Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Lens


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    Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Lens

      In summary

      The 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is an impressive performer, delivering quality that rivals that of many DSLR+fast zoom pairings that target serious enthusiast photographers. But its great advantage is being able to do this in a more compact, lighter-weight unit. Fast focusing and near-silent AF operation also make this lens attractive. So what's not to like?

      The relatively high price tag reflects both the build and optical quality of this lens. Neither comes cheap but if you're prepared to pay the price, you're unlikely to regret it. In every respect, this lens is well and truly worthy of our Editor's Choice award.

       

      Full review

      Announced concurrently with the OM-D E-M1 camera, the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens introduces a new 'professional' series of Micro Four Thirds System lenses with high optical performance and dust- and splash-proof construction. Covering focal lengths equivalent to 24-80mm on a 35mm camera, this lens maintains a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the 3.3x zoom range.
       

      The new M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens shown with the focus ring pushed forward for autofocusing (left) and pulled back for manual focusing (right). (Source: Olympus.)

      According to Olympus's website, the optical performance of this lens can rival that of the popular Four Thirds High Grade (HG) series. Yet it is considerably smaller, with an optical design comprising 14 elements in 9 groups and including one aspherical ED lens, two aspherical lenses, one DSA lens, two ED lenses, one HD lens and two HR lenses.
       

      The diagram above shows the positions of the exotic elements in the lens design. (Source: Olympus.)

      ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) coating (introduced with the 60mm f/2.8 macro lens) has been applied to the optical surfaces to minimise ghosting and flare and improve performance with backlit subjects. This lens is also sealed to prevent the entry of dust and water splashes from entering and meets the same dustproof and splashproof standards as the OM-D E-M1 as well as being freeze-resistant.

      Who's it For?
       From very viewpoint this lens is for serious photographers at both professional level and enthusiast. Size- and weight-wise this lens is a better match for Olympus's OM-D cameras than the PEN models, thanks to its mainly metal construction, which feels very solid and much more substantial than the mainly plastic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, which is less than one third of the price.  

      Although M4/3 lenses are usable on both Olympus and Panasonic cameras, if you require stabilisation, there's only one Panasonic body where it's built-in: the GX7. You may lose some autofocusing speed with this combination, compared with the Olympus bodies, particularly the new E-M1 we used for our tests.

      For both the E-M1  and the E-M5, the new 12-40mm lens is a comfortable match. Its 84-30 degree angle-of-view coverage makes this lens useful for many types of photography, ranging from landscapes and architecture (outdoor and indoor applications) to portraiture and even close-up shooting.

      Being dustproof, splashproof and freeze-resistant, it's an excellent choice for outdoor photographers and its focusing and zoom rings are designed for easy use when wearing gloves. The hood is reversible for storage and has a bayonet lock with pinch clips and metal rim. The lens cap fits well and is quick to remove and replace.

      Focusing
      The new lens has been designed for easy switching between auto and manual focusing and features a Manual Focus Clutch mechanism, similar to those on Olympus's 12mm and 17mm prime lenses. When the focus ring is pushed forward, autofocusing is enabled. Pulling the focus ring back engages manual focusing.

      Hard stops at the closest focusing distance and also at infinity in manual focus mode. The resolution of the snapshot focus mechanism has been improved and a distance indicator is revealed when the focus ring is pulled back, enabling focusing to be adjusted like conventional manual focus lenses.  

      For autofocusing, this lens employs an inner focusing system  and includes a compact, lightweight focusing unit consisting of two cemented lenses. The MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) mechanism is driven by a sub-micron precision metal axis (shaft) and fast-moving linear motor drive system, which eliminates the need for noisy gears and makes this lens ideal for shooting movie clips.

      Another reason this system is useful for video is that it makes it easy (and quick) to pull focus when you want to swap quickly from one subject to another at a different distance. If you set the focus to a specific distance in manual mode then switch to AF and focus, the lens 'remembers' the MF position and allows you to swap focus instantly by simply pulling the focus ring back. The remembered distance is retained, regardless of the focal length, making it easy to shift focus quickly – or keep a subject focused – as you zoom.

      Build and Ergonomics
      This lens has been designed and built to match the OM-D E-M1 and, accordingly, it is fully environmentally sealed, making it dust-, splash- and freeze-proof. The build quality is much as you would expect from its design and price point: sturdy but highly refined with a very solid metal mounting plate.

      The overall finish is similar to that of Olympus's top-quality prime lenses, which have textured controls to allow easy use with gloved fingers. But, because so much of the construction is metal, this lens is both slightly larger and 77 grams heavier than its nearest competitor, the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens. Lacking internal stabilisation, it is also marginally less expensive.

      In autofocusing mode, the focusing ring is located 20 mm behind the front of the lens. It's about 20mm wide and the leading 12 mm is finely ridged to provide a secure grip. When this ring is pulled back in the switch to manual focusing mode, it reveals a distance scale with settings for 0.2, 0.5 and 1 metres plus 1, 2 and 5 feet as well as an infinity position.

      The zoom ring is 27 mm wide and located just behind the focusing ring. It carries a 22 mm wide band of ridged strips and its trailing edge is marked with the 12mm ,14mm, 18mm 25mm 35mm and 40mm focal length positions. This ring turns through roughly 80 degrees, extending the inner barrel by 30 mm as you zoom from 12mm to 40mm.

      Both zoom and focusing rings are well damped with just enough resistance to enable precise settings to be made. The  front element doesn’t move during focusing or zooming and the lens can focus down to 20cm at all focal lengths, which brings it to within about four centimetres of the subject at 40mm, where it provides a 30% magnification, extending to 5.5 cm at 12mm.

      Between the zoom ring and the mounting plate is a programmable L-Fn button, which is located just under your thumb when you cradle the camera plus lens with your left hand.  It's similar to the button on the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens and can be used to hold focus because autofocusing stops when this button is pressed. And, like that button, it's not usable on all M4/3 cameras.

      When you're shooting with the C-AF+TR focus mode while recording a movie, the Fn1 button  starts the camera tracking on the subject within the selected AF area (chosen before staring movie recording). Release the L-Fn button and the camera will re-focus again.

      Performance
      The review lens turned in a Sterling performance on the OM-D E-M1 body we used for our tests. Autofocusing was very fast and completely silent in all modes, including C-AF and tracking AF was consistently accurate. Colour rendition was closer to neutral than we obtained with the OM-D E-M5 and saturation was nicely constrained.

      Optically, this is one of the best zoom lenses we've tested.  Although it's not quite a match for Olympus's best primes, it comes pretty close. When you need to save space or want the convenience of not having to change lenses, it can easily replace the 12mm, 17mm and probably the 45mm in your travel kit.

      Imatest showed the resolution of JPEG files met expectations for the E-M1's sensor across all focal length settings between f/3.5 and f/8 and came very close to expectations at wider apertures. (Raw files were above expectations.) Diffraction began to take effect from f/8 but resolution remained relatively high to f/16 with a gentle slide downwards to f/22.

      Some edge softening was identified at wider aperture settings with the shorter focal lengths at our standard test distances. This was confirmed by subjective assessments of test shots, where corner softening was just detectable.

      Softening was more noticeable in close-up shots, where it can be advantageous in situations where the viewer's eyes need to be drawn to the centre of the field. Interestingly, at 40mm, centre resolution was lower than for other focal lengths, while edge sharpness was slightly higher. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
       
       

       
      Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible at all lens apertures and focal lengths, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results, below. (We found traces of  longitudinal CA in some very high contrast subjects but not in subjects with a normal contrast range.)
       

       
       The combination of lens hood and ZERO coating was effective for minimising flare and increasing fine contrast, although when a very bright light source was included within the frame, some veiling flare resulted, as shown in the sample images below. Distortion was very well controlled and effectively negligible throughout the zoom range.

      Slight vignetting was seen at f/2.8 across the zoom range but it was gone by f/4. This aberration  is easily corrected in image editors and most raw file converters so we don't see it as a significant issue.

      The seven-bladed lens diaphragm appears to close to an almost perfect circle, making this lens capable of producing smooth and pleasing bokeh. But a lot depends on the shooting angle and relative brightness of the background.

      With an evenly-lit background, the lens delivered smooth bokeh at f/2.8. Where there were bright patches in the background, the bokeh could become a little choppy. Stopping down even 1/3 of an f-stop increased the chance of irregularities showing up.

      Conclusion
      The 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is an impressive performer, delivering quality that rivals that of many DSLR+fast zoom pairings that target serious enthusiast photographers. But its great advantage is being able to do this in a more compact, lighter-weight unit. Fast focusing and near-silent AF operation also make this lens attractive. So what's not to like?

      The relatively high price tag reflects both the build and optical quality of this lens. Neither comes cheap but if you're prepared to pay the price, you're unlikely to regret it. In every respect, this lens is well and truly worthy of our Editor's Choice award.

       

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 84 degrees to 30 degrees
       Minimum aperture: f/22
       Lens construction: 14 elements in 9 groups (including two aspherical elements, one aspherical ED lens, two ED lenses, 2 HR lenses, one DSA lens and one HD lens)
       Lens mounts: Micro Four Thirds
       Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
       Focus drive: High-speed imager AF (MSC) linear motor drive system
       Stabilisation: In camera body
       Minimum focus: 20 cm
       Maximum magnification: 0.3x (0.6x in 35mm equivalent)
       Filter size:  62 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 69.9 x 84 mm
       Weight: 382 grams
       Box contents: LC-62D  lens cap, LR-R rear cap, LH-66 lens hood, LSC-0918 lens case, instruction manual, worldwide warranty card

       

      TESTS

       Based on JPEG files from the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

       

      SAMPLES 

       

       Vignetting at 12mm.
       

       Vignetting at 40mm.
       

       Rectilinear distortion at 12mm.
       

       Rectilinear distortion at 40mm.
       

       12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/11.
       

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/11.
       

       Slight veiling flare at 14mm; ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/7.1.
       

      Close-up at 12mm; ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/4.
       

      Close-up at 40mm; ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/6.3.
       

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/8000 second at f/2.8.
       
       

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/5000 second at f/4.5.
       

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/14.
       

      12mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1250 second at f/8.

      Smooth bokeh at f/2.8; 40mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/8000 second.
       

      Slightly choppy bokeh at f/3.2; 40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/6400 second.
       

      Slightly choppy bokeh at f/2.8; 40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second.
       
       Additional image samples can be found with our final review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$1199; US$999

      • Build: 9.3
      • Handling: 9.0
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.8

      BUY

        No