UPDATE: Yes – sometimes I am a bit stupid. Turns out the lens isn’t blue – well it is blue but you can remove the blue cover and then it’s not blue – so ignore anything I said about blue lenses and Olympus, don’t fire that guy after all :)

It’s long been THE problem for photographers who want to rely on the Micro 4/3 cameras. The lenses have typically been slow zooms. We’ve been crying out for a fast portrait length lens and by golly Olympus has listened.

I just got my hands on one of the first Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8 Lens for Micro Four Thirds Cameras lenses to hit the United States. I paired the lens with the new Olympus PEN E-P3 (reviewed here http://photofocus.com/2011/08/20/olympus-pen-e-p3-mini-review/) and took it out for a quick spin.

For those of you unfamiliar with the 4/3 camera system, a 45mm lens has en effective focal length (EFL – otherwise known as crop factor) of 2.0. That means the 45mm lens represents the EFL of 90mm on a 4/3 system. This is great news for portrait shooters. A 90mm lens is often looked upon as a perfect lens to make head and shoulders portraits. And while Olympus covers this focal length in its zoom lenses, none are as sharp, or more importantly, as fast as the 45mm f/1.8. An f/1.8 lens in this focal length is previously unheard of in the 4/3 system. It makes what some people mistakenly regard as a toy and turns it into a very usable camera – even for professionals.

This Olympus lens is lightweight, offers quick and silent auto-focus (important if you shoot movies on the PEN) and offers a smooth, creamy bokeh that is simply to die for. At 1.8, 2.0 or even 2.8, (depending on the distance to the background) the background just disappears when using this lens. And the background renders smooth as a baby’s butt.

Previously, with the slow zooms available for this camera, you just couldn’t throw the background out of focus. Shallow depth of field that rendered this smooth a background was impossible.

I don’t have a ton of experience with the lens but I can see many uses for it. Not only is it perfect for portraits, but it’s close-focusing distance makes it nearly a macro lens. You can always use a mid-length telephoto in landscape photography as well. I’ve been waiting to see if they could do it and I am very excited. I’m happy to say that Olympus has actually done it. The 45mm F/1.8 does everything I hoped it would and more.

It focused nearly as well as my 17mm pancake lens and every detail was sharp. In this screen shot at 200%, notice how sharp the face is, even at F/2.8 and yet how soft the background is. There is a ton of detail here and the color rendition is accurate.

Now there are three negatives I have to bring up. First, at more than $400, this is a spendy lens. Given the cost of the 4/3 camera system, the price tag might put some people off. Second, at this price point Olympus ought to include a lens hood. And third, unlike the stock photo submitted to me by Olympus and shown above, my lens is BLUE! Yes you read that right – BLUE! What the HELL? Why Olympus – Why? Why would you think it is a good idea to make a blue lens?


SECOND UPDATE: In my defense, even the young, cool folk in my studio thought the lens was blue too :)

I grow tired of the big, heavy DSLRs that I am forced to carry to many jobs. I can see myself shooting professional jobs with the PEN now. It’s lightweight, has good image quality, has some fast glass and is easy to carry. The 17mm pancake lens (EFL 35mm) paired with this new 45mm F/1.8 lens and the coming soon super wide for the PEN, means I’ll have most of the focal lengths I need covered with fast primes, in a compact system that rocks.

If you can get past the slightly high price, HIGHLY recommended!


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