In June of 2011, Olympus announced two new prime lenses for the Micro 4/3 standard: the M.Zuiko 12mm f/2 and the M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8. Today I’m going to take a closer look at the 45mm f/1.8, which I have had the pleasure of shooting with for the past few months. It was quite refreshing to see Olympus start to release lenses for the Micro 4/3 standard that appeal to enthusiasts and not just the casual photographer looking for a small step up from a point and shoot. Olympus has many lenses for the Micro 4/3 format, but few primes. In fact, the tiny 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens was the company’s only prime lens in the lineup until the announcement of these two new lenses. Both these lenses addressed a need for the system, but none more than the 45mm f/1.8. The Micro 4/3 standard had some excellent ultra-wide options, some quality normal focal length options and plenty of slow standard and telephoto zooms. What was sorely lacking was a fast prime in the prototypical ‘portrait focal length’, which in 35mm film terms has been lenses between 85mm and 135mm. With the 45mm f/1.8, Olympus has given us a relatively fast lens that has the same field of view as a 90mm lens on 35mm film or full frame digital.
As this is my first lens review, I’ll give you a small insight into how I will be evaluating lenses. My reviews will take a practical approach. I will not be shooting test charts and analyzing pixels of chromatic aberration or line pairs of resolution. There are plenty of websites out there that do these sorts of tests. While I use those sites as an excellent reference, it is ultimately a bunch of numbers, and while those numbers can give you an idea of how a lens performs, it doesn’t really tell you or show you how a lens acts in the real world. My reviews will cover most of the main topics of lens quality, such as resolution, bokeh, chromatic aberration, autofocus speed, etc, but the means of discussion will be practical, and detail how they affect your final image and how the lens truly works in real world use.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is a small lens. It’s made for a small system, so this is a great thing, but even though I knew the specifications of the lens before it arrived, it still shocked me as to how tiny it was for a lens of its focal length and aperture. You can see in the picture at theright that the lens is significantly smaller than the Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro, and indeed, the lens fits easily into the palm of your hand. In reality, it’s not much larger than a 35mm film cannister…it’s shorter and a little fatter.
The lens has an attractive silver finish that is meant to work well with the Olympus Pen series, but also looks quite nice on the Panasonic bodies, either in black or the gunmetal silver of my GX1.
The majority of the lens body is made of plastic, with a metal mount. The front silver ring containing the signature blue “Zuiko Digital” stripe is also metal.
The focus ring is wide for the body of the lens and turns smoothly. Like all Micro 4/3 lenses, manual focus is done by wire, and so there are no hard stops on the focus ring. While the ring turns smoothly, the construction of the ring feels a little cheap. Given the $399 price tag for the lens, I wish they had at least used a heavier plastic for the focus ring.
The silver ring at the end of the lens conceals a bayonet mount for attaching the optional round lens hood. I also feel for the price of the lens, that the lens hood should be included in the box, but frankly that’s a minor nitpick. Given the lens’ small size, I feel the large hood would somewhat defeat the purpose of having a tiny little lens like this to carry around. Overall, build is solid and there is very little to complain about here. The front of the lens is simple and clean, with 37mm filter threads. Because the lens is internal focus with no rotating elements, use of a polarizer is easy, though finding a quality one with 37mm filter threads may be a challenge.
Continue: Image Quality and Performance