Friday, 28 April 2017

Olympus 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens

I'm addicted to the Olympus MFT platform and my main shooter is an OM-D E-M1 Mk ii, I've written about the beast quite a bit in other articles and won't rabbit on here. I had the opportunity to test drive the new 12-100 f/4 Pro lens over a weekend thanks to the wonderful people at digiDIRECT Melbourne my usual camera store.

Ethics Statement: digiDIRECT loaned me the lens free of charge and have not attempted to influence my test drive results in any way. They have not paid me or offered me any other reward I mention them only because I'm a satisfied customer. All images in this blog article are SOOC (straight out of camera).

The 12-100 f/4 is billed as a great all rounder (well it would be if Olympus marketing people were Aussies) and that it is targeted at the general shooter going on holidays. Retailing for around $1670 that makes for an expensive holiday if you're only going to use it once. If you like the concept of replaceable lenses but are a bit tired of changing them all the time to get the range moving from close up things to distant things then this really is the lens for you. If you like shooting in dubious lighting then again this is the lens for you. There are a few things I'm going to talk about up front. 

Let's start with the disadvantages

I found that the lens mounted on the E-M1 Mk ii was front heavy and until I got used to it did not support my desired one handed shooting position where I suspend the camera from my hand with a hand strap. This would be worse on the lighter Mk i or OM-D E-M5. 

The lens is fairly large for a MFT lens so negates some of the advantages of the small platform, until you realise that in 35mm it's a 24-200 and comes in at only half the size and a third of the weight of an equivalent class lens in the Canon L series.

And now for the good stuff

At a constant f/4 the lens sounds like it might be quite dim, but the reality is its actually a bright and useful lens. Most of the time I actually kept it on f/4 during the evening and ranged into smaller apertures during the brighter day on Sunday. I was achieving great depth of field and the images are bright and lively. 

I used the lens from dusk on Saturday through into darkness then into the day on Sunday. The Saturday light was dull and poor being towards the end of April in Autumn. The light on Sunday was bright strong and contrasty - especially in the lanes where capturing colour and form was challenged by the dynamic range of the light. 

Testing that extra 1.5 stops of IS

During dusk and the evening I was pushing the lens to experience what that extra 1.5 stops of stabilisation gives you and was quite impressed. I don't have steady hands, even when braced I experience blur at anything over a half a second normally from my shakiness which is kind of annoying for someone who just loves to shoot noir street and theatre.

To test out what the lens could do I set up a silly unrealistic test. I found a flat subject on a dark wall in a fairly dimly lit alley and configured for 2 seconds. I crouched at ground level and did not brace myself adding a bit of body unsteady to the already unsteady hands.

Dismal Melbourne 2 seconds hand held f/8 iso 200 lens IS on camera IS on

This isn't the grandest image in the world but it shows well what the lens can do. If I did not have the stabilisation this shot would have been a complete mess. This is hand held at 2 seconds when only about 30cm from the subject which is a tough ask for any lens. So if you think that result wasn't great (granted those ultra sharpies are not going to think so) then lets take a look at the same shot with the lens IS turned off but the body IS turned on (down from 6.5 stops of stabilisation to 5).

Dismal Melbourne 2 seconds hand held f/8 iso 200 lens IS off camera IS on

Well this torture test shows how well that IS is actually doing, so lets make it a bit more realistic now and see how things go let's bring it back to half a second by coming down from f/8 to f/4

0.5 seconds hand held f/4 iso 200 lens IS on camera IS on

At half a second we've got a wonderful crisp colourful vibrant image from dull light, unbraced shooting for half a second. Let me say that again, half a second. I could not even think about doing that with my old Canon 5d Mk ii - I'd be lucky to get a clean shot with IS turned on at 1/6th with that thing. This result is quite amazing. Even the sharpies should be impressed with this one. I need to say it again, half a second.

Is there a down side of this sort of exposure? Of course there is, if you're trying to capture an evening street scene then forget about people, those bastards move. 

34mm `1/6th second at f/4 iso 200

See they move - can't capture that guy coming out of the Club X with this kind of shutter speed. Actually, well you can, and the blur tells a story. It tells of a person trying to hurry out of shot so no one knows he's coming out of the sex shop behind him. It also gives the fun of that moment without embarrassing him through identifying him to the internet.

So how does it do at 100mm (200mm for you big 35mm fellas) in long exposures, great is the answer. Here's one at 0.8 seconds, there is certainly some softness but go on, go and do that with your 70-200 on your 5d and send it to me. Have fun with that.

0.8 seconds at f/11 iso 200

Not impressed yet?

1 second f/4.5 iso 200
This image has great detail and crispness, the lens seems the thrive in the range from very dim to quite bright in this image and cope very well with it.

Still not impressed? As the evening wore on and we visited laneways it got darker and darker, I found this pasty on the wall and thought, why not, lets have a crack. For this shot which I have to admit is slightly soft I crouched with legs splayed as much as possible and held my arms in as close to my body as possible and held my breath. Take a look at the exposure time...

5 seconds f/4.5 iso 200
Did that caption say 5 (five) seconds - why yes it did. Sure its a bit soft but if you want to capture something and need five seconds and don't have your tripod - guess what, you can! I reckon with practice and stiffening up my flabby muscles a bit more I could probably make this sharper. This is just incredible. Five seconds hand held.

So how does it do with street images? Part A - Street Noir (Night Street)

I love to shoot street at night, and I also love the Oly's heavy contrast, high grain art mode made just for street noir - well I reckon it is. These two images give you some idea of what kind of street you can manage in the dark. These were all taken in Chinatown well and truly after sunset.

Yep those images are shot in the dark. Actual dark. Lit only from the shop windows and signs around them in Melbourne's Chinatown.

This one was taken inside a restaurant that seems well lit until you look at your shutter speeds.

What about colour night shooting and complexities like panning to follow a subject?

No problemo. Got that covered nicely. I was really surprised how well the lens and camera simply adapted to my pan - the software had to have recognised what I was trying to do. Grabbed the nice crisp bike rider and bike with some wonderful movement blur in the background.

It's for holidays right? You need to be able to do great food photos then...

1/13th second f/4
Yep, got that covered. Crisp. Nice fall off with the depth of field and great colour reproduction even under the hideous combination of fluorescent and LED tube lighting.

So how does it do with street images? Part B - Day Street

So you tell me? I reckon it's got what it takes to be a great day time street lens. That 200mm equivalent means you can get some shots you might not otherwise get. It's a little soft at f/4 but go up to f/5.6 or f/6.3 and no worries sharp as a tack with great depth of field. That f/4 is nice when you want to isolate your subject a little while still keeping the impression of what is around them. The lens while bigger than any other MFT lens except the big 40-150 I own it is very unobtrusive and continues the toy camera look of the MFT platform at a distance, shoot people in the street with a big lens on a big camera and they notice you much more than a little one. With this combo most people are going to assume you're just a tourist on holidays and ignore you.

The big question... am I going to buy one?

This is one I'm not sure about. I've got the lenses that cover the range of this one (12-40 and 40-150) so buying a 12-100 is a difficult question. It would be very convenient for me and would allow me to carry only one lens for nearly all of my shooting except portraits and birding but is that worth the price tag. That's the big question of the day. If I was buying my kit from scratch I wouldn't buy the others over this one - it would win hands down, by a mile.

The lens certainly impressed me and I certainly want one but I've got months to mull it over while waiting for my annual bonus assuming I get one :).