Over the past week I have received at least four emails asking what Micro 43 lenses I would recommend for Landscape Photography. I can also see quite a few people reading a related post I created back in 2012. Given my advice has changed since I wrote the original post, I thought it was time to revisit the subject. If you would like to know more about the image above, check out the video at the end of this blog post.
Before I share my own recommendations, I believe there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration. These are:
- Camera Ergonomics
- Shooting Style
You should consider these points carefully in order to come to your own conclusions. These points will also help you to understand my answers.
Micro 43 is an extremely flexible format with a large range of available lenses. Unfortunately, not every micro 43 lens will suit every camera in the micro 43 range. The lenses may fit the camera and operate correctly, but are the two well matched. For example, the Olympus 12-40mm may feel great when used on the Olympus EM1. But place the same lens on the tiny Panasonic GM1 and it would feel completely out of place. If the lens makes your camera difficult to work with, it doesn’t matter how good a landscape lens it is.
Flexibility & Shooting Style
It’s a little difficult to cleanly separate these two areas so let’s cover them together.
Consider if you would prefer to work with prime lenses or zoom lenses. My own preference is for zoom lenses as sometimes you can’t get into position with a prime lens. I would much rather have the flexibility of using zoom lenses.
Consider the focal ranges you want to cover with your lenses. My kit covers 9mm to 150mm (or 18mm to 300mm in full frame equivalent). Would this suit your needs for Landscape? Do you need greater coverage of focal lengths or is such a large range unnecessary?
How will you carry your equipment? I use a small shoulder bag in which I carry the camera and main lens as well as two additional lenses.
The price of some lenses may be restrictive, especially if you are purchasing them new. Some lenses are quite difficult to obtain second hand so you might not have any option but to purchase them new.
Lens quality is of paramount importance to me. I want to render images that are superbly sharp and which contain lots of detail. This might not suit our style of photography or you might place other features ahead of image quality. A further example of this is lens distortion (Barrel and Pincushion). Although I say lens quality is paramount, I don’t really mind some level of distortion. If this becomes too obvious, it can usually be corrected by software during post processing.
Are there any features that you need in a lens? For example, you may require the lens to be water resistant. One feature that I find important is the ability to mount filters to the front of the lens. Personally, in common with many landscape photographers, like to mount graduated ND filters on my lenses to help control exposure. Some ultra-wide angle lenses such as the Panasonic 7-14mm won’t accept such filters. The 7-14mm lens is a super performer but the frustration it caused me when trying to use filters resulted in me selling the lens.
Do you need image stabilisation in your lenses? I shoot with an Olympus EM5 which has in camera stabilisation so having a stabilised lens is not important to me. If your shooting with a Panasonic Micro 43 camera, this might not be the case. Equally, if you work exclusively on a tripod, you won’t need this feature.
How about having a constant fast aperture or close focus range? You need to think about these.
Based on everything I have said, my current recommendation for the best Micro 43 lenses for landscape photography are:
- Olympus 9-18mm
- Olympus 12-40mm
- Panasonic 45-150mm
These lenses are in my core kit and the ones that I take with me when travelling. All of these perform excellently, producing very sharp images and resolving fine detail. Of the three, only the 12-40mm is large. The other two are tiny for their focal range. I am prepared to accept the additional size and weight given the lens is weather sealed and has amazing optics. It also has a very close focus distance even at the 40mm end which makes it a pseudo macro lens if I don’t have room for one. In fact, the 12-40mm is such a great lens for my style of photography, it remains on the camera probably 90% of the time.
In the past I have worked with a Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens from a GF1. These are excellent lenses and available at a good price second hand. This is a good option if you don’t want the size, weight or cost of the 12-40mm lens. It’s sharp and versatile but lacks a little on the wide end of the focal range (for my preference).
If your confused by the multitude of lenses available in the Micro 43 range, consider the areas mentioned carefully before committing to a purchase. Whilst my lens choice is perfect for my needs, they may not be suitable for you.
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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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have a great weekend everyone.