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Native and Adapted Normal Zooms - a contrarian review

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by nstelemark, Aug 29, 2014.

  1. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Native and Adapted Normal Zooms - a contrarian view:

    12-35f2.8(X), 12-40f2.8(Pro), 14-54IIf2.8-3.5(HG), 12-60SWDf2.8-4.0(HG), 14-35f2SWD(SHG)

    I have had the pleasure of owning 4 of the "pro" walk around* zooms for m43. The Olympus 12-40 f2.8, 14-54II f2.8-3.5 and 12-60 SWD f2.8-4 (2 of these!), and the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8. They all share some common charateristics, the IQ is excellent, they are all weather sealed, and they are all in the useful range of 24-120. So why choose one over another? Why not own them all! Heck I did so this seems like the simple answer. If you don't want to buy and sell a bunch of lenses here is my take on these four lenses.

    I own 100% Olympus bodies, Pen: E-PM1, OM-D: E-M5 and E-M1. All these bodies have some level of Olympus IBIS (sensor stabalization).

    Size: This is really interesting. All these lenses (except the 14-35) are proportionately the same size given the amount of reach each lens has. For the 4/3 lenses this includes the m43/43 adapter!

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Macro: Three of the Olympus lenses (12-40, 14-54 & 12-60) have a pretty good closeup magnification (0.25x to 0.30x), this is not true Macro, but it will certainly work for most people shooting Macro casually. The Panasonic close up function is limited to 0.17x. The Olympus 14-35 is even more limited at 0.12x. To put this in perspective the Macro mode of the Olympus 12-50 kit lens is 0.36x and both Olympus and Panasonic Macro lenses are 1.0x.

    Stabalization: Only the Panasonic 12-35 has in lens stabalization. So if you need it this is a huge benefit.

    Build: Both of the modern m43 lenses have a jewel like feel. The older 43 lenses are well built but they have a more industrial feel.

    Test Images: Are you kidding? There are lots of pixel peeping reviews on these lenses. They are all excellent. The 12-40 and 12-35 are likely somewhat absolutely sharper than the 14-54II and 12-60 SWD but I can't believe anyone could tell the difference in real shooting. Don't believe me? Have a look at this comparison - http://fourthirds-user.com/forum/showthread.php?t=12808 - IQ appears to be a wash in the HG/Pro lenses. The 14-35 is in its own category and is clearly superior, but this lens is a bit of niche lens.

    *So is the 14-35 a walk-around zoom? I don't know but I do know I had one for a week and now I want one!

    1. Olympus 12-40 f2.8 (Pro). $1000 (retail) 382g 62mm filter

    This lens seems like the "no-brainer" choice if you have an Olympus body. Sharp, fast, beautifully made and at retail the second cheapest option! I kept this lens for a week. There is nothing wrong with it but for me it was neither fish nor fowl. Analogies are great but what does this mean:
    a. This lense is very sharp at the wide end. I don't shoot wide a lot, it is nice to have but normally I would shoot at the tele end of these lenses and the 12-40 is not as sharp at 40.
    b. This is the second lightest lens, but it doesn't feel that way on the camera body. The front element is heavy and this make the lens feel heavier when mounted than the weight suggests. A camera with a grip is a good idea for this lens.

    Pros: Great IQ, beatiful build, excellent AF on all m43 bodies. Good value. Nice lens hood. Sharpest at the wide end.

    Cons: Sharpest at the wide end. Feels heavier than it is when mounted on the body. Price.

    Issues: There have been reports of some mount breakage but I strongly suspect this is mostly bad luck.

    Recommendation: If you don't have an Olympus E-M1, and the weight/size is not an issue then this is a great choice, if price is not the deciding factor. If you have an E-M1 the 12-60 would be my choice over this lens if total size is not an issue. These two lenses handle pretty similarly.

    2. Olympus 14-54II f2.8-3.5 (HG). $630 (retail) + m43/43 adapter $180 (retail) 440g 67mm filter

    The bargain choice and no question the best value in these four lenses, especially at current used prices. A great mix of reach, weight and IQ. It feels lighter on a body than the 12-40. One of the things that may not be obvious with this lens if you haven't used it is that it hits its maximum aperture of f3.5 later than the 12-60. It also does not have the mustache distortion of the 12-60 at wide end.

    Pros: Great IQ, solid build, large range and fast variable aperture. Great value. Price.

    Cons: The least sharp in this set of amazing lenses. AF speed on m43 bodies is OK, but not as fast as the native choices. AF speed on the E-M1 is disappointing.

    Issues: None that I know of.

    Recommendations: The value winner in this group by pretty much any measure. The only body I would not bother using it on is the E-M1 (the 12-60 SWD focuses so much faster).

    3. Olympus 12-60 f2.8-4 SWD(HG). $1050 (retail) + m43/43 adapter $180 (retail) 575g 72 mm filter

    For most 4/3 shooters this was the go to lens in this category if weight and cost did not matter. Fast focusing through the SWD mechanism, great IQ and lots of range (24-120). This lens is an OK performer on m43 bodies but AF is only acceptable. The 14-54II while much slower to focus than the 12-60SWD on the E-M1 is faster on CDAF m43 bodies than the 12-60.

    This is a big heavy lens so a body with a grip is a good idea. Ironically the 12-40 feels very similar when mounted on the body and it appears that they share a similar heavy front element design. This lens is very fast to focus on the E-M1 with the 1.4 firmware. In low light it is on par or faster than the 12-40. The on chip PDAF coupled with the SWD motor is very effective. This lens also reaches its maximum aperture faster than the 14-54, in other words it is proportionately slower as the zoom range increases.

    Pros: Great IQ, very solid, super wide range, and a fast aperture on the wide end. Great value used.

    Cons: New this is an expensive lens. Heavy and large. Slower maximum aperture. AF speed on CDAF m43 bodies not great. Mustache distortion at 12mm.

    Issues: SWD motors appear to have issues and this seems to be made worse by use on CDAF bodies. The lens hood can bind over time causing the front element to come out if the user is too vigorous in removing the hood.

    Recommendations: If you are using the E-M1 and you value reach over weight and size this is the clear winner. Fast to focus and really versatlle. If you have a CDAF only m43 body I would avoid this lens.

    4. Olympus 14-35 f2 SWD(SHG). $2300 (retail) + m43/43 adapter $180 (retail) 900g 77 mm filter.

    The Olympus 12-60 is large and heavy, but the 14-35 is huge, truly amazingly large for the focal length that this lens covers. So why would you want to shoot with this behemoth of a lens? Two words, image quality. The 12-35 is one of the sharpest zooms at 35 and the 14-35 makes it look poor in comparison. Colour rendering is better with the 14-35, and the image is sharper and more detailed. Easily as good as the best primes. This lens is not for everyone, but having had a chance to shoot with it for a week I am really tempted even though the price is very high and it is very large. This is one of those lenses that you look through even an EVF and think - "Wow - this is a fantastic lens!"

    This lens is a joy to use even though it is huge.

    Pros: Phenomenal IQ, very very solid, and a fast f2 aperture through the zoom range.

    Cons: Huge, hugely expensive, AF is OK (not as fast as the 12-60 AFAICT with the 1.4 firmware). It is not as sharp as it can be at f2, f4 is sharper. Is this a con? It outperforms the other zooms at f2 by a wide margin, and stopped down is even better but you lose some OOF subject separation.

    Issues: None that I can find. I assume the SWD motor may be at risk on CDAF only bodies.

    Recommendations: If you are using the E-M1 and you want the best image quality in a zoom get this lens, you won't be sorry.

    5. Panasonic 12-35 f2.8(X). $1000 (retail) 305g 58mm filter

    This was the first high end general purpose zoom for m43. Like the new Olympus 12-40 this is a really well built lens. It is not metal like the Oly zoom but the plastics are very nigh quality and the overall feel is excellent. This is the only lens in the group with lens based stabalization, so if you have a Panasonic body without stability this is a good choice.

    This lens is not as sharp as the 12-40 at the wide end but sharper at the long end. It is not mugh lighter than the 12-40 but feels a lot lighter on the camera. IQ is fantastic, AF is fast and it is a great lens. But, it has the shortest reach of all the choices.

    Pros: Great IQ, well built, compact and light.

    Cons: Less reach. Price is high.

    Issues: There have been reports of poor weather sealing and bits of dust or other debris inside the rear elements of the lens.

    Recommendations: If you want a compact high quality zoom this lens is a winner. It is not out of place on the smaller m43 bodies.


    If you have an:

    E-M1 (on chip PDAF):

    If want a lot of reach, get the 12-60 SWD. The 12-40 feels nearly as big on the camera and you lose 20 mm of reach. If performance at 12 mm is the absolute priority get the 12-40.
    If you want a compact zoom, get the 12-35.
    If you want the absolute best image quality, get the 14-35.

    M43 CDAF only body:

    If you have a CDAF body and you want a lot of reach get the 14-54II unless AF speed is the absolute priority then the 12-40 gets the nod (or if you value wide over long).
    If you want a compact zoom, get the 12-35.
    If you have to have stabalization in the lens your only choice is the 12-35.

    What do I have? Today a 12-35, and I really want a 14-35f2. If I get a 14-35 I will still keep the 12-35.
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  2. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    I've been working on this for a while. I hope someone finds it useful!

    Thanks to
    for early feedback!
    • Like Like x 3
  3. CiaranCReilly

    CiaranCReilly Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 18, 2012
    Ciaran Reilly
    Interesting comparison, thanks for taking the time to post!
  4. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Comparison of 12-60 and 14-35 size - Comment on the photo - it is not really that much bigger :biggrin:

    View attachment 381967
  5. Just bought the 14-54mm Mk.II

    Cross posted from the 14-54mm thread:

    I've just picked up this lens based on the advice of other users who compared this to the 12-40mm. Combined with a second hand MMF-3 this setup cost £250 from eBay, compared to around £599 for a used 12-40mm.

    Here is the lens mounted on my EM-1:

    View attachment 381978 Snapseed-0 by -the-levster-

    View attachment 381979 Snapseed-1 by -the-levster-

    And here are a few samples shot in quite a dark room, so ISO is pretty high:

    View attachment 381980 20140829-P8290004.jpg by -the-levster-

    View attachment 381981 20140829-P8290012.jpg by -the-levster-

    This shot is as close as I could get using manual focus at 54mm:

    View attachment 381982 20140829-P8290011.jpg by -the-levster-
    • Like Like x 1
  6. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Nice shots! I really liked this lens on the E-M5.
  7. manzoid

    manzoid Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 9, 2011
    I would have gone for the budget option of the 14-54ii, but I jumped on a used P12-35 for about $630 AUD. It has a spec of dust inside the front element, but I thought it was an ok trade off for the price.

    Would be nice if you or someone else could post a run down of the 14-54(i) just for the sake of completeness.

    By the way, I appreciate the style of the review. You added something useful even though none of the these lenses are new.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    I suppose the 14-35mm f2 is an OK lens. :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 1
  9. AussiePhil

    AussiePhil Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 1, 2014
    Canberra, ACT, Aust
    Glad to see you got this posted as a separate thread, I picked up a 12-60 to use on the E-M1, I think it does need the battery grip to balance it though.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    The 14-54Mk1 is identical to the 14-54Mk2 optically. The only difference is that the Mk2 is CDAF (ie liveview) optimized. Given that the AF performance of the 14-54Mk2 is leisurely on the CDAF bodies, and my experience with lenses like the 4/3 40-150* without the CDAF firmware upgrade I can be pretty confident in saying that the 14-54Mk1 would only be usable on the E-M1. However, by all accounts the AF performance with the Mk1 on the E-M1 should be pretty much equivalent to the Mk2 on the E-M1. So if you want the super bargain choice on the E-M1 the 14-54Mk1 would be a great choice. $100 seems to be the current price for the 14-54Mk1, or the same price as the 9mm BCL.

    Or put another way if you wanted to try the 14-54Mk1 on the E-M1 I can't see any downside. Also, if you had an E-M1 I can't see any reason to choose the 14-54Mk2.

    *The 40-150 would focus on the CDAF bodies without a firmware upgrade but there was a lot of hunting and it was very slow. With the upgrade the 40-150 is quite usable on the CDAF bodies.

  11. edmsnap

    edmsnap Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 20, 2011
    Edmonton, Alberta
    There are varying reviews about the differences, but general agreement seems to be that the mark-ii version was a little sharper with noticeably less distortion. It also switched to a 7-blade, rounded aperture which caused noticeable changes to the bokeh. I've seen some reviews say that there are differences in CA measurements and other reviews say they test the same, so I'd just shrug in that area. :smile:

    Perhaps most notable as differences went, the mark-ii version stayed faster longer. The majority of opinions on this being that the newly-shaped aperture let in more light than the older version allowing wider apertures for longer focal lengths (but could also have been related to how a non-round aperture gets measured maybe?). The comparison table was:
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    My only caution for counselling people to go for the mark-i version if they have an E-M1 is that there's no guarantee that anything but Olympus' flagship models will support PDAF in the future and while someone might own an E-M1 now, they may not stay top-tier for future purchases. The mark-ii version therefore offers much better future-proofing and although it tends to hover around the $475 mark for new, a lot of auctions see it go for under $200.

    Some prominent references on the 14-54 for anyone who cares to read more and see similar comparisons are here and here and here.

    Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the 14-54ii and think Olympus really should have created a µ4/3 comparable kit option for folks. I'm happy though that it's a simple matter to adapt the existing 14-54 to the current system. :thumbup:
  12. thearne3

    thearne3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2010
    Redding, CT USA
    Definitely a great comparison! I have the E-M1, but only the 40-150 zoom. Was considering the 12-40, but you've got me considering the 12-60 - if I'm gonna have a zoom, why not have the extra reach?

    • Like Like x 1
  13. Thanks for the detailed comparison between the different fast zoom options. Of course there is one lens that you missed; that being the Panasonic Leica D 14-50mm f2.8-3.5. The autofocus is fast enough on an E-M1 albeit fairly noisy, but terrible on any other body that I have tried it on.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. thearne3

    thearne3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2010
    Redding, CT USA
    • Like Like x 1
  15. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Interesting points. Sounds like the next thing you need to try is a SpeedBooster and a good 17-50/2.8!

    The only lens I'd really disagree about is the 14-35/2. I spent a lot of time listening to praise of that lens, and eventually gave in and got it, only to discover that I could barely tell the difference in IQ vs. the 12-60 for real world shots. For the size and price, I really feel that it should have started at 12/2.0, not 14/2.8. But everybody has there own priorities I guess.
  16. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    I purchased the 12-40mm lens in December even though I have a 12-60mm. The 14-35 was sold within the month Olympus quit 4/3s. I though I'd miss the reach of the 12-60 but it has sat in the cabinet almost the whole time. The 12-40 is a very good lens, on par or little better than the 12-60. From the 14-35 images I have on my computer the 14-35 provides a higher IQ, but a direct comparison for most people would be needed for most people to notice a difference on prints larger than 11 x 14.

    The 12-60s are still a quality low cost alternative to the 12-35 or 12-40 on an E-M1. For the other m4/3s go with the newer lenses.

    I tried using the 4/3s lenses on the E-M5 and quickly gave it up. The E-M1 with the 1.4 or 2.0 firmware is really needed to get decent performance.
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  17. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    This illustrates why I should not comment on a lens I haven't owned :biggrin: - ie the 14-54Mk1.
  18. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    So I took the plunge and bought a 14-35f2. I got a very good price on eBay and I was able to bring it back tax free by shipping it to my hotel on a business trip. I brought my E-M1 and the P20 f1.7II with me on the trip as well.

    Looking at the images from the trip I can easily tell which images are from the 14-35 vs the P20. The 14-35 images are more detailed and simply better than the P20. Based on a solid week shooting with the 14-35, I think I am wrong in my earlier conclusion that the AF is slower than the 12-60. The AF is fast enough that I simply didn't notice and I think that is all that matters. It is a great walk around lens, even if it is a bit on the large size :biggrin: .

    A sample image from the trip:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    A bag full of primes indeed.
    • Like Like x 1
  19. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    My two zooms - an illustration of scale:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    • Like Like x 1
  20. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2013
    The 14-35 f/2 looks TOO BIG for me. :biggrin: I'm staying with my 14-54 Mk 1 which I got for the bargain price of the 9 BCL lens and cover the 14-35 f/2 with my fast primes. :biggrin:

    Thank you for the comparison.
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