Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 vs Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8

The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro and Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH lenses are the best standard zoom lenses for the m43 format cameras from Olympus and Panasonic.  So, which one to buy?  Here’s my answer.

(Summarized from multiple reviews, comparisons, and forum discussions.)

If you use a Panasonic camera body without in-body image stabilization (IBIS) (except GX7), you have no choice (unless you only shoot in daylight or always use a tripod).  Since Olympus lenses do not offer optical image stabilization (OIS), you can only consider Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH with Power OIS.  (Note: In addition, coupling a Panasonic camera with a Panasonic lens enables the in-camera chromatic aberration (CA) correction, which is a rather important, useful and convenient image-improving feature to have, unless you shoot raw and correct that in postprocessing software such as Adobe Lightroom.)

If you use an Olympus camera body with IBIS, then you can choose between Olympus and Panasonic offerings:

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro: sharper at the wide end (12mm), more reach by 5mm, sharper edges, closer minimum focus distance & higher magnification 0.3x (0.6x in 35mm FF terms), less CA issue, usually less expensive, has manual focus clutch, has L-FN button for recent Olympus camera bodies, and probably better weather sealing.  Some people also consider its bokeh to be smoother.

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH: sharper at long focal lengths, probably sharper center, physically smaller and lighter, has Power OIS.  Nobody says it is fragile.

Basically, each has its own strengths, so choose one based on your priority.  For me, Olympus 12-40mm makes much more sense.  It is big, but I still feel it is a good match with the E-M5 body for me.  The only minor concern I have is that it is reported to be fragile.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 vs Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6

I didn’t find any comparison between Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 and Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6, which was universally known as as sharpest standard kit zoom lens for m43 before the f/2.8 lenses came along, so here’s a brief comparison based on my own experience with E-M5:

– At 14mm f/4, Olympus 12-40mm is slightly sharper than Panasonic 14-45mm for the whole image.

– At 40mm, at the center Olympus 12-40mm is slightly less sharp than Panasonic 14-45mm, but the corners are slightly better.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 is a pricey upgrade over Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6.  Whether it is worthwhile to do this upgrade obviously depends on one’s needs.  For me, having a 2mm wider focal length, larger aperture and higher magnification really helps.  As for the Panasonic 14-45mm, it is still a really good lens at less than 1/3 of the cost, and even far less for used units, its cost/performance ratio can’t be overstated.

[After this article is published, I came across Pattaya Days review of 12-40mm f/2.8, which has a really nice comparison with several lenses.  Although I agree with almost everything he said, his image taken using Panasonic 14-45mm looks abnormal to me.  I believe something went wrong with that particular image, or I had a significantly better copy of Panasonic 14-45mm.]

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 vs Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3

No comparison is needed.  Since Panasonic 14-45mm is already significantly sharper than the 12-50mm, the Olympus 12-40mm would be much better for all focal lengths, but the magnification is lower (0.3x vs 0.36x).  In fact one of the first things I did with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 was to sell it (after taking test images).