The Olympus 25 1.2 Lens Review, on the Street by Thomas Ludwig

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The OLYMPUS 25mm/F1.2 Lens Review, on the Street

By Thomas Ludwig 

F1.2 – WOW! It’s the first time I‘ve used a lens with such light gathering abilities. As a standard lens with a field of view like the nifty fifty in full frame terms, one should expect nice DOF effects – even on m43 cameras, where it is designed for. So let’s have a look at the new OLYMPUS 25mm/F1.2 lens which I attached to a PEN-F. Huge thanks to OLYMPUS Europe for loaning me the lens.

I’ve put the PEN-F and 25/1.2 in my beloved CAMSLINGER Streetomatic Streethunters Editition and went to Hamburgs red light district to grab some street photos and portraits. I wanted to see especially how the lens would perform in the night, when light is bad and neon signs are mostly the only light source. And so most of the images were made in RAW at F1.2 and processed in Lightroom to my taste.
Ahoi Hamburg at F1.2

OLYMPUS throws another ‘normal’ lens in the game. Normal? It has a field of view of a 50mm lens in fullframe terms but is actually 25mm, as it is designed for the smaller Micro43 sensor. But that’s the only ‘normal’ thing about this lens because it’s a special one. 19 elements in 14, groups, 3 ED elements, F1.2 aperture and a rugged design. Promising specs which should result in nice image quality. So let’s see if IQ really is a point where this lens shines.

The other thing is that this lens is not very small, but however it is not too big to be obtrusive when shooting in the streets. And this focal length is a classic in street photography. It is expensive. Around 1.300 bucks have to be spent to become the owner of this pro line lens. There are other standard primes available like the Pany/Leica 25/1.4, Pany 25/1.7 and the OLYMPUS 25/1.8. Of course the manual Voigtländer 25/0.95 and some others are an alternative, when you are willing to go without auto focus.

A night at Hamburg/Reeperbahn | F1.2

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The Setup

OLYMPUS PEN-F | OLYMPUS 25mm/F1.2 | Spare batterie | 5.2″ Smartphone
All packed in a CAMSLINGER Streetomatic Streethunters Edition

CAMSLINGER Streetomatic Streethunters Edition

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Gabriela ist the first female bouncer at Hamburgs red light district. She is doing this job since nearly 30 years. As she don’t wanted to be portraied in front of her club, I made a blury shot of her while walking along the window front. Slow shutter speeds are super easy with OLYMPUS amazing in body image stabilisation – F4.5 | 1/8 Sec.

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Hamburg is a seaport, so be aware of sailors. The OLYMPUS 25/1.2 shines really when it comes to portraits. This focal lengst is my favorite for portraits on the streets – F1.2

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“We don’t have a smartphone”. Rainer and Joseph, two homeless guys at Reeperbahn. “Hamburg is the best place for homeless. You can get a free warm bed from October to March, free food every day and free second hand clothes.” – F1.2 | ISO 1250

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Image Quality

The image quality of m43 is really good, as long as you are below ISO 1600 and sometimes below ISO 3200. Paired with a lens this wide open and good IBIS you can get decent shots even in the night. But this review is about the IQ of the lens, which I had attached to a gorgeous PEN-F.

What makes a good lens? This is in many ways a question that can only be answered individually. To me it is not important that it is super sharp wide open or does not vignette etc. – to me the most important point is the esthetics, the look and feel it delivers. When I look at the images of a certain lens and it “feels” good, well, than it is a good lens. And you know what? The OLY 25/1.2 is a lens of this category. I’m simply amazed especially when looking at the portraits I made in Hamburg. Amazed not by my images but by the clean, natural and three-dimensional look.

The OLY 25/1.2 has a certain magic and I would describe its special character in the way it closes the gap between a pronounced three-dimensional look and a portrait friendly (lower) level of micro contrast. A high level of micro contrast gives 3D pop for example to LEICA and ZEISS lenses, but it can be a bit harsh when shooting portraits. I don’t know how the OLYMPUS engineers made it, but they found a way to give it a lot of 3D pop while micro contrast is on a natural level.

Bokeh? Very smooth and elegant! Is it sharp? Yes, there is no need to stop down. What about chroma and other problems that appear when a lens has such a wide aperture? Well, I haven’t really had a look at it as I’m all about the look and feel 🙂

OLY 25/1.2 at F1.2 on the PEN-F – RAW without adjustments. Look at the plasticity, details and natural look wide open. It’s just as if the guy on this photo is sitting right in front of the screen – and this is an untouched RAW! Awesome!

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PANA/LEICA 25/1.4 at F1.4 on the LUMIX GX8 – RAW without adjustments. The Pana/Leica 25/1.4 is an excellent lens but can’t keep up with the OLYMPUS 25/1.2. Even though it has it’s own character, it is not as clean and three dimensional. But it is more affordable and for the price of an OLY 25/1.2 you could get the Pana/Leica 25/1.4 AND a PEN-F or GX8…

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Handling and Focusing

The 25/1.2 is on the bigger side but not too big for using it on the streets. Especially when attached to one of the small m43 bodies like the PEN-F. It has a clutch mechanism, which allows to switch to manual mode while pulling the focus ring back – brilliant! AF is quick and spot on, even at F1.2.

OLYMPUS 25mm/F1.2

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The PEN-F and OLY 25/1.2 in a CAMSLINGER

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Even with lens hood attached it fits perfectly in the CAMSLINGER Streetomatic. I can’t imagine a better bag for street photography.

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1 hand / 1 second – Carrying the PEN-F with 25/1.2 in a CAMSLINGER at the hip, is extremely comfortable. As your upper body is free of belts and straps, your neck will never hurt. In fact it is almost as quick to grab your cam, as it would be with a sling strap – 1 hand / 1 sencond! And the PEN-F and lens are always protected, when not in use.

Girl dancing behind a screen | F1.2

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Selling Kebap in the red light district | F1.2

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Contrasts | F1.2

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Hamburg/Reeperbahn is the place where The Beatles kind of started

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Insights | F1.2

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Cinema | F1.2

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Conclusion

It’s easy to write that I was extremely impressed by the OLYMPUS 25mm/F1.2. This lens delivers stunning images. Natural, three dimensional, sharp and with extraordinary esthetics in the way it renders a scene.

If you are ok with it’s size, than it is the lens to go when you’re looking for a standard prime for your m43 camera. The only thing you have to decide is if you would invest 1,300 bucks in it. I guess you won’t hesitate when you’re a pro photographer or an enthusiast with the budget for it. You can also be lucky with a Pany/Leica 25/1.4 or the OLYMPUS 25/1.8, but they do not have this extraordinary IQ. I love this lens 🙂

See more images made for this review in our SmugMug gallery: https://cosyspeed.smugmug.com/OLY25inHamburg/

Me, PEN-F, OLY 25/1.2 and my beloved CAMSLINGER Streetomatic in Hamburg

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You can order the Olympus 25 1.2 lens Below:

Amazon – 25 1.2

B&H Photo  – 25 1.2

61 Comments

  1. I know they are completely different focal lengths, but in terms of colour rendering, 3D pop, micro contrast and sharpness, can you please highlight the differences as you see them between the 25mm f1.2 and the 75mm f1.8

    Many thanks

    • They render totally different. Much different. The 25 f/1.2 is one of the most gorgeous lenses I have ever used in regards to rendering, bokeh, and a gentle way of doing subject separation that works very well. Mine arrives today so will be using it on the PEN F for now. I’ll be doing a few posts about it s stay tuned!

      • Thanks for replying
        Reading between the lines of what you are saying you like it more 😉 – I will stay tuned

  2. It’s funny that the micro 4/3 Olympus with that lens is the same size as a full format Nikon D750 with 50 1.8G lens:

    http://camerasize.com/compact/#654.614,567.353,654.352,ha,t

    The Nikon may lose one stop in light, but its sensor is far superior and it handles perfectly with that big built in grip, while the Olympus is awkward with a giant lens on a tiny body. You can very comfortably shoot the Nikon w/ one hand. Try that with the Oly and the 25 1.2 lens.

    Micro sized cameras are cool with micro sized lenses. The Pen F makes much more sense with the Panny 25 1.4

    • The E-M1 handles fine with the 12-40 and would figure that the 25 1.2 will as well since they’re similar sizes. Not all m4/3 lack a grip.

    • I think the overall difference is much more than 1 stop of light. Whatever advantage the Nikon FF sensor has over the m4/3 in terms of light gathering, will be lost due to the bottleneck in the form of an inferior lens (50 1.8) in front of it. I have no doubt the m4/3 with this 25 1.2 lens will produce a much better image as compared to the Nikon FF with 50 1.8, C.P.

  3. Steve, When you do your review on this lens I would really love to see a comparison versus the Olympus 45 1.8. My guess is that the oly 45 will have more bokeh than the 25 1.2, and less distortion in the kind of face portraits displayed in this review , however I’m also wondering if any lens distortion is corrected in Olympus bodies?
    Everybody is comparing this 1.2 to other 25’s, but I think many of us are going to be more interested in doing portraits with 45’s.

  4. Why do manufacturers only refer to focal length as 35mm equivalent but not the aperture. This lens should be referred to as 25mm/1.2 (35mm equivalent) and actually in MFT equivalent as 50mm/2.4.

    • Hi,

      The m43 25/1.2 is equivalent to FF 50/2.4 only in the sense of depth of field. The FF lens at 2.4 will let four times less light to the sensor and will require a four times longer exposure.

      Google the Photography Life website with an excellent article written by the great photographer Nasim Mansurov. He explains all the applied math in great details.

      Hope this helps.

    • That’s actually a very good question. The answer is quite simple. Focal length is an absolute measurement which does not translate between systems with different image plane sizes.

      We tend to use the 24x36mm, (or Leica, or 8-perf 35) format as a lingua franca. This is because it’s the most accessible system, and almost all photographers know what it means. But why have a lingua franca at all? Because, due to convention, we do not refer to lenses according to their FOV – only their focal lengths. There are reasons, perhaps arguable, but I’m keeping it simple.

      So what about aperture? Apertures do translate between systems because apertures don’t refer to an absolute measurement (such as the diameter of the iris). Instead, they are a ratio. So f/2.8 on any lens will let through the same amount of light per square mm (though not exactly, because all lenses will block some of the light due to the density of the glass used, hence T stops, which you can look up).

      So if you’re using a light meter, it might tell you that your scene needs f/3.5. You can set all your lenses to that aperture and get the right exposure, regardless of whether you’re shooting 8mm, 65mm or 8×10″.

      f/- stops by themselves don’t tell you anything about DOF. But the consensus among photographers is that exposure is more important than DOF. And using a DOF scale is easy.

  5. Damn those files are sharp! Micro 4/3 is a terrific system and the Pen-F looks as good as it performs. I think it’s going to get stronger as other systems get deprecated. Just IMHO.

    I don’t quite think you captured the atmosphere as deeply as you could have. However, I don’t do street photography at all, so I cannot say how exactly I would approach this subject.

  6. MFT & 25 f1.2= a lot of lens for a tiny sensor. Sony A7rII & Sony 50 f1.8= a lot of sensor for a “meh” lens. Maybe a Fuji XT2 & 35 f1.4 Fuji XF is the right compromise?

    • fuji 35/1.4 is very soft with lame AF(no WR), would prefer xpro2 with 35/2.0 (even very light and WR but no IS)

      • Fuji’s 35mm f/1.4 is not soft by any definition, and no one has ever characterized it as such. But, yes, the f/2 version has better AF, weather sealing, and is smaller and lighter.

  7. I’d really like to try a pen f. Looks like a beautiful camera! Until you put that monstrosity of a lens on it! I mean what is the point of it?
    I always thought the marketing idea of m43 was for smaller size and cheaper lenses. That thing is huge!! And how much?? You could carry a Sony a7 series w the 55 1.8 and it would be not much bigger or as expensive as that set up.

    • Would not improve the use ability of the a7. The a7 series has beautiful sensors but useability they are lacking.

      • As a previous em5ii and Sony A7 user I disagree, both menu systems are pretty bad. And once you get over all those m43 bells and whistles including the touch screen. For me personally the Sony was way better shooting experience…especially with manual focusing.

    • I would put this lens on my Orly OMD-EM1. This camera’s form factor is just perfect – not too big, not too small, excellent picture quality. Additional sharpness that 25/1.2 can provide vs 25/1.8 would make pictures even better. Shallow DEF is nice to have but I am not a big fan of it. I would stop it down to 2.8 probably. Nice rendering and additional sharpness – that would be what I am after. If you have 25/1.8 and 75/1.8 you would obviously see the difference. From what I see, the 25/1.8 provides more of the 75/1.8 picture quality.

  8. I hate to be negative, because i like your enthusiasm and images, and i appreciate the effort and courage that goes into a post like this.

    As nice as the lens is, and granting its additional capabilities, I think it’s going to be a real stretch to justify the cost and size penalties compared against the PL 25 1.4.

    • Hey cdlinz, somehow you are right. I would go for the OLY 25/1.2 when I were a Pro. I’m not a Pro and guess I’ll stick with my 25/1.4 Pany/Leica. However my subjective impression is, that the OLY 25/1.2 renders so natuarly and three dimensional, it’s just amazing.

  9. I recently went with the Sigma 30mm 1.4 for my PenF. Even if the oly was released at that stage i probably still would have – purely on cost restrictions. But i suspect the 25 1.2 will be incredible on the upcoming em1 ii where the ergonomics should be perfect.

  10. F1.2 = f1.4 P/l + Pen F body.
    Makes you think twice and the P/L lens is
    1/2 the size and weight.
    I own it and love the images of get. Guess I’ll need to see more A vs B pics.
    But the 12 to 100mm zoom looks quite good too.

  11. Great to read a good review of the new Oly lens, many thanks! Does anyone have a clue when Olympus are going to actually launch the EM1 mk2 and the 25 1.2? (Why are they taking so long)? 🙁

  12. Thank you for the nice photos and for the review. The lens is great! If possible I would like to compare images from it and Olympus 25/1.8 side by side. I have the later one and I like it. It seems to me that the 25/1.2 renders images similarly to Olympus 75/1.8. I need to start setting some money aside to get it for my 50 years old birthday.
    Thank you, again – great pictures.

    • Hey Val, many thanks! I had the 25/1.8 a year ago. It is tack sharp and contrasty at 1.8 and definetely a great lens. My subjective impression is, that the 25/1.2 renders nicer for portraits and I guess you are right, it seems to render like the 75/1.8…

  13. Actually a bit disappointed at these. Maybe it’s a presets during RAW conversion but the portraits are pretty soft. Nothing in these photos appear “tack sharp” to me. The bokeh is nice as expected but so is the PL25.

    I hope this lens is a more stand out performer for the price and size.

    • Marty

      Make sure you select each image to view it larger. The small thumbnails in the article do appear softer due to the size. Larger they look quite nice.

      PaulB

    • Seems like something is going on. They look soft (popped out or not) to me as well… the cut out 100% crops even look softer than the source area they are taken from. Maybe it’s something to do with how they render on higher-def monitors…

      • Agree, something is wrong with the RAW conversion. I know Aperture used to murder my RAW files and needed substantial sharpening to get them back. I hope this is the case, because looking at them again the look pretty bad.

    • it looks soft for me on my home and work PC. To me, there is problem with shutter speed – it was too low as Thomas tried to go with ISO down as possible.

      Thomas can you check and confirm shutter speed on your photos?

      • Hey guys, thanks for your comments. It must be a prob with JPG compression. Images at 1.2 are really sharp . I’ve checked shutter speeds, most are between 1/60 and 1/320. As the IBIS is good, this should not be the prob…

  14. I’m not a micro 4/3’s guy but great photos! I’m always amazed at the quality Olympus squeezes out of that tiny sensor and their great lenses!

    Not to get too political but I laughed when I read this: ‘Hamburg is the best place for homeless. You can get a free warm bed from October to March, free food every day and free second hand clothes.’ Great for the homeless, but of course these services are not all free…they come at a great cost to the taxpayer…

    • nope
      fundraised money comes from warm-hearted humans in the city of most millionares, which hide their mony in taxefree-enclaves

    • Hey Clint, many thanks! I know there are always two sides of the coin. These guys were really nice and told me about their story. Rainer for example was a seaman on a frighter. As the ship companies flagged out to Panam etc., he got jobless. He said to me: “I haven’t had a home in Hamburg, as I lived for 22 years on the ship. And than I couldn’t find the track in Germany.” So it’s a individual thing in most cases. However I was somehow proud, that the country I’m living in is able and willing to help at least with basics. Again many thanks for your comment 🙂

  15. Why even use a Camslinger camera bag when you carelessly put your camera screen down on the uneven cobblestones? My heart hurt when I saw that picture. As a photographer/entrepeneur, you should know it all starts and ends with respect. Respect for the gear and respect for the consumer. Next time you do some product placement, keep that in mind…

    • Placing the camera as he did on cobblestone will NOT hurt it or DISRESPECT it in any way, shape or form. Probably the oddest comment I have seen here in a long log time.

    • You can rotate the screen so it is protected and RESPECTED!!! Not sure where the link between respect of your gear and photography is but there you go

  16. Nice review but quite disappointing with your lack of a real world comparison with the Pan/Leica 25 f1.4 at the same f stops – e.g. f1.4, 2.8, 5.6. That would provide a better and realistic assessment of the quality of these two competing lenses.

    • Hey Karl-Heinz, many thanks! Unfortunately I have had time for one day only to go out shooting the OLY, and that’s not enough for a comparison. But I bet you’ll find some comparisons of these lenses in the coming weeks 🙂

      • Keine Ahnung weshalb aber nachdem ich auf Nikon FX umgestiegen bin erscheinen mir alle 4/3 Bilder pixelig und unscharf, selbst wenn der Fokus auf den Punkt scharf ist. Für Street wäre mir zudem die Linse zu auffällig, da fällt ja selbst ein Ofenrohr weniger auf !

        No idea why but after my change to Nikon FX all images made with 4/3 seem to be full of pixels and a little unsharp even when it is focused on the right spot. For street I would also prefer a less notable lens – in this case a Carl Gustav would be more inconspicuous !

        • 🙂

          Hey Randle, FX is better in IQ but for street it isn’t that much difference. I don’t knoiw, that’s my impression. I was using SONY A7 last year and went to m43 because of the super responsive cameras and small lenses. This one is on the bigger side, but overall these small lenses are so discrete. However, a good full frame camera delivers stunning IQ.

          Danke 🙂

          • If you are Happy – I am Happy !

            I just remember my own experience with 4/3 and the Olympus 520 I bought new 2008 – never was happy with the results.
            Years later I gave the camera to my son and switched to a used Nikon D700 which was released 2008 too and was impressed by the outstanding quality of the images and their sharpness !

  17. I have the Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm f1.4. Would this really be a significant upgrade from that? It seems quite a bit larger and more expensive just to gain 0.2 in maximum aperture.

    (Is it also weather-sealed?)

    • Why would you want to upgrade? What would you like to achieve in your images that your current 25 cannot give you? 2/3’s of a stop?

      • To play devil’s adv. here…the myriad of 50mm and 50mm equiv lenses out there merit their choices by offering different or unique renderings. I totally agree about the light gathering or DOF point..but you never know what someone’s opinion brings to the table when it comes to the way a lens renders an image. That Panny is a sweet lens though.

        • I feel some people are unnecessarily concerned with what a particular lens that they don’t have can bring them, in comparison to what they already have.

          Define your photography and describe what you are missing. Pretty difficult for most people.

          Having said that, I do own quite a number of fifty-ish lenses, and the superb Nikkor 50/1.2 AiS really shows its merits (as in aberrations) shooting wide open and at f2.0, using b&w 400 iso film. And I’ve just ordered the (old, black nose version) Voigtlander 58/1.4, mainly for b&w film slr portrait use…

      • Hi
        I thought the micro contrast is better with this lens than the pan/leica 25mm f1.4. I will not pay double for the fast lens, but will pay for the rendering, 3D pop.

    • Hey Daniel, it depends on your personal needs. If you are earning money with photography, you may go for the OLY, as it renders very nice. But if you are an enthusiast, stay with the PL25. It’s a great one!!!

    • Hi,

      PL 25 f1,4 is stucked on my omd.
      it’s the first Lens I bought with the em5 ( double thanks Steve ). I will kill for an update weather sealed , another AF motor and less plastic built .

      I asked me the same between the oly 45mm and the oly 75 and the nocticron.
      I own these lenses and clearly see that 75 and 42,5( nocticron ) are better than the 45mm ( the 45 is one of the best micro 4/3 lens).

      For portrait I can assume to carry the big nocticron or the not so big 75 ( compared to the 45mm everything is to big ) .
      For my go everywhere lens I find the 25mm f1,2 just to big for my em5 and my tastes .

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