Lens review: The Olympus ZD 45/1.8

_PM05660 copy
Prague sunset by the river. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

_8012322 copy

Last year’s lens surprise of the year was the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ZD 45mm f1.8 MSC – it’s a lens that was announced with the E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PM1, seems fairly ordinary and innocuous on spec, but yet delivers in boatloads. It’s both cheap and expensive at the same time; let me explain why. Most conventional SLR mount 50/1.8 lenses go for $100-150 or thereabouts. This lens is closer to $300, and it’s all silver-painted plastic except for the mount – to be honest, it feels kinda cheap. That’s expensive. But, it doesn’t use a conventional double-Gauss optical design:


Image from Olympus. Purple bits are E-HR lenses, whatever that means. I suspect it’s ED glass or something similar. I certainly don’t see any purple elements inside my lens :P

Whoa, what’s this? 9 elements in 8 groups? Not so simple. I suspect the reason Olympus chose this optical design was primarily due to the very short back flange distance of Micro Four Thirds; double Gauss designs work well if the back focus distance is close to the focal length, which it is for most SLRs. Changing the optical design to keep the lens compact introduces all sorts of other issues on its own, including corrections for the various complex optical aberrations that occur once a lens design becomes asymmetric.

_PM05089 copy
Waiting for that text. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Secondly, it has a very fast coreless focusing motor – Olympus brands these lenses as ‘MSC’, which means you won’t hear the focusing motor working while recording videos – a nice touch. It’s also blazingly fast, at least with the current generation of Olympus M4/3 bodies. Sadly, like all of the other M4/3 lenses (except the 12/2), there’s no full time focus override; it’s fly-by-wire only and you have to put the camera into MF mode on the body before the ring does anything. Still, it’s nicely damped if a little dead-feeling.

_PM05240 copy
Night in the Malastranska, Prague. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

But never mind all that, how does it perform? In a word, brilliantly. It’s one of my favorite lenses for Micro Four Thirds. If I had to describe it in a word, it would be ‘transparent’. That’s probably a good thing for an optical device; however, what I mean is that the lens itself doesn’t impose any of its own optical quirks or peccadilloes on the image; it does its job moving light from the subject to the sensor, and then gets out of the way. It delivers sharpness across the entire frame wide open at f1.8; there is some slight improvement at 2.8, but it isn’t really necessary to stop down – perhaps this may be different on the higher density 16MP sensor of the OM-D, however.

_PM02054bw copy
All about the hair. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Fringing is almost entirely absent, as is longitudinal chromatic aberration; a sign that the optical designers have done their job very well indeed, and the lens is working well with the sensor. (In case you’re wondering about in-camera CA removal, I’m not shooting JPEG and the RAW files are run through ACR like the rest of my workflow – there’s no special treatment unless Olympus is doing something with the RAW files.)

_PM00679 copy
Echoes of red. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

The lens is contrasty, but not that contrasty; it strikes a nice balance between sufficient global contrast and maintaining the microcontrast that is so important to preserving fine detail structures. In fact, I prefer lenses with lower macro contrast for digital use as they help to maximize preservation of dynamic range; this is especially important with smaller sensors that have lower dynamic range, like those used in M4/3 cameras.

_PM00576 copy
Ninja demolition. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Color reproduction is on the warmish side of neutral. No yellow casts like I see with Sigma and Tamron lenses, but a pleasing warm hue shift. Bokeh is also neutral to good; there are times when separation between subject and background is a little harsh – typically when the subject is fairly close to the background – but it’s also pretty darn good under ideal conditions.

_PM00530 copy
Mirrors. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Although it ‘only’ focuses down to 0.5m, it’s worth remembering that on Micro Four Thirds, 45mm is really a 90mm FOV, and there no non-macro lenses for full frame cameras that focus this close – it’s 0.8m if you’re lucky, or 1m if you’re using a rangefinder. The lens can be used handheld at arms’ length – i.e. live view style – and that’s how I’ve been using it so far; however, you’ll need to keep your shutter speeds up, because frankly the in-body stabilization isn’t that effective. I suppose if you were using this on the OM-D it’d be a different story as the built in EVF would let you get a bit more stability by bracing the camera against your eye.

_PM02093 copy
Dusk and the sign. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

The 45/1.8 makes up part of my M4/3 ‘trinity’ – the 12/2 and 20/1.7 being the other two, though I might replace both with the new Voigtlander 17.5/0.95 (35mm equivalent, fast and versatile – though I prefer 28, and sadly there are very few fast 28mms). It forms a great lightweight travel kit which is still capable of delivering outstanding optical quality. It also works very well as a secondary camera in conjunction with something else; at the end of last year, I shot in Europe with a Leica M9-P, 28 and 50mm lenses as my primary body, with the Pen Mini and 45/1.8 in a coat pocket for those times I needed a little extra reach – made a great compliment to the rangefinder.

_PM01974 copy
Graffiti. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Even on the slightly higher density OM-D sensor, this lens is a gem; sharpness doesn’t seem to be compromised anywhere, but there is a very slight veiling flare that goes away about half a stop in. It has a lightness and transparency (lower macro contrast, but higher micro contrast perhaps?) that I don’t see with the 12/2 or 20/1.7, and it’s something that makes the way it renders very natural and appealing.

_5001020bw copy
A classical portrait, second version. OM-D, 45/1.8. The first version is here

Are there any negatives? Well, yes. At the price, you can’t expect fantastic build quality. Frankly, it feels about on par with the kit lens; Olympus chose to put all of the production money into optics rather than cosmetics, which is a decision I can agree with. However, the leaves the lens feeling just a tiny bit fragile; the plastics don’t feel that thick or robust, and that little blanking ring on the front (ostensibly to cover the hood mount threads) doesn’t really stay in place securely, and isn’t that well made, either.

Still, all that aside, this is a highly recommended lens for Micro Four Thirds users. It isn’t good enough that I’d go out and buy a Micro Four Thirds camera just for this lens alone, but then again the thought of having a fast portrait 90mm equivalent in a pocket is quite appealing, and the cost of a Pen Mini plus this lens is much cheaper than many full frame lens options on their own. Of course, you do get the DOF profile of a 45mm lens, not an 85 or 90mm lens, so don’t expect crazy thin DOF. There’s adequate separation, but true bokeh enthusiasts will probably have to wait for the upcoming ZD 75/1.8 – a lens which I’m pretty excited about, actually. MT

_PM01718 copy
Sunset in the city. Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

Get the Olympus ZD 45/1.8 here from B&H or Amazon.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. “you have to put the camera into MF mode on the body before the ring does anything. ”

    I believe all PEN cameras (and presumably the E-M5) have the “S-AF+MF” focus mode which has usual release-button autofocus and then lets you adjust the focus manually – it works with the 45mm as with other native lenses. It’s my default focus setting.

    • They do, but I leave that option off because it’s too easy to accidentally bump the focus ring if you’re supporting the camera by the lens with your left hand, making you wonder why the thing missed the focus point…

  2. Thanks for reviewing this lens. I am thinking of buying the OM-D, and this, the PL 25/1.4 and 12/2 look to be a wonderful toolkit.
    I’m enjoying your blog a lot – it’s now on my ‘must read’ list every night.

    • Thanks Mike! There are a lot of good choices the midrange – the 20/1.7, 25/1.4 and 25/0.95…makes deciding hard.

      • Ming, after reading your reviews, you have convinced me to get the OMD-EM5 to supplement my D800E! Just like your visits to the car wash, my dangerous visits to your site lead to purchases! :)

        In the process of nailing down a lens shoplist, so far the Olympus 12/2.0 and 45/1.8 seem to be “musts”, especially I shoot mainly primes on the DSLR. But finding the right midrange is tougher than I expected. Let me know if the below reasoning is sound:

        By process of elimination, first I’m taking Voigtlander 17.5/0.95 out of consideration since it’s manual. Panasonic 20/1.7 is not the fastest or highest bokeh quality possible on this format, also removing it as an option. This leaves 25/1.4 as the midrange lens of choice?

        • Haha, well, I think you’ll enjoy it very much! Hope you used my Amazon referral link ;)

          I actually use the 20/1.7 because of size; it’s good enough, not as good as the 25/1.4, but if I want ultimate quality in that focal length, I’ll use the Zeiss ZF 2/50 Makro-Planar on my D800E. Defeats the point of having a compact system at all if it isn’t physically compact…

      • Good point about keeping everything compact, I’ll also consider 20/1.7 instead of 25/1.4.

        Following the same logic of choosing compactness over ultimate quality, I’m starting to think the pancake-style Lumix 14/2.5 maybe is better suited for the OMD than the Olympus 12/2.0 which is thicker, pricier and bulkier?

  3. djstmozilla says:

    Great review and amazing photos. I love your style, your PP and your compositions… very expressive and “present”. You also made me far more interested in forcing myself to walk out with my own 45/1.8 instead of always picking the 20/1.7 first. :) Thanks for a great read and inspiration!

    • Thanks! I’m actually investigating if the 20/1.7 might be better replaced by the 25/0.95…the extra stops come in handy, but I’m not convinced of the optics of the 25 yet. Perhaps the Leica-Panasonic 25/1.4 is a better bet.

      • djstmozilla says:

        I’d love to hear your thoughts on the difference between 40mm and 50mm equiv. I’ve seen articles like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwmCrGVS3ZQ but since it doesn’t mention how close 40mm is to that “50mm ideal”, I don’t know if it’s worth the added cost and bulk to switch from 20/1.7 to Pana-Leica 25m/1.4. Your perspective would help a lot. Thanks!

        • Hard to say, actually. 40 feels more versatile and slightly wider, but to tell the truth, I don’t notice that much of a difference between them. I’ve used the PL 25/1.4 and it’s definitely a step up from the 20/1.7 – sharpness wide open, focusing speed, bokeh. I haven’t shot with it enough to decide if it’s worth double the coin, though. I’m currently evaluating the 25/0.95 – it feels great from a tactile point of view, but I’m not totally sold on image quality.

      • djstmozilla says:

        Interesting. I think if I switched, I’d be more interested in the difference in perspective that the 25mm field of view would give me, while still allowing approximately the same use cases as the 20mm. Of course, the more beautiful bokeh, slightly faster optics, and overall better quality are all nice bonuses. Crucially, though, to me it’s a question of whether the added cost and, more importantly, weight/bulk is worth it?

        I probably would consider the 25/0.95 just like you if I were confident enough with manual focus — I’m not, and I also like the ability to lend the camera to someone else during an event and have some photos taken from someone else’s perspective, and that would not go very well with a manual focus lens I suspect. :)

  4. Hey Ming Thein, just by reading this review made me read all the other posts by you! I must say the reviews are good. May I ask if the photos are straight from the camera or post processed, and how do you put up the border on all your images? Thanks in advance !

    Adrian, from Singapore !

    • Haha, thank you! I don’t do straight from the camera. My end litmus test is the client: if they’re happy, then I’m in the clear. I do whatever I need to do to every image as though I was making it client-ready; if the camera’s file doesn’t let me do that, then it’s a fail. If it has the potential but requires a lot of work, then it wouldn’t be my first choice of camera. So far, the D800E, X2 and S2 require the least post processing work to achieve what I want.

      The border is a custom action.

  5. wjlonien says:

    Ming,

    thanks for that test, and for those great images. It’s a really a difference if someone writes about equipment who’s also able to show some real and good photos!

    My wife has that lens, and is very happy with it.

    Oh, and one thing I think you’ve got wrong: that Voigtlander 17.5mm translates to 35mm on our 2x crop sensors, not 28mm – get the Panasonic Lumix 14mm for that angle if you like it.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

Trackbacks

  1. […] its image quality, even with the kit lens. I also bought two prime lenses, the highly acclaimed Olympus 45mm f1.8 and the Panasonic-Lumix 20mm f1.7 for a fraction of the price of a Nikon or Canon high-grade […]

  2. […] excellent especially when paired with the right lenses. A few months later I bought a second-hand Olympus 45mm f1.8 and even wide open this lens gave very sharp images. Over time I was able to acquire other prime […]

  3. […] Being smaller than most compacts, the GM1 got in without a second glance; I paired it with the 45/1.8. Despite being in row 4, the 75 would have been much more useful; the only problem is one of […]

  4. […] telephoto and DOF control: Olympus E-PL5 (review, B&H, Amazon) and ZD 45/1.8 (review, B&H, Amazon). Relatively bargain price, excellent sensor, tilt screen and a compact 90mm […]

  5. […] system/ Rangefinder Olympus ZD 45/1.8** 8/10 – review B&H Amazon Olympus ZD 60/2.8 macro** 7/10 – review B&H Amazon Olympus ZD 75/1.8** […]

  6. […] one I do like very much and his blog is worth your visit.  Lens review: The Olympus ZD 45/1.8 by Ming […]

  7. […] a few days I’ll be adding the Olympus 45mm 1,8 to my camera bag and I’m excited because this lens too seems to be […]

  8. [...] Olympus ZD 45/1.8 (B&H | Amazon) – One of the bargains in the lens world – great optics and fast focusing, but the build is somewhat plasticky. I landed up switching to the 50 Summilux after picking it up because I prefer the rendering of that lens’ out of focus areas. It’s not easy to nail with the OM-D’s EVF and no focus peaking, though. I carried both for a while, but used the Leica unless I was shooting something documentary that required fast focusing. [...]

  9. [...] set was shot with the Olympus OM-D, ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8 and Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (via a M-M43 adaptor). Enjoy! [...]

  10. [...] of my recent workshops have been done with this setup – typically an OM-D, the 12/2 and 45/1.8 primes, and something else to fill the pocket for quick grabs. The trouble is, I’m starting [...]

  11. [...] inte äga en Olympus Zuiko 45/1.8 som man kan klicka här och läsa mer om om man sitter med en MTF kamera anser jag vara att ha hål i [...]

  12. [...] set was shot with an Olympus OM-D with the 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, and a Sony [...]

  13. [...] AFS 60/2.8 G, AFS 85/1.8 G, PCE 85/2.8 Nikon SB-700 x1, SB-900 x3 Olympus OM-D Olympus ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8, ZD 60/2.8 Macro Panasonic 20/1.7, 100-300/4-5.6 Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon; ZF.2 2/28 Distagon; [...]

  14. [...] on a bit of a roll lately with its Micro Four Thirds lenses – first the 12/2, followed by the 45/1.8, then the 75/1.8 and 60/2.8 – the latter two of which are amongst the best lenses I’ve [...]

  15. [...] on a bit of a roll lately with its Micro Four Thirds lenses – first the 12/2, followed by the 45/1.8, then the 75/1.8 and 60/2.8 – the latter two of which are amongst the best lenses I’ve [...]

  16. [...] is not an issue at all, and is just as fast as the ZD 45/1.8 providing you have the 4-way limiter switch in the right position. The one minor issue I did find [...]

  17. [...] set was shot with an Olympus OM-D and the ZD 45/1.8. As usual, click on any image to go to its Flickr landing page; EXIF data is intact on the right [...]

  18. [...] that took my fancy. I travelled very light – in the end bringing only the OM-D, 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, plus a Sony RX100 for backup (the links are to my reviews); not having a bag – hell, [...]

  19. [...] MSC system, which has the elements moving linearly on a rail; it’s not as fast as the 12/2 or 45/1.8, but with the limiter in the 0.4m-infinity position, it’s similar in speed to the 75/1.8, and [...]

  20. [...] and will serve handily as a portrait lens in a pinch; however, my general purpose pick would be the Olympus 45/1.8. Image quality is superb; there’s a biting sharpness and fine microcontrast structure [...]

  21. [...] And we close this catch-up-a-thon with a just-posted review of the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (micro four thirds) by Ming Thein. [...]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,110 other followers

%d bloggers like this: