lens

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 5

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Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens.
Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens. 1/50″ @ f/2.8 and ISO1600

Over recent years the range of prime lenses for the Micro 43 system has expanded greatly. For anyone who’s unsure, a prime lens is one with a fixed focal length for example 25mm. Again, what follows is a review of the lenses I have or have used (I have owned all of them at some time).

Panasonic 14mm

I still have this lens and it is a good performer. It was once a kit lens for one of the Panasonic systems (I forget which) so there is a ready supply of these second hand. I purchased mine second hand but it was sold as having been part of a kit but unused. The lens quality is very good with very little distortion. It doesn’t have a very wide maximum aperture but it’s better than the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens.

In terms of sharpness, it is marginally better than the 14-45 kit lens but you really do need to make a side by side comparison to see this. Where this lens does score highly is in its size and weight. It’s very light and very small. If you like to use a wide angle lens for your street photography, this is great. It’s also very useful for Landscapes as it gives the equivalent of a 28mm lens on full frame. Although many would suggest this isn’t wide enough for landscapes, it’s a very pleasing focal length. For around £100 used, this is a bargain lens.

Olympus 17mm f/2.8

There are two Olympus 17mm lenses and I have owned both. The distinguishing feature when looking at the description is the maximum aperture. The cheaper of the two has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. This version is very cheap at around £100 or less but I have seen people trying to pass these off as the more expensive f/1.8 lens discussed below. The two lenses do look different and certainly perform differently so beware. Be sure you know what you are buying.

Whilst this lens is cheap, small and light, I can’t really recommend it. It doesn’t perform anywhere near as well as the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens. Yes it has a wider maximum aperture but only just. In all honesty, if this is all you can afford and desperately want a 17mm prime lens, save your money and put it towards the next lens listed below – it’s worth the wait.

Olympus 17mm f/1.8

This lens is the complete opposite of the f/2.8 discussed above. I suspect some of the poor reviews you sometimes see listed are from people confusing it with the cheap version. This lens is beautifully made, performs amazingly well and just oozes quality. It has a metal construction and a reassuring weight whilst remaining small and compact. It will produce sharp images from wide open. It gives a beautiful shallow depth of field and is sharp into the corners with virtually no distortion. It really is a pleasure to use.

It also has a nice feature in that the end of the lens barrel will pull back to switch the lens into manual focus mode. When you do this it also reveals a nice depth of field scale; not quite as nice as a traditional manual prime but still very helpful. In short, this is a great lens and whilst a little more costly, the money shows in the quality of the lens and results. Highly recommended.

Panasonic 20mm

Some people rave about this lens and I have owned two of them now (but mine were the initial model and not the latest MKII model). I honestly can’t understand why people rate this lens so highly. The versions I have owned were very, very slow with autofocus and also quite noisy. Whilst the centre of the lens was a little sharper than the Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens the edge performance was worse. The lens is nicely compact but I couldn’t get on with it.

I acknowledge there is a strong following for this lens and I could have been unlucky enough to have two poor samples. I would urge caution if you are considering this lens and consider the Olympus 25mm discussed next as an alternative.

Olympus 25mm

This is a relatively new addition to the Olympus range of primes. All I can say is wow. I love this lens. It’s small, light, compact and really sharp. Performance is excellent as is the price. If you are considering the Panasonic 20mm prime mentioned above, do a side by side comparison with this lens. I find myself turning to the Olympus lens quite often now.

Olympus 45mm

This lens looks very similar to the 25mm Olympus mentioned above and is equally sharp. Again, this lens is highly recommended. This is a great lens with a lovely shallow depth of field.

Olympus 60mm Macro

If you want a dedicated macro lens then you don’t have many options. This lens looks unusual and is rather long. It is however an ideal focal length for a macro lens and super sharp. I really like this lens a lot although understand when some people say they can’t get on with it. Focus speed is OK but not terribly fast. I suspect this is why there is a range switch on the side so you can limit the range it tries to focus over. The only thing I don’t like this lens is the 1:1 magnification switch. Once in this mode you really need manual focus and if you accidently press the shutter button you can lose this level of magnification. You do really need to be focussing manually at this setting. Despite this the lens produces wonderful results and also makes a very capable 60mm prime for general use. You don’t need to use it as a macro lens all the time.

I hope this miniseries has helped people and if anyone has any additional comments on lenses not covered I would be delighted to hear them.

And I haven’t forgotten about revealing what my new camera is. More on that in the next week.

Friday image No.034

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Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens
Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens. Click the image to enlarge.

Yet another trip from my recent visit to Nantes in France.

This time I was walking along the river and spotted these three bird(two cormorants and a heron). They appeared quite tame as this was shot with my 45mm prime – it was the longest lens I had with me at the time. Fortunately it was the 45mm prime which is exceptionally sharp and will allow me to a high quality enlargement if required.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 4

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Captured with an Olympus OMD EM5 and Panasonic 45-200 lens.
Captured with an Olympus OMD EM5 and Panasonic 45-200 lens.

Telephoto (Long) Zooms

Continuing this miniseries, it’s time to take a look at telephoto lenses. I class these as lenses that have a focal length beyond 45mm. And please do remember, I only cover lenses that I have used. As I haven’t yet tried any pro level lenses in this class I haven’t included them in the review. If anyone does have experience with these please add your thought to the comments section. I for one would be interested in the Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 or Panasonic 35-100 f/2.8. Lens titles include links to amazon.co.uk to view the lens and ensure you know which I am refering to.

Panasonic 45-150mm

This is my current long lens having switched from the 45-200 below. The reason for my switch is because of the size and weight. This lens is actually tiny when you consider its focal length. It’s only very slightly bigger than the 14-45 kit lens so is very easy to carry. This is a huge advantage over the typical telephoto DSLR lens which tend to get bigger and heavier.

Performance in image quality ranges from excellent at the 45mm end to very good/excellent at the 150mm end of the range. At the 45mm end I would say that my example is sharper than the 14-45mm kit lens that I love so much. It also performs well from wide open, displaying little colour fringing but does improve slightly when stopped down.

A lens of this quality for such a low price is a real bargain.

Panasonic 45-200mm

This is another good performer which achieves results similar to the 45-150 lens discussed above. Beyond the 150mm lens the image does soften slightly but it’s still very good and beyond what many DSLR lenses can achieve at this focal length.

As I mentioned above, I recently sold this lens because I found I wasn’t using the additional reach beyond 150mm, given the additional size and weight of the lens.

Panasonic 100-300mm

I have seen some negative commentary on this lens but have found this difficult to understand. From my experience, I have wondered if the problems are more to do with technique than the lens. With a lens of this focal length, small vibrations can be a problem as they are significantly magnified.

The downside to the lens is that it’s quite costly and also quite specialised, giving the equivalent of 600mm at the long end. Whilst this is a good focal length for getting close to action, the maximum aperture is quite slow, making it less suited for low light work.

Next time we will look at prime lenses where there are a few surprises.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 3

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Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project
Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project

In this posting we will look at the lenses falling in the super wide angle category. I define this as being those that are wider than 24mm (full frame equivalent) or 12mm (Micro 43). At the time of writing there are only two zoom lens options which are described below. Headings are links to amazon.co.uk to see the lenses.

Super Wide Angle Zoom

Olympus 9-18mm

If you need a wider angle lens than the 12mm standard zoom you don’t have much choice. It’s either this lens or the Panasonic 7-14mm mentioned below. I own the Olympus 9-18 and really like it. It’s a sharp lens that performs well. At the wider angle end of the zoom range it will distort but the lens retains its sharpness. Some chromatic aberration is apparent but no more than you might expect from such a wide angle.

The lens is very light and small. It also collapses down on itself when not in use. This makes it very easy to carry and suitable for all sorts of camera design. Most importantly you can easily use filters on this lens, something that can be tricky with the Panasonic.

Panasonic 7-14mm

I can’t deny this is a sharper lens than the Olympus and is most certainly pro quality. The downside when compared to the Olympus is that it’s larger and quite a bit heavier although it’s still much smaller and lighter than a DSLR wide angle lens.

Despite its amazing performance, I opted not to buy this lens because of one key problem. The front element of the lens protrudes beyond the front of the lens making it very difficult to attach filters. If you can overcome this limitation and don’t mind that it’s quite a lot more costly than the Olympus then this is a great lens.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 1

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Steps at Sandsend near Whitby. Olympus Em5 + 25mm Olympus lens. The quality of this lens is amazing.
Steps at Sandsend near Whitby. Olympus Em5 + 25mm Olympus lens. The quality of this lens is amazing. Click the image to view larger.

I recently bought another camera (used) and whilst I will have more to say on that in the future, one thing it made me realise was just how good the Micro 43 lenses are. But this isn’t the case for all of the Micro 43 lenses; there are some really poor ones out there. When these lenses are good they are really good. The corners are sharp and show little distortion and you can use them wide open without worry. But when they are poor, they can make you question your decision to invest in the Micro 43 system. With this in mind I thought I would share some of my experiences and hopefully others of you will share yours.

I will point out that this is not a scientific lens review but what I think are the important points having used the lenses discussed. You also need to be aware that being a Landscape Photographer I like to achieve a good depth of field, very sharp images and well defined details. Depending on your photography interests you may have different needs.

Now both Panasonic and Olympus produce some excellent lenses (as well as some poor ones) but they take very different approaches to image stabilisation. Olympus builds stabilisation into their camera bodies whilst Panasonic build it into the lens (but not every lens). This means that if you have an Olympus body you can use any lens and still benefit from stabilisation. If you have a Panasonic body then you will only benefit from image stabilisation when you use a Panasonic lens (and only then if it is stabilised as not all lenses are).

Now you can mount a Panasonic lens on an Olympus body without any problems; this is one of the prime features of Micro 43 – it’s a standard. For example, I frequently use a Panasonic 14-45mm lens with stabilisation on my Olympus EM5. I do take care to turn off the lens stabilisation using a switch on the lens barrel. But even when I forget it seldom causes an issue. With other lenses such as the Panasonic 45-150 the lens is stabilised but there is no stabilisation switch on the body. Despite this I have never experienced a problem mounting these lenses on my Olympus EM5 and leave the stabilisation for the camera on all the time.

In short, don’t worry about mixing lenses and camera bodies from Olympus and Panasonic although you might need to give a little thought to manually switching it off for some combinations of lens and camera body.

Next time we will start to review some of the zoom lenses I have used. But before we go I will leave you with a few section of the above image zoomed to 100% magnification. This shows just how good the Micro 43 system can be.

100% magnification
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

 

100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

 

100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

Friday image No.019

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Brickwork captured with the Olympus 25mm lens on an Olympus OMD EM5.
Brickwork captured with the Olympus 25mm lens on an Olympus OMD EM5.

Following my last post where I was sharing my first experiences of the Olympus 25mm lens, I thought I would share another image. I shot quite a few images that I would class as “texture” but I found this brickwork particularly fascinating. The salt crystals corroding the bricks make a great pattern and the lens performed very well. Not only is it relatively free from distortion with corner to corner sharpness, it seems to resolve an amazing amount of detail.

Take a look at this section magnified to 100%. Make sure you click the image to see it properly.

 

A 100% close up of a section of the wall shows just how much detail this lens can capture.
A 100% close up of a section of the wall shows just how much detail this lens can capture.

Have a great weekend everyone.

New Lens for the EM5

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Sharp detail across the entire image. The new Olympus 25mm lens with the Olympus EM5.
Sharp detail across the entire image. The new Olympus 25mm lens with the Olympus EM5.

Along with my recent purchase of a Panasonic Lumix GM1, I also picked up an Olympus 25mm prime lens. This weekend I had my first opportunity to use it properly.

My first general impression is that the lens is well constructed and feels to have a nice level of quality. It’s nice to see that Olympus have decided to include a lens hood, which is of the bayonet type so it can also be reversed on the lens for carrying. The lens diameter is 46mm which again is in line with some of the other prime lenses. This is good news in that I won’t need to buy more filter accessories.

All these points are nice, but what really counts is the quality of the image. Lots of people reading this will want lovely creamy smooth backgrounds which can be easily thrown out of focus using a large aperture. The lens certainly doesn’t disappoint here but I won’t be discussing that in this post. What’s really important to me with respect to image quality is corner sharpness.

I have a real pet hate at the moment as I think too many lens manufacturers are creating lenses that are soft in the corner. Certainly a lens of this focal length and design should be sharp into the corners and it is. What’s very nice is that you don’t need to stop down very far to achieve excellent sharpness across the entire image.

The image you see above was only f/4.0 and that was only necessary because I seemed incapable of holding the camera parallel to the wall. The working distance was quite close and the lens so sharp that a small variation in camera movement were picked up. I am being very fussy though.

Overall, the lens was a joy to use and the results excellent. It has made me realise that I now value lens performance and image quality as my top priority. I will most likely streamline my equipment further as a result of this realisation.

A new lens in the bag

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English Lake District
English Lake District

To be totally honest, it’s actually two new lenses in the bag. The first is a 14mm prime which I picked up very cheaply. It was originally part of a Panasonic G series camera kit, but was sold separately having never been used (there are a lot of these on the market at present). The other lens and the subject of this blog is the new Panasonic 14-140mm lens.

I have wanted one of these lenses for a while and my hope is that it will replace my 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses. This won’t be all the time but when weight and convenience is a factor. Typically this will be when I am out walking in the mountains as I don’t really like to stop to change lenses. I know that sounds lazy but when you’re up a mountain in bad weather, possibly with others, possibly at altitude, you don’t want to start messing around swapping lenses.

My first impression of this lens is that it is well made as you would expect from Panasonic. In terms of size it’s only slightly bigger than my Panasonic 14-45mm and doesn’t weight too much more. The front element is slightly wider at 58mm where the core zooms in my Micro 43 kit are all 52mm.

What matters to me most however is performance. If I compare this lens to the two lenses it needs to replace, my first impressions are that it isn’t quite as sharp as my 14-45mm but performs very nicely within this zoom range. Beyond this I am a little uncertain. It certainly isn’t as sharp as my 45-200mm which is excellent and its performance seems to dip beyond about 60mm BUT I think this may be my technique.

So far the weather hasn’t allowed me to really get the feel for the longer focal lengths. I have been shooting these handheld and the speeds haven’t been as fast as I would like. Every so often I have been able to shoot an image which looks good and the performance has been quite close to the 45-200mm lens. I think I need to get this on a tripod and take some comparison shots.

Hope you like the image.

Lightroom Lens Correction for Micro 4/3

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The Lens Correction module in Lightroom can automatically correct common distortion problems. These are typically evident in wide angle architecture shots such as this one of New York Grand Central Terminal shot with a Panasonic Lumix LX5.

This is just going to be a short blog today but I’m sure it’s going to answer a question quite a few Lightroom users have. If you shoot in RAW format then you will be using a RAW converter to convert your images to a picture format such as TIFF or JPG. This is one of the common uses for Lightroom which has the excellent “Develop” module (see my Lenscraft website for free membership and tutorials). One of the features of this module is that you can load in lens calibrations for your camera which will apply an adjustment to correct any lens distortion.

It is possible to create your own lens profiles using a lens calibration chart and some free software that can be downloaded from the Adobe website but this is quite tricky and time consuming. Adobe has therefore taken the approach of shipping Lightroom with some standard Camera and Lens profiles that can be selected. These generally correct the major distortions such as Barrelling and Pin cushioning. There are then further manual adjustments you can make to tweak your image. If however you are a Panasonic or Olympus Micro 4/3 user you might have wondered why these cameras are missing from the lens calibration menu.

The answer is simple, Adobe has built the profile correction into the software and it is automatically applied without needing to select the camera and lens. When I first read this I was a little sceptical but I managed to hunt down the confirmation on the Adobe web site with the answer coming from one of their senior engineers.

So all you Micro 4/3 Lightroom users out there, if you are still not happy all the lens distortion has been removed, turn to the manual adjustment sliders. If of course you have a compatible lens calibration chart, the software from Adobe and a lot of time and patience you could always create your own.

Which Micro 4/3 Lens for Landscapes

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This Blea Watern tarn below High Street in the English Lake District. Captured using an Olympus 9-18mm lens on a GX1 body with a 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Lightroom and Nik SilverEfex Pro.

Something I find really valuable is the Statistics module of my blog. Not only does this show me how my readership is growing but also how people have found my blog. One of the most interesting aspects of this is the section on search terms used as often these are people looking for answers to questions about Light Weight Photography. The title of this blog is one such question I have seen appear a few times.

Firstly I will qualify my answer by saying I have not done extensive testing with all lenses and neither will I present lots of evidence to support my findings. I also won’t try to find the absolute best lens for sharpness or resolution. What I will present will be some practical thinking from the perspective of a Landscape Photographer using a Micro 4/3 camera that I think people might find valuable. Life’s too short to look at details that won’t show up in the final print. I would rather be taking pictures.

The majority of Landscape images are created using wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses. It’s true that there are exceptions but I think 80% of shots are probably taken with a 28mm or wider lens (in full frame 35mm terms). In the Micro 4/3 world this translates into using a lens that’s 14mm or wider.

For my own work I tend to use a 14-45mm Panasonic lens a lot especially when walking (possibly more so than I would have thought before I checked my archives). I think this is down to the way I use the smaller camera (GX1) as I tend to get down lower and move in closer to my subject than I do when I have a DSLR mounted on a tripod. This helps me make the most of the wide angle, emphasising the foreground and I often find 14mm is wide enough.

This is a good lens in terms of contrast levels, sharpness and ability to resolve detail in subjects, even at distance. It therefore meets my criteria for a good quality lens that can be used for Landscapes. If you buy a reasonable example of this lens on the second hand market it will be a good investment. I know there are later examples of this lens when it was changed to a 14-42mm and also a Powerzoom variant but I have yet to see RAW files shot with these that measure up to the 14-45mm.

The problem with the 14-45mm is that it’s not really wide enough for some subjects and most Landscape photographers want something that is at least 20mm (in 35mm full frame terms). The options for wider lenses are however quite limited with only two current choices:

  1. Panasonic 7-14mm (equivalent to 14mm – 28mm) for which you can expect to pay around £700
  2. Olympus 9-18mm (equivalent to 18-36mm) costing around £400

The lens I went for was the Olympus 9-18mm but not because of the cheaper price. It was because it is not possible to attach screw in filters to the front of the Panasonic lens as the glass element extends beyond the end of the lens.

Do I think I have compromised by buying the cheaper lens? Not at all.

The Olympus is perfect, light and very small. It has a neat trick of collapsing down when not in use. This is also a brilliant lens for capturing sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion. It lacks the image stabiliser but that’s not really a problem for the sort of use it will be put to.

So if I had to recommend one lens to use when shooting landscapes with a micro 4/3 camera, it would be the Olympus 9-18mm.