Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO

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Announced and available together with the new OM-D E-M1 (reviewed here), the 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital PRO (24-80mm equivalent) is the first in a new line of M.Zuiko Digital PRO lenses. Development of an equivalent-grade f2.8 fast telephoto zoom was also announced, with a 2014 release. Thanks to the folks at Olympus Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to use this lens together with the new camera for some time now. Read on for my review.

Advanced warning: Flickr will apparently be down for maintenance for a little while on Friday 13/9, so if some images don’t appear, it’s because they’re hosted there…

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Not a crop.

The 12-40 is billed as being at the top end of the lens lineup. Unlike the previous high grade primes (12/2, 17/1.8, 75/1.8, click on the links for my reviews), the 12-40 is ‘triple proof’ – fully environmentally sealed to match the E-M1, and dust-, splash- and freeze-proof. It has a very nicely made machined aluminium barrel and zoom/ focusing rings, all of which are textured and grippy for use with gloves; overall finishing quality is on par with the primes; unfortunately all of this metal and robustness comes at a price – 382g of weight and bulk (70x84mm, 62mm filter). The lens is larger and heavier than the Panasonic 12-35/2.8, and slightly larger than the 75/1.8 (without hood). The lens also adds a programmable L-FN button for use with your thumb when cradling the combination with your left hand. At the asking price – I’m told in the region of US$1,000 – Olympus have finally included a hood and center-pinch lens cap; both of which are high quality items. The hood is reversible for storage, has a bayonet lock and metal rim; the lens cap appears to be mostly metal and rather nice looking, though I suspect also easily dented.

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Accessories aside, the most useful feature that’s made the transition from the primes to this zoom is the manual focus clutch – like the 12 and 17mm lenses, pull backwards on the manual focus ring, and you get both a distance scale and hard stops at either end. This is great for a few things: firstly, taking control of the camera; secondly, pulling focus for video, and finally, if you’re good at estimating distances and depth of field scales, run-and-gun hyperfocal street photography. It’s actually the second item that has me interested. Now that I’m shooting more video, focus pulling becomes an issue; it’s tough with fly-by-wire lenses that lack feel and hard end stops; it’s harder when the speed of the focus pull is oddly proportional to the speed at which you turn the ring, but not the displacement of the ring. The 12-40 (and 12, and 17 lenses) has a neat trick: if you put the ring in the MF position, set your distance, then push it back to AF and focus, it remembers the MF position. This means you can pull focus instantly between any two distances simply by pulling the ring backwards! Better still, the distance is held regardless of the zoom setting. Neat, and very useful in practice. Needless to say, both zoom and focus rings are well damped and have the right amount of resistance for precise setting, but the focus ring is especially commendable.

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Autofocus speed is the same as the other recent MSC lenses in the Olympus M4/3 lineup: very, very fast and completely silent. The lens performs pretty well in C-AF mode together with the new PDAF sensor, too. No complaints here at all. What is noteworthy though is that larger physical size of the lens has enabled the designers to include more helicoid; the upshot of which is that the lens focuses down to 20cm from the sensor plane at all focal lengths: in reality, this means about 4cm of working distance from the front element at telephoto, and ~5.5cm at wide. Maximum frame coverage is 48x36mm, meaning slightly better than 1:3 magnification. You’d need a dedicated macro lens on full frame to achieve this. Better still, as we’ll see later, there’s no compromise in optical quality even at this distance.

12-40 MTF
Optical formula and MTF chart compared to the 12-60/2.8-4 for Four Thirds, courtesy Olympus Malaysia.

The lens has a rather exotic optical formula – 14/9 construction but with one aspherical ED element, two regular aspherical elements, one DSA element, two normal ED elements, one HD element and two HR elements – there’s virtually no ‘normal’ glass in there at all. It also benefits from Olympus ZERO coating (previously seen on the 60/2.8 Macro), whose aim is to reduce flare and increase microcontrast. It works. I did encounter occasional flare in very high contrast situations – visible as a bit of ‘spillage’ around the edges – but the shadowed portions of the frame retained detail, contrast and saturation well. Color rendition was neutral to slightly warm, and richly saturated.

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Full test scene.

12-40 comparison corner CA flare
Corner crop from E-M1 SOOC JPEG, processed through new TruePic VII engine. 100% crops are here.

There’s some minor longitudinal CA on very high contrast subjects, but very little lateral CA in the plane of focus – the worst I saw was about half a pixel at 12mm and f2.8; an excellent performance indeed for any lens, let alone a zoom. You’ll notice in the JPEG sample posted from the E-M1 below that CA is completely absent, thanks to the camera’s new image processor. Regardless of which camera you use, distortion is very, very well controlled indeed – there’s none visible at the long end, and just a tiny hint of pincushion at wide – it actually fares better than many primes in this respect.

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12mm test scene.

12-40 comparison 2 12 center
Center, 100% crops are here.

12-40 comparison 2 12 corner
Corner, 100% crops are here.

Sharpness and microcontrast (related properties) are excellent anywhere in the frame, at all apertures. This is a lens which does not appear to improve much when stopped down; partially because performance is already excellent wide open (it causes the E-M5 to display moire), partially because it seems that we hit diffraction at f5.6, and partially because we have some strange field curvature effects going on. At the 12mm end, center resolution improves by a hair on stopping down, but the edges actually degrade a fraction. The opposite happens at the 40mm end – the center gets a bit softer, but the edges improve. (I repeated this test a few times just to be sure; it could of course be down to my individual sample.) In either case, we’re nitpicking because the difference really isn’t that much; just decide how much depth of field you need and pick your aperture accordingly.

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40mm test scene.

12-40 comparison 2 40 center
Center, 100% crops are here.

12-40 comparison 2 40 corner
Corner, 100% crops are here.

A quick note on close range performance: expectedly, the edges drop in resolution, but the center remains excellent – I was surprised at just how good this lens was as a makeshift macro tool. It obviously doesn’t have the same magnification, microcontrast/ resolution or working distance as the 60/2.8 – but then again it wasn’t optimized for use in this range to begin with. If you don’t plan to do very high magnification work, this may well be all the lens you need.

Note: Given that I was unable to run the E-M1′s raw files through ACR for the time being, optical testing was done with the E-M5 instead.

The lens has a 7-bladed diaphragm with curved edges; it forms a near-perfect circle at most settings, and delivers pleasingly smooth bokeh. The rendering style feels more like Olympus’ primes than what you’d expect of a zoom. And I certainly didn’t see any of the nervous double-imaged backgrounds frequently generated by the Panasonic 12-35, either – and believe me, I was looking for it. (The foliage I was shooting would be the first place this would show up). It separates your image nicely into planes, with a sharp transition between in focus and out of focus elements.

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Bokeh and close range performance are both exceptional. This is wide open at 40mm.

In a stroke, I think this lens becomes the defining do-it-all-and-anywhere for M4/3; yes, it’s a bit large, but the useful range, reasonably large aperture, solid build, outstanding optics, very close minimum focusing distance more than outweigh that. It’s not a cheap lens; but then again, I can’t think of any others with the same spec that are. Optically, this is one of the best zoom lenses I’ve ever used. It can replace a couple of primes in your kit quite easily; paired with the 75/1.8, I suspect this will make an outstandingly flexible travel combination. And yes, I’ve ordered one to go with my E-M1. MT

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is available for preorder here from B&H and Amazon.
The Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO is available for preorder here from B&H and Amazon.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Ming man, I loved reading your review on the OLY OMD E-M1 in the wee hours of the morning here in the states! Originally I was going to upgrade to the Sony a99 for my wedding work. After reading the reviews I am convinced the OLY E-M1 fits the bill and am definitely springing for it. My current kit consists of the OLY E5 with the 12-60 2.8/4 Zoom, Oly 25 2.8 Prime, 35 3.5 Macro, 50 2.0 Macro and the 70-300 4.0/5.6 Zoom.

    Money not being the object what would you spring for in a portrait lenses prime? Also, should I spring for the Oly 12-40 2.8 zoom considering what I have in my stable? What other lenses would you recommend?

  2. Great blog and review. Do you think this lens is a complete replacement for the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and 25mm f1.4 lenses and the Olympus 17mm f1.8? I know you mentioned that this zoom can replace the Olympus 12mm but not the 45mm even though its 5mm (10mm FF) longer.

  3. Wow, it looks like Olympus is going to be tough to beat over the next few years.

  4. Ming, how do I have to understand your statement “it causes the E-M5 to display moire”: would you recommend it for the E-M5 as well, or is there a caveat?
    For me, either the Olympus 12-40 or the Panasonic 12-35 could be a wonderful replacement for the CZ 16-80mm I loved using on my Sony A700 – in town, there was rarely a need to change lens and the image quality was superb.

    • Moire is a consequence of the lens outresolving the sensor, the detail frequency of the subject exceeding the resolution of the sensor, and the sensor itself having weak or no AA filters. It doesn’t tend to be a big deal in most general situations as the subjects seldom cause moire – unless you shoot a lot of architecture or fabrics, I suppose. In that case, desaturating the offending area usually works well (and then perhaps coloring it for fabrics). I certainly wouldn’t let it stop me from using the lens, though I suspect I probably would encounter moire situations more than most.

  5. I currently have the Panasonic 12-35 which I love. Is it worth swapping to the 12-40 olympus? Is it that much better? Thanks

  6. Hi Ming, nice review. Here’s the dilemma: I have an EM5 + Panasonic 14 2.5, Olympus 45 1.8 and Panasonic Leica 25 1.4. Before reading this review I wanted to sell the 14mm and acquire an Olympus 12mm prime, but now I don’t know whether to buy a 12-40/2.8 instead. They are roughly the same price. What do you think? Also, which of your videos is more suited to a EM5 shooter with basic DSLR skills? Thanks

    • Get the 12-40. It’s more versatile and you only lose a stop.

      As for the videos – intro to photoshop, the fundamentals, the outstanding images workshop series and the how to see series would be a good place to start – we have special bundles on that combo in the store at the moment, too :)

  7. Ming Thein, Can you tell me what is the lenght ( outside of the camera ) of the lens when extented ( at 40mm ) ? Thank you I’m a still photographer using micro four third on movie set , i want to know if the lens will fit on the same lens tubes as my 12-35mm for my blimp. Thank you

  8. Considering this lens is the same weight as the 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/1.8, and 45mm f/1.8 combined (and $550 cheaper), AND add to that the considerable weather sealing, this lens looks like a much more practical choice. Add to that the 75mm f/1.8, and I’d say 95% of anything I’d need to shoot is covered. Seem like a sane decision to you?

  9. John Prosper says:

    Sir Ming,

    As a pro photographer who is provided with Olympus equipment for review, are you allowed to voice input on the general features of lens design? For instance, I felt a lens like the Four Thirds 7-14/4 zoom would have been much better if they had included a filter turret with helpful filters (e.g., a circular polarizer, a couple strengths of neutral graduated filters, and maybe a strong UV filter).

    Going forward with anticipated Olympus ZD PRO lenses, such a filter turret can be extremely useful in a wide angle zoom (e.g., a 6-12/2.8 to balance with the 12-40/2.8 and announced 40-150/2.8), a tilt & shift lens for architectural photography (e.g., 12/2.8 tilt & shift or 12/3.5 tilt & shift if I am being too greedy), AND large, bright super telephotos (e.g, 150/1.8, 250/2.8, etc.).

    The other lenses (sans fisheyes) tend to involve more manageable filter sizes that can be obtained more easily. These filters are needed even in the digital age as they cannot be duplicated with software. Although normal UV effects can be duplicated via software, I understand strong UV effects, such as that encountered at very high elevations, are much more challenging to software developers. Only 3-4 useful filters are needed for such a turret, and they should benefit both black & white or color photography.

    • I can say plenty of things – and do – but it’s very rare I’m actually listened to. After all, the marketing people know best it seems!

      • John Prosper says:

        Thanks for trying at the very least. I just think if Olympus wants to seriously challenge the Canon-Nikon pro lead, they need to exploit every opportunity to make their own system seem like a slam dunk choice within its limitations.

        • I do not understand another thing, why PanOly makes only small lenses, but does not make big BRIGHT lenses. They have advantage in big depth of field and can make F/1.2 primes with a size of F/1.8 primes in FF format. People used to the big optics on FF. With IBIS these small sensor cameras would become the best low light camera ever :) Awesome marketing point.

          So, marketing department does not really know better than people that shoot every day.

          • Easy: cost. Mass market perception is small = cheap; f1.2 primes are possible – or 0.95 even, look at Voigtlander (though optics aren’t great) – but the economics are probably a disaster. That can’t be good for companies whose camera businesses are already struggling as it is…

            • I understand your point, I am sure PanOly marketing dep thinks the same. But NONE of Voiglander or SLR Magic has auto focusing. 99% of users will not buy MF optics even for half of the current price. The most of the cameras are sold not to the professionals but to amatures. Amatures know that optics should have minimum F number and they do not care about price. Many photographers moved to Canon only because they had F/1.2 optics. I know, it is stupid.

              They should stop looser thinking and open new markets. But they follow leaders istead.
              What they really should take from the leaders is two card slot and the ability to shoot over USB for extremely precise work. It is esential if they want to sell PRO cameras.

  10. You state that diffraction starts at f/5.6. Other reviews states, that diffraction starts at f/8 and is well controlled until f/16, which is approximatelly the range I would expect from a 4/3 lens. What information is correct?

    • The diffraction point depends on a) pixel pitch and b) your individual tolerance for resolution reduction. I can see it starting after f5.6 on a 16MP M4/3 sensor, f8 on 16MP APS-C/ 36MP FX. You can’t ‘well control’ diffraction; it isn’t influenced by the optics of the lens: it’s a physical limitation of the relationship between the size of the physical aperture and the pixel pitch. That’s it. Sadly, most ‘reviewers’ have no clue what they’re talking about. They can’t even take a halfway decent photograph; how would they know if a camera does the job or not? It’s like reading a car review by somebody without a driver’s license.

  11. Great reviews and photos.
    I think that the future will be mainly with mirror-less cameras.
    Looks like I will sell my Canon DSLR and go for the E-M1 with the 12-40…

    • That’s exactly what I did. Sold my old Canon 5D and 24-70 and got the EM-1 and 12-40. This combo is incredible and I like it much better than my Canon. Does everything I want a camera to do. This will be my main travel gear from now on.
      Jim A.

  12. Wilson Hoang says:

    Hey Ming Thein
    Im planning on using this mainly for video with my gh2
    Just to be 100% sure, is it a TRUE manual focus with hard stops, with the focus ring is pulled down, like say the voigtlander 25mm
    It sounds like it is, sorry for having to repeat but this is a deciding factor for me as a videographer.

    • Video usability was a deciding factor for me too. It’s got hard stops at either end, and better yet, it remembers the last distance – so you can AF, then pull the ring back to snap to a preset distance to pull focus instantly.

      • I other words, it is NOT TRUE manual focus, but it has some useful features though.

        • No, I don’t believe it’s mechanically coupled, but I’ll be damned if I can tell the difference. It certainly feels like it is; and I’ve got a lot of good manual focus glass to compare it with…

          • Wow! My 12-35 is a pain. If panasonic gh4 will not bring true pro photo features I’ll seriously consider to move to EM1+12-40 kit! I hope they will improve video features through firmware updates.

            • Wilson Hoang says:

              thanks for response guys
              have you used it with a follow focus? and switch back from A to B and it’ll still be in focus?

  13. Oliver Derrickson says:

    Hey Ming, great review!

    I shoot lot of landscapes professionally and sell prints and am currently publishing my first book. I usually shoot @ around 14mm to 18mm and stop down to 5.6 or even 7.1 and use tripod. Most of my images are made as panoramas (or from several images made to look as one, in order to override system limitations) so in this case, which will yield sharper images? 12-40 @ 17mm 5.6 or 17mm 1.8 @ 5.6?


  14. id like to purchase the 12-40 for my gx1 what are your thougts with no ibis. planning to upgrade new body by next year.

  15. Hi Ming – haven’t written in a while but am an avid follower. In regards to this lens – I have a question about weight. I haven’t used my D800E in months but have taken the E-M5 on my last two trips with the 17/1.8 an 45/1.8 all due to the fact I am getting old and do not want to carry a DSLR and lens (s) around anymore. Having not handled the 12-40 yet and having read elsewhere that the 12-40 paired with the new E-M1, which I just purchased, is getting close to carrying a DSLR in bulk and weight I am on the fence about dropping another $1k on the 12-40. What are you thoughts?


    • Leonard, I dunno what Ming will say, but I have the E-M1 + 12-40 /f2.8 combo, and even with the added vertical battery grip, it comes now where remotely close to the bulk and weight of the D800 with Nikon’s equivalent 24-70 f/2.8 lens. I think it weighs in at about a third of the Nikon equivalent. And it’s a really sharp, super-fast lens. In fact, as soon as I get done typing this I’m going to list the last of my Nikon lenses (50 and 85) on eBay. I don’t think I’m ever going back to the big rigs. But I’m holding on to my 70-200 f/2.8 – that’s my “bank” for when Olympus releases their 40-150 f/2.8, which I’ll order the minute they announce it.

      • Paul
        That does sound promising. Thank you very much for the info and thoughts. I have begun the process of selling my Nikon gear. Many thousands of dollars over the years going unused. I do not think I will be going back to the DSLR world anytime soon. I think I will order the 12-40mm and and try it out. I suspect I will keep the 17mm 1.8 for the ultra light option. The 45mm 1.8 for some reason did not get used much. If I were to keep two fix focal lengths I think I would make the leap to the 75mm 1.8.


        • When I got the E-M5 a little over a year ago (before my wife and I went to Scotland we got two of ‘em), I got the Olympus 17 f/2.8, and that’s my walking around lens. Very compact. I love the 45 f/1.8, and also the 75 f/1.8. It was when I saw what those to lenses can deliver that the Nikon went “on the bubble.” And I hated the D600 from the moment I put it to my eye (all the AF points in the center?? huh???). When the E-M1 was announced, that was pretty much it. I think you’ll be quite happy with what you’re outlining here.

          • Thank you. Maybe I will keep the 17 1.8, 45 1.8 and think about the 75mm. The reality is I have spent many more thousands over the years on DSLRs so what the heck!

    • It’s still not that big :)

      If weight/ size is priority #1, then I suggest looking at the new Panasonic 12-32 pancake – that on an E-M1 will fit in a jacket pocket. Optically very good, too – just a bit slow in aperture. Pair it with a 45, 60 or 70 for tele reach and you’re all set.

      • Thanks Ming – I just ordered a 12-40 and will see how it suits me. I cannot get my hands on one as none of the retail stores have them in stock at the moment.


        • Enjoy – if they’re in that short supply, and it the size doesn’t work for you, then I think you’ll have no problems moving it on…

          • I usually have no issues returning to Amazon – I suspect the lens is going to be a keeper along with my primes.

            Best Regards,


  16. Ian Besch says:

    I am purchasing the OMD-1 and currently have the Zuiko ED 12-60. Realizing the auto focussing will be somewhat slower and an adapter needed, what is your opinion on the image quality between this lens and the 12-40 PRO?

  17. I am about to purchase the OMD-1 and am considering keeping my Zuiko ED 12-60. Realizing I’ll need an adaptor and the autofocus will be somewhat slower, what is your opinion of the image quality of this lens compared to the Zuiko 12-40 PRO…should I trade in the old for the new?

  18. Forgive me if you’ve already stated this, either explicitly, or implicitly, but would you say that the M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2.8 lens is a better performer than the equivalent Olympus primes? Trying to decide whether to add the 17mm f1.8 and possibly the 40mm f/1.8 … or just go with this new PRO zoom. The latter seems to make more sense, and adds the advantage of weather-proofing as well.

    If it performs as well as Nikon’s 24-70mm f/2.8, then I guess it’s a bit of a no-brainer (provided one doesn’t need the extra DOF of the primes).

  19. Sikan Chen says:

    Hi Ming, thanks for the review. This might be a silly question, but does your copy rattle? Just received my 12-40/2.8 this morning (for my Mom, actually), and it does make a clunking sound from inside when I gently shake it back and forth. Could it be a manufacturing issue or just some rear elements moving by design? (I don’t have much experience with metal zoom lenses, but all my metal primes don’t seem to rattle.)

    • Do you have the lens mounted to the camera, Sikan? If so, the assembly housing of the camera’s IBIS does make a disconcerting rattling sound if you shake or gently bump the camera; part of the stabilization’s design.

      • Sikan Chen says:

        Thanks Robert. But I didn’t have the lens mounted, so it wasn’t the IBIS. It wasn’t the zoom barrel either as I put enough force on both the front and rear lens caps to avoid any potential wiggle. Seems something inside the lens is loose and can move back and forth. I’ve also checked my 12-50/3.5-6.3 (which is to be replaced by this new lens), it exhibits a similar problem. However I consider this normal for the 12-50/3.5-6.3 as its optics and build quality are known to be much worse. Anyway, I do hope this is a nonissue and purely my ignorance of lens design :)

    • No noise or movement at all. If you’re hearing a clunking when it’s mounted and the camera is off, that’s normal – the sensor floats in a suspension mount until powered on and locked into place with magnets.


  1. […] Re: E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 Here's a quote from Part 2 of Ming's review: "And here we come full circle: I compare the E-M1 to the D600 because it’s the cheapest entry into full frame (and I didn’t have access to a pro DX camera; in any case, none of the current lineup match it on spec either) – and whilst the D600 still holds a bit of an advantage in image quality, it’s not as much as you might think; less in practical application; far more of the difference will come down to shot discipline and how the images are processed. And that’s assuming pixels are going to be peeped: they’re close enough that even at 100% it takes a reasonably trained eye to spot the difference. Everybody will see the composition first, of course. Even if we’d had DX cameras in the mix, the results would be even closer still – if not an even match. Even as it stands, I haven’t observed that much difference in underlying sensor quality between the GR and OM-D; at stop, at most. Most of the difference is due to the optics. Yet despite its sensor, the D600 lags behind in every other specification; it’s not until you hit the full-fat D4 that you can match frame rates or environmental sealing. Bottom line: there is simply nothing quite like the E-M1 at the moment – a very compact professional system camera." Food for thought. m4/3 seems to be ready for prime time. When looking at the 12-40mm samples, it's quite clear that this is a lens that is designed for shooting at full aperture. One has to look very closely to see much difference between f/2.8 and f/5.6, even in the corners. Lens test here: Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO […]

  2. […] Alles zum neuen Olympus 12-40 f/2,8 PRO Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO __________________ http://500px.com/just_me78 G5, OM-D, Pana 20, 100-300, Sigma 60, Oly 60 […]

  3. […] the company may have difficulty meeting demand when the camera becomes available in October. Early reviews of the new 12-40 f/2.8 lens are also very […]

  4. […] as the E-5 (their last pro-DSLR), which means fast enough for most of us.. On a different note, the new 12-40/2.8 is apparently made of awesome… The upcoming 40-150/2.8 isn't as big as you'd might think, unless the guy holding it is a giant, […]

  5. […] Originally Posted by Guy Roberts I will be interested to see how the new 12-40 f2.8 fares against the 14-35 f2 shg. Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO – Ming Thein | Photographer […]

  6. […] Source: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/09/13/lens-review-the-olympus-12-40/ […]

  7. […] Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO (Ming Thein) […]

  8. […] Added on 9/13/2013: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/09/13/lens-review-the-olympus-12-40/ […]

  9. […] förstår man varför den är så populär redan innan lanseringen. När erkända fotografer som Ming Thein och Robin Wong hyllar objektivet så är det ett säkert kort – inte minst tillsammans med nya […]

  10. […] Images were shot with the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40/2.8 PRO lens.  […]

  11. […] ZD 12-40/2.8 PRO ($999 – review | Amazon | B&H) – Perfect travel pairing for the E-M1; excellent optics, weather-sealed […]

  12. […] somewhere, too – a Leica 50/1.4 ASPH, the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 Distagon, Olympus 75/1.8 and 12-40/2.8s. But I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten solid use out of pretty much everything, and […]

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