Writerís Favorite Lens: Olympus Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8

One of the primary reasons I built my mirrorless kit with Olympus gear, was their wide array of high quality lenses. From fast primes to convenient zooms, they have all of the important focal lengths covered. It wasnít until I picked up the Olympus Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 however that I really experienced the true potential of this micro four thirds system. Since purchasing the lens a few months ago, it has rarely left my camera body. Not only are the optics incredible, but it features many surprising benefits. Here are some of the main reasons it has become my favorite lens.

Image Quality

The†Olympus 12-40mm†has an effective focal length of 24-80mm making it extremely versatile. This fits my needs well, as I shoot a wide variety of subjects. With a constant aperture of f/2.8, itís possible to shoot wide open throughout the entire range. Unlike other kit lenses, there is no need to stop down for optimal performance. Results are stellar wide open, with no noticeable chromatic aberration or diffraction. This makes it a workhorse for low light work, whether indoors or out.

From corner to corner, the 12-40mm is the sharpest lens Iíve ever owned. That makes it invaluable for landscape and travel work, particularly when great depth of field and critical focus is desired. I have done side by side comparisons with DSLRs and pro lenses, and to my eye, the Olympus lens is sharper. Granted, these were not scientific tests, but for me, a real world study is perhaps more valuable than any static chart. While many zoom lenses compromise clarity for convenience, this lens has the rare combination of both.

Size and Cost

When compared with the equivalent offering for DSLRs, a number of additional benefits are revealed. For example, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 weighs 28.40 ounces (805 g), more than twice as much as the Olympus at 13.47 ounces (382 g). After a long day of hiking and traveling, with gear on by back, this makes a big difference. With the lighter kit, Iím ready to go further, and faster. Itís also small enough to keep with me everyday, greatly reducing any missed opportunities. In addition to the weight savings, itís also quite reasonably priced. The Canon and Nikon version of this focal length averages $1899 while this Olympus model can be purchased for around $899.

Macro Surprise

Perhaps the most unexpected benefit is the ability to shoot extreme close-ups. In fact, I recently sold my 100mm Canon macro lens as this satisfies my macro needs. With a minimum focusing distance of 20 centimetres (7.9 inches), it is ideal for flowers, plant life, and butterflies. Having this type of capability in a single lens makes it possible to do more while traveling lighter.

Shift into Manual Focus

Manual focus is activated by gently pulling the lens barrel down. With no buttons to find or push, this can be done without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Coupled with focus peaking, it has never been easier to achieve sharp focus manually. I particularly enjoy this feature when doing creative multiple exposures. This involves auto focus for the first shot, followed by a shift to manual focus to purposely create an out of focus second frame.

Built for Adventure

When paired with a weatherproof body, the lens completes a rugged combo that can withstand heavy rain, snow, dust, and even freezing conditions. I was able to test the weatherproof capabilities of the system during an airshow at the beach. As rain fell from the stormy sky several DSLR users frantically packed away their gear and headed for cover. Meanwhile, I continued to shoot the action and captured some unique shots with ominous dark clouds. Sure I could purchase and use a rain cover which are reasonably effective. They are clumsy enough however, to negatively affect my shooting technique.

Nice Bokeh

Despite what some critics have reported, it is quite possible to achieve shallow depth of field with a micro 4/3 system. Admittedly, the background wonít be as out of focus as an equivalent lens on a full frame camera, but it absolutely gets the job done. With this particular lens at f/2.8 Iíve found the bokeh to be very pleasing. In fact, I have no problems reaching for this lens should shallow depth of field be necessary.

Fast to Focus

Perhaps thereís no worse feeling than struggling to find focus as the magic light fades. Unlike many zooms, this lens does not hunt for focus. Whether you are using a camera with contrast or phase detection, it locks onto the subject, and fast. Not only does this benefit outdoor work, but also those indoor situations when the light levels are very low.

No Compromises

Iíve used a great deal of lenses throughout†my career, many of which were stellar. Still, this lens really shines not only for its optical quality, but its versatile focal range. You can use it for just about anything, making it the first lens youíll grab for most situations. Typically a lens with this many features would come at the price of other compromises, but this in not the case with the 12-40mm. Olympus has done a stellar job in creating what I find to be the perfect lens for micro 4/3 users.

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