Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 is in my bag (usually in use though)

Today, I took a drive to get some Asian groceries and enjoy the not-so winter weather.  It was above freezing, and the snow was melting, and given how many days we had well below freezing, it was time for a break.

I first went for a fake cheese steak.  I lived in Philadelphia for eight years, and there is yet to be a place 100 miles or further from Philadelphia that can produce a good cheese steak.  Some of them claim to be famous even--that's just odd.  Lenny's Subs has been advertising about how great their sandwiches are.  The founder moved to Memphis, Tennessee and wanted an authentic cheese steak, so he had to create it.

As you probably didn't read in my earlier diatribe on getting it right, you have a roll/bun, thin steak, and mozzarella or provolone cheese or cheese whiz to top it and onions are an option, grilled or raw.  These people had the meat, a too soft roll, and Swiss cheese (although I was able to order provolone) and grilled onions.  It was a let down.

So, not far from the sub shop was a branch of the camera shop where I have recently enjoyed some photographically-related social activities.  Well, it wasn't there any longer.  They'd moved.  I called.  They answered, and they gave me their new address.  Strangely, they seem to be on the edge of a roundabout/traffic circle/rotary, in a small strip mall.

They had quite a lot and it was displayed quite nicely.  With high ceilings, it wasn't nearly as claustrophobic as their old (1920s?) store in downtown Indianapolis.

I talked to one of the people who ran the Olympus photo walk.  He even remembered me.  I'm not sure if that was good or bad.

We talked about FujiFilm mirror-less cameras, since they were next to Olympus' case.  He really likes the X-E2, which I think is quite advanced, but not quite the right shape for me.  He said that the downtown store was getting two X-T1 bodies, but they're already promised to someone.  I told him that I was waiting on weather-sealed lenses and he reminded me that not everything goes as planned.  The 50-140mm f/2.8 and 16-55mm f/2.8 fit me reasonably well.  I'd like to see how the FujiFilm16-55mm and Olympus 12-40mm are in an optical comparison.

In the end, I bought the only 12-40mm f/2.8 lens that they had.  It was made in China, if that's important to you.  It feels just as good as my Four-Thirds HG and SHG lenses.  These 12-40mm lenses have been selling almost as quickly as they can get them.  After all the screaming about fixed focal length lenses, I'm surprised that people are buying the 12-40mm lens.  I suspect people on that photo walk were thrilled with the lens, as it is better than other choices.  (Yes, this is my opinion.  It's my blog--practically everything is my opinion.  My opinion about Panasonic micro Four-Thirds lenses may improve once my 35-100mm f/2.8 is back in my hands.  My other micro Four-Thirds lens, the Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 does not help.)

I don't buy lenses often, but I spend quite a bit on each.  I almost always buy weather-sealed zoom lenses because of sports, but also because I like the flexibility in other situations, such as quick portraits, food photography, and building exteriors.  Olympus' HG and SHG Four-Thirds zooms can be used wide open, unlike other brands, because they're sharp across the frame.  That's another reason I've been slow to buy micro Four-Thirds equipment.  The zoom lenses sucked--until now.  Once again, my Panasonic 35-100mm didn't impress me except in focusing speed and that doesn't really lend much to image quality.  Perhaps when it is returned to me after the repair for the ugly, nasty lens flare (with lens hood and sun out of frame), it will be a much better lens.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, extended, with lens hood

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 without lens hood

Of course, with a busy day, I didn't have time to photograph anything, but I brought it home, mounted it, and took a few photos of the Olympus E-5 with the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 doesn't seem to like the dark much (what f/2.8 lens does?), but I'm sure I'll find it extremely useful.  This is the first time I've had a 24mm (135 format) equivalent available since the 1970s.   I have two lenses that start at an equivalent 28mm but that's just not quite wide enough in some situations, and you can't always walk further back.  Of course, 14mm (Olympus, Panasonic) or 15mm (FujiFilm) would be amazing in constant aperture zoom lenses.  Given the 7-14mm f/2.8 zoom Olympus has shown as a mock up, I'm inclined to wait.  It is supposedly due in 2015, but because of the aperture and weather-sealing, it's a better choice for me.

This will also be the first time I'll have a truly light lens on the GH3.  Olympus' 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 isn't bad on it but the 14-35mm f/2.0 is heavy and the Leica 25mm f/1.4 is almost that heavy and it's huge for a fixed focal length lens with that 62mm filter size but not as big as the 67mm or 77mm filter sizes of the two zooms.  The 12-40mm is tiny but it also has a 62mm filter size.  The Four-Thirds Olympus 50mm f/2.0 macro may still be my smallest lens.

The lens hood is rather small, but I don't see it as ineffective.  The lens hood for the 14-54mm is a reasonable size but shows up in the photo at some focal lengths, and the lens hood for the 14-35mm is huge but is still dwarfed by the lens hood for the 35-100mm f/2.0 lens.

Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0

The focusing mechanism reminds me of the 14-35mm lens.  It extends on both ends of the zoom range.

GH3 with 12-40mm, E-5 with 14-35mm

The size difference between the E-5/14-35mm and GH3/12-40mm is amusing, much like the comparison with the E-5/35-100mm f/2.0 and GH3/35-100mm f/2.8.

58mm vs 77mm filter size

I am thrilled to say that I'm taking advantage of the wider angle.  It's certainly been useful.

I've photographed this court house a few times but was never able to get a whole side of it at once.

As I noted during the photo walk, the flare resistance is quite good, although I tweaked this photo to dial down the overwhelming sunshine.  You can't have a miserable, cloudy day and then, have sunshine, correct, when you'll just return to misery?  Now, that I look again, it has a bit too much of an unnatural look to it in the smaller size.  It's just great to be able to handle larger structures without stitching.

I'm liking the color, also.  I've had poor luck with the Panasonic lenses and the color, although I suspect that will be the case, even if they're perfect.  This is the first time that I've felt that the GH3 was giving its all with native lenses. 

Just thinking about it, this is the first time since November 2011 that I have not had any image stabilization, in the lens or moving the sensor.   Of course, I haven't had any terribly dark situations yet, but I never saw the E-5's IS helping me through difficult times.

Even near sunset, the color is good

Interesting that Google's Blogger has changed the photo from silhouette on import

Update 2014.02.26: I haven't removed the lens from the GH3 yet.  I've been testing to see if there is a real problem with it breaking.   It's certainly better to find the problem in the first few days, rather than after the warranty is finished.  The lens continues to impress me and it feels as though the GH3 is totally different.

Update 2014.03.05: I can't express fully how happy I am with the 12-40mm lens.  Ultimately, it's not a lens for the dark (could they have coaxed f/2.5 out of a lens with a 67mm filter size?), but my tripod could help with that, once it's a bit warmer outside.  My feelings about the GH3 have become warmer, though.  I find the lens to be extremely useful and it's so light that I don't seem to miss image stabilization, not that I knew when it was helping on the E-5 or within the Panasonic lenses.

The image quality seems to be so much better now that my regrets about buying a Panasonic body are completely gone.   It really has taken me back to the days in 2004 when my Olympus E-1 was new and I only had the 50-200mm and 14-54mm lenses.  I expect the 40-150mm f/2.8 to be equally engaging, so maybe work will just be joy.  If the GH4 turns out to be wonderful, I may not have any need for the FujiFilm X-T1.

Update 2014.03.19: Are they sure this aperture is f/2.8?  I seem to be getting clear shots that don't seem possible with f/2.8, especially since I'm doing it without any image stabilization. 

Update 2014.07.27: I've been using this lens with the Olympus E-M1 (I traded my GH3 in anticipation of a GH4) for the skate park and the extra little bit of the wide angle has been great.  It has some of the typical wide angle distortion, which gives close up shots something close to the skate park style that people love without the fisheye.  It obviously hasn't broken and it's been a good companion.  If there is a everyday problem, it's that the AF ring/clutch is too easily moved while I'm shooting, and I haven't spent a full day trying to manually focus it.  The micro Four-Thirds lenses are all too tiny for me, but at least this one is a bit bigger than most.  I still prefer the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 though. 

Update 2014.10.02: By now, I've shot over 10,000 photos with this lens, most of them related to skate parks.  It has done well, but it hasn't been quite as wonderful as it initially seemed.  However, real-life problems have been few.

There have been two situations that have caused me to wonder.

  • In rare strongly-lit situations, lens flare is a problem
  • In mixed light, where strong light is bordered by deep shadow, auto focus with the E-M1 fails occasionally

Otherwise, the lens has been an excellent example of any lens so small.  I must say that I don't feel it's nearly as good as any of my Four-Thirds HG or SHG lenses.  However, it is quite amazing, especially at 12mm, a focal length I don't have with any other lens.

I live about 70 miles northeast of San Jose, California, past the foothills, into the farm land.  The sun and heat are strong through summer, and even though we've passed into autumn/fall, the light is still quite bright and during the afternoon, it is difficult to keep exposure even.

During a trip to Santa Cruz, the skate park's pipe was enough to channel the sunlight into a form that caused lens flare that I didn't expect.  I didn't think that the lens was perfect but it was more than I'd seen from any Four-Thirds Olympus lens.

More recently, in early evening, when harsh light meets harsh shadow, the auto focus with the E-M1 suddenly changes at that moment when I'm ready to take a photo.  I'm not sure whether this is a problem with the lens, the E-M1, or the combination.  The only other micro Four-Thirds lens I use on the body is the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and I use it so rarely that I can't make a direct comparison.  There is a huge difference in the responsiveness, though, with the 35-100mm being significantly less responsive.''

Update 2015.09.07: It's been almost 1.5 years now since I got this lens.  It has been used almost every day--on the Panasonic GH3 first but lately on the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4.

There were early warnings about the build quality of the lens, claiming that it simply fell apart without any unusual circumstances.  I have tortured the lens in many situations and it has been great.  The front lens cap has fallen apart.  There is a little wear on the bottom, as I have put it down at skate parks.  (I wish the E-M1 was as healthy.  I have over the 150,000 shutter actuations apparently and it needs a replacement, along with a new eyecup mount.)

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