The Panasonic 45 Macro F2.8 Lens Review for Micro 4/3
By Steve Huff
Macro. Not really a specialty of mine but I have to admit that there have been times when I wished I had a macro lens for some cool insect or flower shot. When Panasonic released their 45 Macro lens for Micro 4/3 I was curious to give it a try. It did after all have the Leica name on it which basically means it is a Leica design but manufactured by Panasonic. It is not a real “Leica” lens so do not expect the exotic Leica glass to be used in this one, however, from what I have seen while using it the lens is a fine performer with just a quirk or two that has no effect on performance. But before I throw out any spoilers let me thank B&H Photo for sending me this lens to review and allowing me to shoot it for a couple of weeks to get to know it better.
View from our breakfast table in Mexico – Panny 45 Macro at 2.8 on the Olympus E-PL1 – Bokeh looks pretty nice!
Panasonic has been really good about leading the way with micro 4/3. They came out with the awesome G-F1 which at the time beat out the Olympus bodies for functionality and they were quicker to release the cool lenses that all of the M4/3 people wanted to see! For example, the Panasonic 20 1.7 lens has been a super hot seller mainly because it is small, light, fast and provides superb quality with any Micro 4/3 camera.
Olympus has the very excellent 17 2.8 but it’s not F2, so that hurt its sales numbers IMO. These days, especially for Micro 4/3, people want FAST glass. This is why companies have come out of the woodwork to make adapters for these little cameras. We can now mount just about any lens made. Leica, Nikon, Cine Lenses…whatever! They can be mounted on to these little Micro 4/3 bodies and the results can be astounding in some cases.
But for a true macro I think Panasonic has led the way with this 45. They did it right with the Leica design, the nice build and the fast 2.8 aperture which is pretty standard for any macro. On a Micro 4/3 camera the Panny 45 becomes the equivalent of a 90mm so it is a good thing that this lens has built in optical image stabilization. But when you are up close photographing a small insect you will get much better results with a Tripod because I have found when working up close the OIS is sort of useless. I found this out when trying to shoot some macro video WITHOUT a tripod 🙂
Here are the specs of the lens:
Filter Size 46mm
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
f/Stop Range f2.8-f/22
Minimum Focus Distance 0.5′ (0.15m)
Angle of View 27°
Groups/Elements 14 elements in 10 groups (1 Aspherical lens, 1 ED lens)
Aperture 7 diaphragm blades
Circular aperture diaphragm
Maximum Length 2.46″ (62.5mm)
Maximum Diameter 2.48″ (63mm)
Weight Approx. 0.50 lbs (226.79g)
The Olympus E-PL1 and the Panasonic 45 Macro make a great team. With the Oly’s super color this lens can create some really nice looking images.
So this review will focus on the “real world” results I have been able to get with this lens on the Olympus E-PL1. I had this along with the Panasonic 7-14 lens for the past two weeks and they have traveled with me from IL to AZ to CA to Mexico and then back again. While I was on vacation in Mexico I rarely used the 45 as I was not really finding many “Macro Moments”. I did give the 7-14 a workout but mainly just for family snapshots. I will be posting more of those in my upcoming 7-14 lens review in the next few days.
I have already stated that I am not really a macro kind of guy and I will admit I have only used a couple of macro lenses in my entire life. One was the Nikon 105VR f2.8 on a D300 and the other was the Zeiss 100 Makro f2 on the D700. Both were and still are STELLAR lenses. If I owned a Nikon I would own the Zeiss 100. It was gorgeous and IMO beat the Nikon 105VR by a hair, mainly due to the rich color and 3D pop the Zeiss put out. If anyone out there is reading this and you want a magical and superb macro lens for your Nikon I can say that the Zeiss 100 Makro will thrill you to death. Be aware though that it is manual focus only.
The Zeiss 100 Macro on the Nikon D700
So with my limited experience of macro lenses being two of the nicest ones available, the Panny was gonna have some stiff competition. Plus, M4/3 sensors are not up to par with the APS-C or full frame digital sensors like those in the D300 and D700 so I did not expect image quality to surpass what I got with those other lenses/systems.
Here is a youtube video I made showing the lens in my hand as well as explaining the switches on the barrel. It also shows how slow/fast the lens is to focus. But remember, it is a MACRO, and usually macro lenses are pretty slow to focus, so this is pretty normal. Just keep in mind that it is a specialty lens. You do not buy this lens for a general use lens, you buy it to shoot close ups (though you CAN shoot anything you want with it if slow focus will not bother you). While it can do fantastic with general photography the lens will be slow to focus and you have to be aware of the limit/full switch on the side. Anyway, here is the video which also includes some handheld macro video shot with the lens 🙂
Shooting The 45 Macro on the Olympus E-PL1
The lens was mounted to the little Olympus E-Pl1 and with the O.I.S. set to on away I went searching for insects or anything that would show me the quality of this lens. I did not use a tripod because I wanted to see how effective the image stabilization was on the lens. The following are some of the photos I was able to capture with the lens over the past few weeks. It is my belief that pictures should do the talking in a lens review, not charts and graphs. Also, if I can get decent shots with a lens, anyone can.
Sometimes close ups can be so beautiful and tranquil. Shot at f2.8 on the E-Pl1. 100% crop right under the pic.
100% crop of the in camera JPEG (above image) for those that care about that sort of thing.
This is what happens when you shoot in VIVID mode on the E-Pl1. VERY bright reds, almost NEON at times.
They can be softened up a bit in post like this one that has an almost surreal look due to being shot wide open at 2.8
You just have to love the Olympus colors here. The greens really POP and say “BAMMM!” The lens is sharp and contrasty much like a modern day Leica lens.
How about a Non-Macro? My son in the Ocean while in Careyes, Mexico. As you could probably tell, he did not want to come home 🙂 f8.
The look you will get from your kids if you constantly take pics of them. This one was shot at F2.8 from across the table at breakfast
I did some filter/processing work on this one just for fun. Taken at the same time as the shot above.
Shot at F8
This was a quick grab at f5.
Ants climbing down a dandelion stalk
My Verdict on the Panasonic 45 Macro.
Well, well, well. I thought that this lens would be good, but not GREAT. After going over my shots with it and realizing that I am not that good of a macro shooter, I realized that someone who IS a great macro shooter would get mind blowing good results with this lens. I shoot macro just for fun and maybe a few of them every year or two. This lens on the Olympus E-PL1 gave me smooth bokeh, awesome color, and the ability to do duty as a macro, landscape, and even portrait lens. In regards to image QUALITY this lens has it all. In spades.
The only cons of this lens are its AF speed, its manual focus implementation, and it’s price. At $899 it is not a cheap solution but the quality is right up there with the Nikon 60 and 105 macros and those are not cheap either. If you shoot micro 4/3 then this is the premo choice for macro shooting (is it the only choice in m4/3 mount)? The build is good. Not Leica build but probably equal to the Nikon 105VR. The color this lens produces can be outstanding and the built in Optical Image Stabilization works as advertised but not really useful for macros. The AF speed is SLOW and you have to be sure you use the “Limit/Full” switch correctly. When focusing up close for macro set it to “FULL”. If taking a portrait or something distant set it to “LIMIT”. Either way, the focus is not the speediest I have seen.
Manual focus on this lens, well, kind of sucks. Its focus by wire method is nothing like real MF and after a few tries I said “screw it” as it was frustrating at times. I did not like manually focusing this lens.
The lens is sharp at all apertures and for this review I used the in camera JPEG’s only as Aperture does not recognize E-PL1 RAW’s yet. Plus, I love to shoot JPEG with this camera because the results are more than adequate for my needs.
So is the Panasonic 45 Macro worth $899? If you want superb IQ, then yes. If you do not mind slow AF, yes. If you are a macro nut and only shoot m4/3? YES! To be honest if I had cash blowing out of my ears I would buy one just to have on hand for those times I am in a macro mood. But if you want a general all around lens for your M4/3 I would look elsewhere like at the Panny 20 1.7 or the Olympus 17 2.8. The specialty of this particular lens is macro.
So bottom line is that it gives you amazing quality images and if that is your #1 priority then you would be thrilled with this lens! You can read more about this lens, or buy it at B&H Photo. They usually have it in stock! If you do follow my links here to B&H, Amazon or Adorama and make ANY purchase I get a few pennies to help me pay for this ever growing site, and lately I need all the help O can get with it as costs to run it go up every month. So if you make a purchase, I THANK YOU!
Thanks for reading my review of the Panasonic 45 Macro 2.8 OIS lens, I hope you found it helpful!
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LOVE your web site, nice review. Thank you for that review
Voigtlander have made a business of creating incredible value lenses for rangefinders, delivering superb lenses at a great price. The new 50mm 1.1 is maybe the single best value Voigtlander have ever offered.
The 50 1.1 is far from new, it is 4-5 years old 🙂 Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it!
out of the obx this lens will not focus either auto or manual on the OMD EM-5. Is this a defective lens or do I need to do something to get the camera body to work with it? No problems with the Panny 14 or 20mm on this same Olympus body.
Great review as always, Steve! I too, have a Pentax K-5 with some awesome FA Limited lenses, but am considering the OM-D EM-5 (with the aforementioned Oly 12, 75, and Panny 25 f/1.4) as a “travel” kit. Do you think I would not lose any sharpness/detail (in prints up to 20×30 or so) going from the Pentax APS-C to the Oly m4/3? Thanks!
Steve – By the way, great site and great information – thanks.
The lens review did not help me as much as I’d hoped. I wanted to know how the lens works with a Lumix, not an Olympus – why did you use the Oly camera for this? But, by the way, when put on the Oly, does the autofocus of the lens still work – due to medical conditions, I really need the autofocus.
My dilema so far is: A Pentax like the K5 with Limited lenses or a Panasonic Lumix like the G2 with the Panasonic Leica lenses. I have a Lumix FZ50 and have finally gotten better with the controls – I recently went on a shoot of Rapters and shot most at 300 – 420 and when head cropped they still looked really good – impressing me again with the Leica involvement in the lens manufacture. I just bought a leica V-LUX 30 (for a pocket/carry around point and shoot) – and the menu/controls on that are REALLY intuitive and easy to use – thank God!
But I do want the best quality glass I can get on a good 4/3 rds. I want to be able to shoot at a distance with 100-200 iso (and say out to 400mm) and blow up to 14X19 (thereabouts) with no distortion if I want to.
Should I be looking at the Olympus, or Canon or Nikon – how are there lenses compared to the Panasonic Leicas or Pentax Limiteds? Also, I really don’t want anything too small – I start accidentally bumping buttons, etc. By the way, would I need to get a panasonic lens that says Leica on it or are the panasonic Lumix lenses as good?
I shot this lens on an Olympus as that is a camera I had on hand and the lens is made for ANY Micro 4/3 camera, Panasonic or Olympus, so works equally well on both brands as they both use the same mount. I prefer Olympus M 4/3 to Panasonic. If going to M 4/3 I would ago with the latest and greatest OM-D as it has everything you can ask for, even weather sealing.
Best glass on M 4/3? The Oly 12mm f/2, 45 1.8 and the Panasonic 25 1.4. The new Olympus 75 1.8 looks awesome as well.
Nice review, Steve! Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that the new Olympus 60mm Macro would outdo this Panny/Leica lens in terms of AF speed, sharpness, and macro performance, not to mention build quality (it’s weather-resistant, just like the OM-D!).
Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!
Yes it would. This review is nearing three years old and when it was written the 60 did not exist. The 60 is the king of micro 4/3 macro lenses, hands down.
I see someone else asked in the comments but I don’t see a response. You don’t mention in the review whether in-body stabilization on the Olympus camera was on or off. Having both stabilization systems on at the same time could potentially be bad. Be really helpful to readers to know if you considered this at all.
This lens is a huge kick in the pants, ultra fast exotic glass, for beer and hotdog prices.
This is the FASTEST non-Leica lens currently in production for the M mount system, and it sells for about 10% of the Worlds fastest Lens, this may be all you need to know to make your purchase decision.
This lens WILL make you want to go bang your head on a brick wall, it is frustrating, challenging, it will make you look like a idiot again and again…. and when you are ready to give up focusing it… it will deliver pictures like nothing you have ever seen before. A friend of mine bought the lens, gave up, returned the lens, then two weeks bought the lens again… Saying “nothing else render like this lens and I can’t live without it”. Now you know, so don’t come blame me when you buy this lens and find yourself hopelessly addicted to ultra thin focus photography, it is not my fault that you can’t focus 1/16 of a inch at 5 feet, its also not the lens’s fault, don’t buy this lens unless you are ready to find your skills challenged.
Lets talk about the lens for a moment, all metal housing, rock solid, and while we are at it, heavy as a brick, but what do you expect from a lens with a aperture of 1.1 ? This is a huge amount of finely polished big chunks of glass, this lens transmit almost as much light as if you simply took the lens off your camera.
The lens focuses easier than its famous competition the Leica Noctilux, because the focus moves from near to far in a smooth and short 90deg turn, the noctilux requires a much longer and heavier focus turn. Like the Noctilux, this is a BIG lens, but it rests comfortably in your left hand when shooting, still you will know what lens you have on the camera when hooking the strap over your shoulder, all this glass is heavy.
The aperture ring is easy with firm click stops.
The lens come with a lens-hood, personally I don’t like the stock hood and use mine without, I would never recommend this, but the hood cover a good deal of the viewfinder so I prefer the lens without.
Im not going to tell you this lens is sharper than the famous Noctilux 0.95, but it cost about $9000 less, you need to answer the value question based on your wallet. I bought one of the first and personally I really like the way the Nokton renders wide open, the bokeh may be described as a little grainy, almost water-colorish, this is perfect for my taste and I have been very happy with this lens for street photography and portraiture.
Voigtlander have made a business of creating incredible value lenses for rangefinders, delivering superb lenses at a great price. The new 50mm 1.1 is maybe the single best value Voigtlander have ever offered.
Steve…LOVE your website, Great review. I purchased this lens as more of a prime, portrait lens, with auto focus, and the lowest depth of field (for a dedicated prime, portrait-focal-length lens) available for my Panasonic GF1 and G1. I had read some mixed reviews about the lens…but I went for it. I agree with you Steve. It is a REALLY good lens. Is my GF1 a Leica M9? No. (I wish). …but given the format, cost and small footprint of these cameras & lenses and the size and quality of the capture…this is a great little portrait lens. Would I like it at f/2 or f/1.4, yes… but for the cost, size and quality of the system I am plugging it into…It makes crisp images with relatively low depth of field. (It is not a Canon 85mm f/1.2 on a full-frame body). AND in my case…I have a great little macro lens as a bonus!
Also, I have relatively fast focus on the Panasonic cameras when the lens is set on limit, and the camera is on AFS focus mode. It may be faster then the Olympus. And, in manual mode, the Panasonic cameras have a “zoom” focus setting that alows the camera to zoom-in only while you are rotating the focusing ring that is quite positive and very accurate.
Great shots by-the-way…you have a very good eye. Take a look at these portraits and I think you will agree at this price-point and camera size..the lens performs very well.
Your kid is very , very nice, this is the look i get from my kids when i take to much pictures from them !! http://www.flickr.com/photos/misadon/ and he is only 5 years old !!!
Steve, just looked at your video, and would like to report that AF speed is a lot faster on my GF1. In fact, I took it birding on the weekend (although BIFs were a bit of a challenge for it).
Airshaker, the AF speed was the same for video and photo.
I bought this lens about a week ago and immediately loved the results with my E-P1. Optical and build qualities are superb, to get such performance from such a compact package is just great. My DSLR gathers more dust on it’s shelf…
Thank you for that review,
I thought that focus speed in video mode was slowed down to make the transition look smoother. That slow focus speed would then be a feature. Can anyone confirm ?
I ordered this lens at the same time I ordered the GF1, as I do take pictures at times during surgery, and the 90 macro has always been a need for me.
The AF is pretty fast with the GF1, which is one of the reasons I chose it over the PEN cameras, AF speed and the flash.
Then again, the 20mm 1.7 and this macro lens, and the 7-14 zoom are all my new favorites.
Price is price. If I was not worried about price at all, I would have started with an M9 and gotten lenses. If price was all I was worried about, I would have stuck with my 8 megapixel Powershot, which had pretty nice macro capability. I have been totally addicted to the 20mm 1.7 and much more sensitive sensor of the GF1 to even consider using the Powershot for much now. The 90mm Nikon macro lens I used to use cost about the same given inflation. Function is function. I don’t mind paying more for compactness, given equal function.
I love micro 4/3, and this lens looks great.
But at the end of the day, it’s way overpriced.
I am using this lens now since some months together with a Olympus E-P2 and I am very satisfied . After some tries, I put the lens’ O.I.S to off, using the in camera stabilisation, which is working pretty well. I like this lens, not only for some macro shots, but together with the Panasonic 1.7/20mm and a Panasonic 4/7 – 14 mm wide angle zoom I have a wonderful (nearly) all purpose combo for an all day hike with low weight and very good results. I have tried the E-P2 also with the Panasonic adaptor for Leice M lenses, but frankly spoken, then the M9 is the camera to chose.
Steve, what firmware revision were you running on our E-PL1? The AF speed should be improved with the Oly v1.1 firmware released recently.
I just picked up this lens this week, and the AF is about as fast as the 20/1.7 on my GF1 (with the AF range set to ‘Limit’). It’s definitely slower to AF than the 45-200 though. I’ve also found the MF ring on the PL45 to be much smoother and more responsive than on the 20/1.7.
does mega OIS work on olympus cameras?
The question is: how does the Panasonic lens compare with the Zuiko 35/3.5 macro lens. The zuiko also has a magnification 1:1 and shows superb results. Also it is cheaper.
nice review Steve, thanks!
Although $899 is quite steep here, must be a hard-core m4/3 shooter to commit probably…
The first image of the table setting odly enough would have probably sold me if I was a 4/3’s guy, love the colour and the bokeh.
More primes to m4/3’s please…
Excellent review as always…
Just a question. Did you use both the OIS and in body stabilization at the same time? I would like to know if one is better than the other…Thanks.
Great review! I picked up this lens in Japan soon after it was released since I wanted to stick with primes on my GF1 due to high IQ and this little lens was getting some good press back in Japan. Yeah, it’s a bit slow at 2.8 and you’re right, AF is a bit slow too. But I find that this is a great portrait lens. I’ve had some great luck with kids and even wide open I get consistently sharp results. I’ve also used it to do street shooting too since I don’t have to get too close to the subjects. This combined with the 20 1.7 is a great travel kit with my GF1.
It’s too bad it’s so pricey…otherwise I’d think more people would jump at it since it really is a very high quality lens for the m4/3… Oh well. So now I have the 20 1.7, this lens, and yeah…I picked up the Noktor for fun. …now that I’m having fun shooting with the Bessa R2M too (I blame you for range finder / film fun) I really really don’t need to start looking at M-mount lenses… Ha.
Thanks again for another great writeup!