Long term field test: Olympus ZD 25/1.2 Pro

If I were to choose one of the three available F1.2 prime lenses from Olympus (17mm, 25mm and 45mm), most people would guess 45mm which is not a surprise considering that is my favourite focal length. However when the decision was finally made, I chose the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens instead. Of course I wanted all three F1.2 lenses but that will seriously burn a huge hole in my wallet. The choice of 25mm PRO has a lot to do with the nature of my commercial photography jobs and also practical use in street photography and most casual shooting environment, which I shall explore in this article. Bear in mind this is not a review of the lens – I published my full review in 2016 here in case you missed it.

The main reason I went for the 25mm instead of the 45mm was because my most used focal length for commercial work is 25mm. I shoot mainly events, casual portraits, lifestyle products and the occasional weddings. In all these jobs, I have found myself using the 25mm about 70% of the time, if not more. Working in limited spaces, 25mm provided me the balance of being just wide enough and not too tight for framing but not having too much distortion. Anything wider than that produces undesirable perspective distortion and wide angle exaggeration which does not look good on portraits. To maintain the proportionate look of human subjects I usually work with 25mm lens or longer, and I sometimes reach for the 45mm F1.8 lens if I can. In situations where space is constrained, 25mm is a lot more flexible to use than 45mm.

More importantly, all my overpriced coffee and hipster food shots are taken with a 25mm lens. The 25mm makes my flat lays look fantastic.

Jokes aside, my go to lens when I am not shooting anything serious and a general do it all lens for every day use has always been the 25mm. If you have followed me all this time you probably know that I do not work well with the 17mm lens (35mm equivalent perspective) and yes I have tried very hard to love that focal length but it just does not work for me. I am not going to go into the classic 35mm vs 50mm debate, after all choice of focal length use can be a personal one and I find myself consistently getting better results with the Olympus 25mm lens. Therefore it was a no-brainer upgrade from the respectable compact sized F1.8 version to the PRO F1.2 version.

I found myself using the Olympus 45mm F1.8 lens frequently while street shooting mainly to be able to achieve shallow depth of field rendering. I do a lot of close up portrait shots, hence I require effective subject isolation from the background, usually by blurring it off into creamy smooth bokeh. Instinctively I also prefer the compressed background look of 45mm in comparison to any other wide lenses available but lately, as described in this article here I have started to experiment with wider, more environmental framing. The 25mm F1.2 gives me the best of both worlds – being able to create shallow enough depth of field to isolate my portraits when I need to, as well as being wide enough to fit more of the background into my shot.

Olympus claims the “feathered bokeh” rendering is softer and more natural than traditionally made wide aperture primes. To me, as long as I can effectively create the 3D pop in my images, I am satisfied.

One more obvious reason for adopting the F1.2 lens into my arsenal was the light gathering ability of the super bright F1.2 aperture itself. Recently I’ve found myself shooting more assignments in unfavorably low light situations. The F1.8 primes are usually sufficient to keep the ISO numbers within reasonable limits but I would be lying if I said I did not sometimes wish I had more headroom to work with. The practical solution is to use a F1.2 lens, which allows twice as much light to hit the sensor than its F1.8 counterpart. One full stop of exposure advantage makes a whole world of difference when shooting in dim lighting.

The first shot I took after acquiring the Olympus 25mm F1.2 PRO lens, was a shot of a cat. I don’t think that should come as a surprise.

I am sure by now there are many Olympus 25mm F1.2 PRO lens owners out there! I want to hear your experience using the lens, and comparison with the F1.8 version.

Rest assured more images will be made with the Olympus 25mm F1.2 PRO lens now that it is the default lens that is stuck on my E-M1 Mark II.

The Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens is available from B&H

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Comments

  1. I enjoy your photographs too. I purchased the 25mm f1.2 when it toward the end of a recent sale in early January. I also have a Voightlander Nokton 25mm f0.95. I loved that lens but wanted autofocus and weather sealing. I’ve been happy with the Oly 25. I guess like you, I also like the traditional portrait focal length. I also have the Oly 45 mm f1.8 and and Voightlander 42.5mm f0.95. Neither of those is weather sealed, but I also have the 60mm macro lens, which can work when weather sealing is needed. There are a lot of high quality lens options for this system!

    Because you can focus pretty closely with the 25mil, it’s possible to get compositions that make it seem both wider and longer than might be expected. As you’ve indicated, there’s a lot of flexibility with this lens. I’m quite satisfied with the purchase!

  2. Samuel Terence says:

    It’s so good, great!

  3. Great work Robin. And those Zuiko browns excel!

  4. Hi, I have owned the 17/1.2, 25/1.2. 45/1.2, and 75/1.8 primes and sold the 25/1.2 because the rendering was not appealing to me and I positively hate the manual focus clutch. It constantly moves and I missed a fleeting moments. I tried taping it in place but then I had to remove tape to shift modes – what the hell was Olympus thinking? What about a good old button the lens. I use manual focus a lot but also use AF. This is the worst lens haptics I have run into. The 17/1.2, 45/1.2 and 75/1.8 are among the best glass I have used for rendering. The 25/1.2 is ok but not special and overpriced in my view – no where in the same league as the rest of the glass. However, whatever works for you. I sold the 17/1.2 recently because the focus clutch drove me crazy and I had that focal length covered by the Hasselblad XCD 45mm.

    • Kevin Sutton says:

      Sounds like you have AF+MF activated. Change it to AF only and then touching the focus ring won’t do anything…

      • Brian Nicol says:

        What about when you want to instantly switch to manual focus? Not great haptics in my opinion – I have owned a lot of various systems but this is a disaster for a mainstream lens that gets constant usage and it is always in the position you did not leave it in. For the fleeting moment, I have been momentarily confused, and then discover ring has moved from position I had set it to, is image capture and the moment is gone.
        The 45/1.2 is a specialty lens for me so I am willing to put up with poor haptics because I generally use it in AF mode and have ring gaffer taped. I also have the amazing (for a long zoom) Oly Pro 12-100/4 but only use it in autofocus mode so have gaffer taped mf clutch and when photographers ask why the ugly tape I just say it is a design error but the glass is so beautiful for a zoom.

  5. I really enjoy this lens a lot, and I bought it for similar reasons. I appreciate your thoughts and insights. It’s nice to have another persons perspective that confirms the prudence of my selection. Thank you, Robin!

  6. Hi, Robin…
    Excellent photos, as always. I clicked the 2016 review link and found myself at a site which is new to me. In it, I found your introduction to Olympus Workspace — which I did not know existed. I’ll be downloading it and using it for at least the initial approach to ORF files. My older (pre-subscription) Lightroom and Photoshop will not open them; I’ve been living with .jpg images only, although I always shoot them in combination with raw files. Don’t you think Olympus would be well advised to email all of its registered camera owners whenever there is new software – including firmware updates – released? Not doing so reinforces the company’s image as being made up of technology wizards who are oblivious to the end user….the people who buy their stuff.

    • Michael,
      Not exactly what you may want, but have you thought about converting to DNG first using Adobe’s free converter? Then you should be able to process these in your preferred program(s).

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Michael for the visits to my site, and I appreciate your kind words. For a free software, the Olympus Workspace is working well for basic post-processing. However, regarding emails and notifications, I am not sure how they are tracking the customers, but I believe the communication is handled different in each country. Let’s hope Olympus in your country can do a better job at keeping the customers informed.

  7. Sebastian says:

    Hi Robin,
    thanks for sharing your thoughts on the 25mm f1.2. I’ve also read your post on your website before.
    I personally find the 25mm f1.2 from Olympus the most versatile prime that you can get for m4/3. I used the smaller, cheaper and lighter f1.8 version as well but the f1.2 version gives me more pleasant results, regardless being used on the Olympus EM1 II or EM5 II. Also having used the 17mm (lent it) and 45mm f1.2 versions (sold it after some time), i always came back to the 25mm.

    First time i heard from this lens was thanks to a blog post from Neil Buchan Grant, who visited Cuba and used this very lens. His shoots were magical and from that point i knew (for myself) that lens from Olympus was special.
    I have it since it’s date of release and probably will never get tired of it. Such a joy to use every single time.

    I only wish i could put it on my Fuji XT-3 🙂

    Cheers !

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. Any suggestions re buying this lens to use on an E-M5 mark II (which is my only camera)? I’ve been really tempted but the overall setup looks a little unbalanced without using a grip. I see you’ve used the 25/1.2 on both so I was wondering whether you’d encourage me to go for it or not 🙂 Thank you. p.s. I’ve been happily using a 25mm f/1.8 for long time.

      • Sebastian says:

        Hi Giorgio, you’re welcome.

        Indeed the 25mm f1.2 might feel unbalanced when used on the bare EM5 Mk II.
        A small grip is helpful here. Actually i use a grip from jbcameradesign, which is made out of wood for the most part, can be put on a tripod and still offers access to the battery.

        So if i would consider to buy this lens for my EM5, i would try it out at a local camera store and see, if it works for me on my camera or not. This way i find it easier to decide.
        I hope this suggestion is helpful.

        • thanks Sebastian, very helpful!

          • Robin Wong says:

            Giorgio,
            The 25mm f1.2 is about the same size as the 12-40mm PRO, so I don’t think balance is a problem. It should balance well with E-M5 Mark II even without the grip. Nonetheless, hold it in your hands and you be the judge, what works for me may not work for you. Personally, I feel the E-M1 and 12-40mm combo is perfect. I’d say the E-M5 Mark II is not far off.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Hi Sebastian, I am glad that you also find the 25mm F1.2 to work well for your photography. Yes, it is very versatile, and in my recent travels (Bangkok, Perth), I have used the 25mm F1.2 more extensively than other lenses.

  8. Bruno Sousa says:

    Ola Robin,
    Amazing pictures, and such an astonishing lens! Unfortunently, too expensive for my wallet… 😦
    That’s why i would like to ask you, what’s your oppinion on the more affordable (yet slightly different) Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN contemporary for MFT?

    Thanks!

    Best regards,
    Bruno

    • Robin Wong says:

      I have not used the 30mm F1.4 lens, but I have reviewed the 16mm F1.4 Sigma before, and I do like the lens a lot. I think 30mm may be a little too narrow, but that also depends on what you are shooting and your preference. I find 25mm focal length just right for my type of photography.

  9. I agree with everything say Robin!
    When I am doing school pictures, the lens I grab is the 25 1.2. The colors, detail and micro-contrast are just incredible coming right out of the camera (shooting RAW). I used the 45 1.8 this last time because there were two of us shooting and there is night and day difference between the pictures even if both are set to 1.8. I thought that would be a good one because it will have the shallow DOF similar to the 25 1.2. It just wasn’t there in quality.
    What is the solution? Do I just take the 25 1.2 all the time for me? I bought another one last week so we can both use it! These lenses are like high end tools. I can’t have one side of the business using good tools and then people getting less quality just because I didn’t make an investment on the otherside.
    You really can’t go without. I print other people’s pictures and most of the time they are blah, now that I am used to the 25 1.2 image quality.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Bryce, and you are right, the 25mm has very good rendering, creating images with depth. To me it is not so much of the depth of field I was after, but the ability to gather more light at F1.2 without sacrificing image structural integrity at the expense of high ISO. Glad that the 25mm F1.2 is working out well for you too.

  10. Dear Robin,
    Congratulations on your wonderful photographs above; I love them all.
    I am an old “Leica-man”, for decades I had a 35 and a 90mm lens, that’s all. The former is good general overviews, the latter forces you to focus on what is essential.
    To follow this logic, for mFT I bought the Zuiko 17/1.2 and the 45/1.2, two wonderful lenes. Sometimes I miss what would be in between, a 25mm, but I have the 25/1.8, which is also a very good lens. But as you said, a full stop can make a big difference.

    • Robin Wong says:

      35mm and 50mm, once you have used those effectively, you can almost do everything! The legends use these two focal lengths. And you are right, 25mm F1.8 is still an amazing lens, and I love how small and light it is!

  11. Petr Karlach says:

    mZD 25/1.2 Pro stays on my E-M1 II most of the time, too (+ FE 8/1.8). I have tried the other 1.2 lenses, in fact, I bought the 45/1.2 secondhand, but I can’t get used to it. The 25/1.2 is simply perfect for most of the shooting occasions I am getting into. Maybe it brings me back to the times, when in our country the best and only cam/lens combo to buy was Praktica with Tessar 50/2.8 – I used it to shoot everything. And I like your 25/1.2 shots very much, thanks for this article, it makes me feel even better about my own 25/1.2. 🙂
    Have a nice day!

    • Robin Wong says:

      The 25mm is still my most used lens, so by default it is attached to my E-M1 Mark II. I do love the 45mm f1.2, though it is less practical to have that as my all day lens.

  12. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Intuitively, I would have gone for the 25 (AKA 50, in FF terms, I presume). The results from your choice of the 25 confirm exactly what I would have expected – great DoF over the distance incorporating “the subject”, and softening into the background. Perfect!
    The 45 would give you more “conventional” perspectives, but shallower DoF – this works for some images, but I certainly wouldn’t have liked to see it on the three images you have posted beneath the baked beans! – they are “exactly right”, as is, with the 25, and might have gone blurry in the wrong places otherwise.
    Sometimes the shorter 17 (AKA 35) will help by giving greater DoF – you and Ming would know more about what happens next than I do – I suspect it’s a way of “grabbing the shot”, when shooting “street’ – you’d likely still be left with cropping and compositional issues, so I’m not altogether clear on what problems it would solve. Personally, I find my main use for any w/angle (apart from deliberately distorting an image) is in architecture – particularly interiors – where “needs must, when the devil drives” – so I HAVE to use a w/angle, to include what I want in the picture.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Jean for the kind words, and yes, the two reasons you mentioned were correct, and this happened to be my most used focal length for both my own shooting and commercial jobs.
      Nothing wrong with the 17mm, it is after all the classic focal length (35mm equivalent) for conventional street photography. I just prefer a narrower framing, this is purely a personal bias.

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