Micro four thirds lenses now come from a plethora of manufacturers in a bewildering range of focal lengths. I get regularly asked which lenses should I buy for my micro four thirds camera. Rather than go through the whole gamut of choices, I will outline my favorites, illustrate with examples from them and finish up with a few recommendations that are still on my wish list. I have listed them in my own preferential order, starting my my favorites and moving through to my wish list. This is not really a lens review, but just the musings of what seems to work for me.
Voitlander 25mm f0.95
This is the lens that changed my perception of what is possible with digital cameras. Before this lens landed in my hands, my digital photographs were lack lustre. The kit zoom on my Olympus E-3 was a 12 - 60mm pro series lens, yet the images just didn't sing. When the opportunity arose to move away from this camera and lens combination I was quick to dump it.
My first photographs with a micro four thirds camera were similar. In many ways it was the auto focus that caught me out. A manual focus lens took me back to my roots as a photographer. It gave me back my choice and decision making. In turn it led to better images. When I scan back through my Lightroom catalogue, there is a clear and abrupt improvement of my digital photography the moment I picked up this lens. Even today it is my go to lens. I don't leave home without it. It lives on my camera. Part of this obsession with this lens is the normal focal length which is the one I seem to prefer to see with. You might like to read further about the benefits of the "Nifty Fifty" in my previous article.
This lens is not for the faint of heart. It is slow to use. It is heavy with its all metal construction. The lens shade and matching lens cap are to die for. Actually the system is so good that I stop to wonder why others don't use it. It is slow to use, because I can only focus it wide open, and the aperture is manual. This means that I have to manually open it up, focus the lens and then close it down again to shoot. This lens does not have any electrical contacts and makes no communication with the camera. For this reason I tend to shoot with it on aperture priority. Manual doesn't work for me, as I close the lens down by feel. A couple of clicks if I want something reasonably sharp, and a few more when I want depth of field. It is impossible for me to recall what f stop I have been using. I could if I wrote them down, but I don't.
Slowing me down, making my own decisions equals better images. In my mind it is a simple choice. This lens wins nearly every time for me.
It is a beautifully sharp lens. Even wide open I am more than happy with the look it gives, despite its paper thin plane of focus. Yes it falls off dramatically when wide open, but that really isn't the point of using it wide open is it. It is about beautiful out of focus areas. It appears dreamy when used wide open. I must admit I do prefer it stopped down a couple of clicks, when the depth of field thickens slightly, and the sharpness clearly improves. by f 2.0 it is amazingly pin sharp. At f 2.8 it has peaked, usable at 5.6 and by f 8 it is starting to fail again. So I rarely go past f 5.6.
This lens gets me amazingly close to my subjects. While not a macro by any stretch of my imagination, it does let me get close enough to photograph the stunning tiny Australian Orchids that I so love to find and play with.
At f 5.6 the depth of field is stunning. So good in fact that I don't really miss the tilts and swings of my large format view camera, even when doing the near foreground and distance shots that I loved doing utilising the scheimpflug rules I learnt at art school and obsessively used for twenty years.
When I stop this lens down to 2.8 it is amazingly sharp. When I use it with a tripod I am easily able to enlarge my 16 megapixel images to 24 x 30 inches using perfect resize for stunning results. The prints from this lens are stunning.
My only criticism of this lens is that the bokeh at some apertures can be rather disconcerting. Even unpleasant to my eye. Bokeh is stunning wide open, but something happens as it is stopped down. Then again if I am shooting for beautiful bokeh then I am shooting wide open or just stopped down a stop or two, so this is something that only concerns me on rare occasions. On these occasions I bracket my apertures and pick the best image at full size on my gorgeous large monitor at home.
Olympus 25mm f 1.8
For price, convenience and size this is my first auto focus lens recommendation. This is the first lens I recommend to all of my students, who wish to push themselves with the discipline that a nifty fifty requires. I carry one of these small beauties with me just in case my Voitlander 25mm is damaged or lost.
It is as almost equally as sharp as the Voitlander. Sharpness with this lens peaks at f 4.0
It is light and small, and cheap. I keep it on my spare body, and often take it with me on excursions when I wish to leave my favorite heavier camera and lens combination at home.
Being auto focus, I can use it with the near eye focusing for stunning portraits. If I wasn't in love with the Voitalnder this would be my other choice of go to lens. As you can already tell, I have a very strong preference for prime lenses, and this article reinforces this preference.
Olympus 75mm f 1.8 ED
This lens is my other lover. It is my second most favored lens in my kit. The 150mm equivalent focal length is just stunning to work with. It reaches in. It allows me to keep my distance from the subject. It has beautiful Bokeh when used wide open.
It is a heavy large lens. Well, when I compare it with the Olympus 25 mm or the 45 mm. It is also pricey. But well worth it. Particularly if you are fond of shooting portraits, or animals.
It doesn't come with a lens hood. I bought a cheap one from China, which has turned out to be rather useless. Even the Olympus one has a tightening screw on it. A method of attaching lens hoods left over from the seventies and eighties. Definitely not my preference for use. I would love Olympus to have included one of those sliding lens hoods that came with my Zuiko 200mm f 2.0 telephoto I was in love with in my teenage years, or the very sexy and practical one on the latest Olympus 40-150 f2.8 Pro lens. Oh for an aftermarket lens hood based on the Voitlander design. Now there is an opportunity for a manufacturer, aftermarket bespoke lens hoods with matching lens caps. I suppose my creative mind is day dreaming yet again.
This lens focuses very quickly on my modern Micro Four Thirds bodies. With eye detect on, it is a breeze to use.
This lens peaks in sharpness at f 4.0 and is quite stunning by f 2.8. I do love the bokeh this lens produces wide open. It is my go to lens for portraiture and figure work. I am tempted to buy a second body of my main camera, so I can use this lens and my Voitlander 25 mm without the need to change lenses. My current second camera is a different model, and quiet frankly it quickly gives me this shits changing between the two cameras.
Olympus 45 mm f 1.8
This lens was my previous second lover. With it I have taken more photographs than the 75 mm by virtue of the length of time that I have owned it. It is light weight, and cheap, with just stunning results. If you're on a budget this is next lens on your list.
Just like the other Olympus lenses it is a stunning performer. Perhaps let down in build quality with a plastic feel to it. The feel is much better than the Olympus plastic kit lenses though. Nethertheless is performs, and the weight saving is appreciated particularly on my long walks into the bush.
This lens gives you some beautiful reach, and it really comes into its own as a portrait lens. With the auto focus I have taken some stunning portraits with this lens and the near eye focus detect. It makes portraiture a breeze at a very affordable price, with the most stunning results.
This lens peaks for sharpness at f 2.8 and wide open has a lovely bokeh.
The lens hood that you can get for this lens works, despite being an over priced piece of plastic. Why it isn't included with the lens is a mystery to me, at least Olympus has started to listen to the complaints and is starting to include lens hoods with its newer release lenses such as the 25mm f 1.8.
I have created stunning 20 inch prints from images captured with this lens, amazingly sharp and capable despite its demure appearance.
Panasonic G 20 mm f 1.7 ASPH
This is an amazing lens for its price and size. It makes my micro four thirds cameras seem pocketable. It is a beautiful performer, and is sharp for a wider range of apertures than the other lenses in my recommended list. It peaks at f 4.0 and is sharp from f 2.0 through to f 5.6.
I don't use this lens very often, and it is on the list of lenses that I need to get to know better. Many find this lens the perfect focal length for their walk around lens. It suits street photography very well. Though I currently find it a little wide for my taste.
This lens comes in two versions, and I have the first version, and it hasn't seen much use yet.
Panasonic G 14 mm f 2.5 ASPH
Another stunning yet amazingly cheap lens. This lens is often bundled in kits with some Panasonic cameras, which means you can pick up an un-boxed new version rather easily and well below the list prices. It is tiny, and is the smallest lens I own. When I am after a light weight wide angle this is the one that I pack. I even picked up a lovely aluminum lens hood for it, that has a Leica feel to it.
This lens is sharp from wide open at f 2.5 through to 5.6. Again this lens comes in two versions, and I have the first version.
Samyung 7.5 mm f 3.5 UMC FishEye
I personally find the fisheye lens more of a toy and a game to play with rather than a serious contender in my camera bag. This assumption is seriously flawed as this is another stunning cheap lens that just performs amazingly well. I put it on, and focus by using hyper-focal focusing. Set my aperture to f 4.0 or 5.6 and just shoot away on aperture priority. The results are amazing. The included image here, prints up beautifully, and at my last open day at the studio was the first image to sell.
This lens has a manual aperture ring, and manual focus. It is a pain in the neck to focus through the viewfinder as the depth of field is huge. This is the sort of lens you need if you want that butterfly up close and in focus and the mountain forest in the background to be sharp enough to read.
Wide open this lens performs well, and by f 5.6 the sharpness is falling off. I won't use it at f 8.0
You may need to do your homework on hyperfocal focusing to get the most of this lens. I use this lens set at f 5.6 and put the infinity focus mark on the f 4.0 mark for my hyperfocal distance.
This lens distorts, and does it in a huge way. You can't easily put a filter on this lens as the front element protrudes out the front. It has a built in lens shade and a lens cap that goes right over the lens shade.
This lens is also available branded as Rokinon and Bower.
Great fun, and for the price you can't go wrong.
Olympus 60 mm f 2.8 ED Macro
The last lens in my kit is the Olympus 60 mm f 2.8 ED Macro. This is a true macro lens that allows you to take images 1:1 or at life size (the same actual size as the sensor). This lens is also water sealed, which makes it ideal for use in wet weather. The lens comes with a focus limiting switch which reduces the distances it focuses on. This is a fantastic option to have with macro, as it stops much of the annoying hunting when the camera searches for focus by going to the extremes of focus. This can take time, so by limiting it, you get faster focus. You can also switch the lens to 1:1, which is very handy as you can go straight to the closest focus.
This lens is sharp, very sharp. It rivals the Olympus 75 mm 1.8 and the Voitlander 25 mm f 0.95 in tests. So for its price it is the cheapest sharp lens available for micro four thirds.
It is small and light weight, and still comes in at a very good price. It is made of plastic, and does have that feel to it.
This lens can be used for portraiture as well, though you won't get the creamy bokeh you get with the 75 mm.
For the price, and its quality, this lens is definitely on my must have list, for the images it is capable of producing is well worth the small outlay.
The following list is the lenses that are on my shopping list. Perhaps it is better to say they are on my wish list. I am not sure if I really need them. I would like the 12 - 40 mm f 2.8 as it is weather sealed, and as I shoot so often in the rain it would bring peace of mind to my photographic practice. The wide angle zoom may be fun, while the longer zooms will give me greater reach with wildlife.
Olympus 12 mm f 2.0 ED
Olympus 12 - 40 mm f 2.8 ED PRO
Olympus 40 - 150 mm f 2.8 ED PRO
Olympus 7 - 14 mm f 2.8 ED PRO (yet to be released)
Olympus 300 mm f 4.0 ED Pro (yet to be released)
While I am on my wish list Olympus, how about a Pro series weatherproof fast aperture metal construction 25mm. One that allows me to get reasonably close, like my a Voitlander does. A lens like this would soon become my number one favourite and would see more use than any other lens. Photographing in the rain and mist is where my best photographs are created. I really don't understand why the 75mm lens isn't weather sealed, while I can easily Judith it with the cheaper primes they make.
I would recommend these lenses based on reviews and images I have seen taken with them, but I don't need them as I already have other lenses that perform adequately in their focal length. I tend to prefer Olympus lenses as they don't have image stabilization built into them, for the stabilization is built into my camera.
- Panasonic Vario 12 - 35 mm f2.8 ASPH P.I.O.S.
- Panasonic Vario 7 - 14 mm f 4.0 ASPH
Leica DG Summilux 25 mm f/1.4 ASPH.
Leica DG Nocticron 42.5 mm f 1.2 ASPH P.I.O.S.
- Voitlander Nokton 42.5 mm f 0.95
These are the lenses I have used and I don't like. I see a noticeable lack of clarity when using them as they are no where near as sharp as the recommended lenses. I can clearly see the difference with these lenses on my small 10 inch prints (30 cm), let alone when doing larger enlargements. I have some of these, and will happily give them to anyone who would use them.
- Olympus 12 - 50 mm
- Olympus 14 - 42 mm
- Olympus 75 - 300 mm