In this new series of articles I am going to take you through the kit I would select from what’s available in the MFT system right now and explain why I would buy that particular item for a specific genre of photography. In this first segment I will be looking at the field of wedding and event photography. These are similar fields that overlap a little, but I will lean a bit more to the wedding side of things, since that will be of more interest to most readers.
Please remember that the choices I put forward here are based on what I would choose personally, so they may not be right for everybody. Hopefully you’ll read my rationale for making a particular selection and understand that I put pragmatism above emotion when it comes to photography gear and I am also non-partisan when it comes to brands - I chose whatever I think is best for me, regardless of who makes it. I have also decided to keep my selections for these articles to native MFT lenses that are still available as new items.
Let’s get started!
Which MFT Camera Body?
The first thing you will need to decide on if you are coming to Micro Four Thirds from a different system is which body type you will want to shoot with. There is variety of choice from the two main players, Olympus and Panasonic so you will have to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each model and decide which one is better suited for your needs.
Traditionally Panasonic have leaned more to the video development side of things than stills, while Olympus is the other way around. If you are going to be splitting your output between stills and video, with video potentially becoming more important down the line, then I would say choosing a Panasonic body would make more sense and therefore you’d definitely want to look at the current flagship GH5 from that stable. On a different level for video you will find the Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K, which is really only for serious film makers.
I have noticed that at least in South Africa where I live, the demand for used video oriented Panasonic bodies going as far back as the GH-2 is much stronger than demand for older Olympus bodies, so this might be an important thing to consider when making your decision on which brand to get as your primary body. As an example the GH-4 can today still fetch prices here that are more than 50% of the original selling price in a heartbeat, whereas an older Olympus body like the E-M1 will likely sell for less than 25% of its original price after 3-4 years (that is if you actually get somebody interested in buying it). This is probably not the case in more established markets like Asia, US and Europe though, but is worth taking into account anyway.
So getting into the meat of this body selection, let’s look at the current top end options available as at Feb 2020. On the Panasonic side there is the GH5 (video oriented) and the G9 (stills oriented) to consider, while on the Olympus side you have the OM-D E-M5 Mk III and the E-M1 Mk III as the current standouts, both of which have just been released this month (Feb 2020). There is also the gargantuan Olympus E-M1X to consider, but I don’t see that as anything other than a sports action camera, so I wouldn’t think about using it for weddings. Lighter is better.
All these cameras will do amazing things for you on both stills and video and you will be able to swap MFT mount lenses between them without losing too much functionality. The only caveat in that regard is that if you are using lenses with built-in stabilisation, you won’t be able to use both the in-body-image-stabilsation (IBIS) of an Olympus body with the IS of a Panasonic lens. You’d have to choose which of the two you want to use in the camera’s menu. Same goes for Panasonic bodies and Olympus IS lenses. However, if you keep your lenses to the same brand as your camera body, both Panasonic and Olympus offer dual IS between lens and body that provides a claimed image stabilisation of up to 6 or 7 stops, depending on the body/lens combo.
If I can just add an extra word or two on stabilisation here before I tell you which camera I would choose; if there has been one aspect of photography technology development in the modern era that has been crucial in improving my own photography, it has been the IBIS found in Olympus bodies. It is unrivalled. These days I am more focused on getting my compositions right without giving second thought to my technique simply because IBIS has freed me from those concerns. No matter how sloppy I get with the camera in hand, the IBIS has my back. So, with that said, in selecting my ideal camera body for weddings I would have to choose the new Olympus E-M1 Mk III. The other big selling point for me is that this new camera also has the hand-held hi-res mode that will give you the ability to push out 50MP images from a small sensor. That’s a pretty big deal if you are going to be offering big prints to your clients.
I’d ideally want to buy two of the same bodies, but if one is all you can afford then adding an older body like the original E-M1 (available cheaply) would be a good option.
Which Fast Prime Lens?
I’m a zoom lens guy, so if I can get a great zoom lens that covers a variety of different angles, I would rather buy that than three prime lenses. However, when it comes to weddings and events, you are probably going to find yourself in tough lighting conditions more often than not, so the fast prime lens is definitely something that you should consider adding to your kit. In fact, I’d say that using MFT you should absolutely not go into a wedding with only f/2.8 zoom lenses. You need at least 1 or 2 fast primes with apertures of f/1.8 or more so that you don’t have to start creeping too far up the ISO range.
I want to find a prime lens or two that will give me some versatility for weddings that you don’t get with a fixed aperture zoom. Ideally I want something that is useful for portraits and speakers, as well as a second lens with a moderate wide angle to use at the reception should flash photography prove too tricky (i.e. not possible to bounce it off any large surface). The maximum aperture of my primes must be at least f/2.0.
Let’s see what MFT can currently offer us that fits the parameters.
Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 RRP $300
Lumix Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux RRP $1300
Lumix Leica 15mm f/1.7 Summilux RRP $600
Lumix Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux RRP $630
Lumix Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron RRP $1600
Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 OIS RRP $400
M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 RRP $800
M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 RRP $500
M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300
M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 RRP $400
M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300
M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 RRP $400
M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO RRP $1300
M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 RRP $900
16mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $400
30mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $340
56mm f/1.4 DC | Contemporary RRP $430
10.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $900
17.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $900
25mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $800
42.5mm f/0.95 Nokton (MF) RRP $800
Laowa 17mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $150
Kowa Prominar 12mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $800
Kowa Prominar 25mm f/1.8 (MF) RRP $725
Wow, 24 fast prime lenses to choose from! Not bad for a camera system that some are saying has no future.
Ok, so as you can see there are some premium grade options and there are also some manual focus (MF) options. The price differentials are significant between these lenses so I need to refine my thinking about what is going to work best for me in this field of photography. As I said, I want a couple of specialist lenses that are going to be able to help me in very low light situations. I don’t want to rely entirely on these lenses for the whole event, because I am going to choose a few premium zooms later on in this exercise as my main lenses.
The first options I am going to remove from consideration are the manual focus lenses. One of the main benefits of shooting with MFT is that the auto focus, specifically on my chosen Olympus bodies, is incredibly fast and accurate, which means I can spend less time worrying about focus and more time on my compositional awareness. While focus peaking is a great aid for manual focusing on mirrorless cameras, it will still slow you down. You cannot be a slow photographer at a wedding, so speed found anywhere is what you want.
The next items I am going to cut from consideration are the prime lenses that cost over $1000. I have no doubt that these all offer amazing sharpness and bokeh, but at $1000+ a pop they will hurt my total spend and I want to get the best bang for buck in building this kit without approaching crazy money.
For my portrait lens I need something that is fast, small and offers outstanding image quality with excellent bokeh. The options I am looking at are the Olympus 75/1.8, Sigma 56/1.4 and Panasonic 42.5/1.7.
I know the Olympus 75/1.8 very well as it is one of the first lenses I bought for the system when I switched over and it is nothing short of fantastic for picking out people in groups. It is sharp, has excellent bokeh and is built entirely out of metal (except for the caps). It’s a strong contender, but the downside is that it is perhaps a shade too long which makes it awkward to work with if you are shooting couples in a restricted space, such as a chapel. It would be similar to working with a 150mm lens on the 135 sensor format. It’s also not cheap at around $900.
The Panasonic 42.5/1.7 offers a more traditional portrait focal length and it also has an optical stabiliser built in, but it is an older generation MFT lens and as such the auto focus speed isn’t quite up to the current standards. It can be had pretty cheap though, usually coming in under $400.
The final option I am considering for my fast portrait lens in this wedding kit is the Sigma 56/1.4 Contemporary. Sigma in recent years has become very well known for producing some of the most amazing lenses and all the now discontinued Sigma 2.8 DC lenses I have owned for MFT are incredible performers given their low prices. This 56/1.4 lens is just about perfect focal length wise for portraits, plus with the very fast aperture I can get great bokeh with it. In low light it will work really well and the cherry on top is that it can be had brand new for only $430.
A lens I am not considering for this role is the Olympus 45mm 1.8. It’s a firm favourite with many Olympus users. I did own one once and I barely used it. The focal length and minimum focus distance I found didn’t work well together for portraits, so I didn’t use it much, preferring to use the much slower focusing Pan/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit.
So for me it’s a no brainer, the Sigma 56/1.4 Contemporary will be the first speciality lens in my wedding kit.
Now I need to select another prime lens that is more suited for wider compositions, specifically in dimly lit chapels and for use on dance floors, should I find it difficult to use flash at the venue. I don’t want to spend a huge amount and because this is for wider, more reference type indoor shots, auto focus speed isn’t that critical (but I don’t want MF). For me the choice here is between the following three lenses; Panasonic 20/1.7, Olympus 17/1.8, Sigma 16/1.4.
Of the three the image quality is probably on par, with the edge maybe going to the Sigma 16mm. Price wise the Panasonic 20mm certainly seems to make a lot of sense, however, having tried this lens once and hearing it focus it sounded not dissimilar to pupils dragging chairs across a classroom floor at the end of a school day! It’s really very noisy and the problem affects all of them. The Olympus is a great lens, solid, well built, sharp, etc, but if you compare it with the Sigma it loses out on price and maximum aperture. So, once again I would choose this brand as my second fast prime for weddings / events. The value offered by the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Contemporary is perfect for this kit.
If you’ve read this far you’re probably waiting to find out which of the premium range zoom lenses I am going to select for my ideal MFT kit. These are the work horse lenses for any camera system and of course they come in what some like to call the “trinity” of zooms. There’s always an ultra wide angle zoom, a general purpose zoom and a moderate telephoto zoom. Both Panasonic and Olympus offer lenses to fit these needs, with Panasonic having the wider range of high end lenses available, however not all of them have fixed apertures. Let’s take a look at all our options.
Which Wide Angle Zoom Lens?
Panasonic Wide Zoom Line-up
Lumix Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 RRP $900
Leica Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 RRP $1100
Leica Vario-Sumilux 10-25mm f/1.7 RRP $1800
Olympus Wide Zoom Line-up
M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $1300
As you can see from the above options this is not a cheap area to play in so you will want to make your money count and get maximum value here. That said, the ultra wide zoom, while useful for creative images at any event, isn’t an absolute must have. You can get away with the wide end of the medium range zoom lenses in most cases, so if you’re going to choose from any of the above you will need to know what you’re buying into and how it is going to help you.
Of the four lenses above, the only one I haven’t tried is the new Leica 10-25mm f/1.7. It certainly looks like a beast of a lens and with that huge constant f/1.7 aperture comes the penalty of size and weight. At 690g you need to ask yourself if the juice is worth the squeeze for a lens that is only going to be used sparingly at weddings and events. I don’t think it is.
At a far more sensible 300g is the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0. I had the opportunity to buy this one at a good price once upon a time, but let it slip away. They are good lenses, but as with the other older generation Panasonic glass, the AF is not up to modern standards and neither is the optical performance. Yes, it’s plenty sharp enough and it has found a lot of love from videographers, but there are issues with using it on an Olympus body. For some reason the built in lens profiles don’t play nicely with the Olympus bodies and there are complaints about weird purple flare spots from many users.
Over on the Olympus side of the fence there is only the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO on offer. This is a stunning lens, but it has a big problem with flare. If there is any bright light source in your frame you are going to have flare spots appear somewhere, even when shooting indoors. You can read more about my impressions of this lens here. Another issue with it is that it has no filter thread and a massive, bulbous front element that doesn’t get much protection from the built in lens hood. Such a pity because it’s a razor sharp lens. I do hope Olympus rethink the design on this one for a version II.
The lens I did end up buying to fill this need in my own system is the newer Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario-Elmarit. It ticks a lot more boxes than any of the others. Light, sharp, well made, has a filter thread, won’t cry if you get rain on it and is pretty sharp across the frame. I use it all the time in real estate and so for a wedding kit it will bring that ultra-wide dimension for creative shots. This is the lens that goes in my ideal wedding kit too.
Which Standard Zoom Lens?
Moving on to the standard zoom range now, this is going to be your most used lens for weddings, so as with the wide size our decision needs to be pragmatic.
Panasonic Standard Zoom Line-up
Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 II G X Vario RRP $1000
Leica Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS RRP $1000
Olympus Standard Zoom Line-up
M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $850
M.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4.0 PRO RRP $650
M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4.0 IS PRO RRP $1200
This is probably going to be the toughest decision to make in this exercise, because all these lenses are fantastic and apart from the ultra-zoom Olympus 12-100/4.0 they all cover a very similar zoom range.
The oldest design among them is the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 which came out right near the start of when MFT became a viable option for professional photography. This lens has now been revised to version II and remains a staple for Panasonic users. I personally have no experience with it, but had I made the decision to go with a Panasonic body instead of an Olympus one, this would have been my #1 choice.
But wait, not so fast, Batman! Why not the other 12-60mm Panasonic/Leica lens that has the much more versatile zoom range and OIS to boot? Good question. That lens would make a lot more sense if I wasn’t going to choose a medium telephoto zoom to add to my kit, but because I am, why choose a bigger, slower standard zoom lens where there is significant overlap with the next one up? It makes more sense to choose the smaller option here. You’re getting the benefit of sharper, faster optics and less mass to carry around.
That’s the same reason why I would choose the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO over the Olympus 12-100/4.0 PRO for a wedding kit. While I already own both of these lenses, the one that I would use for events and weddings is the 12-40. It’s sharper, smaller and obviously faster. I’d leave the longer needs up to the telephoto zoom. My official review is here.
So, if you are using Panasonic, get the 12-35/2.8 and if you are using Olympus get the 12-40/2.8. You can’t go wrong with either - they are brilliant, must have lenses for any serious MFT kit. I’ve chosen Olympus so the 12-40 is my go to.
Which Short Telephoto Zoom Lens?
Next up is the final part of our lens selection, the quintessential short telephoto zoom.
Panasonic Telephoto Zoom Line-up
Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 II GX Vario RRP $1100
Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 DG Vario-Elmarit OIS RRP $1700
Olympus Telephoto Zoom Line-up
M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO RRP $1500
This selection conundrum is as hard a nut to crack as the standard zoom, because all these lenses are worthy contenders for any MTF photographer’s consideration. I haven’t used the Panasonic options, but I have used the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO. The 40-150/2.8 is a wonderful lens that has a really short close focusing distance which makes it quite useful for close ups. I actually did use this lens on a wedding once and it was a joy. My only gripe with it is that the bokeh is not as pleasing as other telephoto lenses I have and it also tends to lose sharpness with subjects more than 30m away (not that this would be a problem with wedding photography, but for wildlife I wouldn’t consider it).
In my current kit I do have the older 4/3 Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD and while it is chunkier and clumsy looking compared to the newer generation, that 50-200mm zoom range is just about perfect as it gives you so much versatility to work every aspect of a wedding. Looking at all the gushing reviews the new Leica version gets I would have to make the Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 Vario-Elmarit the lens I would select for this part of my kit. It costs $200 more than the Olympus but I think it is money worth spending.
Which Portable Lighting For MFT?
I’m now over 3000 words into this buyers guide and I haven’t even touched on portable lighting yet!
The lighting discussion is basically a choice between the Olympus FL-series of speedlights or the Godox range. I won’t get into this in too much detail, the Godox system wins hands down, mainly because of the built-in 2.4GHz radio system it brings to the table. I have had 2 Olympus FL-600R flash units since my move to MFT and they have been great for indoor use, but when you use them wirelessly they rely on optical triggering which is not ideal. You can obviously use a radio trigger accessory (which I do from time to time) but then you lose TTL and High Speed Sync (HSS). Given that you are paying a premium for those OEM flash units it doesn’t make a lot of sense to incorporate them into a wedding kit if you want to use them wirelessly outdoors where optical triggering is a hit-and-miss business.
From the Godox range I would choose a single AD200 Pro, which is a versatile and portable 200W strobe that can be fired and controlled remotely with the Godox X-Pro O radio transmitter unit. Not only does this light offer TTL, it also does HSS, so you can happily try to melt it outdoors as you use it to overpower the sun on creative shoots with your bridal couple. It has a range of interchangeable heads, including fresnel, bare bulb and an optional round head (for a softer spread of light). There are a lot of other accessories you can get for it too, including filter kits, snoots, Bowens speed-ring adapters, etc. It comes with a good capacity Lithium Ion battery and fast charger.
To compliment it I would add 3 of the basic, but versatile Godox TT600 units. These traditional looking speedlights use the 2,4GHz Godox radio triggering system, so you can control the power of each one from the on-camera X-Pro O transmitter unit (which works with both Olympus and Panasonic bodies). You don’t get TTL with the TT600 units, but if you’re going to use them in a wedding reception just to light up the room by bouncing off the ceiling, use the “set it and forget it” approach by adjusting your aperture to match the power coming out of all your lights. I’m not a huge fan of TTL flash, to be honest.
And that’s it! Let’s take a look at our completed wedding MFT kit.
Olympus E-M1 Mk III x 2 @ $1800 ea = $3600
Fast Prime Lenses
Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary @ $400
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary @ $400
Leica Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 @ $1100
M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ $850
Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 DG Vario-Elmarit OIS @ $1700
Godox AD200 PRO @ $350
Godox X-Pro O Radio Controller @ $69
Godox Thinklite TT600 x 3 @ $60 ea = $180
Total cost = $8649
So, to wrap up we have here a killer Micro Four Thirds system that will be able to tackle more than just weddings and events. The equipment in this kit is all top quality premium stuff and unless you’re one of the nay-sayers who don’t believe in the capability of a smaller sensor, you will probably never need to buy any other equipment to satisfy your photographic needs in the wedding industry.
Do you agree with my choices for this wedding kit? Let me know in the comments what you would have chosen from the current MFT line-up and why.
In the next article I will take a look at what’s best for Wildlife / Sports photography in the Micro Four Thirds World.