m43 25mm lenses compared


If you’re an m43 gearhead geek, you will love this article by Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals. But if you’re not an m43 geerhead geek, I recommend just skipping this post.

What I found interesting is that the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 has a lot of sample variation, and I think I’ve encountered this problem with other Panasonic lenses. I have a 14mm f/2.5 lens, and the performance is pretty disappointing, but other people on the internet insist it’s a great lens, so I assume I have a bad copy. On the other hand, my 25mm f/1.4 is quite sharp, so I guess I lucked out with that lens.

Another reason I tend to avoid Panasonic lenses is because they cause more fringing, especially on Olympus cameras. For example, when I used the 25mm f/1.4 outdoors, wide open, I saw purple haze around bright objects in the photo. I’ve also encountered other weird fringing with the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 that didn’t correct well with the tools available in Adobe Camera Raw. Unfortunately, this is a lens flaw that Roger Cicala doesn’t test for.

Regarding the Olympus lens, Roger Cicala noted that the lens has field curvature, and this is something that affects all of the Olympus 1.8/2.0 primes. Don’t expect to take a picture of a brick wall with these lenses wide open and see sharp bricks in the corners.

Roger Cicala also noted the significant sample variation for the 25mm f/1.8 at the corners. That’s another problem that I’ve noticed that afflicts the Olympus prime lenses. There are a lot of de-centered lenses, where you have one side or corner that’s more out of focus.

Roger Cicala didn’t compare the 25mm f/1.8 to the 25mm f/1.2 when both were at f/1.8. They are both pretty similar at f/2.8, and the f/1.8 is quite a bit sharper at f/1.8 than the f/1.2 lens is either at f/1.4 or f/1.2.

In my opinion, the conclusion from the tests are as follows:

1. The f/1.8 is the sharpest lens wide open, and that’s the lens to buy if you don’t need an aperture wider than f/1.8. Especially if you have an Olympus camera, because I don’t think that Panasonic lenses work as well on Olympus cameras.

2. If you do buy the f/1.8, make sure you test it for de-centering and buy it from a place where you can return/exchange it if you feel you have an especially bad copy (but be realistic, don’t expect perfection centering).

3. The f/1.2 is a pretty good lens if you desire something faster than f/1.8 and you can afford it. And you don’t mind the size and weight. I don’t see myself buying one in the future; I rarely use the 25mm lenses that I already own.

The current price for the f/1.8 is $324, which is the least expensive of the lenses tested, but that’s still a lot of money for a normal prime lens of only a modest f/1.8 aperture. I suspect that Olympus (and Panasonic) have a very high profit margin on these lenses.

I don’t shoot that often at 25mm (which is approximately equivalent to 50mm on full frame), but it would be a great focal length for taking flattering pictures of yourself to post on social media. Wider-than-normal lenses produce unflattering distortion, while longer-than-normal lenses look like your trying too hard.

Olympus 12mm F/2.0 lens, corner test

The upper right corner of my Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F/2.0 lens seems to be the weakest of the four corners.

The comparison between first two crops demonstrates that the lens has field curvature. When focusing in the center at F/2.0, the corner is pretty soft, but then when you focus using the focus point closest to the upper-right corner (the second crop), the corner gets quite a bit sharper.

Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 only results in a slight increase in corner sharpness. That’s as sharp as the corner gets. It never gets tack sharp.

Now one could say that normally there’s nothing important in the extreme corners of the photo, or that on a 12×18” print you wouldn’t notice the issue at all unless you examine the print with a magnifying glass.

But I think that when a lens sells for $799, and on top of that only has a modest (for a prime lens) f/2.0 aperture (which is only equivalent, approximately, to an f/4.0 full-frame lens), there’s an expectation of extreme image quality, and this lens falls short of being a $799 lens, especially when compared to the 12-40mm f/2.8 “PRO” zoom which is only two hundred dollars more expensive and has sharper corners.

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Read my previous 12mm F/2.0 post: Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens, first impressions review

Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens, first impressions review

If you have been reading my blog, you may recall that I bought the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 lens with my Pen-F last week. Olympus was having an August sale where the prime lenses were $300 off list price with the purchase of a Pen-F.

12mm f/2.0 on Micro Four Thirds is equivalent to 25mm f/4.2 on a full-frame camera if you crop the Micro Four Thirds image to a 3:2 aspect ratio. (See my post on the Micro Four Thirds focal length multiplier. )

The lens can be purchased in two colors: black and silver. I chose black, and I am nearly certain that I made the right choice. The black 12mm f2 is the most beautiful Olympus lens that I own. It looks more elegant and retro than the silver 17mm f/1.8 which I also own. I think this partially has to do with the shape of the lens; the 17mm has a more modern-looking shape. But I also think that silver is just too flashy and makes the camera look more modern, even though I am aware that silver lenses were actually popular in the 1950s. Ironically, 1950s Leica was probably trying to make its cameras look futuristic, but today we want cameras that look like they’re from the 1950s. (Because after you strip away all of our high-tech gadgets like computers, smartphones, digital cameras and high-speed internet, underneath the 2010s suck compared to the 1950s.)

The black 12mm f2 looks awesome on the black and silver Pen-F. After using the E-P5 with the huge 12-40mm, the Pen-F, with the small 12mm lens and a built-in EVF instead of a big ugly plastic add-on EVF hump, has such a lightness and ease of use about it. Using it gives you such a feeling of joy.

Some readers are no doubt wondering, by this point, “but how does it function as a lens?” As a lens, it’s a little bit disappointing. Not because it’s a bad lens. It’s definitely sharper than the 9-18mm at the same focal length, and far superior to the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5. If I did not know about the 12-40mm “PRO” zoom (which people didn’t in 2011 when this lens was first introduced, because the “PRO” zoom didn’t exist back then), then I might proclaim “finally, a sharp wide-angle lens!”

This lens is perfectly useable at f/2.0, as long as you don’t expect super-sharp corners. The Olympus primes are generally not intended to take pictures of brick walls wide open, but if what you focus on is in the central two-thirds of the frame, then you will get a sharp picture. But not as sharp as the 12-40mm zoom at f/2.8. In fact, I am pretty sure that at all matching focal lengths, the 12-40mm is very slightly sharper than the 12mm f2 in the center, and more noticeably superior in the corners. If you want across-the-frame sharpness, then you need to stop down the 12mm prime to f/5.6.

I would say that, in the corners, compared to the 12-40mm zoom, the 12mm prime has less contrast and is softer. The 12mm also gets a little bit of purple fringing in the corners if there are tree leaves or branches there, while the 12-40mm is totally free from purple fringing. Also, I think that the 12mm prime has a little bit of an astigmatism. This is noticeable with certain subjects, like brick buildings, and it causes the edges of the photo to have an unpleasant nervous look. The 12mm has less lateral chromatic aberration, so that’s one benefit of the 12mm. (But lateral CA is automatically corrected in Adobe Camera Raw if you check the box, so it’s not an especially big benefit.)

I think that the 12mm has some field curvature, which means that the corners are front-focused relative to the center. This is a lot more prominent on the 17mm f/1.8 lens, but I still think it’s a good idea, when using this lens, to not use the focus and then recompose method. (Luckily you don’t have to do that on Olympus cameras, which have focus points all over the frame except for the extreme edges.) Also, corner sharpness when focused at infinity may be improved slightly by using a focus point near the corner (thus causing the center to be focused a little bit past infinity). I always use that method with the 17mm lens to get sharper corners without any noticeable detrimental impact on center sharpness.

The 12mm prime is slightly wider than the 12-40mm at its widest. So maybe the 12-40mm is really a 12.4-40mm. Or maybe the 12mm prime is really an 11.5mm prime.

Should you buy this lens? Considering that this lens has a list price of $799, and the 12-40mm zoom is only $200 more than that, the zoom is a much better value. Buy this lens because you want small and light and are sure that you want this focal length (which is a more challenging focal length than 17mm). Buy this lens because it looks so beautiful on a Pen-F. Buy this lens because you get an extra f-stop over the 12-40mm. (But unfortunately, even with f/2, you won’t get much bokeh on this lens. If you want wide-angle bokeh, that’s an area where full-frame shines over Micro Four Thirds.) Don’t buy this lens because you think that a prime lens means superior image quality over a zoom lens. It doesn’t. My overall conclusion is that this lens is overpriced at $799, overpriced at its current sale price of $699, and yes, even for $499 it’s still kind of expensive.

Also note that Olympus is too much into nickel and diming its customers to include a lens hood with this lens, making the value proposition slightly worse. Being too cheap to buy the official Olympus lens hood for $59.95, I bought a Sensei 52mm wide-angle screw-in rubber lens hood for only $6.95. Used with a 46-52mm step up ring, over a 46mm Firecrest UV400 filter, there is no vignetting. However, the rubber lens hood does significantly ruin the aesthetics of the lens, and the how the lens looks on the camera is one of its main selling points.

If you are looking for the most amazingly impressive wide-angle image quality in a small camera, plus bokeh, I’m afraid that the camera for you is the Leica Q rather than any Micro Four Thirds camera. Yes, I’ve pixel peeped at some Leica Q samples posted on the internet, and I am really blown away by the quality of that lens. It’s head and shoulders above the Olympus 12mm prime. But that Leica Q costs $4250, and that’s pretty expensive. Remember what I said a few days ago when I bought the Pen-F: you don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

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I haven’t had much opportunity to actually take many pictures with this lens. And I don’t have any which demonstrate the benefits of f/2. The photo above is a quickie of 7th Avenue in Manhattan which I took while walking home from work earlier this week. I cropped it to my favorite aspect ratio of 3:2, but otherwise there are no other lens corrections.

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Read my next 12mm F/2.0 post: Olympus 12mm F/2.0 lens, corner test

Pen-F review, part 3, EVF and display options

I’ve already discussed the aesthetic advantages of having the EVF built into the camera, but this is such a big advantage it’s worth restating. It’s so much more elegant than having a huge ugly plastic VF-4 sitting atop the flash hot shoe on the Olympus E-P5 camera that precedes the Pen-F.

The primary benefit of the VF-4 is that it has greater magnification and presents an image that’s noticeably larger. (A secondary benefit is that it swivels. And the diopter dial is a little bit easier to use.)

But otherwise, I find that I prefer the Pen-F EVF. The image is clearer and has more accurate colors. It somehow looks more natural and less electronic. I haven’t found the Pen-F EVF any more difficult to use with eyeglasses than the VF-4.

The Pen-F has improved live-view display options over what was available on previous Olympus cameras. The E-P5 can only display one of the following features at a time: shadows & highlights, histogram, or level indicators. With the Pen-F, you can display all three at once if you want to!

Shadows & Highlights is a display mode unique to Olympus cameras, which causes highlights (that would be blown out in the JPEG) to display in orange and shadows (that would be black in the JPEG) to display in blue. I always have this feature turned on, and it’s one of the main reasons I could never go back to using a DSLR. This mode allows you to expose to the right (thus minimizing noise) without blowing out any highlights. Even when ISO is set to “Low” (which I recommend whenever you have the time to carefully adjust your exposure), you can have a little bit of orange and still recover the highlights in Adobe Camera Raw.

Most (but not all) other brands of mirrorless cameras now have zebra patterns, which are supposed to do the same thing as the orange highlight indicators on Olympus cameras, and in fact they may offer more customization over when the zebra patterns are displayed. However, I have not personally used any camera which offers zebra patterns. As far as I know, only Olympus has shadow indicators.

Another new feature of the Pen-F which wasn’t available with the E-P5 is that you can set the viewfinder display so that various indicators such as f-stop, shutter speed, exposure compensation, etc., move to a bar below the image. This makes it easier to compose the photo because those indicators are no longer blocking your view of the bottom of the image. It also makes the viewfinder more SLR-like.

In conclusion, the EVF and the live-view display options on the Pen-F are a big improvement over earlier-model Olympus cameras.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Olympus sure did stuff a lot of buttons and dials into the relatively small Pen-F camera. It’s the total opposite philosophy of the Leica TL2 (which I’ve mentioned twice before in this blog: There’s no mode dial on a Leica TL2, Leica TL2: the world’s most overpriced camera?). The Leica TL2 hardly has any buttons and only has two dials, and doesn’t even have a mode dial! With the Leica TL2, you’re supposed to use the touchscreen to do everything.

On the Pen-F, you get the front and rear assignable dials, a mode dial, an exposure compensation dial, a diopter adjustment dial (which is very useful for people who need vision correction and don’t want to wear glasses while looking through the viewfinder), a front JPEG dial (or whatever it’s officially called), an on-off switch that’s shaped like a dial, and a JPEG lever (all the other Pen-F reviews mention the useless [to RAW shooters] JPEG dial, but the fact that there’s also a useless JPEG lever took me by surprise). And then you get two “function” buttons, a magnifier button, a depth-of-field preview button (on the bottom front of the camera), an orange button, plus the standard array of 9 buttons used for menu navigation and previewing.

Yes, there are a lot of dials and buttons, but most of them are in awkward locations. The people who designed the Ricoh GR had the goal of placing the controls such that they are all easy to access while holding the camera with one hand. The Olympus Pen-F control placement gives me the impression that they started out with the goal placing dials wherever they would make the camera look the most retro, and then wherever there was some empty space left over, they added some extra buttons. It’s a great marketing accomplishment, but a dubious accomplishment in camera ergonomics.

All of the buttons mentioned above, plus two of the buttons on the directional menu, can be assigned to various functions, allowing one-touch access to commonly used functions without having to access the “Super Control Panel.” But there is still some customization I feel is missing. You can assign one button to “AEL/AFL,” but what if you want to have one button do AEL and another button do AFL? I actually do want that, but it’s not an option.

It would also be nice if you were allowed to assign the JPEG lever to a more useful task. I think it would make a great ISO lever.

But overall, the amount of dial and button customization you can do has increased over the previous Olympus E-P5. This is a welcome change. I especially appreciate that there are C1 to C4 modes on the mode dial. This makes it easier to assign and use custom modes. The E-P5 does allow you to overwrite useless settings like “Art” with custom modes, but having actual C1 to C4 settings on the mode dial is more intuitive.

I’ve set up my buttons and dials as follows:

Front dial: exposure compensation (in aperture priority mode)
Rear dial: f-stop (in aperture priority mode)
Exposure compensation dial: flash compensation (this assignment is necessary to allow the one of the other dials to be used for regular exposure compensation)
Orange button: AEL/AFL (The orange button by default is for video, but I use AEL/AFL often and the orange button is the easiest button to reach.)

And I don’t know what to do with the other buttons.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 3, EVF and display options

Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

The Olympus Pen-F has been lauded by most reviewers for its retro looks. But I think that everyone ignored the camera that preceded it, the Olympus E-P5.

Side by side, they don’t look that much different. Olympus used just a few tweaks to amp up the retro-ness.

1. The modern, but very useful, front grip is replaced by a JPEG wheel. Which of course, in old cameras, represented something else. The JPEG wheel is useless to serious shooters who shoot RAW. For the next PEN, please lose the wheel and bring back the grip. The E-P5 was much more comfortable to hold. (But I doubt that will happen. Olympus got too much positive press over the silly wheel, but not much negative press for removing the grip.)

2. The dials, which on the E-P5 are flush with the top plate of the camera or partially hidden within the body, are now big and protruding on the Pen-F, like dials from the 1950s. And as much praise as these dials have gotten, I think the dials in the E-P5 feel better. The front dial around the shutter button feels kind of unpleasantly loose on my Pen-F.

3. There’s a new dedicated exposure compensation dial. I find it way too stiff, and it was probably made that way to prevent it from accidentally being turned and consequently messing up your exposure, but I don’t find it pleasant to use. I like to fiddle with my exposure before each shot in order to get the perfect exposure. I believe the camera lets you set one of the other dials to exposure compensation, so I may wind up doing that and ignoring the exposure compensation dial just as I ignore the JPEG dial. In which case they both become useless retro ornaments. [Upon further examination of the camera, you have to set the exposure dial either for general exposure or flash compensation.]

4. The silver metal parts of the body are less shiny and more matte.

5. The black part of the camera body is more textured.

6. The on-off switch is now a more old-timey dial instead of a modern toggle switch.

The E-P5 had one huge Achilles heel. And that is that it didn’t have a built-in viewfinder. And because of that, it didn’t get the respect it deserved. There is a really high quality add-on viewfinder, the VF-4, but that thing is huge. It adds a huge black plastic lump on top of an otherwise svelte metallic body. It totally ruined the look of the camera, made it take up a lot more space in your bag, and prevented you from using an external flash in the hot shoe while simultaneously using the viewfinder.

I have no doubt that the Pen-F is a much bigger success than the E-P5 because Olympus gave the people what they wanted, a built-in viewfinder. Despite the missing viewfinder, the E-P5 is the camera I’ve liked best of all cameras I’ve ever used. But I agree that it’s a lot better to have a built-in viewfinder, and I am hopeful that I will come to love the Pen-F more than I loved the E-P5, the addition of the viewfinder making up for the loss of some of the other stuff that I liked.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F, why now?

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo