Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8 review

Before anything else, I have to say that I'm not a photographer. Not by a long shot. I used to think that it wasn't in my character. I would say that I preferred to experience things, not document them. I disliked the growing trend of  humongous-obnoxious SLR cameras becoming commonplace. My attitude towards photography changed when our son was born, and after a fair amount of research, I realized the only tool for me was a Micro Four Thirds camera. To my utmost surprise, I really took to photography and it's been a source of joy these past few years.

As a former tech journalist, I jumped into photography knowing more than usual, maybe too much. I used to write about the gear. I had worked with some of the country's best photographers. Since day one, I've been trying to get my craft (and my modest collection of gear) up to snuff.

Here I am now, reviewing camera gear. But not because I'm any kind of expert. Sure, I think I have a knack for explaining complex technical things simply, but mostly I'm reviewing stuff just for fun. Yes, I have some experience reviewing gadgets, including some cameras. More than anything though, this is just something I want to share. It has worked for me, it's made me happy, and I have some neat photos of my kid. Some like-minded person out there may find this post useful and entertaining. This review is based on real world usage. And photos really do speak for themselves, so even if I do my worst, the photos should be able to tell you something.

Okay that's out of the way. Without further ado, here's the full review of the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8.

Build and Handling

A lot has been said already about this lens, so I'll try not to repeat what others have said. On the camera, the lens looks great. It feels heavier (and hence more serious) than the 14-42mm kit lens. They're both made of plastic, but the 45mm manages to come out on top. You'd think it were made of metal until you look closer.

A number of people have complained about the removable end where the lens hood (sold separately) screws on. I didn't find it to be troublesome, but it depends on how you hold the camera. It could get in the way for some people, but mostly, I don't think it's anything to worry about.

I will complain about the price of that lens hood. It just makes no sense. And as one pro photographer told me, "Lens flare? Cover the top of the lens with your hand."

Other than that, it's a drop dead simple lens. It's a prime so there's no zoom ring, just a focus ring. The focus ring is an electronic one, so it's hard to tell where exactly you are if you're used to manual lenses.

Autofocus with the E-P3 and the 45mm is an absolute joy. Focus locks instantly and rarely ever goes into that backward and forward hunting for focus snafu, except in very dark situations, which is to be expected. This fast AF lock is no surprise as the 45mm was made to work with the E-P3's autofocus, and it really works.

Image Quality - Portraits

I thought I would find this focal length troublesome, having a couple of 100mm equivalent lenses in my collection. I was pleasantly surprised to find that 90mm is much easier to use. The 10mm difference is significant. That said, I did find myself backpedaling a lot and cropping people accidentally.

(Some street photographers also prefer a longer focal length to get close to their subject without actually getting close. I wish I could say I tried this, but I'm no street photographer, that's for sure.)

Once you do get used to the focal length, you'll find the images to be very intimate and plenty sharp. If faces are your landscape, you'll never tire of shooting with this lens.

I found the results to be quite sharp even wide open at f/1.8, and I have to say that shooting at that aperture is a real treat. I may never go back to zoom lenses with their relatively slow apertures!

Just how sharp is it? Well, I'd say it's sharper than the Panasonic 20mm. That lens is no slouch.

Of course, the additional bonus of a long focal length AND a wide aperture is bokeh or background blur. With the Olympus 45mm, you get lots of that. Leica fanatics prize smooth and creamy bokeh and this lens delivers bokeh with those characteristics. (Personally, I find oddly shaped bokeh to be interesting, but to each his own.)

ISO 400, f/1.8, 1/250

It's me!

My niece and nephew playing with Siri. I love how it feels like you're huddling with them when I was actually quite far.

ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/1250

Image Quality - Other Situations

Just because it's a portrait lens, doesn't mean you have to use it only for portraits. Here are some mandatory flower photos.

ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/4000

There are ants on the flower if you look closely.

This is NOT a macro lens. The minimum focusing distance doesn't bother me so much. It's middle of the road at 0.5m. You can still get your lens close enough to the pretty flowers. If you want macro, you'd best look at Panasonic's portrait AND macro lens for M43. It's not as fast as this lens though.

ISO 200, f/4.5, 5.0 secs

This lens is by no means ideal for landscape photos, but I say rules were made to be broken. Shot this during New Year's Eve. Again, I was very happy with the sharpness here. If I had known this, I might have actually charged my battery on that day. Hahaha! My pleasant shooting experience was over by 11:00pm.


It's easy to recommend this lens to anyone with a Micro Four Thirds camera. I'd say 99% of us buy a camera to shoot our friends and family, and this lens was made for that. It's capable of taking some very beautiful photos with super creamy bokeh. So what's not to love? Macro would have really made this a killer lens, but even without that, this lens is a solid performer and quite reasonably priced. It's a joy to shoot with.

1 comment:

Leon Bingham said...

Thank you for the great review and sample photos, makes a nice change from looking at reviews with test shots of charts etc - I have bought an OM-D and this going to be the next lens I buy - Thanks again and keep up the good work