Wide zooms (for micro 4/3 cameras) compared

For a brief period of time, I owned three wide zooms that worked well on my Olympus E-M1 body — so I thought I should take the opportunity to compare their performance on a quick walk around a neighborhood park.  Actually writing up this review took a bit of time, and was prompted by an excellent comparison of two of these lenses over on Small Camera Big Picture.

A warning to pixel peepers: what follows is a real-life experiential comparison.

Wide zooms compared

The lenses, as you can see, were the Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 (4/3 system) lens on an MMF-3 adapter, the new Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, and the Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The 12-60 I’ve had for years, the 12-35 was a “gap-filler” purchase (for use while waiting for the 12-40mm to ship), and the 12-40mm my planned go-to lens going forward.

I walked and shot, stopping in a few places for comparison shots at 12mm and (to be fair) 35mm focal lengths in each spot.  All the images were shot hand-held, captured in RAW, and minimally processed identically in Aperture on my iMac.  Setting aside their respective focal length ranges (12-60 obviously being the handiest), I was impressed at how similarly the three performed in the real world.

Oly 12 60  12 lake  Oly 12 40  12 lake  Panny 12 35  12 lake

Shots at 12mm with Sun — 12-60, 12-40, 12-35 (click on each thumbnail for larger version in a new window / tab)

All do a good job of controlling flare, and introduce no unwanted odd colors from the bright intruder.  The 12-40mm seems to be the best of the three at flare control, but the 12-35 is only slightly behind it.  All produce very similar starburst patterns at f/22, but the 12-60‘s is probably the cleanest.

Oly 12 60  35 cabin  Oly 12 40  35 cabin  Panny 12 35  35 cabin

Shots at 35mm — 12-60, 12-40, 12-35 (click on each thumbnail for larger version in a new window / tab)

Going (relatively) tight, all three lenses still produce good images with pleasing tones and no obvious artifacts anywhere.

Oly 12 60  35 silhouette  Oly 12 40  35 silhouette  Panny 12 35  35 silhouette

Silhouettes at 35mm — 12-60, 12-40, 12-35 (click on each thumbnail for larger version in a new window / tab)

In a quick silhouette shot, none of the three lenses produced any obvious CA issues — although I can’t say if the E-M1’s internal processing was helping out in this regard (the camera body performs some lens corrections, but I don’t know if they’re invoked in RAW images).

So this was obviously a quick test, and didn’t involve test patterns or other lab-quality image targets — but given what I’ve seen, all three lenses are comparably good performers in my impromptu comparison.

When it comes to utilitarian factors, you’ve got a mix of things to consider.  All three lenses are weather-sealed — but based on online reports, the Panasonic 12-35mm lens is the weakest in this regard.  The 12-60 with adapter provides the greatest focal length range, but is obviously both the largest and heaviest option, as well as the slowest to focus, and the slowest optically. If you’re using a camera body without built-in stabilization, only the Panasonic 12-35mm lens provides its own image stabilization.  If you were to purchase these new, the 12-60 and adapter would be the most expensive, with the 12-35 a bit cheaper, and the 12-40mm another $100 cheaper still (but there are plenty of gently-used Oly 12-60mm lenses available for much less).

If you are looking for a good “walk-around” lens for a micro 4/3 camera, all three are good options — pick the one that has the best mix of features for you!