympus 11-22 features the best color rendition of any Olympus, four-thirds, or m43 lens I have yet had the privilege of using. It’s far and away my favorite lens on m43. Throw the right kind of light at it, and the Oly 11-22 will produce exquisitely beautiful images.

Below are some samples.

At 11mm:

At 12mm:

At 13mm:

At 14mm:

At 15mm:

At 17mm:

At 18mm:

At 21mm:

At 22mm: