Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 18-180mm 1:3.5-6.3 - £430
The focal range of Olympus's superzoom looks pretty standard fare at 18-180mm, but that's before you take the Four Thirds factor into account. With a 2x focal length multiplier, the lens has an effective zoom range of 36-360mm, which will leave many photographers wanting at the wide-angle end.
On the plus side, the Olympus optic is compact and lightweight, which is ideal for a travel lens. It also feels well built, and there's practically no zoom creep. Autofocus is a little loud and shrill, but the focus ring doesn't rotate when doing so. Better still, the focus ring's electronic coupling enables very precise manual focus, which is also available as a full-time override in autofocus mode.
Coupling an effective 360mm telephoto range with a f/6.3 aperture, the lens pushes the boundaries of sensor-shift stabilisation in Olympus bodies. Camera shake was more of a problem than with the latest optical stabilisers fitted to Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Tamron lenses, and we got an advantage of between two and three stops.
Sharpness is excellent in the centre of the frame and well above average towards the edges and corners, although there's an alarming drop-off in clarity at the long end of the zoom range. Distortions are fairly well controlled, although colour fringing is very noticeable outside the central area of the frame.
At the widest and middle focal lengths, the Olympus produces good results, which drop at 180mm. Sharpness falls towards the edges.
Centre fringing at the middle focal length is the best in test. At 18mm, a red fringe (and at 180mm, a green fringe) shows towards the edges.
Barrel distortion at 18mm is worse than expected, especially because the Four Thirds sensor increases the effective focal length to 36mm.
Image test verdict
Sharpness is generally good throughout the focal range, with a drop at 180mm. Fringing and distortion are average compared to others on test.