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Friday, March 30, 2012


Comparing M4/3 lenses

This blog has not been updated very regularly lately. It was intended to tell of my life in Asia. I'm still in Asia but lately I'm not doing much that I consider to be particularly different. What I am doing is becoming more involved with photography as I get to know my Lumix G2 camera and its lenses. If you want to see what I'm doing these days, my flickr page is updated regularly—much more than this blog.

The camera I have chosen is one of many micro-four-thirds cameras that have become popular for their quality images and compact size. There are now many lenses available for M4/3 users and recently I was asked about the ones I have used. I've decided to put my thoughts down for the benefit of anyone who may be interested.

When you buy your camera it will probably come with a kit lens. It will be a basic lens and if you only have one it is the one to have. But if you only ever have one lens, why buy an interchangeable-lens camera? I'd suggest buying a compact camera with a more flexible lens—a camera such as a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 which takes great pictures just the way it comes out of the box.

The kit lens that usually comes with the Lumix range of M4/3 cameras is a 14-42mm lens. It does what it's intended for and some people continue to use this lens after they have another but I have to say I rarely do. You can check out pictures taken with this lens here. There are some great shots. Make up your own mind.

If I was starting over again, I would try to buy my camera with just the f1.7 20mm pancake lens. A pancake lens is one that is designed to be compact and if compactness is the reason you are buying your M4/3 camera this one won't add much to the bulk. I find this lens very useful. It gives sharp images and a wide angle of view—but it doesn't zoom. The maximum aperture of f1.7 means it lets in a lot of light. I often use mine to take night shots without a flash. This wide aperture also means it will blur the background for those of us who like a shallow depth of field. It can be used for portraits but it is best to not get too close to the subject or it distorts the face just a little. Better to stand back a bit and then crop the image if you wish.

When you start with a new camera I think it is best to stick to just one lens and get to know it really well. Take your time and learn what you can and can't do with it. Then ask yourself what you want to do that this lens doesn't do for you. I enjoy photographing wildlife and also candid photography and therefore a zoom will get me much closer to my subject than the pancake lens. But how much zoom do I need?

I opted for the Vario 45-200mm zoom lens. I love it. The image quality is great. Once I started using it I rarely took it off my camera. Just occasionally when I am shooting birds or something else small and in the distance I lust after a Vario 100-300mm which gives 50% more zoom power. Until recently I'd never used one of these but my flickr friends who have one speak highly and their pics support their enthusiasm. Is it worth the extra cost? Depends on how important it is for you to shoot distant smallish subjects. One possible downside of this lens if you travel frequently is that it weighs 520g compared to 380g for the 45-200. On the other hand it's a lot lighter than an SLR lens with similar zoom power.

If you start with the 20mm pancake and then add the 100-300mm zoom, that means you don't have anything to cater for focal lengths between 20mm and 100mm. There are several options available to fill those gaps.

In my previous blog post I wrote about the Lumix workshop I attended in KL. This gave me the opportunity to test out two Leica branded lenses. First I got my hands on a Leica DG Summilux 25mm f1.4. I really like this lens. I used it for portraits and for wildlife shots although at 25mm it wasn't really suited to subjects in the distance. I had a high success rate with this lens even though I'd never used it before. I didn't use it in low light but with an aperture rating of f1.4 it should be even better than the 20mm pancake lens.

Next I tried the the Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f2.8. No one showed me how to use it. I wasn't aware that there was a switch to change from close to distant focusing. I still don't know which setting I was using. Maybe I should have looked more closely at the lens but I didn't. My success rate was very poor but the good shots were excellent. I could see it had potential.

After the workshop Panasonic offered us deals on all their lenses. I can't afford to buy multiple lenses. I had three lenses on my shortlist. I decided that if the deal was good enough I would buy one. The 45mm macro lens was the best deal in my opinion so I went with it. It has replaced the 45-200 as the lens that spends most time on my camera. I still have a low success rate with this lens but the good shots are stunning. It is not just a macro lens, with the flick of the switch it becomes a multi-purpose 45mm lens. This is a good focal length for portraits on M4/3. It gives great detail so if someone's skin is as blemished as mine, beware. It is very honest. I would have difficulty lying about my age when providing a portrait made with this lens.

All the above lenses are made by Panasonic but micro-four-thirds is not just Panasonic. It was developed by Panasonic and Olympus together. Other manufacturers are also making lenses for M4/3 cameras.

I've tried only one other lens and only for a few shots. That was Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8. It's a great lens. If you feel the need for a 45mm lens and shooting in low light is more important for you than shooting macro than go with this one. Perhaps eventually I'll own both this and the 45mm Leica macro lens. But for now I'll stick with my 20mm f1.7 for low-light shots. Compare prices, for what it does, the Olympus lens is a good buy.

Since I started writing this I have had the opportunity to use the above-mentioned 100-300 lens. I want one! But it doesn't come cheap and for the moment I'm still getting to know the 45mm macro lens. So, for now it will remain on my wish list.

What else is there? Lots. Panasonic has, I believe, three lenses for wide-angle photography. There is the rest of the Olympus M4/3 range that I have not even mentioned. There are M4/3 lenses made by other manufacturers. Amazon list about a dozen. If you want to be adventurous you can buy adaptors to fit SLR lenses to your M4/3 camera. That opens up so many possibilities. Here's a group that explores that option. At this point in time, I know next to nothing about all these lenses so you'll have to do your own research if you want to go down any of these tracks.

Have fun and happy shooting.

Please note: links in this post will take you to examples of pictures by various photographers taken with the camera or lens mentioned.

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