Best Micro Four Thirds Lenses – The Ultimate Guide

It’s crazy. Back when I started with the Panasonic GF1 in 2009, Micro Four Thirds had less than 10 native lenses. And now µ43 has grown to a mature system featuring over 50+ lenses with very little gaps in the lineup. Not to mention the hundreds (if not thousands) of legacy lenses you could adapt. Need more speed? Utilize the Speedbooster adapters and gain a full stop of light. You could also start adapting the current Canon EF lenses, as Kipon just released the world’s first EF to Micro Four Thirds adapter with auto focus. It’s that ever expanding lineup of sharp, affordable lenses that keeps me on Micro Four Thirds.

I’ve already reviewed the sharpest lenses for Micro 4/3, the best lenses under $500, as well as portrait lenses. Today, I’m not only going to combine all that information, but I’ll adding much more information that will help you find your next lens for Micro Four Thirds. Let’s first state that “best” is very subjective. You ever hear your friends argue about which is better Android or iOS? iPhone or Samsung? Windows or Mac? Canon or Nikon? Panasonic or Olympus? The list goes on. All arguments I prefer to avoid because to me it’s all personal preference. Some of Chase Jarvis’ (and many others) favorite µ43 lenses are the Voigtlander f0.95 series, but personally, I’d rather have smaller lenses that retain autofocus. But that’s just me. I also state that I prefer primes over zooms. But that’s just me. Everyone has their personal preferences, and this post will reflect that (though I will highlight some alternatives). Feel free to chime in on the comments about some of your favorite lenses and why.

For a preview, take a look at the table of contents, and feel free to jump to your section of choice:

Table of Contents

“Equivalence” and Micro Four Thirds vs Full Frame Lenses

If you’re new to Micro Four Thirds, you’ll be hearing the term “full frame equivalent” or “35mm equivalent” a lot. This is because a full frame sensor is about four times larger in total surface area, and measured diagonally from corner-to-corner of the sensor it’s twice as long as a Micro Four Thirds sensor resulting in a 2x crop factor. For Micro Four Thirds lenses, that would mean:

  • Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 would be equivalent to 50mm f1.4 on full frame, f2.8 equivalence in Depth of Field (DoF).
  • Panasonic-Leica 42.5mm f1.2 would be equivalent to 85mm f1.2 on full frame, f2.4 equivalence in Depth of Field.
  • Olympus 75mm f1.8 would be equivalent to 150mm f1.8 on full frame, f3.6 equivalence in Depth of Field.

Double the focal length, double the aperture for DoF, but it’s important to note that the exposure is always the same (ie. f1.4 is always f1.4 in terms of gathering light).

“So you’re saying if I wanted that creamy bokeh for portraiture, Micro Four Thirds can’t match what a Full Frame camera can do?”

That’s not true, just another misconception about Micro Four Thirds. Many people think that the lower the aperture number = more background blur. And that isn’t quite the case, with help from HowMuchBlur.com, you can see that the Olympus 75mm f1.8 produces much more background blur than Canon’s popular 24mm f1.4 on a full frame camera at when the subject is more than 2 meters from the background:

Olympus 75mm f1.8 vs Canon 24mm f1.4
Background Blur Comparison: Olympus 75mm f1.8 vs Canon 24mm f1.4

With background blur, you must consider focal length and distance of the subject from the background. Despite the Olympus having an equivalent DoF of f3.6, it can still produce more background blur than the Canon 24mm f1.4 on a full frame camera.. If you make the comparison on one of Canon’s many APS-C cameras, the difference would be much more drastic. Seasoned photographers get this, and may scoff at this comparison because of the disparity in focal length, but I’m just illustrating that the lower aperture number does not mean necessarily mean more background blur.

Now, you could use Canon’s 85mm f1.2 L and shoot wide open to generate more background blur, but you could also miss focus a big percentage of the time. And if you do land in focus, with such a shallow depth of field you won’t get more than a few individual eyelashes in focus. I’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of pros, and renowned headshot photographer Peter Hurley uses ~f3.5 to f4 for headshots, renowned fashion and beauty photographer Lindsay Adler stops down to a minimum of f2.4 to f2.8 for portraiture and the list could go on. Stopping down ensures that you’ll get a shot in focus, and lenses tend to be sharper when stopped down (which we’ll cover later).

Last I’ll leave you with this video from Zach Arias, talking about the crop sensor debate (the Panasonic GH4 is shooting the video), and how it’s rather pointless to argue about sensors when sensors don’t capture emotion, think about composition, lighting, etc… the photographer does:

Characteristics of a Great Lens, Evaluating MTF Charts and Sharpness

Invest in good lenses. If you’re dropping $800+ on a camera, it doesn’t make sense to use a $100 kit lens. A lot of people jump to buying a DSLR/DSLM camera in hopes for better images, but they neglect on buying a better lens. This is the reason why a lot of amateurs have a lot of photos that feel like “snapshots” and lack that extra pizazz that special photos have. If you’re shooting with a kit lens, you might find that your photos are wide, but not quite wide enough. Or that you can’t get tight enough for portraiture. Or that your lens just can’t bring in enough light to get the shot without shooting at an insanely high ISO. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t get great shots with a kit lens because you most certainly can. But the beauty of Micro Four Thirds is that great lenses can be had for under $500. And you don’t need many, just a wide and telephoto prime can take you a long way.

Another reason that you should invest in lenses is that lenses hold their value. Back when I bought the Panasonic GF1 in 2009, I believe it was $800-900 with the 20mm f1.7 (not your average kit lens). Today that same camera body can be found on eBay for under $100. Whereas the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 still floats around at $300-400, down from $429.

Lens Performance

Let’s start with what I look for in a lens, and what I look for in lens performance. I look for lenses that are small and fast. For those reasons I prefer a set of primes from wide to short telephoto, you can jump to my lens choices here. For lens performance, I look for sharpness, micro-contrast, a smooth rendering of bokeh and fast AF performance. There are other things to consider such as distortion and chromatic aberration, but those are easily corrected with post processing. One way to evaluate a lens is with a MTF chart, which are generally released alongside the announcement of a new lens. But personally, that’s the only time I’ll look at them. I’d rather rely on 3rd party data (more on that below) and sample images from trusted photographers. Regardless of that, you should understand what are the characteristics of a great lens. I highly recommend the following articles:

  • How to Read MTF Charts by Photography Life – An in-depth guide on how to read MTF charts that illustrates the important difference between resolution and acutance.
  • Understanding Lens Contrast by Luminous Landscape – This is one of many great technical essays by writer Mike Johnston on Luminous Landscape, this touches on a lot of the same points as the former article but it’s explained in a little more technical fashion. One important concept I’d like to highlight is:

Incidentally, as an aside for those of you who may have seen the articles on “bokeh” (bo-ke, the Japanese word meaning “blur”) in the March/April 1997 issue of PHOTO Techniques, off-axis aberrations are typically the cause of “bad” or confused-looking blur. The relative superimposition of the sagittal and tangential lines of an MTF chart are one predictor of “good” or smooth bokeh.

Thus the closer the sagittal (solid) and meridional (dotted) lines, the smoother the bokeh. It’s important to note that this isn’t a calculation for the amount of bokeh, for that we use HowMuchBlur.com as we highlighted in the previous section and we’ll continue to highlight in the portrait lens section below.

Another indicator is the number of aperture blades in the lens, especially when it comes to out of focus highlights. The best example of this is on Canon, because they have a budget 50mm f1.8 lens at a mere $100. With only 5 aperture blades, the out of focus highlights are shaped like pentagons versus the ideal circles.

Evaluating the Sharpness of a Lens

The problem with MTF charts is that some manufacturers use lab tests, some simulate the tests. Some shoot wide open, some don’t. And many measure by different metrics in their MTF charts. One example can be illustrated with the MTF chart of the newly released Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 and the MTF chart for the Olympus 45mm f1.8, where Panasonic uses 40 lines/mm (green) and Olympus uses 60 lines/mm (orange). Despite that, the MTF charts appear to show a very similar performance for both lenses, which seem to correlate with early reviews of the Panasonic. But regardless of that, there’s a much better way to evaluate a lens, and that’s through 3rd party reviews from LensTip.com and DxOMark.com (among others).

Primes vs Zoom Lenses and Review Comparisons from LensTip and DxOMark

I’ll let you know right away that I’m a little biased towards prime lenses. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Primes are physically smaller and have faster apertures.
  • I see the world in prime focal lengths. I can look at a scene and say, “That’s a great 28mm shot” or 50mm shot, etc. If I had started with zooms, I might see photography differently.
  • Primes tend to be sharper, let’s take a look at a LensTip comparison between the equally priced Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and 14-42mm X Vario PZ f3.5-5.6 (~$300) as well as the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 (~$700):
primes-vs-zooms
LensTip: Panasonic 20mm f1.7 vs Panasonic 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 vs Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8

As you can see, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 absolutely trounces the equally priced 14-42mm X lens in sharpness with the 20mm reaching MTF values of ~74 versus ~61 on the 14-42mm. It’s also 2+ stops faster and thus will be much better in low light conditions. However, when compared to a premium zoom like the 12-35mm f2.8 (constant aperture) which today fetches for about $700, sharpness is about equal at its peak. But, it’s still nearly 2 stops slower than the 20mm f1.7.

With that being said, zooms do have their advantages:

  • Versatility. It really comes down to versatility. With the Panasonic 14-140mm or Olympus 14-150mm, you have a superzoom covering a very wide focal range. But it comes at the expense of sharpness and speed. There are however a series of sharp constant aperture zooms from both Panasonic and Olympus that we’ll cover below.
  • Some Olympus lenses have an extra function button, such as the the Olympus 12-50mm, which also features an electric zoom you can control through a mobile app and a macro function.
  • Though zoom lenses tend to be bigger than their prime counterparts, you won’t have to carry as many lenses for different looks.

I do wish Micro Four Thirds had an equivalent to the Canon 24-105 F4 L… but with a f2.8 aperture, we do have the Olympus 12-40mm (24-80mm equivalent) so we’re close!

The “Holy Trinity” of Micro Four Thirds Lenses

The “Holy Trinity” is a moniker given for a set of three lenses that covers a wide range of focal lengths, usually from wide to telephoto. And it could be primes or zooms.

Let’s start with my personal “Holy Trinity” of lenses as of 7/2015:

  • Panasonic 14mm f2.5
  • Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4
  • Olympus 45mm f1.8
The Compact Holy Trinity
The Compact Holy Trinity

3 lenses that you can get for under $1000 today (detailed reviews below). I’ve bought and sold other lenses, but for the most part this is my “Holy Trinity” (for now). I might pick up the Olympus 75mm f1.8 in the future to cover an even longer range – what would you call that though – the “Holy Square?”

For Zooms, here’s a look at the Olympus PRO line:

  • Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 PRO
  • Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 PRO
  • Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 PRO

Panasonic has there own series of high-end lenses as well, keep in mind that both Panasonic and Olympus share the Micro Four Thirds mount and are thus interchangeable between bodies, but I know some people like to have consistent branding with their body and lens. Here’s Panasonic’s “Holy Trinity” of Zooms:

  • Panasonic 7-14mm f4
  • Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 w/ O.I.S.
  • Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 w/ O.I.S.

You could also add/substitute the Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 if you need that extra focal range.

Body vs Lens Stabilization

You might have noted the acronym O.I.S. in the last section, that stands for Optical Image Stabilization and is featured on many Panasonic lenses. Olympus lenses don’t have O.I.S. because later Olympus bodies feature In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which is much more preferred.

If you want to see just how impressive Olympus IBIS is, here is a video stabilization comparison of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 II vs the Panasonic GH4.

Note: You cannot use both Panasonic OIS lenses with Olympus IBIS, it’s either one or the other. Same goes for the Panasonic GX7, the lone Panasonic camera with 2-axis IBIS, you cannot use both IBIS and a Panasonic OIS lens. 

Adapting Lenses to Micro Four Thirds

The beauty of mirrorless systems is the ability to adapt legacy lenses with an adapter. We’ve covered this topic in-depth, including pros and cons, in our guide to FD lenses. If you’d like to learn more about legacy lenses definitely checkout that guide.

I’ve dabbled with my fair share of FD lenses, and to be quite honest I’d prefer to stick with native lenses and that’s what this post will focus on. Here’s one comparison I did before of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 vs Canon FD 50mm f1.4. The growth of mirrorless cameras has also led to the inflation of legacy lenses. Today that same Canon 50mm f1.4 I picked up 6 years ago for $40 goes for about $100 in the same condition. The Olympus 45mm f1.8 can be found for about $250, is much smaller, sharper, and retains auto focus. That isn’t to say that there aren’t good legacy lenses out there, the legendary Leica M mount lenses are known to be fantastic (though over $1000+).

If you’re shooting video, legacy lenses are great, especially when paired with a Speedbooster.

Speedboosters

The original speedbooster can:

  • Increase maximum aperture by 1 stop.
  • Increase MTF.
  • Makes lens 0.71x wider.

Thus a Canon 50mm f1.4 would essentially be a 71mm f1 lens (50mm x 2x crop factor x 0.71).

If you have a Panasonic GH4, Metabones just released an XL adapter that makes lenses .64x wider and increases the aperture by 1.33 stops, making f.08 possible.

Best Overall Lens for Micro Four Thirds

I touched on this a few months ago, and my sentiment remains the same. There are two very similar lenses for Micro Four Thirds that I bestow the “Best Overall” title to, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4. Which one is best, very much depends on you. Let’s start with the pros of the 20mm f1.7:

  • Let’s start with the obvious, the Panasonic 20mm is one of the sharpest lenses on the system, one of the smallest, and packaged with a bright f1.7 aperture. Paired with a Gorillapod, it’s extremely versatile for my hikes to Red Rock:
Panasonic 20mm f1.7
[iPhone Shot] : Panasonic 20mm f1.7 on Gorillapod
  • The shot above is the exact setup I used to capture the image below, with help of the GorillaPod. If you’re interested you can checkout some of my other favorite tripods here.
  • 35mm is known to be one of the most versatile focal lengths, and the equivalent focal length of 40mm on the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is pretty darn close. It’s perfect for stepping back for an environmental portrait:
My Wife and I at Red Rock
My Wife and I at Red Rock
  • It’s also wide enough to capture a beautiful landscape during the 4th of July:
Spending 4th of July in Portland, OR
Spending 4th of July in Portland, OR
  • And while 40mm isn’t quite wide enough for most landscape photographers, if you get a little creative you can capture beautiful panoramas. Here’s a shot I took where I flipped the camera to a vertical orientation on a tripod and took 5 photos and merged them in post:
Panorama with the 20mm f1.7
Panorama with the 20mm f1.7

Now let’s move on to the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4, and specifically, let’s discuss it’s pros over the 20mm f1.7:

  • Though sharpness in the center is quite comparable, the Panasonic-Leica is sharper from center-to-edge than the Panasonic 20mm f1.7.
  • The slightly tighter 50mm means you can get away with tighter portraits (though for best results checkout the portrait lenses section):
Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4
Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4
  • The aperture is a half-stop faster at f1.4, and makes it a perfect lens for events such as bachelorette parties:
Shooting in a dimly lit bar with the Panasonic 25mm f1.4
Shooting in a dimly lit bar with the Panasonic 25mm f1.4
Shooting at Night with the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4
Shooting at Night with the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4

 

  • Auto Focus is faster and quieter.
  • It comes with a lens hood.

Final Recommendation

First think about the lenses you want to acquire. If you want/have the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 or Panasonic-Leica 15mm f1.7, it might be best to go with the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 to have a bit more separation between focal lengths. Even though I loved it, I ended up selling the 20mm f1.7 when I bought the 25mm f1.4 just for that reason.

I’d recommend the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 over the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 if:

  • You don’t have a pancake lens. If you don’t have one, you absolutely need one (see our faves in the next section). Micro Four Thirds is all about size and versatility and having a pancake lens essentially makes your camera jacket pocketable. If you value size over speed (1/2 stop in this case), this is the lens for you.
  • You’re on a tighter budget. The 20mm f1.7 goes for about $250 used versus the 25mm f1.4 which is about $400-450 used.

I’d opt for the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 over the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 if:

  • You’re a professional photographer. If you’re shooting paid gigs, spend the extra $150 and get this lens. It’s advantages with speed, sharpness and auto focus are well worth it.
  • You already have a pancake lens. If this is your smallest lens, you might opt to leave your camera behind more often than you should. The Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 is not quite pocketable by any means, and if you don’t have a pancake lens I’d honestly opt for that first.      

How Much? 

The Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is currently available at Amazon for $298 new. This is for the improved version II which features a mostly metal build. You could find version I for around $200 used.

The Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 is currently new for $598, and used for about $400. There’s a quite a big demand for this lens, so the price has been pretty consistent for the past few years. If you can find it pre-owned under $400 in excellent condition I would 100% jump on that!

Now, a few of you might be thinking, “Are you crazy? What about the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f1.2 or the Olympus 75mm f1.8?” And that’s a good point. Remember that what I consider the “best” is what works best for my shooting style. Though I shoot a lot of portraiture, due to the narrow angle of view I don’t think that either are suitable for “best overall” but will certainly be mentioned in the portrait lenses section.

Best Zoom Lenses for Micro Four Thirds

Recall that I mentioned that I prefer primes over zooms any day, but that preference changes from person to person. With that being said, the following are not only the best zoom lenses, but also Honorable Mentions for the best overall lenses on Micro Four Thirds.

Panasonic X Series Lenses – Let’s start with the fact that not all X series lenses are treated equal, nor it is a designation for the best lenses for Panasonic like it is with Canon’s L (“Luxury”) lenses. With that being said, the following two lenses are phenomenal and match the equivalent focal length of Canon’s two most popular L lenses, the 24-70mm f2.8 L and 70-200 f2.8 L:

  • Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 – Since I don’t shoot with zooms very often, I’ll defer to other pros. Jordan over at Admiring Light said, “the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 X lens is a very high quality optic with a top end build quality to match. It’s not a perfect lens, but it does its job very well. Images are sharp right from f/2.8, with good rendering of out of focus areas. It’s also got a very convenient zoom range, covering super wide to short telephoto, making it an excellent all purpose lens. I’d imagine many photographers could do a vast majority of shooting with this lens and be just fine. If you love having a fast standard zoom and are in to the Micro 4/3 system, it’s a fantastic lens to own.
  • Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8A Micro Four Thirds blogger called the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 “expensive, but fantastic” comparing the lens shot for shot with exceptional primes on µ43. Though it should be noted that this review is a little old and you can find a used copy of this lens for under $900 now. Another review that I enjoyed came from Eric over at Mirrorless Journey who said that the Panasonic is a very good choice for video. But noted that he prefers shooting with his primes, the Olympus 45 and 75mm f1.8. Also mentioning, “did not have fun shooting with it… I guess I’m used to shooting with primes to move around.” Honesty that is much appreciated, since Panasonic did lend him the lens for review. Like myself, Eric prefers to use primes. But that doesn’t mean that one or the other is the better option per se, it’s all personal preference.   

Olympus PRO Series

Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 PRO – Quite well known in the Micro Four Thirds community, Robin Wong provides his thoughts (and beautiful photos!) of the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 PRO.

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 PRO – After the release of Panasonic’s high end X Vario lenses, Olympus wanted to release a few of their own, here’s how the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 compares to the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 in a review by Suggestion of Motion and another by The Wacky Duo. Overall, the sentiment is the kinda the same with both lenses… they’re both fantastic and you it’s best paired with the same make manufacturer purely for the aesthetics. Also, if you have a Panasonic the 12-35mm would be a better bet because of the OIS. You could use it on an Olympus body, but it’s much preferred to use IBIS (you can’t use both).

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 PRO – The recently released 40-150mm f2.8 is much larger than the Panasonic counterpart, also adding much more range. I’d recommend watching the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 vs Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 shootout from TheCameraStoreTV, it’s both informative and entertaining.

Best Pancake Lenses for Micro Four Thirds

A “pancake lens” is generally known as a “colloquial term for a flat, thin lens (short barrel), generally a normal or slightly wide prime lens for a camera.” For Micro Four Thirds, pancake lenses are popular because of the slender design allows for a much more compact setup. While most primes for Micro Four Thirds are relatively small, the smallest lenses for µ43 are as follows (in no particular order):

  • Panasonic 12-32mm
  • Panasonic X 14-42mm
  • Panasonic 14mm f2.5
  • Panasonic 20mm f1.7
  • Also worth noting, Olympus has inexpensive body cap lenses, the Olympus 15mm and 9mm f8.

Personally, I think the body cap lenses could be fun (especially the 9mm), but I’d rather put the money towards a real lens. We’ve already mentioned above that the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is one of the best overall lenses you could buy, and right alongside that I’d add the Panasonic 14mm f2.5. It’s a great all around lens and rounds off my “holy trinity of lenses” alongside the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 and Olympus 45mm f1.8.

Of the two zooms, I favor the Panasonic 12-32mm because it can get a little wider. Most kit lenses start at 14mm (28mm equivalent), which some consider wide but not wide enough. The Panasonic 12-32mm offers a FoV as wide as 24mm. And while a mere 2mm might seem like a small difference, the wider you get the more dramatic the effect.

My Pick

As the winner of the “Best Overall Lens for Micro Four Thirds” it only makes sense that the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is also your best bet here. I will say this though, if you own (or plan to own) the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 (or Olympus 25mm f1.8, Nokton f0.95), I’d say the best pick is the Panasonic 14mm f2.5, which goes for about $398 new. It gives you plenty of separation with FoV, it’s a fantastic all around lens and it’s the smallest lens on the system (though not by much). Here’s a shot of mine this past 4th of July Weekend:

4th of July Fireworks with the Panasonic 14mm f2.5
4th of July Fireworks with the Panasonic 14mm f2.5

And another shot at Red Rock Canyon, this time with the Panasonic 14mm f2.5:

Red Rock Canyon with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 + Panasonic 14mm f2.5
Red Rock Canyon with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 + Panasonic 14mm f2.5

 

 

Best Portrait Lenses for Micro Four Thirds

First off, you should understand how different focal lengths effect what a portrait looks like. Photographer Stephen Eastwood visualizes this in his test from 19-350mm (See full size here):

eastwood
Photography by Stephen Eastwood

Photographers tend to argue that the ideal portrait lens should lie between 85-135mm (42.5-67.5mm on m43), I personally believe that it depends on your subject, as no two faces are alike.

But keep in mind that the above test applies to headshots, if you had a wider lens but stepped back for a half body shot – you would see little (if any) difference in perspective. That’s because it’s not so much about the focal length, as it is the distance from the lens to the subject. Here’s a few shots of mine with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 at half body length:

No Portrait Distortion With Wide Angle Lens When You Step Back
Panasonic 20mm f1.7

 

And there are other situations where you’d want to shoot a little wider, for instance with light modifiers such as the RoundFlash, you’ll want to be a little closer to get more defined catch lighting. This self-portrait is shot at 28mm (56mm equivalent):

Micro Four Thirds Portrait
Messing around with an old cheap legacy zoom lens

Here’s another at 70mm with the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8:

Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8
Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8

And as I mentioned, it’s often subject dependent and I prefer a slightly wider angle for my face at this distance… shoot any longer and my head looks like a dang balloon.

For women though, I’ve found that longer is always better (no pun intended 🙂 ). These recent headshots are with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (90mm equivalent):

Headshot of Taylor with the Olympus 45mm f1.8
Headshot of Taylor with the Olympus 45mm f1.8
Olympus 45mm f1.8

There are plenty of options around the ideal portrait focal length range, as shown by the m43 lens lineup (zooms are not shown):

m43-lens-lineup
Micro Four Thirds Lens Lineup

 

They come in all shapes in sizes eg. the Olympus 45mm F1.8 is relatively compact compared to the PL Noticron F1.2. As well as different budgets, as conversely, the Noticron is $1200 more than the Olympus 45mm F1.8. We’ll look at a lot of different factors and help you find the best lens for you and your budget.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the list of the best portrait lenses for Micro Four Thirds:

1. Panasonic Leica Noticron 42.5mm f1.2 Lens: Not only is this lens widely regarded as the best portrait lens, but it’s also the sharpest lens for µ43, and it’s consistently ranked as the best overall lens across many different publications. With a 90mm equivalent, and about 1 1/3 more stops of light available than our #2 pick (Oly 75mm), it’s an extremely versatile lens that lives up to the Leica moniker.

One thing I like to do when evaluating a lens, is checkout the Flickr Most Interesting pool for that particular lens, it gives a good sample of images so you know what to expect with your next purchase. Here’s the Flickr Most Interesting Pool for the Panasonic Leica 42.5mm F1.2.

Though at $1600, the casual photographer may want to evaluate other options. We’ve left it off this list, but if you’re in love with the focal length and aperture, the Mitakon 42.5mm f1.2 is regarded as the poor mans Panasonic Leica Noticron, at only $359 it’s quite the bargain. Unless you need that extra light though, I’d take the Olympus 45mm (our #3 pick) over the Mitakon any day.

There’s also the manual focus Voigtlander 42.5mm F0.95 at $1000. Though keep in mind it’s reported to be fairly big and heavy. At that price, you could adapt a Canon FD 55mm F1.2 SSC for under $300, or $500-1000 if you want the “L” version of the lens. Throw in the Metabones FD to m43 Speedbooster and that could give you another stop of light bringing it under F1. However, having a lot of experience with manual focus lenses, I feel like you miss too many shots focusing. And with faster autofocusing technology, it’s becoming easier and easier to lock in sharp as a tack photos in a split second. Comparing the aforementioned lenses, $1 for $1, the Noticron is the best bet. But if you’re on a tighter budget, checkout our next picks.

Update (04/2016): Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8: Gotta update this post and mention that I’ve been using the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 for the past few months and I LOVE IT. Shooting primarily headshots, it’s so convenient being able to switch focal lengths without having to switch lenses. At about $900 new, this is a solid option for professionals. If you’re on a budget, checkout option #3. I wrote a full review for the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 here.

2. Olympus 75mm f1.8 Lens: When this lens was announced, people were knocking it for being a little slow at F1.8 because Canon and Nikon have faster counterparts. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too, people on m43 want smaller, faster, sharper lenses, etc. But you have to deal with a little compromise. The Noticron is bigger, but faster. The Oly 45mm is smaller, but not quite as sharp. You get the idea. To a lot of photographers, the Olympus 75mm f1.8 is the perfect compromise. And actually, the competitors don’t have faster counterparts. Remember that this lens offers an equivalent of FoV of 150mm f1.8 (f3.6 DoF), Canon and Nikon have $1000+ counterparts at 135mm f2.

Typically, lenses wide are open tend be a little soft. Lenses tend to be the sharpest when stopped down 2 F-Stops from the max. But even wide open, LensTip rated the Oly 75mm at 64LP/mm (lines per millimeter) where 42-45LP/mm is their decency level, rating it among their sharpest lenses for Micro Four Thirds. DxOMark had similar results, ranking it slightly behind only the Noticron.

Pundits argue that the Olympus 75mm can’t quite compare to the Noticron or other brighter lenses in terms of DoF. Those pundits are actually referring about the ability to blur the background, and Olympus 75mm actually has the most flexibility according to background blur calculator HowMuchBlur:

Micro Four Thirds Portrait Lens Background Blur Comparison
Micro Four Thirds Portrait Lens Background Blur Comparison

 

As you can see, after about 7m, the Olympus 75mm has the best ability to blur the background. Here’s a couple examples that illustrate that from a photographer we’ve featured before, Sergei Yurin (shared with permission via Stunning Wedding Photography with Micro Four Thirds):

Background blur example
Photography by Sergei Yurin

 

wedding-pose
Photography by Sergei Yurin

 

Not quite the best examples with respect to the background blur chart, as both pictures are probably stopped down (at least the ladder is), nonetheless there’s a lot of beautiful samples to checkout from the Flickr Most Interesting Pool for the Olympus 75mm f1.8.

3. Olympus 45mm f1.8 Lens: My personal favorite, at under $400, the Olympus 45mm is not only the best pick for someone on a budget, but because of it’s compact size it’s a great pick for anyone looking to travel lighter. And for Micro Four Thirds owners – that tends to be all of us! Utilizing CameraSize, we’ve illustrated the size of each lens featured here on a Panasonic GX7. We also added the Canon 5D with their popular portrait lens, the 85mm F1.2 L for scale. Unfortunately, CameraSize does not have the Noticron F1.2 in their database, therefore from left to right is the Olympus 75mm and 45mm, Panasonic 35-100mm, Sigma 60mm and PL 25mm 1.4. For reference, here’s an image that shows the Olympus 75mm near the PL 42.5mm (and the Oly 45mm), which shows the PL a little longer and wider.

Micro Four Thirds Portrait Lens Size Comparison

It looks beautiful on the GM series, or any other µ43 camera for that matter. Arguably a more usable focal length than the Olympus 75mm, much cheaper and still rated pretty sharp and it fairs pretty well against the Olympus 75mm and the Noticron 42.5mm with a side by side comparison.

There’s two pools on Flickr for the Olympus 45mm, check them out here and here. Read my full review of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 here.

Overall, the top 3 portrait lenses have 3 very distinct budgets. Pick the lens that’s perfect for your budget and you can’t go wrong.

Honorable Mentions

4. Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 or Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 (mentioned above): These lenses plays within the optimal focal lengths for portraits and beyond. They’re versatile and among the sharpest lenses for µ43 right alongside their little brothers the Panny 12-35 F2.8 and the Oly 12-40mm f2.8. Like I mentioned before, sometimes the optimal focal length depends on your subject, and this lens has the versatility to cater to your needs.

5. Sigma 60mm f2.8 Lens: At only $200 this lens actually ranks among the 10 sharpest for Micro Four Thirds, even higher than the Olympus 45mm. But it offers over a stop less light, something I can’t often compromise with. The 120mm equivalent is arguably a better focal length for headshots though. Nonetheless, a lot of people swear by this lens and thus I had to include it as an honorable mention.

Lastly, Don’t Forget that Legacy Lenses are Perfect for Portraiture

A lot of portrait shooters like to shoot with manual focus, which could make legacy lenses the perfect option. We’ve touched on it a little earlier, and we’ll likely review some of the best options on this site soon (subscribe/follow/like for updates). I use the Canon FD 50mm F1.4 SSC, samples above (shots of Brenda). You could find this lens for under $100, and the FD to m43 mount is about $30. I picked mine up on Craigslist for about $50, but that’s when I first bought the GF1… since the rise of mirrorless cameras, a resurgence in legacy lenses have brought prices up a bit. But people on Craigslist don’t really know that thus you could still find deals on what people find to be 20+ year old equipment.

What do you think are the best portrait lenses for Micro Four Thirds? Let us know in the comments below!

Best Video Lenses for Micro Four Thirds

Since I don’t shoot much video, I’ll pass the torch over to Shane Hurlbut at Hurlbut Visuals, where he has a 3-part series on the best video lenses for Micro Four Thirds. He reviews the best primes from Panasonic, Olympus, and Voigtalnder. Overall, he had high marks for both the Panasonic and Voigtlander lenses, but felt the Olympus lenses felt “one dimensional.”

Another guide I like is from Zach Arias, a long time well known photographer whom has recently decided to move to motion after many requests from clients. In his series “moving to motion,” he lamented on what gear he should use. And the truth is, there are plenty of options. Though he noticed that virtually every post on the internet was a comparison with the Panasonic GH4, eg. “Panasonic GH4 vs Canon 5D3” or C100, “Panasonic GH4 vs Sony A7s”, etc.  And ultimately, that’s what he landed on. And his choice of lenses include the Panasonic 7-14mm, Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8, Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 and last but not least the Panasonic-Leica 42.5mm f1.2.

If you’re a casual video shooter, a great option is the Panasonic 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 which is on Amazon for about $500 new. It’s a superzoom covering a wide focal range that has Power OIS and a fast silent AF, both a must for video.

Lastly, jump back up to our section on adapting legacy lenses for more options.

Final Tips: Making the Most of Your Lenses

I’ll reiterate that you should always invest in lenses, but with that being said the quickest way to see more performance out of your lens is with a better camera body. What you have to decide, is when to upgrade. With my current combo, I have an effective range from 28mm-90mm with three solid native primes. I’m not shooting architecture so I don’t need anything wider, nor am I shooting birds or wildlife thus I don’t need anything longer. Your situation might be different.

Last tip, remember the lens accessories. Lens hoods can reduce flare and increase contrast. Circular Polarizer (CPL) filters are great at controlling the exposure for landscapes, Neutral Density (ND) filters are great for blocking light, allowing longer exposures during the day to get that silky smooth water look from a waterfall, river, etc. We’ll have a review of a few lens filters in the coming weeks, so be on the lookout for that.

Until then, what are your favorite lenses for Micro Four Thirds and why? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Hamish Storey

    Really informative and useful post. Cheers!

  • Nice review and very informative. Thank’s a million ….

  • Zlatan Bogdanovic

    The sigma f2.8 trio for primes is by far the best value, i defy anybody to . I would like the Panasonic 42.5 f1.2 but will probably go for the cheaper f1.7. For outdoors, the 14-140mm.

    • Jay Soriano

      Thanks for the recommendations Zlatan!

      The Sigma trio are certainly a good value. I almost opted for the Sigma 60mm f2.8, but with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 is such a good value it’s hard to pass up. It’s only about $100 more than the Sigma.

      • Zlatan Bogdanovic

        I have to say that you are right Jay about the speed. I have ordered the 25mm f1.4 for indoor family use, I need the faster shutter speed to catch my infant. People say the 50mm (equiv) is out of fashion but I think its an essential for close. I’ll post some feedback. Btw i got the GX8, its an amazing camera, well worth the money.

        • Jay Soriano

          Nice! You can also try adding a flash as it freezes motion.

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  • I particularly like some of the older ZD SHG lenses (with an adapter, of course) — big, heavy, and somewhat slower focusing, but something special about the IQ. Deeply discounted on the used market, these are also a good value.

    • Jay Soriano

      Any particular favorites? The Olympus 35-100 f2 does look attractive! Maybe if it keeps dropping in price I’ll have to give it a try!

  • Jay Illidge

    Great review thanks, I have the Olympus 45mm and it’s an awesome portrait lens, and I accidentally stumbled across the Lumix 20mm for an incredible price recently. Coupled with my E-M1 it’s giving fantastic results for a pancake. Cheers mate, keep it coming.

    • Jay Soriano

      Appreciate the kind words! The Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and Olympus 45mm f1.8 can take you a long way!

  • Jean Claude

    Nice article, what lightning setup did you use for the close headshots?

    • Jay Soriano

      I used the RoundFlash, which uses a single flash. Search the site for a review

  • DVD Exotica

    I have a question I’ve had a hard time researching the answer to…
    What 4/3rds lens would you recommend for high “bokeh” in close range? I know the idea for quality DoF is to get some workable distance both between your subject and the camera and between the subject and the background. But what about for shooting indoors when you can’t just stick on your long lens and shoot your buddy from halfway down the street? Like, you’re in a small room and you want the person clearly in focus but not the lamp as out of focus as possible. I’ve been stuck on this for ages, so thanks in advance for any help!

    • Jay Soriano

      Indoors, I prefer the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 (as mentioned above). The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is another option, but it’s a tighter field of view. All the fast primes are capable of blurring the background, it’s just how far you want to go. My advice, just try a few out and see what you like.

      • DVD Exotica

        Thanks! I think tighter field of view is better in small spaces, because you need to substantially blur out something that’s only slightly farther from the camera than the subject, right?
        Unfortunately, trying a few lenses is a rich man’s game. In a situation like mine, you buy one lens and it better be the one you need the most because that’s all your money.

        • Jay Soriano

          Try the Olympus 45mm f1.8, at about $200 used right now it’s a really good deal.

          • DVD Exotica

            Okay, the 45/ 1.8 just arrived today. I haven’t had time to fully play around and experiment yet, but my initial impression is that it doesn’t work for what I was asking about. In order to get the subject far enough away from the camera that it’s not an extreme close-up of his face taking up 100% of the frame (and eliminating the background completely), the camera and subject have to be pretty much right up against opposite walls. And then you can’t get any bokeh between the person and the background at all.

          • Jay Soriano

            Hmmm, well we’re talking semantics with regards to how much blur is optimal. Other options are much more expensive (Nocticron, Olympus 75 and Nokton). Play around with the tool HowMuchBlur.com and you can compare and contrast between different lenses and formats.

          • DVD Exotica

            Okay; I see what you mean that the “high” in “high bokeh” is a relative term. But with the subject’s back against the wall, there’s zero bokeh at all; the background’s in perfect focus with the subject. I’m still playing with it and I think the biggest issue is just that the lens is too long for indoor shooting. I can’t even get a head and shoulders shot from most directions (and it’s not like I’m in a bathroom or closet), and when I can, there’s no room for bokeh.
            So frustrating! I it just impossible to get high bokeh at close range? Is that the real issue?

          • Jay Soriano

            The amount of separation of the subject from the background is a very important factor, HowMuchBlur shows that the Pan-Leica 25mm f1.4 will blur the background a tad more than the 45mm up to about 1 meter, after that the Olympus does better. But the difference is small, though you will have more of a working distance.

            At a close distance, there really isn’t anything better than the 42.5mm f1.2 Leica or f0.95 Nokton for Micro 4/3… but it comes at a price. And either of those lenses will about match the bokeh of a full frame Canon 5Dx + 50mm f1.8.

            I attached a recent shot with the 45mm shot at f2.2, and here’s one on Instagram with the Olympus 75mm f1.8 https://instagram.com/p/9CCAXXsvI-/?taken-by=m43cameras

            Other than that, you can take it further in post with Photoshop tools like field or iris blur.

          • Peter

            I’d go for 20mm Panasonic lens. Bokeh guaranteed!

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  • Joe Morrison

    Hi Jay, Great resource here. Thanks. Now you say you can’t use a Panasonic lens with OIS with an Olympus IBIS camera. What happens if you switch off the OIS? Will IBIS work normally?

    • Jay Soriano

      Yes, it’s either one or the other… and IBIS is preferred.

      Though I hear at really long focal lengths, OIS might be better though I can’t confirm. The upcoming Olympus 300mm f4 PRO will be the first Olympus lens with OIS.

      • Joe Morrison

        So if I use my Panasonic 35-100 I just need to turn off the Power OIS to get the 5 axis IBIS on a new Olympus body? But until the 300mm Pro lens comes out, I can’t have IS if I use any Olympus lens on my GH3? Is IBIS good enough to be a deal breaker when I’m choosing my new body?

        • Jay Soriano

          Yes, just turn off the OIS to utilize IBIS. And yes, no other Olympus lenses with OIS have been announced, perhaps in the future though as they revealed a Dual IS like patent similar to the Panasonic GX8.

          When choosing a new body, Olympus IBIS is world class, but it just depends on what you want to shoot. I started with Panasonic (GF1 then GX1), but the EM5 edged out the GX7 for me. I still use the GX1 though. I’m thinking about a new body as well, but I’d like to keep the IBIS, but I also would like the option for 4k since I want to learn video. The EM1 II and GH5 are likely to bring the best of both worlds, but likely not until later in 2016.

          • Joe Morrison

            Thanks Jay. I finally settled on second hand GH4 as the only Olympus lens I really need is the 60mm macro and I don’t need IS for my macro work. It’s more important for me to have lens compatibility between my two bodies, the other being a GH3. I will be keeping an eye on what happens with the EM-D line and GH5 in the future as possible upgrades for my GH3. The EM5 ii seems to be too much of a work in progress at the moment but I’m sure the EM1 ii will benefit from the feedback on its ergonomics, layout and new functions.

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  • Paul Weston

    Hi Jay
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your experiences with m43 and your recommendations, I am a complete novice to photography but love to capture special moments, cut to the chase I bought myself a Panasonic GM1 because of the size, I like the idea of having a pocket rocket literally, couple of days in and I am really happy with kit lens 12-32, seems pretty good, I did buy Olympus 45mm 1.8 but images are blurry, pretty much all of them, I read that this happens with olympus lens on Panasonic bodies, no image stabilisation, my hands are not the best,lol, obviously I want to hold camera at a moments notice and not use tripods etc, how to get round this, is their an easy solution, I also bought the olympus 17mm 1.8, not got to yet but I imagine I will have same issue, appreciate any advice Jay, and thanks again for interesting read,best Paul

    • Jay Soriano

      Hey Paul,

      Shooting handheld a rule of thumb is to shoot at least 1/60 shutter speed. With longer focal lengths, you’ll have to adjust accordingly. I use the at least the same number shutter speed as the equivalent focal length, eg. if I’m shooting at 100mm with my Panasonic 35-100 f2.8, that is a 200mm Full Frame equivalent, which means I’ll be using a minimum of 1/200 shutter speed.

      For the Olympus 45mm, that is a 90mm FF equivalent, 1/90 isn’t an option thus you should at least use 1/100 or faster.

      There’s a lot more that goes into sharpness, but I’m guessing that’s the problem that you’re running into. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

      • Paul Weston

        Hi Jay
        Many thanks for that, I think this will really help me, I will try more at the weekend and let you know how I get on, If you think there is anything else that might help me I would be interested to know, thanks again Jay
        best
        Paul

  • Jane Patterson

    I have a GH3 right now and am waiting for the GH5 to come out. In addition to nature photos, I shoot a lot of indoor concert photos of my daughter’s band. I can usually get quite close to the stage, but the lighting is always wonky in these venues. Plus the band moves A LOT when they perform, so I need the fastest shutter I can get…which is especially challenging in a low light situation. I have the Pan 14mm 2.5 and shot video with it and it worked great in one of these venues, but it’s not quite tight enough for portraits of individual members. I have the 12-35mm 2.8 and the 35-100mm 2.8 too but neither of those produces satisfactory results. I can’t shoot with a flash since it would be too distracting. Can you recommend a lens to try? Thanks in advance!

    • Jay Soriano

      Hey Jane, with my limited experience with concerts, I’d say bring your fastest lenses. In in addition to the 14mm 2.5, I’d think about adding the 25mm f1.4 and the 45mm f1.8 or 42.5mm f1.7.

  • Jonas

    You mentioned that the Olympus 45mm would be one of two “must have” prime lenses. If you were limiting yourself to just two lenses what would the other one be? Just curious.

    • Jay Soriano

      The other would be a shorter prime, my personal faves would be the 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7, or 25mm f1.4.

  • Nicholas Howe

    Excellent and informative. As a newbie to m4/3 I entry levelled with an Oly EP6 with kit lens. Realized other possibilities and resurrected a couple of non used collected Contax lenses with mount adapter. Got some good results with Fotga tilt shift and a Nikon 50mm shooting at 1.8. Also matched a clunky Helios with good results .I understand the crop factor thingy but still trying to understand the f stop when using prime lenses from legacy 35 mm systems. Is my 1.8 Nikkor actually that or does it become an f 4.It is not a real big deal as I understand the aperture is kept wide open the blobby bits of bokeh would be the same roundish shape the only variable being the number of petals for the aperture when it stopped down a bit . That would change with the type of lens but those modified ones that are appearing seem fun..not sure if square bokeh is aesthetically acceptable

    • Jay Soriano

      Your Nikon 50mm f1.8 adapted on Micro Four Thirds will always have a 100mm focal length and have a DoF equivalent of f3.5*. f1.8 is always f1.8 across formats in terms of exposure.

      *Unless you’re using a speedbooster.

    • Nicholas Howe

      Jay ..thank you for for a prompt response.. I do like the blur chart….as a subject in its self I think that legacy lenses are fun ..it would be great to create an app comparison chart showing visual bokeh effects using different lenses and modified apertures. .thanks again Jay

  • why

    Great Review! Thanks a lot! I own a m43 cameras more than one year and I recently bought the GX85, great camera by the way. My lenses line-up are the 2 kit lenses: 12-35 and 35-100, and I invested in the 7-14mm and the 25mm Leica one. Let me tell you that I am in love with the Leica one. I used 95% of the time. It really delivers and with a friend who is into the FF system, when we compare our pictures, he’s impressed 😀
    The 7-14mm Panny is less “funny”. When composing, live view shows the distortions and barrelling. But, finally, the end result be it RAW or JPEG is highly enhanced. While some like it, I am a little bit lost during composition,
    Anyway, I am thinking about the next lens. I need to choose: the macro looks appealing and the Leica DG 45mm looks sexy. I also would like to increase portrait capacities, so the 42.5mm (typo in the article, it is equivalent to 85mm in FF). So any other suggestion.
    By the way, I am not sure to understand the interest of the 12-35mm/f2,8. So can someone explain the usage ?
    Thanks again for the complete review and long life to m43 !!!

    • Jay Soriano

      Yes, I love the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4! Probably my favorite. I just bought the Panasonic 7-14mm though haven’t really put it to much use yet.

      I’m using the Panasonic 35-100mm 2.8 for portraiture. If you shoot a lot of macro, the Leica 45mm might be a good option to cover both portraiture and macro.

      I do like the Olympus 45mm as a good value lens, though with the GX85 I’d opt for the Panasonic 42.5mm for the Dual IS compatibility.

      The Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 will cover the focal length of your current lens, plus some (I believe you mean 12-32mm kit lens), it will be sharper throughout, and has OIS. I’d imagine it’s super versatile for video, I’ve thought about picking it up but I’ll stick with the 7-14mm for wide and the PL 25mm for a normal FoV.

      • why

        Great and swift answer ! Thanks Jay. I’ll wait for your review of the 7-14mm. I take your suggestion for the Leica 45mm. BTW, the IS on a the GX85 is impressive. I was able to get a sharp shooting of water flowing at 1.4s !!! Without tripod. Of course, need some technique of stability and breath holding !
        Great advices, thanks Jay ! Looking forward to more information to improve my technique and unleash the potential of the m43.

  • Anil Venad

    Hai, I took EM5 last year. seems good. Enjoyed your comparison of the both EM5 and EM5Mk2. But tones of the images are a little more good with Canon it seems. Skin tone will get a glowing yellow touch with Nikon. OMD seems too original. Is it because i dont know how to get the best, i dont know. still a learner with EM5. Any site or book suggestions to master EM5 ?

    • Jay Soriano

      Are you shooting in RAW? Because I find with any camera, that correcting the white balance is priority #1 for correcting color issues. Also, Olympus does have a setting that keeps it a little warmer (which I prefer), but you could change that if your preferences differ.

  • Simon Evans

    Very informative, thanks. Just bought my first m4/3 today so this is very helpful.

    • Jay Soriano

      Glad it helped! Feel free to comment/shoot me an email if you ever have any questions!

  • Rob Belyea

    Thanks Jay. I’m interested in what you think of the Panny 25mm f1.7.

    • Jay Soriano

      I liked it when they had it on sale a while back for $99. At it’s current price I’d rather spend a little more for a pre-owned Panasonic-Leica 25mm 1.4, or if you don’t mind going a little wider, go for the 20mm f1.7.

      • Rob Belyea

        I have the same “Brain Fart” when looking at 14mm lenses that were valued at $100 as part of GF kits. I have the 20 now but was thinking about the faster and quieter focus provided by stepper motors. I also have the 12-32 with that type and it’s very fast focusing. Have you tested the 24 Panny?

  • Liam

    I have almost every one of these Panasonic lenses and a few more. I don’t have any of the Voightlander lenses.

    My impressions

    7-14mm. Surprisingly useful. I’ve never owned a wide angle lens that wide. I thought I’d use it only rarely, instead I find myself reaching for it frequently. Certainly one of my favorites.

    Pancakes. I have them all in a kit with a GX1 and a 35-100mm f/4-5.6. Very compact and versatile. I agree with most of what you wrote. The 20mm is slow focusing. And I wish more of the probes had in lens stabilization. If not Panasonicnerd to match Olympus for in body 5 axis stabilization soon.

    Of the 14-35 f/2.8 and arching 35-100. I use the 14-35 constantly. You could get by with just these two lenses, and maybe the 7-14mm. Those three? A better holy trinity.

    I have both versions of the 14-140mm–a got a deal on the slower lens–the controls are a little better. I’ll probably sell the slower heavier lens. That one lens will do everything without swapping. Just one lens–that’s the one.

    I’d like to try the P/L 14-150mm and have heard it suffers from lens creep.

    I have the 100-300mm and it doesn’t seem all that sharp to me which is why I bought the P/L today and plan to sell the 100-300mm.

    For primes I bought the 12mm f/1.4 and love it. Hating buying it new because I typically shop around and get great deals on used. Was it worth I it. I have no regrets. It’s fantastic and a jewel so nice I’m afraid to use it on the water sailing with my pancake option. I expect I’ll use it a lot next year in the sailing season for creamy bokeh shots on the boat. I was about to buy the P/L 15mm f/1.7 and decided to go for the speed of the 1.4 aperture lens. Now I don’t see that I’ll ever get a chance to try the 1.7. The optics are superior and since I hate flash, and love bokeh, natural light means wide apertures. Which it my tendency on primes. I would not buy them and stick with zooms otherwise.

    I like the 25mm f/1.4 but hate the hood. It’s useful but I use the 14mm more often. All of the Leica collaborations have impressed me. The 25mm is probably a better everyday lens. I have not used it as much since I bought the 14mm. How can I describe the 14mm. It’s much like the 7-14mm zoom. I find I use it more that I expected and it’s a real joy to use creatively– well worth the price.

    Now: My favorite lens of all, by far is the Nocticron. It’s sharp, stabilized, focuses the sharpest and fastest of all my lenses. It’s perfect! My favorite photos all seem to be taken with this lens. It’s in a sweet spot for focal length and gives me a taste of the Noctilux I always wanted. I never tried the cheap 42.5mm and 45mm options and have no interest. They may be good lenses and great values but who would chose good when you could have the very best MFT lens made. I’ll gladly take the size hit of the Nocticron give its outstanding optics, bokeh, image stabilization, and focusing speed. Plus it is the sexiest looking lens. Nothing else will ever compare. You should try one. You won’t part with it. I bought mine used for $1090, and you can find them for under $1000 on eBay. Mine was a store demo. I thought wow, maybe I’d like the Voightlandeer 42.5mm. But no, I have plenty of bokeh and the focusing is so fast I could never be as good with the Voightlander. I may try the Voightlander 25mm or 17.5mm, but nothing can take away my love of the Nocticron.

    I have only one Olympus lens, the silver 75mm. It’s as sharp as they say but I find it less useful. I’ll spend more time with it mounted all day to explore its potential more. So far it seems like mostly a studio lens. It’s so sharp I’d hate to sell it, but I might if I can’t get more use out of it. Truthfully, the Nocticron and GH4 wouldmy instinctive portrait lens.

    I would like to try the fixed 8mm f/1.8 lens. And the new 25mm pro lens, but I’m satisfied with what I have there. It’s not my preferred focal length.

    I also have a Rokinon 300mm reflector. It has poor contrast, and it’s cheap and small, such that I’m more likely to bring it with me. And it can do interesting things. It’s probably a good match for my stabilized GH85 while boating to capture distant shots of passing traffic. Fine for bright days as it’s very slow. F/6.3. It will be interesting to compare to the P/L 100-400mm I will probably add it to my GX1 kit.

    I have the .64 Speedbooster & Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 combo. I found it hard to focus manually for video and slow and loud on auto focus. I’ll play around with it more but may auction that off too. My problem is many of my subject are very fast moving. I can edit out the blur but need stuff shark and autofocus is important. There may still be a place for this combo. I have yet to try low light situations since I’m not yet comfortable with the lens in daylight. It’s in many ways the opposite to the Nocticron which focuses so fast and well that it make my life so much easier. I can focus on the art and I don’t miss shots. I plan to give myself more time with it and then transition into nighttime video use. If it fills that nitch I’ll keep it.

    If I had only one lens it would be the Nocticron. While the GX85 has in body stabilization, the GH4 is like weapon used catnip. A power and irresistible combo.

    The last lens worth mentioning are the two power zooms. I bought these for remote operation. I only have one external battery eliminator on the weatherized GH4, and while the lenses are not weatherized like the f/2.8 pair, they have a certain appeal for remote use coupled with a pan and tilt these could follow subjects and allow me a level of remote automation. So far I’ve had a few issues with the controlling of those lenses. The jury is out on whether they will hold up for prolonged use. I hope they do because I’m keenly interested in remote camera operation for a project idea I have.

    The only other lenses I’d like to evaluate are the Olympus 40-150mm, 300mm and take inverter, and the 8mm. All of these are interesting, expensive, and not terribly important to me.

  • Hey Jay, love this comprehensive article! I had a quick question. I am looking for the best mirrorless lens for food photography. I used to shot with a Canon DSLR using the 50mm 1.8 lens and am now using the Olympus 45 mm 1.8 on an Olympus OM-D E-M10 II. Just wanted to get your thoughts on what you think is the best food photography lens or the closest equivalent to a 50mm for the canon dslr? Any help would be MUCH appreciated!! THANKS!

    • Jay Soriano

      If you were using a crop sensor Canon DSLR (Rebel, 80d, etc), you should be getting a similar result. If you had a full frame Canon DSLR, then you’ll be looking at something like the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 for a similar field of view.

      • I see. I was using a canon Rebel so you’re saying the Olympus 45mm should be pretty similar to the canon 50 mm yes? What are the biggest differences between the 45mm and the 25mm Olympus lenses on mirrorless?

  • Mirek S.

    Hi, I noticed there is a strong preference of Panasonic lenses. Is there any reason for that? I am looking for those ones from Olympus:
    Olympus ED 7-14mm 1:2.8 PRO
    Olympus ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO

    and especially looking for Olympus ED 25mm 1:1.2 PRO. Any experience about this one? A bit price friendly is PANASONIC 25 mm f/1,4 ASPH LEICA, but haven’t read anything about it yet.

    I am pretty decided for those two, unless someone has a strong arguments for Panasonic equivalents:
    Olympus Premium ED 60mm 1:2.8 Macro
    Olympus ED 40-150mm 1:2.8 PRO

    All using with Olympus O-MD E-M10, shooting stills, not video.
    Thank you for opinion and for a great article.

    • Jay Soriano

      Panasonic does tend to outscore Olympus on lens sharpness according to LensTip on similar lenses. But it really depends on what you want to shoot. And if you’re shooting on an Olympus body, I totally understand wanting the lenses to match. I shoot with both, so I just look for price/value.

      But you can’t go wrong with the Olympus 7-14, 12-40 and 40-150 PRO. In fact, I’d be a little jealous! 🙂

      • Mirek S.

        Haha, don’t be 🙂 thank you for quick response. What do you think about the Panasonic 25mm 1.4f leica? Are there any cons why would make sense to buy twice as much expensive Olympus? Water/dust resistance is not a argument this time.

        • Jay Soriano

          I can’t think of any. I buy and sell a lot of lenses to try different ones out, but I can never imagine parting with that one.

  • TotobearTop

    Hi Jay,

    I have the Panasonic Lumix GF3 with the kit lens (14-42mm 3.5-5.6) and the 14mm 2.5 lens. I would like to shoot better portraits, under low light (my photos tend to be quite blurry and the high ISO to prevent this produces too much noise for my liking, for travelling and for general photography. This is why thought of upgrading my lens. I was considering the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1.8 (because it fits into my budget & the results – bokeh etc are amazing!!) but I’m deterred by the fact that the lens does not have image stabilization.

    Do you think the non IS would affect a lot of my shooting with my Lumix camera? Or should I invest in something equivalent albeit the higher price which is the Lumix 42.5mm 1.7 lens (or any advice on which better suitable lens in my case)? Another dilemma I have is that I prefer the results of the photos taken by other users with the Olympus lens over the Lumix lens (is this because of the settings?).

    Any advice? Thanks.

    • Jay Soriano

      I’ve never thought that lens OIS makes a huge difference – maybe 1 stop? IBIS is the real difference maker. If you’re going to stick with Panasonic after the GF3, I’d probably spring for the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 because late generation Panasonic’s have the DFD focusing system that’s currently only compatible with Panasonic lenses.

      And remember there’s more to sharpness than the amount of light a lens can let in. Even at high ISO you can get photos sharp as a tack – make sure the shutter speed is set to at least 1/100 for portraiture… I still do that even with IBIS and Dual IS from late gen cameras.

      • TotobearTop

        My GF3 does not have IBIS so I guess OIS would help (slightly). After reading more comparative reviews, I think the Panasonic lens would be the better choice in my case too.

        Okay I’ll try out with more different settings when I shoot, thanks for the tip and advice! 🙂

  • timsensei

    Hi,
    A great post with relevant information and great links.
    I’m looking to replace my ageing Canon D550 and wonderfully wide for video 10-18mm lens with a GX8 and either Olympus or Panasonic 7-14mm. Am leaning towards the later as I’ll be walking around with the camera to I’ll benefit from the addition IS of the lens. DOF / low benefits of Olympus are temping tho.
    Thank you
    Tim