(If You Can’t Afford Or Don’t Need The New Super Fast Primes From Olympus – The Old Olympus Holy Trinity Is Still Great Kit!)
Olympus is well-known for making some of the best glass available. That’s why at different times in my career I have relied on Olympus to help me make great photographs.
Now that I am an Olympus Visionary, I am lucky in that I get all the new stuff and have access to the best of the best of the best – primes, fast lenses, super telephotos, you name it.
But if you’re on a budget and you cannot afford or justify the cost of the “pro” gear, but still want “pro” results, you’re in luck.
Olympus has three older lenses that don’t get much press these days – that aren’t “sexy” or filled with the very latest technology. But consistently, and dependably, they do have one trait that all photographers (of any budget) will be looking for. They are deadly sharp. Razor sharp. Cut a diamond sharp.
These aren’t cheap lenses nor (in two of the three cases) are they super affordable. But they ARE more affordable than the latest pro lenses from Olympus, and while they may lack image stabilization or water resistance, they still offer amazing image quality.
This first lens I’ll discuss is the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 Lens. It cost more than $400 back in the day, and I thought that was pretty expensive for a M43 lens. But after using it I didn’t mind the price. Frankly, I was shocked at how good it was. With a field of view of 90mm, and a super fast f/1.8 aperture, I thought it might make the perfect portrait lens given how small and light weight it was compared to my big, fast, heavy, and expensive Canon 85mm lens. It’s probably the best sub-$400 lens in this focal length you can buy.
It’s certainly the best lens with these specs:
- 90mm (35mm Equivalent)
- Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
- Two Extra-High Refractive Index Elements
- Movie & Still Compatible AF System
- Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm
As for the 45mm (M43) being a great portrait lens, to make a long story short, I was right. The lens is sharp, contrasty, fast to focus and unobtrusive. It fits in your shirt pocket and when you pull it out and put it on any Olympus digital camera body you have a great portrait lens.
NOTE: The newest 45mm lens from Olympus is the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens. and yes it is utterly beautiful. It is super fast and offers an astoundingly soft bokeh. It focuses laser quick – even wide open and is weather resistant. It’s also almost $800 more expensive than the 1.8 lens. If you don’t have that extra $800 it’s great news that you have a less expensive alternative.)
Next up is another important lens for me. In 2011, Olympus introduced the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens. When it comes to landscape, architecture, street photography, documentary photography, Americana photography, etc., this lens was just what I’d been waiting for. With an EFL of 24mm at f/2.0 it is useful in many situations. It’s a full metal lens and super well-built. It’s one of the sharpest lenses I’ve used and it’s not even in the Olympus “pro” line. It is definitely a sleeper lens that is oft overlooked but should not be.
Just look at these specs:
24mm (35mm Equivalent)
Aperture Range: f/2 to f/22
Two Aspherical Elements
One ED Element, One Super HR Element
MSC AF System, Manual Focus Clutch
Snapshot Focus Mode with DoF Scale
Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm
There is no “pro” version of this lens and at less than $800, I think this lens is a bargain. It may be eight years old, but it’s very tiny, and lightweight and has superb image quality. Yet it’s color, clarity and sharpness are second to none. I use this lens occasionally just because I can. It’s that much fun to shoot with. I will never part with it. Ever. I love it. And if Olympus replaces this with a “pro” version I will be fortunate enough to get one, but I won’t trade in the 12mm f/2 to get it.
Last on my list is the Olympus M.Zukio 75mm f/1.8 ED lens. While Olympus is always coming out with new, fantastic, sharp, small, lightweight, and in my opinion, affordable lenses, this one was a high watermark. As good as the 45 f/1.8 lens was/is, the Olympus M.Zukio 75mm f/1.8 ED lens is even better. While at 150mm EFL, it’s not a typical “portrait lens” that is how I used it and I consistently had some of the sharpest pictures I’ve ever taken from this lens. Period. It is sharp and still has a lovely bokeh. I can’t stress enough how sharp this lens is. At the time it shipped, it was the sharpest lens I had ever used on ANY 35mm SLR or DSLR, Mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds system. It’s still available today, and while not mentioned all that often because it isn’t one of Olympus’ “pro” lenses, it’s a sleeper lens that I use every chance I get. Did I mention it’s sharp?
It costs less than $800 but has the specs of a lens costing twice as much.
150mm (35mm Equivalent)
Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
Three Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
Two High Refractive Index Elements
ZERO Lens Coating
Movie & Still Compatible AF System
Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
It’s important to note that I have been a photographer for nearly five decades. I have used just about every lens you can think of, from just about every manufacturer known to man. These three lenses I discuss here are among the sharpest I have ever used – period and offer some of the best image quality I have ever seen – period. No matter the format or brand or budget.
If you’re interested in buying any of these lenses new, you might want to hurry. There’s no telling how long they will be available.
If you bought all three of these lenses new, it would set you back about $2000. That isn’t a low-budget buy for most people. But when you compare these lenses to the newer “pro” versions, it’s a huge savings. And if you compare any of them to a DSLR equivalent – well then all bets are off. The Oly glass could save you thousands.
Just because a new lens ships, that doesn’t mean your old one isn’t still valuable. While you may indeed benefit from the new stuff Olympus is shipping, the older lenses will always be a worthy investment and may save you a few bucks along the way.