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. 








Here is the specifications of the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO lens in a glance:

1) PRO GRADE LENS BUILD
The 12-45mm is a PRO grade lens, hence it has metal body construction, which is well built, similar in quality with any other Olympus PRO lenses. 

2) FULL WEATHER SEALING
The lens is fully weather sealed against dust, splash and freezing down to minus 10 degrees Celsius. 

3) OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION
12-45mm has quite an elaborate optical design, featuring 12 elements in 9 groups. The lens design includes 2 HR lenses, 1 DSA lens, 1 Super HR lens, 2 Aspherical lenses, 2 ED lenses. 

4) MINIMUM FOCUSING DISTANCE
The closest focusing distance is 12 cm at the wide-angle end and 23 cm at the telephoto end. Capture a range of 69.2 x 52 mm at a maximum image magnification of 0.5x (35mm equivalent) across the entire zoom range.

5) COMPACT BUILD
The lens takes 58mm filter thread and weighs only 254g, making this the lightest and smallest PRO lens from Olympus. 

For full product specification, please visit the official product page here (click). 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Excellent built & handling
Holding the lens in hand for the first time, it was difficult to believe this was a PRO lens because of how small and how light the lens is. At the same time, the lens feels solid in hand, having metal construction adds to the premium feel, and there are no creaky or moving parts, the lens feels like one solid item. Fitting the lens onto a smaller camera such as my own E-M5 Mark III, the lens matches the smaller camera build perfectly. The lens is not being too small, there is still a significant part to hold with the left hand for added stability, unlike the much smaller prime lenses. Handling with this lens is almost perfect, there really is nothing bad to say about build quality, ergonomics and handling. Shooting using the 12-45mm PRO for long hours was comfortable and I did not run into any noticeable issues. It was a lens that you can leave on the camera and the lens does everything very well. 

No internal zoom, but front element does not rotate
The zooming mechanism feels really smooth, the lens does extend out quite a bit, there is no internal zoom. That is to be expected since this lens is also the lowest priced PRO lens from Olympus. The good news is, the front element of the lens does not rotate during zooming from wide to tele so polarizing filter users will be happy with this. 

No manual focus clutch and lens fn-button
I was however not happy with the exclusion of manual focus clutch, which was a norm for all Olympus PRO lenses (except 8mm F1.8 Fisheye), and also there is no customise-able Function Fn button. I think it was not difficult to have these two features built in the lens, since a lot of smaller prime lenses from Olympus such as 12mm F2 and 17mm F1.8 have the manual focusing clutch, which does benefit manual focus shooters having the ability to quickly switch to manual focus as well as the focus distance scale on the lens. Also the lens body has enough space to fit a lens function button, which can come in handy to assigned a specific lens and focusing dedicated function, say a focus limiter feature. I guess the decision to exclude these two features is to fully differentiate the 12-45mm from the 12-40mm and 12-100mm PRO lenses. 

E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/25, 45mm, ISO400

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E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/250, 45mm, ISO200

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E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/5.6, 1/50, 36mm, ISO200

E-M1 Mark III, f/4, 1/1250, 19mm, ISO200

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E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/60, 19mm, ISO200

LENS IMAGE QUALITY

Take note that images were shot with the new E-M1 Mark III and my own E-M5 Mark III. Also full size resolution images are available for your pixel peeping pleasure here in my online album (click)

Sharpness is excellent
The sharpness of the lens is impressive. In fact, the sharpness output reminds me of using the highly respected 12-100mm F4 PRO lens, if you put images shot with the new 12-45mm vs the existing 12-100mm at equivalent focal lengths, I may not be able to tell apart which images were shot with each lens. The optical performance from the new 12-45mm is nothing short of superb, being sharp wide open at F4, from edge to edge of the frame, and even the corners are very sharp. The lens is already so sharp wide open there really is no need to stop down any further, which is important because F4 is not exactly that bright already as a wide open aperture. The lens is also super sharp consistently across the zoom range, from wide angle 12mm all the way to the longest telephoto end at 45mm. I see no drop in sharpness at any focal length. The images exhibit high amount of contrast, and that adds a lot of depth to the images shot, rendering very true to life results. 

I have reasons to believe that the 12-45mm F4 PRO maybe a little sharper than the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, but I need to verify this with a more extensive test. I do plan to do one soon in near future to see if the new 12-45mm surpasses the amazing performance of the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, which is a staple workhorse lens for many professional Olympus shooters over the years. In fact the sharpness of the 12-45mm PRO lens comes close to prime lenses from Olympus such as the 45mm F1.8 and 25mm F1.8 lenses, and that is saying a lot since the 12-45mm PRO is a zoom lens!

Technical lens flaw control is good
I do not notice any distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting or corner softness. I believe Olympus adopts digital and software correction to mitigate some of the technical lens flaw issues. It is a fairly common practice among all camera manufacturers to correct distortion and purple fringing to a certain extent, and these can be automatically done in camera for JPEG files, and the information is stored in the RAW files that can be extracted by any post-processing software. To me, it does not matter of Olympus uses software correction or not, I am more interested in the final outcome of the images, and I observe that the flaws are well controlled. That is all that matters. Next, there is also very low traces of flare or ghosting issues when shooting against strong source of light. Olympus has upped their game when it comes to lens coating, recently their lenses exhibit less and less flare. 

E-M1 Mark III,  ƒ/5.6, 1/125, 12mm, ISO200

E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/5.6, 1/160, 12mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/4, 1/640, 13mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/5.6, 1/25, 12mm, ISO200

E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/5, 1, 12mm, ISO64

E-M1 Mark III,  ƒ/14, 5s, 12mm, ISO200

E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/5.6, 1/80, 12mm, ISO200

CLOSE UP SHOOTING

Like all other Olympus PRO lenses, the 12-45mm F4 PRO excels when it comes to close up shooting. Olympus claimed the lens is able to achieve maximum magnification of about 0.5x equivalent at the closest focusing distance to the subject. Having the ability to go close to the subject can open up more versatility and photography opportunities using the 12-45mm PRO lens. 

Being able to go close is one factor, but Olympus still maintains the incredible sharpness at such close distance shots. Some other lenses from other manufacturers struggle to maintain image quality when it comes to close up shooting, the image output quickly disintegrates and came out soft, losing critical fine details. I am glad that Olympus pays close attention in making sure that their lenses perform well even dealing with macro shooting. 

I find that the lens does very well for product shooting as well, and the 0.5x equivalent magnification is sufficient in most situations, and if you need more extreme magnification then you should be looking for a dedicated macro lens instead, such as the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro. 

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/8, 1/20, 45mm, ISO200

 E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/5.6, 1/50, 42mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/6.3, 1/50, 45mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/6.3, 1/25, 45mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/9, 1/40, 45mm, ISO640

E-M1 Mark III,  ƒ/4, 1/125, 45mm, ISO200

E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/100, 45mm, ISO200

BOKEH QUALITY

Since the lens has the maximum aperture opening of F4, do not expect miracles when it comes to shallow depth of field rendering from the Olympus 12-45mm F4 PRO lens. If you are able to get close enough to the subject, for example doing a tight close up headshot of a human, the F4 is still sufficient to blur off the background and isolate your subject. I managed to do this for some of my portrait of strangers shots. 

The lens renders beautiful bokeh. The out of focus area came out soft, creamy and buttery smooth, with no hint of harshness. I think the out of focus rendering is smoother than what was achieved with the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens (again, this was unverified without side by side comparison, I am claiming this based on experience). 

E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/50, 45mm, ISO200

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 E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/80, 35mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/160, 35mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/250, 45mm, ISO200

Where does the new Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm PRO fit?

If you already own the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, there really is no reason to get the new 12-45mm PRO lens. The 12-40mm lens has a critical advantage - F2.8 bright aperture, that is one full stop advantage of brightness, allowing better light gathering when shooting in low light, and the F2.8 can also achieve shallower depth of field for more effective subject isolation if needed. I don't see how the 12-40mm lens will fare worse, it is larger in build and heavier, and if you use E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II the 12-40mm should balance very well with these cameras. 

If you are coming from the kit lens 14-42mm F3.5-5.6, or the old 12-50mm EZ F3.5-6.3, then the new 12-45mm F4 PRO is a huge step up. Not only you gain a better build quality lens, the optical quality of the 12-45mm is a significant upgrade, producing much sharper results and better image quality overall. The difference in terms of image quality is immediately obvious, and the 12-45mm outperforms any kit lens options. The fact that the 12-45mm F4 PRO is constructed to be so light and compact makes it a better upgrade option for smaller Olympus camera bodies, such as PEN or OM-D E-M10 owners. I also think that the 12-45mm PRO matches my E-M5 Mark III perfectly, and should have been released together with the E-M5 Mark III as a kit!

If you have the 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens, then I don't see the need to get the 12-45mm PRO either, unless you want a smaller lens to match your other smaller camera bodies. The 12-100mm F4 PRO lens is better than the 12-45mm in every regard except having larger size and heavier weight. The 12-100mm has a longer reach all the way to 200mm equivalent focal length, which makes it a truly versatile one lens to do it all option. The built in image stabilisation on the lens, enabling 5-Axis Sync IS on compatible OM-D bodies is an added bonus too. 

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/5, 1/640, 45mm, ISO200

E-M5 Mark III,  ƒ/5, 1/200, 45mm, ISO200

 E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/5.6, 1/250, 25mm, ISO200

 E-M1 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/400, 45mm, ISO400

E-M5 Mark III, ƒ/4, 1/30, 45mm, ISO200

CONCLUSION

Like all other Olympus PRO lenses, it is difficult to find anything negative to write about the 12-45mm PRO lens. Besides not having manual focus clutch and lens fn button, which are not dealbreakers honestly, there is nothing but glowingly positive remarks I can give to the 12-45mm PRO lens. The optical design is stellar, producing incredibly sharp images consistently throughout all zoom range, sharp from corner to corner, and also rendering great amount of micro contrast. The technical flaws of the lens are well controlled, with no noticeable problems such as chromatic aberration, distortion or vignetting. The lens is well built, having metal construction body and is fully weather-sealed. The close up shooting is very good, delivering sharp images, and the bokeh quality is just beautiful. While a lot of people may question the need for another standard zoom lens from Olympus, I think we have a killer alternative in the line-up, and why would you deny such a great lens?

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7 comments:

  1. I'm really intrigued to the possibility to shoot 0,5x @12mm to obtain "ambient macro": it looks more than the performance of the 12-40/2.8, 12-100/4, 7-14/2,8 or the 8-18 panaleica. What do you think about it and why do you not show any image example of this possibility? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a nice review, Robin! It's turned out to be a a great performer as expected, on par with the other two Pro zooms with overlapping range as evidenced by your thorough field test and excellent images. I also appreciate the very close focusing ability (something I like much in the 12-40/2.8 Pro) and the 0.5X magnification. Hope you can share more inputs on this aspect as requested by Mauro Morando above. Keep up the good work! Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  3. If I didn't have the rather bulky 12-40 2.8 already, I would purchase the 12-45 as it is much smaller and lighter while still being weather proof (at the expense of 1 stop). This, plus a 1.8 prime, would be ideal for hiking where weight is a premium!

    Nice review as always. Take care.

    ReplyDelete
  4. too bad i owned the superb 12-40 else i would consider a lens like this. This is what m43 should have been, focus on nice small and high performance lens.
    I was worry ever since i saw how bulky those Canon and Nikon Mirrorless lens was like.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Robin, great review as always.

    One question:

    "front element does not rotate"
    I read this in each and every lens reviews on the internet.
    But have you ever seen any modern lens of which the front element actually rotates?
    By "modern" I mean less than 40 years old.

    ReplyDelete
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