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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Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.

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Comments

  1. Reading your reviews is becoming a very expensive hobby! ;)

  2. Dustom Gilbert says:

    Fantastic. The third shot with the safety stripes and the flowed are wonderful. Ifni had the cash id pick this lens up immediately. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Fantastic. The third shot. And the flowers are wonderful. If I had the cash. I’d pick up one of these immediately. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Ming, with your experience with the 45/1.8 and the 12/2, would you say that at 2.8 this lens can replace both those primes (assuming the user is ok with the size increase)?

    • I think it can replace the 12 but not the 45; the rendering is different, and the T stop of the zoom seems to be a bit lower than the prime.

    • The 45/1.8: for me (and probably most people) the 45 is a portrait lens, and 1.8 and 2.8 do make quite a difference in DOF. I could not imagine that I would give it away (only for the upcoming 1.2 from Panasonic).

      For the 12/2: I would also be very interested in an answer from Ming :-) Did you make any side-by-side comparisons of the 12-40 and the 12oly, 17oly, 20pana, 25pana, 30sigma ? These comparisons would be most interesting.

      • Not planning to, don’t have the time – and out of those I only have the 12 to hand. It hasn’t been used much since I got the GR, and even less with the 12-40…

        • That’s my problem too. GR (plus the 21mm adapter) has replaced practically all my WA needs, so the 12mm already is not seeing the light of day, plus I already have 35mm covered by RX1R and can’t separate from Oly 45mm, so why on earth do I need a zoom lens?

          I actually have the 12-40 on order (seems like a great deal with $200 rebate in US/CAN for EM1 owners) but after selling the Panasonic 12-35mm (hated its rendition), I haven’t missed it at all, so I’m afraid the 12-40 will be one of those lenses that are technically perfect and superior but lacks a type of emotional draw for me to want to shoot with it. Of course for working photographers, this would be a very versatile zoom range, but for me the artsy fartsy type, do I really need a zoom lens? I don’t shoot weddings (maybe I should) or parties, so will this lens still open photographic boundaries previously unknown to me?

          • I have to be honest, me too. The 12mm is on the axe list as soon as my 12-40 arrives; I really don’t need the overlap.

            Short answer: I liked the 12-40 a lot. I personally find it useful for those abstract art compositions I seem to be doing more and more of these days; it’ll replace the 14-42 pancake, 12/2 and possibly also the 45/1.8.

            • That’s true, I already use the Panasonic 35-100mm for street abstracts (you saw them in New York), why didn’t I think of using a shorter zoom for closer subjects? Will be keeping the pre-order then, thanks for the feedback! ps. can’t wait for the Olympus 45-150mm to replace the Pana 35-100mm, better reach!

  5. HomoSapiensWannaBe says:

    A choice lens, and enticing to those of us not yet in the m4/3 fold. How will you use for the L-Fn button?

  6. Ming, your reviews are making disasters in my bank account :(

  7. How does the lens perform with phase detect AF-C?

  8. How would you compare it to the 12-35 from Panny?

  9. John Prosper says:

    Now THIS is the Olympus Zuiko (Digital) I have known and loved. They have a history of producing outstanding normal zooms that rival primes in resolution and contrast. A few decades back, I owned their 35-70/3.6 and produced results that rivaled the output from my 90/2 macro. Olympus declared that lens as the sharpest zoom they ever made to that point. This was followed by the even sharper 35-80/2.8, then the stellar 4:3′s 14-35/2. You better believe I was prepared to be blown away when they announced this baby! As a close up/macro fan, I am so impressed they produced a zoom with a minimum focusing distance of only 0.2 meters (7.87 inches)! Outstanding!!!!

  10. Thanks for the review, Ming. The lens seems very promising indeed! Would you elaborate on the field curvature issue you mention? Also, how would you compare it to the various m4/3 primes at f/2.8 or f/4?

    • The focal plane isn’t perfectly perpendicular to the sensor plane, ie the corners focus slightly in front of or behind the center.

      Can’t tell the difference between them at f4…

      • Thanks, Ming. I’m glad to hear it compares very favorably to the primes. Regarding field curvature, I understand what it is, but you described it as “strange” and your remarks seemed to suggest that it didn’t clear up by f/5.6 so I was hoping you might clarify. I was particularly surprised that you found edge resolution degraded on stopping down at 12mm, and I’m not sure how field curvature might contribute to that since it is usually covered up by increased DOF. More generally, it would be useful to know how field curvature varies with focus distance and across the zoom range. Some recent Olympus lenses have been criticized for displaying field curvature at infinity stopped down, which is particularly problematic for landscape shooters — I hope that isn’t the case here.

        • I need to do more extensive testing to be sure, but the direction of the field curvature seems to flip halfway through the zoom range.

          • Thanks again, Ming. If so, that’s very interesting! I hope you’ll have the opportunity to post an update on your experience with the lens once you’ve had a chance to use it more.

  11. So how does it compare optically to the Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8?

  12. As usual now, this short review is excellent, Ming.

    I have two questions :
    How does this lense compare with :
    4/3 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 II?
    4/3 12-60mm f2.8-4.0?
    4/3 12-35mm f2.0?

    Why these questions? This new lense seems make the 4/3 ones no more interresting, except maybe if you need to gain a f/ stop at the double of the price.

    For those wondering if this lense replaces the 12mm f2.0 and the 45mm f1.8, it’s still one whole step less luminous, bigger, fatter.
    About resolution i’ll be delighted to know how this lense performs against the m4/3 primes.

    • Oops : 14-35mm f2.0 (corrected!)

    • 4/3 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 II? Better
      4/3 12-60mm f2.8-4.0? Better
      4/3 12-35mm f2.0? Not used it

      I think it can replace the 12 unless you really need the extra stop; not the 45 though.

    • I think 12-40 really makes 12-60 in a bad situation, coz the price of 12-60 is not low, and what’s more the average of 12-60 is nearly to f4 not f2.8. But 14-54 is much inexpensive and gets longer, so it will have its own market.

  13. Wow, I think you just made me re-think the E-M1 and this lens. I can perhaps let go of the E-M5, 12 f/2 and Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 because it will be covered. Thanks for the in-depth review Ming.

    • Keep the Pana Leica 25mm for low light work, it is an amazing lens.

      • Will most likely keep it. Still not hundred percent sold to getting the E-M1 and new lens. I’ll wait.

      • What lens are you talking about here, the Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 ? Can you supply a link to it online somewhere? Might want to add that to my arsenal, too.

        • That lens is here.

          • I own the 4/3 original of this lens and it’s probably my most prized glass. The sole reason I hung in there with an old 4/3 body [that is great for snaps of the kids etc., but is outclassed in every way by all my other machines] is this lens and its older cousin the 14-50 Elmaritt. But mostly the 25 D Summilux.

            And I bumped it hopping a fence some weeks ago :(
            And it wasn’t all OK afterward…

            And I still love it and use it and am considering buying a whole new camera body just so I can mount it and get even more from it.

            [So, my original 4/3 version has a lovely aperture ring on it; just like the 14-50 Elmaritt does. The newer m4/3 25 D Summilux linked to there looks gelded -- aperture ring-less -- to me... did they do that to all the m4/3 lenses? If you mount legacy glass, with aperture rings, etc., on these m4/3 bodies via the right adapter, is there some in-body indexing function like on the higher up Nikons? Not a deal breaker, at all, just curious if we can keep track of what was what in the EXIFs...]

    • No problem. The rendering of the f2.8 zoom won’t match the 25/1.4 though.

  14. Oh yes! Thanks Ming for the excellent review. Apparently not very many words are needed to convey how excellent the lens (and the camera) is.

    For those in Germany, Olympus is offering some workshops, but even more interesting at this point, a play session with the new camera and lens. Here are the dates: https://de.omd.olympus.eu/site/academy

    The E-M1 tour will be in Hamburg on 28.09.2013. I’ll take my E-M5 and Panasonic 12-35 and will try to pull off some comparison shots with the E-M1 and 12-40. I’ll post the shots at http://www.pcurious.com

  15. The ideal travel combo right there – it’s probably 40% lighter than my current setup with the D700. Come to think of it, which zooms in this range match the Olympus. I’m guessing it may even given the Canikon 24-70 odd f2.8s a run for their money?

    • I’m using it right now for just that, and it is.

      Not used the MK II canon, but it’s definitely comparable or slightly better than the Nikon. And it focuses much closer, too.

      • Ming, your advance reports on the new Olympus line have been exceptionally informative. Thank you.

        Now, did I just read that last comment right… you think this new Olympus 12-40 f/2.8 is slightly better than the comparable Nikon (24-70) ?

        I have already pre-ordered both the EM-1 and the 12-40 lens, in part because I have been disappointed with the D600 I got last spring (…mostly because the center-concentrated AF focus array withe D600 drives me nuts. Focus/recompose? Who thought that was a good idea??). I recently – finally! – got the Nikon 24-70, but I use my OM-D EM-5 more than I use my “big rigs.” And when I compared some results from the OM-D w 85 f/1.8 to the D600 w similar lens, I could not see enough difference to justify lugging the bigger Anvil600 around….

        So if you think the E-M1 + 12-40 is comparable or “slightly better” than the D600 (which also did not fare well in your multi-camera comparison) + 24-70 then I might be tempted to unload both the D600 and the 24-70 to have the cash on hand when the pre-order for the Olympus stuff goes through next month (I hope!).

        Care to comment on that scenario?

        Thanks again for your outstanding insight and dedication.

        • Now, did I just read that last comment right… you think this new Olympus 12-40 f/2.8 is slightly better than the comparable Nikon (24-70) ?
          Yes, that was good in the centre at f2.8, but requires f4-5.6 for the edges to catch up.

          The D600 still wins on noise, resolution and dynamic range; simple physics of larger photosites. The difference is not as big as you might imagine under most situations, though. Certainly small enough that for the kinds of things I’d use the E-M1 for (and currently use the E-M5 for), it’s a non-issue.

          • “for the kinds of things I’d use the E-M1 for…” probably says it all. Nobody’s hiring me (yet?) for jobs that demand the highest resolution, dynamic range and lowest noise in the known universe, Once the E-M1 arrives, I will probably use it for situations that would use the 12-40, unload the 24-70 to free up some resources, and hang on to my 70-200 – though there may be a spell when I have no body to attach it to – because I really do not like shooting with the D600. Maybe in another year or three Nikon will finally figure out how to include an AF array that covers as much of the frame as these Mirrorless cameras do.

            I just hope I’m high on the list for first delivery of the E-M1.

            Thanks again,

            –PS

  16. Thanks for the review! I would have liked to see it compared to the 12-35 mm, but may be in a follow up. I just bought the 12-35 6 days ago as I go to Scotland and England for a couple of weeks tomorrow for photgraphy (Landscape mostly), I am very pleased with the Panny so far, really a great lens. But there can always be a better one of course!

    To the point: hitting difraction at f 5.6….That seems to be very early! And, depending on how detectable it is, it is also not good news for landscaping in which I use f8 to f 11 or so. Can you elaborate on the diffraction? Thanks.

    • I don’t have a lens or the time to do a head to head, sorry.

      The diffraction limitation isn’t the lens; it’s a function of the pixel pitch of the sensor. The more pixels/ higher the density, the earlier diffraction sets in…

      • Jorge Balarin says:

        Dear Ming, if you are going to shoot landscapes with the new 12-40mm, wich aperture are you going to choose ? Greetings.

      • The greater apparent resolution due to lack of anti-aliasing filter will also cause diffraction to show up earlier. This is not a disadvantage as you are not loosing anything compared to older sensors, you just have an opportunity to gain if DOF needs don’t dictate higher F stops.

    • Don’t forget that with the smaller sensor you don’t need to close the aperture as much as with FF or APS-C. Also the old truth “f/8 is the sharpest aperture” doesn’t hold any more with lenses like the one here, which according to Ming is as sharp as ever at f/2.8.

      While I too was slightly irritated by the limited number of optimal apertures, I think that even the landscape fans among us will be OK. It seems to be more of a limitation of our thinking than a technical one.

      • Look at your DOF calculator and see how much you get at f/2.8. Most landscape photographers will not find that value acceptable.

        • Agreed, it by f8 it’s a different story. In any case, for large format prints, I’d use something with more resolution.

        • According to http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html for a m43 body and lens:

          - 12 mm @ f/8.0: focus from 0.61 m all the way to infinity when you focus at 1.21 m
          - 12 mm @ f/5.6: focus from 0.85 m all the way to infinity when you focus at 1.71 m

          - 15 mm @ f/8.0: focus from 0.95 m all the way to infinity when you focus at 1.89 m
          - 15 mm @ f/5.6: focus from 1.33 m all the way to infinity when you focus at 2.67 m

          This will surely be enough for a landscape photographer, don’t you think?

          • F8 at FT/ mFT Sensor size is already degrading resolution due to diffraction.
            No good for landscape photography, and usually not needed.

            Its this multiplication factor of the small FT/mFT sensor, who calls for fast and very fast optics

            • f5.6 is the limit, f8 you start to see some degredation.

              But on the high density APS-C (D7100) and FF (D800) sensors, your diffraction limits are also f5.6 and f8…which is worse, because you need even more depth of field to cover the image area…

              • Yes, as you’ve put it futher up:

                [quote]The diffraction limitation isn’t the lens; it’s a function of the pixel pitch of the sensor. The more pixels/ higher the density, the earlier diffraction sets in…[/quote]

                This tells basically that there is a practical limit for pixel count per sensor size.
                At least regarding any gain to expect resolution wise. Once diffraction kicks even in with the aperture wide open, there is no sense to push pixel count any further.

                So high pixel count pushes for fast, sharp lenses even more so for the small FT/mFT sensor.

                • So high pixel count pushes for fast, sharp lenses even more so for the small FT/mFT sensor.

                  That’s true, but sufficient depth of field so that every pixel is sharp and actually ‘counts’ towards the final image is quite another matter entirely…

                  • Yes, on the other hand DOF and diffraction behaves strictly the same when comparing different sensor size.

                    So, no free lunch for any sensor size in particular, meaning for same DOF the smaller sensor must have faster glass and this allows for the same diffraction limit with respect to DOF. Nothing to loose nor to gain except that fast, sharp glass beyond a certain point is very hard to achieve

  17. Ming its sharp has nice colour rendering and I agree close range performance is good, but I can’t see how you say the bokeh is exceptional to me looks bland. I mostly use the 50 Lux so I maybe am a little influenced.

  18. Du you have a photo from the E-M5 with the new 12-40. Is it good to handle?

    Thanks

  19. thanks for the review, ming. i’m glad i pre-ordered one as soon as it was made available on amazon…hopefully i’m in the first batch.

    i’m not in the market for the e-m1 and am very happy with my e-m5. i was thinking about doing what you proposed at the end of your review – getting rid of some of the primes within the focal range of this zoom…namely, getting rid of the 25/1.4. i wonder if i’ll miss those extra stops…but i could put that money toward the 75/1.8. hmmm…

  20. Exactly the sort of lens I want for the D800…decent moderate wide > short tele, image stabilised (via the camera itself in this case) and superb optics. The macro capability is a fantastic bonus. This and the Nikon 70-200 and I would be all set! Here’s hoping the rumored Sigma 24-70 f2 OS is more than a rumor, and up to the standards of their 35 1.4. At the moment the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC is tempting me. You see what you do Ming? I wasn’t even thinking about spending any more money on camera equipment, but you come along with your fancy reviews and fantastic images and stir up emotions which I had managed to contain and isolate. I, and my bank manager, firmly blame you sir!

  21. Guy McLoughlin says:

    Is this new high performance zoom parfocal?
    I shoot mostly video, so being parfocal would be a big deal.

    • I believe it is, but DOF is great enough at most distances it’s difficult to tell. What’s neat is you can pull focus easily and point to point using the MF clutch ring…

  22. Wonderful photos Ming. I’m fairly happy with my primes, but a zoom of this quality is so tempting. Like the others I have a feeling you are going to be doing bad things to my wallet. Taken as a whole, it seems like it beats or at least equals the best 24-70ish zooms from any maker.

  23. Peter Boender says:

    Oh Ming, I wish you wouldn’t write this stuff. Now I have to get even more chummy with my bank account manager… :-D

  24. Ming, thank you for a great review and inspiring photos! My question…I moved from my e-1 to e-m5 after taking a cruise with my e-1 and 14-54mm. The weight of that combo and a previous rotator cuff tear accompanied with older age made photography less than enjoyable. Purchased the e-m5 and pan 25mm/1.4 for a recent trip to Italy and it was great! Have another trip planned in June to Ireland (damp weather) and would like one more lens (only 25/1.4 now). I am thinking about this lens (12-40mm) but concerned with the additional weight on my e-m5, although I ordered a 3rd party grip (JB grip) for the e-m5. Do you think it would be a good combination for traveling and a lot lighter than my old e-1 and 14-54mm? Thank you for all the work you do in answering our questions and great reviews.

    • That’s pretty much what I intend to use it for…so I’d say yes, definitely.

      Out of curiosity, what do you plan to do with the E-1/ 14-54?

      • Thank you for your reply. I purchased the MMF-3 adapter for my e-m5. I also have the macro 50mm/F2. Both lenses work well with the manual assist on the e-m5. I will just hold on to my e-1, it still is a great camera, but older like me &^).

        • John M, with your coverage of the normal range and macro from 14-54, 25, and 50 with your existing lenses you may want to consider the 75mm f1.8 for your extra lens? Of course I guess this may defeat the purpose of traveling light with one all purpose zoom instead of two primes…

  25. There’s one thing the EM5 have troubles focusing, scenes with multiple tiny lights (eg.christmas tree / lights streaking through leaves). Wonder is it better with the EM1

  26. R. V. Abbott says:

    How well do you think this lens, together with the EM-1, would work for photographing children or toddlers? I use my EM-5 for most of my photography, but keep a Nikon DSLR for the C-AF… Thanks!

    • Not having any of either handy, I can’t say for sure, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t do the job.

    • It all depends on your kids and their activities, of course, but I actually find the E-M5 works well for photographing my active young children. C-AF tracking is hopeless, of course. Instead, the trick is to stop down a little for increased DOF and rely on the E-M5′s very fast S-AF and low shutter lag by just mashing the shutter button, i.e. don’t half press for focus and hold before releasing the shutter. In some circumstances it works better than others, but I get a good percentage of in focus shots working this way.

      • R. V. Abbott says:

        Thanks! I’ve tried this, and it works pretty well in good light, since you can afford to stop down. But less well indoors, since I want to keep the aperture on my Panasonic 12-35 or 35-100 at the 2.8 maximum. This is especially problematic if the kid is only 5 to 10 feet away, since slight movement by the kid toward or away from the camera is enough to render him out of focus.

        • I just recently picked up the FL-600R flash. While I haven’t learned how to use it yet, I am hoping it will give me the ability to keep fast shutter speeds with bounce flash to better freeze the motion of the rug rats ;-)

          I also picked up a Panasonic GX1 on fire sale last Spring and its pop up flash can be tilted back with your finger to give a sort of low grade bounce flash. For the kids it just seems like learning good flash technique may be the key for us parents.

          • Bounce certain helps. The problem with flash is that if you’re going to use a fast shutter speed to freeze everything, you won’t have much ambient light; everything will look like flash and not really retain the atmosphere of the original scene, unless you don’t mind a little motion blur from a slower shutter and rear curtain sync…

          • Learning to use bounce flash is definitely worthwhile. With small m4/3 cameras — and even with a relatively small flash like the FL-600R — you may find that the camera + flash is a bit unwieldy; I find using a short coiled TTL flash cord more comfortable, allowing me to hold the camera in one hand and the flash in the other (this also makes bouncing very easy). (Canon-compatible cords work fine with m4/3 and are readily available and inexpensive.)

            One bit of caution, however: while the flash will freeze motion, the delay introduced by the TTL pre-flashes can actually make it harder to catch moving children in focus. You’ll have to experiment to find out how fast your kids can be moving before this is a problem at the focal lengths and apertures you want to use.

            • Thanks for the advice ginsbu! I am hoping to use the small hot shoe flash that came with my E-M5 to fire my 600R remotely. For images at home I definitely notice patterns in our room use and my general photo locations. I may play with the flash setup and some dolls one night after the kids go to bed to practice my technique without making my wife and kids the guinea pigs. Your words of wisdom on the delays with TTL flash are something I had not realized and I will do my best to account for this new knowledge!

  27. Ming, I guess you like this item. I await technical tests from those who do them. I would not mind having a second body, but don’t know if I want to take the leap to a second system. I could do a D7100 and use it with the glass that I have now, a Fuji-X or this new M1. Well, I will have to think this over.

  28. First off, thanks a lot for your work! I have a question regarding lens correction:

    “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.”

    I assume this is applies to jpegs after in-camera correction, right? What if you use a raw-converter, that does not support this lens (yet)? Could you provide a comparison of images that have been processed with and without digital correction (or simply a raw and jpg file so people can test it themselves, whatever is easier for you), if possible?

  29. damn! i want it too but cant justified it, i’ve already the zuiko 12 and the zuiko 75, which is a nice combo.
    did you try the 12-60 on the EM-1? i only tested it on my E-m5…to slow and noisy.

    Thinking about selling the E-5 12-60 now….

    nice review by the way, as usual.

    Yien

  30. Hi Ming,
    Does the E-M1 and the 12-40mm still have the stealth factor, that m43 is known for…?
    I think it is rather liberating being able to take pictures and not call attention to yourself. It allow for more candid moments.
    Just curious, if the EM1′s size could be a detriment?

    Tks,
    Eric

    • Ming can literally stand in front of you and disappear from your field of perception within seconds – I have shot with him so I know his ninja moves. Does anyone know of any ninja workshops in Japan for photographers? :)

      But seriously I think it depends on your shooting style. I’ve been using GR and RX1R, which are both compacts, so nobody treats me seriously, allowing me to get really close candids. But there are ways to not call attention to yourself with any cameras too.

    • I don’t think so, personally. It’s still smaller than a compact entry-level DSLR and kit lens.

  31. Hi Ming, great review, and a great lens it seems, though I have one question. I have the 12-35, which I’ve used in RAW on E-M5 with an oldish version of Aperture with no lens corrections. While everybody seems to rave about it, I find it just does “things” to straight lines, and the vignetting is bad in my opinion. It seems to be one of those lens that are optimized with software corrections in mind and I should probably go this route, but as it is I just don’t feel like using this lens anymore.

    Does your comment about the 12-40 (and especially distortion) apply to “uncorrected”, SOOC raw images?
    And what about vignetting? Either I’ve missed it or you’ve not touched on this subject in the review.

    • I didn’t like the 12-35 either, for different reasons – mainly the double bokeh.

      I also used the 12-40 on the E-M5 shot RAW via ACR with no correction; it’s almost as good. I notice a slight bit more vignetting and lateral CA in the corners at high contrast edges, otherwise performance holds.

      • Good to hear! I shall consider it.

        Now as somebody more at ease from 50mm equivalent upwards, I regret it’s not going higher than 80mm equivalent like the old 12-60. While I understand the 24-something is arguably more popular, there’s already a lot of offerings catering to that crowd and I’m sure there’s a niche for a good 35-135 equivalent (4/17-70 on m43 for example) with good IQ, they just don’t see it. As it is, the new zeiss 4/16-70 for NEX has really put this system on my radar; not quite 135 equivalent but at least a good bit on the way. It’s just not weather resistant. Damn!

  32. Hi Ming,

    I really enjoy your reviews, thank you for not only writing them, but following up and answering questions.

    I am reading with interest that you are beginning to shoot more video with the Olympus cameras. Would you ever be able to publish any of your experiences, optimal settings, and recommendations?

    I can see that there is so much potential for video with Olympus’ IBIS, better EVF, and now phase-detection AF to improve C-AF. Do you think that they will ever get more “serious” about video in future cameras now that they have merged 4/3-u4/3? These would be features like phase-detection AF in video, focus-peaking, better codecs, more frame-rates, touch focusing in video?

    • I am reading with interest that you are beginning to shoot more video with the Olympus cameras. Would you ever be able to publish any of your experiences, optimal settings, and recommendations?
      Once I’ve had more time to experiment, and some of the work is no longer client-embargoed.

      I can see that there is so much potential for video with Olympus’ IBIS, better EVF, and now phase-detection AF to improve C-AF. Do you think that they will ever get more “serious” about video in future cameras now that they have merged 4/3-u4/3? These would be features like phase-detection AF in video, focus-peaking, better codecs, more frame-rates, touch focusing in video?
      I hope so. I think it’s a shame that we didn’t get the 25p frame rate and similar touch to pull focus as the new Canon PDAF DSLRs…

  33. Many thanks for such an early and comprehensive review of the E-M1, Ming. My suspicion when the camera was announced was that it was one generation from being in touching distance of full frame. Having read your findings, I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, I’ll wait to try the camera and its electronic viewfinder. I didn’t get on with the horrendously expensive add-on to a NEX 5N and far prefer the optical viewfinder of the X100s to its hybrid viewfinder, despite the fancy tricks of the latter. For an old timer like me, in the end it comes more to whether the viewfinder is close enough to the quality of a traditional full frame than to how its image quality compares.

  34. How well does the lens autofocus on the E-M5? Specifically curious about S-AF, as I would assume C-AF is still not great. IQ looks awesome on the camera though.

  35. Ming,

    Would you please comment on your observation of the performance comparisons of the 12-60 at 40mm and the 12-40 at 40 mm ?

    Thank you,

    Frank

  36. Hi Ming!
    Awesome blog and great reviews! A question on the e-m1. Is focus peaking lag free this time?

    • Thanks. Unfortunately not, it still seems to lag a bit. I find the new EVF is more than good enough to discriminate focus though, so I never used the peaking function other than to test it…

  37. Frank Murphy says:

    Any photos of the cap? The current Olympus caps are pretty cheap looking. I’d be interested in seeing what this one looks like.

  38. I’ve been reading everything I could find around and all comments from Ming.

    Here’s my thought : the m4/3 12-40mm f2.8 is the best zoom around for m4/3, at a “decent” price (as a kit it’s really worth it).

    BUT :
    If you already have a 4/3 14-54mm or 12-60mm, stick with it : you’ll save money, they’re good enough overall and they’ll work as good as on the E-5 on the EM-1. The difference won’t make the extra 1000$ worth. That’s the point : EM-1 is specially for those
    that ALREADY have 4/3 lenses.

    Personally, I have an EM-5 with the double grip + 12mm f2.0 + 20mm f1.7 + 45mm f1.8 + 60mm Macro f2.8 + 75mm f1.8 and the 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 that I NEVER use. I’m gonna sell the EM-5 and kit zoom, take the EM-1 with kit 12-40mm.
    I won’t be using much anymore the 12mm when I’ll get this fast zoom, only for night pictures.

    Why the change? After doing the math it won’t cost me too much money after all, and I need a good zoom when I’m lazy or have no time to change lenses. GAS in consideration.
    I have no idea if i’ll find any 4/3 lense that I’ll need, the 4/3 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 will be sort of replaced by the m4/3 40-150mm f2.8, and those ultra prime lenses (f2.0 zooms, f2.8 telezooms) are way too expensive.

    Maybe a cheap second hand 50mm Macro f2.0, for the fun…

    Besides, I have looked on DPReview samples pictures : looks like there isn’t any issue with EM-1 + 20mm f1.7 above 3200 Isos ! ! ! Whoa!

    Side question : does old OM lenses work on EM-1 with AF??? (surely a silly question)
    Did they work with AF on the E-5?

    • Side question : does old OM lenses work on EM-1 with AF??? (surely a silly question)
      Did they work with AF on the E-5?

      No. Those were always manual focus – i.e. mechanical only – lenses. AF motors have to be built into the lens, not the camera body.

    • I Think your right Sweln

      Since i have the e-5+ 12-60 and e-m5 + 12 and 75, i might get only the 12-40. First it will cover the missing range of thr e-m5 and
      this will give me a backup combo (e-5). The primes will still very usefull, low light and small.

  39. Thanks for the incredible review! I currently own an Olympus E-PM1 and I’m considering a great travel lens to replace the kit 14-42, and a go-to portrait lens as well. How well do you think it performs as a portrait lens at 40mm 2.8? And should I consider a bigger camera with a grip? This is a big and heavy lens and one of my favourite things is how the setup doesn’t draw much attention.

  40. Thanks for the incredible review! I currently own an Olympus E-PM1 and I’m considering a great travel lens to replace the kit 14-42, and a go-to portrait lens as well. How well do you think it performs as a portrait lens at 40mm 2.8? And should I consider a bigger camera with a grip? This is a big and heavy lens and one of my favourite things is how the setup doesn’t draw much attention.

  41. Steve Jones says:

    I never would have imagined ten years ago that I would be investing in an Olympus camera system but they seem to be doing everything right with the development of the OMD’s. Most of all, in paying the same kind of attention to detail and consistency in quality in their lens range as in the camera bodies. This is one impressive lens. Clearly designed to do it’s job well optically. All things considered, priced against the 12mm offering it doesn’t seem expensive in my opinion, if you consider it’s capabilities.
    Thanks for that flower shot Ming. That tells me a lot about what I wanted to know about it’s close up performance and potential.
    I don’t think I have enough resistance to not buy the EM1 / Zoom combo. I’m weakening day by day. May as well just give in.
    More pictures please!

  42. I have been looking for a new travel camera with a nice zoom lens and was on the fence with the E-M5 and 12-50 mm. Now with the 12-40 mm f2.8 announced I’m convinced. Wished it was a bit cheaper though. Also what do you recommend for a wide angle lens to compliment the 12-40 mm.

    Nice review like always. Looking forward for the vintage Nikon lenses ;)

  43. [quote]. …. 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[/quote]

    As I’m doing more landscape than architecture, my question is:
    did you check out if you could have improved sharpness at the edge when stopping down at 12mm by refocusing ?

    Or the other way around, is the loss in sharpness you did highlight in the crops when stopping down at 12mm caused by field curvature rather than a “bug” of this optics.
    Would make a big difference to me, as I find myself quite often using the 12-60 at the 12mm end.

    • What do you mean by a ‘bug’ in optics? It’s unlikely to be sample variation because both lenses I’ve tried behave this way. Refocusing slightly might help, but you’d have to do manually as the lens always focuses wide open.

      • Well, having such strong field curvature that I need to manually refocus to get reasonable results, I would see as a “bug of the optic” :)
        But on the other hand, if this odd effect isn’t related to field curvature, to me its a “serious bug of the optic”

        • I personally wouldn’t consider it serious enough to require refocusing. The difference is perhaps between ‘excellent’ and ‘very good’

          • Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.

            Compared to the 12-60 as fas as I can see it for now its strengths are
            - minimal working distance
            - bokeh
            - possibly less distortion at the short end too

            the main flaws are
            - off center sharpness at long focal length
            - off center sharpness at short focal length when stopped down

            will see how this compares to 12-60 with its way greater zoom range on the long run, counting in less weight and space for the mFT lens

  44. Where does all this leave the Panasonic 14-42 X PZ pancake zoom?

    • In the arsenal for now, and as an alternative to provide coverage for intermediate FLs when going very light and when I know I’m going to be shooting mainly with primes.

  45. Very tempting, a zoom like this is something I would want for casual walk around use and videos… the weight is still minuscule compared to DSLRs, but the added depth makes packing the camera+lens harder.

    I wasn’t so excited about the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 because the edge performance at wider focal lengths left some things to be desired and the price is quite steep; image quality should be better for such a price and since m4/3 is not my main system and aftermarkets are not as solid as with Canikon, I felt it personally a bit steep. Now the new 12-40 could solve the performance issues, so it will be a very interesting lens for me.

  46. Exciting to see a review of this highly anticipated lens! It looks like a nice all round lens to me, but no match for the Panasonic, Olympus and Sigma(!) primes and quite expensive too. My E-M5 travels with the excellent panasonic 14mm f/2.5, 20mm f/1.7 II and the surprisingly good Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art. Although this kit is a little less versatile, it’s both cheaper and lighter then the big heavy Olympus zoom lens and it delivers better image quality.

    @Ming: I’m curious about what you think of the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Dn Art lens. I recently discovered the lens and to me it’s the biggest micro 4/3s optical surprise of the year 2013. Hard to believe when you look at the price tag. You should try it. Apart from the fact that they are specialty lenses, I think it’s actually on par with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and 60mm f/2.8 macro.

    @Sohail: Image quality wise, this new zoom leaves the Panasonic pancake zoom in the dust as does the Panasonic 12-35mm, but it can’t be beaten for portability. I would’t recommend it if you want good image quality though.

  47. Ming–Thanks for the excellent reviews. While the lens is very tempting, I’m concerned about size and weight. I would use it with an EM-5 with no added grip. What are your thoughts about the balance and handling of that combination?

  48. hey there … thanks for the review.
    why do most of the images said em-5 (was the test made with the older om-d model or the em-1) thanks

    • The older model because I do not have full raw support for the E-M1, which means it’s impossible to evaluate the lens without the in-camera corrections affecting results.

  49. Great review! Could this lens be used with your upcoming film scanning rig, on 35mm or 6*7 negatives? I believe before you mentioned Full Frame was needed for medium format pics/scans – but was hoping the close focusing on this may change that. Thanks!

  50. I wonder how this is with E-P5?

Trackbacks

  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 […]

  13. […] handling, portability, cost, etc – I think that’s perhaps the size of an E-M1 with 12-40/2.8 or thereabouts; assuming that effectively all sensors in consideration are going to hit sufficiency […]

  14. […] Olympus ZD 12-40/2.8 PRO A versatile lens with excellent optics; good for both stills and video (thanks to that manual override clutch with hard stops at either end). Weathered sea-spray pretty well, too. […]

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