Yet Another Comparison Review (non-technical) of the Olympus 12-40mm and Panasonic 12-35mm lenses

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by Ray Sachs, Dec 13, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I just recently received a loaner Panasonic 12-35mm zoom lens to directly compare with my Olympus12-40mm zoom lens, which I’ve only had for about a week or so. I have had reasonably extensive experience shooting with the 12-35 in the past so my experience goes beyond the short time I’ve had both available at the same time.

    View attachment 330908
    untitled-4 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    A fair amount has been written about the optical quality of these two lenses. Evidently, under close examination, the 12-35 is very slightly sharper in the center and the 12-40 is a bit more than slightly sharper edge to edge, at pretty much all zoom levels and down to wide open. But all of this is visible in technical lens tests and with serious pixel peeping. But nothing I’d ever see when actually looking at photographs. So, that’s all I’ll say about the technical aspects of the lenses – there are reviews out there to get a lot more technical detail if you want it. To me, the images from both lenses look very nice and these technical differences would not be a deciding factor for me.

    I’d say the real distinguishing features between these lenses come down to four primary differences:

    1. Reach - While 80mm is not a particularly long focal length equivalence, it’s getting into portrait range in a way that 70mm doesn’t. And if you’re looking for a little bit of compression, you can just about achieve that with 80mm, but not really with 70. I’m more of a wide shooter than long, so the effective 24mm at the wide end of both of these lenses means more to me than how long they are. But the extra 5 mm does make a difference and one that might matter a fair amount to some shooters. It makes the 12-40 a somewhat more versatile lens.

    2. OIS – The 12-35 is optically stabilized. The 12-40 is not. I’m shooting with an EM1, which has amazing IBIS and a GX7, which has perfectly adequate IBIS. I’d feel comfortable using either of these lenses with either camera, although the OIS of the 12-35 would probably be more effective than the IBIS system in the GX7, so I might give some weight to this if the GX7 was my only body But the GX7 IBIS is certainly adequate to work with the 12-40. If I had a pre-GX7 Panasonic body, however, I’d rather have stabilization than not, and the 12-35 would be the clear choice on a body with no IBIS. So the body you’re planning to shoot with may have some influence on which lens is a better choice.

    3. Manual Focus Ring – The 12-40 has one of my favorite features on just about any lens – the manual focus clutch ring also found on the Olympus 12 and 17mm (f1.8) lenses and on the Fuji 14 and 23mm lenses. To switch between auto and manual focus with the 12-35, you have to invoke it from the camera, whether from a menu or via a switch (which the EM1 and GX7 both conveniently have). And once in manual focus, the focus ring is purely “by wire” with a very light feel and no end stops or distance information available. The clutch ring on the 12-40 OTOH, both switches the camera to manual focus mode, creates a mechanical feeling focus mechanism (although it’s actually still a “by wire” implementation) with end stops and with a distance scale on the lens barrel. Without such a distance scale, m43 bodies have no way of indicating your focus distance and for zone focus and infinity focus, hyperfocal shooting, etc, this is an invaluable feature. This might not matter for everyone, but for some, this is a big deal. This feature is a big part of making the 12mm Olympus lens one of my favorite lenses ever, in any format and it’s a welcome, if not absolutely critical, feature of the 12-40.

    4. Close Focus / “Macro” – The minimum focus distance is 25cm on the 12-35 and 20cm with the 12-40. This doesn’t sound like a lot. But the reality is a 20cm distance with an effective 80mm lens gets you a whole lot closer than a 25cm distance with an effective 70mm lens. The difference is quite surprising relative to the numbers involved. The following are two “macro” types of shots taken first with the 12-35 at full extension and the closest I could lock focus and the second is the 12-40 at full extension and the closest I could lock focus. Both are shot wide open at f2.8. In both shots, I focused on the word “Church” in the text. You can see a very significant difference in terms of both how close each lens can get and the shallowness of the DOF. I’m not much of a macro shooter and the 12-40 gives me all of the macro capability I need. To the extent that I sold the 60mm macro lens I had once I tried some close shooting with the 12-40. The 60mm gets closer, but the 12-40 gets as close as I ever want.

    View attachment 330909
    12-35 Close Focus by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    View attachment 330910
    12-40 Close Focus by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Other smaller differences involve size and price. Regarding price, the 12-35 started off a lot more expensive than the 12-40, but it’s come down, probably in response to the 12-40, to where the difference is only about $120. Nonetheless, for the 12-40, with seemingly more going for it, to cost LESS than the 12-35, makes it a pretty attractive proposition indeed. In terms of size, the difference between the two lenses doesn’t look like a lot on paper, but the 12-40 looks and feels like a larger lens, and to a notable extent. It’s not like the 12-40 is a huge lens or the 12-35 a particularly small lens, but the difference appears bigger than one might think from looking at the measurements. The weight doesn’t feel much different (although the 12-40 is about 3 oz heavier), but the 12-40 appears notably longer and fatter than the 12-35. This doesn’t make a functional difference, but it makes an aesthetic difference which might matter to some. A seen in the photograph at the top of this post, the 12-40 is larger. As seen below, the 12-35 is almost the identical size to the Olympus 75mm lens, a point of reference that might be useful to some.

    View attachment 330911
    untitled-2-2 by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Both of these lenses are weather resistant. I can vouch for the water-tightness of the 12-40, having shot with it in a driving rainstorm with no protective covering the first night I owned it. I don’t have any experience with the 12-35 in bad weather but I haven’t heard any complaints about it’s weather resistance. I’m mostly a fair weather shooter so this is not a huge factor for me if there is any difference. Recent threads on this forum call into question the build quality of the 12-40 – I don’t know if those concerns have any validity or not – the lens certainly feels sturdy and well made. As does the 12-35. I guess time will tell if build quality is an issue here.

    These are both excellent lenses – fast zooms with a nice wide end and reasonable long end. Both of them are quite good visually if one is arguably better in one way and the other in other ways. For me, personally, the choice of the 12-40 was a pretty easy one. The combination of a lower price (significantly lower with the initial rebate), longer reach, closer focus, and a manual focus ring of the gods makes this an easy call for me. If you have a Panasonic body with no IBIS, however, or if the size of the 12-40 bothers you, I’d have absolutely NO hesitance to strongly recommend the 12-35 as an excellent lens. I don’t think you can go wrong with either, but one or the other might be a better choice for any individual shooter.

    -Ray Sachs
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. mrjr

    mrjr Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 25, 2012
    Thanks, Ray! That's very useful. I'm impressed by the sample of the 12-40's close focusing abilities. That would completely suit me for close focusing needs.

    I'm still a little ways out from buying either lens due to budget, but it's nice to have two such wonderful choices. I'd almost certainly go for the Olympus, even though the size is off-putting.
  3. New Daddy

    New Daddy Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2011
    Nice report.

    GX7 has IBIS, but not in movie shooting. So I'm still leaning towards Panny 12-35mm.
  4. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Right, good point! I'm not even slightly a video shooter so I tend to overlook features that could be important for video but are less so for stills. Thanks for pointing this out...

  5. mister_roboto

    mister_roboto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 14, 2011
    Seattle, WA, USA
    Nice! Thanks for the comparisons.

    I do have the 12-35 with my E-M5. I'd like the extra reach, but it wouldn't be much of a gain for me to switch. If I had a camera body that was also freeze proof I'd be tempted. Although I also got my 12-35 used for $800 :thumbup:
  6. robbie36

    robbie36 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 25, 2010
    rob collins
    For some reason the Panasonic 12-35 is particularly expensive in the US (maybe Europe as well.) Here in Thailand it is about US$200 cheaper than a stand alone Olympus 12-40. I see at Amazon Japan there is also a similar price difference.
  7. shutterduster

    shutterduster Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 8, 2013
    Keremeos, BC. Canada
    Dave T
    Now this is a lens review

    Thanks for such a well thought out review (comparison :) .
    Too many of us are worried about the PIXEL PEEPING to really think about the package as a whole.

    I really appreciate the brand neutrality.

    Good work
    Dave T
  8. denniscloutier

    denniscloutier Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 24, 2011
    Vancouver, BC
    For some reason Panasonic is much more expensive in Canada than in the US. Oly prices are the same in both countries, but this lens costs us $100 more than in the US. On most lenses the % difference is more than that. Panasonic's pricing is weird.
  9. snaimpally

    snaimpally Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 31, 2012
    Thanks for your always thoughtful insights. I had been eyeing the Pan 12-35mm as they can be had used for around $800, but when the Oly 12-40mm came out I have held off. Oly has been offering various deals in which the 12-40mm can be had for $800 when bought with a new Oly camera body so I am waiting for them to discount the lens itself (or offer refurbs) for $800. Looks to be well worth the money compared to the 12-50mm.
  10. JeanLucX

    JeanLucX Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 3, 2013
    Thanks for a such great review. I also purchased the 12-40 for its semi-macro capability but I would like to point out another advantage of the Olympus 12-40 lens and it is the affordable extended warranty. Olympus offers 4 years extended warranty for only 60 dollars which Panasonic doesn't currently offer, I know warranty might be seem important to most people but I would feel a lot more comfortable knowing my expensive lens is covered for a reason period of time.
  11. sonicxpx

    sonicxpx Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 25, 2013
    HCMC, Vietnam
    Linh Vo
    Nice report mate.

    I bought 12-40mm for US$870 in Vietnam to use with EM5. They split it from EM1 box and sold them separately: $1450 for the body and $2320 for body with 12-40mm. So the price for 12-40mm is much cheaper than 12-35mm (used) in here.
  12. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    Thanks for the review, very informative but somewhat feel outdated about the durability of the 12-40mm regarding the infamous 12-40mm oly OUCH thread?
  13. seonsalaisuus

    seonsalaisuus Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 19, 2013
    That is a huge difference.... I would prefer the 12-35mm cos smaller size, but damn... I didnt know the difference in minimum focusing distance is so big... decisions decisions.. buying 12-35mm would give me more reasons to buy real macro lens :)
    Im strugling between these two lenses. Could you take example photo that shows the difference between 35mm and 40mm ??

    in Finland 12-35mm is about 200€ (~275 american dollars) more expensive than 12-40mm
  14. Your Funny Uncle

    Your Funny Uncle Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 12, 2013
    York, UK.
    Thanks for this comparison. I think I'd've found it very useful had I not got the 12-40 in a kit with my E-M1. I know I'd've been in the market for one of them. The 16-50/2.8 was the main workhorse lens on my old A77. As you say it's nice to have that little bit of extra reach with the Oly, and I agree that the manual focus ring is a joy to use, especially with focus peaking turned on in the E-M1.
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
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  16. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Interestingly, both the EM1 and GX7 seem to behave more intelligently with the focus ring on this lens than they do with the 12 or 17 with the same type of mechanism. With the 12-40, both peaking and magnification come on automatically as soon as I pull back the ring. With the 12 and 17, I have to turn each on with the menus or fn button. On the GX7, both come on automatically with the 12-40 but only peaking comes on with the other two - I suspect I just had peaking already turned on but with the 12-40, both come on automatically.

  17. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I suspect 99.9% of the 12-40 lenses out there will still be shooting loooooong after that thread dies. But if it keeps going the way it has been, the lens may have been replaced and m43 may have expired as a format before that damn thing dies down. The most DPR like thread I've seen around here in a long while. I've read just enough of it to know what it's about and every now and then see it's still going and check to see if there's any new information. But, nope, just more pissing and moaning while most of us who have one are out shooting with it...

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  18. tje53

    tje53 Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    May 18, 2013
    When I click on the pics above, using my iPad, the Flickr page says this photo is private. That happens sometimes and not other times. Can anybody tell me why? (I assume the photos are not actually private.) Thanks.

    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
  19. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    No, they actually are private. I take a fair number of product demonstration shots like these and use Flickr as a host from which to post them to sites like this. But I also have my "REAL" photography in there and I don't want people visiting my Flickr page to keep tripping over these shots - I want them to see the stuff meant for public consumption. Making these private allows me to put them there (and I still have to see them when I see my Flickr page - wish I could turn THAT off and hide them from myself) and show them here without people looking at my photography getting snagged by them. If I was demonstrating something that could only be seen at a 100% crop, I'll generally produce a 100% crop and make it private too...

  20. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Oct 28, 2013
    Thanks so much Ray for taking the time out to give your thoughts on these two lenses. Really enjoyed your write up :)
    Your point about macro focussing is something that I hadn't even considered with the 12-40. You may well have just saved me a few hundred quid on a 60mm Oly!
    I've tried both lenses myself on an E-M1. One difference I noticed between the two lenses is that the 12-40 looks to render more microcontrast - I shot a quick side by side of the two lenses on an E-M1, so nothing massively conclusive, and perhaps there was a little 'help' from the TruePic VII stuff going on in the background I'm not sure. But the OOC jpegs looked sharper for sure with the 12-40 - maybe worth mentioning if you intend to shoot primarily in JPEG and trust the OOC - A pan body will probably cook in additional sharpness when mated with a Pan lens and vice versa with an Oly lens on an Oly body. Most people won't shoot Jpeg only with this level of gear though.
    Actually an interesting thing worth trying if you have the DXO trial or Capture one is to go into DXO and turn off lens corrections - It looks like there is a lot more distortion correction going on with the Pan which probably explains why you found the Pan to be not as sharp in the corners.
    In the centre I didn't really notice a difference in sharpness personally. Some focal lengths the Pan was very slightly better and some the Oly was sharper. I did prefer the overall rendering from the Oly myself, it just looked to be cleaner, have a bit more contrast, render fine details that bit nicer and I definitely preferred the out of focus. I mean really when you get to this level you are splitting hairs as both are top class lenses, but I guess when you are spending over 1000 dollars on a lens you are entitled to nit pick. I'd be happy with either in my kit and wouldn't sell one for the other. But starting out, given the choice, I thought the Oly was just on another level.
    I just hope that they take the same approach to their 40 - 150. That's a very large range to cover and optical sacrifices will have to be made to compromise across the range. I suspect that the Pan 35-100 will give better results within that focal range. But let's see how that turns out...
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