Three Years With The Olympus 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens

In October of 2017, I acquired the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 f/4 IS Pro Lens. I admit that I was skeptical. For most of my career, whenever possible, I have used prime lenses. They are more expensive to own than zooms because you need several to cover the same focal range as one zoom. They are less convenient than zooms because you need to carry more stuff and switch lenses all the time. But I always felt it was worth the extra money and effort.

Part of my bias comes from a place that most of you are simply too young to understand. Back in the early 1970s, when I saw my first zoom, they were – well they were generally garbage. Most zoom lenses, even the expensive ones, were slow, had lots of chromatic distortion as well as pin cushion and barrel distortion, were prone to flare, weren’t very sharp and offered poor color fidelity.

By comparison, these days, most zoom lenses are very good and don’t suffer from the aforementioned problems. But old habits die hard. I was raised with this bias and it followed me for decades.

So – enter the 12-100. I remained skeptical and was even more so because this is a zoom with an equivalent focal length of 24-200mm. That’s roughly 8X magnification. The rule of thumb is – the higher the magnification, the less likely the lens is to produce a quality image.

But putting bias aside is something we should all do once in a while. We should all examine and re-examine our beliefs. We should make room for the notion that things change and especially things in the camera world, where technological innovation has almost become routine. I decided to rid myself of my bias and give the 12-100 a fair shot. But I still was leaning toward the primes. After all, I own them all. But yet, what if?

So off I went thinking I’d use all the Olympus primes I had for most things and only use the 12-100 zoom when I was traveling or restricted to how much gear I could bring.

Then something awesome happened. I started using the lens more and more often. I noticed that the lens was far more capable than I realized. It could close focus to 1.5 cm at the wide end and 27 cm at the long end making it very valuable for a wide variety of subjects and offering a 1:3 macro capability.

I often work in Alaska where weather can be brutal. This lens is what Olympus calls dust and splash resistant. I call it weatherproof. I liked that it could be focused easily using AF or manual focus thanks to the focus clutch. I also noticed that the lens was ultra sharp at its longest focal length and that it retained such sharpness throughout the range with the exception of being used at 12mm where it is still acceptably sharp.

At f/4 it isn’t the fastest lens in the world but it’s fast enough because Olympus uses some of the best image stabilization in the world.

While all these admirable qualities started to change my opinion, I have to admit that it was the sheer convenience of bringing one lens to cover many focal lengths that eventually sold me. Just having to carry one lens is a very freeing thing. The gear gets out of the way and your eye takes over.

Now, the 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens is almost always on one of my Olympus camera bodies. I have been using it way more often than I expected to and not once in the last three years of heavy use has this lens failed me.

I’ve been extensively using this lens while photographing my guitar collection and the proof is in the pudding as they say. The lens renders good color, it’s sharp, it’s contrasty, it’s weatherproof, it works great with the Olympus IBIS, it’s easy to focus and it delivers very high image quality.

I have been at photography a long time and yet I am amazed and amused at the fact that I can still learn new ways to think about things and that I can shed my biases to find new ways of working, such as heavily relying on a zoom lens.

Go figure.

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