Thursday, 10 September 2015

Adding primes to my Olympus Micro Four Thirds System

When I first decided to jump into the micro four thirds format, I immediately gravitated towards Olympus. Not that there's anything wrong with Panasonic mind you. It's just that, rightly or wrongly, I think of Panasonic as a video camera company, and Olympus as a stills photography company. And largely, I think that's how it's playing out.

Olympus OM-2 body
Of course, as a stills guy who started on film, Olympus's redesign of the classic Pen and OM series was very hard to resist. I owned an OM-2 and several prime lenses and absolutely loved using it. In fact a few years ago, on a film blog, I wrote that if Olympus could put a digital sensor in the back of my OM-2 I'd be a very happy photographer!

And while they didn't quite achieve that with the OM-D E-M5, I think they've produced the best homage they could to the original OM, while still developing a photographic tool for the 21st century.

So now that I have the OM-D E-M5 Mk2 (and am loving it), I have started building a system around it that can cover most (if not all) of the shooting scenarios I can throw at it. I have the 12-50mm f3.5/6.3 EZ kit lens, the 40-150mm f4/5.6 telephoto zoom, and the 45mm f1.8 portrait prime. What I'm really lusting after though, are the fast 'Pro' lenses - the 12-40mm f2.8 and the 40-150mm f2.8. But therein lies my problem.

17mm f2.8 Pancake
Currently, there's this romantic notion of the 'street' photographer in stealth mode, with one body and a prime lens - capturing the 'decisive moment' (a-la Cartier Bresson). The camera is usually a Leica rangefinder (in the movies) and the lens is a 35mm to give a wide to normal angle of view. 'Street' shooting with mirrorless cameras and a prime lens has become incredibly popular over the last few years. I hadn't even heard the term 'street shooter' ten years ago.

One of the major selling factors of mirrorless is to 'go light', with just a camera and a lens - and in the case of the lens, the smaller the better. Enter the Olympus 17mm f2.8mm 'pancake' lens. With an equivalent focal length of 34mm on a film camera, and its tiny size, it would seem to be the ideal companion for any photographer engaging in stealth mode.

But here's the thing - and getting back to those 'Pro' lenses - I'm not really a prime kinda guy. Sure, I love the idea of shooting with primes. And most of the time I even love the results when shooting with primes. But I must confess to loving the sheer convenience of shooting with zooms. Maybe I'm lazy?

Yet I too have been seduced by the 'micro' in micro four thirds. I am enjoying the benefits of smaller and lighter (although not too small or too light - there is a tipping point). So I am seriously considering getting a used 17mm f2.8 to add to the 45mm prime in my bag.

The Oly 17mm on a Pen. Almost pocketable.
I fretted about buying the 45mm f1.8 prime, even though many micro four thirds users claim it's a must have lens. And I'm sure I will use it. But will I use it enough?

Same is true with the 17mm f2.8. It's the ideal walk-around lens for the system - as close as it is to the classic 35mm focal length. It's the goldilocks of prime lenses - not to wide and not too tight. Just right :-)

There is also an f1.8 version which, not surprisingly, is optically better - at twice the price. And that brings me to my final point with these prime lenses - the price. For a small, light, reasonably sharp and reasonably fast lens, these are a real bargain. They are so much cheaper than the 'Pro' f2.8 zooms (not to mention lighter - obviously), that it just makes sense to get them and use them - at least in the mean time.

I will probably still have the 12-50mm kit lens on the E-M5 Mk2 80% of the time. But maybe, as a walk-around lens, the 17mm f2.8 prime might surprise me. I think I might have to get it and see?


  1. Hello again Wayne - I too, came from (decades) using an OM-1 (with 35/24/135mm lenses).
    I've had an E-M10 for almost 2 yrs now, with twin lens kit for starters - the wee pancake 14-42 f3.5-5.6 EZ is a great lens - fitted with the LC-37C Auto Lens Cap, it's a reas. fast. 'pocketable' combo. (Pretty good image quality, a touch of flare, maybe slowish electronic zoom.)

    I then sprung for a costly 12-40 F2.8 PRO (+ ECG-1 Grip) - an all-in-one lens I thought, but sold it after a short period - too bulky/heavy for me, I missed a lot of the portability & convenience of the wee OM-D.

    Now I carry a 17mm F1.8 (costly, esp with lens hood) & 45mm F1.8 (a beauty & inexpensive). Prime IQ is of course excellent. Occasionally I miss the 14mm wide angle, but with the many digital controls to hand nowadays, I'm happy (& quicker) not having to mess with zoom.

    YMMV of course, I shoot a lot on the move, esp if I'm travelling.
    Cheers, Owen

    PS. The twin kit 40-150 F4-5.6 is excellent - v lightweight, v acceptable IQ & gives you equivalent 300mm without schlepping a long tele. In reality, some of my more spectacular shots have come from this lens.

  2. Oh, this was my trusty OM-1 kit...

  3. Hi Owen

    Great post - love the history of your OM-1.

    I'm really enjoying my 17mm f2.8 - but would love to have the f1.8 one day.

    Totally agree about the 45mm f1.8.

    Interested in your experience with the 12-40mm f2.8. I thought that would be the way I would go too, but after using the primes I'm not so sure. It's taken me a little while, but I'm finally getting used to the smaller form factor and don't want to go back to bigger and heavier again. I thought I'd pony up for the extra battery grip for the E-M5 MkII as well, but just can't bring myself to do it.

    Would rather have a 25mm f1.8 instead :-)



  4. Thanks Wayne.

    The 17mm F2.8 looks like another compact beauty.
    Does the E-M5 MkII have silent shutter option?

    On this page is a pic of the E-M10 alongside the OM-1 - actually I've had the E-M10 for only 15 mths. (More shameless self promotion, sorry ;-) )

  5. Yes, the E-M5 MkII does have the silent shutter option. Haven't used it yet to be honest though. Read a few things about 'rolling shutter' (or something like that?) that's made me a bit weary of using it? Seems there are some shutter speeds to stay away from if you use the silent shutter?

    BTW - there was no link to your page?

  6. Oops here it is...


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