I’ve recently rediscovered micro four-thirds cameras and lenses. For some time, I migrated away from micro four-thirds to larger sensor cameras as the prices of mirrorless bodies from the likes of Sony, Nikon, Fuji and Canon had come down, and the cameras themselves had become more competent and easier to use. Even though micro four-thirds cameras were the first mirrorless cameras on the market, they started falling behind the competition.
The experience has been so much fun that I’ve gone out and bought two micro four-thirds cameras to add to my collection. I can’t wait to dive back into the system!
Olympus knows how to make quality lenses. Like the others in the PRO line before it, the 12-100mm f/4 is beautifully designed. It’s made out of metal, is well sculpted and put together with laser like precision.
It’s Gucci meets Porsche level of design and quality.
Because it’s metal, it comes in at a rather hefty 1.23 pounds, which is on the plus size side for a micro four-thirds lens. Which makes sense, given the breadth of its focal range. The zoom ring is grippy, tight and also well dampened, yet somehow rotates fluidly with a nice level of resistance. It almost sounds like it’s under pressure and the lens is letting out air as it extends and retracts.
The focus ring is also smooth and moves unimpeded with the slightest bit of resistance. One of the great things Olympus has succeeded in doing across the PRO line of zoom lenses is the fantastic implementation of the focus ring clutch mechanism for manual focus. Even though these lenses are fly-by-wire, manual focus works as if it were an old school analog lens, there’s a proper focus distance meter which is ideal for video shooters who like to use manual focus.
It’s a lesson in implementation that I wish Sony would learn and incorporate into their lenses and camera bodies.
The optical formula is a complex 17 elements arranged in 11 groups. Included in that formula are one double-sided aspherical element and three aspherical elements (for improved sharpness with reduced distortion). There are five extra-low dispersion elements, two Super HR (high-refractive index) elements and one HR element (used to control chromatic aberrations and color fringing for greater clarity and color fidelity).
There’s also something Olympus calls “Z” coating and “Z Coating Nano,” which are applied to individual lens elements to noticeably reduce surface reflections and prevent lens flare and ghosting. This leads to improved contrast and color neutrality in strong lighting conditions. It all sounds impressive.
The aperture ranges from f/4 to f/22 throughout the entire zoom range and speaking of the aperture, and there are 7 rounded aperture blades for decent out-of-focus bokeh rendering. That said, this is not the kind of lens you’re gong to purchase for it’s out-of-focus bokeh rendering.
The 12-100mm also has lens stabilization that works in conjunction with a stabilized OM-D body to give us a sublime 6.5 stops of image stabilization — that’s amazing! Additionally, Olympus has some of the best weather sealing in the business, and the 12-100mm is weather sealed for extreme environments.
On the downside, the only thing can come up with is it’s a bit on the heavy side, which frankly, is understandable given its vast focal range.
Autofocus and manual focus
Outfitted with Olympus’s MSC — Movie and still compatible AF system — autofocus in both video and stills is fast, silent and stunningly accurate. With the latest camera bodies — I’ve been using the 12-100mm on the Panasonic Lumix G9 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II — autofocus is decisive and laser accurate.
The minimum focus distance at 12mm is just under six inches, which does give the lens some value as a macro lens.
Though it’s really fast, at times it will hunt a bit on low contrast subjects, meaning it will jackhammer about before it latches on. Fortunately, it happens so fast that it’s unlikely you’ll miss the shot.
Continuous AF in video is smooth without a lot of jumping around on both the G9 and OM-D E-M1 Mark II. However, in video I noticed continuous AF was a bit more consistent and less “jackhammery” on the E-M1 Mark II than the G9.
You have to hand it to Olympus — they’ve done the most amazing job of squeezing out optically incredible lenses for the micro four-thirds system. The 12-100mm is no exception, it’s optically superb throughout the zoom range, which is a feat in and of itself. I’m getting tack, tack sharp images wide-open from 12mm all the way to 100mm.
One notable drawback, if you’re a “boekeh-aholic,” then you may find the 12-100 a bit of a letdown. In full-frame terms, the 12-100mm has a equivalent field of view of 24-200mm, but it also has the equivalent depth of field of an f/8 lens wide-open. So you’re not going to be dazzled by the out of focus bokeh rendering.
Nonetheless, the bokeh is pretty decent in spite of equivalent narrow aperture and wider depth of field. The out of focus bokeh rendering gets better as you get physically closer to your subject. It is possible to get some nice bokeh if you zoom all the way to 100mm and take advantage of the lens’s close minimum focus distance by getting really close to your subject, but it’s unlikely the core reason why you would buy or the way you would use this lens.
Because of the in body lens corrections of micro four-thirds cameras, vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberrations are all well controlled and won’t hinder your images in any meaningful way. Lastly, unlike most zooms, my results seemed to be the sharpest wide-open at f/4.
I think this is a bit tricky — especially for a lens that retails new for $1299 — because what we have here is an outstanding general purpose lens. It’s outstanding at being really good at just about everything, but it’s also simultaneously a master of nothing in particular, which unfortunately makes the lens kind of boring.
The images are sharp and crisp, colors are accurate and vivid … but they’re just not all that artistic. I prefer to isolate my subjects and I love bokeh. Because we are limited to f/4, it’s really not the best lens for low light shooting either, even with the amazing image stabilization from Olympus’s latest camera bodies. Even if the camera is stabilized, image stabilization alone can’t compensate for subject movement.
If you’re the kind of photographer who loves bokeh, it’s likely that you won’t like this lens when compared to your traditional portrait type lenses and you may be better served with a more conventional portrait lens like the 17mm f/1.2 PRO, 45mm f/1.2 PRO or the 25mm f/1.2 PRO.
The last thing to consider is the price, a list of price of $1299 is a bit stiff for an f/4 zoom on micro four-thirds. But if you want a quality general purpose lens that covers a wide focal range with great results in spite of it’s inherent compromises, then the 12-100mm is a great value.
- Focal Length: 12mm – 100mm
- Aperture Range: F/4 – f/22
- Aperture Blades: 7 rounded
- Elements/Groups: 17/11
- Size: 3.05 x 4.59″ / 77.5 x 116.5 mm
- Weight: 1.23 Lbs (561 Grams)
- Field of View: 84° to 12°
- Awesome build quality and weather sealing
- Tack, tack sharp images throughout the zoom range
- Versatile — it covers a very wide focal range
- IS with an OM-D body gives an amazing 6.5 stops of image stabilization
- Price (list price $1299)
- Not designed for low light shooting
- If you shoot portraits, or crave shallow depth of field, you may want to look elsewhere