Best Olympus lenses in 2016
A cracking combination of retro chic styling and bang up-to-date technology, the Olympus OM-D range of cameras has become a storming success all around the world. Refreshingly lightweight yet sturdy and tough, they’re real go-anywhere cameras, while the PEN series of bodies is even more compact. However, they’re not just good travel companions. The fact that these cameras are holding their own against a tide of full-frame systems on the market, despite the relatively small-sized sensors of the Four Thirds format, is a testament to their image quality and all-round performance.
Naturally, image quality isn’t just about the camera body and has arguably even more to do with the attached lens. Olympus wins again here, with a very appealing line-up of zoom lenses in its standard range of M.Zuiko Digital Micro Four Thirds optics, plus a cute 17mm pancake prime. Thanks to the system’s 2x crop factor, these lenses only need to produce a comparatively small image circle. This enables them to be typically small and lightweight, and therefore a good match for OM-D series bodies, even more so for the diminutive PEN series of compact bodies.
As good and well-fitting as they are, there’s always room for improvement over a basic range of lenses. We’ve picked out seven aspirational optics from the Premium and Pro lines of M.Zuiko Digital MFT lenses, stretching all the way from ultra-wide to super-telephoto. Typical attractions include beautifully crafted metal barrels, supreme handling and ergonomics, and some seriously clever tricks. Better still, there are two or three proper bargains to be had.
1. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12‑40mm 1:2.8 Pro
It may be a ‘standard’ lens, but it’s not basic
Focal length: 12-40mm (24-80mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Closest focus: 0.2m | Weight: 382g
F/2.8 maximum aperture Useful zoom range Too large for a PEN body Not cheap
You want a standard zoom lens to do a whole range of everyday jobs brilliantly, and if you’re paying extra for a pro lens, you want it to deliver flawless optical quality too. The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 ticks every box, with generous 24-80mm equivalent focal range and a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture which allows fast shutter speeds even at full zoom – it also gives you a good chance of getting attractive background defocus effects, which are harder to achieve with the smaller sensor size of the Micro Four Thirds format. This lens also produces excellent optical quality across the zoom range and even wide open at f/2.8, together with an almost total absence of aberrations.
2. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40‑150mm 1:2.8 Pro
Fast and long, it’s a sporty number
Focal length: 40-150mm (80-300mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Closest focus: 0.7m | Weight: 880g
Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture Excellent zoom range Faint loss of sharpness at 300mm Not completely silent
There are three key lenses for any serious camera system – the first is a top-quality constant-aperture standard zoom (above) and the second is a constant-aperture telephoto zoom. The classic spec is a 70-200mm f/2.8, but this Olympus lens goes a step further, with an equivalent 80-30mm focal range. It’s also sharp wide open at f/2.8, a key characteristic for pro lenses because they’re often used for blurring backgrounds but keeping the main subject pin-sharp. This lens is also dust, splash and freeze-proof, with a tough metal barrel – and a manual focus clutch and customisable function button too.
3. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7‑14mm 1:2.8 Pro
It’s all about the width
Focal length: 7-14mm (14-28mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Closest focus: 0.2m | Weight: 534g
Super-wide angles of view F/2.8 maximum aperture Edge sharpness better at f/5.6 Fixed hood makes filters tricky
The third ‘essential’ lens in any pro line-up is a constant-aperture super-wide-angle zoom. Until recently, Olympus only had an amateur-oriented 9-18mm lens, but this new 7-14mm is built to last and offers the equivalent of a 14-28mm focal range – wide-angles don’t come a whole lot wider than this. Optically, it’s a really good performer. Typically for a super-wide lens, it shows some softness at the edges of the picture, but this clears up if you stop down to f/5.6. There’s only minimal colour fringing and almost no distortion – and that’s quite a result in a lens this wide.
4. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8
Premium portraiture at a budget price
Focal length: 45mm (90mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/1.8 | Closest focus: 0.5m | Weight: 116g
Very light and compact Sharp even at full aperture Lacks finish of Pro lenses No AF/MF ‘clutch’ ring
The next lens on the shopping list for many photographers is a ‘portrait prime’. This is a single focal length lens with a wide maximum aperture to help when shooting in low light and for defocusing backgrounds. The 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds format means that this diminutive 45mm lens is actually equivalent to much larger 90mm portrait lenses on full frame cameras. It’s not built to Olympus’s Pro lens standards, but its optical performance is really good, even wide open. It weighs only 116g (compare that to a regular 85mm f/1.8) and it’s highly affordable too.
5. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:1.8
Prime time with street smarts
Focal length: 17mm (34mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/1.8 | Closest focus: 0.25m | Weight: 120g
Classic wide-angle prime Smooth and silent AF Larger than 17mm f/2.8 lens Some softening at f/22
If you’re into portraits of a different nature, either grabbed on the street, or more ‘environmental’ portraits where you show people in their surroundings, you should take a look at this 17mm f/1.8. It’s equivalent to a 35mm semi-wide-angle – the classic ‘street photography’ lens – and, interesting, it’s the lens Olympus chose to pair with its premium PEN-F camera. It’s small, it weighs just 120g and the autofocus is both smooth and extremely quiet, which is perfect when you want to shoot quickly and unobtrusively. The sharpness is very good, and so is the contrast, which will help give your pictures real punch.
6. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm 1:2.8 Macro
It’s literally as large as life
Focal length: 60mm (120mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Closest focus: 0.19m | Weight: 185g
Comfortable working distances Consistent sharpness Very slight colour fringing Plastic not metal barrel
The 60mm focal length of this macro lens equates to 120mm in full frame camera terms, so this means you can shoot tiny subjects from some distance away. It means you’re less likely to scare off timid insects, or cast a shadow over them with the camera. You get Olympus’s ZERO (Zuiko Extra‑low Reflection Optical) coatings for added resistance against ghosting and flare, and dust-proof and splash-proof construction, though the outer lens barrel is plastic rather than metal. Sharpness remains very good even at narrow apertures, right down to f/22, which you might often want to use to extend the depth of field in extreme close-up shooting, but it’s equally impressive at the widest aperture of f/2.8.
7. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm 1:4.0 IS Pro
Extend your reach, not your credit limit
Focal length: 300mm (600mm equivalent) | Maximum aperture: f/4 | Closest focus: 1.4m | Weight: 1475g
600mm equivalent zoom Integrated stabilizer f/4 not f/2.8 You pay for what you get!
This 300mm f/4 might sound fairly modest on paper, but remember that this is equivalent to 600mm on a full frame camera, making this a very powerful telephoto for sports and wildlife photography. Interestingly, Olympus has built in a stabilisation system, despite that fact that OM-D camera bodies have stabilisation systems of their own. In fact, they are designed to work together to deliver an impressive six-stop shutter speed advantage. The autofocus is very fast and extremely quiet, and the image quality is stunning. Sharpness is actually spectacular at the widest aperture of f/4, and only drops off a little at the narrowest aperture of f/22.
The true worth of any ‘system camera’ can be judged by the lenses and accessories that make up the system as a whole. Olympus scores particularly well here, with compact yet high-performance OM-D and PEN series cameras that are backed up by a rich and diverse range of ‘premium’ and ‘pro’ grade optics.
Throughout our testing procedures for this round-up, we were repeatedly impressed by the build quality and handling of the lenses. Among all the metal-bodied, weather-sealed lenses, the ‘premium’ line 45mm f/1.8 and 60mm f/2.8 Macro feel slightly poor, plasticky relations, but they nevertheless give excellent overall performance and image quality, as well as being very affordable. The 17mm f/1.8 feels rather tougher and is outstanding value.
Moving up to the ‘pro’ line lenses, the ultra-wide 7-14mm, standard 12-40mm and telephoto 40-150mm zoom lenses all share a fast and constant f/2.8 aperture and all combine sumptuous image quality with sublime handling. Optical hallmarks include great sharpness and contrast, along with very minimal colour fringing and distortions, and great resilience against ghosting and flare. For a manageable lens with super-sized telephoto reach, the new 300mm f/4 lens is simply stunning, complete with a staggeringly good image stabilization system. All in all, this collection of lenses really does include something for every kind of shooting scenario.