When I first received the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4 PRO lens for review, I was a bit perplexed. Who was this lens really for? But after using the lens for a few weeks now in various shooting environments, I have to say that the 12-45mm lens is perfect for travel photographers, as well as anyone looking for an ultra compact lens.

Not to be overshadowed by its older cousin, the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, the 12-45mm holds its own. And side-by-side, you can see why. The 12-45mm certainly takes inspiration from the 12-40mm, featuring very similar looks, just in a smaller casing. The 12-40mm is one of Olympus’ bestselling lenses, as it has premium glass and great performance.

Photo by Daniel Sak

Why a 12-45mm?

If you’ve ever used any of Olympus’ PRO lenses, you’ve come to expect certain features like advanced weather sealing and fast apertures. It’s no different with the 12-45mm, despite its small footprint.

The lens looks and feels just like a smaller 12-40mm lens. How often have you packed your camera bag for a trip only to realize you have to leave that specialty lens behind because you’re out of room in your bag? The 12-45mm is SMALL. If you have an E-M10 or E-M5 system, it’s a perfect companion. It’s a great all-purpose lens and can easily replace the 12-40mm or 12-100mm f/4 PRO on your next vacation.

It’s also a great street photography option. While Olympus’ PRO lenses are smaller than full-frame equivalents, they’re still not exactly compact compared to other micro four-thirds lenses on the market. The 12-45mm, given its smaller footprint, is less obtrusive and less noticeable. It’s a great lens to pair with Olympus’ f/1.8 primes.

It’s also great for those looking to save a few bucks. The new 12-45mm retails for just $649, compared to $849 (on sale) for the 12-40mm.

Performance

While in Costa Rica, I used the lens at a local market. Even at f/4, the bokeh was nice and smooth, with the primary subject being perfectly sharp.

Back at home, I took the lens on a photowalk around my local city of Grand Rapids. As a street lens, the lens was fast and provided me the flexibility to photograph from across the street if I had to. Attached to the E-M5 Mark III, the lens was nondescript and I was never questioned about taking photos.

Compared to the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

While I’ve already stated the new 12-45mm is smaller than the 12-40mm, I was interested to see how the lenses compared in terms of what they were able to capture.

The 12-40mm also has a maximum magnification of 0.5x, compared to 0.3x on the 12-40mm. It also has 12 elements in 9 groups instead of 14. But how do they compare in real-world usage?

For the below photographs, I used an E-M1 Mark III camera and set the image settings to the exact same for each lens — 12mm, f/8, 1/80s and ISO 200. These photos are straight out camera with no edits.

As you can see, both lenses are very clear, and very similar in terms of picture quality. Between the two of them, the 12-45mm has a slight bulge in the center of the lens, creating just a slight bit of distortion, causing for edges that were not as straight as the 12-40mm. However, as I zoomed in at the edges, the 12-45mm was slightly sharper.

Oddly enough, the 12-45mm also photographed a bit darker, and therefore provided more details in the highlights. At first I thought this was due to a cloud overhead, but in comparing multiple photographs taken within less than a minute of each other, I believe this to be the optics.

Regardless, both lens performed very well, and contained zero chromatic aberration (which has been a common problem with this location). Obviously the big difference is the 12-40mm having the ability to open up to f/2.8, making for better performance in low-light situations. Because of this, the 12-40mm also provides a more shallow depth of field, though you can work around this limitation by zooming in or moving your feet.

Final thoughts

All in all, the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO lens is a great option for photographers looking for something smaller and more compact. If you’re a travel or street photographer, this can fit into your arsenal quite well. The 12-45mm f/4 PRO lens retails for $649, and is currently available for preorder.