Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO Lens Review

Olympus launched a new PRO lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO together with their new flagship camera, OM-D E-M1 Mark III. The new 12-45mm PRO is the smallest lens in the Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lens line-up, has a constant aperture opening of F4 and is fully weather-sealed. I have had this lens for over a week, and have been shooting with the lens in various photography scenarios. I personally believe the new 12-45mm PRO being a compact PRO lens reflects the true ideologies of Micro Four Thirds system. I am sharing my experience using the lens with a new series of fresh photographs in this review article. 

For those of you who prefer to watch a video instead of reading a 1500 words article, here is a YouTube video I have made for this lens review. 


Here are some important disclaimers first. I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. I do not own this lens, the 12-45mm PRO was a loaner from Olympus Malaysia and will be returned to them after review purposes. My review is subjective and there will be no technical tests, data or charts/graphs shown in this article. Instead this is a user experience based review, I am sharing my thoughts and opinion based on my shooting experience using the 12-45mm PRO lens. All images were shot with either the new E-M1 Mark III or my own E-M5 Mark III. All images were post-processed with minor corrections (straightening, minor crop, exposure and white balance adjustments) using either Olympus Workspace for E-M1 Mark III images, and Capture One Pro 20 for E-M5 Mark III. 

For full resolution images, you may go to the online album here (click), all with full EXIF data intact.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way - why did Olympus make another standard zoom lens when they already have the amazing existing standard zoom PRO lenses such as the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO and 12-100mm F4 IS PRO? The redundancy is obvious and a lot of people are questioning the overlap when it comes to focal lengths coverage, do we need another standard zoom lens? Outside of the Olympus family, we also have some good alternatives from the Panasonic camp. 

I personally think having more choices is not a bad thing. While the existing 12-40mm and 12-100mm PRO lenses are not monstrously huge in size, they are not exactly small and truly compact either. To match smaller Olympus camera bodies such as E-M10 Mark III and E-M5 Mark III, the new smaller, lighter and more compact design of 12-45mm F4 PRO is a better suited lens. If the goal is to truly keep the footprint as minimal as possible, the 12-45mm surely accomplishes this goal. Does the optical performance live up to expectation of a true PRO lens? This is what I want to find out in this review article. 


Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Review

For those in Malaysia, you can pre-order Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III directly from Olympus Malaysia here (click). 

Edit 12/2/20 - 6.15pm: Correction on specification of EVF - EVF has 0.74x magnification, not 0.83x as previously mentioned. 

Olympus has just announced the much anticipated OM-D E-M1 Mark III, a direct successor to their E-M1 Mark II which was released in 2016. The new E-M1 Mark III has a new Truepic IX image processing engine, porting over useful shooting features from the E-M1X such as hand-held high res shot 50MP and Live ND shooting, while also featuring a few new features such as starry sky AF and reworked eye/face tracking AF. I have been shooting with a review unit loaned from Olympus Malaysia for about 2 weeks and I am sharing my full review of E-M1 Mark III with plenty of image samples in this blog entry. I have also made a video review, for those who prefer to watch than read. 


Before we go further, here are some important disclaimers.  I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. The E-M1 Mark III camera was loaned from Olympus Malaysia, and will be returned after this review. This is a non-technical review, there will be no graphs, charts or numerical comparisons. This is a user-experienced based review, and I am sharing my experience using the E-M1 Mark III, subjecting it to various shooting environment. The images were all shot in RAW and post-processed in Olympus Workspace with minor adjustments. 

You may find all the FULL RESOLUTION images with full EXIF data intact shown in this blog as well as the video in my Google Photos online album here (click)

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III shares a lot of similarities with both E-M1X and E-M1 mark II. The E-M1 Mark III has many features ported over from E-M1X but packed into the smaller body closely resembling the E-M1 Mark II. The E-M1 Mark III is essentially a mini E-M1X and more. 

The body design of E-M1 Mark III is almost identical to the E-M1 Mark II, and here are the similarities shared between the two cameras:

1) Battery holder grip, HLD-9. 
Those who already own the HLD-9 for E-M1 Mark II can share the battery holder grip with the new E-M1 Mark III. 

2) 20MP Live Mos Micro Four Thirds image sensor
The new E-M1 Mark III shares the exact same image sensor used in E-M1 Mark II, E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. I can foresee this as the main point being attacked by ALL photography reviewers. I shall comment on this in my later part of this review. 

3) Battery BLH-1
The BLH-1 is quite a high capacity battery, and was a joy to use on E-M1 Mark II. Glad that the E-M Mark III shares the same one. 

4) Full Weather-sealing 
Splash, dust and freeze proof (down to -10 degrees Celcius)

5) Magnesium alloy body construction
The body design looks 99% identical, I am not surprised if the E-M1 Mark III used the exact same mold of E-M1 Mark II, with some minor tweaks.

6) Same Electronic Viewfinder
Exact same EVF panel from E-M1 Mark II is used - same resolution 2.36M dot, same magnification 0.74x and same refresh rate. 

7) Dual SD card slots 
Slot 1 is UHS-II compatible, slot 2 is UHS-I, and this will be another point that is attacked by reviewers. I do wish Olympus has included both UHS-II capable slots. 

8) Shooting  speeds and buffering
Silent Shutter burst sequential shooting 60FPS, mechanical shutter burst sequential shooting 15FPS. While I initially wished for faster speeds, the 60FPS is still the fastest in market today, with 15FPS being almost on par with even the fastest cameras. 


Some Unusual SD Card Tips - Leave Your Contact Information Inside!

SD cards are important, without them there is no way for the camera to work - you can press the shutter button but no image is recorded. It is important to get compatible, optimized cards for best camera speed and performance, and also take care of the card so it does not get damaged too easily. Some of the tips I am sharing in this blog entry are applicable to any memory cards used on any camera bodies. However, since I am a monogamist Olympus shooter, I will be speaking from my experience shooting with OM-D cameras using specifically SD cards only. 


TIP 1: DO NOT USE SLOW CARDS
Olympus OM-D cameras (as well as any new, modern, not too low tiered camera) are extremely fast - the camera can capture up to 60 frames per second in full RAW file using silent shutter, and 15 frames per second in mechanical shutter. Olympus E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II and E-M5 Mark III support UHS-II (ultra high speed II) SD cards up to 250MB/s read and write, allowing the camera buffer to clear almost instantaneously, even when shooting in high burst mode.  Refer to the video comparison between a UHS-1 slow SD card and a high speed UHS-II card. The speed difference is night and day. Be sure to check the maximum speed that your camera can support, there is no point buying UHS-II card for an older camera that does not support the speed, say an Olympus E-M5 original. Nevertheless, a faster card enables the camera to perform optimally, not just for faster burst sequential shooting but also general shot to shot response and overall smoothness of camera operation. Why get one of the fastest cameras in the market if you are doing to cripple it with a slow SD card?

TIP 2: BUY MORE SPARES
SD card is not expensive. Photography can be an expensive hobby, and there are ways to save some precious cash but you definitely should not cheap out on SD cards. SD card is such a thin, small, fragile piece of plastic that can break easily by usual wear and tear. For someone as clumsy as myself (I am not the worst I believe) a little mishandling can destroy the SD card unintentionally. It is wise to have more back up than necessary. Also, it is common to hear SD cards being corrupted for no apparent reason, and if you have enough spares, you have less to worry about. 

TIP 3: FORMAT OR ERASE ALL?
All cameras generally have two options to delete the images - erase all or format card. Formatting a card will wipe the entire card empty, leaving it fresh and at a clean slate. On the other hand, erase all option will only delete the image and video files specifically, and leaving any other non-related files, if stored inside the card, intact. We will explore why this is important in TIP 4. For common practice, if you use the same SD card for the same device consistently, without switching the card to other devices, it is safe to perform erase all. However, if you always use one SD card in multiple devices, especially using different brand and model cameras, the different devices will write different file formats and folders into the same card, increasing risk of bugs, corrupted files and ultimately card failure. Therefore, if you switch SD cards often between devices, it is advisable to format the card each and every time you insert into a new device to prevent corruption or file clashes. 



TIP 4: LEAVE CONTACT INFORMATION INSIDE 
If you choose the erase all option, this tip is applicable. I am sure you have heard of many wonderful stories about lost gear and how the camera and precious SD cards with important images found their way back to the owner, thanks to the good Samaritans. In case of gear being lost, it is a lot easier to track the owner if contact information is provided, and one way to do that is to insert a text file into the SD card with name and contact details (if you are uncomfortable with leaving your address or phone number for privacy reasons, I am sure a PO Box or email would suffice). This could save the other party some serious CSI grunt work to find you. 

TIP 5: PROTECT YOUR SD CARDS
SD cards are fragile little things, so protection is crucial. Do not use a hard case that is too rigid even from the inside, I have friends who use both metal and plastic hard cases that crushed the SD cards stored inside due to too much pressure applied. Also, do not opt for soft pouches or carrying cases that offer no protection at all, the SD cards can be easily bent and broken (refer to video). I would recommend a hard case from the outside with good soft padding for impact absorption from the inside to prevent crushing under pressure.


TIP 6: STORE SPARE SD CARDS IN WALLET
We cannot prevent ourselves from forgetting, it has happened to me, to my professional photographer friends and the best of us - we are only human. It is not about trying not to forget, that is a bad way to prepare for an emergency, instead we should find a viable, fail proof alternative solution. I propose carrying an SD card inside your wallet at all times, as your wallet is something that you carry with you everywhere. Also, there are wallet designs with slots to store SD cards, it is commonly available (at least here in departmental stores of KL, Malaysia). 

TIP 7: LEAVE SD CARD DOOR OPEN
I must thank Tobias and some other blog readers who suggested this - leaving the SD card door on the camera open when the card is taken out is a good move. When we see the door is still open, we are reminded that the SD card is not inserted, hence minimizing the chance of not bringing  SD cards out. A simple, and useful hack indeed. 

Do you have other tips on SD cards to share? I am sure you do, and I would love to hear them!


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Why The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Original Was Such An Important Camera

Olympus followed up the game-changer E-M5 by releasing their first mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera targeted toward the professional and serious enthusiast market - OM-D E-M1 in 2013.  Scrutinizing the paper specifications, nothing much have changed, the core of the two cameras were rather similar - same 16MP resolution Micro Four Thirds sized image sensor, 5-Axis image stabilization built in, weather sealing, built in electronic viewfinder and the claim of having the fastest AF at that time. However, those who have used the E-M1 extensively would testify that the E-M1 was a more refined camera and certainly better suited for professional and more heavy duty use. E-M1 was the camera that successfully convinced me to switch from DSLR to mirrorless camp, and since then I have always believed that mirrorless is the future. 


Olympus got a lot right in the E-M1, and they did not do so by beating the competition in any specific manner. The E-M1 was not the best in any aspect of a camera, it does not have the highest Megapixel count, not the best C-AF tracking for sports, not the best low light shooting camera and certainly pales in comparison to full frame cameras when it comes to dynamic range. However, why was E-M1 such a popular camera and became so successful? DPReview crowned the E-M1 their two most prestigious awards in 2013 - The Best Camera Of The Year as well as The Product Of The Year. Olympus must have done something right, though they did not particularly excel in any singular aspect of a camera capability. 

The answer - Olympus managed to strike a balance, and paid attention to every single aspect of the camera. The camera may not be the best at anything, but it does everything very well. The 16MP image sensor won't beat a full frame image sensor, but it comes very close to APS-C DSLR performance. The AF was shockingly fast and accurate, and Olympus managed to include some interesting features such as 5-Axis Image Stabilization (which was improved from the E-M5). While the E-M1 was a mirrorless camera, Olympus did not skimp the handling part, they gave the E-M1 a beefy hand-holding gripping area, and those who have held the E-M1 knew that Olympus made sure the ergonomics of the camera was well made. The electronic viewfinder was bright, large and lag-free, certainly a peek into the future of possibilities when it comes to mirrorless camera imaging. 

What made me switch over from my old DSLRs to E-M1? 

I was using the Olympus DSLR E-5 and E-520 for photography jobs (I was freelancing) as well as personal shutter therapy sessions. The E-M1 came along with EVF that matches the LCD screen in color and contrast. The color was visibly different between the LCD and EVF in the previous E-M5, and Olympus managed to fixed this quickly. The EVF was further improved - increased in magnification, refresh rate and resolution. Having the superior what you see is what you get advatage of live exposure simulation, or as Kirk Tuck put it - pre-chimping (you see the results before you press the shutter button), it was indeed revolutionary for my photography, at least for my own shooting. The AF was miles ahead in terms of speed and accuracy in comparison to many cameras available in the market that that time, and certainly was better than my DSLRs. I knew I had to make the switch. 

I have been shooting with the E-M1 and a plethora of Micro Four Thirds lenses for many years, before I finally made the switch to E-M1 Mark II. Mind you, all these happened even before I joined the Olympus Visionary program. 

I truly believe that the E-M1 was the first real professional mirrorless camera in the market. It certainly checked all the right boxes, and when Olympus designed the camera they had professional photographers in their mind, making sure they final product is a balanced camera that can perform well in any given shooting environment. It has served me well for many years, doing countless photography jobs and many many more personal shoots. I could not have been happier to make the jump to the OM-D camp when I did. 

Olympus did many things right with the E-M1. They introduced the venerable M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO which was their first PRO lens to match the E-M1, a worthy standard zoom lens that was well constructed, sharp optically, fast in AF and weather-sealed. Olympus also listened to customer feedback and quickly fixed many issues that were found in the predecessor E-M5. I would go as far as to say that the E-M1 was what the E-M5 was supposed to be, and it was a more refined version. 

The continuous support from Olympus by releasing Firmware Upgrades was commendable for the E-M1 camera. Over the four iterations of Firmware updates, Olympus has not only fixed the bugs/errors but made significant improvements when it comes to real practical shooting. They managed to increase the burst sequential shooting with continuous AF from the limit of 6.5FPS to 9FPS, that was an almost 50% increase of performance. They also added many features into the camera, such as better movie recording modes (audio level control, more frame rate options eg 24p, 25p), live composite, focus bracketing and stacking, silent shutter, S-OVF, new Art Filters, and many more. 

Today the E-M1 stays in my camera bag as a fail-proof back up for my main workhorse, E-M1 Mark II. Truthfully, even now in 2020, I can still confidently take out the E-M1 with no hesitation and I know I will be able to deliver satisfactory shots to my clients. The E-M1 was genuinely a camera that shows Olympus DNA, and I am glad Olympus continued that in the E-M1 Mark II, and hopefully in their future iterations. 

I am sure many of you have used, and still use the E-M1. Share your experience using your E-M1!


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