On olympus lenses part 3

It is about time I completed my three part Olympus lens overview , finishing with the two pro zooms, the 12-40 f2.8 and the 40-150 f2.8

The 12-40, the talented work horse.

I must admit to still not connecting with this lens, but that is personal, not through any short comings of the lens. Originally bought (mint second hand from a former customer), with an OMD EM5 mk1 body for a very reasonable rate*, the lens sat around a lot waiting for a time to shine. The problem was I do not use wide angle lenses often and as a standard lens it was too big and had stiff competition from my clutch of fast primes. On a full frame camera, f2.8 is a god send, but on M43 it does not easily produce super shallow in depth of field at normal working distances, so it is not as fast as you can regularly get away with using. For M43 shooters, f1.8 is f2.8 with bells on.

I mainly had landscape photography in mind, deciding to use the 75-300 and probably the 60mm macro as the complete kit. When regular photography work started happening, I also had the safety net of a wide angle and a fast working zoom for on the go situations, so it grew another foot as the work horse.   

On a tripod, the zoom is a real bonus. 18mm f7.1

On a tripod, the zoom is a real bonus. 18mm f7.1

Some things that have emerged with regular use. Pekka Podka mentioned in an early review (on his now defunct blog), that the lens was designed differently to earlier 4/3 designs, being less about super fine resolution and more about visual smoothness and sharpness. This lens renders very nicely. The Bokeh is extremely smooth, great for portraiture and the lens sharpens well. At first I was disappointed that the lack of "snap" I was used to from the fast primes, but what was happening I think was I was reacting to the less shallow depth and the smoother rendering. There is nothing wrong with the images this lens produces, even if the 100% views look a little less sharp before processing than the 25 or 75mm. 

OMD 40mm. Turns out this file is a jpeg taken with the Pen F. The auto corrections that the camera adds really add smoothness and snap. Possibly this is the secret.

OMD 40mm. Turns out this file is a jpeg taken with the Pen F. The auto corrections that the camera adds really add smoothness and snap. Possibly this is the secret.

The lens also has a very good close focus feature. Not true macro, it is more than enough for my needs (this is the first time I have not owned a macro lens**)

OMD 40mm. I love the focus drop off this lens offers. Also a jpeg from the Pen F.

OMD 40mm. I love the focus drop off this lens offers. Also a jpeg from the Pen F.

OMD 40mm with a little on camera flash.

OMD 40mm with a little on camera flash.

The lens is better in the corners by reputation than the 12mm f2 and my own tests confirm that it is sharper (especially corners), though different in rendering than the 17mm, about the same as the 25mm at comparable apertures and slightly less contrasty than the 45mm, but still very pleasing. During my testing I did note however, that the visual difference between 40 and 45mm is a lot more than you would think.

The other lens in the mix was the panasonic 12-35 f2.8. I must admit to a soft spot for this lens. I genuinely like to use it and the smaller filter size (58mm) was an attraction, but I picked up both the Olympus and the OMD body for less than the 12-35. Most reviewers are highly complimentary of the two lenses, but the thread I picked up on was, the Panasonic could be the better lens occasionally, but the Olympus was the more consistent through the range, especially in the corners where I need it. Colour and handling consistency were also considerations. Both are excellent, so go with what ever suits.

OMD with Panasonic 12-35 at 12mm f2.8

OMD with Panasonic 12-35 at 12mm f2.8

A final small thing about this lens. They usually have slight inner barrel movement at the front end. Mine does not, but that was just dumb luck as almost all of them have (while selling them it became my obsession to find one that did not, but I had to buy blind to get one!). If your has a small amount of movement, it is normal.

The 40-150 F2.8 the big ol' hunting knife.

I have posted a lot about this lens. Purchased with a wave of good will to all after a time of sickness and a bit of photographic rebirth My normal new gear jitters then went into over drive. Initial tests showed a very sharp lens even when compared to the excellent 75mm. At the same apertures and off centre the two produced test shots that were almost impossible to split. Recovering from illness, I did a shoot with it on an EM5 with original firmware and something went wrong. the images mostly were in focus, but they were overly bright, soft and almost impossible to correct. I nearly returned it, but thought I would give it one last go. Again it produced beautiful, sharp and clear images. The problem came down to lack of practice, old firmware and using unfamiliar gear. Like anything, the more you like and trust what you use, the better your results.

Through a dirty window. 100mm f2.8 OMD

Through a dirty window. 100mm f2.8 OMD

The twin roles it is intended for are indoor stage/sport work and landscapes, offering good wide open and excellent stopped down, edge to edge sharpness.

40mm at F2.8 from my front garden before a thunder storm.

40mm at F2.8 from my front garden before a thunder storm.

150mm f2.8 on a non firmware updated EM5 mk1. Most of this set were in focus using single shot AF aimed at the water just in front of the subject (and with no shooter hesitation). the local paper published some images taken with a D4 and 70-200 f2.8 combo (issued) that look almost identical.

150mm f2.8 on a non firmware updated EM5 mk1. Most of this set were in focus using single shot AF aimed at the water just in front of the subject (and with no shooter hesitation). the local paper published some images taken with a D4 and 70-200 f2.8 combo (issued) that look almost identical.

The focussing of this lens is brilliant. After a 6 day shoot, capturing 200 or more 3 to 10 year olds in class room conditions with no flash used, I had a fail rate of less than 1 in 20 over 2000+ images, and that was using the older OMD's.

At the swimming event above, with little recent practice shooting sport (none with Olympus), it managed sequences of single shot AF grabs. Many of my best images were made using older MF techniques, but I was pleasantly surprised when it pulled off images like the one above.

I am now fully confident with the lens. It has shown the reviewed CA issue in the edges at 40mm. No problem, I have other options if this is to prove an issue. It performs better on the updated EM5 and the Pen F than the older two (really need to get those updates done), but not by a great margin. It will probably be responsible for a drop off in use of the 75mm and the longer zoom from now on.

The CA issue can also be eliminated using Pen F jpegs that show a lot of promise.

I really appreciate it's micro contrast at higher ISO settings. ISO 3200 OMD EM5, 150mm f2.8

I really appreciate it's micro contrast at higher ISO settings. ISO 3200 OMD EM5, 150mm f2.8

Like it's little sibling, it is also very versatile. The spider image below was quickly shot while I was covering the above event. It is heavily cropped, but that only shows the lens's optical prowess. 

OMD 150mm f5.6

OMD 150mm f5.6

The lens has been responsible for the purchase of a new bag due to it's size (but that's never a bad thing!) and the extra weight is noticeable after using light primes or cheap zooms. It feels about the same as my old 70-200 f4L Canon and has the same tight and solid feel. The weather proofing is a bonus, the MF clutch is handy and all operations run smoothly.  I also like the easily retractable hood for landscape filter use, but have a rigid metal screw-in one for every day use. What is not to love?

* In Australia we had a last runout of the special edition EM5 mk1 and 12-40 kit for $999, $150 cheaper at the time than the lens alone. A customer and friend bought one off me, but asked to swap it a month or two later for one of my Fuji XE-1's with 18-55 as he loved the idea of using only jpegs!

** I always owned a macro for close focus (obviously) and for their supreme optics, (I can reel off 9 I owned that come easily to mind) and most were favourite lenses, but no more! I do not need serious macro, just good close focus in the 1/2 to 1/4 life size region. The 12-40 provides this.

So here is me, mr "no zooms here" relying on and happily using a pair of zoom lenses for work and pleasure. 

Late edition.

The 14-42 kit lens. The humble little giver.

Not a lens I purchased on it's own, nor a lens I particularly wanted to own (it was a regift when I traded my mother in laws Pen mini for a compact camera). The 14-42 kit lens (later, non electronic zoom) has been a little surprise packet. I have only used it three times, but each time it has come up with some really usable images. 

At the long end.

At the long end.

This had a little gentle post.

This had a little gentle post.

If the subject is strong enough, the only thing the lens can do is reduce it's power. No problem here.

If the subject is strong enough, the only thing the lens can do is reduce it's power. No problem here.

Luscious colour.

Luscious colour.

Nice bokeh transition and some gentle, old fashioned contrast. The last four images were all taken within 30 minutes of each other.

Nice bokeh transition and some gentle, old fashioned contrast. The last four images were all taken within 30 minutes of each other.

It is not amazing in any way, but it is not rubbish either.