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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 200
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Micro Four Thirds Lens Kit Revisited
Tuesday 13 November 2012   —   Category: Equipment
SPECIAL
NOTE:
     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.
Today is my 200th blog article — I've already written 50 since my Sesquicentiblog on August 13, exactly three months ago! In order to celebrate this Bicentiblog milestone, I’m going to revisit the subject of my Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) lens kit.

When I was originally building this kit back at the beginning of July, I wrote an extensive article — see Building the Micro Four Thirds Lens Kit — detailing the long-term and short-term members of this collection, and comparing them to the lenses in my previous Sony APS-C lens kit. If you are interested in those details, which will not be repeated here, then I encourage you to read that original article before you continue with this one.

Again, back in July of this year, there were a few lenses which had been announced by Panasonic and Olympus that I really wanted to get, but were not yet released. For the most part, I filled in those gaps with lesser-quality lenses which I would be using only temporarily until the ones I really wanted were available. Now, four months later, all of those lenses are on the market and have been delivered to my doorstep — I just love UPS and FedEx ... they bring me such nice presents! The temporary lenses are for sale on Amazon.com. Once all the dust settled, only three lenses in my current kit were part of the original kit.

When µ4/3 lenses first started appearing in 2008, they were mostly cheaper-quality, consumer-grade lenses that were not much to get excited about. It wasn’t until this year that these two manufacturers starting releasing a series of lenses with more professional-level features, like larger maximum apertures, moisture and dust sealing, and metal construction rather than plastic. Panasonic’s high-quality offerings have been mostly zooms, while Olympus' have been mostly primes.

One thing to keep in mind is that cameras with a Four Thirds sensor, like my 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.

Without further ado, let’s look at each individual lens which is currently 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. First, here is an overview of all the lenses discussed on this page, ordered by focal length. You can click on a lens name to quickly scroll down to that section:
 
 Zoom Lenses:
  • Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 (14-​28​mm equivalent)
  • Panasonic 12-​35​mm f/2.8 (24-​70​mm equivalent)
  • Panasonic 35-​100​mm f/2.8 (70-​200​mm equivalent)
  • Panasonic 100-​300​mm f/4.0-5.6 (200-​600​mm equivalent)
  •  
     Prime Lenses:
  • Olympus 12mm f/2.0 (24mm equivalent)
  • Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 (50mm equivalent)
  • Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro (120mm equivalent)
  • Olympus 75mm f/1.8 (150mm equivalent)

  • Z O O M   L E N S E S

    I love the unique perspective that an ultra-wide-angle lens provides. That’s why I make sure to always have the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 zoom lens, (14-​28​mm equivalent) with me on my outings.

    This, the first µ4/3 lens I purchased, is the only one in the kit that has a built-in, nondetachable lens hood — the lens cap fits snuggly over it. Like the Panasonic 35-​100​mm lens described below, it does not extend when zooming to longer focal lengths. Because the front glass is very rounded and protruding, this lens does not accept filters.

    Even though the 7-14mm retails for $1,100, and was recently selling for about $900 on Amazon, it is absolutely vital to have such a lens in my kit because this type of ultra-wide-angle is a favorite of mine! A similar lens from Olympus — the cheaper ($700) M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 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 a keeper!

    Even though it was not available at the beginning of July when I was putting together my lens kit, by the end of July I was the proud owner of a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-​35​mm f/2.8 zoom lens, with a 35mm-​equivalent focal length of 24-​70​mm.

    One of the few in Panasonic’s premium X Series, this lens is the foundation of my kit, being the normal, everyday lens that I keep on my Olympus E-M5 camera. The focal length — from medium-wide-angle to medium-telephoto — is very versatile 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. Its metal construction and weather sealing is a good match for the metal-bodied, weather-sealed E-M5. At $1,300, it IS an expensive hunk of glass, but you get what you pay for, and there’s no way I’m going to get a nice body like the E-M5, and then skimp by settling for a cheap lens.

    Big brother to the above-​mentioned 12-​35mm, the Pan­a­son­ic Lumix G X Vario 35-​100mm f/2.8 zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 70-​200mm, arrived in my hot little hands only five days ago. It replaces the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-​150mm f/4.0-​5.6 — a pretty decent lens for the price! — which I was temporarily using these past four months.

    It has many features in common with its little brother, including black metal construction, weath­er sealing, and a fast, constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. One difference, besides the focal length, is that the lens does not extend longer when zooming to longer focal lengths, while the 12-​35​mm does. In fact, when the 12-​35​mm is fully extended, it’s almost exactly the same length as the 35-​100​mm.

    In keeping with it being the big brother, its $1,500 price tag is somewhat more expensive than the 12-​35​mm. But as I said before, I’m not in this to skimp. I plan on using this lens a lot, as its focal length fits in perfectly between the previous lens and the next lens....

    With the highest focal length and largest weight of all the lenses on this page, this one is a heavy-​hitter: the Pan­a­son­ic Lu­mix G Vario 100-​300 mm f/4.0-​5.6 zoom lens (200-​600 mm equiv­a­lence). It is amaz­ing to have this much mag­ni­fi­ca­tion in such a relatively light and small package — it is definitely not a burden to take hiking!

    This $500 lens is one of the original members of my kit, and has been useful in various circumstances during the four months I have been using it. It’s too bad that it’s not weather-sealed like the previous two lenses. I could possibly have gone with the equally-unsealed Olympus M.Zuiko 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 f/4.8-6.7 — really put me off.

    P R I M E   L E N S E S

    Now that we have considered the four zoom lenses in my kit, it’s time to turn our attention to the four primes. First up, with the shortest focal length, is the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 (24mm equivalent) Although I have not previously mentioned this lens in any other articles, it is not a recent addition — I got it in early August, about a month after I put together my original kit.

    One look at the silvery, solid, metal construction is enough to tell you that this is a premium optical instrument. And the premium $800 price is enough to make you hesitate, and reconsider whether you really want to spend that much money on a small, fixed-focal-length lens. Because Olympus does not include a hood with their lenses, it’s an additional $75 for the matching metal hood, although I was able to pick one up on eBay for “only” $30.

    With or without the nice-looking hood, this is a beautiful lens. And it has a unique way of being put into manual-focus mode — simply slide the focus ring towards the camera body about an eighth of an inch to reveal a traditional focusing scale in both feet and meters (as seen in the photo just above). Slide the ring back up, and you are once again in auto-focus mode — very clever, and easy to use.

    I have to admit that I have not really used this lens during the three months I have owned it. But I do hope that will change in the not-too-distant future. I’m dreaming about going on some experimental outings — perhaps to Portland, or the OSU campus in Corvallis — and take ONLY prime lenses with me. On one hand, it would be quite limiting to take pictures without any zoom lenses. But on the other hand, it would be an interesting challenge, and I believe it would sharpen my photographic skills. For now, let’s move on to see what other prime lenses such an outing would include....

    The Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 lens — with it’s rave reviews on Amazon — is the only remaining prime from my original kit. Its 35mm-equivalent focal length of 50mm identifies it as a classical normal lens, while its large f/1.4 aperture ensures great low-light performance and lusciously out-of-focus backgrounds.

    The beautiful, silvery, metal construction of the Olympus 12mm and 75mm lenses make this black plastic 25mm seem a bit lower-class, even though, in the end, it is what’s inside the lens — the optics — that counts more than the outside. Still, if Olympus were ever to come out with a silvery, metal, large-aperture 25mm lens, I would very likely buy that and sell this Panasonic. However, this black lens does nicely match the black Panasonic G5 camera body I bought recently.

    Like the 12mm prime I mentioned above, I haven’t really used this lens yet, but just you watch ... one day I will!

    When I first put my lens kit together, I had purchased a Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 because it was the only µ4/3 macro lens available at the time. Even though this lens has received lots of praise for its image quality, and it has worked OK for me, I have not been totally happy with it. Compared to the macro lenses I have used in the past, it seems to have a hard time auto-focusing on the object I’m trying to photograph. In addition, a longer focal length would allow me to stay further away from the subject, which is important when taking close-ups of living creatures.

    Nine months after Olympus announced their own macro lens, the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 (120mm equivalent) was lovingly delivered by the UPS guy only four days ago. Its weather sealing makes it the only moisture and dust resistant prime lens in my kit. To find out more about this brand-new lens, and why I like it better than the Panasonic (which I’m now selling on Amazon), see my recent article: Macro Lens Swap.

    As usual with Olympus, this lens requires a special hood, which is NOT included with the lens. It is so new that it is not yet available in the U.S., although I’m keeping my eye on the listing at B&H Photo. This lens hood appears to be unique in that it has a sliding mechanism, and can slide down to retract when not needed, allows the hood to remain on the lens when not being utilized or when stored. But $50 for a plastic hood is definitely highway robbery!

    Last, but definitely not least, we come to the king of my primes, the gorgeous Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8. If there is one lens I own which could make a camera hound drool, this is definitely it!

    Want to see for yourself? Well, put on your bib and 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've got. Be sure to also check out the second part with shots at night. Incredible! Drool, drool!

    Retailing for $900, it’s only $100 more than the much smaller Olympus 12mm. The size and weight of this 75mm lens makes me feel like I am getting more bang for the buck, and it makes the 12mm seem much too expensive. Once again, the way over-priced $80 silvery metal hood, which ought to be included with a $900 lens, must be purchased separately. But like before, eBay came to the rescue, and I found a third-party hood, which looks and fits exactly like the Olympus version, for “only” $40.

    This is the one prime lens I have been using quite a bit lately. It works great as a medium-telephoto, but also for close-ups as a macro pinch-hitter. I've already won an award at my local camera club for a photo shot with this lens — see Radiant Neighborhood Leaves. For a macro-like shot, check out this insect photo (and the following two). I’m expecting to get many more outstanding pictures with this amazing lens. I do believe it is worth the price.

    Whew! Eight wonderful lenses in my kit! I would say that I’m very well equipped to meet any photographic challenge head on.

    As far as I can tell, my kit is complete. But you never know what kind of goodies Olympus, Panasonic and other lens manufacturers might come up with in the future!
    SPECIAL
    NOTE:
         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 200
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    Brian's Photo Blog — Article 200
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