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.
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.
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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