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Review: Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens

GH3 12-40mm 1280

The Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 lens for Micro Four-Thirds (m43) is the newest constant aperture zoom in the mirrorless system’s lineup.  We are big fans of the m43 format here at Max Aperture and decided to add this lens to our shooting kit for testing on hybrid cameras such as the Panasonic GH3.

The lens has three great features for video and still photography use.  The first is a clutched focus ring that can be shifted from auto-focus to manual use simply by sliding the focus ring back on the lens barrel.  Unlike many focus-by-wire m43 lenses, in manual mode the 12-40mm focus ring has hard stops that aid a camera operator with determining and maintaining a proper focus rack while shooting video.  Upon returning to auto-focus mode the focus ring disengages and turns freely, bypassing the camera’s control of the focus motor.

The second helpful feature is the fast F2.8 constant aperture.  This allows a shooter to operate at different focal lengths without the need to adjust ND exposure or shutter speed in order to compensate for slower apertures present at longer focal lengths on most entry-level zooms.  When timing is critical, less settings to fuss with is a major bonus when shooting video and this is particularly true shooting events that may require a run ‘n gun approach to image acquisition.

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Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 paired with the tiny Panasonic GM1

The third stand-out feature that this lens affords is weather-sealing.  On camera bodies such as the Olympus E-M5, E-M1 and Panasonic GH3 (and soon to be released GH4) this feature will provide the ability to shoot in rain, snow and dusty conditions without worrying about lens or camera contamination.

One might ask – Why would you choose this lens over the equally fantastic Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 lens with image stabilization (OIS), a feature beneficial to Panasonic bodies which lack built-in stabilization in the body (IBIS)?  The answer is, for the style of shooting we do here at Max Aperture, OIS is more often turned off in favor of tripod use or shoulder rig stabilization.  In addition, the Olympus lens’ extra 5mm of focal length provides a more desirable portrait capability in both still and video use.   The Panasonic lens also has a focus-by-wire ring without hard stops which can be somewhat cumbersome during manual use.

Over the past weekend I was able to visit one of my favorite nearby shooting destinations – Stonehouse Pond.  I wanted to travel light so I brought along just the 12-40mm on my GH3.  To my satisfaction it was more than capable at shooting beautifully sharp wide and telephoto images.  Two ice climbers I encountered along the way agreed to pose for a few shots prior to their ascent.

Climbers at Stonehouse Pond – Images post-processed in Lightroom 4.4P1100766 1280

36mm F2.8 ISO 200

I am particularly pleased with the smooth bokeh this lens renders in portraits.  It seems to behave more like a prime at each focal length, with extremely low chromatic aberation and vignetting, combined with superb sharpness.

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17mm F4 ISO 200

P1100772 128040mm F5 ISO 200

Based on my experience thus far, I can confidently say this lens is a wonderfully capable tool for use in both still and video production.  A new copy currently ranges in price from $879.00 to $999.00 at Amazon.  Factory refurbs can also be found for as little as $639.00 at the website (hint: they sell out very quick).

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