Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Lens Review

Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Lens Review

I can make this really simple for you, if you are considering this lens: go buy it now.  How’s that for a review?  :-)

Ok, I understand, you want a little more detail to back that up, don’t you?  Well, I am happy to provide that for you.  I hope it helps, and let me know if you have any questions after reading this.

Disclosure: My reviewing style is not super technical, so you are not going to hear about how many elements the lens has or anything like that.  I don’t get into that sort of stuff.  Honestly, I don’t care.  It’s too technical for me.  I just want to know how it works in the real world, what some of the key features are, and why it’s a good product.  I want to know what it’s like to use it, and what I can expect from it.  So that’s the sort of stuff I write about, and thus that’s what you will find here.

First things first - a little background

When I first purchased the Olympus OM-D EM-1 mirrorless camera, I was completely in love with the light weight yet incredible functionality and capability of the camera (and I still am, by the way - it’s totally awesome).  In some ways, I made a snap decision to buy the camera after doing some research online and playing with the camera in a local store (but not much else).  I sort of surprised myself how quickly I made the decision to convert from Nikon to Olympus Micro Four-Thirds.  But, I’m very glad I did switch.

Anyways, one thing I didn’t do enough research on was the various lenses that are available to go with the camera.  I was so caught up in reading about the camera, that I sort of neglected the part about the lenses.  Oops.  In speaking with a rep at the local store, I knew I wanted a wide angle and some sort of zoom.  Thankfully he is very knowledgeable and got me some great lenses to complement the camera.  

A perfect combo: Olympus OM-D EM-1 camera with the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens on it.

A perfect combo: Olympus OM-D EM-1 camera with the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens on it.

I originally purchased a used 12-50mm from the local store to go with this camera.  It’s a good lens and since it was used, I got it for a very good price.  But I have to admit, the plastic exterior sort of bugged me, and while the lens works just fine, it didn’t “feel” right.  It seemed like something for a more casual user than I am.  Does that make sense?

After having the camera for a while and getting more accustomed to the whole Olympus family of products, I started reading more and more about the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, and became very intrigued.

It’s the first lens in a new line of “Pro lenses” that Olympus is going to produce, and while it is not cheap (I got it for about $900), I decided that I could not stand not knowing what it was like to shoot with, so I splurged and bought it, even though the same range is covered by the 12-50mm that I already had.  In other words, curiosity killed the cat, as the saying goes.  I’m the cat in this case.  :-)

So I bought it and immediately put in on the camera and started shooting.  In fact, I haven’t taken it off yet, except to pack it up for travel!  I love this thing!  It’s all I have been shooting with lately!

Closeup of a beautiful piece of glass!

Closeup of a beautiful piece of glass!

Here are a few key things that I love about this lens:

1) Size and weight

The lens is 84mm long (about 3.3 inches) and has a diameter of about 70mm (about 2.75 inches).  It weighs 382 grams (about .84 pounds).  While this is larger than the 12-50mm that I already had, it is not at all “large” by any measure.  Comparing it to lenses I used on my old Nikon equipment, it feels very light.  In other words, the size and weight are totally fine for me.

Also note that the filter size is 62mm, in case you are going to pick up some filters for the lens.  I use the ProMaster Variable ND and it works great, and of course I bought a UV filter to protect the front of the lens.  That’s an important one to buy, since you surely don’t want to accidentally scratch the front of a lens.

Anyways, I travel a lot and therefore travel size and weight are a BIG deal to me.  This lens travels very well.  It fits easily in my backpack along with all my other stuff.

2) Tech specs

The maximum aperture is f2.8 and it can stay at f2.8 all the way through the zoom range.  This may not seem like a big deal at first, but it can become a big deal when you need that f2.8.  I shot a small indoor concert in low light and being able to use it at f2.8 while fully extended to 40mm came in very handy, thank you very much.

The minimum aperture is f22.  Again, this is not an aperture that I normally shoot at, but I did try it out on some waterfalls recently.  I had on a ProMaster Variable ND filter in order to control the light quite a bit, as it was mid-day and thus pretty bright outside.  I had the filter turned to a pretty dark setting and the aperture was f22.  I was doing this to get that long, silky-almost-dreamy water effect you can get when you drag the shutter for a while.  It worked great and the waterfalls looked awesome.

F/22, 5 seconds, ISO 100 on a tripod, at 21mm - and a ProMaster Variable ND filter.

3) Image clarity and sharpness are excellent

In every situation that I have shot in, this lens has performed remarkably well.  I find that images are very clear and sharp across the entire range, even at that f2.8 setting.  I am loving everything I am getting so far.

4) Manual focus ring

This lens, in addition to the standard auto-focus capability, has a manual focus ring on it.  You can just slide it toward you and it switches to Manual mode.  It’s a very intuitive setup and easy to use.  It’s likely your hand is already near it since you are using that hand to zoom in and out.  Super convenient placement here.

Fully extended to 40mm...

Fully extended to 40mm...

5) Solid construction

You ever pick up something and it just feels solid?  This lens is like that.  It’s not heavy or large, as I mentioned above, but it is very well built.  It is completely metallic and weather-sealed (splash-proof, dust-proof, and freeze-proof) for your peace of mind (that is, assuming you are attached to a weather-sealed camera, such as the OM-D EM-1 that I use it with).  You can literally shoot in nearly any condition and not worry about it.

That weather-proofing just makes me feel better. I have been out when it started to rain, and while I don’t stand there and get drenched while casually putting away my gear, I also don’t feel like “OMG it’s raining, hide the camera!” or anything like that.

6) Great range for most situations

When I shot with Nikon in the past, I was completely addicted to the wide angle lens, which I wrote about here.  While this is not a wide angle lens by any stretch, it is decently wide and yet you can still zoom a bit too.  In 35mm or full-frame camera speak, this 12-40mm lens is equivalent to 24-80mm.  That’s a pretty good range, and I am finding that it covers nearly everything that I need to shoot.

In other words, I love this lens so much that I am breaking away from my wide angle addiction, which is a healthy thing for me.  I went too wide for too long, methinks.  This lens causes me to think differently and to look at a scene differently, which is a good thing.

This is a 3 exposure HDR Fusion, f/11, ISO 100 on a tripod, at 12mm wide.

7) Auto-focus

I can just say this: it auto-focuses very quickly.  I never have to worry about this - it just works well.  Also, please note that image stabilization is NOT in the lens - that comes from inside the Olympus camera itself, which is a rather handy feature if you ask me (but likely not good if you are using a non-Olympus camera).  Just wanted to point that bit out in case you were not aware of it.

8) A few extras

The lens also comes with a lens hood, a front and rear lens cap, and a safety/travel lens pouch.  I have been putting the lens in the pouch, and the pouch in my padded backpack compartment, and it fits great.

9) One last thing - shooting macro!

I almost forgot to mention this, but I was surprised to find out that this lens is a pretty decent macro lens.  Now I am not a "macro guy" per se.  I love a well-done macro, but it really isn't my thing.  But if the opportunity arises, I want to shoot one...but not bad enough to actually go buy a macro lens.  But I found out quite by accident that you can get pretty close to a subject and still get good focus.  I have been within ~8 inches of something and still able to focus.  That's pretty impressive for a mid-range zoom sort of lens like this one!

I shot this just inches away - came out great!  f/8, ISO 100 handheld, 40mm


I obviously love this lens, and give it my highest recommendation.  Although the other lenses that I have work well, this one just exceeds all my expectations, and as I mentioned above, it’s hard to make the decision to actually take the lens off.  It just works so well that I never want to be without it.  I guess I’m in love.  :-)

In fact, I have now done several photo trips where this is the only lens that I brought along (or in one case, I had others with me but this is the only one I used on an entire trip).  It’s really that good.

I firmly believe that if you are considering this lens (and especially if you are pairing it with an Olympus camera), that you will not regret the expense for one minute.

Well that’s it folks - thanks again for clicking by today, I really appreciate it!  Let me know if you have any questions.  Thanks!