Thursday, January 2, 2014

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 breaking while sitting in a bag without any trauma? Unlikely.

There is a lot of talk about the new Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens breaking, just by sitting in a bag.

If you really believe that anything is going to break just from sitting in a bag, then 100% of the mobile devices should have failed already.

I’ve seen plenty of people claim that nothing happened to their devices, while the insides show anything from a mere bump to an impact from being tossed.  Others claim that they didn't get their devices wet, yet there is internal corrosion.

You may have seen this article from Lens Rentals already that sheds light on various lenses.

I would certainly like to believe that all equipment is designed correctly.  I've seen plenty from the inside out, that is not designed correctly.

Laptop computer hinges make for an easy failure.  Most are designed so that even distribution of stress occurs--i.e., your hand goes to the midpoint of the cover and push it with even, light force until it closes.  Many people grab a corner and slam the cover closed causing the hinges to fail over time.  Is this a design flaw, a part flaw, or abuse?  In my opinion, it's abuse, but exactly the kind of abuse a case designer should expect, for which they should try to compensate.  If IKEA didn't test their inexpensive chairs for people plopping in them, would they be negligent?  Of course, although people shouldn't expect much, if they didn't pay much.

Back to lenses, I've been using two lenses (Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5) quite a lot since April 2004.  They've been used out in hurricanes, in construction areas, spent 14 hours a day attached to a camera body.  My Crumpler bag holding them fell from a seat to the floor, as well the bag was tossed into the back seat of my car by some idiot.  I've yet to need service on them.

My Olympus E-5, 35-100mm f/2.0 lens, FL-50 flash fell from a seat to a pool deck in-between swimming races.  I picked them up, and used them just fine, although the flash became less reliable, but then, it's almost all plastic, and later, it failed.

One of the first experiences I had with dSLRs was my buddy's Canon 300D/Digital Rebel.  The lens was mostly plastic and a high percentage of them broke while still mounted to the body.  No, you can't just drop something like that on a table or the ground and expect them to survive.

Besides this, "plastic" is a very general term that people put to acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, and more.  You've probably used any number of materials that are loosely defined as plastic, but that don't have similar characteristics.  Strength is a matter of the material's design.  Anything can be broken, given enough and the correct kind of force.  Perhaps, you've seen the recent IIHS vehicle crash test ratings where 5 star rated vehicles were reduced in their ratings because of new crash tests that simulated real life better.  If you don't plan for it, it's only luck between you and circumstance.

I've yet to have a lens break and while I've had a few phones replaced because of failure, I've never had to have a display replaced.  I suppose I'm just more careful, but buying a proper bag or case never costs too much.  My iPhone 4s was dropped 20-30 times while it was in my Otterbox Defender case.  The case had minor scratches but the phone was like new after two years, although I only held it bare maybe five times.  For that matter, my original diskette drives from the early 1980s still work.  My 75 MB Seagate drive from 1990 still works.

In any case, the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses that I have used were shared among a group.  They were all available a couple of months ahead of availability to be sold.  In the case of a photowalk, we traded lenses quite often.  Obviously when walking and talking and checking for traffic, you're not as likely to be careful with equipment.  I used the 12-40mm lens on the supplied Olympus E-M1 as well as my own Panasonic GH3.

Were the lenses different than what you can buy?  I don't believe so.  Did they have an extra inspection to make sure that they wouldn't fall apart during a demonstration?  I would believe that.

The lens felt better than my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  It may all be perception but Panasonic made their lens feel cheap in their use of materials and finish.  Optically, it's not very good either.  I understand that there are measured flaws with the 12-40mm lens, which is to be expected.  Fitting between my 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and my 14-35mm f/2.0 in both price and performance, I would expect the flaws to be in accordance with its positioning.

Unfortunately, I don't have the 12-40mm yet, due to my having to replace my water heater for a similar amount.  If the 12-40mm could have produced hot water, you know what I would have chosen.

So, after all this blah blah blah, I don't believe that there is any huge flaw with the 12-40mm lens.  They may not have designed and tested for unintentional abuse, which is a flaw in their operations.  (You think this is bad?  I have a horror story about a company making aircraft parts not testing them correctly, only to receive them later because they did not pass inspection by the airline.)  Olympus probably should have put the 12-40mm on each current Olympus and Panasonic body and dropped it a few inches to see the results.  If they did not, they were not designing for the real world.

Update 2014.02.05: This interview with Olympus executives seems to point to there being any widespread problem with the lens.  Whether it's correct or whether they're untruthful is unknown.  As a Japanese, I know that getting a straight answer on an unpleasant subject means that they're answering truthfully because Japanese people will talk around the subject otherwise.

Update 2014.02.20: I bought mine yesterday.  I tend to treat my Four-Thirds lenses harshly at times, so we'll see what happens.  (My Olympus E-5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 fell from a poolside seat onto the pool deck, and I picked them up and kept shooting, and one year later, still haven't had a problem with eitther.)  I'm taking it out in the weather today, although it's becoming warmer at the moment, we're supposed to have thunderstorms later.

Update 2014.02.22: The combination of GH3 and 12-40mm f/2.8 have been together since the 20th.  They've been in some odd positions in my car, not usually in the bag because I wanted them ready.  If there was to be some stressful position, I'm sure they've already seen it.

Update 2014.02.24: It still hasn't broken.  I guess I'll have to be ruthless, which is reasonable, since I don't know anyone named Ruth lately, so I'm definitely Ruth-less.

Update 2014.03.09: Still no luck in breaking it accidentally.  The lens has been in the bag a bit of the time, but generally, it's attached to the GH3 and is somewhere near the floor of the car when I'm driving.  While I'm walking with it, I haven't taken any more care than I do with the 14-35mm or 14-54mm lenses.  The combination of the 12-40mm with the GH3 seems quite light but sturdy.  If I had dropped these from a seat to a pool deck, I'm not sure either would survive.  The GH3 feels relatively strong but I could hammer nails with the E-1 or E-5 bodies.  The 12-40mm lens feels so much stronger than the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens that I'm shocked that the Panasonic lens was more expensive.  I would expect that the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is equally dainty, though its image quality is reportedly better than the 35-100mm.

Update 2014.03.20: The 12-40mm has been attached to the GH3 and when it's not out, it's in my sideways-opening LowePro bag, facing inward.  I haven't been overly careful with it.

Update 2015.09.22: Still not luck breaking the lens, but the front lens cap fell apart, and apparently, it happens with regularity for some, according to a review on the GetOlympus site.

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