Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8: Is Faster Really Better?

 

 

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8

Neha Mutreja tested the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 to find out what this prime lens has to offer for the Micro Four Third camera users.

The Micro Four Thirds lineup is quite easily the most complete system in the world of mirrorless cameras. However, despite the presence of several lenses from Panasonic, Olympus and third-party manufacturers, there was no real AF lens that could be used as a portrait lens. This was changed by the announcement of the M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8. I was rather curious to see how it compares to similar portrait lenses in other systems and so, tested it on a PEN E-P3 body.

Features
On a Micro Four Thirds body, a 45mm lens gives a field of view equivalent to a 90mm lens. Its fast aperture of f/1.8 means that can blur out the background more than any other Micro Four Thirds lens. Besides this, the maximum aperture is quite useful while shooting in low light, and meant that I did not need to increase the ISO beyond 800 or 1600 in most shooting situations.
Considering the fact that the PEN has a sensor smaller than APS-C, I felt myself wishing that the maximum aperture was faster to get shallower DOF and better low light capabilities. However, the choice of f/1.8 keeps the size and price low, and probably strikes the right balance.
This is a Movie-Still Compatible lens, which means that the AF motor has been optimised for video shooting, such that the AF operation does not create any sound during capture. The lens does not have image stabilisation. This is not an issue for Olympus users, since all PEN cameras have in-body stabilisation, but those who own Panasonic cameras must be aware of this disadvantage.

Handling
The lack of IS has certainly helped restrict the size and weight of the lens. The build quality is above average, but not terribly inspiring. The internal focus mechanism ensures that the length of the barrel does not change and the front lens element does not rotate while focusing, which is useful while using filters.
Like all Olympus lenses, the manual focusing ring is not mechanically coupled with the camera. It is smooth and easy to use. The magnified view of the E-P3 helps aid accuracy, though if you are going to be using a lot of manual focus, we would suggest you to invest in an electronic viewfinder. The lens does not have a distance scale and it is not weather sealed.

Performance
Besides a trip to a local beach and fort, I used the lens to make portraits of my friends, colleagues and fellow passengers in the train. The focusing system is quite quick on the new PEN bodies, though if you do not own the E-P3, E-PL3 or E-PM1, you may find the performance slightly sluggish. With a lens of this aperture, one needs to be extremely critical about focusing, and use the focusing ring to override AF, whenever required. This is helpful when using the S-AF/MF mode.
For a lens of this nature, one simply expects it to perform well at the widest aperture setting, but I ended up being a little disappointed. The centre-to-edge definition is best between f/4 and f/8. But before and beyond this, the results are nothing to speak about.
On the positive side, the lens does not show any sort of distortion or fringing and the flare is also well controlled. At wider apertures, I noticed some marginal vignetting. It vanishes from f/4 and beyond. The bokeh is quite pleasing due to the use of a seven-bladed diaphragm.

Conclusion
This is, by no means, a perfect lens. It is priced at Rs. 17,695, and is quite a mixed bag. If you do not mind compromising a bit on sharpness when shooting at extreme wide and narrow apertures, you can consider buying this lens, simply because it does not have much competition. The only contender is the Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 Macro ASPH MEGA OIS, which is not only more expensive, but also slower. If you compare the M. Zuiko 45mm to an APS-C DSLR system, the price seems steep. After all, a 50mm f/1.8 lens gives a similar field of view, excellent quality and is half the price. And that is where the Olympus M. Zuiko ED 45mm f/1.8 feels incomplete.

 

The 45mm f/1.8 helps isolate the subject and its silent AF system makes it useful for discrete shooting. Exposure: 1/25sec at f/1.8 (ISO 500). Photograph/Neha Mutreja

The 45mm f/1.8 helps isolate the subject and its silent AF system makes it useful for discrete shooting. Exposure: 1/25sec at f/1.8 (ISO 500). Photograph/Neha Mutreja

Final Ratings
Features
Fast Aperture, no focus or DOF scale
16/20

Performance
Lack of sharpness towards faster apertures
24/35

Build Quality
Plastic barrel with metal mount
20/25

Ergonomics
Smooth focusing experience
13/15

Warranty & Support
Two year warranty, 75 service centres
3/5

OVERALL: 76%
Value For Money: 2.5/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
PEN users who want a fast portrait lens, but can work within certain limitations.

Why?
For PEN users, it is currently the only fast portrait option available, unless you count the slower Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro.

 

 

Tags: M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8, march 2012, Movie Still Compatible, Neha Mutreja, Olympus PEN E-P3, PEN series, portrait lens