So as I was surfing m43 ( Micro Four Thirds ) websites online, I stumbled upon this lens called the SLR Magic 12mm f1.6. I had already purchased the Olympus 12mm f2.0 just a few months ago when it came out and was quite intrigued with the announcement of the 1.6. Some of the features that caught my eye were the price point, the aperture, and the black finish.
I was reading reviews and opinions from several other people who got their hands on the prototype and heard great things about it so I decided to give it a try.
This will be my first “review” or comparison of any sort. I won’t get into the technical aspects since you can find that information online done by other people. It won’t be a fully comprehensive and extensive comparison but I think it will suffice.
I’ll be focusing on the differences between the two lenses. I won’t be using any creative examples for my tests, so this may or may not be as useful in real world tests. Maybe not at the moment at least since it requires much more work to shoot controlled shots for a fair comparison between the two lenses. Also it’s quite tedious
Additionally this review will be based on the GH2′s video feature and not photography.
I did not do any tests with the SLR Magic at f1.6 since we’re doing strict comparison, also the SLR Magic is best at f2.0 to get rid of super crazy flares.
All tests are done on a GH2 with the 44mbps hack, I forgot which one. Unless stated, the built in white balance presets were used; sunny, cloudy, and shade.
The SLR Magic is noticeably heavier than the Olympus. I actually like it that way, since it’s built like a tank. The Olympus itself is built very well, though I don’t like how the silver finishing doesn’t match up with the rest of my equipment.
The SLR Magic looks and acts like a CCTV lens. Its aperture ring is on the front instead of the rear. The focus and aperture rings are both very smooth ( though if you keep wiggling the aperture ring you can hear the lube inside, just a nitpick ). This would come in handy for people using the SLR Magic for video because the exposure would change gradually instead of it stepping apertures one by one, which is quite jarring. On the other hand we have the Olympus which also has a very smooth focus but it can be a bit too fast. This may or may not be good for some people, I personally prefer the focusing ring on the SLR Magic. It’s smooth and steady, but not too slow.
The stepless aperture ring could also be seen a flaw since you may accidentally move it while shooting or switching lenses, you’ll just have to be double check your aperture like you should anyways.
Yes, it is also possible to accidentally change the aperture on the Olympus also.
Chipped vs Not Chipped
As you know the Olympus is able to autofocus because it’s chipped and has the properly ability to communicate with the GH2. Because of this, it also gains the features of automatic exposure. You’re able to pretty much use any compatible camera as a traditional camcorder. You can run around with the GH2 completely auto; auto-shutter, auto-focus, auto-iso, auto-whitebalance, and auto-aperture. This may come in handy for run and gun situations or situations where you can only use one hand or even no hands.
In addition to having the aperture be clicking in rather than a gradual change, changing the aperture on the GH2 while filming will cause the camera to shake if you’re shooting handheld.
This is a pretty huge difference. The SLR Magic can focus up to 3cm ( about an inch ) close compared to the Olympus which has a minimum focusing distance of 20cm ( about 7.8 inches ). While this might seem pointless for some people, it does allow for more creativity. You could mess with perspective or get extreme closeups of the eye or . I was able to easily film my PVCs up close. I find the macro handy for documentary work and casual use also. When I say casual I mean simply carrying your camera around when you’re hanging out with your friends or on vacation. Perhaps you want to get those close up shots of the fabulous dinner you just ate so you can share it with your friends who don’t care on Facebook.
Since the SLR Magic has super macro, it can easily create bokeh like this within a very short distance.
dot dot dot
The SLR Magic tends to have a greenish yellow tint to it. Warm but in a green way.
Olympus tends to be more blue and red. In general the Olympus seems more “accurate”.
If you don’t like the color, you could adjust the color of your white balances on your GH2.
The two lenses were almost identical in terms of color when I custom white balanced each lens individually.
I posted just one example here, but you can examine the color in the rest of the article for more comparison
So what happens if you use a custom white balance for the lenses individually? Well the difference isn’t as drastic, or maybe this is just a poor example or execution.
I’ve never actually white balanced a scene every time I changed lenses nor do I really use the custom white balance. I may now start considering white balancing each lens.
Here’s the biggie. To autofocus or not to autofocus? I own both a traditional camcorder and of course the GH2. So far I haven’t really missed autofocus much on the DSLR.
But it does come in handy in many situations where it’s impossible, difficult, or tedious to adjust the focus manual. It is not like you can’t manual focus also, so the auto-focus adds versatility.
- May come in handy for Steadycam / Crane work
- If camera is out of reach and you can’t reach the ring. ( Placing the camera on a monopod and raising it high above your head or putting the camera in a jar and submerging it underwater)
- If you have a shoulder rig and prefer not to use a follow focus ( For event coverage, weddings, etc )
- and some other stuff I can’t think of at the moment.
The auto-focus on the Olympus is pretty darn good so you’d be surprised ( though it’s still not perfect )
But you may ask, will this come in handy for steadycam or crane work? Frankly I’m too lazy to do a crane test so I’ll just have these steadycam tests.
Here we have somewhat of an extreme example. The camera starts from afar then sweeps into the subject.
I won’t post the frames when the camera ends up on his face since the motion blur makes it difficult to tell whether it’s sharp or not. So I’ll put the actual videos up for comparison.
While the SLR Magic is not perfect it still does a good job. I used it in one of my recent videos and I’m surprise at how it looked despite being on manual. Of course the deep DOF helps. Most of these shots were done at an aperture of 16 I believe. The issue of doing low light steadycam work with the manual SLR Magic may become tricky then. If you’re used to do doing steadycam work without autofocus then you may or may not want to consider the manual SLR Magic. As most would say , autofocus may be finnicky because it may not focus on the intended subject.
Other than crane and steadycam use, one may consider using this for documentary, event coverage, or other run and gun type of shoots. The auto-focus is silent and extremely quick with the Olympus so this would be extremely handy.
Rollover to see distortion
The rollover is the SLR Magic. The SLR Magic has more distortion than the Olympus.
The Olympus is tact sharp. Whenever I used my Small DP6, it was extremely easy to find focus. Also interestingly, the focus on the Olympus seems stepped instead of gradual. The focus snaps in if you have it on the 2nd focusing mode for the focus ring. I always had trouble with SLR Magic since it’s softer, usually I end up having to double check if that really was the best focus. It’s actually easier to focus using the GH’2s built in focus than the monitor.
While the Olympus is really sharp, even wide open, it does give off more of a video like quality because of its sharpness. That’s just my opinion though. The SLR Magic isn’t as sharp as the Olympus, but it still does its job well. Most of my work so far has been downscale to 720p so it looks fine at that resolution. If you’re working with 1080p and like to pixel peep, then you may be disappointed.
Edge to edge sharpness wise, Olympus wins even wide open. The SLR Magic gets pretty blurry at f2.0, it gets a bit better at f4.0. If you constantly compose and frame your shots with the subject on the side of the frame with low lighting, the SLR Magic may not be the choice for you.
DJ Hero Test
Notice how it’s a harder to tell the difference between the two lenses in these samples, especially if you look at them individually and not side by side.
Another huge difference between the Olympus and SLR Magic, lens flare. The Olympus is well controlled and has a more natural lens flare, subtle and gradual. On the other side we have the SLR Magic which can get a bit extreme at certain angles. These flaws could be used stylistically, so it may or may not be a deal breaker for some. Interestingly the Olympus has these nice rays of light.
Having a mattebox won’t help much for the light sources directly in front of the lens, but having a mattebox or lens hood will at last help prevents flares coming off from the side.
Note: If you’re wondering some of the shots of the SLR Magic is darker than the Olympus, it’s because I incorrectly selected the wrong aperture. Since it’s not stepped, I was assuming the center of the marking of the aperture was the center of the lettering. For example for 2.8 I thought I had to match the aperture line with the decimal. But apparently you’re suppose to align the aperture marking at the beginning of the lettering. So the aperture mark is suppose to align at the beginning of the number 2.
SLR Magic / the flares tend to be on the magenta side and affects the rest of the image
Olympus / flares are much more subtle here . notice the rays/beams of light coming from the light source . also the flares don’t affect the color for the rest of the image.
These two shots were custom white balanced individually.
It’s pretty much all over the place in the SLR Magic, with a large light source in the rear anyways. Both of these were at f2 . Does it get better stopped down? I’m not sure haha.
The Olympus keeps it’s contrast and blacks. This could be a huge deal for some people
SLR Magic // f2.0 // the large light source from the rear overwhelms the lens.
Olympus // f2.0 // Here the chair and Miku’s socks retains it’s original black color. The Olympus doesn’t seem to be affected by the large amount of light coming from the rear.
Nikon vs Olympus vs SLR Magic
Most of my lenses are Nikon lenses so I wanted to see how well the wide angles complimented each other. If you color correct, you may not be able to tell the difference in the end product.
But here you can see the Olympus matches the color of the Nikon more then the SLR Magic. Again the color could simply be fixed with proper white balancing of the lenses. The Nikon is obviously sharper than both because the others are just a crop of a wider frame but the sharpness of the Nikon matches the Olympus.
None of these were white balanced individually so the colors differ a bit. All of them were shot at ISO 800
While still frames help with examining the lens in depth, this of course is an examination of the video aspect of these lenses. So here a video clip showing some of the lens flares and other tests in motion.
A separate clip comparing the visual look of the two lenses. There are several shots in motion, which make it a bit harder to differentiate between the two.
Style and “Look”
Is the SLR Magic more “cinematic” looking than the Olympus?
White Balanced Tests
The samples below have each been individually balanced to a grey card card. It should be easier to compare it if they’re on equal grounds in terms of color.
SLR Magic f5.6 / notice the flaring on the left and right side of the frame
Why SLR Magic over Olympus?
So assuming money isn’t a problem, should you still consider the SLR Magic? And if money is a problem, yes the SLR Magic is worth it ( with the extra $300 you could invest in an extra lens or other equipment ). One of the nice things about the SLR Magic is the aperture ring and the macro. Other than that, you need to examine some of the samples and decide on your own. One might consider the SLR Magic to be more cinematic with it’s softer look while others who seek perfection should go with the Olympus which could look sterile to some. Some might be looking at the samples and think that the SLR Magic is awful because of it’s green/yellow cast, but this can easily be corrected within your white balance settings. If you like to pixel peep and prefer it to be tact sharp across the entire frame, then the Olympus is for you. Some might also prefer the flares the SLR Magic has, which there are some nice examples. Some might even prefer the distortion in the SLR Magic. You can technically soften the image of the Olympus and even add in some soft corners to achieve a similar image, though it may not be exactly the same as the SLR Magic.
At times it is hard to tell the difference between the two lenses, especially if I don’t label my clips. I usually look at the corners but sometimes the difference is negligible.
All the stills above are basically pixel peeping, especially since they’re placed side by side for comparison.
But with the video samples, it makes it much harder to tell the difference between the two.
The only big issue I really have with the SLR Magic is with flares and that haze.
You’ll have to use your own judgement and make your own decision
Here is a chart that breaks down some of my points. But please use this as a reference and not base your decision only off this. Make sure you read the article or at least watch the 3 video clips!
Some people may consider a pro a con and vice versa.
Comparison from Others
“The images this lens provides are somewhat more “cinematic” and classic feeling compared to the Olympus 12, which has a totally different and more “perfect” character about it. ”
“The Olympus seems to be sharper, but the Noktor has a more strong “cinematic” feeling.”
Both mention how the SLR Magic holds a more a “cinematic” look. Can I say the same? I’m not really sure,
Things to take into consideration
- If you do a lot of low light work and need the entire frame to be completely sharp. Then you should consider the Olympus
- Do you need to manually gradually adjust the aperture ( the GH2 allows auto aperture )? Otherwise you need to use the dial on the GH2 to adjust the aperture for the Olympus, which has the steps and jumps, not gradual. Also it’s somewhat inconvenient , it’s easier to adjust the aperture when there’s a dedicated ring for it on the lens. Otherwise the result is a bumpy video when you’re adjusting the aperture.
- If you don’t plan on spending $700 on a wide angle, the $500 SLR Magic is just as good. If you need something wider than 20mm with low lighting capabilities, this is it.
- Does the look of the SLR Magic fit with the rest of your lenses? Though this is a bit difficult if you don’t have the SLR Magic itself to use for comparison.
- Do you plan to also take photos? AF will come in handy!
I myself have been finding it difficult choosing one over the other.
The SLR Magic has it’s own subtle visual charm but I’m trying to decide which lens fits my workflow best.
The purple haze and flares might be a deal breaker. I’m not sure how often a situation like that will come up though.
I’m currently trying to justify replacing my Olympus with the SLR Magic. Is it significantly more appealing visually and is the addition of the aperture ring that helpful?
Looking at the main features are my biggest concern than sharpness. Again, I’d like to emphasize that in real world situations ( like in some of my video clips I uploaded above ) the soft corners are likely to go unnoticed ( unless it really bugs you that much ). However the flaring issue is something that would definitely stand out.
The two biggest features are aperture ring and auto-focus ( and perhaps the super macro ).
I’m somewhat leaning towards the Olympus because the auto focus might come in handy, but with a wide angle like this, it may be somewhat redundant ( except if you’re constantly switching back and forth between subjects that are at about a foot away to 4 foot away etc or situations where racking focus with your hand would be difficult ).
I’ll try to use the Olympus as much as I can and see if I miss the SLR magic at all.
I will post my results when I have made my decision.
If only I could simply keep both
Thank you for reading and I hope you found this article helpful!
I sold my SLR Magic. My main reason is because of the flaring issues. This may be cinematic for some, but I tend to have shots with light sources in the back. The SLR Magic flared at even small household lights so that was a bother. Also there’s the issue of the SLR Magic losing a lot of contrast and becoming hazy if there’s a large source of light behind the subject. The auto-focus is a handy feature for me. While most people argue that you don’t need auto-focus, it comes in quite in handy and allows you to be more versatile.
I may purchase the SLR Magic again later if I feel the Olympus is inadequate. But so far I’m quite happy with the Olympus.
- Richard Che ( Director, Director of Photography, Video Editor, and Photographer )