Olympus Micro 4/3 Buyers Guide: My Faves in the Standard (Non Pro) Line
By Steve Huff
Last week I posted an article featuring my personal fave products in the Olympus PRO line of cameras and lenses. The pro line has some gorgeous quality lenses and of course the EM1 MKII that is just fabulous but that does not mean there are no gems in the standard line. In fact, there are some lenses for much less that do almost as good of a job. That’s one of the beauties of the Zuiko lenses, they are all pretty damn good. It’s tough to find a bad one from Olympus or Panasonic. This post will focus more on the Olympus gear as it is what I own, and know well. Also, so many email me every month asking “what Micro 4/3 lens should I get” so this should help you get started.
I’ve loved M 4/3 since its inception. From its smaller size to interesting styling of some of the cameras, like the PEN, I have fallen for the brand over and over. In fact, if you have read my full PEN-F review from a while back you would see my raves about it. I still have that camera sitting to my left in my camera cabinet and it’s as beautiful as ever. To me, each format has its pros and cons, and none are a perfect all in one for someone who likes bits of each system. For me M 4/3 is attractive due to its smaller size, gorgeous lenses in the pro and non pro line, speed and the fact that they always deliver. Many pros use EM1’s for wedding work today and the results are just as good as full frame offerings I have seen.
Check out my friend Tracey Jean, she uses an EM1 MKII for her Wedding Work and she does beautiful work. So this format is powerful enough for pro, studio, or everyday stuff.
With that out of the way, what about the standard cheaper line of cameras and lenses? First off, if you want to get into M 4/3 you have a choice. Panasonic or Olympus. Me, I prefer Olympus for the body styles and features. I prefer the 5 Axis from Olympus (they invented it after all), the retro designs that go further than Panasonic’s do and I enjoy the lenses they make for looks and build and performance. I also enjoy Panasonic offerings and will touch on a couple here because I feel they are amazing lenses.
But if you want to get into OLYMPUS and do not want to spend a ton for the EM1 MKII or you do not want to buy a used EM1 MKI, I highly recommend the PEN-F, without hesitation.
It offers fun, convenience, size, retro looks, fast speed (not for continuous action though) and lovely color with some cool customizations to the colors using the new color wheel. Film simulations are here as well. To me, the EM1 MKII image quality is more refined but the PEN-F is almost there for almost half the price. If you do not need pro features the PEN-F may be all you ever need.
Lenses, there are a few from Olympus that I love:
The 17 1.8
Order it at Amazon or B&H Photo
This little lens is one that many miss out on due to some reports that called it soft. Me, I love this lens on any M 4/3 body and the manual focus clutch is a plus as well. While not CHEAP at $499, this lens is well worth the cost if you like the 35mm format. This lens is a 17.5 but will give you a 35mm FOV on Micro 4/3.
Two from the 17 1.8
The 25 1.8
Order it at Amazon or B&H Photo
At $399 for a fast 50mm equiv for your M 4/3 camera, this one is a no brainer if you are on a budget. While not full of magic dust like the new 25 1.2 PRO, this guy is almost $1000 less and delivers beautiful images. Some say this one is a little sterile but the character here is more about perfect over character. Nothing bad to say about this lens, and the price is right.
The 45 1.8
Order it at Amazon or B&H Photo
Bringing you a 90mm Equivilant field of view, this 45 1.8 Olympus lens is a rock star for the price of $265 (current Amazon price). This may be the biggest no brainer in all of Micro 4/3. At this price, it would be a crime to NOT own this one. Fast in aperture and focus this offers a nice portrait length FOV with wonderful results.
The 75 1.8
Order it at B&H Photo or Amazon
I have a love and hate relationship with this lens. I love it for its image quality and build and price for what it offers. This could be a pro line easily if it were in a pro built housing (weather sealed, etc) as the IQ is that good. But this 75mm lens is really going to give you the magnification of a 150mm lens, which is quite long. I can do 75-85mm and get a lot of use from a lens but 150mm is not my ideal focal length. IF IT ONE OF YOURS though, you can not go wrong with this lens. It’s gorgeous in every way.
The Olympus 60 Macro
Order it at Amazon or B&H Photo Here
This is another NO BRAINER must own. At $399 I can think of no better Macro lens for your M 4/3 system. Crystal clear and sharp with GORGEOUS color output the lens is tiny and gives huge performance. See my review at the link above.
Order at Amazon or B&H Photo Here
Panasonic 20 1.7 II
Order it at B&H Photo or Amazon Here
This is another one in the MUST OWN category. At $265 or so, this one should be in everyone’s bag if you shoot M 4/3. Exquisite contrasty and gorgeous IQ. Almost cinematic in how it renders an image.
So for me, these are the best lenses in the Olympus NON pro line (with a couple Panasonic’s that I love thrown in). For the pro stuff, see my article from last week HERE. Olympus (and Panasonic) offer some great tools today as an alternative to APS-C and FULL frame and they deliver just as beautiful IQ with, as I said, pros and cons compared to larger formats. The lenses above (and the PEN-F) are. my faves from Olympus. I enjoyed these lenses and the camera and still do. I own most of what I wrote about here, they are that good 😉
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The new 12-100 Oly lens for me on my gx8 ……… What total marvel !!
Yes it is a bit chunky but boy it delivers when out on the streets !!
Tried the EM1 MK11 and hated it ……… The menu system must have designed by blind monkeys :/
I wanted to love it for its integration with the 12-100 but I couldn’t wait to send it back ……. Shame really as not getting the most from the combined IS the pairing would have given me 🙁
Or this zoom – M.Zuiko ED 14-150mm f4.0-5.6 II vs the M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R?
Is there a zoom you dig? Have you tried the Olympus M. 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R?
I have all but the 75 1.8 and Panasonic 20 1.7 II. 😉
I bought the Panasonic Nocticron, and do not feel like purchasing another expensive lens with good bokeh. Pany 20 1.7 II is too close to the Oly 17 1.8 for me.
I also have the 8mm fisheye and 9-18. They are gorgeous too!
Love the Oly 12mm f 2 and the Panny 15mm f1.7.
My favorite camera is the PEN-F.
I have an EM1 II and FF kit…but the PEN-F is just pure fun to shoot with and delivers excellent results if handled deftly. The camera just doesn’t get in the way. It’s so fluid.
Agree on all counts! But you forgot one of the best gems in the system: the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye. Minuscule, well-built, unbeatable price and loads of fun to use. Also the kit Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6 is so cheap that it’s a must own for people who are just starting with m43.
Not forgotten at all, as it says these two posts were for OLYMPUS branded gear only, not third party though I did mention two Panasonic lenses I love. So not forgotten, just not meant for this post.
Just got into m4/3 after I saw a bargain em5m1. Together I bought the 25f1.4 used as it was I feel a bargan. Now I bought the 15f17 new. Im a leica fan I guess bec I live my M9 but m lenses are expensive.
I have been waiting for a while to get into m4/3 and Im starting to love it. Although I also have a brand new A7s wc was 50% off in Dubai Airport just last week which I cant resist since we have so many lenses in the emount system.
You cannot go wrong with these cameras even if they are old models. Theyre beautiful.
I think the availability of really good low-cost lenses is one of the under-publicised features of the Olympus system.
In conjunction with my E-M1, the 60 mm macro has been a game-changer for me, with the ability to do automatic stacking – superb for flower photos!
Even the ‘cheap’ 40 – 150 mm performs way beyond expectations at the price level
” But this 75mm lens is really going to give you the magnification of a 150mm lens, which is quite long. ”
Framelines of 150 not magnification.
You will get a FOV of 150mm with the 75mm, yes indeed.
The shot of your wife and dog just hit me. That shot is more important for photographers like me than any other thing you can post here. You have it all right there. Great shot and great feel. You are a lucky guy… or as a friend of mine says, the harder I work the luckier I seem to get!
p.s. I met your friend Ashwin last weekend and had a few moments to talk to him – what a genuine and personable guy.
Thanks Rick! I am blessed for sure. Ashwin, he is a great guy and one of the best guys to talk Leica with!
I love the Oly 14-150 ii.
well, well .. not so much you haven’t already said … getting weak in ideas?
this article looks like old soup
Ask Ashwin to help you, he’s the guy with talent in writting and taking pictures
Lol, well well…. seems like you need some help, with your life ; ) This site is always sharing new ideas and new posts and new reviews but trolls like you get bored easily. I get emails weekly that ask me “what lens should I get for M 4/3” so instead of always answering those emails, this is much easier. Believe it or not, there are tens of thousands of others who read this website besides you, and many never see the old posts, but sounds like you have followed each one for years, so thank you 😉 I know you feel you are important, and special… but you are not, you are a basic run of the mill troll who must have one hell of am miserable life, but you should if all you do is get jealous of others who do more than you in life. I’ll hold out hope for you. that your life improves, lol. Must be sad though…to sit online and just leave grade school type of comments on websites. Rough, glad I do not live your life. Oh, and Ashwin has been writing for me for 7 years now, and will do more..soon. I’m sure you will be back to read it. I know you will.
Steve, you should just moderate these statements people make. Every article you write is informative, full of enthusiasm (let some people call it fan-boyism) and enjoyable. I eagerly wait and read each one of those like a treat. Sometimes I have gone to your older articles and it is always fun to see pictures of your son growing up, your partner, mum and your pets. No doubt Ashwin writes good articles too, but I am here because of you! Thank you.
I love the Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7. That lens has a distinct character.
Yes, that’s a great lens as well!
It works great on the G85. But I found that a UV filter helped it on the EM1. Which I have seen before with Panasonic. I think they must have an internal UV filter. Oly must do it in the lens as I have never seen an IQ benefit from a UV filter on an Oly lenses.
For years I have traveled the world with my trusty Olympus PEN and Panny 20/1.7 lens. It has been a phenomenal combo. I have always preferred it to the Olympus 17/1.8 and PanaLeica 25/1.4 for some reason (I’ve owned them all).
However, I have found that the basic A7 with Sony Zeiss 35/2.8 does the same thing much, much better: better colors, better sharpness, better bokeh, faster AF.
I have put most of my M43 gear up for sale now. The Olympus 75/1.8 will hurt the most to let go, but I’m just not using it anymore. I’m a huge fan of such a “pocket tele”, but I feel that a full frame 70-200/4 or 300/4 would meet my needs better. But who knows, the upcoming Batis 135mm might be a killer “pocket tele” to complement my trusty Sony Zeiss 35/2.8.
FF is more potential, even your mony-pocket has to and you will give up AF-speed and IS-capability
Batis is a joy: well crafted and zeiss-colours (you will never sell it)
You listed good lenses, bot no real wide-angle ones.
Here is my problem: I have the 45, 25 and my old pana 14-42 Kit Lens from my old G3. As I recently discovered long exposure photography, I am drawn to lenses wider than my 14mm. BUT I am also a student and therefore can’t throw a lot of money on a oly or pana 7-14. This makes it quiet difficult, as I also don’t know at what focal length I will be satisfied.
The 9-18 is good, I used it once but only had it in hand for a few hours. What I saw though, I liked. Take a look at that one 😉
if you are into wide angle: the pand 7-14 is fantastic! its small and splendid in IQ. I own it and its my most used lens for architecture. Its was for me the reason to go into m43. Always a splendid small wide angle in my bag. In fact its also why, besides tele, that I did not go for FF, yet…
Try to get a used one. You won’t regret it!
Hi Steve, thanks for that, the 45mm f1.8 is easily one of my favs of all the lenses I own for any system. The brilliant thing is these compact little gems all weigh so little and take up so little space in the bag you can take them all without issue.
One you didn’t mention but I’ve grown to love is little 30mm macro, it works really well in close up producing lovely results. Some reviews have said its excellent, others not so much, personally I think it optimised for macro not general duties but I’ve used it on a few commercial jobs with great results, and the price is right.
I have the same experience. Had to take a lot of close ups and thought that I could get away with standard zooms and primes with extension rings. Then I saw a really cheap offer, just over €225, so I bought this 30mm. What a great lens, what a lot of pleasure! I don’t agree that the price is right. It’s a steal.
Thanks for the write up Steve. I think it would be great complement to these two articles if you would review the top third party lenses like voitglander, sigma, mikaton, etc. While manual focus, I think there are some affordable choices w regards to iq, bokeh, f stop among them.
I plan on a third as there is so much 3rd party glass out there, so look for that end of this week or start of next! Thank you.
What about the Voigtlanders f0.95? They offer something special to the m4/3 system I think.
As stated, for now, it’s all Olympus branded products (with a couple Panasonics thrown in). Next week I will do a write up on 3rd party glass for M 4/3. Thank you.
Sometimes tiny size and a useful focal range win the day for me with the Olympus 9-18, especially as an extra lens in your pocket. I often need a wide angle to get the shot I want.BD7K
Great article summarising all little m43 beauties. So Steve, what is it going to be for you? – EM1 MKII or keeping the Pen-f? I can’t get hold of a Pen anywhere anymore, unless I order online here in the UK. Could you elaborate how much the difference is in EVF between these 2 cameras? I tried EM1 MKII and it is brilliant but slightly big for me for a m43 camera to be.
I have a panasonic GX85 (and 20/1.7) at the moment, while a great bargain camera, it does not really inspire me! Maybe a Pen-f and 17/1.8 kit will do the trick.
I have both, and unlikely I will get rid of either. I know I would regret it, but especially the PEN. I am more drawn to that one than the MKII. It’s a beauty.
I had a 45/1.8. Then for Christmas I got a G85 with a couple 1.7 Pana primes. The 42.5 was obviously the better lens. So I gave my 45 away in December. In March I was able to trade and get my 45 back. The 42.5 focused faster and had better color and contrast. It was even sharper although I do not really prize sharpness beyond a certain point. I sometimes think since sharpness can be measured under certain conditions that some companies build to those test conditions to get good reviews and sell lenses. Although I may be wrong as it is just my thought when I look at the things that cannot be measured. I traded the “better” lens for the 45 because the 45 was better for me. It has an appearance to the out of focus areas that I light a lot better. But then I am an old man and I do not use fast lens for edge to edge sharpness. One reason I love your site here is you give information so I can determine which is the better lens for me. That may be quite different than what is the better lens for you or some one else.
I have the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.8 and I’m in love with it…
It is a great lens for the price. Maybe the best IQ per dollar there is. I would recommend it to anyone except me. I found the highlights and some out of focus areas were not what I wanted. But I would readily agree 99 out of 100 people would not chose a lens because of how it handles out of focus areas. Which is why Steve’s site here is always one resource I check before purchases. His photos let me judge whether a lens does what I want.
I also think the Panasonic 14mm pancake lens is underrated.
Absolutely, one of the best lenses out there for the $$$.
I only wish the 20mm 1.7 could focus faster. Love that lens otherwise.