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.
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.
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.