I've been rocking a PEN F and a Zuiko 12-40mm pro for a few months now, here's a real world review of it.
The tale of a convert
Let me start the review with one very very negative note. I never liked Olympus cameras. This is of course a matter of pure taste, I completely understand if someone loved their Olympuses, it just never clicked with me. It all started with the original Olympus PEN, I got it and I ended up selling it in a matter of months.
Then I believed the original Olympus OMD would be better, but I got it and then again got turned off. It just didn't click with me. And after getting a Olympus TZ1, I just understood that Olympuses just weren't for me, even though they were perfectly fine cameras.
When my partner Don wanted to push his PEN F down my way, I hesitated because I swore off Olympus cameras. But after some back and forth, I bit the bullet and got it. Fun fact, right after he sold it to me, he got himself another one, he regretted his decision after dropping it at the post office!
Anyway, all of this to say, when I got the camera and lens, I was afraid I wouldn't like it much…
But then something unexpected happen. I didn't just start loving the combo of Olympus PEN + 12-40mm 2.8, it started to grow on me so much, I'd go so far as to say this is probably one of the best lenses I've ever used, and my favorite.
As a side note, I wouldn't know how the lens performs on other mu43 cameras, keep in mind in the review that I shoot it with the PEN F, and it's a killer combo, so it's hard for me to know exactly when camera ends and lens starts.
My previous camera before that was a Panasonic LX100, and while it's a great, great, great camera…as a professional, I didn't fully trust it as a main camera, especially when the light started dropping. When shooting with the 12-40 and the Pen F, it's like the governor has been taken off. What's a governor you ask?
When you rent a rental truck, like a U-haul, a governor is installed so that you cannot go beyond a certain speed. Heh, they don't want you going 100mph on the highway. With a governor you are limited, without one you aren't. And this is the feeling I get with this lens, it's like there is no governor on the camera. I feel free and I know it can handle whatever I throw at it without a hitch.
Let's face it, the lens is BIG, and it's heavy. This was my main issue with the lens, I usually shoot pocket cameras or at lease very light ones. I was afraid that just because of the lens size I would just end up using it sparingly because I essentially gave up on cameras of that size about a decade ago. To my surprise, I actually ended up wanting the combo by my side at all times, so I upgraded to a bigger bag.
Everything is a trade-off, and that lens is SO GOOD, the weight and the size were not a problem. It's like being in love with someone, you overlook things. I was very much put off by the size at first but after some shooting, I really didn't care that much!
The lens is built like a TANK, it feels solid. However I don't think it can survive a nice fall. The focus ring is smooth as butter. The only negative thing I can find about this lens is how to put it in manual focus. Imagine one day pressing the shutter release button and nothing happens, the lens doesn't focus. The PEN F being what it is, you go trough the hundreds of menus and still can't figure it out. Only to realize that the focus ring can click up or down to put it in AF or MF mode!
When I review lenses, I usually go and say something along the lines of “Modern lenses are good enough, nothing to see here, let's move on”. Huuuuh. Not this time, I'd like to talk about the image quality. In my G.A.S. days I used to lust after Pentax limited lenses, they were uber sexy and sharp. The 12-40 reminds me of those lenses in a killer 2.8 zoom form. What I am saying is, this lens is sharp SHARP. Even me, a guy who really doesn't care about sharpness and image quality that much, I'm impressed. That “PRO” they have after the 12-40mm is worth it's salt. This is a high quality lens that is very sharp like a cutco knife if you know what these are.
The zoom goes from 24mm to 80mm in a 35mm format. Translation, it's good enough for pretty much anything. And yes, before you ask, the Bokeh at 80mm 2.8 is drop dead gorgeous. But that's not even the real reason why this lens is great…it's because it allows you to get very close, even if you are at 80mm, so close-ups of the face are possible. I'm not too much of the portrait photographer but I ended up shooting a whole lotsatta portraits with the lens just for fun. Because of the versatility of the zoom, the quality of the PEN F, at many times -how can I say this- I felt powerful. Weird thing to say, I know.
What do I mean? I love to use my pocket Ricoh GRD IV, let's say that I wanted to make a portrait, there's some that I can't make. Why? Because I can't shove the camera too close to the face it's going to distort it. I used to shoot the LX100, I knew I had to retire it after the ISO starts hitting the 1000s. I used to shoot the Fuji X100, I couldn't go wider or more telephoto. There were limits to all of these cameras (it's not a bad thing btw) but with the 12-40mm, it's like I can shoot anything that comes my way! Telephoto portraits, wide-angle street, low light, weddings, food, whatever.
What's it like using it?
In a nutshell, if you have a high end mu43 camera and you slap this lens over it, you'l feel powerful. Probably cheesy way to put it, but that is the best way I can describe it. I have no scientific test or anything, but I am pretty sure that that lens and the PEN F or any higher end mu43 can hold their own against the higher end Canons. So with it, you will have no problem shifting between street photography and doing professional work. But the one thing I found with this lens, is that the lines have blurred for me.
Usually I have a mental distinction between Personal work cameras and Professional work cameras. I had a bunch of cameras like the NEX7, Fuji Xpro, for some reason, I never used them as a personal camera, I never shot personal images with them. That is not the case with the PEN F and the 12-40mm, I already made a lot of family shots, personal work and paid work with it. I don't know exactly why, if it's the versatility of the lens, it's mojo or whatever. All I know is, for the few months I had it, I made some really great work in all areas.
Olympus 12-40mm Street Photography
Street Photography is great with the lens. For sure there is no more stealth factor, as the lens is pretty big, and there are no lens markings for hyperfocal focusing or zone focusing, but there are a few advantages. First is the zoom range, I've always shot 28mm, but having the 80mm possibility, sometimes I found myself exploring these focal lengths.
The other and bigger advantage, is the AF. With the higher end mu43 cameras, these things are fast, and what you lose in terms of stealth and lens markings, you gain in terms of blazing AF speeds. It's one of the few rare times where I see myself use the good ol' autofocus for Street photography!
While this lens might be overkill for some, for those who are interested to get the creme de la creme, the Olympus 12-40mm is quite simply a stunning lens that is a joy to use. Such a joy to use in fact that it negates the weight and size, at least for me. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.