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

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.

12 thoughts on “Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 5

  1. Have enjoyed this series, thanks.

    I came to the 20mm 1.7 by way of the 45mm 1.8, my only other prime. My reaction was similar to yours, “what’s the big deal?” I may end up going in either direction (the 17mm and the 25mm) for this focal length and put the 20 on ebay. Not sure if it’s the focal length or if I just prefer the way Olympus renders.

    Maybe there’s something that maybe doesn’t show up in all the lens metrics, that special something. Color rendering? Micro contrast? I don’t know what it is, but the 45 has it in spades.

    Your review of the 14mm 2.5 strikes me as containing some faint praise. Is it another 20?

    Thanks again for the series, I was particularly interested to read about the 14-45 kit lens.

    1. I’m pleased you enjoyed the miniseries. I agree that there is something special about certain lenses. If you like the 45mm then I think you will love the Olympus 25mm. The 17mm is also great but for me the 25mm is special. Yes there is some faint praise for the 14mm. It’s a good lens but I just can’t love it; pretty much like the 20mm.

  2. Great info here – I’ve been enjoying this series. I love my micro 4/3 system – I think it’s perfect for the photography I do. I’m curious on your thoughts of the Panasonic 14-140 (the new version). I use a G6 and am debating on either the 14-140 or another G6 so I can have one body attached to my 14-45 and the other to my 45-200.

      1. Thanks so much for the information. I really enjoy my 14-45 and 45-200. The 45-200 has been bashed around a bit in forums and online reports, but I think excellent results are possible with good technique. Now I’m hoping that Panasonic will offer a body-only option for the G6.

  3. Great blog! Just wanted to stick up for the 20mm 1.7 🙂 I use one on my G3 and really like it. I’m pretty new to all of this and consequently mightn’t be best placed to make a good judgement (and I agree it doesn’t focus that quick) but it’s the one that is most often attached to the camera when I’m out wandering around. I also have the 45mm 1.8 and agree that it’s awesome, too. It certainly feels a lot more classy than the 20mm – lovely build quality and very smooth feel when manually focussing. To round out my collection I have the kit 14-42 and a 45-200, too…but neither get used as much as the primes. Cheers, Derek

      1. Hi Robin. Not overly impressed with the 14-42. Don’t use it a lot as I prefer the primes but I took it out for a run this morning and realised how much I missed the low light capabilities of those primes. Also, when running images from the 14-42 through DxO Optics Pro (which I always do) it became apparent just how “curved” some of the images were. Not sure if “curved” is the correct term. Heh. At least Optics Pro was able to straighten them.

      2. Thanks Derek. It’s always good to hear others views about lenses. Whenever I have tried the 14-42 I have seen a lot of barrel distortion and the images have been quite soft. The primes are in a completely different league (in most cases).

  4. As a former Olympus 45mm user, I understand why you found something special in it that many other lenses in the system didn’t deliver and, thought I haven’t tried the Panasonic 20mm nor the 2 Olympus 17.5, I recently purchased the PanaLeica 15mm and I must say that this it is another terrific piece of glass, with such special rendering that it doesn’t leave my GM1 since I have it!

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