Brian's Photo Blog — Article 521
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My Micro Four Thirds Camera System in 2016
Monday 29 February 2016   —   Category: Equipment
It’s not every day, or every year, that I get the opportunity to post an article on leap day. In fact, out of the 521 articles so far on this site, today’s is the first one posted on this intercalary day — joining numerous other important events which occurred on February 29.

For the past two-and-a-half leap years (ten years) I have been on a quest for photographic-equipment nirvana. The last stage of this journey started about three and a half years ago, when I took my first step into a brand-​new Micro Four Thirds world by purchasing my beloved Olympus OM-D E-M5. Of course, in addition to a camera body, the most important components of a camera system are the lenses.

During these three and a half years, I have been adding to, and subtracting from, my Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) lens kit. Over that time I have written a few articles which described the composition of my lens kit at that time: As you can see, I seem to be on a two-year cycle for lens-kit articles. Since my last report almost two years ago, my µ4/3 lens kit has changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly. In 2015, after three prime-lens-only photo outings, I evalu­ated my experiences and reached my final verdict on prime-lens-only photo­graphy, which resulted in selling most of my µ4/3 prime lenses.

There are two prime lenses that I still own which I am not listing below as part of my µ4/3 lens kit. One is my Olympus 75mm which I am still trying to sell. The other is an old prime lens from my grandfather which I adapted for µ4/3 use, which has sentimental value, but not a whole lot of practical value. I don’t take either of these prime lenses with me when I go on photo outings.

Even though my prime lens collection has been greatly diminished, I have not added any new zoom lenses to my kit since I bought a Panasonic 35-​100​mm over three years ago. During the past year Olympus and Panasonic have come out with a number of appealing, pro-​level zoom lenses, but as I recently declared, I do NOT need to upgrade my photo­graphic equip­ment! I am very happy, content and satisfied with the camera and lenses I already own, which are all mentioned here in this article.

I can’t neglect to highlight a vital part of my photographic equipment: the wonderful Tamrac Evolution 8 Camera Backpack. Not only does it safely carry my camera body and five lenses, but its intelligent design allows me to access everything without having to take the pack off. In addition, I can carry bottles of water and snacks, as well as a variety of photographic accessories, like spare batteries, memory cards, filters, lens-cleaning equip­ment, and more. I would be totally lost without this awesome component of my kit!

Ever since my prime-lens spring clean­ing fever last March, my µ4/3 lens kit has reach a stability which seems very close to the state of photographic-equipment nirvana. At this point I have no plans to acquire any more lenses, nor to dispose of any (except for the 75mm I’m still trying to sell from last year).

As in my previous lens articles, I’ve tried to scale the product image of each lens 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. So without further ado, here is my refined, up-to-date Micro Four Thirds lens kit as of 2016.

It is professional-level lenses like the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-​35​mm f/2.8 zoom lens, with a 35mm-​equiv­a­lent focal length of 24-​70​mm, that are helping the µ4/3 system to be taken seriously.

One of the few in Panasonic’s premium X Series, this lens is the foundation of my kit, being the normal, every­day glass 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. You can browse through the many photos I have taken with this lens.

Its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures good low-light performance. Its metal construction and weather sealing is a great match for the metal-bodied, weather-sealed E-M5. The lens measures 2.7 x 2.9 inches (68 x 74mm) and weighs 10.8 oz. (305g). When I bought it in July 2012 it set me back $1,300, but as of the writing of this article it is going for $797 on Amazon. See, if you want cheaper equipment, just wait a few years! Of course, in the meantime you would be without a nice lens.

Big brother to the above-​men­tioned 12-​35​mm, the Pan­a­son­ic Lumix G X Vario 35 – 100 mm f/2.8 zoom lens, with a 35mm-​equivalent focal length of 70-​200​mm, is another pro­fes­sional-​lev­el lens foun­da­tional to my kit.

This lens measures 2.7 x 3.9 inch­es (67.4 x 100 mm) and weighs 12.7 oz (360 g). I paid a hefty $1,500 when it first be­came avail­a­ble in November 2012. Once again, the price has dropped dra­mat­ic­al­ly over the years, so that you can now pick it up for “only” $900 on Ama­zon. C’est la vie!

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 when zooming to longer focal lengths, while the 12-​35​mm does. In fact, when the 12-​35​mm is fully extended, it’s very nearly the same length as the 35-​100​mm.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote that I wasn’t using this lens very much. During 2013 and 2014 I took only 430 pictures with it. But in that article I vowed to use it more, seeing that it is such a wonderful lens. I have definitely kept that vow, because in 2015 I took 2,483 photos with it — nearly six times more than the two previous years combined! I have finally realized how indispensable this lens is! You can browse through the photos I have taken with this lens. If I could have only two lenses, it would be this one and the 12-​35​mm mentioned above.

With the longest 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). Meas­ur­ing 2.9 x 5 inches (74 x 126 mm) and weigh­ing 18.3 oz. (520 g), it’s amaz­ing to have this level of magni­fi­ca­tion in such a rel­a­tive­ly light and small package — it’s definitely not a burden to take on an outing!

This lens is one of the original members of my kit, and has been useful in various circumstances over the past couple of years. Too bad that it’s not weather-sealed like the previous two lenses. I could possibly have gone with the equally-unsealed, similarly-priced Olympus M.Zuiko 75-​300​mm f4.8-6.7 II, but its dismally-​slow maximum aperture of f/4.8-6.7 is really unappealing.

After using it for about a year, I added a German tripod collar as an accessory. Even though this lens is not too long when zoomed back to 100mm, it extends a further 2.5 inches when fully zoomed to 300mm. At longer focal lengths, you can improve image sharpness by mounting the cam­er­a/​lens assembly on a tripod. Using a collar on this lens makes the assembly much more balance and stable on the tripod.

This consumer-quality lens has not dropped in price as drastically as its much-more-expensive, pro-level siblings. I bought it in July 2012 for $600, and the current price on Amazon is $525. I have not been overly impressed with the image quality and focusing speed of this lens, although at times it does perform well — see the photos in the Lompoc Surf Beach 2015 album for some good examples. Still, the image sharpness is not what I would hope. You can browse through the other photos I have taken with this lens.

Panasonic has announced a pro-level lens which would be a good upgrade — the Panasonic Lumix Leica 100-​400​mm f/4.0-6.3. Even though it will not be avail­able for purchase until next month, it is already generating quite a bit of ex­cite­ment. Perhaps taking a cue from the German tripod collar manufacturer, Panasonic is including their own collar with the lens. This weather-sealed lens is quite a bit bigger and heavier than the 100-​300​mm, measuring 3.3 x 6.75 inches (83 x 172mm) and weighing in at 34.8 oz. (985g) without the collar. Not only is the weight a lot heftier, but the price is as well: $1,800! Of course, just wait three or four years, and you will probably be able to get one for only $1,200!

If I did a lot of sports or nature photography, I might be tempted to buy this lens. But for now, on most of my Portland outings I have not needed this lens very much — I used it for only 10% of my shots in 2015. In addition, my 100-​300​mm barely fits into my beloved camera backpack. I would have a very difficult time trying to squeeze in the larger 100-​400​mm lens instead, not to mention the additional pound of weight. Seeing that I am not really even using my older 100-300mm lens, for now I am very content not to upgrade!

Sometimes you have to go really wide to get the shot you want. When the minimum focal length of my 12-​35​mm lens is not wide enough, I turn to the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 zoom lens, (14-​28​mm equiv­a­lent). I love the unique per­spec­tive that this ultra-wide-angle lens provides.

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 above, 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. All in all, it measures 2.95 x 3.27 inches (75 x 83mm) and weighs 10.6 oz (300g).

Even though it is invaluable when I really need it, in the end I don’t use this lens very much — less than 2% of my photos were taken with it in 2015. Part of the reason is that, like the Panasonic 100-​300​mm, I am somewhat disappointed by the sharpness of the pictures it produces, especially at the edges. Of course, this is a common issue with many ultra-wide-angle lenses. This lens has rave reviews on Amazon, and won a DP Review Silver Award. Nevertheless, its slow speed of f/4.0 and its lack of sharpness at the edges causes me to hesitate to use it unless I really need the wider angle of view it provides. You can browse through the photos I have taken with this lens.

When I bought this lens it cost me $920, but you can get it now for about $800 at Amazon. During the past few years I have been tempted to replace it with a couple of similar lenses from Olympus. There is the sig­nif­i­cant­ly-​cheaper, consumer-​level M.​Zui­ko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 ($500 Amazon), but it does not have as wide of an angle (9mm vs. 7mm), and it is even slower (f/4.0-5.6 versus a constant f/4.0).

Last year Olympus came out with a pro-​level wide-​angle zoom. The M.Zuiko Dig­it­al ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is just as fast as my f/2.8 12-​35mm and 35-​100mm lenses, but that extra low​–light performance comes at the cost of 78% more weight and 42% more bulk — and an $1,100 price tag. From what I have read, its image quality is somewhat better than the Panasonic version I already own, but not by that much. I just don’t use a lens like this often enough to justify the “upgrade.” Once again ... thanks, but no thanks!

Last but not least, we come to the only prime lens in my kit which I take with me on photo outings. When I first put my lens kit together, I had pur­chased a Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Macro-​Elmarit 45mm f/2.8. But later that year I swapped it for the just-​released, weather-​sealed Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 120mm equiv­a­lent). This little beauty measures 2.2 x 3.2 inches (56 x 82mm) and weighs only 6.5 oz (185g). To find out more about this macro lens, and why I like it bet­ter than the Panasonic, see my article: Macro Lens Swap. All in all, I’ve been happy with it. You can browse through the photos I have taken with this lens.

This lens requires a special hood, which Olympus did not include with the lens. This hood appears to be unique in that it has a mechanism which allows it to slide down over the body when not needed, allowing the hood to remain on the lens when not being utilized or when stored. But $45 for a plastic hood is definitely highway robbery! For­tu­nate­ly there are some much-​cheaper third-party alternatives.After using it for a couple of years I find it quite awk­ward, and would much prefer a standard, non-sliding, detachable lens hood.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 521
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Reader Comments
On August 1, 2016, Dusty wrote:
Just wondering whether you have had any purple fringing issues with your Panasonic lenses on the Olympus body? It's a combination I'm thinking of, especially the Panasonic 35-100/2.8 lens. Thanks
On August 3, 2016, Brian wrote:

In reply to Dusty’s question:

To start with, it is important that you know that I shoot and work with RAW images and not just JPG. Any purple fringing I encounter in my photos is easily and quickly removed (99% of the time) in Adobe Lightroom, so it is generally not an issue for me. If I were shooting JPGs only, it would be more of a problem.

From what I understand, pretty much any lens will produce purple fringing under the right (or wrong!) conditions ... it’s just a law of physics. I find it most often when shooting darker subjects against a brighter background ... usually trees against the sky.

In my experience I don’t think the Panasonic 35-100/2.8 nor the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 have any unusual problems with purple fringing. On the other hand, the Panasonic 7-14/4.0 often has purple fringing problems. Even worse, there can also be purple splotches.

Look at this photo I took just yesterday at my daughter’s new apartment. Purple fringing (around the windows), plus ugly purple splotches (on the walls and on the couch). Admittedly, it was very difficult lighting (quite dark inside, quite bright outside). Even with the 12-35 or 35-100 lenses there probably would have been some purple fringing, easily fixed in Lightroom, but not those purple splotches.

I haven’t had time to fix the purple splotches yet, but it is a lot harder to fix than purple fringing. I will have to use Photoshop, because from my experience Lightroom is not up to the job (or else I’m not enough of a Lightroom expert).

From what I remember reading, if you use Panasonic lenses with a Panasonic body, or Olympus lenses with an Olympus body, and shoot JPG, Panasonic and Olympus remove the purple fringing in-camera as they process the JPG (along with a lot of other processing). I kind of doubt that that processing would have eliminated the purple splotches, but I could be wrong on that.

The reason I shoot RAW is because I want to be in charge of the processing myself, rather than letting Panasonic or Olympus be in control. It is much more likely the photo will turn out the way I want if I am doing my own processing rather than letting someone (or something) else do it for me.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 521
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