The Olympus Zuiko ED Digital 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 offers a 10x optical zoom in an unpretentious body
Olympus has the knack for creating unpretentious lenses and this one is no exception. The ED label is understated and you have to dig deep to discover that there are not only two aspherical profiles but also an internal CPU that accepts firmware upgrades.
As if that were not enough, this is a genuine IF (internal focusing) lens even though it is not designated as such.
Being a Four Thirds lens the equivalent focal length for a full-frame camera is double that marked on the lens, putting the 18-180mm on a par with a 36-360mm in terms of angle-of-view. It is true that its 10x zoom range falls some way short of the 14x that is offered by some other superzooms, but the Zuiko’s shortcomings are mostly at the wideangle end so there is little lost by way of pulling power.
The lens has a very solid feel that positively inspires confidence. Its rearward zoom ring is perhaps a shade too far back but the grip is good and the rotation is smooth. There is no movement of the focusing ring in AF mode and it has a very light touch when used manually although the word manual’ is a bit misleading because in fact the focus ring generates electronic signals that are relayed to the drive motor. This gives a slightly odd feel and generates a significant amount of sound.
Technical testing revealed some chromatic aberration at both extreme ends of the zoom range, but in neither case was this apparent in everyday pictures.
The MTF curves are encouragingly close to or above the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel level except at the longest end of the zoom range, when the curve is bounded within 0.15-0.20 cycles-per-pixel. This behaviour is in line with that recently reported for some other superzooms (WDC, February 2010).
The most serious omission is image stabilisation. Olympus may very well argue that image stabilisation is available on the camera body but this does nothing to steady the viewfinder, which at 180mm can become noticeably shaky when the lens is handheld in windy conditions.
That said, the fact that the focusing ring remains undisturbed in AF mode is a real bonus as it allows a firmer grip to be taken than would otherwise be possible.
Overall the Olympus zoom is a definite edge over the other recent non-IS superzooms as seen in tests and this explains why it has been scored a shade higher.