Loving the 12-40mm PRO lens

So the other day I posted about me being irrational and heading out to my local camera shop to purchase the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens. It costs a whopping SGD1200. I still can’t believe that I actually plunked down that amount of money to buy a lens. I just can’t.

So what compelled me to go out there and get a second lens for my month-old camera? One word: Internet.

I have been researching and reading up on the Olympus line of professional lenses on the web, particularly the 12-40mm PRO lens. Since then, I have scoured the Internet, going through site after site after site, and I have heard nothing but absolute praises about it. There aren’t many PRO lens made by Olympus, especially zoom lenses. The more I read about it, the more severely tempted I am to get one as a worthy upgrade to my current 12-150mm kit lens.

The kit lens is amazing. There is really nothing wrong with it. At an effective zoom range of 10.5X, it’s a very versatile lens for street photography. You can take landscape and portrait shots without having to change lenses for specific purposes. Sure, you can’t beat prime lenses, as they are superior in terms of image quality and sharpness, but for lenses on the go, the kit lens is perfect for travelling. Because it’s an all rounder lens, the image quality and the ability to take bokeh shots are average at best. The bokeh shots are particularly challenging and can only be applied to certain situations. It’s possible, but difficult. It has a variable aperture range of f4-5.6. That’s not exactly ideal for smooth, creamy bokeh shots. But like I said, outdoor street photography is fine and the image quality is more than good enough for a casual user. In fact, at its average price of around SGD700 for the lens, it’s a pretty good deal when it comes with weatherproofing design coupled with a long zoom range. Plus, it’s lightweight, without feeling ‘plastiky’ cheap.

But I need something more, something that would give me the extra ‘oomph’ to the picture I take using my camera. I need a lens that would blow my socks off. I need to be able to see a picture that I took, and say, ‘Wow, this picture is giving me them ‘feels’!” And so off to the World Wide Web to research about possible lens upgrade that might suit my needs, particularly the kinds of photography that I would most likely be taking more often.

And so, after extensive reading on the different lens type Olympus has on offer and carefully weighing my needs, I eventually settled on the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens. To Olympus’s credit, there aren’t that many PRO zoom lens with a fixed aperture, and so it was a pretty easy choice to begin with. The challenge however, was the cost. Once I settled on the lens that would suit my needs, my next question was, “Am I willing to spend that much money on a lens?”

The 12-40mm PRO lens costs about SGD1200. It is a significant investment and costs almost as much as the camera body itself! I have never owned a PRO lens (equivalent to a “L” line of lenses offered by Canon, denoting “Luxury”). Even back in the days when I owned a Canon DSLR, “L” lenses were way out of my league. I have never owned an “L” lens before. Fast forward 7 years, and here I am, and despite owning Olympus Micro Four Thirds now, rather than a DSLR, owning a PRO lens is as good as owning an “L” lens from Canon. From the reviews that I have read and watched, it is filled with nothing but overwhelming praises from its construction quality, to the level of sharpness and autofocus speed. Initially, I can’t help but sometimes think that it is just too good to be true. There is a slight chance that my expectations for this lens is exceedingly high. I might be disappointed by its actually performance after spending SGD1200.

 

Last Sunday, after deliberating carefully on whether I should get the PRO lens, I nervously entered the camera store, and started enquiring about the lens. I caught the eye of one of the salesperson in the store and when he heard that I wanted to enquire about the PRO lenses, his eyes immediately lit up. Suddenly, I was treated like a VIP, ushering me to a quite spot so that he could have enough space to showcase his wares. The VIP treatment felt as if I was entering a high end boutique store and was about to buy 10 Rolex watches in cold hard cash. The most reassuring thing is that he wasn’t pushy about it. I patiently sat on a stool, while he lifted the box containing the lens from the cabinet behind him. It was all black, designed just like the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II camera body that I bought a month prior. As he slowly unboxed to reveal the lens contained within, he chatted with me and asked if I knew anything about the lens. I told him that I read good things about it and went on to mention the finer qualities of the PRO lens. He seemed to agree on what I said and mentioned that indeed it is a very popular lens among Olympus Micro Four Thirds users. He said that it performs just as well as a prime lens and with the added benefit of a zoom lens, this is a worthy upgrade for anyone who wants to take beautiful street photography shots.

As the bubble wrap gave way protecting the motherlode, I was immediately struck by its design. It’s beautiful. And the construction quality is top notch. The all-metal construction gave it a hefty feel to it when I held it. The diameter of the lens is bigger than the kit lens. When attached to the camera body, the entire set-up is absolutely rock solid. I really couldn’t stop admiring the lens. It is that beautiful.

 

I had the chance a couple of days later to test my newly purchased 12-40mm PRO lens. I headed to the Gardens by The Bay, specifically the Flower Dome where they had the special Tulips exhibit as part of a themed showcase for 2015. So what’s my verdict after spending 3 hours there and taking more than 600 shots of tulips and various flowers on display? Two words: Absolutely stunning.

I was shooting non-stop throughout my time there, taking pictures of flowers from all over the world as well as the main showcase, tulips. Wild colours ranging from whites to reds, oranges and purples were plentiful everywhere and the lens just captured everything with ease. Sunlight was plentiful, yet not harsh, as I went in the morning just after 9am, and with the domed glass shutting out some of the light, it was a perfect day to be out there shooting with my brand new lens. Autofocusing was blazingly fast on the PRO lens, and it managed to focus on the intended subject successfully in most cases. But the highlight of it all, has got to be the amount of bokeh I can get out of this lens. Soft, creamy bokeh is made possible using the PRO lens. It is  the first time I ever used one that made bokeh shots so easy.

I went to Gardens by The Bay on foot. Setting out from Bayfront MRT, out to Marina Bay Sands and to the overhead bridge connecting the hotels and The Gardens. It was my first time setting out on foot to the Flower Dome. I was impressed with the bridge connector, as it offered amazing views of the MBS and the The Gardens. The walk was pleasant, and there weren’t many people about in the morning, especially on weekdays, with the exception of tourists milling around. It was easy to reach the Flower Dome, with lots of signs that direct you to your destination. I did not explore the outdoor areas of The Gardens much, as I was more focused on getting to the Flower Dome early and hopefully before a throng of tourists arrive. But as I arrived, I was quite surprised by the lack of it. This made my photo taking session much more pleasant. I have made a mental note to explore The Gardens in depth at a later time, since I noticed some interesting themes and foliage that could be picture worthy. But at that time I wasn’t in the mood to sweat it out. The sun was already up and it as already getting warmer by the minute. I was more inclined to head to the cool greenhouse of the Flower Dome, so that I could spend more time shooting tulips.

With this lens, it was definitely the most pleasant photo session I have ever done. The lens truly delivered on it’s promises and those reviews that I read on the web were not exaggerating about how well this lens could perform. With it’s top notch construction quality, this will be the lens that would stay on the camera body from now on. Despite its rather short zoom range 12-40mm as compared to 14-150mm, I feel that it can still deliver as a lens for street photography. 12-40mm feels quite decent enough to take most shots, you just need to make the effort to get closer to your subjects rather than just simply relying on the zoom range to get your intended shot. Now I can take beautiful portrait shots with nice bokeh as the background with ease. Night photography also just got a little bit easier, now that the f stop is down to 2.8, allowing more light to enter through.

I have taken pictures of flowers, which is pretty easy, since they don’t move and they are outdoors under bright light. Now I can’t wait to push this lens to its limits, like taking night or indoor shots with low light settings, and in other situation, especially while on holidays, capturing previous moments using excellent camera gear.

 

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