Brian's Photo Blog — Article 123
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Building the Micro Four Thirds Lens Kit
Thursday 5 July 2012   —   Category: Equipment
     The contents of my lens kit has changed significantly since I wrote this article.
For the latest configuration, see My Micro Four Thirds Camera System in 2016.
As I recounted in a blog entry from last week — My First Step Into a Brand-​New (Four Thirds) World — I have de­cid­ed to purchase an Olympus OM-D E-M5. This is a recently-​released, Micro Four Thirds, mirrorless interchangeable-​lens camera that has been receiving much attention and praise in the reviews.

After having finalized the lens kit for my Sony α77 APS-C camera, I now need to put together a similar kit for the smaller Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) system. All the lenses have been ordered, are on their way, and will arrive starting today, through early next week. I did pick up one lens last week at the Pro Photo Supply camera store in Portland.

The µ4/3 standard was created in 2008 by Panasonic and Olympus, which are still the only two manufacturers of these type of cameras. As a result, there is not as much selection as there normally is with other types of photographic equipment. The vast majority of µ4/3 lenses are made by these two companies (28 of them), although a handful of other lens manufacturers are starting to produce them too, such as Sigma’s two new DN-series lenses.

When comparing the µ4/3 lenses from Olympus with the µ4/3 lenses from Panasonic — on both Web sites you have to sift through and distinguish between µ4/3 lenses and the generally larger and heavier regular Four Thirds lenses — I have almost always been more impressed with the Panasonic lenses than those from Olympus. They generally seem to be faster lenses with focal lengths more suited to my needs. All the lenses listed below are made by Panasonic, except for two by Olympus.

One thing to keep in mind is that cameras with a Four Thirds sensor, like the Olympus OM-D E-M5, have a focal length multiplier of 2x. What this means is that a 25mm lens on a µ4/3 camera would have a 35mm equivalence of 50mm. This allows µ4/3 cameras to achieve an angle of view using µ4/3-specific lenses which are smaller and lighter compared to 35mm-camera lenses with the same angle of view.

And now, let’s look at each individual lens which will be part of my µ4/3 lens kit. I've tried to scale all of the product images appropriately, so that they are sized correctly in relation to each other. This will make it easier to see which lens is larger or smaller than another.

This Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-​35​mm f/2.8 Aspherical zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24-​70​mm, corresponds directly to the primary lens I use on my Sony α77: the Sony Carl Zeiss 24-​70​mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

This lens is one of a few in Panasonic’s premium X Series. As with my Sony camera, it will be the normal, everyday lens that I keep on my Olympus E-M5 camera, and the foundation of my lens kit. The focal length — from medium-wide-angle to medium-telephoto — is very versitile for general use. If I could have only one lens, or take only one lens with me on an outing, this would be it.

Its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures good low-light performance. Measuring 2.7 x 2.9 inches (68 x 74mm) and weighing 10.8 oz. (305g), it is 55% smaller and 70% lighter than the Sony lens — but only 35% cheaper! At $1,300, it IS an expensive hunk of glass, but as with my Sony system, you get what you pay for, and there’s no way I’m going to get a nice body like the Olympus OM-D E-M5, and then skimp by settling for a cheap lens.

Unfortunately, this lens is so new that it’s not even available yet! And Olympus offers no comparable lens. Panasonic will supposedly release it next month, but who knows for sure? Once it is available, high demand could make it difficult to get for a while, although I have already placed an order at Amazon. That is why I have had to purchase a cheaper, lower-performance lens as a temporary substitute until this much better model arrives. Which leads us to our next lens ....

Because the previous lens is not yet available, I've drafted the slower and cheaper Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-​45​mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspherical Mega OIS zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 28-​90​mm, as a temporary substitute.

One reason I would not like to keep this lens as my normal, everyday, primary lens is because, at its maximum focal length of 45mm, it has a disappointingly-slow maximum aperture of f/5.6. That falls way below my expectations, and in the end is totally unacceptable. I can live with this lens for the short-term — as I need a lens in this focal-length range and it’s better than nothing — but long-term it’s got to go!

This lens measures 2.36 x 2.36 inches (60 x 60mm) and is the second-lightest of all the lenses on this page, weighing only 6.88 oz. (195g). The fact that it’s smaller and lighter than the two fixed-focal-length lenses in my kit (see below) is a clear sign that this not a high-quality lens. Even though it retails for $350, I was able to pick one up on for $264, and should be able to resell it for around $200 once I've had my use of it. I don’t think I’ll be sorry when it’s gone!

Now for my next dream lens, which perhaps does not even exist! Back in January at the CES 2012, Panasonic showed off two µ4/3 “concept” lenses: the above mentioned 12-​35​mm f/2.8, and a heftier companion 35-​100mm f/2.8 lens — a prototype of which is pictured here. The 12-​35​mm was officially an­nounced in May, and is supposed to be available in August. The fact that it is actually being put into production gives me high hopes that the premium X-Series 35-​100​mm will be produced also ... maybe by the end of the year? Who knows? And once again, Olympus offers no comparable lens.

As with the 12-​35​mm above, this 35-​100​mm lens also corresponds directly to one of my Sony lenses: the G-Series 70-​200​mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom. Panasonic has not yet made known the size and weight of this lens, nor the price. I would expect it to cost at least as much as the $1,300 12-​35​mm, and probably somewhat more. To fill in the focal-length gap that the lack of this dream lens creates, I've tapped the next lens as a stop-gap ....

Much to my annoyance, I've had to purchase a second “temporary” lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-​150​mm f/4.0-5.6 R to fulfill the role of the unavailable Panasonic 35-​100​mm above. I’m not sure why I didn’t get the similar Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-​200​mm f/4.0-5.6 Mega OIS — which got good reviews on Amazon — instead of this Olympus lens, but since I’m not planning on keeping it long-term, I guess it doesn’t really matter. It being a short-term lens is also the reason I decided to try silver instead of the black lenses I usually prefer — I wanted to see how it looked with the silver and black body of the OM-D E-M5 camera.

This 80-​300mm-​equiv­a­lent lens measures 2.5 x 3.3 inches (64 x 83mm) and is the lightest lens on this page, weighing only 6.7 oz. (190g). As with the other “temporary “lens above, its small size and light weight clue you in that it’s not a high-quality piece of glass. There’s an older version of this lens still around (without the “R” in the name) as well as this newer version. At the time I made my purchase, it wasn’t clear on Amazon’s Web site which was which, so I ended up buying it at B & H Photo instead, for the same price of $300. The fact that Olympus is offering a $100 rebate on this lens for a short time definitely sweetened the deal. When it comes times to put it up for sale, it shouldn’t be too hard to recover the $200 I spent on it.

The next lens is a heavy-​hitter — it has the longest fo­cal length and larg­est weight of all the lenses on this page — from Pan­a­son­ic: the Lumix G Vario 100-​300 mm f/4.0-​5.6 Mega OIS zoom lens, with a 35mm-​equivalence of 200-​600mm. It will fulfill the same long-telephoto role as my Sony G-​Series 70-​400 mm f/4.0-​5.6 zoom, which has a 105-​600mm equivalence when used on the Sony α77 APS-C camera.

Even though they have a very similar focal-length range, in almost all other respects they are worlds apart. The Sony lens measures 3.75 x 7.75 inches (95 x 196mm), while the Panasonic is only 2.9 x 5 inches (74 x 126mm) — 60% smaller! The Sony lens weighs a wrist-straining 3 lbs. 5 oz. (1500g), while the Panasonic is a lightweight in comparison, at only 18.3 oz. (520g) — 65% lighter, even though it’s the only lens on this page to weigh over one pound (450g)! The price is also lightweight: only $600 instead of the Sony’s wallet-straining $2,000 — 70% cheaper!

Well, this is finally a lens which I plan on keeping long-term, and not just using temporarily! It will be fun and interesting to put it through its paces and see what it can do. I could possibly have gone with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-​300​mm f4.8-6.7, but the much higher price ($900) of that lens — as well as its dismally-slow maximum aperture of f4.8-6.7 — really put me off.

Now that we've taken care of the telephoto end of things, it’s time to turn our attention to wide-angle — and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 Aspherical zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalence of 14-​28​mm, fits the bill. It will fulfill the same role as my Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 zoom, which has a 15-​30​mm equivalence when used on my Sony camera.

As usual, the Four Thirds sensor allows for smaller and lighter lenses with equivalent focal lengths compared to cameras with larger sensors. The Sigma lens measures 3.4 x 3.5 inches (87 x 88mm), while the main body of the Panasonic is only 2.4 x 2.8 inches (61 x 71mm) — 60% smaller! This is the only lens I own in both the µ4/3 and APS-C systems that has a built-in, nondetachable lens hood — the lens cap fits snuggly over it. Taking that into consideration, the widest part of the lens is 2.95 inches instead of 2.4 (75mm instead of 61), and the length is 3.27 (83mm). Unlike the Sigma, it does not extend when using the longer focal lengths. Because the front glass is very rounded and protruding, this lens does not accept filters.

The Sigma lens weighs a reasonable 18 oz. (520g), but the Panasonic is even lighter, at only 10.58 oz. (300g) — 42% less weight! Unfortunately, with this lens, the smaller size and weight do not translate into a smaller price. While the Sigma retails for $950, I was able to pick it up on Amazon for only $600. Even though the Panasonic retails for $1,100, and was recently selling for $970 on Amazon, it is now selling there for a still-pricey $890.

But since this type of ultra-wide-angle is a favorite lens of mine, it is absolutely vital to have such a lens in my kit! A similar lens from Olympus — the cheaper ($700) M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 does not have as wide of an angle (9mm vs. 7mm), and has a smaller maximum aperture (4.0-5.6 vs. a constant 4.0). In this case I was willing to pay the extra money for a better-performing lens. This one is another keeper!

As I have stated before, no lens kit is complete without macro capability, so I also picked up a Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 Aspherical Mego OIS lens, with a 35mm-equivalence of 90mm. It will fulfill the same role as my Sony 100mm f/2.8 macro, which has a 150mm equivalence when used on my Sony camera.

In comparison, the Sony lens measures 3 x 4 inches (75 x 98mm), while the Panasonic measures 2.48 x 2.46 inches (63 x 63mm) — 55% smaller! The Sony lens weighs a solid 17.8 oz. (505g), but the Panasonic is much lighter, at only 7.75 oz. (222g) — 56% lighter! Once again, with this lens, the smaller size and weight does not translate into a proportionally-smaller price. The Sony retails for $800, and is currently selling on Amazon for $750. The Panasonic retails for $900, but I lucked-out to get it on Amazon for only $720, because as of today it appears to be hard to get and going for the full retail price! As always, be sure to shop around carefully if you’re in the mood to buy!

Olympus has announced their own µ4/3 macro: a 60mm f/2.8 weather-sealed lens which is supposed to be available by the end of the year. Because the OM-D E-M5 camera itself is weather-sealed, having that on the lens too is really appealing. If this lens turns out to be a killer, I just might trade in the Panasonic and go with this one instead.

For many high-end professional and amateur photographers, prime lenses provide the ultimate image quality. As it says in the Wikipedia article:
A prime lens of a given focal length is less versatile than a zoom whose range includes that focal length, but is often of superior optical quality, lighter weight, smaller bulk and lower cost. In comparison with a zoom lens, a prime lens has fewer moving parts which are optimized for one particular focal length. With a less complicated lens formula they suffer from fewer problems related to chromatic aberration. Because their optics are simpler, prime lenses usually have a larger maximum aperture (smaller f-number) than zoom lenses. This allows photography in lower light and a shallower depth of field. A normal lens or “normal prime” is a lens with a focal length about equal to the diagonal size of the film or sensor format, or that reproduces perspective that generally looks "natural" to a human observer under normal viewing conditions.
During the last year and a half, I have never purchased a prime lens for my Sony APS-C cameras, even though Sony has a full selection of such lenses — I guess I have never felt the need or desire for one. The last time I had a prime lens was with my first SLR — a Pentax Spotmatic F — over 35 years ago. See Brian’s Photographic Journey for more details.

For some reason, I felt like with this new µ4/3 camera system I should give a prime lens a try. So I decided to go with a “normal” 50mm lens (in 35mm-equivalent terms), which, for a Four Thirds sensor is a 25mm lens. Panasonic’s Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 Aspherical lens, with it’s rave reviews on Amazon, seemed like an excellent choice.

This classic prime lens measures 2.48 x 2.14 inches (63 x 55mm) and weighs 7 oz. (200g). I’m really looking forward to trying it out, and experiencing the difference between shooting with this lens and shooting with a zoom. Panasonic currently has three other primes: an 8mm (16mm equivalent) f/3.6 fisheye lens and a pair of pancake lenses: a 20mm (40mm equivalent) f/1.7 and a 14mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.5 wide angle.

Olympus also currently has four prime lenses available: a 12mm (24mm equivalent) f/2.0 wide-angle, a 17mm (34mm equivalent) f/2.8 wide-angle pancake lens, and a 45mm (90mm equivalent) f/1.8 portrait lens.

Their fourth prime lens is the one that interests me the most: the brand-new $900 M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 high-grade portrait lens. With a metal body instead of plastic, it still weighs only 10.7 oz. (305g) and measures compact 2.5 x 2.7 inches (64 x 69mm).

From the little bit I have been reading about it, this baby seems to be one awesome lens! For an excellent overview, check out the review and amazing photos that a photographer from Malaysia took with this lens and the same OM-D E-M5 camera I’m getting. Be sure to also check out the second part with shots at night. Incredible!

Just to see the beautiful shots this camera (and lens) is capable of takes my breath away — I’m realizing that it just might be possible to have my new µ4/3 system be my ONLY camera equipment, and get rid of my Sony camera system completely! Well, I’m not at that point yet — the camera won’t even be here until next week! — but after I use the OM-D E-M5 and µ4/3 lens kit for a number of months, I might well be convinced!

Whew! Now THAT sure was a mouthful! Obviously, because I’m just starting to build my µ4/3 lens kit, I’m not even close to finishing the job. The µ4/3 system is still relatively new, and some great lenses are coming sometime between now and the end of the year. And as I mentioned above, I've got some additions and subtractions already planned. Who knows what 2013 will bring? But with the six lenses I have already purchased, I’m well on my way to a wonderful and well-equipped Micro Four Thirds lens kit!
     The contents of my lens kit has changed significantly since I wrote this article.
For the latest configuration, see My Micro Four Thirds Camera System in 2016.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 123
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