Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 2

Captured with an Olympus 12-40 at f/3.5. This lens is sharp across the entire frame and shows little distortion (although that could be down to Lightroom auto correction)
Captured with an Olympus 12-40 at f/3.5. This lens is sharp across the entire frame and shows little distortion (although that could be down to Lightroom auto correction)

In this post I am going to share my thoughts on some of the Standard zooms I have used. As there isn’t really a definition of what can be considered a standard zoom, I view these as a zoom that will go from moderate wide angle (24mm or 28mm) through to short telephoto (80mm to 100mm). Don’t forget as you look through the list below that the Micro 43 sensor has a magnification factor of 2x. This means a 14mm lens will become a 28mm lens on a Micro 43 camera.

Panasonic 14-45mm

This is the old kit lens from the GF1 and you can still buy it new for quite a reasonable price. Now just because this is a kit lens doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. In fact I have owned 4 of these (all purchased second hand) and all were excellent. The lens will produce sharp images even wide open and will become very sharp from around f/4.5. It does start to drop off slightly from around f/8.0 but still performs well until near to the minimum aperture.

In case you’re worried about getting enough depth of field and think you need to stop the lens down to the minimum aperture, don’t. At 14mm, setting the aperture to f/7.1 usually allows you to achieve sufficient depth of field for most landscape shots, providing you don’t get in very close to your subject. You also need to take care to pick a good point of focus to maximise depth of field, but you would need to do that with any camera system.

This lens is an excellent workhorse and will serve you well in a wide variety of situations. Best of all you can buy these used at very reasonable prices, sometimes with a very serviceable GF1 attached (which you could always have converted to shoot infrared).

Panasonic 14-42mm

There are various versions of this kit lens on the market but I would suggest you treat them with care. I have tried a few but none come near to the 14-45mm mentioned above. These appear to have been made to a budget and it shows in the soft images. Now I don’t have any significant experience with the Olympus version but as a budget kit lens I would still be cautious.

If you’re thinking of buying a Micro 43 system consider buying body only and purchasing the Panasonic 14-45mm (used). Or perhaps if you do have one of these lenses consider trading it in. There are better options.

Panasonic 12-32mm

This is the kit lens that comes with the Panasonic GM1. It looks to be too small to be stabilised but it does have stabilisation. Whilst it’s not the sharpest lens, it is surprisingly good. Mine doesn’t have much edge distortion and chromatic aberration appears well controlled. Its real advantage though is that it’s surprisingly small and light as well as being a great little performer. If you happen to come across one at a reasonable price give it a try. Or if you are thinking of buying a GM1 and have some existing lenses, don’t automatically go for the body only option to save money. When I bought my GM1, buying the body only would have saved just £20. Compared to the value of this lens, that’s a tiny saving.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

This is by far the most expensive of the standard zooms I have used. This is the Olympus Pro quality lens and benefits from a large fixed aperture across the zoom range. It performs superbly well from wide open and both distortion and chromatic aberration are very well controlled. As you might expect from a pro lens, it is very sharp and an excellent performer.

The downside to this lens besides the price is the size and weight. It’s still smaller than a standard DSLR lens but it’s probably a similar weight although a little smaller. For some cameras you might find it feels a little unbalanced. [Having used this lens quite a bit now I would say the sharpness can also be a problem. Some of my prints (even A2 prints) show so much sharp detail that it can look false. On occasion I have found myself applying a very slight blur to the image to give a nicer, smooth feel to the print.]

Whether this lens deserves the high premium over the Panasonic 14-45mm, only you will be able to decide. Panasonic also have their version of this lens which is 12-35mm and at the time of writing is even more costly than the Olympus.

Olympus 12-50

This is the kit lens that comes with the Olympus EM5 and EM10. It’s not actually a bad lens but it definitely isn’t a great lens. The focal length range of 24mm-100mm equivalent is great and very useful. The downside and reason that I sold mine is that the image quality just isn’t as good as the Panasonic 14-45mm. I would rather lose a little flexibility at either end of the zoom range for the comfort feeling of knowing image quality is good.

One area that isn’t very good with this lens is the maximum aperture. As soon as you start to zoom in, the maximum aperture drops very quickly. This makes it a poor choice for lower light situations and almost forces you to select a more sensitive ISO. Now the aperture on the Panasonic 14-45mm isn’t great but it is easier to work with than with the 12-50.

Something I did find very annoying about this lens is the electronic zoom. It’s easier to work with than the Panasonic power zoom switch as you still use the zoom ring on the lens, but it’s just not a nice feel. I never felt comfortable zooming in and out using this feature of the lens and trying to fine tune the zoom was very difficult.

On the plus side, this lens does have a very useful macro button. I think it gives 1:2 life-size enlargements and allows you to get quite close to your subject. If you are on a budget, this can be a useful lens, just don’t expect it to match the optical performance of the Panasonic 14-45 or the quality of the Olympus 60mm macro.

Next time we will take a look at Super Wide Angle options.

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