1) I am an employee of Olympus Malaysia. I am reviewing from a photography enthusaist’s point of view. I was given the liberty to perform the gear review as usual.
2) This is a user experience based review.
3) All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG Large Fine via Olympus Viewer 3
4) General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5) Minimal Post Processing applied to the images (minor contrast/exposure tweak and white balance adjustment)
I have attempted to do a full review on the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, which was released together with the launch of the now highly acclaimed OM-D E-M1. Naturally, the M.Zuiko 12-40mm lens served as the default kit lens for the E-M1. Also, worth taking note that this M.Zuiko 12-40mm is the first Olympus lens with the PRO label, and two more PRO series lenses are already announced to be under development, namely the ultra wide angle 7-14mm F2.8 PRO as well as the super telephoto zoom 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. When all the PRO lenses are released, the holy trinity pro zoom will be complete.
For now, lets shift our attention back to the M.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro lens. To me, the introduction of this lens is quite a big deal, signalling Olympus stepping their foot firmly into the professional photography ground, competing with the giants by offering comparatively matching or even better zoom lens solutions for the now maturing Micro Four Thirds system. To match the E-M1, the 12-40mm Pro lens was designed with the following specification highlights:
1) Fully Splashproof, dustproof and freezeproof (down to minus 10 degrees Celcius)
2) Internal focusing mechanism
3) Snap Focus mode (quite pull of focusing ring to switch to manual focus immediately)
4) Highly sophisticated advanced optics design, featuring Dual Super Aspherical (DSA) Lens, two Extra Low Dispersion (ED) lenses, and two High Refractive lenses
5) Impressive close up shooting capability, going as near as 20cm closest focusing distance, with magnification of 0.3x (in 35mm equivalent, 0.6x)
6) Fixed Aperture of F2.8, versatile zoom range of 24-80mm (in 35mm equivalent format)
7) Most importantly, the lens is made small, and very light (382g), in comparison to competition (Canon 24-70mm F2.8L is 950g and Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 is 900g)
Image above was taken with three point flash setup, using wireless TTL Flash system. I used FL-50R and FL-36R
USING A ZOOM LENS
While the argument of using zoom lenses versus prime lenses will never see the end, I do acknowledge the importance of a pro grade zoom lens. The M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 is offering a versatile shooting solution, covering generally most shooting conditions. There are several circumstances when a zoom lens trumps prime lenses, the ability of quickly change focal lengths to suit the immediate need outweighs any advantage of a prime lenses as you save time from not changing lenses. Yes, we know prime lenses will deliver superior image quality (since it is optimized for that focal length only) and prime lens has brighter aperture (eg, F1.8 wide open). This is where a pro grade zoom lens come in, to offer the compromise between the zoom and prime, having a decently wide open aperture of F2.8 which is sufficient for most shooting conditions, and having high quality optics, producing image output that comes really close to what we expect from prime lenses.
In many situations, not changing lens will save lives! What if that pro grade zoom lens is good enough (though not better in everything) to deliver satisfactory image quality in terms of sharpness, fine detail resolution, ability to create shallow depth of field and good contrast rendition? The option of a capable zoom should not be overlooked, especially by photographers who cover live events and ever changing, dynamic shooting challenges. Many professional photographers, even the prime die-hards will admit that having a high quality zoom lens handy is a prudent advice.
I am just one person, as most of you know, and I am merely a photography enthusiast, hence my review will be based on user experience. I do not have a scientific laboratory to give you those charts and numbers to quantify the lens performance. I only brought the gear out to shoot in whatever random situations I come into and I report the performance of the lens based on that shooting session, of course after many hours of scrutinizing the image output I have gathered from the outing.
All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M10 and M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, unless otherwise mentioned (a few images were taken with E-M1)
1/250sec, F4, ISO200, 19mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO640, 40mm
1/400sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO200, 35mm
1/125sec, F2.8, ISO200, 35mm
Jackie testing his new toy!
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO800, 40mm
THE F2.8 CONSTANT APERTURE
One of the biggest advantage (and why we pay more for this lens) of having this M.Zuiko 12-40mm pro lens is the wide open aperture at F2.8, being constant F2.8 throughout the full zoom range. Comparing this to the usual entry level kit lens (F3.5-5.6), at full zoom range the M.Zuiko 12-40mm is one full stop brighter. The benefits are crucial, you are able to shoot in low light conditions hand held more confidently, and you are also able to create shallower depth of field. True enough in my testing on the field, there are situations when lighting condition was not ideal, especially when I was shooting under shades. Instead of bumping up higher ISO settings, I can maintain at lower ISO levels, while having sufficient shutter speed to prevent hand shake. This coupled with Olympus' amazing 3-Axis image stabilization system on the E-M10, I had no problem slowing down the shutter speed even more just to ensure the ISO values stays minimum. Bright open F2.8 aperture with proven reliable Image Stabilization, there is a lot you can do with this combination!
SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD
I will be honest and say right from the start, if shallow depth of field is your main objective and you do need that as your priority in most of your shooting, go for the prime lenses, there are plenty to choose from now. Though the ability to create super shallow depth of field is not this M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens' main forte, do not dismiss it so easily. Take a look at the few images I have shown so far, all of them displayed excellent subject isolation by throwing off the background into blur. This can be achieved with several factors: 1) F2.8 aperture 2) getting as close as possible to the subjects and 3) zoomed in to 40mm. I have even taken a few portrait shots and I find the lens capable to create shallow depth of field, much easier than entry level kit lenses. If you are currently using the kit lenses (14-42mm or 12-50mm) and thinking whether this 12-40mm pro will gain you shallow depth of field advantage, the answer is a huge YES! Now, looking at the quality of the blur, the "bokeh", I am very pleased with what this lens can do. The bokeh was smooth and creamy.
1/100sec, F5.6, ISO320, 40mm
1/20sec, F5.6, ISO800, 19mm
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
1/30sec, F7.1, ISO200, 40mm
1/200sec, F2.8, ISO800, 40mm taken with E-M1
1/25sec, F2.8, ISO200, 34mm
One of the often overlooked important aspect of a lens, is the close up shooting capability. How close can the lens get to the subject, what is the minimum focusing distance? Generally the closer you can get the subject, the better the lens is, allowing you to shoot macro like images. Surely we are not expecting such a zoom lens to have macro like ability, that is why we have dedicated macro lenses to do the macro jobs. However, any bit closer the lens gets to the image, the better the magnification of the subject will be, and the lesser the need to carry around a macro lens when you do not need super high magnification shots (you do not need to see the blown up size of the ant's eyes all the time).
The M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 lens can go as close as 20cm, and gives you about 0.3x magnification, which is surprisingly good for a zoom lens. Maximizing this potential, I have then done some close up shooting, revealing those fine details that are perhaps difficult to see with naked eye. If you need to do close up shooting and do not intend to invest in macro lens, the M.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro is worth considering. You can get really decent macro like images (you do need to zoom in to 40mm to fully utilize this capability, as demonstrated in many images above).
The M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens is sharp. It is sharp throughout all zoom range, even at widest 12mm to the longest zoom end 40mm. I do not have the time or expertise to test the sharpness vatiation at different focal lengths, but I have shot enough images from both ends of the zoom range to come to a conclusion that the sharpness was more than adequate for most of shooting needs. Without comparing (purely based on experience) I can say that the prime lenses such as M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8 lenses do produce noticeably sharper images, but the output from the 12-40mm pro lens comes very close. Only upon close inspection will you be able to differentiate. I am generally happy with the fine detail captured by the 12-40mm Pro lens. You will see this from the 100% crops I have provided from some images shown here in this blog entry. Like any Olympus lenses, even at wide open F2.8 you get very sharp images, unlike similar range zoom lens from competitors that you need to stop down to F3.5 or narrower to get decently sharp images.
1/30sec, F5, ISO200, 12mm
100% crop from previous image
1/160sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
100% Crop from previous image
1/40sec, F2.8, ISO1250, 40mm
100% Crop from previous image
1/320sec, F4.5, ISO200, 25mm
100% Crop from previous image
The M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens is sharp not just at the center, but also corner to corner, just like any other Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses. This is the main advantage Olympus always emphasizes against competition, especially against Full Frame system, as Olympus believes in their M.Zuiko lenses designed to be fully optimized when used with the Micro Four Thirds image sensor. I notice only very minimal traces of Chromatic Aberration, which is negligible really. I am also sure that the image processing engine (Truepic 7) in the OM-D E-M10 played important part in getting rid of the Chromatic Aberration, hence producing optimized image output. Perhaps this also explains the almost non existent barrel distortion even at the widest 12mm focal length, All I can say is that it is difficult to find fault with the lens at all.
Focusing, like all newer Olympus M.Zuiko lens is fast. It is still the fastest amongst competition, though some would argue, but hey, whichever is fastest, is not important. I believe that the lens is fast enough for my shooting needs and I did not miss any shots, that is what truly counts. I also believe that now the focusing from Olympus system is so fast and accurate that whatever error in focusing there is, should probably be due to my own fault, not the camera.
HANDLING & FEEL IN HAND
In comparison to Olympus lenses only, the 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens is not the smallest. If you use the OM-D E-M1, it fits the camera perfectly, and the lens should feel comfortable and well balanced. However, if you do intend to use this M.Zuiko lens on OM-D E-M5 or E-M10, I strongly recommend that you get the external grip (HLD-6 for E-M5 or ECG-1 for E-M10). With the additional hand-grip, the lens is better balanced and more comfortable to hand-hold, especially if you want to shoot for hours. I was handling the E-M10 with the external camera grip (ECG-1), which worked well with the lens 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens. The zooming mechanism felt stiff, which might put some people off, but I personally prefer the zooming to be a little stiff, rather than too smooth or loose.
SOME NOTES (From Frequently Asked Questions)
I have received MANY questions regarding the 12-40mm Pro lens, and here are some which I hope can be helpful to some people. The snap focus ring, which can be easily pulled up or down, even when your lens is in the bag, will cause the lens to be in manual focus mode. Quite a number of people panicked and sent me emails saying that the lens refused to go to AutoFocus mode. It was a simple fix of pulling the focusing ring back down to go back to Autofocus mode (and vice versa). The second most popular question is the function button L-Fn on the lens body. The L-Fn button can be customized to control the function of your choice, such as focusing mode, burst sequential shooting mode, depth of field preview, etc. It works just like any function buttons which are customizable on the camera body. This button adds usability of the lens. I personally did not assign anything to this button (for the fear of accidentally pressing it and doing something I am not supposed to).
1/320sec, F2.8, ISO200, 32mm
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
1/15sec, F4, ISO200, 12mm
1/200sec, F2.8, ISO200, 40mm
1/60sec, F4.5, ISO200, 19mm
1/80sec, F5.6, ISO200, 22mm
1/5000sec, F2.8, ISO200, HDR Mode 1, 27mm, Taken with E-M1
1/800sec, F4.5, ISO200, HDR Mode 1, 12mm Taken with E-M1
WHAT I WISH TO BE IMPROVED
There really is not much to complain about the M.Zuiko 12-40mm Pro lens. I generally enjoyed using it, and I find the lens to perform well, delivering images that I expected it to. Image came out with very good sharpness resolving high amount of fine detail, was fast to focus, and technically has little to no fault. It was not easy to pin point what the lens lacks.
However, I do wish the lens was better:
1) Longer Focal Range
12-40mm is perhaps the standard for what zoom lens should cater for (competitions offer 24-70mm) but what would really change the game would be having a longer zoom range. Perhaps much like the older DSLR series 12-60mm lens, which yields a even more versatile 24-120mm zoom range. That extra reach of proposed 120mm shall negate the need to even carry a longer zoom lens, and at longer 120mm focal length, shallower depth of field (blurrier background) can be accomplished.
2) Larger Aperture Opening
A lot of people argue that F2.8 on Micro Four Thirds is not equal to F2.8 on full frame system. No, I do not intend to go into all that never ending "equivalence" war. Nevertheless, to completely shut those nay-sayers up, a larger opening of F2.0 on the zoom lens can make a whole world of difference. Olympus has done this before, in their legendary DSLR line-up, the Zuiko 14-35mm F2 as well as the 35-100mm F2, both SHG (Super High Grade) lenses. That should bridge Micro Four Thirds much closer to competition, and raise the bar of what small lenses can do.
1/20sec, F4, ISO800, 26mm
1/60sec, F5.6, ISO200, 28mm
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO640, 40mm
Robin Schimko (click), who switched from Full Frame system to fully mirrorless, adopting E-M1 as his main weapon. Image taken in November 2013, when he visited KL.
I do think that the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens is a great lens, suitable to be used by anyone.
If you have bought an OM-D system, and intend to have a high grade lens, just one lens to cover most of your shooting needs, this 12-40mm Pro lens should be in your consideration. It is versatile, does close up shooting well, and is sufficiently wide for most situations at 12mm focal length. That F2.8 bright constant aperture is also useful in many situations.
If you are a prime believer, you probably should already know what you want, but do not just shrug a zoom lens off. Any experienced photographer will tell you that having a capable zoom lens is important in certain shooting circumstances, when you cannot change lens fast enough, or you are forced to just carry one lens to cover a wide range of shooting needs. This 12-40mm Pro lens delivers the closest image quality you can expect to the prime lenses.
After using this lens for a while now, I have started to shift my purchasing priority to get the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 pro lens into my own gear collection.
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