When you search for a high-quality lens for Micro Four Thirds, it’s hard to avoid the PRO series from Olympus (now OM System). And in terms of a standard, midrange zoom, one of the best lenses is the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO. Unlike f/2.8 lenses, the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 fits its useful range of focal lengths (24-90mm full-frame equivalent) into a very light, 254 gram (0.56 pound) package.
If you shoot Micro Four Thirds, is this lens right for you? Read on to find out!
The Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO is a well-built lens with a metal mount. The focus ring turns smoothly, and it feels like a solid hunk of glass. It is also weather-sealed, so when combined with a weather-sealed camera like the Panasonic G9 or the Olympus OM-1, you can be a pretty confident that it won’t be damaged by the elements.
The external zoom mechanism is less smooth than I would have liked, especially for a lens that costs $699. It makes a bit of a sound when extended, and I feel like it’s a little less smooth than some lenses that cost half as much. External zoom lenses in general are not my preference, although it’s hard to avoid them in this range of focal lengths.
The autofocus of this lens is decent, but not instantaneous. I did however test this lens on a Panasonic G9, which has only depth-from-defocus (DFD) rather than phase-detect autofocus (PDAF), so I may not have truly experienced what this lens can do. In any case, I have other Micro Four Thirds lenses that focus a bit faster.
The f/4 aperture of this lens allows it to focus in fairly dark conditions, but it’s not on the level of f/2.8 glass. There have been times, especially when taking after-sunset landscapes, when I have focused it manually because I felt the autofocus system struggle a little.
The autofocus is quiet, though. According to its product page, it is described as having a “Movie & Still Compatible (MSC) autofocus system [that] benefits both photo and video applications due to its smooth, quiet, and fast performance.”
I think this statement is mostly correct, except that its autofocus motor does make a very quiet pulsing sound, which is definitely louder than the “plastic fantastic” Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6 R. This sound can be picked up by a camera’s microphone or an on-camera shotgun mic. Arguably, these are not the best audio solutions in any case, but it’s something to keep in mind.
As with most mirrorless lenses and cameras, I have had no problem with AF accuracy except when the camera failed to focus due to insufficient light.
This lens is sharp, albeit with some caveats. The center sharpness is excellent, and the edge sharpness is, for the most part, good. For landscapes, I really cannot complain.
But the difference between the center and the corners of this lens becomes much more apparent when focusing closely on flat subjects.
Moreover, because this lens has a very nice 0.25x maximum magnification, you can indeed get very close using this lens. This is useful for wide-angle wildlife photography like the kind done by Nicholas, my fellow writer at Photography Life.
Let’s take a look at some tests of close-focus performance. Check out my first test at 14mm:
You can see that the center is sharp wide open, but the corner suffers significantly, and this is replicated along a significant part of the edge as well. Stopping down helps, but not that much. A similar story occurs at 18mm:
Again, there is excellent center sharpness, but relatively weak corner and edge sharpness. I will show you one more test at 36mm, but suffice to say, this lens performs similarly at all focal lengths:
This problem is exacerbated by field curvature. I noticed immediately that when the lens is focused perfectly on the corners, the center was out of focus. This effect is obviously more noticeable with such a flat subject close to the lens.
Is this a problem? It depends on what you shoot. For close-up photography, you’ll have a hard time getting sharp corners. Certainly for something like photographing flat artwork, it would be a bad choice. But the corner sharpness improves dramatically as you focus further away, so this lens remains an excellent choice for landscape photography.
Distortion and Other Optical Features
At wider focal lengths, this lens has Distortion with a capital D. At 12mm, you can see an immense amount of barrel distortion:
This distortion continues into the longer focal lengths but is not as severe, and in any case, it is easily corrected if your post-processing software has a lens profile. There is also some vignetting that doesn’t seem particularly severe when uncorrected.
I found that this lens handled flare and ghosting very well, and it also produces reasonably good sunstars.
The Olympus 12-45mm f/4’s bokeh is decent, but not outstanding. It has seven rounded aperture blades, but not all rounded blades are created equal. Although the bokeh circles are nice and don’t look too wonky, they are never really circular, and retain their heptagonal shape throughout the aperture range. Therefore, although this lens can function as a nice portrait lens, it is not going to make the background look as pleasing as a dedicated portrait prime.
Alternatives for Micro Four Thirds
There are several potential alternatives to the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO for Micro Four Thirds. I’ll go through some of the best options that have most or all of the 12-45mm’s range.
The first is the older Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. Although this lens has a similar optical quality, it is heavier at 382 g /0.84 lbs and more expensive at $999 (at least when it’s not on sale). It also does not have quite as long of a focal length on the telephoto end. For most photographers, I would recommend the Olympus 12-45mm f/4. However, if you often shoot indoors or in low light, the f/2.8 aperture will be helpful, and it would be the better choice.
There is also the Olympus 8-25mm f/4 PRO. This one is heavier still at 411 g / 0.9 pounds, but its main advantage is the extra 4mm at the wide end, which is a difference of 22.9 horizontal degrees. That’s absolutely huge for landscapes. On the other hand, the 12-45mm range is much more useful for most occasions such as events, where 25mm is a little short for portraits. In short, the Olympus 8-25mm f/4 is more of a landscape specialist option, but it could make sense if you already have a good telephoto.
The Olympus 12-100mm f/4 PRO is another lens that has even more versatility and surprisingly high sharpness throughout its zoom range. However, it is heavy and almost twice as expensive as the 12-45mm f/4. I would still consider it because it covers such a long zoom range that it could replace a dedicated telephoto in your bag! The target audience is probably travel photography, but landscape photographers should give it a close look too, because landscapes with longer focal lengths can be very compelling.
The final lens I must mention is the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7. Although it is a bit more limited at the long end, it has an amazingly bright aperture of f/1.7, and from all the lab-tests I have seen, this is the sharpest of all the lenses on this list with amazing corner performance. Yes, it is the most expensive and has a more limited zoom range, but it is one of my dream lenses that I would buy if I used this focal range more frequently.
Considering those options, I believe that the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO strikes one of the best balances for Micro Four Thirds shooters today. It’s one of the lighter and less expensive midrange zooms, while still having very good image quality with the one exception of corner sharpness at close focusing distances (not an area that most photographers will care about).
The Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO has excellent performance and should be more than enough for almost every application including landscape, portrait, and even wide-angle widlife (assuming the wildlife doesn’t want to eat you). I do wish it was a bit sharper in the corners for close-up shots, but for most of what I want to do with this lens, it’s not a problem.
It is also priced more reasonably than some more impressive lenses, so I would say the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 should be one of the first lenses you consider for Micro Four Thirds if you are looking for a standard zoom. Have you tried this lens? Let me know in the comments what you think about it!
Where to Buy
You can buy the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO lens at B&H Photo. Moreover, by buying this lens through our affiliate link, you help support our efforts to bring you independent and trustworthy gear reviews!
Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO
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