Is the Oly 12-40 Pro a better option than the 12 f/2 and 17 f/1.8 primes?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by So Thankful, Nov 6, 2015.

  1. So Thankful

    So Thankful Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 9, 2015
    Hello everyone,
    I am trying to decide which way to go.
    1. Fast primes, get the Olympus 12 and 17 to go along with my 25 and 45 lenses.
    2. Get the 12-40 Pro and loose some available light options.
    Is the 12-40 as good as the primes? I have seen stellar reviews on the 12.
    I have shot with primes mostly since the 80's I always felt they were superior to zooms. Is that the case here?
  2. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    Real Name:
    call me Arg
    The 1240PRO is a pretty special zoom. You will never find yourself thinking "I had better change to the prime, I need top quality for this shot".

    But primes IMO have their personalities. That might not be desirable for a pro events shooter. But for the enthusiast it can be an additional ingredient that flavours our hobby.

    I started a thread earlier this year on an overlapping topic. You might find some of the many posts interesting and useful.

    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. svenkarma

    svenkarma Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 5, 2013
    Real Name:
    mark evans
    I had the 12/2 for a while and it is a good lens, but what I found is that though I like taking shots at 12, it's not a lens you can just leave on your camera for an extended period in the way that you can (imo) with a 17 or 25. So I part-exchanged for the 12-40. And have no regrets.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Speedliner

    Speedliner Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 2, 2015
    Southern NJ, USA
    Real Name:
    Question is how often you need f2 or 1.8. They bring a thin DoF, which can be great, or a pain in the neck. So if you aren't shooting at night or in dim light, the faster aperture may not be necessary and you may be bald to have the flexibility of the zoom.

    I wind up using the zoom. Outdoors and the primes indoors.
  5. ahinesdesign

    ahinesdesign Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 6, 2011
    NC, USA
    Real Name:
    The 12-40 has its compromises, but image quality isn't one of 'em. Its super versatile, very sharp, focuses very close/near macro, and is dust/splash proof. It lacks character (some call it clinical) and has a significant size/weight penalty vs primes in the same range. I've bounced back and forth between the 2.8 zooms and primes, and honestly the primes still have some advantages that make them worth keeping around. In fact I just purchased my fifth copy of the 20mm, and have other primes on the horizon - but no plans to get rid of the 12-40 this time!
  6. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    "better" how? It is probably sharper at the edges at f2.8 than either prime lens. But it is heavy, expensive and doesn't open up to f1.8 or f2.
  7. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Real Name:
    David Dornblaser
    I have all of those lenses, the four primes and the zoom. If you like primes, I would stick with primes. I like a small kit and will carry 1 - 3 primes, mostly the 17 and 45mm. My wife uses an E-M10 and she will carry the 25 mm and the EZ. I think that the last time that I used my O12-40 is when I was hiking in the Smokies mid-August. While others have their O12-40 permanently mounted to their bodies, I will not give up f2.0 or f1.8 and I am very comfortable having the 17mm as my always attached lens. If you search this board you will find that there have been a number of O12-40 vs. primes threads with strong opinions on both sides. If I were to start using the O12-40 a lot, I would add an EM-1 body.
  8. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Real Name:
    The only prime which is weather sealed is the 60mm Macro (+ the forthcoming 300mm f/4).

    I use the 12-40mm all day, and if shooting at night I will usually then switch to the 17mm or 45mm.
    I thought I would use the 17mm indoors for museums, etc. but I have found the 12-40mm to usually be fast enough... I posted several images in the Sculptures thread taken indoors with it.

  9. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Real Name:
  10. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    Real Name:
    I use the 12-40mm primarily for events. After owning that lens for two years I just purchased the 12mm f/2.0.

    The 12-40mm lens is pretty amazing but I am one of those that would put it in the "clinical" category. I wanted a lens that had a little more character while still being smaller and lighter than the 12-40mm for for leisurely shooting. I wanted something wider, but the Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95 lens is even larger and heavier than the 12-40mm.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2015
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Informative Informative x 1
  11. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    The 12-40 is at its best just at 12mm. If you trust Lenstip and photozone both place the 12-40 much higher in their charts for this focal length wide open (near 40mm it gets "softer").
    The 12mm focal length is not one where you care about shallow DoF so I think that is not big advantage.
    Remain 1+1/2 low light advantage and much smaller size. The size advantage is not so big if you compare it with the two or three lenses it can replace but you do not have the option to go lighter when needed.

    I have the 12-40, I like it, but I'm willing to exchange it with something smaller as soon as something similar gets available (12-40 f4?). In use size is no problem, an advantage even (on E-M10). It's bulky to carry around.
  12. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    Your question is the perennial zoom vs prime one. I've been round the loop myself a few times and in the end have decided I need both! There's no right or wrong answer - it's down to individual preference and mood.

    Having said that, your decision of 12-40 vs 12+17 has an obvious flaw - you're missing everything from 17 to 40 in comparison! You should put the 25 and 45 on the list to get a similar coverage.
  13. Aushiker

    Aushiker Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 12, 2014
    Fremantle, Western Australia
    Real Name:
    A humorous take on this perennial question ...

  14. MoonMind

    MoonMind Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 25, 2014
    Real Name:
    I own all the lenses debated above (the Olympus 25mm being the newest member of my stable), and for me, it's horses for courses.

    The 12-40mm's only disadvantages (if you want to call it that) are size, weight and maximum aperture - and they're all pretty relative since in absolute terms, the zoom delivers: It's compact, sturdy, fast and has great optics. Its rendering is on the neutral side, but I actually think that's a plus - no artsy half-baked stuff going on, just honest goodness. Of the primes, two beat the 12-40mm in terms of technical IQ: the 25mm and the 45mm. But really, not by a lot, and in most cases, it's academical. The primes are smaller, faster and, indeed, all show a particular character. If you're *not* into neutral rendering, the 12mm is not for you - it's sharp, contrasty and almost clinical; I actually prefer the rendering of the 12-40mm most of the time, but if crispyness and contrast are what I'm after, I reach for the 12mm. The 17mm is the smoothest of the bunch - and also the least sharp, but again, that's only a problem if you're pixel peeping (or printing large). I think it's the ideal walkaround lens if you want a no-brainer - it gives you pleasing results in most situations, and it's a very good lens for taking pictures of people. The 25mm is a very, very strong lens indeed - sharp, contrasty, vibrant, fast, though slightly bulky for what it is (specifically when compared to the also very good Panasonic 20mm - if only that lens was a bit better behaved on Olympus bodies ...). The 45mm is a fantastic performer, small, light and quite gorgeous wide open - for (street) portraiture, it's my first choice.

    A two primes kit would comprise the 17mm and the 45mm for me, a single prime kit either the 17mm or the 25mm; if I was forced to choose, probably the latter, but not by a large margin, and maybe only for the time being - I haven't had it for a long time, and it may still be a sort of honeymoon phase. In use, I still (slightly) prefer the 17mm - but the results speak for the 25mm.

    The 12mm is great if you have the money to spare (I don't mean to brag here - when I bought it, there wasn't anything else available in that category to match it; honestly, I wouldn't buy it again today), but the 12-40mm chews it up pretty thoroughly in my view - the 12mm's only real advantage becoming size; thanks to Olympus' I.B.I.S., a one stop advantage in maximum aperture just doesn't matter that much.

    The monster lurking in the corner of course still is the Panasonic 20mm - in terms of IQ, it's very, very competitive, and it's a pancake. In many situations, its slowish AF performance doesn't matter, it's good enough. In a three-ways battle between the "normal" primes, it might well emerge as the winner - because of the 17mm and 25mm each taking a beating from its brand sibling for specific qualities and the 20mm firmly occupying the middle ground.

    All that said, my most used lens on the E-M10 remains the 12-40mm, followed by, calamity!, the 14-150mm II. Out in the open air, hardly anything beats versatility. The 12-40mm means that I don't have to sacrifice quality, either.

    But then, nothing beats a dedicated photo walk with only a single body and prime in terms of feel, vibe and, very often, results. It's precisely what I'm going to do now - taking along the E-M10 and the 25mm.

    • Like Like x 4
  15. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 4, 2014
    Real Name:
    My first lens was the Oly 12-50 that came with my E-M5, and with that the Oly 12 and 45 primes (and PL 25) were no-brainer additions to my kit, offering sizable advantages in speed and sharpness, (and they looked gorgeous in silver, too). I hated changing lenses all the time, though.

    When I later bought the E-M1 and 12-40, the advantages of those small primes diminished so much that it was no longer worth it to me to switch to them. I recall watching a YouTube interview (Matt Granger's page, IIRC) of a Zeiss lens engineer, who surprised Matt by saying that there is nothing that mandates a prime will always be sharper than a zoom. Indeed, I find that while the 12-40 is bigger and not as fast, it gives up nothing in sharpness.

    The size/weight difference to me is a non-issue, particularly with the E-M1, and the aperture is only a one-stop difference. For the 12 in particular, this just isn't enough to bother carrying them all around and switching lenses, much less paying for both a prime and zoom to be in your kit. As a result, the 12 has not been used in the years since and the 45 only once, for a recent portrait shoot.

    I'm selling the 12 and 45, and for me to get any more wide-medium focal range primes, they are going to have to provide advantages over the 12-40 proportional to what the 12 and 45 did for the 12-50. That means a better aperture than f/1.8 and even more highly lauded rendering. The PL 42.5 f/1.2 comes to mind.

    Oly is coming out with its own range of fast, f/1 primes, perhaps starting in 2016, so I intend to wait and see how these pan out. I am sure they will be expensive, but my thinking is that they (if they are good) could sufficiently mitigate the sensor size disadvantages of m4/3 enough to obviate the need to ever consider a full frame system. In that light, the cost won't seem so bad.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2015
  16. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    Real Name:
    call me Arg
    If that is what they say then they are not to be trusted. The lens is way better at 40mm than the impression you just gave.

    Personally, as soon as I hear that a lens review site strips out the inbuilt correction for m43 lenses, I sigh and move on, because they are being ridiculous. Nobody, and I mean nobody, will experience what they report. It's like dyno testing cars under review by stripping out the fuel injection and electronic control unit, bolting on a carburettor, and criticising the power characteristic when tested 'the same way as a 75 Dodge'. These guys are living in the past and doing buyers a disservice.

    slrgear test m43 lenses with correction, i.e. they report on what you and I will experience. This is what they say about the 1240PRO: "a very sharp lens, even wide open and throughout the entire zoom range. There's also very little corner softness at ƒ/2.8 at each focal length we tested. We saw just a bit more corner softness at 40mm at ƒ/2.8, but it was extremely minor. Stopping down to ƒ/4 to ƒ/5.6, you have the "sweet spot" of apertures for critical sharpness at all focal lengths. Corner to corner, the lens displays fantastically sharp images in this range of apertures."

    [edit: attachment is Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Harbour, at 40mm f/5.6]

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 7, 2015
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
  17. nuclearboy

    nuclearboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2011
    Ellicott City, MD
    Real Name:
    I had the 12mm, 17mm and Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 (I will assume it is similar to the 12-40). I first bought the 12-35 because switching lenses became an issue on some tours in bad weather or crowded conditions. It was simply too big of a pain in the arse so I needed a zoom to get the shots I wanted. I assumed I would stick to primes when I could.

    What I found surprised me at the time. The 12-35mm was (IMO) a better lens. I shot a series of landscapes on with the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 12-35mm at 12mm on my Olympus E-P5. At 2.8 in the center they were similar and overall both looked good. I had always liked the 12mm. However, looking closely at details near the edges, the 12mm was loosing much detail in the landscape that the 12-35mm was retaining. It was clear to me that If I wanted to shoot at 12mm that I preferred the 12-35mm.

    I did similar comparisons with the Olympus 17mm compared to the 12-35mm at 17mm. Again, they both looked good. The 17mm is a fine lens. Color rendering looked the same to me but the 12-35mm again picked up more detail, especially off center.

    From my experience with my copies (and in my opinion), the 12-35mm zoom is a better lens as far as image quality goes from 2.8 up and it eliminates changing focal lenses during busy shooting times. It is heavier, and only f2.8 of course. You have to decide if that is important to you.

    About 6 months after buying the zoom, I sold the 12mm and 17mm. They are nice lenses but I never reached for them anymore.
  18. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Maybe it's partly my fault. At 40mm is not bad at all, but is not as exceptional as at 12mm.

    At 12mm lenstip measured 80 lpmm and that is extremely high. The highest recorded value IIRC is about 82 for the Nocticron, N25, S60 and similar lenses. To give you a reference the O45 wide open measure 66, and it peaks at 75 stopped down at 2.8.
    The O12-40 at 40mm wide open is "only" 55 lpmm and peaks at 62 after one stop.

    In the photozone world the difference seems smaller (3000 vs 2800 lw/ph) but goes in the same direction. Many primes struggle to get to 2800.

    Also the slrgear chart shows the same thing scrolling through the focal lengths in the resolution chart.

    Personally I did a side by side comparison with the O45, both at 2.8 and I noticed no difference.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2015
    • Agree Agree x 1
  19. cptobvious

    cptobvious Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 8, 2013
    I currently have the 17/1.8 and 45/1.8 and Panasonic 12-35 and 35-100 2.8 zooms, and owned several copies of the 12/2. For me, I think the 12-40 could replace the 12/2 since I mainly used the 12/2 for landscape shots, stopped down. The one area I think the 12/2 is superior over the 12-40 is for handheld motion blur shots, especially in low light, due to its larger aperture. But for me it was not worth the expense to keep.

    The 17/1.8 to me is a different story. I've probably owned 5 copies of this lens. It renders very differently from the 2.8 zooms and many of my favorite photos on m4/3 were taken with this lens. I suspect Oly did a silent upgrade with this model because the first two I owned (around the first year when it was first released) were rather soft wide open, but the recent copies I've owned are actually quite sharp in the center wide open.

    I sold my 25/1.8 because I preferred the look and FL of the 17 (although the 25 is optically the better lens) and kept the 45 because of the size, optical quality and resale value (too low). In the end, I think the primes balance better than the 2.8 zooms on m4/3 bodies and are more fun to shoot, but the zooms have the convenience factor for travel, so it's worth having both.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  20. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Now that first statement is not true. What about the 8mm PRO fisheye which is also weather sealed? Admittedly it isn't a lens one automatically thinks of when one thinks of the primes but it is a prime.
    • Informative Informative x 1