The Micro Four Thirds system is all about great image quality in a small package. That was evident pretty much from the start, when Olympus introduced the legendary E-P1 camera with its minuscule 17mm f2.8 pancake kit lens. When buying a new Micro Four Thirds camera today, you’ll probably end up with one of the kit zooms from Olympus and Panasonic, ranging in focal length between 12mm and 50mm. While these may be a great entry into the system and provide some versatility and image quality, you will at some point want to upgrade to more specialized and higher-end glass. Here’s our list of three essential Micro Four Thirds lenses that provide great image quality and don’t break the bank.
Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f1.7 Pancake
This is it. The one. The classic. The Lumix G 20mm f1.7 pancake was the first fast prime lens introduced for the Micro Four Thirds system, and it helped establish the system as a viable option even for demanding photographers. It provides great image quality in a small package, and in that regard it embodies the quintessential philosophy of the Micro Four Thirds system. For many, it was also their entry into the system, and for some it is the only lens they ever use on their Micro Four Thirds camera.
What makes the 20/1.7 so desirable is the great image quality it manages to squeeze into such a tiny package. It is fast with an initial f1.7 aperture, making it great for low light shooting as well as subject isolation. Sharpness is great from the start, as are contrast, color rendition and bokeh. Its focal length–which sits between the classic 35mm wide-angle and the 50mm ‘normal’ in terms of 35mm full-frame–makes it a great all-rounder for a vast number of photographic scenarios.
The best thing about the Lumix 20/1.7 pancake, though, is its price tag. While the new version with its improved body sells for a moderate US-$ 428, the original version can be had for as little as US-$ 349–while stocks last. Considering the amount of image quality you’ll get for your money, there’s really no reason not to buy this lens for your Micro Four Thirds camera.
We reviewed the Lumix G 20mm f1.7 together with the Panasonic GF1 here.
You can buy the Lumix G 20mm f1.7 from Amazon and B&H Photo.
Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this article, we stated that the 20mm f1.7 pancake was the first prime lens for Micro Four Thirds. That is of course incorrect, as it was preceded by the Olympus 17mm f2.8. We apologize for the mistake.
Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8
Olympus’ first prime lens for the Micro Four Thirds system, the 17mm f2.8, wasn’t much of a success. It was slow to focus, wasn’t very sharp and the initial f2.8 aperture just didn’t cut it on the old Micro Four Thirds cameras with their mediocre high-ISO image quality. Its main selling point was the fact that it came in kit with most Olympus models, and that it was cheap when bought individually. With the 45mm f1.8, however, Olympus did everything right.
At 45mm, the lens is already a short tele or portrait lens, equaling a 90mm lens on 35mm full-frame. While that makes it less versatile than the Lumix 20/1.7, it is still great for a number of applications ranging from landscape photography to portraiture and close-ups. And just like the 20mm pancake, the 45mm f1.8 provides great image quality for little money: it’s fast at f1.8, sharp right from the start, with great contrast, color rendition and bokeh.
And with the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, once again the price tag is what makes it so desirable. Coming in at US-$ 349 in both black and silver, the lens is a real no-brainer, and most definitely one of the essential lenses that every Micro Four Thirds user should own at some point.
We reviewed the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 here.
You can buy the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 from Amazon and B&H Photo.
Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 Macro
At this point, you might wonder why we’re only featuring prime lenses in this article. That’s for two reasons. First, you probably already own one of the kit zooms, which will provide you with a versatile focal length range between wide-angle and short tele. Secondly, prime lenses have one advantage over zooms, and that’s the fact that they can be faster with better image quality in an overall smaller package, without the price point making them unattractive to the hobbyist user.
The M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens is another great example for how a prime lens manages to put great image quality in a small package, and at the same time remain affordable. Just like the other two lenses we introduced you to in this article, this lens manages to be sharp and contrasty even wide open, render pleasing and natural-looking colors and provide beautiful bokeh. But that’s not all there is to this lens: the 60/2.8 is a full-grown macro lens.
At its close focusing limit of 7.4″ (measure from the sensor plane), it provides 1:1 magnification, which allows for some stunning macro photography. In addition, the aperture stops down to f22, so depth-of-field control is not a problem when shooting close-up. Thanks to its four-step focus range limiter, focusing is quick and reliable at all distances. And with its long focal length and moderately fast initial aperture, it also works nicely for portraiture and other kinds of close-up photography.
And once more, this is a lens that won’t break the bank, selling for as little as US-$ 499. For a 1:1 macro lens with great overall image quality, that’s almost a steal.
We reviewed the M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 Macro here.
You can buy the M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 Macro from Amazon and B&H Photo.
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