Not Just For Portraits…the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8

In December, as I’ve mentioned, I picked up a lens for my Panasonic Micro 4/3 outfit – the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, a lens of such beguiling compactness, it could snuggle up next to a golfball. But more to the point, it’s the very satisfying speed (f 1.8) which has been making most of the news.

By designing it both small and fast, they’ve escorted handheld telephoto imaging into a new dimension. Interestingly, the M. Zuiko suggests a miniature version of my much-used 90mm Sonnar (for my Contax G2)–a Zeiss telephoto that was another good performer when used without a tripod.

Much has been written about the lens’ ability to deliver a creamy soft focus when used wide open (aka bokeh). As you might know, this is an old technique which is quite the rage at the moment. And it is true–with this lens, a very shallow depth of field is possible, to an extent not previously achievable with point-and-shoot.  If you’re into bokeh, this lens is your huckleberry.

Needless to say I’m generally not using it for portraits (nor for shallow depth of field). The picture above demonstrates how an effective handheld picture is possible in low light outside. My camera was set at ISO 400, at a moderate f 9 aperture, with a shutter speed of 1/400. Because I was only ten feet from my subject, the depth of field achieved here (with a handheld camera) is quite impressive throughout the image.  Plus, because this lens is so fast, the image was recorded in the very sweet central area of the glass. (Using a zoom I would’ve been shooting much closer to wide open, and would’ve also required a tripod which would’ve made this particular image nearly impossible to take.)

To me, getting handheld images like this is a testimony to the compactness of this lens, and the beauty of the Micro 4/3 system.  The 45 f 1.8 is capable of delivering stunning bokeh wide open, moderate bokeh when used around f 5.6 (something which I often employ when shooting in fog), and superb depth of field at the higher f stops (which, in truth, is even greater than a comparable 35mm lens because the lens construction for Micro 4/3 is so much smaller).  In these terms, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 is extraordinarily versatile and one of the most usable telephotos ever made.

The lilliputian character of this lens relates directly to the Micro 4/3 sensor. It should be interesting to see if the (significantly larger) Sony NEX 7 system will have a comparable fully automatic prime telephoto available in the next year. I doubt it, but even if one comes along, it’s likely to be larger. For landscapes I much prefer a fast telephoto that’s usable without a tripod. I’m not ditching my Panasonics, and I suspect there’s an argument to make for using both formats.

BTW–This is how I’m currently working with my 4/3 primes:

I pack the Panasonic G 3 and the GF 2 into a small Tenba bag. The weight of both cameras (and all three prime lenses) is less than my old Hasselblad 180mm. That’s a lot of lightweight equipment using very little space. I keep the 14mm Panasonic on my G 3 and the 45mm Olympus on my GF 2. Since my GF 2 is silver, the lens is quite bewitching when paired this body.

The odd man out is my equally speedy 20mm f 1.7 which I can quickly install onto either body when needed. Having two bodies affixed with prime lenses makes it very easy to switch horses in the middle of a shoot. Advice: if you already have a GF body and are considering the G 3 (or GX 1)–keep your original camera. With prime lenses in your bag, having more than one body makes a lot of sense.

Here’s some specs on the lens from the Olympus press release: