The Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8 lens for Micro 4/3 is a moderately priced ($400) moderate telephoto, equivalent to 90mm in 35mm terms. I fell into lust with this lens as soon as Mike first described it last summer. It was exactly what I wanted. I decided then that if my TOP print sale did especially well, I would treat myself to some optical presents.
By the time the sale rolled around, I had decided to hell with the conditionals, I was going to buy it, regardless.
One reason is that it's a fast lens. I'm an available light photographer by inclination. Other people do great with strobes and the like; I never cottoned to them. Most of the time I don't need anything like ƒ/1.8; I'd rather be down somewhere around ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6. But when I want it, I want it.
The other reason is that it's a longish lens. For many photographers, their focal "sweet spot" is in the 30–40mm (equivalent) range. Me, I've always been a telephoto kind of guy. When I bought my first Pentax 67, I didn't think twice about choosing the 105mm lens over the 90mm. I didn't even get a wide-angle lens for that camera until I'd been using it for well over a dozen years.
The Panasonic 20mm ƒ/1.7 lens is superb, but it's wide for my tastes. I readily adapt, but when I put the 45mm Olympus on the camera, it's just like we were made for each other. It sees the way I do. I hardly ever have the experience of immediately feeling sympatico with a piece of equipment, but this is one of those times. It's compact and lightweight to boot. I can put my Olympus Pen with this lens in the same little padded stretchy pouch I use for carrying around the camera with the Panasonic 20mm.
So much for physical issues. How does the lens perform optically? The key questions for me are, how good do its images look wide open, when I am in one of those available-darkness situations? And, is it uniformly excellent across the field stopped down? My portfolio prints are large: 15x20" image area. I want a lens that can keep up. Issues that are not important to me are "color rendition" of the lens and bokeh. I'm not even convinced the former matters when one photographs in raw, as I always do, and I am sufficiently insensitive to bokeh that I only notice it when it is exceptionally awful. If you wish for an evaluation of that, wait for Mike's upcoming review.
This lens exceeded any expectations I had. It is so good that it's hard to tell what aperture I'm working at except by the amount of light falloff. Wide open, the lens exhibits a bit over half a stop of falloff from center to corner, but it's down to under one third of a stop at ƒ/2.2 and below a quarter stop by ƒ/2.8. There's no focus shift that I could detect going from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/8.
At ƒ/1.8, central sharpness is close to the camera's limit, and corner resolution is only a little worse than that. The only hint that you're working wide open is a slight softness to the edges (acutance); they are just ever so slightly smeary. Other than that, the lens is already almost as good as it gets on this camera. There is no sudden jump in image quality as you stop down, like there was with the Rokinon 85mm. It just gradually creeps up from very, very good to excellent.
This lens is phenomenal wide open. Above is the full frame; below is a 100% section from this (after you click on the image). It's a little grainy 'cause it's ISO 800.
At ƒ/2.8, photographs are visibly crisper than wide open, especially at the corners; at ƒ/4 there is very little to complain about anywhere in the field. Continuing on down to ƒ/8, the corners to pick up a bit more contrast and sharpness along the way, but it takes some really serious pixel peeping to see any differences anywhere between ƒ/4 and ƒ/8. Acutance falls off a little from that optimum range at both ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/11 (diffraction has to dominate, eventually) but you can confidently use any aperture from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/11 and be assured of excellent results. The differences are, frankly, subtle.
Above is the full frame of this test scene. Below, 100% sections from the centers and the corners of the frames. From top to bottom, ƒ/1.8, ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/5.6 (click on the image to see it 100%).
Correction for chromatic aberration is extremely good. There is maybe one pixel's worth of lateral chromatic aberration. I didn't notice any longitudinal chromatic aberration until I started pixel-peeping for this article; then I detected just a hint of magenta-foreground/green-background longitudinal color. It is small enough that I didn't notice it before this.
What all this tells me is that this lens is a lot better than the camera. If the Micro 4/3 format survives long enough for us to see a 25–30 megapixel body, I have no doubt that this lens will still be a strong performer. This is not one of those optics where a significantly better camera body will make you long for a significantly better lens.
Is there anything I can complain about in this lens? Well, I do wish it stabilized a little better. Sharpness is pretty reliable at 1/40th sec, but not so much at 1/20th. That's nice, but it's nothing to write home about. I've seen similar behavior with other lenses in this focal length range; I think maybe the image stabilization in the Olympus Pen EP-1 just doesn't optimize all that well for this focal length.
All in all, I think this lens is worth every bit of the $400 price tag. Even if it weren't a fast lens, it would deserve accolades. It is that good.
Well, that's it for the 45mm lens (the Amazon link again—B&H is currently out of them). Next week I'll be reviewing the Olympus 12mm ƒ/2. If you've been thinking about buying one of those, you may want to hold off until you read my review (that's what English majors call foreshadowing). Until next time....
ADDENDUM by Mike: Peter Vagt, in the Comments, asked to see a picture of the lens on a camera, so I made a quick snap of mine on a Panasonic G3. Subjectively speaking I'd say the 45mm is about the size of a 50mm Summicron, but quite a bit lighter.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.