Michael Rammell

My Three Favourite Olympus Lenses

Gear, MicroFourThirds, OlympusMichael Rammell4 Comments

It's been a few weeks since I've managed to sit at my desk and write for the blog, but in that time over 50 of you have subscribed! Thank you to all you newcomers and subscribers.

The reason for the absence was largely because I've been so busy and focused on shooting weddings. The wedding season here in the UK typically runs from April to September and this year has been my most hectic yet! With me shooting nearly every weekend and then post processing during the week, I've had to shuffle a few regular tasks around and give priority to the wedding work, naturally. I also had a bit of an accident where I was knocked off my bicycle too. Many evening's were taken up with Physio to get my shoulder back to a good place, when I would have perhaps otherwise been writing. So all in all, a busy schedule meant something had to give.

At every wedding my Olympus OM-D E-M1 has been on-hand and has worked flawlessly every time.

But, over the course of the weddings I have shot this year I've tried to refine what equipment I've had with me in the bag over my shoulder (and what equipment gets left in the other bag in the car). Despite using Olympus gear I still have to lug around a fair bit of kit including no less than 2 light stands that each reach up to 9 feet, a 40" Octabox, reflectors, flashes and constant lights. So, suffice to say the lighter my camera bag can be the better. It's for this reason I decided looked at which lenses I've used the most; those lenses that have earned a permanent place in the bag. I've even sold a couple of lenses as a result of this exercise too, including my 12-40mm f/2.8 and my 25mm f/1.8. More on that later in this post...

Although my need to reflect upon which lenses I favoured most was borne out of my desire to work with only the essential lenses at weddings, I do feel that this list actually represents my favourite all-round lenses for any type of shooting situation. So, if you're not a wedding photographer, this post will still hold true for you too...Enjoy!

1: 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO

The 7-14mm f/2.8 is the newest addition to my lens bag and a lens that I anticipated for such a long time before its' release. As a wedding photographer and a keen landscape photographer too, an ultra wide angle like this makes up 1 of 3 of the 'Holy Trinity' of lenses; that being an ultra wide, a standard zoom and a telephoto zoom. In my favourite three here, I include 2 of the 3 lenses from that trio (with the 12-40mm f/2.8 missing out).

The 7-14m is an absolutely amazing lens and scores very highly in every department: the build quality is second to non, its' super sharpness and ability to focus well in low-light make this lens very versatile.

The effective field of view becomes a 14-28mm on an Micro Four Thirds sensor. It's a focal range that can help you to produce some massively creative and interesting photographs, results that perhaps a slightly less wide lens just couldn't offer (the 12-40mm f/2.8 for example). Here are a couple of shots I've made during 2016 using this lens.

As with all wide angles, the key is often to pay attention to those things that need to be excluded from the frame, as much as what you manage to capture within it. Owing to the extremely wide field of view it's not uncommon that you'll find things sneaking into the frame that would have perhaps been outside of the frame were you shooting with a standard zoom or something slightly less wide.

The 7-14mm pairs up wonderfully with the OM-D E-M1 in particular with matching build quality and performance. Thanks to its constant f/2.8 aperture it's a fast lens too, meaning it can be used in many situations only adding to its versatility.

I've used the 7-14mm f/2.8 at weddings and find that the wider shots tend to give a feeling of grandeur to a scene. Think of large staircases and shots from low down on the ground - that wide angle perspective can help to give a feeling of huge by exaggerating things near the edge of the frame and stretching things out to make them look taller or wider (not a good thing with people mind you!) I wouldn't typically use the lens close up to a person unless I was intentionally looking to distort them. These two images show my typical use of a wide angle:

The wide field of view also allows a photographer to capture more in the frame when you have less room to work with, making this especially useful in situations where another lens would have simply too narrow a field of view.

As with many wide angles, flaring can be an issue if you shoot into a light source, but with this 7-14mm I embrace this. The flare and behavior of the light as it bounces around inside the elements can create a wonderful effect. For example (not an award winning image with that wonky horizon):

Another trait of many wide angles and something that the nature of the Micro Four Thirds format 'enhances' is that it is susceptible to chromatic aberration, but with software like Adobe Lightroom, I rarely, if ever, consider CA an issue at all as it is so easily removed with only a few clicks. No layers or masks required!

2: 17mm f/1.8

The 17mm f/1.8 is the only prime lens to make it into my top three favourites, which is actually odd for me when I think about it because I feel that the Olympus bodies work especially well when paired with a prime. It really was a close call between the three primes I do use regularly; the 17mm, the 45mm f/1.8 and the 60mm f/2.8 macro. But, ultimately, the compact size of the 17mm, coupled with its stunning build quality wins it for me.

With build quality you would expect from a lens upwards of £600 and sharpness that you have come to know from some of the most premium glass, the 17mm f/1.8 is an absolute bargain as well as a lens for many occasions. I am an advocate of the saying 'You get what you pay for', but so often is the case with Micro Four Thirds you actually get more than you pay (this is especially true in the case of the 45mm f/1.8 which just missed out on my top 3. I'll come to that later).

The effective field of view equates to 34mm which is a focal range I feel really comfortable using. I've traditionally enjoyed a 50mm prime among my favorite lenses, but with the 4:3 aspect ratio of the MFT sensors I just feel sometimes that a photograph made with a 50mm field of view can sometimes feel rather square, whereas I much prefer a wider frame. It's for this reason that I sold my 25mm f/1.8 lens. It may not be an accurate thing to say, but the 17mm pairs up very well with the E-M1 and gives for a superb result. It's just how I 'feel'.

You'll find that much of the work here on my website, in my street portfolio, was actually shot with the 17mm. Again owing to it's size it is often the only lens I'll take to the streets of London with me.

The 17mm f/1.8 also has other features that really do help this lens to take the 'prime lens crown' (in my opinion) over the others from Olympus. Such as the fact that the minimum focusing distance is just 25cm (or about 10 inches if you prefer). This means you can get nice and close to subjects. When I'm shooting things like wedding cakes and details with this lens this technique can give for wonderful shallow depth of field whilst at the same time not giving that Macro look, which is a look I find works for me. 

Another benefit that makes this lens great is the very small front element. The size of the glass on the front of this lens is actually very tiny! Traditionally we expect the front element to be pretty much the same diameter as the lens itself, but because of the 17mm's near-pinhole size element, it means it's sturdy and tough and you don't find yourself constantly covering the front of the lens or worrying about it getting scratched. That makes this lens tough and ideal for many applications (street, weddings etc). Handy! 

3: The 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

The final lens to make it in to my top 3 favorite micro four thirds lenses is my favorite of them all. For me the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO is something of a marvel: It packs the equivalent of 80-300mm in the size of a lens that is about the same as a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.

I've written a full review of the 40-150mm f/2.8 right here on the blog. For my full thoughts and for more details about this lens you can check out that review too, but the fact is, in summary, this lens is fast to focus, sharp, has great IQ and the ability to resolve detail even at the farthest end. It's built like a tank but isn't too heavy. It features a clever retractable lens hood design. It doesn't hunt back and forth to achieve focus and performs as well as any premium telephoto lens you would expect to pick up for £2,500, even though a savvy shopper can pick one of these up for around £1,200 - £1,300 brand new.

At both ends of its zoom range, it does a great job. The first image of the three below is at 40mm. The second image is at 97mm and the third image at 140m

In addition, the 40-150mm f/2.8 was designed alongside and to work specifically with the 1.4x teleconverter. So, if you want more reach - you can get it without sacrificing much (if anything) in the way of image quality or lens performance. Sure, as with all extenders you lose some depth of field and the 40-150mm f/2.8 quickly becomes a f/4, but, with that extra that you gain it can often be a trade-off well worth making.

The 40-150mm f/2.8 makes it as my favourite in the top 3 because it was the lens that finally sealed the OM-D deal for me. It was when I tested this lens I was convinced that it had what it took to work as a replacement for my previous all-time favorite lens; the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II (considered to be possibly the best telephoto lens in the standard telephoto lens class!).

Whether I'm at the back of a church photographing the first kiss, in a low light situation photographing a newlywed's first dance, in a forest photographing deer, track-side photographing motor sports or even making a studio lit portrait, the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO is a lens that will take all of those situations in its stride whilst feeling great to handle and use at the same time.

If I had to rescue one lens from a fire, it would be the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO.

Other lenses in my bag

I also have the following lenses in my kit bag and to be honest I love them all, but I find myself reaching for these lenses slightly less than those above that I've written about. Either because the above three lenses tend to be what I favor, or, in the case of the 45mm and 60mm Macro; they're a bit more specialist in their purpose and only suit certain scenarios:

It's only now I list my lenses that I realise over time I have really reduced what I have in my bag. This has been really effective in helping me to choose the correct lens for the right scene. It's great to have a lens for every occasion but be wary - that can often paralyze you with too much to choose from.

Lenses I've Sold

I've recently sold both my 25mm f/1.8 and my 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. Before I wrap this up I'm sure people will want to know why I sold my 25mm and 12-40mm lenses

25mm f/1.8

I mentioned earlier that I wasn't a fan of the 50mm field of view on the Micro Four Thirds System. Despite this when I made the switch over to Olympus I picked up the 25mm f/1.8. I felt that at the time that every photographer should have a 50mm equivalent in their lens bag. I owned that for about a year but found that I hardly used it, and when I did I wished I was instead using the 17mm f/1.8 instead for that slightly wider field of view. In comparison with the 17mm f/1.8, which is a very dense and somewhat heavy lens for its size, the 25mm felt plastic, too light and quite cheap in the hand (only when compared directly, but I think this speaks more to the quality of the build of the 17mm f/1.8, rather than anything negative about the 25mm f/1.8). I've never exactly had an issue getting in closer to a subject either and for that reason, the 17mm f/1.8 always seemed to be my preference. Don't get me wrong, the 25mm f/1.8 Isn't a bad lens. I just prefer the 17mm f/1.8 instead.

12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

The 12-40mm f/2.8 I appreciate is a highly popular lens for many Micro Four Thirds photographers. It's 24-80mm effective focal range make this an incredibly versatile lens. Couple that with the build quality we've all come to know and love of M.Zuiko PRO lenses and you have a sturdy lens ready for many situations. It does however just miss out being on my favourites list because I find the effective depth of field on offer (f/5.6 throughout the range) at this focal range just doesn't produce that same separation as some of the f/1.8 primes that sit in that same focal range (that being the 17mm f/1.8 for example). At a longer focal range, such as with the 40-150mm you can create better separation between subject and background whilst maintaining a preferred, tighter composition too. For that reason with the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO the effective focal range is fine and you can still get that wonderful soft background that we've all come to know and love from a telephoto lens. I've found that whenever I'm shooting something and need that little bit of versatility, I will often reach for the 7-14mm f/2.8, the 17mm f/1.8 or even the 45mm f/1.8. My poor old 12-40mm f/2.8 rarely got a look-in.

In case you weren't aware, the crop factor of the MFT sensor is x2. As most of us may be aware that affects the effective focal range; with lenses such as the 40-150mm becoming an effective 80-300mm and the 12-40mm becoming a 24-80mm for example. What everyone may not know though is that focal range is not the only thing affected by the crop factor of the MFT sensor. The aperture of a lense is also effected too. However, there is a caveat to this. Firstly, the f/2.8 aperture is doubled and so works out at f/5.6 (2.8 x 2 = 5.6. Furthermore an f/1.8 has a depth of field equivalent to f/3.6). The reason then that these lenses are still advertised as 35mm film form (17mm f/1.8 and 12-40mm f/2.8) is because those lenses and apertures are still accurately representative of the speed of the lense. I.e they let in the same amount of light as other f/1.8 lenses. In simple terms, they have the ability to let in light, directly representative of their aperture, but a depth of field of twice of that.  

Conclusion

Thanks to Olympus putting the stabilization in to the body, Olympus lenses are all about optics, leaving the camera the job of steadying your scene. I believe that the stabilization on offer inside the OM-D bodies is the best available and the lenses are reaping the benefits of this. Because they don't need to feature those additional motors and parts the lenses are smaller and lighter. This, coupled with the sensor size of course means that they are smaller even still! 

Olympus, unlike Canon and Nikon have one sensor standard and make lenses specifically for that one sensor size. As such M.ZUIKO lenses are designed to work in perfect harmony without any need to compromise or have any sort of change to their design to take another sensor in to account. Square Peg - Square hole! 

So, whilst pretty much all of Olympus' lenses are absolutely superb, I've picked out my three favorites based on how much I find myself reaching for to the results I get. My switch to Olympus was of course motivated by the superb OM-D range, but those bodies would be nothing without stunning glass to mount to them. 

What are your favorite lenses? 

So, what are your favourite lenses? I've chosen all Olympus lenses here in my list, but that's not to say that I couldn't make use of those lenses on offer from Panasonic too! Post your comments and thoughts below and let me know what you find yourself reaching for when you head out shooting.



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