Lenses for m4/3 Cameras


Short opinions about the current m4/3 lenses

Original: 12/5/2010
Updated: 2/11/2011 Added lenses, changed a few comments and recommendations.
Updated: 3/7/2011 Added B&H list, fixed a few things
Updated: 6/30/2011 Added new Olympus lenses

The table you see below contains mini-reviews of the m4/3 lenses that I've used to date.

Lens Recommend? Short Review
Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 Highly Recommended Expensive. But it performs quite well in almost every situation I've used it in. Optical quality is quite high, with the corners being a bit compromised wide open, but not enough for me to worry about. Some chromatic aberration in the corners, but again, not enough for me to worry about, as it's easily removed in post these days. Autofocus is fast and reliable, manual focus difficult to assess. Doesn't have optical stabilization, but that really isn't a drawback on a lens this wide. The constant f/4 is a nice touch, saving you a stop at the long end in low light situations, and m4/3 needs as much aperture as it can get in low light. The built-in hood doesn't cover much area, but seems effective in reducing flare from the sides. The front element is fairly vulnerable, but this is m4/3, so the lens isn't jutting out that much in the first place. I've been able to keep the bulging front element on my sample from hitting anything. Very good build quality. This has been my m4/3 equivalent to the Nikkor 14-24mm, with my only real complaint about the Panasonic being that f/4 is limiting for low light work. Comes with pouch.
Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Not Recommended

This is the new kit lens for most of the Panasonic bodies. As such, it's a modestly specified lens. The thing to note is how big this lens is versus the Olympus kit lens. The Panasonic dwarfs the Oly (especially when the Oly is retracted). Thus, it seems a little out of place on the front of a small m4/3 body. Fortunately the lens performs near the top of one's expectations for a kit lens. Autofocus speed is good. No real optical flaws that make it undesirable, however this version of the lens does not have a switch for optical stabilization, that's done via the body menu system now. Zoom ring is slightly stiffer and catchy compared to the older lens. The lens' mediocre aperture specs do hurt low light use of the m4/3 bodies, though. You're much better off with a fast prime in low light. Very good build quality. Comes with removable hood and pouch.

Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Qualified Recommendation

This is the old kit lens for most of the Panasonic bodies. As such, it's a modestly specified lens. The thing to note is how big this lens is versus the Olympus kit lens. The Panasonic drawfs the Oly (especially when the Oly is retracted). Thus, it seems a little out of place on the front of a small m4/3 body. Fortunately the lens performs near the top of one's expectations for a kit lens. Autofocus speed is good. Has optical stabilization selectable by switch on lens. No real optical flaws that make it undesirable. The lens' mediocre aperture specs do hurt low light use of the m4/3 bodies, though. You're much better off with a fast prime in low light. Very good build quality. Comes with removable hood and pouch.

Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.8 Qualified Recommendation Expensive. This is the original kit lens for the Panasonic GH1. It feels way too large on the smaller m4/3 bodies, but acceptable in size if you're doing video on a tripod, which I think was the original intention here. Like the other Panasonic zooms, it performs quite well optically, with only minor flaws showing at the extremes. Autofocus performance is impressively fast considering this is lens has a lot of focal length and gets to a pretty strong telephoto at the far end. Even at extreme telephoto the autofocus was fast and precise.The lens' mediocre aperture specs do hurt low light use of the m4/3 bodies, though. You're much better off with a fast prime in low light. Very good build quality. Comes with removable hood and pouch.
Panasonic 45-200mm f/4-5.6 Recommended Inexpensive. This lens was the biggest surprise of the bunch for me. Optically it delivers very good performance for a low-cost telephoto. Yes, there's some vignetting and corner softness, but I've used this lens successfully on safari for close ups of animals and didn't find those things to be a real problem. The lens' mediocre aperture specs do hurt low light use of the m4/3 bodies, though. You'd be much better off with a fast prime in low light, but unfortunately there are none (you could use a converter with a third-party lens). Optical stabilization on lens selectable by switch. Good build quality. Comes with removable hood and pouch.
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Recommended Relatively inexpensive. Optically it delivers excellent performance for a low-cost telephoto. Yes, there's some vignetting and corner softness at the extreme, but we're talking about 600mm equivalent here. I don't know of any other bargain 600mm that performs as well. The lens' mediocre aperture specs do hurt low light use of the m4/3 bodies, though. You'd be much better off with a fast prime in low light, but unfortunately there are none (you could use a converter with a third-party lens). Focus ring is very smooth, zoom ring slightly less smooth, but still quite acceptable. Optical stabilization on lens selectable by switch. Good build quality. Note that this lens fully extended sticks out 9" (with hood) from the front of the camera. Your little camera won't look so little. Comes with removable hood (that reverses on lens) and pouch.
Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 Recommended A very small modest wide lens. Optically quite good edge to edge. It's a lens many should probably have, as it's the best of the pancake wides at the moment. Good build quality. Comes with pouch.
Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Recommended A "normal" prime that's fast. Note that compared to the kit lens you're slightly over two stops faster with this lens at the same focal length. Thus, this lens really starts to shine when you're shooting in low light, as it slows you from bumping the ISO on the body too much. Optically, I wasn't particularly impressed: it's good but not great. Likewise, the autofocus isn't quite as fast as I'd expect from a simple prime. Video shooters like this lens for getting that narrow DOF (Hollywood look), but I find the bokeh only good, not great. But it's a lens everyone should probably have, as it's the only normal, fast, autofocus prime available at the moment. Good build quality. Comes with pouch.
Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro Not Recommended An expensive, dedicated macro lens. I wanted to like this lens, but I kept finding that it didn't live up to my expectations in a couple of areas. Optically, it's excellent. I had no problems with it in this arena, and it produces excellent macro results, too. The problem is focus. It's a slow-to-focus lens in my experience, and a tempremental one when used with continuous autofocus. Manual focus on the current crop of m4/3 bodies doesn't exactly excite me, and for macro work, getting precise manual focus is also high on the list of desired traits. Generally, I felt I was often fighting to get the focus point I desired with this lens, and that struggle increased the closer the focus point. So the question becomes one of price versus expected performance, and I think this current iteration fails. Perhaps with the GH2's faster autofocus I may change my opinion here, but for the current crop of m4/3 bodies I just felt this lens underdelivered on its promise. Excellent build quality. Comes with removable hood and pouch.
Olympus 9-18mm f4/-5.6 Recommended Very usable wide angle zoom. I had high expectations for the Panasonic 45mm macro (above) and low expectations for the Olympus 9-18mm wide angle zoom. It's interesting how my opinion flopped in actual use. As it turns out, the 9-18mm spends a lot of time on my m4/3 bodies. The slow, variable aperture definitely makes this a bright light lens, but for us landscape and scenic photographers, that's not really a problem. Like the Olympus kit lens, this lens collapses when not in use, and it makes for a very compact carrying size, almost as small as the kit lens collapsed. Extended, the lens becomes a bit longer than you might expect from its collapsed size and modest focal range, but it still wouldn't qualify as a "big" lens to me. Optically, the lens is pretty close to the Panasonic 7-14mm in the overlapping range. So the issue is whether you need 14mm or 18mm equivalent at the wide end. Most people will find the Olympus just fine. I personally like the extra width of the Panny, but I can also say that I shoot more with the Oly since acquiring it. Focus is reasonably fast and precise. Panasonic body users should note that this lens does not have optical stabilization. Fair build quality. Does not come with hood (I found a screw-in metal hood that works perfectly at B&H, but there's no cap for the lens/hood combo, so you have to unscrew the hood to put the cap back on).
Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Recommended The Olympus kit lens. Collapses down to fairly small size for the focal range. Optically very good, and a good match for most users. Focus is reasonably fast and precise. Panasonic body users should note that this lens does not have optical stabilization. Fair build quality. Does not come with hood (I found a screw-in metal hood that works perfectly at B&H, but there's no cap for the lens/hood combo, so you have to unscrew the hood to put the cap back on). Note: this lens has been produced in three different models already. The II version differs from the original in supporting add-on wide-angle, macro, and telephoto adapters via a new bayonet system at the front ring. The II R model differs in that it has a different lens coating to support the new focus system.
Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6    
Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6    
Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7    
Olympus 12mm f/2   High quality metal construction, has focus and depth of field markings in manual focus mode.
Olympus 17mm f/2.8 Not recommended Olympus' only prime at the moment. Essentially a 35mm equivalent, this lens has a mediocre maximum aperture, and that's one of the things that makes me argue against it. The kit lens is only about a half stop slower than this lens at the equivalent focal length. What the m4/3 bodies need more of is faster lenses, to compensate for the small sensor in low light. Optically, this is a decent lens, though not a great one, but it really doesn't raise the bar much in any area over the kit lens: aperture, optics, focusing. All you get is a smaller, less flexible lens over the kit lens, and it doesn't really seem like that's worth the money, especially considering the not-really-wide, not-really-normal focal length. (Though had this been a 14mm f/2.8 with all the same performance attributes, I'm not sure I would be writing anything different. m4/3 needs faster lenses to really start to excel, IMHO.) Good build quality. Does not come with hood.
Olympus 45mm f/1.8   High quality metal construction.
Voigtlander 25mm Nokton f/.095 Recommended As with all the Cosina lenses lately this is a very nicely built lens that'll make old film shooters nostaligic. It's a manual focus lens, so make sure that you're comfortable with the way your camera handles manual focus, as at f/0.95 depth of field can be as thin as an eyelash. Aperture ring is at the front of the lens, and apertures only go to f/16. Superb build quality and metal makes this a heavy lens, but it isn't particularly large (slightly bigger than the Panasonic zoom kit lenses). Focus ring is smooth and the throw from one end to the other is almost a full turn. Depth of field markings from f/4, f/8, and f/16, but there's no indication how they're calculated. If you need narrow depth of field and beautiful bokeh, this is the lens. Comes with pinch lens cap, plus metal hood and a cap for the hood (not pinch).

Using other maker lenses (Canon, Nikon, Leica, etc.) via a mount adapter is a possible solution to provide more lens choice, but your satisfaction with this will be 100% dependent upon how well you think manual focus works on your m4/3 body. My personal take is that manual focus really only works well in two situations: where you have a stationary subject and time; and when you use depth of field and a preset focus distance (ala Henri Cartier-Bresson's shooting style). Also, with Nikon G-type lenses, you need a mount adapter that supports aperture positioning (e.g. Novoflex). Also, be careful that you're not overwhelming the camera body size with a large other-mount lens. In doing so, you're sacrificing one of the key attributes of the m4/3 system in the first place

Why did I remove some "highly recommended"s from the listings? As we get further into the m4/3 era, my expectations are rising, especially now that we've got more megapixels on cameras like the GH2.


 

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