Olympus Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Announcement

Along with the high-end OM-D E-M1, Olympus has also announced a new professional-grade lens for their mirrorless system. Sporting the m4/3 mount, 12-40mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens has an equivalent 24-80mm focal length in 35mm format and is similar to bread-and-butter 24-70mm optics from major DSLR manufacturers.

Olympus Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8

1) Lens Overview

24-70mm f/2.8 class lenses have long been seen as the most versatile of zooms and were always targeted at professional photographers with their dependable build and fast, constant aperture throughout the zoom range. There is no doubt, looking at the lens’ parameters, that the new Olympus Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 builds on the same virtues (which makes the slightly pompous “PRO” designation in the naming sort of unnecessary). The 14 glass elements (9 groups) that make up the optical formula are enclosed in a tough, metal barrel. The lens has appropriate weather sealing and is protected against dust, moisture and cold temperatures. As such, it is a perfect companion to the E-M1.

Unlike most DSLR lenses in this class, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 is actually rather small and lightweight. It is 70mm in diameter (2.75″) and 84mm in length (3.31″) weighting just 382 grams. Understandably, this is because of the very small image circle of Olympus compact system cameras with m4/3 mount. Although this lens is, no doubt, targeted at professionals and makes the m4/3 system that much more appealing, it is only equivalent to a 24-80mm f/2.8 full-frame lens in terms of light gathering capability (and even so when high ISO performance is not taken into account). In terms of subject isolation, this lens is similar to a 24-80mm f/5.6 full-frame lens. The minimum focus distance is 0.2m with maximum magnification resulting in a respectable 0.3x. Lens accepts 62mm filters.

On one hand, Olympus did very well by providing a pro-grade zoom lens. On the other hand, it is not exactly daring. An f/2 zoom would have been more impressive especially considering Olympus’ own 35-100mm f/2 and 14-35mm f/2 zoom lenses for their DSLR cameras and Sigma’s recent 18-35mm f/1.8 lens for APS-C sensor cameras. But if you put compactness as a priority over light-gathering, Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 is impressive. Even more impressively, Olympus has mentioned the upcoming 40-150mm F2.8 lens (also with “PRO” designation), which, in terms of angle of view and light gathering, is equivalent to 80-300mm f/2.8 full-frame lens. Expected to be released in a year or so, you can see it pictured below.

Olympus Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8

Combined with one of the high-end Olympus compact system camera bodies, such as the E-M5 or E-M1, these two lenses are serious photojournalist tools. The 12-40mm lens is very compact, and while a 35-100mm f/2.8 lens is already available from Panasonic and works as well with Olympus cameras as with Panasonic’s own, the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 will offer more reach.

2) Pre-Order Link

The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is already available for pre-order from our trusted reseller, B&H. Priced at $999, refreshingly and unexpectedly it is not unbearably expensive for what it offers.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Christian
    September 10, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Dear Romanas,

    nice (critical) comments. I think nobody would by a 24-80 f/5.6 at 1000 for full frame. The nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 is 400 less with similar specs (better aperture but I assume build quality is inferior).

    To me this system is overprice and only really makes sense if you frequently need longer reach on a smaller budget. But again, my 70-300 is performing well enough on my D800 and otherwise I rent.

    I personally like and went for the Sony RX100M2 as a compromise.

    • 10
      ) Rick
      December 28, 2013 at 1:26 am

      I love the fact that you get greater depth of field with the micro four thirds system. The lens still has a light gathering capacity of an f/2.8 lens. There’s nothing you can change about that. You don’t have to stop down to get acceptably sharp photos. If you absolutely need that over rated small depth of field, you can simply use a fast prime. An f/2 aperture would have made this lens bigger and heavier. That would defeat the purpose of the system.

      Micro four thirds can serve as your main tool. There often is no need for a camera like the Nikon D800. It’s a myth that professionals only work with full frame gear. I’m getting a little tired of people crying about DOF and lens speed. You can’t just simply compare two completely different systems, that’s stupid. A camera is a compromise. Full frame is a compromise. It’s not perfect, but it can be the best option for someone (professional or not).

      I tried the Sony RX100 and quickly returned it. That sensor is really small and detail looks mushy. The camera is so small, I’d rather use my phone then then the RX100. It’s an expensive toy, nothing more.

  2. 2
    ) Martin G
    September 11, 2013 at 8:23 am

    This looks more promising. I still have some Olympus Zuiko lenses – pre OM series. One thing that makes 4 3rd systems less interesting is the lack of good constant aperture lenses.

    I cannot agree with you Christian, I think the price is good. The benefits of the a fast constant aperture, assuming it is a sharp one, are worth paying for. I would be surprised if it did not prove quite popular.

    I owned a 70-300 nikon VR but sold it once I got a D800 – a good lens up to 200 only but- after that? Not such an enjoyable experience. Once I started buying sharp fast constant aperture lenses with good bokeh, I was much happier with the results. There are some very sound and very visible reasons why this category of lenses is vital for great images and why pros love them.

    The Nikon 16-85 variable aperture DX lens may be the one you are thinking of. It is a very good lens indeed. (Owned it, loved it, sold it when I went full frame)

    I think the comments about 5.6 have to do with depth of field and subject isolation capabilities only. When the sensor size reduces so do some key optical performance components. To get a similar image feel on a smaller sensor you need a much faster lens which is why Roman mentions F2 as a more desirable option.

  3. 3
    ) Christian
    September 12, 2013 at 3:35 am

    Hi Martin,

    i tend to agree partially with your comments but my main emphasis was on the principle limitations of the m4/3 system and marketing. If you translate focal length you should translate other key figures as well: maximal aperture times 2 (5.6 in this case) and iso sensor sensitivity has to be 4 times better.

    A comparable performing standard professional FF zoom lens would be f/1.4 and even the new f1/8 sigma is scarifying 55-70 mm, not really a standard zoom range any more.

    In a real world scenario with FF as standard the above lens has a maximal aperture of 5.6. To make this even worth, calculate the ISO sensitive needed in low light condition. D800 with 24-70 f2/8 usable at ISO 6400, translate into ISO 51200 for M 4/3 or time from 1/60 to 4 (constant = iso * time).

    I like the M5 (compact, wether sealed and excellent IQ), some lenses are stellar and I was considering it for myself. Professional systems shine when pushed to extremes, at ideal conditions even pictures from an iPhone may look very similar when viewed on a computer screen. As per above, at least for the standard zoom range you have to scarify bokeh and possibility to isolated subjects (the 75mm 1.8 is stellar but 150 mm is not easily managed in confined spaces). So why bother with this expensive lens and not going for a one inch system. Catastrophic maximal aperture @ 100 but not to shabby f/5 @ 30 mm.

    As for the 70-300, totally agree. But so what, compare 300 with 210 cropped. I tried both 70-210 and was not to impressed in this regard. Center sharpness of the 70-300 is good, but if focusing speed or corner sharpness is important to you the 70-300 certainly does not deliver. My main complaint is build quality (non weather sealed) and focusing speed, buy IQ is an acceptable compromise for an always in the bag lens.

    I meant the nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 G.

    Best wishes

    Chris

  4. 4
    ) MartinG
    September 12, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Iam not a 4 3rds user. Primarily for the reasons you specify. If I did join it, then I would have to put aside such considerations. The Zuiko lenses above would be attractive, if I did.

    When I look at the Olympus cameras they appeal because of size.I accept your criticism of the system, but all systems are trade offs aren’t they?

    Can 4/3 ever expect to support a huge range of great lenses? The price is probably a reflection of the size of the potential market rather than a translation of figures. Which brings us back to your original point.

    That said I am willing to bet that anyone who has a 4/3rds system would find this lens a joy to use.

  5. 5
    ) Toni
    September 19, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I think that F2.8 zoom lens are ‘a must have’ for any serious amateur photographer. Perhaps a bit expensive, but image quality it’s worth it.

    • 11
      ) Sam
      December 28, 2013 at 1:32 am

      Absolutely, I agree. It’s a fantastic lens. I disagree on the ‘amateur’ part though. No need for that. Just photographer is enough.

  6. 6
    ) Frank
    September 24, 2013 at 4:18 am

    Hi Christian
    I think your confused with an issue here.
    The only comparison with 5.6 is only in the matter of depht of field ( the image looks like a f5.6, due to the sensor size ). The ISO remains the same, doesn’t have another value (your shooting at a real 2,8 an not at 5,6), in fact if it is even better for equivalent images, for ex:
    FF 100mm at 125 f8 iso 800 it is exactly the same image as MFT 50mm at 125 f4 iso 200, but the last with a much better ISO.

    • 7
      ) Christian
      September 24, 2013 at 6:27 am

      Hi Frank,

      thanks for highlighting common mistakes when compared to FF. MFT, hampered by smaller sensor and pixel size, was designed as an compromise in terms of weight, size and image quality and not to compete 1:1 with FF.

      Disadvantages:
      – Lower SNR due to smaller sensor pixel size
      – 4 times higher ISO needed as only 1/4 of light hitting sensor
      – Lower depth of view – maximum aperture divided by 2

      Here we go for portrait (similar DOF):
      FF 85 mm f1.8 iso 100 vs MFT 40-50 mm f1.2 iso 200
      FF 85 mm f1.4 iso 100 vs MFT 40-50 mm f1.0 iso 200 (closest would be Leica Noctilux f0.95)

      Comparison for tele (D800 & 70-200 f2.8 vs. M5 40-150 f2.8)
      – Pixel size: 4.88 um vs. 3.7 um
      – Resolution: 36 vs. 16.1 MP (D800 cropped 1.5: 15.4 MP)
      – 200 mm f/2.8 1.5x (300 mm) iso 125 = 150 mm f/2.8 iso 200 (2.25 vs. 4 fold iso)

      • 9
        ) Jay
        November 22, 2013 at 4:49 am

        Hi Christian,

        I’m afraid your statements about equivalence are not quite correct… ISO is defined as the sensitivity required for a certain visual brightness, two shots taken with the same aperture, shutter and ISO, regardless of system, will have the same brightness, though DOF may be different.

        You are right in thinking that FF collects four times more light than m43, but that does not translate to needing 4 times higher ISO. As an example, when you crop a photo in post to quarter size, you do not also need to boost its brightness by 4x.

        The above comparisons you give between FF and m43 would leave the m43 images two stops more exposed, but with one stop less ‘blur’.

        Not trying to start an equivalence war here! But I wouldn’t want people reading these comments to leave with the wrong impression.

        Regards,

        J

  7. 8
    ) JasonM
    October 20, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Hi Frank and Christian,

    Thanks for your little duel there! lol. It made for very interesting reading in which I have personally found to be beneficial in understanding the differences between these two systems.
    I currently shoot with a Nikon D7000 and am considering upgrading to either the MTF system, or the FF system. Whilst some have argued that going from a D7000 to an OM-D E-M1 is not considered an upgrade, I however, believe that it is an upgrade due to the OM-D’s superior build quality, the 5-axis image stabilization, it’s sheer speed and accuracy, it’s image quality, and the way it controls noise. But the contender….. the Canon 5DIII….. is just better, especially in image quality and noise control.
    While taking into consideration the main points of your above discussion (bokeh, DOF, and M4/3rd’s equivalent lenses), two main photographers came to mind…. Steve Huff and Robin Wong. Whilst Steve Huff uses the micro four thirds system, it is not his only system and Robin Wong, being an Olympus employee, shoots exclusively with the micro four thirds system. Both photographers each have their own web sites, and both have many photographs from the M4/3 cameras. I believe that these photographs give a good demonstration of what this system is capable of when used by an experienced photographer. Whilst the end results from a full frame camera would be easier to achieve, and more than likely achieve a better result, these two photographers have demonstrated exactly just how close the M4/3 system can get to the full frame system.
    Even though I do agree with what has been discussed above, in the real world, the M4/3 system produces exceptional results that can be used for professional results. This is the basis I have used for my decision to go with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 rather than a Canon 5DIII. Personally I feel that the Nikon’s, being outsourced for production, is a lessor system than the Canon or Olympus which are both fully made in Japan (hopefully I got that right).
    As far as lenses go, Olympus produce very good lenses which can achieve maximum image quality from their system, as do both Canon and Nikon.

    Thanks for reading my thoughts. Please feel free to add anything if needed.

    Cheers….. Jason

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