Micro Four Thirds Lens Recommendations
I purchased an Olympus E-M5 a few weeks ago and restarted my Micro Four Thirds lens collection. This page will be periodically updated with more pictures (of the gear) and more thoughts on the lenses as well.
Here is what I suggest in ranked order:
1. Panasonic Leica 25mm F1.4
A remarkable lens on any platform. This is the best 50mm equivalent lens I’ve used under $1000 and I’ve shot with all of them except a handful of Leica Rs. Its not the sharpest nor the most pleasing bokeh (very good nonetheless) yet there is a gestalt to it’s rendering that makes this a Must Have lens. It is a system winning lens. Plus, it has a very cool looking (but inconvenient to store) retro square hood. Much like the Sony E-Mount 24mm Zeiss ZA, this lens alone is reason enough to use this platform.
2. Panasonic 14-45mm
The best kit zoom lens made in the digital age, cheap too; got mine for $175 used. There is a reason why it is discontinued. It must have been a loss leader for Panasonic who wanted to make sure they had a very high quality kit lens to kick off micro four thirds. It’s replacement, the 14-42mm lens is okay, not remarkable in any way and devoid of any flavor. If you want a mid-range zoom, this would be it. This lens has excellent close focus abilities and I use it often for paid shoots with a strobe.
3. Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm
The Panasonic 7-14mm is a sharper more consistent lens that’s even wider than the Olympus 9-18mm M.Zuiko. I still chose the Olympus over the Panasonic because of size/weight and the fact that I need to use filters for my ultra wide angle lens. I often use a graduated neutral density filter if I have a lot of sky in my shots and it’s doubly necessary because of the somewhat more limited dynamic range of MFT sensors, even the OM-D. One stop down, it’s sharp enough for prints up to 16×20 on a 16.1mpx file. When I use the ultimate SLR ultra wide angle lens (Zeiss 21mm F2.8) side by side with the 9-18mm, I had no qualms about the quality of the photos from this lens unless I want to be nit-picky about micro-contrast. It sure beats having to carry around 82mm filters and a giant Lee Filter system.
4. Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm
In my tests, it beat the more expensive Sony NEX 55-210mm zoom easily and might just well be the best budget zoom period for this range. It’s not super well built but the newer R version is nicer although the optics are identical (despite what the misprinted promotional materials might say). Works best in Olympus bodies because of IBIS (in body stabilization) which Panasonic bodies lack. It easily, easily beats the Panasonic budget zoom in this range. It is light and fairly compact for it’s performance and focal range. If I had to guess, the reason why it trumps the Panasonic and Sony telezooms is the lack of in lens stabilization. It has no extra elements to pollute the light path and in a budget lens, that is supremely important.
5. Panasonic Leica 45mm F2.8 Macro APO
This is the least expensive lens in any system that will do 2:1 magnification natively while also not exhibiting bokeh fringing, truly remarkable. Its color neutral, fringing neutral, and is a magnificent lens all around. I only place it a little lower in the must have list because its somewhat of a more specialty lens for advanced users. If you do any sort of macro work, this lens is a must have. I do wish it was a 90mm lens because the working distance is a little annoying but otherwise, no complaints.
6. Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8
I sold mine but might re-buy it in the future. It’s a fast indoor portrait prime but has not been remarkable in my use. I’ve seen some amazing samples from it though from other photographers. It has an annoying 37mm filter size and a somewhat ugly looking hood. It’s not as well built as the new Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F2 but it’s less than half the price so it’s hard to complain. What it has going for it is that it’s the classic portrait prime length, very sharp even wide open across almost all the frame, and it’s very compact. It’s fast to autofocus but has a somewhat longer minimum focus distance. Its rendering is mostly neutral and it has pleasing bokeh.
Controversial Lenses I left out:
Panasonic 20mm F1.7
I’ve shot with this lens quite a lot especially when I first started in the system. It has a lot going for it. It’s pancake small, its pretty sharp, its nearly half the price of the similar focal length and speed 25mm F1.4. In fact it gets asked quite often by new people entering the MFT which should they pick? I don’t recommend the 20mm. It’s slow to autofocus, 40mm is an awkward view (imo), and it’s loud as well as grindy. But unfortunately, that’s the least of it’s problems. In my use, I just find this lens to be without any character for a prime lens. It’s the rice cakes or stale pita bread of primes. You can excuse this in a zoom but a prime should make you want to go out and use it and this lens just doesn’t do it for me. This isn’t to say you can’t take some amazing images with it and in fact one of the best images I’ve seen from MFT was from this lens. It’s just not for me and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Panasonic 14mm F2.5
Inexpensive, sharp, quick to focus, and about the size of a lens cap. Why don’t I recommend it? The 28mm focal length is my least favorite focal length of all time. This probably comes from the fact that kit zooms in the digital age all start at around 28mm. I just don’t like that field of view. If you like it, by all means get one, this is otherwise a great lens.
Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8
Weather sealed, extremely sharp edge to edge, fairly compact for it’s range and speed and a bargain if you consider how much Nikon and Canon charge for their 24-70mm F2.8 lenses. What doesn’t do it for me is that it’s a Panasonic lens with OIS and that is just unnecessary on Olympus bodies. Sure two of the lenses I recommended have OIS as well but they don’t cost nearly as much and not anywhere near as large. I just don’t want to pay a lot of extra for features I won’t be using. I’ll wait for the Olympus version.
The two lenses I am most looking forward to using are the Olympus 75mm F1.8 as well as the upcoming Panasonic 35-100mm F2.8 (in the longer lens, the OIS might actually beat Olympus IBIS). It’s an exciting time for Micro Four Thirds and I’m glad I jumped back on the bandwagon with this amazing new camera.
Below are some sample images taken with some of the lenses mentioned above. Look at the top right of the photo for the lens used.