I've had this lens for a nearly a year now, I guess it's time to review it...
The Olympus Zuiko 14-54mm f.2.8-3.5 zoom has been around since the beginning of Olympus DSLR's, and was the lens to get with a shiny new E-1. It is truly the workhorse of the Olympus lens line-up, and even though the newer, fancier 12-60mm zoom would seemingly make this lens redundant, Olympus tweaked it a bit a couple years back, called it the "Mark II" and has given this zoom it's own interesting little niche in the high grade and super high grade lens line-ups.
Olympus did three things with this lens that set's it apart from the older model: gave it a 1:2 macro capability that is just incredible to behold, gave it a 7-bladed circular aperture mechanism that gives the most wonderful bokeh you've ever seen in a zoom lens, and most importantly, gave it the ability to work with contrast detect focusing mechanisms, which makes this a far more versatile lens than it's more expensive 12-60 stable mate, which lacks contrast-detect.
First of all, let's get the whole image quality thing out of the way, because that what you are buying this lens for anyway: it's typically Zuiko in that it works extremely well at all apertures and focal lengths, and has probably the biggest "sweet spot" of any normal zoom lens you'll encounter: from 14mm at f.2.8, to 54mm at f.11, everything will look suburb. No need for "stopping down" to get sharp focus, it's right there at f.2.8, and only goes from good to outstanding as you close down the aperture. Like all digital lenses, sharpness starts to degrade slightly beyond f.11 due to diffraction.
When this lens is mounted on micro 4/3 camera, or E-5, you can really see just how amazingly sharp it is at all apertures and focal lengths. I've just stared using this lens on a micro 4/3 camera, and I'm overwhelmed with the detail and image quality that I'm getting. No matter how large I magnify a file, either RAW or JPEG, this lens stays super sharp, so much so I can do 1/10 crops of an image frame and get results that look as good as if I meant to take the photo that way: I literally could not ask for anything more. And again, did I mention it's sharp no matter what aperture or focal length I'm using? Just wanted to make sure to get that point across...
But that's something very important to point out about this lens, and all Olympus high grade and super high grade lenses: every single one will give you sharp focus wide open at their maximum aperture. Unlike just about every other f.2.8 zoom lens on the market from those other camera manufactures, where f.2.8 is just a soft focus setting, the Olympus zooms really can be used, and used well, wide-open. That alone justifies the asking price.
But wait, there's more...
This lens is also fully dust and weather sealed, which means when there's a rain storm, snow, or even dust storm, you don't have to run inside or seek shelter from the elements, you just keep shooting, as long as you have one of Olympus' excellent weather-sealed DSLR's: the E-1, E-3 or E-5. I've used mine on my E-1 in snow, in rain, and even intentionally left it outside in the snow, and there has been no problems what-so-ever. The weather sealing lives up to it's billing, it is a great lens for a person who likes to spend time outdoors, in less than inviting environments.
But let's say you are also interested in those funky new micro 4/3 cameras, and want to get one to take places when your big DSLR might just get in the way. Well, this lens is fully usable on all micro 4/3 cameras with the appropriate adapter, like the Olympus MMF-2 Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds Lens Adapter.
As a matter of fact, it's the best choice of all Olympus high-grade or super high-grade lenses for a zoom that will auto-focus quickly and accurately on micro 4/3 camera bodies. That's because Olympus updated it with contract-detect focusing, that really works well with micro 4/3 cameras. It also comes in very handy on Olympus DSLR's that use live view focusing, like the E-620, E-30 and E-5. While the lens certainly focuses much faster with the normal phase-detect of DSLR's, it will work well with contrast detect if that's all you have. It will literally run rings around the 12-60 when used with any micro 4/3 camera, or any DSLR with live-view.
Also, did I mention that it's lighter, smaller, and usually a little faster at all focal lengths than the 12-60mm zoom, with no real difference in image quality, unless you magnify an image at about 500%? It's that good.
Oh, and about the macro capability: you can take flower & bug photos right up to the 1:2 limit of the lens, then crop afterwards to get 1:1 or larger, with no ill effects what-so-ever, other than the loss of pixels. I've done it, and it looks fantastic! Another interesting technique is to use the lens with the EC-14 teleconverter, which gives you about a 40% increase in macro capability with only a one stop loss in aperture. So with the EC-14, you can get an amazing 1:1.5 close-up, which look incredible, with a only a microscopic loss of overall image quality. With this lens, you really don't need the super fantastic Olympus 50mm f.2 macro, unless you want the speed that lens gives you.
And did mention that barrel distortion is so little that's it's barely worth mentioning? This lens is extremely well controlled for distortion, what small bit you may encounter can be easily taken care of manually in a program like Lightroom, or with Olympus' own proprietary software. Basically, it's a non-issue.
Same thing with chromatic aberrations: out of the the ten of thousands of photos I've taken with this lens on four different camera bodies, I can only remember one or two images where chromatic aberrations were an issue, due mainly to strong back lighting and very high contrast. Other than that, chromatic aberrations are a non-issue.
So are there any bad things to say about this lens? Well yes there is, but not much.
There is noticeable vignetting when using this lens wide-open at 14mm to 25mm. The vignetting does not go away entirely until you stop down to f.5.6. However, this is true of almost all fast, wide zooms, so it's no deal breaker, and I think you'll find the vignetting to be better controlled than most. The only fast zoom that does better in regards to vignetting is the Olympus 12-60mm.
Now, for those of you who already own the awesome Olympus 14-42mm f.3.5-5.6 kit lens: is this 14-54mm zoom going to give you a significant improvement in image quality? Well, no it won't. Both lens are equally as sharp, and sometimes the 14-42, thanks to it's ED lens element, is a bit sharper. So if you think that you'll be able to resolve down to the one micro level with this lens or the 12-60, you will be a bit disappointed. That's not because this is a poor lens, but because that 14-42 kits lens is far, far better than most people give it credit for.
But this lens is faster, MUCH better built, weather sealed, has a slightly better zoom range, much better distortion control, and better macro focus capabilities, and better autofocus overall than compared to the 14-42 kits lens. So if any or all of that interests you, then the money for an upgrade will be well spent. Also remember that when you are trying to take a low-light shots at f.5.6 at 42mm with the kit lens: the 14-54 will go all the way to 54mm at f.3.5, which is quite a bit of an improvement, and will allow you to use a lower ISO setting for better image quality. Just remember that this lens is more that twice as heavy (440g vs 190g) and much longer than the kit lens (88mm vs 61mm), so it will seem quite big on 400 and 600 series Olympus DSLR's, as well as on micro 4/3 bodies.
There is only one normal zoom lens in the entire world that's better than the Olympus 14-54mm Mk II, and that's the Olympus 12-60mm, when used on a DSLR. If you bring micro 4/3 into the mix, then the 14-54 is the better lens by far, simply because of the contrast-detect focusing mechanism.
This is a must-have lens for every Olympus camera owner, whether 4/3 or micro 4/3. Highly recommended.