Olympus 45mm F1.8 versus Olympus 50mm F2 on the Panasonic G2

In an earlier post I wrote about the use of lens adapters on the Panasonic G2 that provide for the attachment of "legacy" and other non-micro four thirds lenses.  One evening I tested several "portrait" lenses:
  • Olympus 50mm F2 macro (with Panasonic 43-to-m43 adapter)
  • Nikon 58mm F1.4 (with Cowboy Studio's Nikon-to-m43 adapter)
  • Rokinon 85mm F1.4 in 4/3 mount (with Panasonic 43-to-m43 adapter)
  • Olympus 45mm F1.8 (this lens is a m43 lens and did not need an adapter)

In this post I will compare the Olympus m43 45mm F1.8 lens and the Olympus 43 50mm F2. 


I will state my conclusion first, then show some sample photos. 

I found the new m4/3 Oly 45mm to give essentially identical image quality to the older, regular-4/3 Oly 50mm macro, when images were taken at F2, F4, and F8. With the 50mm I stepped back from my subject slightly to provide a similarly framed image to what I captured with the 45mm.  The images were taken indoors under limited light, because that is how I mostly use fast prime lenses.

The Panasonic Lumix 43-to-m43 adapter
With both lenses, there was excellent sharpness in the center and excellent sharpness at the edges. Color and contrast seemed identical as well.  I did not use a tripod, as that would not be a "real world" situation for me; however, the slowest shutter speed I used was 1/320th so there should be not camera shake. I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 3 at default settings.

I compared both images taken at F2, then both taken at F4, then both taken at F8.  I compared by viewing at up to 300% on my monitor.  If I were forced to pick the sharper lens at F2 I would pick the 50mm, but only when viewed at 200%-300% and only in the center.  At 100% I can't see the difference.  I also printed at 8x10 and couldn't see a difference. At F4 and F8, I would have to flip a coin.  (Let me make it clear that I was only comparing F2 versus F2, F4 versus F4, and F8 versus F8.  I was not comparing F2 versus F4 versus F8.)

For all I know, if I shot additional samples, I'd get different comparative results.  But I really don't care, as both lenses are sharper than I am.  Every day I shoot with lenses less sharp than these two, and I am perfectly happy.


Note that the Oly 50mm, because it was designed for regular 4/3 bodies, requires a 43-to-m43 adapter.  The adapters made by Panasonic and Olympus provide electrical connections between the lens and body.  Either will work fine.  They are expensive, so buy whichever is cheaper.  Either adapter will allow the 50mm to use many of the automatic features offered by the G2 body, such as autofocus (albeit, as slow as molasses), and automatic exposure.  The autofocus is so slow and noisy with the 50mm, that I use manual focus.

G2 with Olympus 50mm F2 macro, connected with Panasonic 43-to-m43 lens adapter

The 45mm is specifically designed for m43 and has screachingly fast and very quiet autofocus.  With a maximum aperture of F1.8, it has a half-stop advantage over the 50mm F2.  But you need to give up the macro capability of the 50mm.  It is very small in size; but I disliked using it on the G2.  Frankly, it looks ugly on the G2 (little silver lens attached to a black body).  More importantly, I don't like the ergonomics and balance of this small lens on the G2 because I can't comfortably hold the lens barrel with my left hand.  Probably with more time, I would get used to holding the camera body with two hands like a point and shoot as there is no (or limited) need to use the focus ring and there is no aperature ring. 

G2 with Olympus 45mm F1.8. Even without the blue plastic packing tape this combination is ugly and the ergonomics unenticing
I ended up returning this lens.  Its value to me would be the fast autofocus.  But because I already own the 50mm, I decided that it just wasn't worth the money for my needs.  If I ever buy a smaller m43 camera, like a silver PEN, it is possible that I will re-purchase this lens.


If I didn't own either lens and could afford to buy only one, which would I'd buy? 

Actually, for me the answer is neither.  That's because they are expensive at $450 (50mm) and $385 (45mm).  And I suppose if I didn't already own the $100 Panasonic 43-to-m43 adapter, that would completely put the 50mm off limits.  The thing is, I am currently having fun covering the same territory with two old Nikon lens:  My nearly 50 year old 58mm F1.4 (inherited in 1975-ish from a friend of my dad's; according to the serial number it was built about 1963) gives me a portrait lens and my 55mm F3.5 micro (from eBay for $100) gives me macro capabilities.  I don't mind that everything is manual, including flash settings.  It's actually kind of fun, and I think it makes me a better photographer... or at least more focused (clich├ęd pun intended).

Digesting what I just wrote in the above paragraph, it seems that I ought to consider selling the 50mm.  After all, I just wrote that I wouldn't buy it if I didn't already own it.  Hmmm.

Six images (two each at F2, F4, and F8) are viewable as downsized images and can also be downloaded as full size images on my Zenfolio-powered site here:


David Noton: Memory Loss - Page 2 | PhotographyBLOG

I've never before re-posted from another blog, but these words from famous British landscape and travel photographer David Noton gave me chills.  I was reading David's article in photographyblog.com this morning and decided I would re-post a portion of it here.  The article describes many of the mistakes he has made through his career as a photographer, and on page 2 of the article he describes a couple of mistakes others have made... like this one:

David Noton: Memory Loss - Page 2 PhotographyBLOG: Spare a thought for the late, great Robert Capa; one of the most accomplished war photographers ever. On D Day he waded ashore with the second wave of troops assaulting Omaha Beach. It was the most fiercely resisted landing of the Normandy invasion and Capa was an eyewitness. As the American troops striving to get off the beach took withering fire from the well dug in defenders Capa exposed 4 rolls of film as a defining moment in history played out all around him. Of those 4 priceless rolls of exposed film 3 were lost in processing as a lab technician at Life Magazine set the dryer too high and melted the emulsion. Of the fourth roll just 11 precious frames were salvaged. All those pictures of a crucial turning point in the Second World War that were captured at such risk were lost irretrievably. I can't even begin to contemplate how Capa felt when he discovered the faux pas.


Using "legacy" lenses on the G2

One of the really cool capabilities of the micro four thirds (m43) cameras built by Olympus and Panasonic is the ability to use old manual lenses from almost any maker via inexpensive lens adapters.  The design of the m43 cameras makes this possible by removing the traditional optical viewfinder (OVF), mirror, and mirror box found in SLRs and dSLRs.   This makes the cameras smaller.  In the case of the Panasonic G-series and GH-series the removed items have been replaced with an electronic viewfinder (EVF), representing a significant net space savings.

Another result of the m43 design is that the distance between the sensor and the lens-mount is shortened and the cameras are thinner.  By using an adapter ring to "add back" the distance required by old manual lenses, often called "legacy" lenses, we are able to get these old optics to (generally) focus correctly on the new bodies. 

For example, so I can use my old Nikkor lenses, I purchased an adapter ring sold by Cowboy Studios via Amazon for about $20.  EBay is another good source for these inexpensive adapter rings.  The length of the Nikon-to-m43 adapter ring is 25mm (about 1").  It's nothing fancy.  Just a black metal tube with a m43 lens-mount on one end, and a Nikon body-mount on the other. You can find adapter rings for nearly every brand of lens.  Each will be sized little differently.

Nikon-to-m43 adapter from Cowboy Studios

I think the results with my Nikkors are very good, but I have read many reports of soft images, especially with other brands.  It must be remembered that these old lenses were built to be used with film.  They are not optimized for digital.

Some G2 camera features are disabled with the legacy lenses.  Because the lens adapter ring provides no electrical connections between the camera body and the lens, you will need a legacy lens that has an aperture ring.  You will then switch the camera to Aperture-Priority Mode.  After you manually set the aperture using the aperture ring on the lens, the camera's metering system will then pick the speed required to get the "correct" exposure at the ISO you've selected for that image.  The G2 also seems to work well with AutoISO, which I have set to a maximum of 1600.  I notice some underexposing, sometimes 2/3 to 1-stop, in lower light situations when using smaller diameter apertures like F8, so watch the histogram and be prepared to use some EV compensation.

One disadvantage of the G2 (and all Panasonic m43 cameras) is that there is no in-body image stabilization.  Meanwhile, Olympus builds image stabilization right into the m43 body.  This means that any legacy lens you attach to an Olympus will be image stabilized.  On the other hand, Olympus has yet to make a m43 camera with a built-in EVF; though there are rumors of one being announced this year.  If they build one, I'll buy it.

In the meantime, I don't view this Panasonic disadvantage as a big deal, at least for the legacy lenses I own.  My four Nikkor lens have focal lengths of 55mm, 58mm, 85mm and 105mm.  The G2 appears to maintain a minimum speed of 1/125th before bumping up the ISO.  This works for me, as I feel I can satisfactorily hand hold the 55, 56 and 85 at 1/125th.  And since these lenses are used primarily for candids, a speed of 1/125th is about as low as I would want to go, even if I had image stabilization available. 

Panasonic G2 + Cowboy Studios' "Nikon-to-m43" adapter ring + Nikkor 58mm F1.4 circa 1963
The 105mm F2.8 is a different story, but I am still happy with the results.  It is a macro lens (Nikon calls it a "micro").  Theoretically, to get a sharp image I should shoot an unstabilized 105mm lens on a 2x crop factor camera at a shutter speed of 1/200th second.  Coincidentally this is my preferred  lens speed for this lens, and would be my preferred speed even with image stabilization.  That's because I use this primarily for flowers outdoors, and without a flash.  Because even on calm days I believe there is some subject movement, I am happy with this shutter speed even if it requires ISO1600, though admittedly I might follow up such a shot with a shutter speed of 1/125 and lower ISO (1250?), as it's always preferable to use the lowest ISO possible.

A final cool feature that will help you with your manual focusing is the magnified view offered by the EVF.  I don't use it all the time, but when you do need it, just press the thumb dial (it clicks "in" like a button) to get a magnified view of the subject inside the single-point focus box.  As a second step, your magnification can be increased further by turning the thumb dial wheel one click to the right. You can also move the focus box to any other area of the viewfinder using the four-way pad.  When using the LCD you have the added choice of using the touchscreen feature to relocate the focus box. 

For candids, I like to move the focus box so it is centered horizontally and down 1/3rd from the top, because typically the subject's face will be in the 1/3rd  position.  As far as I can tell there are no settings to make this selected position "sticky", not even within one of the Custom Settings modes.  So you will need to reset it every time your turn the camera on... so, if you are not using a tripod, perhaps its will be easier to leave the focus box in the absolute center and just focus and recompose....

In the future, I plan to compare some "old" lenses and some "new" lenses.  Generally, I think the old lenses are fun to use if you already own them.  I'm not sure, however, if it is worth buying old legacy lenses.  It seems that the price of old lenses has increased dramatically as owners of m43 bodies and now Sony NEX bodies have discovered them.


What do judges know anyway?

I definitely understand how important it is to have thick skin when allowing one of your photographs to be critiqued or judged.  After all, judging is very subjective.  I find that some judges have very strict self-imposed guidelines as to what makes a "good" image; while others can more  fully appreciate how different styles and approaches can be very effective.

The image below is one of my favorites from this past summer.  And it was a little tough to have a judge criticize if for being "two images in one".  She felt that it would be a better image if cropped horizontally to eliminate the top half.  Basically, she thought the patch of blue (top half) was one image and the storm edge and orange sky (bottom half) was the second image.  Of course this left me wondering where it was written in the laws of the universe that two-for-one was a bad idea.  This is actually one reason I like vertical landscapes and scenes.  I enjoy capturing an interesting sky by turning the camera vertically.  We should all look up more often.  Why does there need to be just one main subject.  Why not two main subjects; or a main subject (blue patch of sky amid dark clouds), secondary subject (orange horizon at the edge of the storm front); and even a tertiary subject (the moored lobster boat).

Your mileage may vary, of course.  Fortunately, I have a day job and photography is a hobby.  That means the only person I need to please is myself! 

So what is the value of a judge or critic?  Well, I guess I have learned to listen to them and (1) accept ideas and notions that appeal to me and (2) reject whatever doesn't appeal to me.

The first image is the one I submitted.  I like it better.  The second one is based on the judge's comments.  I don't like it as much.  You may prefer it.  I think a lot has to do with what size it is printed. 

Whatever.  I now have it on my hard drive both ways.

January 2012 print salon entry. Title:  Coastal Storm Front.  Score 26/30. (I'd give it 28.)