A few months back I reviewed the Olympus 45mm f1.8 calling it, “one of my favorite portrait lenses right behind my Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8.” And that sentiment remains true, with pre-owned copies floating around $200-250 you won’t find a better bang for the buck for a portrait lens.
The Olympus 45mm is faster at f1.8 (vs 2.8), it’s much smaller and almost as sharp. But its biggest limitation is the single focal length.
The 90mm full frame equivalent offers a narrow field of view good for portraiture and shooting at a distance, but it won’t be your go-to lens for most photographic opportunities. It’s best paired with a wider lens (a couple are shown above).
Even strictly for portraiture, though 90mm is good, it isn’t perfect. And the truth is, there isn’t a perfect focal length because everyone’s face is different.
The above example by Stephen Eastwood features portraits taken at different focal lengths, from 19mm to 350mm. And while most photographers would argue that the best photo from above is at 100-135mm… that’s for that specific model. I’d say the ideal focal length is anywhere from 70-200mm, depending on the person.
If you’ve been on Instagram, you’re accustomed to seeing dozens of selfies a day, taken with a phone with a full frame equivalent focal length of about 28mm. A lot of women can pull that off because they have the bone structure for that focal length. That’s not to say they wouldn’t look better with a narrower FoV, it’s just an example.
For my headshots, I like anything around 70-85mm:
Here’s another example with Brittany, who has her fair share of selfies… when I see that, I’m more apt to use the wider end of the Panasonic 35-100mm:
Note: Keep in mind that portrait compression is only applicable for headshots, the further you are from your subject, the less compression there is. However, I always shoot as tight as I can with headshots to maximize photographic quality.
That’s the versatility that the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 brings to the table. Versatility for portraiture, but also many other photo (and video!) situations.
“But with an aperture at f1.8, the Olympus 45mm is over 1 stop faster”
That’s true, and probably the biggest reason I stuck with the Olympus 45mm for so long. But having other fast primes helped on my decision to buy the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8.
And since I shoot mostly headshots, I’m shooting at mostly f4-5.6 to ensure that the entire picture is sharp and in focus. Shooting at f1.8 can leave you in a lot of situations where only one eye is in focus even with the slightest of a head tilt. Also, though the Olympus 45mm is a sharp lens, it’s sharpest at f2.8 where the Panasonic is sharp center-to-edge anywhere from f2.8-5.6… perfect for headshots.
Which on a related note, we can argue this as another advantage of Micro Four Thirds over its larger sensor competitors. You get to use a lens at it’s sharpest aperture, at a deep depth of field perfect for headshots. All the while having a fast enough aperture that you’ll just need a cheap speedlite for a portrait (I’m using the $42 Neweer tt660 in the above shots). You’d have to spend 2-3x more with a full frame system, to get slightly better results (IMHO).
“But with a faster aperture, the Olympus can blur the background more”
We’ve touched on this many times before, but a lenses ability to blur the background depends a lot on the focal length and the distance between the subject and the background. Using the HowMuchBlur calculator, we can see that the Panasonic 35-100mm set at f2.8 and 100mm can blur the background more than the Olympus 45mm at f1.8 when the background is more than 4 meters away from the subject:
“But what about the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 PRO?”
Another viable option, but it is a few hundred bucks more and lacks Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). OIS is perfect for Panasonic cameras, though you’ll want to leave this setting off on Olympus cameras with In-Body Image Stabilization… that is, perhaps until they developer their Dual IS technology. If you need the extra range, you know which lens to get.
The Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 probably won’t be your first lens, but it could be your last.
I remember Zach Arias telling me that “a wide angle and short tele lens can take you a long way,” but adding the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 certainly made my life a lot easier!