REVIEW: Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO (Micro Four Thirds)

concert photography
Is the Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO the ultimate portrait lens for the micro four thirds system? Maybe.

Probably the most common form of photography practiced by the general public is portraiture, people wanting to take pictures of their kids, family, etc. But everyone is looking for that shallow depth of field, that ‘professional look’ and in the micro four thirds ecosystem, it takes some extreme lenses in order to achieve that. But knowing this, Olympus has really stepped up their game lately with the addition of many F1.2 PRO lenses, and while not cheap, these lenses do their best to compensate for the differences between the micro four thirds system and its larger competition.

It started with the 25mm F1.2 PRO, has continued with the latest 17mm F1.2 PRO, and the topic of this review, the 45mm F1.2 Pro. Of all three of these lenses, probably the aptest for that coveted pro portrait look is the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’43e1ee1e-fd6a-11e7-91a2-bb3a906db448′]. So, let’s have a look and see how it stacks up.

Pros & Cons

Let’s get these out of the way first for those of you in the TL;DR crowd. This lens is an excellent performer in many ways. However, it isn’t perfect.

Pros

  • Fast F1.2 Aperture
  • Excellent manual focus control
  • Quick and accurate AF
  • Weather resistance
  • Excellent build quality

Cons

  • Price, you can get a lot more lens for the same money (or less) in other systems
  • Weight the lens is a substantial chunk of glass on most Micro Four Thirds cameras.

 

Gear Used

For this review, we utilized the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4c0647cb-fd6a-11e7-a2cd-81d5614aa734′] along with the [amazon_textlink asin=’B01M4MB3DK’ text=’OM-D E-M1 Mark II’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’54882ae7-fd6a-11e7-9eda-8795eaddc2b8′].

 

Tech Specs

These specs have been taken directly from the official Olympus information page regarding this lens, which you can find here.

  • Focal Length: 45mm
  • 35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 90mm
  • Lens Construction: 14 Elements in 10 Groups (1 ED lens, 4 HR lenses,1 aspherical lens)
  • Dust & Drip Proof: Yes
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.5m
  • Maximum Aperture: f1.2
  • Minimum Aperture: f16

Ergonomics

On its’s own, there isn’t much one can find wrong with the ergonomics of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5e7731d8-fd6a-11e7-b9bc-a9bfb747f40f’]. The lens fits well in all but the largest or smallest hands, it’s a decent weight, and it isn’t even all that big – especially considering that F1.2 aperture. However, one can’t look at the lens on its own: one must also think about how it fits when combined with a camera. This is where the 45mm F1.2 PRO starts to be slightly less appealing.

The size and weight of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’68b36f91-fd6a-11e7-a72b-df03dec5c65c’] wouldn’t be an issue at all on an APS-C or Full Frame-based system. However, given the size and weight of most micro four thirds cameras that this lens is going to be paired with you will find yourself in an interesting dilemma.

The front of the lens is dominated by a nice a large front element – much larger than what a micro four thirds photographer will likely be accustomed to. From there the lens jumps right into it’s focusing ring, which also acts as it’s manual focus override toggle. As I mentioned in the 17mm F1.2 PRO review, this mechanism is a bit of a double-edged sword, but once you get used to it you hardly notice it.

When using the manual focusing ring my base hand on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II felt good with the ring being an ideal distance away so I didn’t feel like I had to stretch my hand or move my fingers into awkward positions in order to manually focus the lens comfortably. Other than the manual focusing ring the only other button on the lens is the custom function switch, which you can set to do whatever you like via the camera settings. I didn’t make much use of that feature, but I can certainly see it being very useful for someone who was planning on having the 45mm F1.2 PRO long term.

Build Quality

The build quality of the Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO is absolutely outstanding. I can’t say I found any issue with the design or build of the lens that could honestly be described as bad. Sure, I tend to prefer a manual override switch rather than a push/pull mechanism, but that is a subjective opinion. There are plenty of people out there who love the push/pull mechanism, so I can say I prefer otherwise, but it’s not a bad design choice. You should also know that this lens is weather sealed, so like most Olympus products on the higher end, you can take it out into the rain with ease.

The lens is very substantial for a micro four thirds lens. It has a really great look with its design and the weight of the lens really helps sell it. This is a bit funny, because it’s actually incredibly lighter than what you are probably thinking of for an F1.2 lens. Basically, what I am trying to say is that the lens both looks and feels incredibly premium – which is great because the price tag definitely would have you expecting as much.

 

Ease of Use

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’72458a25-fd6a-11e7-81c1-cb3e68b86b60′] is honestly as easy to use as any other prime lens out there. It’s basically plug and play with the only possible things you could need to think about are what to set your custom function button to do and whether or not you want to manually focus.

The only problem that is run into with this lens and the other PRO prime lenses is due to the manual focusing mechanism. If it is engaged the camera, obviously, will not autofocus. But the issue is that this mechanism can be activated when pulling the lens out of a bag or something similar and you may not realize it. Then when you go to take a shot the camera will not focus and you will miss moments and wonder why your kit isn’t working. You get used to this – even I did in the short period of time I had with the lens: you just train yourself to check for that.

However, it would have been nice for Olympus to just make it more obvious visually when that mechanism is active so you wouldn’t have a momentary ‘oops’ moment when you go to take a shot and the AF doesn’t work.

In terms of real life use you should surely keep in mind that you’re getting a lens with an F1.2 aperture but due to the sensor, you’re getting a full frame depth of field equivalency of F2.4 when shooting wide open. This is due to the crop factor. This isn’t a major problem–in fact it means you still get a pretty shallow focus with more light gathering abilities.

Auto Focus

Speaking of the Auto Focus, the 45mm F1.2 PRO is an excellent performer, being able to track subjects accurately and achieve critical focus fast. This lens is certainly faster focusing than what most APS-C and Full Frame F1.2 lenses are capable of, but it not only has a size (smaller elements to move) benefit on its side but also the depth of field.

Anyways, the lens focuses quickly and quietly, allowing you to make use of the 45mm F1.2 in situations where silence is a virtue. This will be really beneficial to people interested in shooting street photography, candids, performances, and things like that.

Image Quality

Image quality wise the lens has many of the known traits of micro four thirds lenses we have come to know and love. There is no reason at all to shoot this lens anywhere but wide open, because yes, even at F1.2 this lens looks wonderful and especially in portrait settings really shines. You can, of course, stop the lens down if you want to or need to for exposure reasons, but this could be the best image quality we have seen out of an F1.2 lens shot wide open.

 

Bokeh

As you would expect, being a 90mm equivalent lens and having the advantage of an F1.2 aperture, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7a102b4d-fd6a-11e7-9a02-c53d86b29919′] offers some of the best bokeh potential that you could hope for out of a micro four thirds offering. The engineered ‘feathered bokeh’ that Olympus likes to talk about looks good and really helps you get that creamy pro portrait people are looking for in a lens like this.

The bokeh isn’t the best we have ever seen, but it is certainly among the best we have seen out of the micro four thirds system. So if you are in the market for a good bokeh lens for your micro four thirds camera, this is definitely one to consider in our mind.

Sharpness

This lens is sharp, like really sharp, and as noted above, this is also completely while being shot wide open. It is almost not even fair to other F1.2 lenses, which often struggle with sharpness wide open. But the 45mm F1.2 PRO and the other PRO primes from Olympus really shine in this regard.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

So now let’s wrap this all up and give some overall thoughts and conclusions about the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’83dba559-fd6a-11e7-b089-4d76bcd50b6a’]. In many ways, this is the lens to get if you are a micro four thirds shooter interested in going up a weight class, so to speak, in terms of that popular portrait look right now. It’s not that micro four thirds couldn’t get close to that look before, but this is in my estimation probably the best OEM lens yet to hit that mark and really bring the look of a micro four thirds portrait into the same conversation as an APS-C or Full Frame one. It may not seem like much, but that is a really significant achievement.

The 45mm F1.2 really only has one weakness and that is the fact that due to its pricing really the only people getting this lens are going to be semi-pros and professionals who are already heavily invested in micro four thirds. I don’t see this being a lens that will attract new shooters to the system: it’s simply too expensive compared to the look of what someone could get out of a lens much less expensive on an APS-C or Full Frame system. But if you’re a user of the system for a long time, then this could be the lens for you.

On its own though, the image quality is outstanding, the performance is what you would expect from a professional lens of this price point and the images that you can create with it will be gorgeous. Similarly, with respect to how we have been talking about how no one really makes a bad camera these days, that argument is a little shakier on the lens side of things. But this lens is excellent. If you do decide to go ahead and pick one up you will not be disappointed.

You can find the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767NDXY5′ text=’Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8b9f8f68-fd6a-11e7-b930-7d6cf52e7d01′] on shelves (digital and physical) for around $1,200, which for an F1.2 lens doesn’t sound all that expensive at all. Especially compared to Canon’s F/1.2 offerings. However, when you consider the DOF differences between F1.2 on micro four thirds and full frame, it’s hard to justify that sort of price as most people really just don’t need it. That said, if you count yourself among those micro four thirds enthusiasts who do need it, this is definitely the lens for you and your portrait endeavors.

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.