I’m loving prime lenses more and more. Lately I find myself using them a lot often when I travel. It started when I got the excellent Panasonic 20mm Lumix pancake and now the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 added another dimension to my shooting style. Spending 3 weeks with the lens on actual travel made me learn more about its quirks, its strengths and handling. From the initial unboxing, I knew this lens was worth the money I spent. Now here’s my assessment of the lens and some real world samples to boot.
I have pictures comparing the lens to the size of the 20mm pancake and attached to the Olympus E-PL1. It’s light and compact. Its plastic build and painted finish made me question the integrity or quality of the lens. It worries me that I may easily scratch or peel the paint after several uses since I’m quite torturous and rugged on my gears but I had no problems so far. It has a small 37mm filter ring which can be challenging to find. I also didn’t notice until I was shooting with it for a few days that it has a detachable ring at the front covering the lens hood attachment. I almost lost that ring as it was easy to loose so throughout the trip I decided to just remove it and place it in a secure pouch. The focus ring is quite fluid as well.
I think the E-PL1 isn’t the ideal camera to gauge the speed of this lens. While I thought it was a lot faster than the Panasonic 20mm, I found that on rare occasions, the camera doesn’t focus where I want it to be, making me refocus again , especially if the lighting wasn’t as bright. What I would do is just select the focus point I would need for the shot. I’m not sure if it’s the old E-PL1’s focusing fault but I’ll be able to try the lens on the new PENs (E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PM1) soon and give an update.
When shooting portraits, I found that enabling face detection does help in making the focus precisely even if all the focus points on the E-PL1 are active. When shooting objects, its best to direct the focus point on where to focus, especially when shooting wide open where it’s easy to miss the correct focus having too shallow a dept-of-field.
The 45mm isn’t a Macro lens though and the closest focusing distance is .5m (which is actually better than other lenses of same focal length). Though I wish it was able to do macro but that would surely shoot the price up on this already affordable lens.
For my shooting style, I find the mid-telephoto range of 90mm appropriate when shooting on the streets as I just need a moderate distance from my subject. Not too close for comfort nor too far like a paparazzi, just enough to get involved with the subject for some friendly chitchat. I also find that its size as an advantage as it’s less obtrusive and intimidating with people.
Don’t expect this to be a technical review but I’ll let you judge for yourself by the photos I post here, 100% crops with no sharpening and accompanying data. But what I do know personally is that even shooting wide open at the largest aperture of f1.8, it produces sharp images and good overall details at the centre and it just gets better as I stop down even up to f2.5. Color rendition and contrast looks excellent from my eyes and has that natural look. I found I don’t have to adjust as much on my RAW images. Bokeh is simply stunning and it definitely produces the sharp isolation between subject and the background (even foreground). Something a lot of photographers look for portrait shots.
High ISO shots up to 1600 still has a lot of details to show and the large aperture plus in-body image stabilization of the pen is an ideal combination when shooting lowlight handheld.
The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is something to celebrate about since it is the first lens from Olympus 43/m43 system to go below f2. And for a large aperture lens, its diminutive size packs in a performer that produces excellent output straight out of the camera. But is everything bright and shiny with this lens? Not really. The build could be better and adding macro capability would be a welcome addition, but that’s asking too much already for its $400 price tag. Besides, its plastic built doesn’t hinder from producing images with tack sharp images with creamy bokeh and swift focusing speed.