What’s the best lens for micro 4/3 cameras? That’s kind of a trick question. The “best” lens for any system depends on what picture you’re trying to make. The best lens for landscape photography might not be the best lens for portraits. The lens you choose affects the angle of view, depth of field and even the relationship between the elements in your photos. The more you know what photos you want to make, the easier choosing the “right” lens becomes.
You can read lens reviews online (and and I do) and I think they are a great resource. You want to know that a lens is of good quality, makes a sharp image, focuses fast enough, etc., but every lens with great reviews isn’t necessarily a great lens for you. It makes sense to decide on what type of lens you’re looking for before you start looking up reviews.
Of course, I DO have a few favorite micro 4/3 lenses. This is the glass I use the most…
- For landscape photography I LOVE the Olympus 12mm f2. It’s sharp to the corners and renders details beautifully.
- For my “walk around” prime, the new Olympus 17mm f1.8 is the perfect focal length… FOR ME. The 17mm f1.8 sees almost the exact same field of view as my eyes. It is a nice sharp lens and it focuses instantly, BUT the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4 has a look to it that I can only describe as “creamy”. Sometimes I have a hard time getting that lens off the camera 🙂
- On the long end I use the Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens a lot. Naturally it is a fantastic macro lens, but the 120mm effective focal length and bright maximum aperture make it great for portraits too. The Olympus 75mm f1.8 is the sharpest lens I have ever used, but I find myself reaching for the 60mm more often because of it’s versatility.
- I actually use the Olympus 12-50mm OM-D “kit” lens quite a bit. It’s sharp, weatherproof and has a nice built-in macro mode.
This is not to say that other lenses are not awesome. I’ve tried a LOT of MFT lenses, and these are simply the ones that work best for ME and what I shoot. The next lenses I’m planning to try are the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 and 35-100 f2.8 professional zooms, and the Panasonic 7-14mm f4. These three lenses are the MFT versions of my workhorse lenses in my previous life as a Nikon full-frame shooter.
Here are a couple of tips if you’re not sure what sort of lens is best for the photos you like to make:
- I recommend zoom lenses for beginning photographers. If you don’t know what you like to shoot, get a relatively inexpensive wide-range zoom lens like the Olympus 14-150 or the Panasonic 14-140mm. A lens like that will allow you to shoot just about anything and get a feel for what sort of pictures you want to make. Technically a wide-range zoom probably won’t be as sharp as dedicated wide-angle or telephoto lens, but when you’re starting out I think you have better things to concern yourself with. After a while you will have an idea of what you shoot most often. If you notice that a lot of your shots are made at the wide end of your zoom lens, maybe you should start shopping for a nice wide-angle lens. If you find yourself always wishing for a little tighter shot, have a look at some telephoto glass. A zoom lens is a good way to get a feel for your particular style before you invest a lot of cash in a lens you may not use.
- Find photographers you admire and find out what they are shooting with. Do some browsing on Google+ or Flickr and look for folks who are making the kind of photos that you would like to make. Most of the time you can see what camera and lens was used, and often you can even see the exposure settings. It also doesn’t hurt to ask your favorite photographers what equipment they like to use. Photographers are generally a pretty friendly bunch 🙂 If all of the photos you like are made with one particular focal length lens, then you should go shopping for a lens like that.
- Rent a few lenses and try them out. I know lensrentals.com has a wide variety of Micro 4/3 lenses, and a lot of lens reviews as well. It is very inexpensive to rent a couple of lenses for the weekend and get a feel for what they do.
There are a lot of great lenses for the Micro 4/3 system. With a little bit of research it’s easy to find the right tool to help you make great photos.
We will have lots of lenses to try out at the Small Camera Big Workshop in Atlanta in February. You can even borrow the latest micro 4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. Click HERE for more details.
I’ve just purchased the Olympus 17mm 1.8 because I need a lens to shoot at receptions in rooms that are generally little light starved. While I’m not unhappy with the results I get with a diffused flash, the whole point of the OM-D, for me, was to have a smaller camera and be less obtrusive. Your description of it as a ‘walk around” is apt – it’s exactly how I’ll be using it. The 12-50 kit lens is the most rewarding and versatile kit lens I’ve ever owned – and I’ve only been shooting with it since May.
It’ll be a year, now, before I can spend more on glass, unless something unforeseen happens. I’ve gotten good results with the long kit lens from my Olympus 520, with the MFT adaptor, since it normally only comes out when light isn’t an issue. I’m going to try it out soon at a much higher ISO and see how forgiving the outfit is.
Thanks for this – it validates my purchase – what more can you ask from a blog post?
Thanks for the comments, Rob!
The 12-50 kit lens has been one of my favorite things about the OM-D. Olympus has some beautiful 4/3 glass, but the weight and expense has kept me away so far…
I’ve really been on a lens shopping spree since I moved from Nikon to M43, and picked up the Pana 7-14, the Oly kit 12-50, the Pana pancake 14mm, the Panaleica 25mm, Oly 45mm and 60mm macro, and the pana 45-200mm.
And after having played with them all for a few months I can only totally agree with your comment on the Panaleica 25mm. It may as well be stuck to my camera, for the price it really is a stunningly beautiful lens. I will give the Voigtlander 17.5mm a chance to knock it off the podium, but for now at least the 25mm is the lens that makes me have absolutely no regrets about moving to m43.
The only manual focus lens I have is the Rokinon 7.5mm fisheye. That lens rocks, especially for the price. The AF works so well on the M4/3 cameras that I’m not shopping for any MF lenses 🙂
Good post, Rob. Thanks!
I love the 12-50. It’s my main walk around lens for day trips and general shooting. I use the 45 f/1.8 for portraits and when I want shallow DoF, but it can be a little too “in between” at times, not quite enough zoom for telephoto shots but too much zoom for general shooting.
I also have the Olympus 40-150 (I think that’s it’s range) but barely use it. It was bundled with the EM-5 and 12-50 for just $99, and at that price, I couldn’t turn it down, but honestly, I only used it once, and that was to make sure it worked. LOL.
I’m mostly a wide angle shooter and think the 12mm will be next lens. I’m okay using the 12-50 if I want a quick landscape/wide angle while walking around, but if I want a higher quality photo, I’d rather have a prime lens. Not sure what I’d get after that…or if my wife will even let me get anymore.
The 12-50mm is a killer lens, even at 12mm. I “feel” like the 12mm f2 is sharper, but I think it’s more the look than the sharpness.
I have the older Panasonic 45-200mm lens that I use for longer shots. It is sharp with good contrast, and I think I paid around $200 for it. You can’t beat the 40-150mm for $99!
What lens would you suggest for indoor shots of people for events in a tight space?
I like the Leica 15mm f1.7 or 12mm f1.4
I also have the Olympus 14-42mm EZ lens in addition to the Oly 12-50mm, Oly 40-150mm Oly 17mm f1.8 and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens. The 14-42 is a pancake zoom and makes a really small package on my Oly M5 camera. It has become my walk around lens mainly because of the size benefit. I also have the auto lens cap. While the IQ is not quite up to the standards of the other lenses its not far off. It’s cheap, small and spends more time on my camera than anything else.