M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO Review
Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4
The M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO is an extremely compact and lightweight constant-aperture zoom. It is the lightest such lens with a zoom greater than 3X and the only to cover a general purpose wide-to-telephoto focal-range. Accounting for the 2X Crop-Factor of Micro Four-Thirds, this zoom is equivalent to a 24-90mm lens on a Full-Frame camera or a 16-60mm on APS-C. The most similar lens is the Fujifilm XF 16-80mm F/4R OIS WR
Fujifilm Fujinon XF 16-80mm F/4R OIS WR which weighs 440g compared to a mere 254g for the M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO.
Given its focal-length and a maximum F/4 aperture across its zoom range, the M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO is a performance general purpose lens. Its maximum 84° angle-of-view is sufficiently wide for landscape and architectural photography, while it can also handle portraits with its flattering 27° minimal field-of-view. The exceptional optical design of this lens affords it a maximum 0.5X magnification. While technically not a true macro, that is what many third-party manufacturers call their lenses with the same magnification factor. This adds a good amount of versatility to an already general-purpose lens.
Build & Design
Olympus kept with their high-standard for build quality with the 12-45mm F/4 PRO. A metal lens barrel is just visible at the base of the lens with a silky smooth finish. The lens feels light yet is very solid and fully weatherproof with an weatherproof and freezeproof construction. The diameter is 64mm which is only slightly wider than the Micro Four-Thirds lens mount and 7cm long. It really look diminutive when mounted on a high-end mirrorless. The zoom mechanism is external, extending the lens barrel 2cm when fully zoomed-in.
Mechanics of this lens are top-notch. There is a 25mm thick zoom ring that rotates smoothly yet with enough resistance to prevent zoom-creep. The throw is exactly 90° which makes framing very easy. There is a textured pattern that provides a good grip to turn the zoom-ring. A slimmer 12mm fly-by-wire focus-ring towards the front of the lens rotated extremely smoothly without hard stops. Given its electronic nature, most Olympus cameras can control the direction of rotation to move the focal-plane. When using a standard focusing mode with enabling DMF, the focus-ring is entirely ignored. In DMF or MF mode though, it can automatically trigger MF-Assist to provide a magnified view which helps achieving critical focus.
NOTE While most Olympus PRO lenses feature a unique hybrid focus-ring, the M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO omits in favor of its extremely compact size and light weight. The fly-by-wire focus-ring is very responsive though.
The front of the M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO is threaded for 58mm filters. A bayonet mount attaches the included self-locking petal-type lens hood. Given the hood moves along with the lens barrel, it is mostly effective with the lens near its wide-end. This lens is too small to feature any additional controls. Image-Stabilization provided by the camera on which it is mounted must be controlled on-camera.
Optically, the M.Zuiko 12-45mm F?4 PRO performs extremely well. It shows virtually no distortion except for the slightest amount near to its wide-angle limit. Beyond about 15mm, distortion is completely absent. This also appears remarkably resistent to purple fringing and other chromatic aberrations.
Contrast is excellent throughout the range and the lens features internal coating that minimize flare. Even with light hitting directly the front element, flaring is minimal. The lens hood provides minimal extra protection at wide-angle.
Vignetting is clearly visible at large apertures near wide-angle. Wide open, there is severe darkening in extreme corners but they brighten up quickly stopping down. By F/5.6, illumination is completely uniform. Near the middle of the zoom range, there is a light but noticeable amount amount of vignetting at F/4. Other apertures and longer focal-lengths render images perfectly uniform.
M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO Sharpness
Sharpness from this lens is good and very consistent. Although it does not match the critical sharpness of the 12-40mm F/2.8 PRO, the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO does a great job at rendering details. There is a minor amount of corner softness wide-open at F/4 and stopped down a fraction of a stop. From F/5.6 until the diffraction limit hits at F/9.5, there is good sharpness across the frame.
Central sharpness is good at all combinations of focal-length and aperture, allowing the camera to produce nice medium to intermediate-sized prints, assuming that ISO is kept sufficiently low on-camera to avoid destroying fine details. Diffraction hits gradually between F/9.5 and F/11 which reduces maximum print sizes a little. Anything smaller though really takes its toll on sharpness.
Once zoomed in slightly, there is even a minor overall improvement. It is visible upon close-inspection yet has a minimal impact unless printing near the maximum possible size allowed by the camera sensor. It is quite impressive to see a truly compact lens manage to preserve image sharpness so consistently.
What is shown below are 5 crops taken from a photograph, repeatedly captured for each combination of focal-length and aperture. The smaller pieces are cropped from the extreme corners of the image, while the middle wide crop comes from the center of the image. Select an aperture in a row for a desired focal-length to see the crops from the corresponding image. When judging quality, keep in mind that these crops come from a 16 MP image which is normally used to print an image up to 20x16". On a computer display, these may appear much larger which magnifies image defects.
The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F/4 PRO is one of the most impressive lenses for Micro Four-Thirds due to its combination of high optical performance and incredibly compact size, all while being fully weatherproof and freezeproof. As an added bonus, its powerful 0.5X magnification takes it to another level of versatility. Without a doubt, this lens makes a fantastic general purpose lens for everyone and is a must for Travel Photography.
The choice for most buyers is going to be between the 12-45mm F/4 PRO to combine with a longer lens when needed or the spectacular all-in-one 12-100mm F/4 IS PRO. There is clearly a trade-off between these lenses, given that the 12-45mm F/4 PRO delivers a better optical performance at less than half-the-weight but also half the reach. The main difference is that the 12-45mm F/4 PRO can be taken by itself when weight is crucial.
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