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A Rationalised Working Kit For Micro Four Thirds


Dallas

Warning! On Fotozones we’re more interested in what we do with our camera gear, but it is also interesting to readers to know what gear works for us professional photographers and how we use it in the field. This is one of those types of posts.

 

Looking back over the past 4 years of my dabbling with the micro four thirds system, I have used many different lenses from at least 4 different manufacturers, as well as no fewer than 8 different bodies for the system (Olympus PEN models E-P1, E-P2, E-PM2, Panasonic GF-1, Olympus OM-D models E-M5, E-M1, E-M10, E-M5 Mk II). I had a system burgeoning with different lenses and bodies, but at the beginning of this year I rationalised and got rid of a LOT of stuff. Here’s what I kept and what I have found works best for me as a professional photographer.

 

Bodies

 

Undoubtedly the very best body for m43 that I have had the opportunity to use so far has been the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It just seems to be able to do everything I throw at it and it produces amazing files that I have yet to find wanting in any way. I’ve shot with it up to 12,800 ISO in barely lit rooms and have been quite happy with the quality of the shots I got. Other photographers might disagree, but I don’t shoot for other photographers so their validation of what I use in my job is superfluous to my output.

 

Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact when adjustments are made I have had no other problems with my E-M1. The recent firmware upgrade to version 4.0 brought some new features that have improved the E-M1 in many respects, including the silent shutter and the 4K time lapse video mode. It’s a great photographic tool and the Mk II that we are all looking forward to perhaps later this year or in early 2017 has very big shoes to fill.

 

Panasonic bodies remain a problem for me to get hold of in South Africa mainly because they are no longer officially represented here, so I haven’t tried too many of them. We have to import them ourselves and that comes with a lot of risk, particularly since there is no product support. If your camera needs fixing you have to send it back to where you got it from and that could be very expensive. I have recently been working with a videographer who has a GH-4 body and it certainly looks like a very capable camera, especially for 4K video. It has a lot of features for video that the Olympus E-M1 doesn’t have, most notable being the ability to use focus peaking while filming. When you’re shooting video professionally manual focus is a must, so that feature alone is worth the sticker price for a GH-4. I don’t know that I would buy one for stills, but I am sure it is a decent performer there too.

 

Lenses

 

sml_gallery_2_394_3610.jpg

My Wide Angle Lens

 

Of all the wide angle lenses I have tried for the m43 system the one that I have kept and still continue to use is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6. This tiny collapsible lens is the same size as the early 14-42mm kit lenses found on many m43 combo deals but it’s got a better build. There is also one of those funky rectangular lens hoods available for it (LH-55B). I bought one but I seldom use it because most of the time I am using this lens indoors for property photography. When I am using it outdoors for landscape photography I would probably have a drop in filter kit on the lens (LEE Seven5 or Cokin) which means the lens hood doesn’t fit into the system. Another thing is that the hood can’t be reversed on the lens because of its shape, so while it may look cool it isn’t very practical. That said it’s small enough to slip into a camera bag pocket without causing a storage issue. I keep it handy, just in case.

 

The other wide angle lenses I’ve used include the new Olympus 7-14/2.8 PRO, the older Olympus 7-14/4.0 (4/3 mount) and very briefly the Panasonic 7-14/4.0. All of them are too big for m43 and in my opinion they don’t bring that significant an improvement in image quality to be worth carrying around. The 9-18mm is tiny in comparison and offers a decently wide enough angle of view to work for me. I’d rather carry less weight than have an extra few degrees of viewing angle offered by the 7-14mm options. I also find the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm focal length to be unnatural on m43. It’s very hard to compose a scene with it.

 

sml_gallery_2_394_13648.jpg

My favourite little wide angle lens is still the amazing Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye. I always have this lens in my camera bag. It’s about the same size as the 9-18mm, purely manual focus, but very, very sharp and contrasty, not to mention well built. Used on a mirrorless camera in A mode I haven’t had any issues with exposure at all - the cameras always seems to be able to get it right. I set the aperture ring to about 5.6 or 8.0, set the focus to infinity and everything from about 20cm to the end of the world is in focus. It opens up a lot of creative options for me. On a recent wedding I put it on an E-M1, put that on a tripod, folded it up to use like a monopod and circled the wedding dance floor while filming. I didn’t have to focus it and the footage turned out great.

 

I did try the new Olympus 8/1.8 PRO lens, and while it is an amazing piece of glass it is very expensive compared to the $300 Samyang (I think it comes in at about $1k). It’s also much bigger and heavier than the Samyang.

 

sml_gallery_2_394_58028.jpg

My General Purpose Lens

 

There is only one lens that fits for me and its the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO. I can’t extoll the benefits of this lens enough. It’s ridiculously fast to auto focus, is sharp as scalpels when used wide open, has great bokeh and is also weatherproof. What more could I want?

 

I use this guy for a lot of stuff I do, including events, PJ, portraits, interior and product work too (it focuses really close and has better bokeh than the Panasonic/Leica 45/2.8 Macro I used to own). I love this lens! It actually stopped me from getting the Olympus 12/2.0 because at 12mm it’s just as good as that Olympus premium prime lens. I don’t need more aperture for wide angle work, so while the 12/2.0 is very good indeed, it is also very expensive and doesn’t do anything else besides 12mm. My money was better spent on this lens.

 

sml_gallery_2_394_19371.jpg

Telephoto Lenses

 

The best lens in my bag that is classed as a tele is the Olympus 75/1.8 ED. Nothing is better than this lens for low light work where I have some distance between me and my subject. I use it a lot for podium speakers at events and where I want to isolate a subject from the background. I don’t use it a lot at 1.8 because the depth of field is too shallow, but at 2.0 it shines. While I haven’t used it a lot for portrait work, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. I would just need to get further away from the subject for framing given the narrow angle of view. The perspective is closer to the classic 85mm portrait lens used on 35mm systems, but it has the angle of view of a 150mm lens on that system.

 

My other telephoto lens is one that has been sitting in my cupboard unused for over 18 months, but which I hauled out recently and put back into service.

sml_gallery_2_394_23046.jpg

I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s the Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD (4/3 mount). It’s got the same angle of view as a Canon 100-400 lens, but it has the benefit of a larger aperture than the Canon and it is much smaller too. Without the lens hood and tripod mount it is just as nimble as the new 40-150/2.8 PRO. Upside is you can pick it up really cheap on the used market; downside is that it can only be used on the E-M1 with the PDAF sensors driving it. The SWD version works very nicely on an E-M1. I’ve been very happy with the results from this lens and will be using it much more from now on. The big plus is that it offers a wonderful range in a small package. It has excellent bokeh, much better than the sharp but nervous 40-150/2.8 PRO.

 

Flash

 

sml_gallery_2_394_351509.jpg

The Olympus FL-600R has all the remote, bounce, tilt capability of a top of the line Nikon or Canon flash unit but comes in a much smaller package. I have 2 of them that I take with me on event shoots. I use a bounce card with them in manual mode and I have had good results. I don’t use the Olympus TTL modes because they can produce quite erratic exposures when the flash is bounced. One really good feature of this unit is that it has a built-in LED light for video. It’s pretty powerful too. Working with the FL-600R can be a bit tricky if you aren’t familiar with the setup, but I suppose that’s true for any system speed light, isn’t it?

 

And that is all I use on any shoots these days. 5 lenses, two E-M1 bodies. I get coverage all the way from fisheye up to what 35mm system users call a 400mm lens. The best part for me is that all of this gear, including the 2 flash units fits into my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 messenger bag and isn’t all that heavy.

Edited by DDFZ


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    • By Dallas
      One of the coolest things about mirrorless cameras is that with an adapter you can mount and use just about any lens from other camera systems on a mirrorless body.
       
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      Nikon adapter (left) and Canon FD adapter (right)
       
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      L-R: Vivitar 200/3.5, Canon 28/2.8, Canon 50/1.8 and on the E-M1 the Canon 19/3.5 (note the thin focus ring)
       
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      Above and below images taken with the Vivitar 200/3.5 stopped down to about f/8 - you can see colour fringing on the royal ibis in the background below
       

       

      Above: the Canon 28mm f/2.8 turned out to be a good lens on the E-M1
       

      Above: Canon 50/1.8 FD is pretty sharp and makes for a good portrait lens on micro four thirds
       
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      View full article
    • By Dallas
      One of the coolest things about mirrorless cameras is that with an adapter you can mount and use just about any lens from other camera systems on a mirrorless body.
       
      Every m43 camera I have tried doing this on, going back to the original digital PEN models, also does a very good job of calculating exposure in A mode without even knowing what aperture you have set on the lens. This makes using non-native lenses on an m43 camera even easier. Of course you can also use the live histogram and highlight/shadow clipping warnings in other modes to get your exposure right if you prefer shooting that way.
       
      Before I made my move to m43 from Nikon I purchased a really cheap F mount adapter for G lenses from eBay so that I could mount my Nikon lenses on the Olympus E-M5. It cost me about $10 including shipping to me in South Africa which is extraordinarily cheap.
       
      At that point I only had the E-M5 body, so I didn’t have the benefit of the E-M1’s focus peaking feature when it came to focusing some of the F mount lenses I tried on the Olympus. I had to focus using the magnification method, which admittedly wasn’t ideal as it involved a few steps that weren’t always in the forefront of my mind. However, even with this somewhat hit-and-miss approach, I was quite impressed with the way some of the lenses I tried performed on the E-M5. The Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS was seemingly even sharper on the Olympus than it was on the Nikon D700. When using a Sigma 2x teleconverter coupled with that lens on the E-M5 I was able to get an effective angle of view similar to that of a 1200mm f/5.6 lens on a 135 camera. Paparazzi manna no doubt, except that the tripod support I was using for this get-up was not all that good, leaving me with no option but to use the self timer to get a sharp image. With such a small angle of view every tiny vibration felt by the camera is magnified to the point where locating anything in the EVF steady enough to focus on is a real challenge.
       
      I’d pretty much given up on the idea of using adapted lenses on my OM-D’s but the other day I was cleaning out some of the drawers in my office and I came across a clutch of Canon FD lenses that have somehow survived getting the dreaded fungus that plagues lenses in the humid climate here where I live. Included in this small collection are a Canon 19mm f/3.5, Canon 28mm f/2.8, Canon 50mm f/1.8, Canon 35-70mm f/4-5.6 zoom and a Vivitar 200mm f/3.5. I thought they might be worth trying on the E-M1.
       

      Nikon adapter (left) and Canon FD adapter (right)
       
      The short (14cm), all metal body Vivitar 200/3.5 is one lens in particular that I hoped might shine on m43 and prove to be somewhat useful given it’s small size and 400mm equivalent angle of view. With that kind of narrow view and relatively fast aperture I became curious enough to send another $10 to China for an FD adapter which arrived this past Friday. Since then I’ve been having some fun with these old FD lenses.
       
      The other lens I was curious about that I never got to try out in my film days is the Canon FD 19mm f/3.5. The reason I never got to use this guy is because it only mounts on FD bodies with mirror lock-up functions. For a short while I did have a Canon F-1 that had this feature, but for some reason I never ran a film through that hefty body. In the course of my love affair with Leica M bodies I eventually sold the F-1 but kept the 19mm.
      This lens has an extreme design - its rear element is so close to the film plane that even with the m43 adapter a portion of it still protrudes beyond the inner throat of the adapter which makes mounting it on some m43 cameras impossible as there is not enough clearance around the sensor for the rear element to fit. Fortunately the E-M1 seems to have more room in that area than the E-M5 does and after a few nervous moments during mounting it where I thought I might destroy the E-M1’s sensor by mashing it against the back of the lens, it all clicked neatly into position and nothing broke.
       
      The 19mm view would be quite wide on a 135 camera, but it offers more of a normal view (38mm) on the m43 sensor. After all those years of waiting to try it out the image quality is nothing special, in fact it’s quite disappointing, sort of soft all around, very prone to flare and largely of devoid of the contrast we’ve come to expect from modern lenses. Lens design has certainly come a long way since this chap was a desirable item for Canon shooters back in the day. I do think one area that it might prove useful in is for video use. It offers up a lot of depth of field, so if you are shooting a general scene you can set the aperture to around f/8 and everything from 1.5m to infinity is in focus (an advantage of having hyperfocal distance markings on the lens is that you can simply move the infinity symbol to the aperture you’re using and the opposite side of the scale shows where your nearest point of focus will be for that aperture). Just as well because trying to focus it manually involves some finger gymnastics as its focusing ring is wafer thin and there are only two very small ribbed sections to grip it with. Oh well, at least I know now what it’s like. I don’t think I’ll be using it all that often.
       

      L-R: Vivitar 200/3.5, Canon 28/2.8, Canon 50/1.8 and on the E-M1 the Canon 19/3.5 (note the thin focus ring)
       
      The other lens I was keen to try is the Vivitar 200mm f/3.5. Back in the heydays of manual focus lenses Vivitar weren’t exactly known for being stellar optics, but they did have their Series 1 lenses which were quite well regarded. While being exceptionally well built, my 200mm isn’t a Series 1 lens and the optics show that. It starts getting fairly sharp at around f/8, but as with the 19mm there’s this lacklustre contrast performance to deal with. Definitely not the kick-ass, small lens I had hoped might come in handy for shooting wildlife on safari.
       
      Unsurprisingly the two better FD lenses I have are the small and light Canon 28mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8 optics. Stopped down to f/4 these lenses both offer exceptional sharpness on the E-M1 and they also do pretty well in the contrast department. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 FD can be picked up for as little as $20 on eBay and when used on the m43 sensor it makes for a terrific portrait lens. The 28mm I am very impressed with as far as sharpness goes!
       

      Above and below images taken with the Vivitar 200/3.5 stopped down to about f/8 - you can see colour fringing on the royal ibis in the background below
       

       

      Above: the Canon 28mm f/2.8 turned out to be a good lens on the E-M1
       

      Above: Canon 50/1.8 FD is pretty sharp and makes for a good portrait lens on micro four thirds
       
      Recently I came across this company, Fotodiox, who have developed an m43 speed booster adapter for Canon FD and Nikon G lenses named the Excell+1. According to the literature these adapters will not only provide you with an additional stop of light, but will also shorten the FD lens focal length so that they are closer to the original by a factor of 0.72x. So when you’re using the adapter on an m43 body together with a 50mm lens instead of getting the view of a 100mm lens, you’re getting a 70mm view because the built-in optics of the adapter reduces the actual focal length of a 50mm lens to 36mm. Would be cool to pick up a Canon 85mm f/1.2 and use it with one of these adapters. You’d get an aperture of f/0.something! However, those lenses still command high prices on the used market (I saw a couple going for close to $1k on eBay), so you’d probably be better off just getting the Voigtlander 42.5mm f/0.95 native mount lenses for m43. Even so, I’d still like to try this speedbooster out on the Canon 28mm f/2.8. It would give me a very fast 41mm field of view. An interesting product for sure.
       
      At the end of the day using lenses like this on my OM-D is more about having relaxed fun than serious photography. There’s something inherently cool about putting old lenses to use again. It also slows you down some and forces you to think a bit more than usual when making a shot. I will definitely do more excursions where I only use the FD lenses. I may also just add a few more eBay bargains in the future too.
    • By Dallas
      Warning! On Fotozones we’re more interested in what we do with our camera gear, but it is also interesting to readers to know what gear works for us professional photographers and how we use it in the field. This is one of those types of posts.
       
      Looking back over the past 4 years of my dabbling with the micro four thirds system, I have used many different lenses from at least 4 different manufacturers, as well as no fewer than 8 different bodies for the system (Olympus PEN models E-P1, E-P2, E-PM2, Panasonic GF-1, Olympus OM-D models E-M5, E-M1, E-M10, E-M5 Mk II). I had a system burgeoning with different lenses and bodies, but at the beginning of this year I rationalised and got rid of a LOT of stuff. Here’s what I kept and what I have found works best for me as a professional photographer.
       
      Bodies
       
      Undoubtedly the very best body for m43 that I have had the opportunity to use so far has been the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It just seems to be able to do everything I throw at it and it produces amazing files that I have yet to find wanting in any way. I’ve shot with it up to 12,800 ISO in barely lit rooms and have been quite happy with the quality of the shots I got. Other photographers might disagree, but I don’t shoot for other photographers so their validation of what I use in my job is superfluous to my output.
       
      Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact when adjustments are made I have had no other problems with my E-M1. The recent firmware upgrade to version 4.0 brought some new features that have improved the E-M1 in many respects, including the silent shutter and the 4K time lapse video mode. It’s a great photographic tool and the Mk II that we are all looking forward to perhaps later this year or in early 2017 has very big shoes to fill.
       
      Panasonic bodies remain a problem for me to get hold of in South Africa mainly because they are no longer officially represented here, so I haven’t tried too many of them. We have to import them ourselves and that comes with a lot of risk, particularly since there is no product support. If your camera needs fixing you have to send it back to where you got it from and that could be very expensive. I have recently been working with a videographer who has a GH-4 body and it certainly looks like a very capable camera, especially for 4K video. It has a lot of features for video that the Olympus E-M1 doesn’t have, most notable being the ability to use focus peaking while filming. When you’re shooting video professionally manual focus is a must, so that feature alone is worth the sticker price for a GH-4. I don’t know that I would buy one for stills, but I am sure it is a decent performer there too.
       
      Lenses
       
      My Wide Angle Lens
       
      Of all the wide angle lenses I have tried for the m43 system the one that I have kept and still continue to use is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6. This tiny collapsible lens is the same size as the early 14-42mm kit lenses found on many m43 combo deals but it’s got a better build. There is also one of those funky rectangular lens hoods available for it (LH-55B). I bought one but I seldom use it because most of the time I am using this lens indoors for property photography. When I am using it outdoors for landscape photography I would probably have a drop in filter kit on the lens (LEE Seven5 or Cokin) which means the lens hood doesn’t fit into the system. Another thing is that the hood can’t be reversed on the lens because of its shape, so while it may look cool it isn’t very practical. That said it’s small enough to slip into a camera bag pocket without causing a storage issue. I keep it handy, just in case.
       
      The other wide angle lenses I’ve used include the new Olympus 7-14/2.8 PRO, the older Olympus 7-14/4.0 (4/3 mount) and very briefly the Panasonic 7-14/4.0. All of them are too big for m43 and in my opinion they don’t bring that significant an improvement in image quality to be worth carrying around. The 9-18mm is tiny in comparison and offers a decently wide enough angle of view to work for me. I’d rather carry less weight than have an extra few degrees of viewing angle offered by the 7-14mm options. I also find the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm focal length to be unnatural on m43. It’s very hard to compose a scene with it.
       
      My favourite little wide angle lens is still the amazing Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye. I always have this lens in my camera bag. It’s about the same size as the 9-18mm, purely manual focus, but very, very sharp and contrasty, not to mention well built. Used on a mirrorless camera in A mode I haven’t had any issues with exposure at all - the cameras always seems to be able to get it right. I set the aperture ring to about 5.6 or 8.0, set the focus to infinity and everything from about 20cm to the end of the world is in focus. It opens up a lot of creative options for me. On a recent wedding I put it on an E-M1, put that on a tripod, folded it up to use like a monopod and circled the wedding dance floor while filming. I didn’t have to focus it and the footage turned out great.
       
      I did try the new Olympus 8/1.8 PRO lens, and while it is an amazing piece of glass it is very expensive compared to the $300 Samyang (I think it comes in at about $1k). It’s also much bigger and heavier than the Samyang.
       
      My General Purpose Lens
       
      There is only one lens that fits for me and its the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO. I can’t extoll the benefits of this lens enough. It’s ridiculously fast to auto focus, is sharp as scalpels when used wide open, has great bokeh and is also weatherproof. What more could I want?
       
      I use this guy for a lot of stuff I do, including events, PJ, portraits, interior and product work too (it focuses really close and has better bokeh than the Panasonic/Leica 45/2.8 Macro I used to own). I love this lens! It actually stopped me from getting the Olympus 12/2.0 because at 12mm it’s just as good as that Olympus premium prime lens. I don’t need more aperture for wide angle work, so while the 12/2.0 is very good indeed, it is also very expensive and doesn’t do anything else besides 12mm. My money was better spent on this lens.
       
      Telephoto Lenses
       
      The best lens in my bag that is classed as a tele is the Olympus 75/1.8 ED. Nothing is better than this lens for low light work where I have some distance between me and my subject. I use it a lot for podium speakers at events and where I want to isolate a subject from the background. I don’t use it a lot at 1.8 because the depth of field is too shallow, but at 2.0 it shines. While I haven’t used it a lot for portrait work, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. I would just need to get further away from the subject for framing given the narrow angle of view. The perspective is closer to the classic 85mm portrait lens used on 35mm systems, but it has the angle of view of a 150mm lens on that system.
       
      My other telephoto lens is one that has been sitting in my cupboard unused for over 18 months, but which I hauled out recently and put back into service.
      I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s the Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD (4/3 mount). It’s got the same angle of view as a Canon 100-400 lens, but it has the benefit of a larger aperture than the Canon and it is much smaller too. Without the lens hood and tripod mount it is just as nimble as the new 40-150/2.8 PRO. Upside is you can pick it up really cheap on the used market; downside is that it can only be used on the E-M1 with the PDAF sensors driving it. The SWD version works very nicely on an E-M1. I’ve been very happy with the results from this lens and will be using it much more from now on. The big plus is that it offers a wonderful range in a small package. It has excellent bokeh, much better than the sharp but nervous 40-150/2.8 PRO.
       
      Flash
       
      The Olympus FL-600R has all the remote, bounce, tilt capability of a top of the line Nikon or Canon flash unit but comes in a much smaller package. I have 2 of them that I take with me on event shoots. I use a bounce card with them in manual mode and I have had good results. I don’t use the Olympus TTL modes because they can produce quite erratic exposures when the flash is bounced. One really good feature of this unit is that it has a built-in LED light for video. It’s pretty powerful too. Working with the FL-600R can be a bit tricky if you aren’t familiar with the setup, but I suppose that’s true for any system speed light, isn’t it?
       
      And that is all I use on any shoots these days. 5 lenses, two E-M1 bodies. I get coverage all the way from fisheye up to what 35mm system users call a 400mm lens. The best part for me is that all of this gear, including the 2 flash units fits into my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 messenger bag and isn’t all that heavy.

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    • By Dallas
      Regular readers will know that I have been a mirrorless convert since late 2013, which is when I got my Olympus E-M1. That camera has now been on 6 safaris with me in the past couple of years, including a foot slog through the iMfolozi game reserve last year. Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact (apparently caused by dust) it has been 100% reliable. In a few weeks time it will come with me back to Sabi Sabi for yet another safari. 
       
      The Mk II version is expected sometime this year but to be honest, it will take something truly extra-ordinary to come out for me to consider upgrading. I’m not that keen on more mega-pixels and I have found the auto focus system to be quite suitable for my needs. Improvements in the menu interface would be welcome though. I suppose the EVF technology is also improved quite a bit these days, although while what’s in the E-M1 now is perfectly fine for me, I do recall that the jump from the original E-M5 to the E-M1 in terms of EVF was significant. 
       
      So, camera sorted, what lenses have been the best performers for me on safari? 
       
      Over the past couple of years I have used a variety of different telephoto lenses on safari. When I was first getting into the m43 system I had the Panasonic 45-175mm X series lens (90-350mm F35 angle equiv) which did well in good light. It’s probably the one m43 lens I most regret selling, especially since the lens I gave it up for, the Olympus 75-300mm really failed to impress me. The Panasonic is very small, has a motorised zoom and while it’s got decent sharpness in its focal range, it’s best feature for me is the fact that it doesn’t change length when zooming. For a lens that is less than 10cm long, it makes a very worthy travel option. However, on safari you might find yourself wanting more range on the long side.
       

      Image taken with Panasonic 45-175mm and Olympus E-M5
       
      The Olympus 75-300mm that I mentioned certainly does give you the extra zoom range (150-600mm F35 eq) and could be considered good enough in terms of sharpness, but that slow aperture of f/6.7 at the long end just proved to be too slow, especially when light levels drop. Also, one has to understand that with such a narrow angle of view (4.1˚) you really do need good stability to get sharp photos. Even with the IBIS I often battled to hold this lens steady enough when used at 300mm. I don’t have a single photo shot with this lens that I am totally happy with. At the time I got it though it was the only game in town for m43, unless you were fortunate enough to have some legacy 4/3 telephoto glass in your back pocket, like Olympus’ 90-250/2.8 and their 300/2.8. 
       

      Image with Olympus 75-300mm on Olympus E-M1
       
      In 2014 I did manage to obtain an Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens which I used on both the Wild Waterways and Ultimate Big 5 safaris that year. I was very happy with the reach and the image quality from that lens. The equivalent Nikon/Canon option is the 80-400/100-400mm lenses, but those are slower by 1.5 stops when compared to the humble Olympus (which I should add is still obtainable new for around $1200). In my old Canon days I had the original 100-400mm lens and hated it immensely. I believe the new one is much, much better, as is the new Nikon 80-400mm. Those lenses are much more expensive than the Olympus. 
       
      The Olympus 50-200mm didn’t come with me on safari in 2015. Instead I opted to use the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO with the 1.4x TC. This was a mistake. The 40-150 is very good for subjects that are close to you (like within 30m or so), but as soon as those subjects get a bit further away I found that the lens performance dropped off. The images just seemed to lose their pop for me and subjects weren’t well defined at all. Also, the bokeh of this lens is a bit nervous in my opinion whereas the 50-200mm has beautiful bokeh and is also quite good on distant subjects. This will be my main lens for safari again this year. 
       
      Here are some images with that old Olympus. 
       

       

       

       

       
      Not hard to see why I like it so much. 
       
      New lenses I would like to try on safari include the new Olympus 300/4.0 PRO and the Panasonic 100-400mm. The Olympus continues to get rave reviews from users, but I fear that it will be simply too long to use at a place like Sabi Sabi where we get very close to our subjects. If I was interested in birds then that would be a different story. The Panasonic remains an unknown entity for safaris so hopefully soon I might be able to get one for evaluation. It certainly does have a good range for that use.
       
      Bag wise I am considering taking only my little ThinkTank Retrospective 7 this year. I have the much bigger Retro 50 which can take my laptop, but once I am there I don't want to carry such a big bag around on the vehicle so I will probably take the Retro 7 with the 2 E-M1 bodies, the 50-200/2.8-3.5 on one body with a grip and my other body with the 12-40/2.8 PRO for general purpose snapshots. If I get a demo lens from either Panasonic or Olympus to try out then I will have to take the bigger bag. 
       
      One thing is for sure, I am really looking forward to being on safari again! 
       

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    • By Dallas
      The first in this series of articles dealt with the better zoom lenses that are available for the micro four thirds system. That article was warmly received by many of our FZ members as well as guests who commented on it on other websites. This edition of the series deals with the prime lenses available for m43 and what your best options are if you’re looking to build up a system of m43 kit.
      As I said in the zoom lens article, this is based to some degree on my personal experiences with many of the lenses, but for some of the options I am only going on what I have researched by scouring over many online reviews (trust me, I thoroughly research everything I’m interested in).
      I’ll split the options up into three main segments, namely wide angle (7mm - 20mm), general purpose (25mm - 30mm) and telephoto (above 30mm). These are of course micro four thirds focal lengths. If you want to know the equivalent 135 system angle of view you simply double the m43 focal length number and you’ll find the lens focal length that most closely matches the angle of view in 135. Example; a 25mm m43 lens has an equivalent angle of view to a 50mm on the larger 135 system. It is NOT an equivalent focal length, just an equivalent angle of view. 25mm is 25mm on any camera system.
      Wide Angles To Consider Getting
      7.5mm f/3.5 Samyang Fisheye ($300)
      8mm f/3.5 Panasonic Fisheye ($640)
      12mm f/2.0 Olympus ($800)
      14mm f/2.5 Panasonic ($300)
      15mm f/1.7 Panasonic/Leica Summilux ($600)
      17mm f/1.8 Olympus ($500)
      17.5mm f/0.95 Voigtlander Nokton ($1150)
      19mm f/2.8 Sigma DN “Art” ($200)
      20mm f/1.7 Panasonic ($430)
      Looking at the list above you can see that there’s more than just a clutch of options available if wide angles are your thing. You’ve got all the way from the 180˚ fisheye options to the moderately wide 20mm fast option from Panasonic. Which one(s) do you chose?

      Regular readers will already know that I have the Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye and I absolutely love this little lens. It’s super sharp everywhere, well built and it also has a manual aperture ring, which is not something you see much of these days. The downside to this lens is that it’s manual focus and there is no information about aperture passed to the camera, which means that you have to meter manually or trust the camera’s guesswork based on what it sees through the lens. I only shoot with it in A mode and somehow both my OM-D cameras get the exposure spot on. Most of the time. Because of the fact that its a fisheye lens and you’re shooting on a smaller format, the manual focus aspect hardly ever comes into play. I usually set the aperture for f/5.6 and focus at infinity. Nearly everything is in focus with that setting.
      The other native m43 fisheye option is the Panasonic 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye. I don’t know much about this lens other than if I want one I will have to import it myself and that it costs more than double the price of the Samyang ($300 versus $640) and also that it has autofocus. The question I guess I have to ask is whether or not getting auto focus is worth more than double the price? The answer for me is a resounding no. Not when you hardly need to focus the Samyang. I don’t think the Panasonic would be all that much better in terms of sharpness either, so my choice is obvious: save the money and get the Samyang. They also sell this exact same lens under the Rokinon brand.
      Moving to the more moderate wide angles you will find the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 which is the same as your 24mm lenses on the big sensor DLSR cameras. This particular lens gets excellent reviews everywhere. It’s considered one of the lenses to get for m43, so I’m definitely keen on getting my grubby paws on one at some point. I just have to find the $800 asking price!The next step up the line is the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 which is also considered a great lens by many. The strong point of this guy is that its so tiny, probably not much bigger than the size of a Nikkor rear lens cap. I’m not a big fan of the 28mm equivalent angle of view, so it’s not high on my GAS list.

      Creep up just a millimetre and we find the recently introduced Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 Summilux. As with everything Leica puts their name on, you can be assured of top quality optical design. This lens has a very fast maximum aperture so you’ll be able to get wonderfully short depth of field with it, and as with most m43 lenses it’s usable wide open, which is more than can be said for a lot of bigger format lenses of similar aperture. It’s on my GAS list, purely because of this fast aperture, which is something I would find very useful for low light work where a wide aperture is needed.As we get closer to the “normal” angle of view we find the Olympus 17mm f/1.8, which is a lens I wish I had, but then when it’s compared with other lenses that offer a similar specification my desire to charge ahead and buy it finds itself under the gearbox clutch: motor spinning but no drive to the wheels. Why is this?

      Well, it comes down to two things, I guess. Firstly there’s the price aspect of that lens. It’s not cheap at $500. Especially when you take a look at the alternative Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 that can be had for $430 (often discounted to much less in online deals). In researching these two lenses you will often read reports from users that the Panny is considered noticeably sharper when wide open and has better bokeh. Secondly there’s the issue of auto focus speed. The Olympus is hands down much faster to focus than the Panny. The only reason I would want either of these lenses is for use in very low light, so that I could shoot them wide open and be assured of a sharp result, yet I can’t have my cake and eat it, because the Panny, while considered the better lens wide open, doesn’t have the auto focus performance that you’d need when you’re shooting in low light. So you’ve got the sharpness need covered in the inferior focusing Panny, and you’ve got the AF speed covered in the more expensive and slightly less sharp Oly. Is the superior sharpness worth more to me than the superior auto focus speed? I can’t have both, so I haven’t made a decision on which lens to get yet. In all likelihood if I was to find a good deal on either of them I would probably spring the dough. But it would have to be a really good deal. Like half price good. Stuck inbetween the two lenses above is the seldom mentioned Sigma 19mm f/2.8 Art. Sigma recently updated this lens to being a part of its “Art” line. If you’ve seen any of the new Sigma’s you’ll know they ain’t messing about when it comes to quality. I have on loan the older plastic finished version of this lens, which is optically the same and I’ll be honest with you, this is a great lens which if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s maximum aperture is only 2.8 would make me forget all about the other two mentioned in the previous paragraphs. It’s very sharp wide open and it also has wonderful bokeh, so for street photography in decent light it’s a superb option and I can highly recommend getting one. Best attribute? It’s only $200, even less if you catch the rebates currently on offer from some stockists in the US. Highly recommended for m43.

      The one lens I am unlikely to ever get because of its price and the fact that it is manual focus is the über fast $1150 Voigtländer Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95. Reviewers of this lens sing its praises very highly, but for me the size, weight and price, coupled with the fact that it’s manual focus make it an unlikely bedfellow for my OM-D cameras. That, and the fact that getting one locally would be darn near impossible unless I import it myself. Put another way, the lens may be exotic, but it doesn’t have enough charm to seduce me.So as you can see, there are a few options open for wide angle prime lenses for m43. It basically comes down to how wide you want to shoot and how wide you want to open your wallet.
      Standard Lenses
      25mm f/0.95 Voitländer Nokton ($1000)
      25mm f/1.4 Panasonic/Leica Summilux ($600)
      25mm f/1.8 Olympus ($400)
      30mm f/2.8 Sigma Art ($200)
      If you’re a standard lens shooter on the 135 system then you’re probably going to be familiar with the venerable 50mm fast lens that has been around since Pa fell off the bus. For micro four thirds there are 4 lenses with a similar angle of view to choose from.
      I’m not a standard lens shooter, but I guess if I was to chose between the four listed above I would need to make a case for whether the increased maximum aperture on the Pan/Leica is worth a 50% price premium over the Olympus, or a 200% premium over the Sigma 30mm option. For me personally the Voigtländer Nokton falls into the same “unobtainium” category as the 17.5mm Nokton. It may be a great fast lens, but without autofocus and its big price tag it doesn’t ring my bell.
      It’s hard to make a special case for any of them because they are all good lenses, so it definitely comes down to how much light you think you’re going to need from your standard view lens. If you want bokeh you get the Pan/Leica or Voigtländer. If you want to save money but not skimp on image quality you get the Sigma. If you want Goldilocks you get the Olympus. I have the sigma 30mm on loan too and it’s OK, but as mentioned it doesn’t offer an angle of view that I find easy to work with, so I am struggling a little to get my creative eye into it. It is sharp enough at f/2.8 though and definitely worth the very low asking price.
      Telephoto Lenses
      42.5mm f/0.95 Voigtländer Nokton ($1,000)
      42.5mm f/1.2 Panasonic/Leica Nocticron ($1,500)
      45mm f/1.8 Olympus ($280)
      45mm f/2.8 Panasonic/Leica Macro-Elmarit ($900)
      60mm f/2.8 Olympus ED Macro ($450)
      75mm f/1.8 Olympus ED ($900)
      150mm f/2.0 Olympus (four thirds) ($2,500)
      300mm f/2.8 Olympus (four thirds) ($6,500)
      Telephotos are what gets most people interested in photography and for m43 there is an abundance of prime lenses to choose from.
      The first lens on the list above is the über fast Voitlander 42.5mm f/0.95. As with the other two Voigtlander lenses its a manual focus job, so if you’re planning on using this lens, you’ll need to practise your technique using the visual aids on your EVF to get focus nailed, especially if shot wide open. I personally wouldn’t go for something this expensive that didn’t have auto focus, but then I have become a slave to the trappings of technology. Hopefully not everyone has become as lazy as me!

      Recently Panasonic and Leica once again collaborated on a lens design that saw the birth of the highly acclaimed 42.5mm Nocticron, a lens with a price tag that makes the “unobtainium” Voigtländer Nokton seem like a bargain in comparison. So far what I’m reading online is that it’s one of those lenses us low pay grade bumpkins are going to salivate over until we mortgage the house, sell the dogs, or engage in illicit dealings to get our hands on it. In other words an extremely desirable item. If you can afford it and you want the very best image quality m43 can offer you to make portraits with, this is something you’ll want to investigate. I do hope that other manufacturers look at this spec and offer a cheaper alternative. The sublime Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 is the same angle of view and aperture, but it only costs 2/3rds of the price. That lens has a lot of photographers rushing to the Fuji system, so m43 needs to get a handle on the pricing of its equivalent offerings if it is to remain a viable option.
      For the rest of us mere mortals there is another option, the very capable Olympus 45mm f/1.8. I have this lens and got it based on the high praise it got from many users all over the web. The auto focus is Usain Bolt like, it offers excellent sharpness wide open and it’s a diminutive lens, weighing only 116g. When its on my OM-D it looks almost like a cotton reel attached to the camera its so tiny. The image quality is awesome too and the best part is that its one of the great bargains of the m43 system. It’ll only lighten your wallet by $280. It’s a great lens for portraits, but also other stuff done at that angle of view.The other option for m43 at this focal length is the Panasonic/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit. I have this lens too and it’s wonderful. Sharp, optically stabilised for those using Panasonic bodies without in-body stabilisation, and it also has one of those groovy rectangular lens hoods (which incidentally also perfectly fits the Sigma 19mm). The only thing about this lens that I don’t like is that it focuses slowly. The other thing that tends to throw potential buyers off is the fact that it is not cheap at $900. Is it a good macro lens? For me it’s great, but macro isn’t my area of interest, so I can’t really give you an informed opinion on that aspect. Some reviewers love it for macro, while others have panned it. Can’t please everyone I guess.
      The m43 macro lens that has made photographers stand up and yodel its praises is the newish Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro. Every review I have read about it says the same thing: it’s sublime. Some reviewers have even gone so far as to say that it’s the best macro lens they have ever used. I can imagine that with the 20˚ angle of view it offers it will be ideal for insect close-ups. It’s also half the price of the Pan/Leica 45mm. Definitely on my GAS list even though I’m not really a macro shooter.

      If there is a lens for m43 that you absolutely have to have, it is the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED. This all metal, stubby little fella produces some of the sharpest images I have ever seen and throws the argument that you can’t get shallow depth of field with a small sensor right in the trashcan. I have reviewed this lens before and could extoll its virtues all day if given the opportunity, but suffice to say that if you’re intent on spending $900 on a lens, this is a very good way to do it. You’ll get the equivalent angle of view of a 150mm lens on a 135 system camera, with a huge aperture, but you’ll only be carrying a fraction of the weight. For low light jobs such as stage work and indoor sports, this lens totally rocks. It has a great working distance for tight portraits too.The next two lenses I’m going to discuss are legacy four thirds mounts from Olympus. Both of them have earned their reputations as being some of the very best optics you can buy. The Olympus 150mm f/2.0 is a heavy little fellow at 1.465kg but it offers the popular angle of view of 8.2˚ which is the same as that of a 300mm lens on your “full frame” systems. The difference is that you’re getting a full stop’s worth of extra light with this lens. What can you do with it? Take a look at this Flickr search for images shot with it. Impressive! If I was going to spend $2500 on a telephoto lens I think I would definitely consider this one, especially if you partner it with a 2x teleconverter. You would have the equivalent of a 600mm f/4. Possibly not good for birds in flight - I have not ever used an Olympus four thirds teleconverter - but for stationary subjects that you can’t approach easily, this could definitely be a short solution to a long problem.

      The other four thirds option is the Olympus 300mm f/2.8. This is every bit as big as a 300mm 2.8 from all the other big name makers. The compelling difference with this $6500 beast is that the 4.1˚ angle of view is the same as that of a 600mm lens for bigger 135 system, except that you’re gathering double the light with your f/2.8 maximum aperture as opposed to the f/4.0 maximum aperture lenses made for the larger systems. Combine that with the in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) on the Olympus E-M1 and you’ve got yourself an unbeatable telephoto lens for that angle of view. Personally I’m only likely to get a lens like this when somebody offers me one at a ridiculously low price.

      So these are most of the highly recommended prime lenses for micro four thirds. There are a few I didn't include, but only because I know nothing about them. As you can see, apart from the absence of tilt-shift lenses, m43 offers a nice variety of top class options from a number of manufacturers and that list is getting longer all the time. If you have any experience with shooting the lenses I have mentioned but do not have first hand experience with, please do add your opinions of them to this articles in the comments section.
      In the next Rough Guide Series instalment I will have a look at some of the various bodies currently on offer to m43 users.

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    • By Dallas
      I get asked by other photographers quite often for a quick overview of the big differences between the Micro Four Thirds (m43) system and the DSLR systems such as Canon and Nikon, or basically what they should be looking to purchase if they decided to make the switch from larger format cameras to smaller formats and keep the same functionality they already have.
      There’s a lot of information available out there on the internet, but it takes a lot of time to read through it all and it’s made all the more difficult if you don’t know anything at all about the m43 system or what to investigate. So I have put together this rough guide series to shed some light on what products stand out in each respective area of interest. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a good indication of what to investigate further if you’re serious about moving to, or adding this format to your photography gear.
      The first in this series deals with the “Holy Trinity” type zoom lens options, namely wide angles, general purpose and telephotos. These are my own opinions based on research I have done myself and supported wherever possible by personal experiences of the items.
      Best Wide Angle Zoom Lens Options
      Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0
      Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6
      Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 (four thirds)
      Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO (not available yet)
      I only had a very brief exposure to the Panasonic 7-14mm lens when I was first getting back into the m43 system about 2.5 years ago. I had just bought a Panasonic GF-1 for a good price from a store that was clearing all their Panasonic m43 inventory and their asking price for the lens was around $500 at that time. I put it on my GF-1 and took a few shots around the store, but it felt very unbalanced on such a small camera and I thought, geez, for $500 I could buy a nice DSLR lens that I didn’t already have, so I passed. Little did I realise that the actual price of the lens was closer to $1200, so in hindsight I should have zapped it up.
      I ended up getting the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is a much, much smaller lens. It’s collapsible too, so if you’re limited for weight you really can’t ask for more. I find that it’s a nice sharp lens and performs really well in landscapes. Obviously it’s not nearly as wide as the 7-14mm options, but it does well in its range (similar view to 18-35mm FX lenses). I used this lens extensively on our safari to Namibia in 2013 and was really pleased with all the results I got shooting those harsh desert landscapes. The lens has held up quite well in the cosmetics department too, having accompanied me on many photo excursions for work and play since I got it.



      Earlier this year I had the opportunity to buy the older Olympus 7-14mm f/4.0 lens that was originally designed for use on the Olympus DSLR’s. If you mate it with an MMF adapter you can use it on the OM-D’s with varying degrees of autofocus compatibility. It’s terrible on the E-M5 (hunts like crazy) but it works decidedly better on the E-M1, which has the necessary phase detection AF sensors on the imager itself. Image quality wise it’s very, very good, but it’s also very, very expensive at $1800. It has full weather sealing so if you’re using it on the E-M1 with the MMF-3 adapter you will have a weatherproof solution. The downside is that it’s very large and therefore it doesn’t balance well on an E-M1 without the HLD-7 grip, which defeats the purpose of having a smaller kit (this lens is of similar proportions to the Sigma 12-24mm FX lens).

      Big and heavy, the Olympus 7-14mm f/4 is an expensive option but well worth the money


      The final option is the announced, but only available in 2015 all new Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens. This will be one of the siblings making up the Holy Trinity of Olympus pro zoom lenses and if the already existing 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is any indication of the quality we can expect, I think it is most likely going to be the one to get, mainly because of its native mount to the m43 system.
      If you can’t wait for that one to arrive then you would probably do well to get the Olympus 9-18mm lens as its by far the cheapest option. You could always sell it once the PRO lens arrives. I will keep mine as a lightweight option.
      Best General Purpose Zoom Lens OptionsPanasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6
      Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8
      Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
      Olympus 12-35mm f/2.0 (four thirds)
      There are three pro spec lenses here to chose from on my list above, but there are also a myriad of consumer grade kit lenses available from both Panasonic and Olympus, including many variations of the 14-42mm. I haven’t used many of them but there is one consumer grade standout lens and that is the one in my list here, the now discontinued Panasonic 14-45mm. This one is really very good and prior to my getting the 12-40mm it was my go to lens for the E-M5. I still use it sometimes, especially if I am doing work in a dodgy location where the possibility of being liberated of my gear is relatively high. At least the loss of this lens as opposed to the PRO version would be easier to bear.
      The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is something else. This is a beautiful piece of glass from Olympus. Well finished, wonderful optics and extremely fast focusing on the OM-D bodies I have. I rate it as being better than the Nikon 24-70/2.8 I used to own and that’s saying something because as anyone who has used the Nikkor knows, it’s a serious optic too. However, to get the best out of the Nikkor you have to stop it down to at least f/4. The Olympus lens is sharp right from f/2.8.
      I don’t know too much about the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 but it was on the market long before the Oly arrived. Reports I have read from many users are all positive about this one, so if you can get one to try you should definitely do that. An advantage to this lens is of course that it has built in image stabilisation, so if you have chosen a Panasonic body instead of an Olympus one for your m43 system this will be stabilised whereas the Oly lenses won’t, since Olympus bodies have image stabilisers on the sensor, thus making any lens you mount on the camera stabilised.

      Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0 - one of the fastest zoom lenses with a constant aperture.


      The final stand out lens is again a four thirds lens that you can use on the E-M1 with an MMF adapter. I have not used one, but stop and take another look at the figures on this lens. The constant maximum aperture is f/2.0. That’s right, it’s a whole stop faster than any of the other pro lenses! At $2300 it’s certainly not a cheap option, but if you want a fast zoom lens they don’t get much faster than this. Downside is of course the physical size, so unless you have a true need for the speed of the lens you’re better off with the native mount options.
      Best Telephoto Zoom Lens Options
      Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8
      Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 (four thirds)
      Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO (not available yet)
      Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 (four thirds)
      Olympus 90-250mm f/2.8 (four thirds)
      One of the biggest advantages of a small sensor like m43 is that telephoto lenses are typically much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, yet offer just as tight an angle of view. It surprises me that more birders haven’t adopted m43 as a system because there is such a wonderful array of both exotic and practical telephoto lenses available. Not only that, with adapters you can put any lens on the camera and capture the best central part of the optics of that lens with an m43 size sensor. Obviously you will need to be quick on the manual focus, but with slower moving subjects and focus peaking functionality (not to mention the IBIS on Olympus cameras) you have a field of view that is typically half of what you’re seeing on an FX camera.

      The ultimate safari lens! The 90-250mm f/2.8 offers an angle of view equal to a 180-500mm lens on FX format.


      If your primary interest in the m43 system is to get a good telephoto lens for longer reach, like wildlife or sports, you’re probably going to want to look at the four thirds range where there are a number of options that will truly knock your socks off (and lighten your wallet). The one stand-out lens that I would love to use is the 90-250mm f/2.8. In FX terms it gives you a 180-500mm angle of view, with the constant f/2.8 aperture. I cannot think of a more useful range for wildlife safaris than that. At $6k it’s not going to be within everyone’s reach, but when compared to the Nikon and Canon 200-400mm f/4 options and their respective costs it starts to look a lot more interesting.

      The Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 is a very capable, compact telephoto option for m43


      I have the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 which offers the FX equivalent of a 100-400mm lens. It’s a lot cheaper than the 90-250mm and it’s also a much faster optic than the Canon 100-400mm and the Nikon 80-400mm. Having owned the Canon 100-400mm IS when I first got into digital photography I can say in all honestly that this Olympus lens beats the pants of that Canon, by a long way. It’s sharper, has great contrast and colour too. I haven’t ever used the Nikon 80-400mm lenses so I can’t draw a comparison with it. Obviously the main advantage on the Oly is the faster aperture at the long end, which is a whole stop and a third brighter than the Canon/Nikon options, but there is also another advantage in that it is much cheaper at only $1200 compared to the $2800 asking price for the new Nikkor. It is also fully weather sealed and the hood has a hatch that slides open so you can use your polariser or variable ND filters easily. It’s the lens I am going to be using on safari this year.
      Panasonic haven’t really developed much in the longer telephoto area, however they were the first to introduce a pro spec shorter range telephoto in the form of the 35-100mm f/2.8. This is your general purpose telephoto lens similar to the 70-200mm f/2.8 FX lens that is mostly used by wedding photographers. User reports on this lens are all mostly very positive and at $1200 it’s an attractive option.
      There’s another 35-100mm lens that will blow your hair back and that is the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 for the four thirds mount. Yes, that’s right, it’s an f/2.0 optic, constant throughout the zoom range. I have handled this lens briefly as a colleague of mine owns one, plus I have seen some of his images shot with it. On the E-M1 this lens is jaw-droppingly good. I can’t even begin to describe how sharp and punchy it is. It will set you back around $2500 but if you can get one and you don’t mind the size of it, you will not be disappointed with what it can do. Highly recommended!

      Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 is a lens to die for!


      The last lens to mention in this first instalment of the Rough Guide series is the announced, but as yet not available Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. This will be the one I buy, mainly because it will be affordable and also it’s a native m43 mount, so no adapter is needed. It will autofocus with the CDAF system on the E-M1 so I will be able to shoot at 10 frames per second with it. Not really required, but nice to have. The expected street price is said to be around $1300.
      These are the top end lens options open to those who are thinking about adopting the m43 system. As mentioned at the start of the article there are other cheaper options too, so if you’re put off by the prices of some of these lenses, do have a look at the other options too.
      As a final note I should add that there are at least three Olympus adapters available to mate the older 4/3rds lenses to the m43 mount. These are the MMF1, MMF2 and MMF3. They all do the same thing and there is no difference in auto focus performance between them, but only the MMF3 has the weather sealing, so if that's an important feature for you to have then you ought to opt for it. It's slightly more expensive than the others at $160. Panasonic also make an adapter that does the same thing, the DMW-MA1 and it's much cheaper at a shade over $100. Not sure if that one is weather sealed. There is no glass in these adapters so image quality is exactly the same on m43 as it is on 4/3.
      In the next edition of this series I will have a look at the prime lenses for the system.
      If you're thinking about buying any of these items please consider starting your shopping at our affiliate retailers by using any of the links to their shops found at the bottom of the page. This will be most appreciated.

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    • By Dallas
      What Will I Compromise On If I Move From A DSLR to Olympus OM-D?
       
      This is a fair question.
       
      As photographers we spend a lot of time researching lenses, camera bodies and other accessories so that we can get the best possible results. In my opinion the only way to find out the truth about how something performs is to try it out yourself. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have bought a lens or a camera based on the recommendations of others only to find that I hated it. The opposite is true too, where I have bought lenses that other reviewers have pasted but I ended up loving them. OK, so not everyone can afford to drop a few thousand Dollars on every new camera or lens that comes out in the hope that it meets expectations (especially not me), but if you’re going to use a review site to form an opinion, at least make sure you check with one that delivers actual results in the form of images you can relate to. Stuff that you're going to make yourself.
       
      I have never and I will never look at scientific charts to make a decision on whether a lens or camera is going to cut it for me. I will look at photos of real subject matter and wherever possible I will go out and make photos of subjects I like to shoot, assess them and decide for myself if the gear meets my expectation. If I need the camera/lens for action photography I will look for sites where the authors show actual action shots using the equipment, or I'll borrow the lens/camera and go and do some of my own work. If I want the camera/lens to do portraiture I will look for a site that shows actual portraits taken for real world use or go and do it myself. You get the picture? If the reviewer is not showing photos like the ones you want to take, how can they make a decision on how it performs in that situation? Conjecture? Well, personally I don't go for that. Show me the shots I will probably want to take. Don't show me charts and make inferences from them.
       
      So when I first got interested in m43 I didn’t get my information from the likes of dpreview, DXO or any of those scientific sites. I went to Flickr and some other image hosting sites where there were actual photos I could look at taken with the kit I was interested in. What I found on Flickr when looking at shots taken with the OM-D system kind of floored me. Surely it couldn’t be that good? Why aren’t more people using it? I had to know more, so I got involved and what I discovered is that the so-called disadvantages of smaller sensors that are constantly being debated online didn't affect my photography at all.
       
      In my opinion the micro four thirds image quality has advanced to the place where under normal viewing conditions you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between photos taken with the big expensive DSLRs and those taken with something like the Olympus E-M1. So what was I losing out on? These are the main compromises you'll read about online.
       

      Compromise #1: Depth Of Field Is Increased
      (often interpreted as "you can't get shallow depth of field from a small sensor")
       
      As the camera’s sensor gets bigger while aperture stays wide open, the depth of field decreases. According to scientific calculations the m43 system is about 2 stops different in terms of d.o.f. when compared to the same photograph taken at the same focal length and perspective of the 135 system. This is explained very nicely on this page, so I won't go into it here, but If you’ve ever had a look at the effects of this on a very fast lens you’ll see that 2 stops doesn’t make an enormous difference to the out of focus areas of your frame at all. However, something to consider very seriously is that when you are shooting a very fast lens on a large sensor at wide aperture, you have to absolutely nail the focus otherwise your image is going to look soft all over. You're going to be stopping down anyway, so why not enjoy more depth of field with wider apertures and the resulting faster shutter speed in the first place?
       
      This is just the nature of the fast lens on a bigger sensor. How often do you actually find yourself shooting them wide open and nailing the focus? In my experience the phase detection autofocus systems used in these big DSLR’s are just not always accurate enough for this and unless you spend a lot of time calibrating your autofocus you’re going to run into this problem over and over again with ultra-fast lenses shot wide open - almost everything looks soft. It takes a lot of practise and technique to get it right.
       
      So, very short depth of field is not as short on m43 but this is to a large degree dependent on the shooting situation, distance to the subject and distance from the background. I have seen some amazing images shot on m43 that have very short depth of field - just go and visit Robin Wong’s blog to see what I mean. I’m totally fine with the depth of field of my fast glass on m43 - I'd rather have more depth of field at wider apertures than less.
       
      Click on the images to enlarge them.
       

       

       

       

      Compromise #2: The Resolution Is Lower
       
      The resolution of the current generation of m43 cameras tops out at 16MP, which is significantly less than something like the Nikon D800 and slightly less than the 22MP Canon 5DMk3.
       
      How important is this? Some photographers have genuine needs for the extremely high image resolution, like making large, highly detailed prints, whereas many others need it mainly for having the ability to zoom into a small part of an image and marvel at whatever detail they might find there. Yes, it’s cool to be able to do that, but in reality it’s not a good reason for buying camera X or lens Y. Not in my opinion anyway. Besides, if you’re shooting something like a landscape you can quite easily obtain a high resolution file by stitching several images together.
       
      I have made a conscious decision to assess images I take as an entire thing as they would be seen by a non-photographer (ie, client) and not to nit pick about micro contrast, chromatic aberrations or or how much tonality exists at a 100% crop of any given image. The only reason I zoom into an image at 100% is to check that I have got the parts I want to be in focus nice and sharp. Other than that I make my decision on image quality by looking at the whole image. If it looks great when you’re looking at the whole thing do I really care what it looks like when I am looking at a tiny part of it? No. I don’t care at all.
       
      Not everyone agrees with this approach and I dare say that if the resolution aspect is that important to you, then perhaps the micro four thirds system is not the thing that will satisfy you right now. For me 16MP is plenty. I can make good prints out of them and I can still crop away significant parts of an image with decent results.
       

       

      Compromise #3: High ISO Is Not As Good As DSLR
       
      I’ve seen some photos shot on cameras like the Nikon D3S and the new Nikon D4S and Df. They’re undisputed kings of the high ISO world and you can comfortably shoot them at ridiculously high ISO values over 25600 and get perfectly acceptable image quality by any standards. However, I have to say that the Olympus E-M1 is producing very acceptable images for me at ISO 12800 too. I am actually quite often startled at just how well this particular camera deals with noise at such high ISO values. This is something we couldn’t do with the E-M5, where 3200 was about as high as I liked to go. Anything higher resulted in banding and a general loss of image aesthetic.
       
      I don’t think you can really call the E-M1 high ISO images noisy so much as you can call them grainy. And in my book grain is good. It adds atmosphere to images. The grain on the E-M1 at ISO 12800 is not anything like the kind of pain I often felt from looking at images shot on certain lesser DSLR cameras at significantly lower ISO values in the past. There’s no luminance noise that shouts at me and while the graininess becomes quite visible the higher up the scale you go, it’s not affecting the sharpness of the images as much as you’d expect it to. I run a slight noise reduction preset over my images in Lightroom, just enough to drop the grain a bit without affecting fine details and I’m very happy with what I see. Convert it to black and white and you might be forgiven for thinking you’re shooting with old Kodak Tri-X pushed a few stops. Tri-X was the staple film stock used by generations of photojournalists in the 20th century and its ISO rating is 400. Imagine the shots the journos of the day might have been able to get if they could have shot at 12800, had the fast glass and a built-in image stabiliser on their film?
       
      So is it possible to use an E-M1 at high ISO values? Oh yes, it certainly is. But you shouldn’t expect results quite as good as those found on cameras that are known to excel at high ISO, such as the likes of the Nikon D4, etc. I’d put the high ISO aesthetic performance of the E-M1 about a stop above that of the Nikon D700 (which I used for 5 years in many a low light situation), so if you’re using that camera as a benchmark you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what the E-M1 does. It’s a whole lot better than the E-M5 too. I use the word aesthetic because while the D700 might have less noise at the same ISO values, the grain of the E-M1 just looks better to my eyes. I would never shoot the D700 at 6400 on purpose, yet I am quite happy to shoot the E-M1 at 12800 - it just looks better. Your mileage may vary depending on your tastes.
       

       

       

       

      Compromise #4: Auto Focus Tracking is Inferior to DSLR’s
      The E-M1 has made huge strides in the auto focus tracking department compared to its forerunner the E-M5. This is because they added phase detection auto focus sensors on the imager. It makes a big difference because it is now possible to get decent auto focus using the older 4/3rds lenses.
       
      When I say “decent” I’m not talking blazing fast like you’d get on a top of the line pro DSLR body with lens to match, but decent in the sense that your lens isn’t going to take forever to acquire focus. Depending on the lens you’ll experience something not unlike what you would get from the older Nikon screwdriver type auto focus lenses. I have the Olympus 7-14mm f/4 and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5. The 50-200mm is the lens I’d most likely be using to track objects (sports and wildlife) and it focuses really quickly for me, even in poor light. It’s snappy, but there’s a very brief adjustment (back and forth) when it first locks on. Once it does lock on, it doesn’t let go easily.
       
      Bird in flight photographers would not like this behaviour. I don’t do a lot of bird photography, so for me it’s not a deal breaker. I think it’s good enough for me to use on the types of action photography I am more in tune with, namely surfing, motor sport and land based wildlife.
       

       

       
      There are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to autofocus performance with the E-M1. The E-M1 makes use of a dual AF system, namely phase detection and contrast detection, but it decides on its own when to switch between them based on the type of lens mounted. It’s not a user setting that can be changed. When you’re using a micro four thirds lens it will only deploy CDAF, even when its in AF-Tracking mode. The only time it uses the PDAF mode is when there is a four thirds legacy lens mounted. You will notice when it’s in this mode because the AF point layout in the EVF changes from the wide grid to a diamond type layout typically found in a DSLR.
       
      AF-Tracking performance in the CDAF is a lot better on the E-M1 than it is in the E-M5, but the only m43 telephoto lens I have been able to try this out on is the Olympus 75-300mm, which admittedly I am not all that fond of. I did use it once or twice to do surfing shots with and it worked fine in AF-Tr. I can imagine that once the PRO telephotos for m43 arrive (the 40-150/2.8 and the 300/4.0) the tracking performance will get better.
       

       

      TTL Flash - Compromise or Embedded Memory Confusion?
       
      I will admit to being a little less than thrilled with the way Olympus do TTL flash. It’s complicated but once you do understand how it all works, it is certainly very capable. It offers everything the Nikon CLS offers, but just in a different way.
       
      My biggest gripe is that the interface on the FL-600R flash units is fiddly. You have to contend with buttons and a dial to adjust things and getting used to it takes some time. With the Nikon CLS it was pretty much “plug and play” whereas with the Olympus flash system it’s “plug and pray that you have the correct settings on the flash AND on the camera”. Yes, you also have settings on the camera that you need to fiddle with in order to get the exposure right. I find this very counter intuitive and its especially problematic when you want to bounce flash in TTL mode during an event. I’ve had to resort to putting the flash into manual mode and adjusting the output by compensation dialling the power. Very old school. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by the new school where thinking about flash settings isn’t hard wired into my brain and Nikon iTTL became a crutch.
       
      On the plus side once you get used to the interface there isn’t much you can’t do with the Olympus flash system. For wireless use indoors it works very much the same way that Nikon CLS does and you can also control up to three groups of flashes from your OM-D using the little clip on flash as a commander. The pop-up flash on my Nikon D700 only allowed me to control 2 groups.
       
      I bought two of the FL-600R flash units and while they are diminutive compared to the likes of a Nikon SB-910, they pack a punch. If I need to produce head shots on a white background it’s an easy setup and using manual output on both the background light and key light, I have been rewarded with pretty good results.
       

      Shot with two FL-600R units, one into an umbrella and the other bounced onto the background
       

      In Conclusion
       
      As far as I can tell, what I’ve described here are the only tangible compromises I’ve encountered where a DSLR may have an advantage over the OM-D system. For me none of them were critical enough to prevent a complete switch over to OM-D from my fairly well equipped Nikon eco-system and if I am honest with myself and my readers, there are too many advantages to OM-D that cannot be reproduced on a DSLR for me to consider a DSLR as being a better option. Not for the kind of work I do anyway.

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    • By Dallas
      Since I first got involved with using m43 cameras a few years ago I have used quite a few lenses for the system from various manufacturers. Some of them are pretty meh, but there are some others that will really surprise you. These are the 5 I reach for most often.
      Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye
      Samyang is a specialist lens manufacturer based in South Korea. Prior to learning about this fisheye lens, I had read some glowing reviews of their other lenses online, particularly the 85mm f/1.4 they produce for 135 systems. Reviews of the 7.5mm fisheye also showed a good reputation amongst users, so I decided to get one.
      The prices of their lenses are very reasonable when compared to OEM lenses, as well as other 3rd party manufactured ones. The 7.5mm fisheye I have chosen here is only $300. It’s very sharp and produces lovely vibrant colours on both my OM-D cameras.
      The only downside to the Samyang range is that they are all manual focus lenses and they have no electronics at all in the bodies. This means that you have to set aperture manually too.
      Focusing the 7.5mm fisheye on the OM-D’s is actually a doddle, even without the focus peaking feature of the E-M1. The depth of field is so great that if you stop the lens down to around f/5.6 or f/8 just about everything is in focus. If I leave my OM-D in aperture priority mode, somehow the camera gets the exposure right 99% of the time, so this lens has become a very firm favourite of mine. I can highly recommend getting one.

      Round lens in a round room. My cabin at the Sossussvlei Dune Lodge in Namibia.
      Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit
      I picked up this lens on a bargain half price sale a couple of years ago. It’s construction is primarily plastic and polycarbonite, but it focuses very close and the optics from Leica are typically excellent.
      Up until the release of the Olympus 60mm macro lens, there weren’t any other options for doing macro on micro four thirds, so this lens became quite desirable amongst photographers using that system, which I think is probably why it had such a high asking price of around $900. Those prices are under pressure now and I see that both Amazon and B&H are offering it for $720.
      Is it worth the money? I definitely think so, but you’d be using this primarily as a macro lens. The auto focus is a bit too slow for it to do duty as a portrait lens in my opinion. Compared to the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 it’s a complete slouch, but it does have the Panasonic Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) built in, so if you’re not shooting with an Olympus body, you have that benefit to fall back on.
      For some reason though, in spite of its weaknesses in the speed department I really like this lens and I use it often for product photography and when I feel the need for macro work. I’d choose the Olympus for portraiture though, simply because it has such amazing bokeh and is considerably cheaper at $310.

      Fried egg on a windsurfer? No, just an hors d'oeuvre at a wine tasting.
      Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED
      What can I say about this guy that hasn’t already been said ten thousand times all over the web? If there is one lens that is an absolute must have for m43 users it’s this one.
      The image quality is outstanding. Bokeh is amazing, auto focus is typically Olympus swift and the build quality of this lens is all metal, right down to the manual focus ring which is smooth as silk. You’re getting a lens that is not terribly different from the size of a 50mm f/1.4 on 135 system, but which gives you a very useful 150mm equivalent field of view. For indoor sports and low light work this lens will give you many photographic rewards and leave you feeling as pleased as punch. I can’t sing it’s praises high enough.
      Price wise it’s not cheap at $900 sans the metal hood, but if you wanted to get an equivalent lens in 135 you’d be spending a whole lot more cash.

      I really didn't go to a boy band concert, but they seem to make appearances in shows everywhere these days.
      Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6
      This is a really tiny lens that collapses when not in use. It’s not much bigger than the diminutive Olympus 45/1.8 which I often call my “cotton reel” lens. It is well constructed and because it’s so small and light I always have it in my camera bag.
      The other option for wide angles that you currently have for m43 is the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0, which is a pretty good lens, but it’s much, much bigger and heavier than the Olympus. The difference between the 7mm and 9mm wide ends of these two lenses may be significant enough for those seeking ultra wide capability to opt for the Panny. However, you’re looking at $900 versus $560 for the smaller Oly option.
      Optically the Olympus is very good and while it has CA that is typical of this kind of lens, these days with software correction that shouldn’t even be a consideration for deciding on a wide angle lens. If you’re in absolute need of the extreme wide angle field of view then stitching might be an idea if 9mm isn’t quite wide enough. Naturally this will depend on the application.
      The hood for this lens is the LH-55B which is a largish rectangular job. While I love the look of these style of lens hoods, they aren’t very practical because they can’t reverse onto the lens when in storage. Because this one is quite a bit wider than the lens you really shouldn’t store it on the lens in your bag in case it breaks off when pulling it out of a tight compartment in your bag. It’s quite slim so what I do is store it in a side pocket of the ThinkTank Retro bags I use.

      It's not quite an extreme wide angle, but with some vision you can make it work for you.
      Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
      Most glamourous women have their “little black number”, which is the sexy, tight fitting dress they wear to important cocktail parties. Olympus has the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO which in photographic terms is exactly the same thing. The lens is not only amazing to look at, it feels even better to hold.
      I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in South Africa to get one of them because they are in short supply here. When I did get it I was quite literally in awe of the image quality. Prior to making the switch to Olympus I had used the Nikon 24-70/2.8 as my main lens and I stated very often to many who asked that it was the best zoom lens I had ever used. If I was going to have any regrets about leaving Nikon, it would be because I wouldn’t have that lens anymore. Well, I’m pleased and relieved to say that I think the Olympus is slightly better than the Nikkor. How? It’s sharper at f/2.8 so it provides more of a usable aperture range. I would always have to stop down the Nikkor to f/4 for the sharpness I wanted, which when I was shooting the D700 would have the knock on effect of having to shoot the camera slower or boost the ISO. Being able to shoot the 12-40/2.8 wide open and get the same sharpness, perhaps even more so, is one of the great delights I have experienced since moving to m43.
      The 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO has a couple of sweeteners that I am happy with. One is the presence of a programmable function button on the lens body. If you find that you have run out of buttons to assign custom functions to on your OM-D, you can assign any of them to this button. I have mine set to activate the digital 2x teleconverter. The other sweetener is that you don’t have to shell out for the lens hood separately anymore. It comes bundled with the lens. Thank you for listening to your customers, Olympus!

      The 12-40mm f/2.8 is just a wonderful lens to work with.
      While I already have 10 different lenses for my micro four thirds system, there are many I haven’t yet had the chance to try out. So if you have some favourites that are not on my list, please share them with us.
      If you're thinking of buying one of these lenses please support Fotozones and use one of the many links in this article to buy it from Amazon.com, or the links to other merchants found on this website. It won't cost you any more but it helps me earn a small commission when you buy using a link from my site.

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    • By Dallas
      Those of you familiar with my own story will know that I have come to m43 from Nikon FX where I used a couple of Nikon D700’s and a whole lot of glass from both Nikon and Sigma. Last year I made the decision to move away from the big heavy DSLR’s and their equally big heavy lenses for a number of reasons, which I will get to later in the article. For now I would like to give you a brief overview of the m43 system, what it is and what it isn’t.
      System Evolution
      The m43 system is based around a slightly smaller image sensor than you find in the APS-C systems from most other manufacturers, such as Canon, Nikon and Sony. Those APS-C sensors are called “cropped” sensors because they cover a smaller area than the lens image circle is designed for and this came about purely because at the time they didn’t have the technology to build an electronic imaging sensor that could adequately capture light all the way across the full 35mm frame used for film cameras. It took quite a while before digital imaging sensors were able to cover that frame size. Canon was the first to market with their EOS 1Ds and then later with the 5D. Nikon caught up in 2008 with the D3, so a lot of effort went into making that film legacy work for the companies who followed this path of development.
      Olympus, Kodak and Panasonic followed a different path of development. They made an entirely new system from the ground up and called it four thirds. Initially this smaller sensor was built around the same principles as a DSLR, using a mirror to reflect light from the lens up into a prism based view finder, but that has now evolved into the micro four thirds system where the mirror box and the prism has been done away with in favour of electronic view finders. The sensor stays the same size, but because the flange to sensor distance has been considerably shortened it has allowed the lenses for the system to become a lot smaller than before.
      Some people call the m43 sensor a crop sensor but this is actually not correct. The m43 is a full frame sensor based on the lenses and image circles that are designed for it. Many people think of “full-frame” as being a 35mm frame and this makes me cringe because the term “full frame” really refers to the relationship between the lens and the sensor. If the image circle of a lens just covers the full frame of the sensor it was actually designed for then you can call it a “full frame” sensor. If the sensor is much smaller than the image circle received from the lens then the sensor can be called a “cropped sensor”, which is what the APS-C sensors are.
      The m43 sensor is not cropped. It’s smaller than an APS-C sensor but its definitely not cropped. All the lenses are designed for the m43 frame size and that is a major advantage with the system. When you buy into it you’re not buying into any film system legacy and their workarounds. You’re buying into a digital system that was created from scratch.
      The other thing to consider is that the aspect ratio of the m43 system is 4:3 as opposed to 3:2 found in DSLR’s. This can be a bit odd at first, but if you think about lens projection circles, the 4:3 system is making much better use of the lens projection than the 35mm system is. On the 35mm system they’re cropping off a significant chunk of the top and bottom of that circle, which may be neither here nor there photographically, but is a point worth noting when you consider the advanced thinking behind the m43 system making the best use of the lens projection circle.

      The Road To Micro Four Thirds (well, if I'm honest it's the road to Deadvlei in Namibia)
      System Advantages
      Because the sensor in m43 is smaller than that of a 35mm camera, the resulting field of view for any lens you have for m43 at the same focal length is smaller by a factor of 2x. This has a huge significance for telephoto usage because you can get so much more out of a short telephoto than you would if you were shooting a 35mm camera with the same focal length. Another upside is that the effective aperture of your lens stays the same, so if you were using a 300mm f/2.8 on your m43 body, you would need a 600mm f/2.8 on your “full frame” DSLR to get the same frame view. I don’t know of any 600mm f/2.8 lenses.
      Another major advantage with m43 that I discovered is that the lenses are so much smaller than those that were designed for most 35mm based systems. When you have to travel by air for photographic purposes you’ll get to appreciate this advantage very quickly. I’ve written more than enough about that so I won’t go into it again here, but now that I am quite well kitted out for m43 my future air travel stresses are totally erased. I can fit both my OM-D bodies and 6 lenses into my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 messenger style bag, which is just a little bit bigger than the bag you get for most 70-200/2.8 lenses. I will probably get a bigger bag for when I go on safaris, but it certainly won’t be anywhere near the gargantuan proportions of the bags I have used in the past.
      Being small doesn’t mean that you are skipping out on image quality. The top end lenses that you can get for m43 are of the same quality, if not higher, than most lenses for any other system. Last year I got the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED which is the best lens I have ever owned. Period. And I’ve had Leicas and Angenieux glass before. I also recently got the new 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens with the E-M1 and it is definitely better than my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 was. I couldn’t use the Nikon lens wide open, it got soft there, whereas the Oly lens is sharp everywhere. That’s a big claim to make because the Nikon 24-70mm is a very good lens.
      You will read online about the increased depth of field that you’ll get from using a smaller sensor and how this means that you don’t get the same subject separation from m43 that you’ll get from 35mm DSLRs. Well, having used both of these systems I can agree to a point, but I actually view the increased depth of field as being an advantage, not a disadvantage. I can still get very short depth of field when I need it on m43 with a fast lens, but not so short that trying to find a part of the image that is in focus is all but impossible. Using f/1.4 lenses on FX at full wide aperture remains a focusing exercise I’d sooner forget, while shooting fast lenses on the OM-D series has not let me down at all.

      You can see the EXIF here and the depth of field. This is two stops from wide open.

      Very decent performance from this macro lens
      The real beauty of the smaller sensor is that the very fast lenses are still small, plus they are much cheaper than their DSLR equivalents. Taking the Olympus 75/1.8 as an example, this is a lens that gives you an equivalent 150mm field of view when compared to 35mm full frame systems and it costs $900. The closest Nikon lens I know of to this is the 200/2 and that costs just over $5800, nearly 6 times the price. Yes, the Nikkor is sublime, but ask anyone who’s used the 75/1.8 and you’ll hear the same thing. It too is sublime. Size wise I know which of them I’d prefer carrying around on a shoot all day.

      Fancy carrying a couple of big DSLR's up here?
      When I was shooting with Nikon I reached the point where I never wanted to take my camera anywhere with me for personal photography. The main reasons for this were because of the size and weight of it, but also because as soon as I got busy using it the world around me changed. When you take out gear that size people will immediately notice you. Sometimes this can be a good thing, like if you want to create an impression of being a serious photographer, but in my case it created tension I could do without.
      Not everybody likes to be photographed, so when they saw me coming with the big D700 and lenses their body language and entire demeanour changed. This affected the images I took. They were never candid. The other tension came about with me being worried about being liberated of my kit by thugs sizing me up for a quick mugging. It happens. Another thing I experienced a lot of when I used the D700 was the average photography enthusiast coming up to me to strike up a conversation about the camera and whatever lens I was using. This happened on nearly every shoot I ever did. There’s always some random person who wants to have a long chat about camera gear, which being the amiable person I am usually meant a sizeable chunk of time out of my shooting time. It was worse if I was on a job because then you have no option but to ask the person to please stop bothering you.
      With the OM-D people don’t bat an eyelid. Most of the time they don’t even know I am taking their photo because with the rear LCD tilted up like a waist level finder I don’t give off the impression of taking a photo. That’s a huge advantage for street photography. Also, the only time I get asked about my camera is when people think I am still using a film camera.
      An advantage that doesn’t get talked about very often at the places I visit online is the m43 autofocus system. This is extremely quick. I’ve used no fewer than 5 m43 bodies and the AF on each subsequent model has improved significantly on its predecessor. The E-M1 is like Greased Lightning no matter what lens I put on it. Compared to the Fuji X-trans system that I checked out briefly at Orms in Cape Town last year it’s like Formula 1 versus Formula VW, with the VW speed going to the Fujis.
      System Options
      There are a LOT of lenses for the m43 system. I think we’re currently sitting on around 45 lenses made by at least 4 different companies for this system and that excludes the lenses that were made for the original four thirds DSLR system. Those guys are usable on the m43 bodies with an MMF adapter and you retain all the features, but auto-focus tracking on the E-M5 is not great. I have read that it is much better on the E-M1 as that body has both contrast detect and phase detect AF sensors.
      Olympus have made an exceptional range of fast primes for the m43 system. At the wide end you have the 12mm f/2.0, then there is also the 17mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8. Voigtlander have three ultra fast lenses for the system, namely the 17.5mm, 25mm and 42.5mm all of which have a maximum aperture of f/0.95. Cameraquest sells these manual focus lenses for around $1200 apiece. Yup, that’s $1200 for lenses with an f/0.95 aperture. Steve Huff has done some reviews of these guys on his site, so if fast glass is your thing you should go and check out his site.

      was impressed with the sharpness of this 45-175mm Panasonic lens
      If you’re very serious about photography and you want the best m43 kit available, this is my recommended (and in parts desired system):
      Bodies
      OM-D E-M1 bodies for stills
      Panasonic GH2/3 bodies for video
      Wide Angle Zooms
      Olympus 7-14mm f/4*
      Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6
      Panasonic 7-14mm f/4
      * This is a four thirds lens, but it is what they call a Super High Grade Pro lens, so it’s up there with the likes of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, just a stop slower. The Panasonic lens is also supposedly very good and when I was trying to decide if I should get that one or the Olympus 9-18mm I ended up getting the Olympus, mainly because it is so much smaller and lighter. Quite a few people on review sites think that its better than the Panasonic, even though it doesn’t go quite as wide. Having used it extensively in Namibia last year I can say that it’s a fantastic little lens, well worth the money.
      General Purpose Zooms
      Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO*
      Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8
      * This is a stunning lens! I’ve only had it for a short while and as I said earlier on in this article, I think it is better than the Nikon 24-70/2.8. You must have this one. I have not used the Panasonic but people who I know that do use it rate it very highly too.
      Telephoto Zooms
      Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8
      Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0
      The Panasonic is very highly rated by those who use it. The Olympus I have listed here is again a four thirds lens but having seen some of the images shot with this thing, you will have a hard time keeping your jaw off the floor when you see what it can do. Not cheap, but while we wait for Olympus to bring out their m43 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO it is definitely a lens you want to invest in.
      Super Telephoto Zooms
      Olympus 90-250mm f/2.8
      Another four thirds lens, but one that is considered the King of all the zooms by Olympus users. I can’t think of a more useful range than this to use on a safari.
      Prime Lenses
      If the prime lenses are more your thing, you can’t really go wrong with any of the Olympus fast primes. I’d avoid the 17mm f/2.8 which while it is nice and slim, doesn’t have much in the way of any redeeming characteristics.
      The must-have’s in the Olympus prime range are the 45mm f/1.8, the 75mm f/1.8, the 17mm f/1.8 and the relatively new 60mm f/2.8 macro. This macro lens has been getting rave reviews from all over the place. Many are saying that it is as good, if not better than the Cosina Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5. That’s a legendary lens, but the sources of this information are very good.
      Just this morning, as I sat down to write this piece, news came out of the CES trade show in Las Vegas of a new collaboration between Panasonic and Leica that will bring a 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron lens to the market. This will be the fastest AF m43 lens. As yet the price is unknown, but if the other Pana/Leica lenses are anything to go by it will not be cheap. I own and use the Pana/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit which I find very good.
      Bargains
      Get the Olympus OM-D E-M5 now while it’s being run out cheaply. You can get it at less than $1000 for the body only, but I see that amazon.com are selling the body with the 12-50mm weather sealed lens for only $1074 which is a steal for this kit. Click here for this deal.
      There are over 200 user reviews on Amazon of the E-M5 and of those more than 155 of them gave it a 5 star rating. Nobody gave it less than 3 stars. I gave it 5.
      I’d also suggest getting the HLD-6 grip for the E-M5 because it’s a 2-part grip that adds a lot of feel to the camera. You can remove the portrait orientation grip part that holds the extra battery if you still want to keep it small but with improved handling.
      The E-M5 is a great camera to get into m43 with and if you find you enjoy using it you can upgrade to the more professional E-M1 at a later stage. I’m currently using both and I don’t think I will sell the E-M5.
      If any readers are thinking about getting into the m43 system and need some advice, please feel free to drop me an email or PM right here on Fotozones. Also, if you’re in the USA I’d be most grateful if you used links on here to make your purchase from Amazon.com. If you use my links it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a little commission from them which helps me to keep the site going.

      Sundowners in Damaraland

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    • By Dallas
      Regular readers will know that I have been a mirrorless convert since late 2013, which is when I got my Olympus E-M1. That camera has now been on 6 safaris with me in the past couple of years, including a foot slog through the iMfolozi game reserve last year. Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact (apparently caused by dust) it has been 100% reliable. In a few weeks time it will come with me back to Sabi Sabi for yet another safari. 
       
      The Mk II version is expected sometime this year but to be honest, it will take something truly extra-ordinary to come out for me to consider upgrading. I’m not that keen on more mega-pixels and I have found the auto focus system to be quite suitable for my needs. Improvements in the menu interface would be welcome though. I suppose the EVF technology is also improved quite a bit these days, although while what’s in the E-M1 now is perfectly fine for me, I do recall that the jump from the original E-M5 to the E-M1 in terms of EVF was significant. 
       
      So, camera sorted, what lenses have been the best performers for me on safari? 
       
      Over the past couple of years I have used a variety of different telephoto lenses on safari. When I was first getting into the m43 system I had the Panasonic 45-175mm X series lens (90-350mm F35 angle equiv) which did well in good light. It’s probably the one m43 lens I most regret selling, especially since the lens I gave it up for, the Olympus 75-300mm really failed to impress me. The Panasonic is very small, has a motorised zoom and while it’s got decent sharpness in its focal range, it’s best feature for me is the fact that it doesn’t change length when zooming. For a lens that is less than 10cm long, it makes a very worthy travel option. However, on safari you might find yourself wanting more range on the long side.
       

      Image taken with Panasonic 45-175mm and Olympus E-M5
       
      The Olympus 75-300mm that I mentioned certainly does give you the extra zoom range (150-600mm F35 eq) and could be considered good enough in terms of sharpness, but that slow aperture of f/6.7 at the long end just proved to be too slow, especially when light levels drop. Also, one has to understand that with such a narrow angle of view (4.1˚) you really do need good stability to get sharp photos. Even with the IBIS I often battled to hold this lens steady enough when used at 300mm. I don’t have a single photo shot with this lens that I am totally happy with. At the time I got it though it was the only game in town for m43, unless you were fortunate enough to have some legacy 4/3 telephoto glass in your back pocket, like Olympus’ 90-250/2.8 and their 300/2.8. 
       

      Image with Olympus 75-300mm on Olympus E-M1
       
      In 2014 I did manage to obtain an Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens which I used on both the Wild Waterways and Ultimate Big 5 safaris that year. I was very happy with the reach and the image quality from that lens. The equivalent Nikon/Canon option is the 80-400/100-400mm lenses, but those are slower by 1.5 stops when compared to the humble Olympus (which I should add is still obtainable new for around $1200). In my old Canon days I had the original 100-400mm lens and hated it immensely. I believe the new one is much, much better, as is the new Nikon 80-400mm. Those lenses are much more expensive than the Olympus. 
       
      The Olympus 50-200mm didn’t come with me on safari in 2015. Instead I opted to use the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO with the 1.4x TC. This was a mistake. The 40-150 is very good for subjects that are close to you (like within 30m or so), but as soon as those subjects get a bit further away I found that the lens performance dropped off. The images just seemed to lose their pop for me and subjects weren’t well defined at all. Also, the bokeh of this lens is a bit nervous in my opinion whereas the 50-200mm has beautiful bokeh and is also quite good on distant subjects. This will be my main lens for safari again this year. 
       
      Here are some images with that old Olympus. 
       

       

       

       

       
      Not hard to see why I like it so much. 
       
      New lenses I would like to try on safari include the new Olympus 300/4.0 PRO and the Panasonic 100-400mm. The Olympus continues to get rave reviews from users, but I fear that it will be simply too long to use at a place like Sabi Sabi where we get very close to our subjects. If I was interested in birds then that would be a different story. The Panasonic remains an unknown entity for safaris so hopefully soon I might be able to get one for evaluation. It certainly does have a good range for that use.
       
      Bag wise I am considering taking only my little ThinkTank Retrospective 7 this year. I have the much bigger Retro 50 which can take my laptop, but once I am there I don't want to carry such a big bag around on the vehicle so I will probably take the Retro 7 with the 2 E-M1 bodies, the 50-200/2.8-3.5 on one body with a grip and my other body with the 12-40/2.8 PRO for general purpose snapshots. If I get a demo lens from either Panasonic or Olympus to try out then I will have to take the bigger bag. 
       
      One thing is for sure, I am really looking forward to being on safari again! 
       
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