So can this tiny little guy deliver the goods? With regards to autofocus, absolutely. Focus is very quick and sure. On a modern Micro 4/3 body like the Panasonic GX1 or Olympus E-P3, it feels nearly instant. It also locks extremely accurately. The lens uses Olympus’ “Movie-Still-Capable” (MSC) motor, which is virtually silent, and can only be heard if your ear is pressed to the lens body. The 45mm f/1.8 has a minimum focus distance of 0.5m, which isn’t exceptionally close for a 45mm lens, but is quite nice when compared to its full frame counterparts. Most 85mm lenses have a minimum focus distance of around 0.9m-1.0m. This allows for very tight headshots, even of children.
The lens in movie mode focuses well, with accurate and inaudible focusing. I prefer to use manual focus for filming, and the 45mm f/1.8 works well here as well, though the small size of the lens makes this less desirable than on some larger lenses.
The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is absolutely stunningly good optically. The lens is extremely sharp straight from f/1.8. There is absolutely no loss of contrast wide open either, which means that the fast f/1.8 aperture is completely usable, with no need to stop down to correct optical aberrations. It is always wonderful to have a lens where aperture selection becomes purely about depth of field, rather than trying to overcome a lens’ faults at wider apertures, and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 delivers in spades here.
Lens contrast is just right for a portrait lens. It provides great macro contrast and sharpness without being harsh. In fact, with skin tones, it maintains a beautiful even tone curve that is very flattering to your subject. The only downside for portrait use is that you may need to soften some details on models with less than perfect skin due to the extremely high resolution. Click on the image at the right for a larger view and see the crisp detail the lens can deliver at f/1.8, while maintaining good skin tones and high global contrast. The contrast works very well for non-portrait subjects as well, delivering rich color and great texture.
The lens controls chromatic aberration quite well, with essentially zero lateral CA in field use, and well controlled (though occasionally visible) longitudinal chromatic aberration, which only shows up on very high contrast backgrounds and foregrounds in the specular highlights.
Flare is extremely well controlled with this lens, so shooting with lights in the frame is no problem. There is very mild pincushion distortion, though you’d be hard pressed to ever see it in real world photos. In my opinion it is a complete non-issue.
Despite the outstanding resolution, the lens manages to produce very pleasing bokeh as well. Specular highlights are generally round and evenly illuminated. There can occasionally be a very light bright ring around specular highlights, but even when it shows up, it is not objectionable. Non-specular out of focus areas are smooth and creamy. The combination of high resolution and smooth bokeh means that shooting with wide apertures yields quality imaging on a very high level.
So where does it fall down? In truth, hardly anywhere. The bokeh isn’t perfect, but in my opinion, it’s very pleasing. It’s not completely apochromatic, but I’ve yet to have a single shot ruined by CA. About the only thing I could wish for is that Olympus had used the same beautiful metal finish as they did on the 12mm f/2 for this lens. When you handle both, the 45mm feels like a cheaper lens in comparison. It would be nice if they had given it the exterior worthy of the outstanding optics.
The Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 is an absolutely stellar lens. In fact, of all the lenses I’ve owned in the portrait range, including several top tier Canon L primes, this ranks right up near the top. That may sound unbelievable, but it’s true. Of course, those lenses on a full frame camera will enable you to take images with significantly shallower depth of field, but that’s a limitation of the system, and not a fault of this lens.
It is blisteringly sharp at all apertures, yet maintains a medium contrast curve and outstanding bokeh. Autofocus is exceptionally fast and accurate and coupled with the small size makes this lens an absolute joy to use. This lens is a must-have for anyone using the Micro 4/3 system, and combined with any of the newer Micro 4/3 bodies, makes a compact portrait package that can compete with most any camera system. It is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the Micro 4/3 system and one of the best lenses I have ever had the pleasure to own.