Olympus lenses, an ongoing review january 2019

The lens collection seems to have settled down after some frantic acquisitions.

Looking at the kit a couple of things have surfaced that show a general change in my attitude towards my kit and in it’s use.

Awh.. the touching family portrait. There is one lens missing (the silver haired step child?), the second, silver 45mm that took the image. Most of the hoods are ebay cheapies. I like metal screw in hoods on top of filters ad throw the caps on a box until it’s time to sell the lenses.

Awh.. the touching family portrait. There is one lens missing (the silver haired step child?), the second, silver 45mm that took the image. Most of the hoods are ebay cheapies. I like metal screw in hoods on top of filters ad throw the caps on a box until it’s time to sell the lenses.

The first big change is the super zoom 12-100. Not a zoom lens guy, especially not a super zoom exponent, this lens is effectively glued to the front of my Pen F as the high art landscape specialist. It is brutally sharp, minimises cropping, covering almost my whole landscape range (24-200 equiv), adds extra stabilisation in the only area I deem relevant (emergency low ISO, deep DOF shots without tripod) and doubles as a more than useful macro stand in. It also adds a premium AF performance, fairly long/fast tele if needed.

It’s weaknesses, such as they are, are also minimised in this role. The so-so Bokeh is avoided due to deeper DOF landscape shooting where it’s slightly better OOF coherency (messier Bokeh) helps rather than hinders. Landscape use also fixes any issues raised by it’s slower f4 maximum speed, making every aperture a landscape relevant one.

The size and weight of the lens is laughable when I compare it to any previous top end landscape kit I have owned (6 lens Canon FF prime kit was the worst!) and the minor limitation of 20mp, compared to other shooter’s 30+ is alleviated by it’s corner to corner sharpness through the whole range, the 0% cropping needed in post and the Pen’s electronic shutter. It even eliminates my zoom lens bias with it’s results.

Hard sharp 9/10, generous and smooth 7/10, creatively beneficial 8/10

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Next is the lens I suppose is most at risk of being redundant, the 12-40. It is the second time around the block for me with this one. Purchased in a rush because I had money to spend and a need for a versatile portrait/holiday lens over Christmas, it proved to be the best money I have spent in a while. It is different enough to the 12-100 to stay useful. It is equally sharp, but slightly gentler, showing smoother portrait Bokeh (faster and cleaner DOF drop off), it is an excellent semi macro (both zooms give 1:3 magnification but at different distances/compression) and finally it is a stop faster and noticeably smaller, making it a better travel option. Last but not least it just takes nice images with a minimum of fuss. This lens may go on the next trip to Japan as an experiment in style and process.

Hard sharp 8/10, generous and smooth 8/10, creatively beneficial 8/10

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The final zoom is the 75-300. I am on record as saying that this plasticky, cheap end tele is a surprise packet, especially in the 75-220 range. There is possibly a longer or better lens in the future, but maybe not and this one will not be going anywhere. For landscapes it is ideal (see the 12-100’s weaknesses), for event and sport it is adequate and for candid portraiture it shines. If (big if) I find myself shooting more sport, wildlife or event’s, then maybe the 300 f4, 150-400 f4.5 or 40-150 f2.8 are in the wings.

Tonally this lens is generous, the colour lush and it shows few faults out side of it’s obvious run-of-the-mill specs and basic build quality. it manages to be an “invisible” lens even with it’s inherent power. Most slow long lenses are best only in good light, but it is fair to say this one is brilliant in brilliant light (I find it hard to pick from the 75mm prime in good light).

Hard sharp 7/10, Generous and smooth 8.5/10, creatively beneficial 8/10

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Far right in the back row is the jewel in the crown, the 75mm f1.8. The lens most capable of creative results difficult to achieve on M43. There is no way that any smaller format (yes even full frame) can provide the amazing 3d “snap” of a larger format camera, but some lenses in these smaller formats give you enough power to get close. A little long for normal portraits, it is ideal for exaggerated DOF drop off and candid portraits.

It is so sharp wide open and has such a pronounced flattening of perspective (even for a 75-85mm), that you can achieve the near majestically super sharp to instantly soft look larger format cameras do effortlessly. The effect is even stronger than the dearer and more specialised f1.2 portrait primes for M43. This is my “secret weapon” lens, although I avoid over using it.

Hard sharp 9.5/10, Generous and smooth 8/10, creatively beneficial 9/10

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The little brother(s) to the 75mm are the pair of excellent 45mm f1.8’s. They are not as perfect, but are equally useful. Under a lot of pressure from a closer focussing Panasonic, two pro end f1.2 models and even a 0.95 Voigtlander, they are still my favourite lenses in this or any other kit. They remind me of the Canon 85mm f1.8 in that they are gently sharp wide open, but get really sharp a couple of stops down. Their Bokeh is neutral to in-offensive and their colour lush. Even if I was gifted a 45mm f1.2, I would keep one of these as a point of difference.

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Next in line is the 25mm f1.8. If a lens was to leave this kit, it would probably be this one. Having said that, there is nothing I can honestly complain about with it and I even discovered recently, that it is actually closer to my preferred 40-45mm equivalent focal length than I realised (or is marked). Like the 12-40, the lens has high sharpness, but an unforgivingly quick and smooth focus drop off. This led in both cases, to a deep felt suspicion that they were not consistently sharp, when in reality I was miss-identifying a useful trait and not my own technical errors (with face detection activated, both hit the mark). Other features are a lushness and brilliance and very good close focus, making it the third semi macro in my kit. Although I pay it too little respect, I am always surprised how many images I have taken with it.

Hard sharp 7.5/10, Generous and smooth 9/10, creatively beneficial 6.5/10

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The last regular lens and one that has become a firm favourite, but against the odds. The 17mm f1.8 is a true paragon of the street shooter’s trade. Not loved by some reviewers, or even by me early on, it has few detractors amongst actual users. I find it reliably well behaved. The design seems to be specifically aimed at the street/journalist shooter, with size, AF speed and long transition Bokeh advantages ideal for these applications.

It is not designed for fast drop off Bokeh portraits, but rather it renders with a more old fashioned elongated and coherent Bokeh and strong micro contrast ideal for grab shots at wide apertures (the last image in the set was shot at f1.8 in almost complete darkness!).

It is a story tellers lens. The Leica/Pana 15mm or 17mm Pro Olympus are superior on paper, but this lens shows enough difference in character and application to earn a place along side either. It loves to tame strong light, has gorgeous colour and lightning fast AF (and alternatively the MF depth scale is very useful). Use this 17mm lens for it’s designed purpose and there are few that come close.

Hard sharp 8/10, Generous and smooth 7/10, creatively beneficial 9/10

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Last, but not least is the ancient Pen 25mm lens I saved from the junk bin at work. It is not a real contender for serious work and was not apparently even the best of it’s type back in the day, but when I get the urge for some “legacy therapy” or just want a less predictable or different result I have this at hand.

Hard sharp 6/10, Generous and smooth 7/10, creatively beneficial 8/10

Hazy, but sharp wide open, the lens cleans up well and has little to fault at f4 or smaller.

Hazy, but sharp wide open, the lens cleans up well and has little to fault at f4 or smaller.

What is missing?

I still do hold a torch for the 15mm Panasonic. It is clearly a different lens to the 17mm, but the new zooms have added what it would bring, a better landscape option with corner to corner sharpness.

Something longer? Ideally Olympus will release a fast medium prime (200 f2.3/280 f3.5 with extender has been rumoured). The Leica 200 is too dear, so i will wait and see. If the rumoured 150-400 f4.5 is affordable (not!) that may also be too hard to resist.

Something wider? The Laowa 7.5 is interesting. Maybe.

One of the 1.2’s? Probably not. The 75 is very close to the same effect when needed and I actually prefer the f1.8’s for their character, value, size and weight and for being known factors. I think one of the super fasts would end up being an expensive waste in itself and dilute the role of already excellent lenses.