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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 292
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Olympus 12-40mm vs. Panasonic 12-35mm
Friday 15 November 2013   —   Category: Equipment
The Olympus 12-​40​mm f/2.8 zoom lens was announced a couple of months ago, but is still not generally available to the public. However, numerous reviewer have gotten their hands on it, with everyone giving it rave reviews at every turn. Many say it is the best Micro Four Thirds zoom lens ever built, even rivaling the quality of prime lenses.

All of this apparently-well-deserved hype has caused me to wonder if I should sell its rival — the Panasonic 12-​35​mm f/2.8, which I bought almost a year and a half ago — and put that money towards the Olympus version.

On one hand, I already own the Panasonic lens, and it cost me a pretty penny — I paid $1,300 when it first came out, even though it is now selling on Amazon for only $1,120. Furthermore, in a camera system where size and weight make a huge difference, the Panasonic lens is better on both counts, with a weight of 305g (10.8 oz), a length of 74mm (2.9 in) and a diameter of 68mm (2.7 in), compared to 382g (13.5 oz), a length of 84mm (3.3 in) and the same diameter for the Olympus lens — an increase of 25% in weight and 13.5% in size.

In addition, if you own a Panasonic camera body without image stabilization, you would definitely want to go with the Panasonic lens, which incorporates image stabilization, instead of the Olympus lens which does not. Because I have the OM-D E-M5, which, like all Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, has built-in image sta­bi­li­za­tion, this is not at all an issue for me. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Therefore, the only reason I would be tempted to ditch my Panasonic lens would be because the new Olympus has vastly superior image quality. In a comparison published yesterday by DxO​Mark.com, their conclusion was that these two lenses have a very similar overall optical quality — as summarized by the charts to the right. (Be sure to click through to the full report.)

Because I already own the Panasonic lens, and because it is smaller and lighter than the Olym­pus offering, and because the image quality be­tween the two lenses is similar, I can’t think of any reason why I would want to switch, which is fine by me. I’m ready to just keep and enjoy what I've already got.

On the other hand, if I didn’t already own the Panasonic lens, and I was shopping for such a lens, there are a number of reasons why I might be tempted to go with the Olympus lens instead:
  • Despite the near-tie in the DxOMark report, the general consensus in the reviews I have read is that the Olympus lens has better im­age quality than the Panasonic.
  • The Olympus lens has a slightly longer max­i­mum focal length, giving it a bit more versatility.
  • The Olympus lens is, at this point, about $120 cheaper.
  • Even though they are both advertized as moisture and dust sealed, the Olympus also claims to be freeze-proof, while the Panasonic does not.
  • The “manual focus clutch” system — like the one on the Olympus 12mm prime I already own — is very nice!
I’m so glad that I don’t have to decide which one to buy, because it would be a really difficult decision for me! If you have come to your own conclusion, be sure to leave a comment below and let us know why you chose one over the other, so we can all benefit from your deliberations.
UPDATE 26 December 2013: I've been reading some recent reports about the Olympus “Pro” 12-​40​mm lens having a mounting plate which can be ripped off the lens without much force! You can find out more by checking out this article on the Mu-43.com Web site and this article on the 4/3 Rumors Web site. Hope­ful­ly these are just some isolated, rare instances and not a general design and manufacturing error on the part of Olympus! Either way, it kind of makes me glad I've stuck with my Panasonic 12-​35​mm.

UPDATE 3 January 2014: Earlier this week Roger Cicala at LensRentals.com published a very in­form­a­tive article which sheds much light on the above-mentioned lens-breaking reports. Be sure to check it out: Assumptions, Expectations, and Plastic Mounts.

UPDATE 6 September 2016: Last month I got to shoot with the Olympus 12-40mm during a photo walk in Portland led by a couple of Olympus employees and co-sponsored by Pro Photo Supply. Check out the best 29 photos in the Portland Mississippi with Olympus 2016 album.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 292
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Reader Comments
On December 27, 2013, Peter Brown wrote:
The Olympus is a better lens overall, especially at the wide end, where it counts. Sharp corners at wide angles is always challenge. Olympus created an excellent lens. You'll have to stop down the Panasonic to f/4 to achieve this level of corner sharpness. That's a stop of light loss. The Panasonic is both lighter and smaller then the Olympus and I think thats a strong argument too. That being said, a good prime is sharper, lets in more light and will probably focus a tad faster then both these zooms.

I wouldn't worry to much about horror stories on the internet. Perfection doesn't exist. Most problems can be solved. If not, just be a little more careful with your camera stuff. I just bought the E-M1. It's an almost perfect camera. Almost, because the thing exhibits shutter shock. That's a 1400 dollar camera. There's always something wrong. I guess we just have to live with that.
 
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 292
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