Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: So what if it's ranked 2,872nd by DxOMark.
The Long Version: There's really not a lot to say about an all-plastic µ4:3rds prime that has just three lens elements, two focusing stops, and costs a mere US$49. You can read all the more flowery prose about this optical wonder on the web by those who've purchased their copy and then written about the experience. This lens was priced so low that even I, Mr. Penny Pincher Photographer (P3), was able to buy a copy without giving it a second thought. And I can honestly say it's worth every pinched penny I spent.
In a world where Holga and Instagram seemingly reign supreme, the BCL-1580 15mm prime is a down-to-earth non-pretentious alternative that will make quite reasonable photos (given enough daylight) if you concentrate on composition and story telling instead of the affectations of ultra-sharpness, shallow depth of field, and damnable bokeh (for which there is a special place in the ninth circle of Hell for the man who coined that term).
The BCL-1580 has no autofocus. You select either the infinity hyperfocal point or the close focus point at around 1 foot from the camera. 99% of the time it'll stay on infinity. It has only two glass elements, a small outward facing lens and a slighter larger inner lens facing the sensor. The aperture is a simple hole in a piece of plastic that sits centered between the two lens elements.
Even though it's not a Zuiko branded lens, somebody at Olympus still had the good sense to at least put some simple lens coating on at least the front glass element. It doesn't need much more than that, considering its one and only aperture setting is f/8. Because it has no focus motor it absolutely has no focus noise, and with its simple hole-drilled-in-a-plastic sheet aperture it has no aperture chatter (like the far more expensive Panasonic Leica 25mm 1:1.4). When it's mounted on a Pen there is no delay in turning the entire camera on or off, thus saving battery power because you don't have to wait to turn the camera back on. And if you break the BCL-1580 or it gets stolen, so what? It's cheap enough that you can go buy a new one.
It's a lens that will work with any Pen, from the original E-P1 to the latest Pens and OM-D. It can breath new life into a µ4:3rds body that's taken to sitting unwanted on the back shelf or unloved in the bottom of your bag. The lens, combined with any of the Pen's art filters, can produce any number of charming, interesting, Holga- and Instagram-beating photographs, with any subjects ranging from the urban core to what's left of the not-so-great out doors.
Some are want to call it the ultimate street photography lens. I use a less grandiose description; to me it's just about the best documentary lens I reach for when I want to go out and not have to worry about anything. The only other µ4:3rd lens I own that comes anywhere close is the Panasonic Lumix 14mm 1:2.5. Using the BCL-1580 strips away all vanity and pretense. It makes photographs, not a statement.
This little $49 gem is the ultimate µ4:3rds lens worth owning. If you can't use this lens and take simple enjoyment in using it, then you don't deserve to own or use any other. This is camera optics stripped down to its bare essentials. All other lenses are just more expensive and gilded versions of this little 15mm.
Top hero photo taken with an Olympus E-1 and Zuiko Digital 50mm 1:2 macro, lit by a single LED light panel. The next three photographs were taken with the 15mm mounted on my E-P2, the next four with the 15mm mounted on my E-PL1, and the last with the E-P2 + 15mm.
last updated 5 feb 2013