Micro Four Thirds Lenses
Unlike some of the new mirrorless camera systems, Micro Four Thirds has been out on the market the longest. Because of this, and the fact that several manufacturers such as Panasonic, Cosina/Voigtlander, Carl Zeiss, Sigma and Tamron produce lenses, the selection and variety is huge by now, with close to 50 lenses in active production (and many more lenses can be used with adapters). No other mount comes even close to this number. And with more manufacturers joining the Micro Four Thirds alliance, it looks like we will be seeing plenty more in the coming years.
When choosing lenses for the E-M5, I wanted to make sure that I get only the top performing lenses that I would actually use for my photography. So despite its attractive bundled price, I chose to skip on the 12-50mm / 14-42mm kit lenses, even during the holidays when additional discounts were offered. I knew that I would be using the camera with one primary lens for everyday needs and one or two additional lenses for specific needs. So I bought the excellent Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens that I played with and loved before as the primary “everyday” lens. I find fast 35-50mm focal length prime lenses on full-frame cameras to be ideal for everyday needs, because they are fast and wide enough for most situations. So the 25mm f/1.4 lens is equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full-frame body in terms of angle of view. I do not regret my decision, because the 25mm f/1.4 stays pretty much glued to the E-M5 and only gets detached when I need to go shorter for landscapes or longer for portraits. For wide angle photography, I chose Olympus’ own 12mm f/2, which is also superb. Lastly, my choice for portraiture is the compact Olympus 45mm f/1.8, which is equivalent to a 90mm lens on a full-frame body. My future plan is to get the new 17mm f/1.8, which will probably compete with the 25mm f/1.4 for the “primary” lens spot on the E-M5, and the insanely sharp 75mm f/1.8 for all things macro and telephoto. As you can see, I am very much into prime lenses with Micro 4/3. I am not trying to say that Micro 4/3 zoom lenses are bad – I just want to take a full advantage of the system and fast aperture primes with excellent wide open performance are right up my alley.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5, similar to other Olympus mirrorless cameras comes with in-body image stabilization. This means that you can use any Micro 4/3 lens and image stabilization will work – from wide angle lenses to telephoto. This is a great advantage, especially when using fast prime lenses that normally do not have any kind of stabilization. As I have numerously stated before in various articles and reviews, image stabilization is very useful on ANY kind of lens, not just telephoto. Some people state that IS is redundant on fast aperture and wide angle lenses, but it is not true – it is very useful at any focal length and aperture.
The in-body image stabilization technology on the E-M5 is a reworked, 5-axis system that allows for vertical and horizontal movement compensation, as well as rotational movement around 3 axes. Olympus claims to have up to 5 stops of advantage thanks to this 5-axis IS, but in reality, I found it to be around 3-4 stops max. Which is still very good, considering that it works on all mounted lenses. The Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 is not an optically stabilized lens, but it becomes stabilized on the E-M5, which brings up the topic of IS across the two main brands.
An interesting fact on Micro Four Thirds, is that while both Olympus and Panasonic jumped on the format bandwagon initially, agreeing to jointly develop lenses that could be cross-used, the two companies chose completely different routes in image stabilization technology. Olympus went with in-body stabilization, while Panasonic’s choice was lens stabilization – two completely different technologies (see my camera vs lens stabilization article that explains the difference). This makes lenses somewhat compatible between the two brands, but not fully. For example, when mounting an optically stabilized Panasonic lens on the E-M5, you would need to turn one of the image stabilization modes off, or the two will conflict with each other and result in blurry images. When mounting non-stabilized Olympus lenses on Panasonic cameras, you obviously lose any kind of stabilization. So it only really makes sense to use Panasonic lenses on Olympus cameras, but not the other way around. Also, because of optical stabilization and other reasons, Panasonic lenses are generally larger than Olympus lenses.
All firmware versions prior to 1.5 caused the Olympus OM-D E-M5 to emit a constant humming sound (due to the way the 5-axis stabilization works), which almost sounds like a small fan inside the camera. Before I found out that it was IS to blame for the sound, I thought that Olympus had some sort of a fan installed inside the camera to cool the internal components or maybe even the sensor. To significantly reduce this humming noise, you should update to firmware 1.5, which can be done through the Olympus Digital Camera Updater (big thanks to our reader David B for pointing this out).