web analytics

Review: Olympus 45mm f1.8 MSC

by Chris Gampat on 11/30/2011

As the other MSC prime lens in the Olympus line up of Micro Four Thirds glass, the 45mm f1.8 is one that will help many prime users complete their entire lineup of fast prime lenses…or at least it promises to. Though many reviews have tested the lens in shooting many various and random things, we’ve felt that many of the reviewers have neglected to test it for what it was designed for. As a fast aperture focal length that equates to 90mm, this lens was designed to shoot portraits.

And that’s exactly what we did on both the EPM1 and EP2. Yesterday, we shot fashion with the lens. And soon we will feature a full portrait session with the lens and a ring light.

Tech Specs

Specs borrowed from B&H Photo’s listing of the lens.

Performance
Focal Length 45 mm
Comparable Four Thirds and Micro 4/3 Focal Length: 90 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Micro Four Thirds
Format Compatibility Micro Four Thirds
Angle of View 27°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.64′ (0.5 m)
Magnification 0.11x
Groups/Elements 8/9
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 37 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 1.81 x 2.20″ (46 x 56 mm)
Weight 4.09 oz (116 g)

Gear Used

Also used was the Olympus EP2.

Ergonomics

The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a small lens that is both ergonomically balanced no matter what camera it is on, and that will feel good in the hands of most users. Dominating a majority of the exterior is a giant focusing ring. Unlike the 12mm f2, this ring doesn’t slip back to allow for immediate manual focusing. Additionally, there is no depth of field scale or distance scale on this lens.

The front threading of the lens is also quite small, so if you’ll want to put something like the Fader ND Mk II when recording video, you’ll need a step down ring or a hack involving gaffers tape.

The overall build quality of the lens feels a bit lacking. Not that it feels plastic-like, but it doesn’t feel like a solidly built lens. To add to this, at times I often find myself squeezing my lenses or camera a bit when I get anxious while shooting; squeezing this lens assures me that it can take most punishment that users of this lens would throw at it.

Video Demo

Autofocus

Depending on which camera body you use it on, the focusing can either be very slow, mediocre or super fast.

- On my EP2, it is quite slow in low light but fairly quick when outside during the day.

- On my EPM1, it is always very fast and will be for any camera using the MSC Fast Autofocus system. That includes the highly rated Olympus EP3.

- On my good friend Jurek’s Panasonic GH2, it focuses relatively fast. Jurek is an advanced video enthusiast and often uses some of the lenses I get on loan for his videos.

Ease of Use

There really isn’t much to this lens: just screw it onto the camera and you’ll be ready to shoot. Depending on the focusing methods that you’re using, this can either be a blessing or a curse.

For portrait photographers and those looking to utilize the lens’s fast focusing abilities, you’ll appreciate what it can do. Most of this segment of the market either lets the camera choose the focusing spot for them or focuses and then recomposes. These people will be happy with what the lens gives them.

However, for the photographers that prefer to manually focus (such as street photography shooters that want to use the hyperfocal length style of shooting), you’ll have a bit of an upward hill to face off against. Since there is no depth of field or distance scale, you’ll need to use the camera’s ability to magnify an area or just eyeball it while taking the manual focus assist off.

This is a huge discouragement for users that have been spoiled by Olympus’s 12mm f2 or something like the SLRMagic 12mm f1.6.

Image Quality

The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a lens that I want to shoot wide open all day and all night. On a personal level, I’m very pleased with the sharpness that I get with the lens when shooting wide open. For users that love shooting photos of flowers and other plant life, you’ll be pleased to know that the results that come out of the camera only need slight color boosts (if any) and the usual sharpening and clarity adjustments.

The colors rendered by this lens are very true to life. That means that if you’re shooting a scene, expect the colors to be pretty much exactly what you see. in a case like the photo above, I needed to boost the magenta and purple levels to give the photo a bit more pop to it.

This advice applies to shooting in RAW. Shoot in JPEG, and you’ll get different results.

The previous photo of the Fuji X100 required loads of color processing to look that neutral. Indeed though, I was in a dining area with very warm lighting.

Some extra advice that I can offer when shooting with this lens is to not trust your camera’s LCD screen at all. The images will either look beautiful or like complete crap depending on the camera model. The best thing to do is to process the images on your computer. Micro four thirds cameras are capable of some extraordinary results when edited correctly; lab tests and database results aside, it’s you who makes the images. And this lens seems like it was optimized to be shot wide open and also deliver very true to life colors.

With the above said statement, pay careful attention to where the lens is focusing. Despite the fact that so much more will be in focus due to the smaller sensor size at a given f-stop value, it is always a smart idea to ensure that you have achieved absolute focus.

But what about portraits: the subject matter that this lens was designed to photograph. Well, the above portrait and the two following were subject to little to no editing. Matt’s face was photographed wide open at f1.8 and it started to get blurry at the ears. Many details of his face are visible and his beard really sticks out.

Again, when your subjects are around three feet away from you, expect a couple of inches to be in focus. Also notice how the bokeh is very creamy and the backgrounds dissolve away into a blurry haze of gorgeousness.

With the lens stopped down and artificial lights being used, the lens begins to really show its amazing abilities. Look at how bleeding sharp that photo is when stopped down. Josh’s face and glasses are super, super sharp!

But even if you don’t want to shoot portraits and instead want to use the lens when vacationing or as a walkaround lens, it can surely be used that way too. Users will appreciate just how much effort Olympus put into designing a lens where the bokeh isn’t much of a distraction.

Here’s another example of that bokeh. Please mind the fact that I needed to manually focus for this image. It was super tough to autofocus on Dumbo’s Pier. However, you can see those gorgeous city lights in the background.

Of course, when your subjects are around 12 feet or further out, quite a bit more will be in focus even if you’re shooting wide open. And even then, the subjects will still be very sharp for most users posting their images on the internet.

This is where street photographers will appreciate the super small size of the lens coupled with their camera, the fast focusing abilities with certain bodies, and embracing your editorial freedom in Lightroom 3.

Being the fastest aperture lens that Olympus has created for the line of digital cameras, you’ll need to utilize the fast aperture to keep the ISO levels down. This image was tons noisier and I did my best to save it. Olympus probably realized this, and that’s why they made it so sharp wide open.

In reality, this is perhaps one of the sharpest portrait lenses I’ve tested when shot wide open. Unfortunately, that is almost a not fair comparison because the actual focal length is more in the normal range vs being telephoto. With that said, the lens is still extremely sharp wide open and would probably be closely compared to a 50mm f1.8 instead.

Nikon and Canon users both know the pains we feel with our 50mm f1.8 lenses when shooting wide open.

Even against 85mm f1.8 lenses, the Olympus performs very admirably against them. There is almost no color fringing when shooting wide open. You really have to look for it in order to find any at all.

Here are a couple more images that I shot while waiting for a date’s delayed train one night:

Sharpness

Though this quick test is far from being scientific at all, it goes to show that the lens reaches its sweet spot at around f5.6. Now, we usually don’t like to do sharpness tests like this, but we know you guys like them. All I will say beforehand is that you can make your own judgements about this one and that images of people (what this lens was designed to shoot) are a much better source of information than shooting text pasted onto walls; especially in real life scenarios.

f1.8

f2.0

f2.8

f4

f5.6

f8

f11

f16

f22

Conclusion

So what can be said about this lens?

- Excellent image quality and sharpness when wide open providing your objective isn’t to sit there all day and night shooting charts but to instead photograph people and things.

- Image quality is good enough that I’d even say that it can be used for professional purposes and applications.

- Don’t expect to get that super extreme shallow depth of field where only the eyes are in focus though. You’ll need much faster glass than this to do that.

- Fast focusing on newer camera bodies. It’s bearable on older bodies. If you can accept the Fuji X100′s focusing, then you can accept this.

- True to life color rendering.

- Little to no color fringing when shooting wide open.

- Small size

- Semi-flimsy build quality. I really wish it were better and had the full metal build of the 12mm f2. I’d surely pay the premium for it.

- Small filter size, videographers should be aware of this.

- Gorgeous bokeh

Overall, I can’t help but recommend the Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. It should be the portrait lens in the bag of every single Micro Four Thirds camera user and I will not retract or take that statement back. Though Panasonic has a lens that doubles as a Macro lens (45mm f2.8 with Leica branding), it gets utterly destroyed by this lens. When we reviewed that lens, I was very pleased with the colors and sharpness. However, Olympus has taken a page from their years of lens crafting and made it really shine.

Despite the fact that the company may be falling on some seriously hard times, a lens like this only goes to show that the actions of few don’t necessarily speak for an entire company. It was the engineers and designers who made this lens possible. And now it’s here.

Will I be purchasing it? No, and for a very odd reason. I have a Zeiss 58mm f2 Jena Biotar that I adapted to Micro Four Thirds. I’m in love with that lens’s 17 aperture blades, metal build, and colors. I can live without autofocus, but most users can’t. But for shooting portraits where I always ensure that my subject is calm and comfortable, this lens rocks.

In the end, it’s all up to you. But it gets my vote. Consider looking at our step up guide if you want more information.

Please Support The Phoblographer

We love to bring you guys the latest and greatest news and gear related stuff. However, we can’t keep doing that unless we have your continued support. If you would like to purchase any of the items mentioned, please do so by clicking our links first and then purchasing the items as we then get a small portion of the sale to help run the website.

Previous post:

Next post: