For us, this one's easy. "The" lens of 2011 is....
The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm ƒ/1.8.
Here are all the great things about this lens, in order:
- It's optically superb—measurably, yes, but even beyond "mere" measurements and into its ineffable, subjective "look."
- It's fast—about as fast as anyone these days needs a lens to be.
- It's a useful and well-chosen focal length.
- It has nice enough bokeh.
- It's beautifully and pleasingly well made.
- It's small and light, virtually pain-free in the camera bag. No reason to leave it at home.
- At $400, it's not even very expensive—costly enough so that you know corners haven't been cut and so pride of ownership is adequately justified, but not so costly that it becomes a painful purchase for most people.
- It fits a variety of cameras from several manufacturers.
- It focuses quickly and very quietly (move this up several places in the list if you often shoot video).
And here are the things that are bad about this lens:
Lens choice is a minefield for me, because I've gone up the entire slope of full-bore, all-in lens connoisseurship and halfway down the other side. (Meaning, I now have individual idiosyncratic tastes in lens design that not every connoisseur shares, that give weight to some things that are more or less invisible to neophytes, and that downplay certain things that neophytes often consider all-important). To give you just a modest idea of my OCD engagement in this subject, when I was shooting 35mm I tested over 30 50mm lenses (conventionally considered to all be "great"—not; 35mm lenses are more reliably good than 50mms, as a class) and found only two or three I really liked—rejecting, along the way, several of the most prestigious and several of the most expensive.
I'm not actually a nut about any of this, because I'll shoot with most anything. I don't let my "lens hobby" get in the way of my photographing. I've long realized, and acknowledged, that they're really two separate things.
But I'm tough to please when it comes down to being picky.
Now, naturally, you want your most-used lens to be your most favorite in terms of its look (I mean its look in the pictures, of course, not the appearance of the lens as an object) and its specs or design parameters. So I was surprised to find that the recent Micro 4/3 includes a lens that's "perfect" for me, by my own standards—as I've mentioned many times, that's the Panasonic 20mm.
But my second most-used lens has always been a short telephoto prime (I can usually get away with just a two-lens kit if the stars all align...a moderate wide prime and a short tele prime).
Many is the system in which I can find one of the two lenses I most need, with all the qualities I want...but not the other. So what are the chances that the Micro 4/3 mount would include not only an "ideal" lens of the type I need most, but also an ideal lens of the type I need second-most? Seemed literally too much to hope for, to me. I would have been happy with just the 20mm, "filled in" with something utilitarian for my other limited needs.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that I like this lens—the Oly 45mm—95% as much as I like the Panny 20mm. It's really just about equally excellent. (The other 5% is in the fact that 40mm-equivalent is just a more desirable focal length for me than 90mm-equivalent. Ctein is the opposite.)
Add the fact that the Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8 is Ctein's #1 favorite Micro 4/3 lens, and that everyone I know who has bought one loves it, you can see why we've picked this as our Lens of this Year.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by atmtx: "Mike, I've been a reader of your column but this is my first comment. This little post really struck a nerve. I'm no camera or lens expert but I really, totally, unexpectedly love my Olympus E-PL1 with the Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens. I've been shooting with it like crazy. I also recently purchased the Olympus 45mm f1.8. I like both lenses so much that I decided to buy a second E-PL1 body. I now have a two body set with the 20mm and 45mm. I carry both in a small Domke bag. No need to change lenses, just a quick switch between the two cameras."
Featured Comment by JK: "An authentically great lens, and as good a reason to use Micro 4/3 as the Olympus ZD 50mm macro was for 4/3. Between this one and the Panasonic Leica 25mm, what a year it was for Micro 4/3 lenses."
Featured Comment by Jim Simmons: "Would love to get one, Mike, but having bought my Micro 4/3 body just to use with my 40mm Summicron, I can't really justify it, can I? No, my lens is not auto-anything, but the images I get from it are very nice.
"Having used the 40mm lens on the Leica CL for over 30 years, and mostly as my only lens, I can certainly identify with your two-lens approach, not to mention the sense that 40mm is just right."
Featured Comment by Jeremy Breningstall: "It's hard to argue with the choice of a well-crafted, reasonably-priced prime lens as Lens of the Year. The camera world could use a lot more of those. Still, of all the lenses that came out this year the one that caught my eye most was the pricier Olympus 12mm ƒ/2. I returned my GF2 to the store I was so disgusted with its performance. But if there is anything that would tempt me back to the Micro Four-Thirds world, it would be that 12mm. From using the LX3, I've grown to love the 24mm focal length, and pictures with the 12mm have a certain snap. Plus, that tends to be a weak spot for SLR lenses, at least ones costing less than $1500. Fast portrait lenses, on the other hand, are not hard to find."