Olympus 12–100mm f/4 Pro Lens
Tuesday 25 July 2017 — Category: Equipment
For the vast majority of the pictures I take, I use two professional-level workhorse Panasonic lenses: a 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens (24-70mm equivalence) and its big brother, a 35-100mm f/2.8 zoom lens (70-200mm equivalence). I became so disappointed with the performance of the consumer-level Panasonic 100-300mm zoom lens that I don’t even use it anymore.
During a photo outing I might switch between the 12-35mm and 35-100mm dozens of times. This wastes valuable time, during which I might miss my shot. It can also be a bit cumbersome to access the other lens in my photo backpack. And changing lenses so often allows dust to accumulate on the lens glass and inside the camera, which can have a negative impact on image quality.
So I sat up and took notice when Olympus announced their 12-100mm f/4 Pro lens (24-200mm equivalence) in mid-September 2016. It could be so great to have just a single lens with the same focal length range as my two pro lenses combined.
Back in August 2016 I went on a photo walk in Portland led by a couple of Olympus employees and co - sponsored by Pro Photo Supply. Throughout the event I shot with an Olympus 12 – 40 mm f/2.8 Pro lens which I had borrowed from one of the leaders. I had already decided a few years before that I have no interest in buying that lens, but it was still fun to try it out.
Almost four months later one of the same Olympus reps, Ray Acevedo, was hanging out at Pro Photo Supply for a Mirrorless Weekend event which included the opportunity to try out their equipment. So I went to Portland to check out the 12-100mm in person. In the photo to the right, Ray (in blue on the left) was helping another customer while I took the lens for a spin.
It would have been nice if I could have taken the lens outside for a couple of hours, but of course that just wasn’t possible. Standing right where I was, I took a total of eight pictures within three minutes.
My first impression was that it was significantly larger and heavier than my 35-100mm, which is the bigger of my two pro lenses. Doing the math I calculated that the 12-100mm is 54% larger than my 35-100mm and 56% heavier, making my smallish OM-D E-M5 feel somewhat front-heavy and unbalanced.
In the chart to the right I have marked in red the largest value for each spec. You can see that the 12-100mm has a lot more in common with my 100-300mm lens than with my 35-100mm.
When Ray asked for my thoughts about the 12-100mm, I mentioned the much larger size and weight compared to my 35-100mm. He replied that it was smaller and lighter than my 12-35mm and 35-100mm combined, while covering the same focal length range. Compared to those two lenses together, the 12-100mm is about 16% lighter and 12% smaller. Not a huge difference, but still beneficial.
I told him that his statement was true, but that since I have only one lens at a time on the camera, the significant size and weight increase compared to my 35-100mm could still be an issue. He agreed that that was true as well.
Another negative aspect of the 12-100mm is the f/4 maximum aperture compared to f/2.8 on my two pro lenses. This is only a one-stop difference, but in low-light situations that one stop could make or break the shot. On the other hand, because of the very shallow depth of field at f/2.8, I rarely shoot at that setting. In fact, I usually don’t even shoot as wide open as f/4. So in the end, this limitation would be a problem only in uncommon situations.
Before I move on to the positive points, I’ll mention the last negative: the price. While $1,300 is probably a fair price for a lens of this quality, it is still $1,300 that I don’t really have for indulging in such a purchase. And it will probably be some years before the price drops significantly.
The main selling point of the Olympus 12-100mm is the large focal length range and the high-quality pro build. It would be so wonderful to keep the same lens on my camera for an entire outing instead of continually switching lenses. For that convenience I would be willing to live with some of the negative aspects (except the cost!).
As you can see in this next picture of an Olympus 60 mm macro lens (which I own), the 12-100mm has a fairly small minimum focusing distance. At this level of magnification, it could pinch-hit as a pseudo-macro lens.
I have been drooling over the 12-100mm for more than nine months now, especially after reading a very positive review or two. But since I was not able to try it out in real-world situations, I don’t know for sure if I would actually like the lens or not. If I could shoot with it on an outing, I might find that it doesn‘t suit me after all, and then I could stop dreaming about owning it one day.
To make this a reality, I am going to rent an Olympus 12-100mm from LensRentals.com for an upcoming multi-day outing. I had first rented a lens from them nearly five years ago, and it was a good experience. In this way I can put the lens through its paces under actual outing conditions, and find out once and for all if the 12-100mm might be in my future. I still have a huge backlog of articles to write, but eventually I will report back about my findings.
BREAKING NEWS — 16 August 2017 — Today the European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) announced their coveted EISA Awards and the Olympus 12-100mm lens was one of the winners. Congratulations to Olympus for creating an award-winning lens! Even if it had not won this award, after using it for a few days this lens is definitely a big winner in my book.
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