Lens Choices for the Olympus OM-D EM-5

Received a question from a reader today: I recently bought the Olympus OM-D EM-5, what lenses should i start with, i’m interested in street and landscape photography.

First of all, my best advice would be to always visualize and frame the shot first, “see” the photograph in your mind, only then choose the the correct lens to enable you to capture it. This will train your eye better, and allow you to make compositionally competent decisions. If you look at things the other way around, then the lens becomes your keeper, it can become a shackle to your creativity.

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Headshots and portraiture are an easy example of where you need the “see” the framing of the shot before choosing the appropriate focal length. The reason why 85mm-90mm lenses are popular portrait focal lengths is because the lens gives the subject and photographer a comfortable separation/working distance.

Having said that, a camera needs a lens. And when we’re dealing with an interchangeable system camera such as the OM-D Micro Four Thirds, the choices are many and can be quite confusing. So based on your needs, i’ll recommend a few workable options.

The new Olympus 12-50mm that acts as the kit lens for the OM-D is quite a stellar performer. Weather-sealed just like the body, it covers a great range of focal lengths pretty competently. It also has a macro mode that works quite well. So if you need one lens that works through most scenarios, this one will work. Having said that, f3.5-f6.3 is pretty slow so low-light and bokeh opportunities will be limited with it.

If not the 12-50mm, there are two lenses in particular that i really like for the M43 system, the Olympus 12/2 and the Olympus 45/1.8 and i’d recommend both very highly. Both lenses are blazingly fast, low-light will not be a problem. For the 45/1.8, wide open, bokeh is creamy delicious. Although i don’t own the 12/2, i’ve tested it quite a bit, and have been impressed at how sharp and distortion free it is even at max aperture. 

Generally speaking, and i urge you to read the first paragraph above again at this point, the 45/1.8 is a very competent portrait lens that offers a good amount of pulling power in most other scenarios. The 12/2 is suited for the street, and also useful for landscapes where the subject (e.g. Mother Nature) tends to envelop a larger area thus requiring a wider frame.

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Bokeh-licious, Olympus 45mm f1.8

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Sharp and distortion free, Olympus 45mm f1.8

Price-wise, the 45/1.8 is a steal. You can probably find it at some places for RM950. It really is a no brainer if you own a M43 system camera. The 12/2 is much more dear — RM2200 is about the lowest price i’ve found. It all depends on your purchasing power: for some people RM2200 is not much. In that case, go for it. You won’t regret it.

If budget is a concern, i’d still recommend the 45/1.8 and one other, the Panasonic ASPH 14mm f/2.5. The Panny 14/2.5 is a pretty understated lens; some people look down on it because it’s the kit lens for the Panasonic GF3. Some also say that it’s soft around the edges when wide open (which is true), and that CA (chromatic aberration) is a problem in high-contrast scenarios (which is true). Optically, it is an inferior lens to the Olympus 12/2 but that’s not to say that it can’t product good results. Knowing the limitation of the lens allows you work around them.

Bagman

No worries about the edges being soft when they aren’t a part of the subject, right? Panasonic ASPH 14mm f2.5

The Leica M-Monochrom

Wide open, sharp as a tack in the center. See the lines, and the lack of distortion. Panasonic ASPH 14mm f2.5

Slicing dexterity - 2 packets a minute!

Wide open, you’ll notice some minor vignetting. Work that into the shot so that it doesn’t matter. Panasonic ASPH 14mm f2.5

And all of this at a remarkable price point: RM600 — go to the larger shops (i got mine from the camera shop in KLCC) where customers who buy the Panasonic GF3 do not want the 14/2.5 lens that comes with it. Shops will generally take the lens out and put it up for sale separately. “Open lenses” like these sell at a remarkable discount: a boxed 14/2.5 will cost RM1200-1300. 

So there you go. Always remember — frame the photograph first, then worry about the focal length. Once you’ve squared away the discipline required to do this, then get your lenses. For the Olympus OM-D EM-5, the ones i’d recommend are the Olympus 12/2 and the Olympus 45/1.8. It’s a dream team. Almost like having LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the same team — one has the range, the other has the finesse, both are amazingly powerful and versatile. 

For the budget conscious, the Panasonic ASPH 14mm f2.5 is no slouch and worthy of consideration. Another notable mention is the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f1.4 — amazing 50mm equivalent lens built to Leica specs. Also, if you’re able to hold off a little while on the 45/1.8, i would suggest comparing that against the soon-to-arrive Olympus 75mm f1.8. It might be a little too long for some, but you might like it, worth a try.

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