Two years in, still extremely pleased and always surprised
The 12-100mm f/4 was my first µ4/3 lens. I made the decision to come over to µ4/3 from 4/3 after a 4-5 year hiatus from photography, and really didn't expect much. We 4/3 users were hostile to the µ4/3 system when it came out for a number of reasons, and one belief that was parroted a fair bit was that µ4/3 lenses were inferior to 4/3 lenses. Yet one intended use that I had for µ4/3 was its video capabilities, and 4/3 lenses would either require manual focusing or an external microphone if I wanted to avoid having autofocus sounds in my videos. It was difficult to choose between the 12-40mm f/2.8 and the 12-100mm f/4, but I figured that if it was just for video, the added image stabilizer and increased focal length would be of benefit. Either of these lenses would just be for video, anyway; they wouldn't replace my Zuiko Digital 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 SWD lens.
Or so I thought.
The first photo I took with the camera and lens wasn't anything print-worthy, but it amazed me. In a dim room, at 100mm and a pretty low shutter speed, after not having held a camera in close to five years, I pulled off a shot that was as sharp (if not sharper) than what I had been able to achieve with my old 4/3 camera and some of the sharpest lenses on the system. That's when I began to seriously rethink my bias against µ4/3 lenses.
The 12-100mm indicated to me that µ4/3 lenses could autofocus almost instantly, essentially silently (I say "essentially" because you can still hear a gentle whir in a dead-silent room), and aperture operation was also essentially silent. In this regard the 12-100mm doesn't particularly stand out; maybe there are differences that can be measured in milliseconds, but the ensuing µ4/3 lenses I purchased were just as silent and fast as the 12-100mm.
What the 12-100mm had over the other lenses was image stabilization. Olympus claims this gives you about an additional 1.5 stops of stabilization when paired with a camera body that supports the dual-image stabilizer mode, and tests from independent websites seem to indicate that Olympus didn't exaggerate much. It's very noticeable in video, and I certainly feel more confident pushing my exposure times hand-held when using this lens.
Other things to love are the focal length range and close shooting distance. I haven't sold my macro lenses, and this lens doesn't /really/ take you into true macro territory, but you can certainly get close enough to be satisfying. And while it may be large and heavy for µ4/3 lenses, it's smaller and lighter than the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm that it has now replaced.
Being able to go from 12-100mm is really impressive. When I used my 12-60mm as my main walk-about lens, I seemed to either be at 12mm or at 60mm. With the 12-100mm, I seem to either be at 12mm or somewhere between 60-100mm. That additional range is a really powerful thing.
But I've so far spoken to things that most people probably already knew. Something I probably didn't appreciate until a year or a bit more into owning this lens is just how good it really is. Because by convention, a lens with that large of a focal range, and one that is stuck at f/4, must be pretty mediocre. Yet even after buying two of Olympus' f/1.2 primes (among other µ4/3 lenses), the 12-100mm still strikes me as being one of the sharpest - if not THE sharpest - of the µ4/3 lenses that I own. (I do not own the 12-40mm f/2.8 and can't make the comparison, but I do own and enjoy the 40-150mm f/2.8, and I still stand by that statement.) And that sharpness, combined with the focal length range, has had interesting benefits.
One benefit that I discovered rather unexpectedly was just how good this lens was for portraiture. I'm not talking about your glamour, blow-away-the-background type of portraiture; I mean simply capturing meaningful slices of life and yet still making it very clear what your subject of focus was.
Get to the 40mm and longer range, and the backgrounds begin to melt. If the goal is to turn it purely into colors, this lens won't do that. But if you still like to have some context to your backgrounds, this lens can easily get you there. But even without blurring out the backgrounds, the clarity of the subject in focus is so distinct that even a gentle blurring out of the out-of-focus area is noticeable. The benefit of being stuck at f/4 is that, more often than not, I find that everything (or almost everything) that I wanted to have in focus is, which is something that I occasionally have issues with in my lack of restraint when using f/1.2 lenses.
It has been nearly two years, during much of which the 12-100mm largely received sporadic usage between my f/1.2 primes. I was always amazed at the images achieved with the lens, but only now am I beginning to use the 12-100mm a lot more regularly. Perhaps the feelings of amazement will wear off as I become used to what this lens can do, and cast off the notions that a lens with a nearly 10x zoom range and f/4 aperture can't take outstanding photos. Until then, I remain impressed after nearly every photo outing with the lens. It's a joy to use, and the photos it helps to create are a joy for me to behold.
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