The state of Micro Four Thirds lenses is really an embarrassment of riches right now. Olympus and Panasonic have created a wide array of lenses of which many are remarkably affordable and of high optical quality—and third-party support means even more options. Knowing where to start can be really overwhelming, so we’re going to suggest a number of lenses, with nicer and more affordable picks for those looking to spend a bit more or a bit less. We’re working on the assumption that the camera you bought came with a lens included (called a kit lens), most likely a 14-42mm lens. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for around $270 or a smaller version for around $350. or even spend quite a bit more on something higher-end. Or you could just not bother, and pick and choose from the rest of our list.
Table of contents
The technical stuff:
Ok, first up, we have to hit a bit of technical mumbo jumbo here. We’re going to cover stuff in short here, but if you want to know a more, check out the footnote 1 for a detailed discussion.
Lenses are usually described in terms of their focal length and their aperture, like the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 to use the example of a lens that we recommend later in the piece. If it’s a zoom lens, both will be expressed as a range, like the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6. Roughly speaking, the focal length describes how wide angled or zoomed a lens will be. 28mm or so is usually what you’d have when zoomed out on a point-and-shoot, and then if it had a 10x zoom, it would go all the way to 280mm.
The aperture is a measure of how wide the hole inside the lens can open, and how much light it can let in. It’s a fraction, so a “smaller” number is actually better — f/1.8 lets in more light than f/2.8. Letting in more light means that you can shoot when it gets darker out more easily, and also means that you can get your backgrounds more blurry and soft, giving better subject isolation, and giving pleasantly out of focus backgrounds.
Things get a bit more confusing when you take into account what’s called a “crop factor”, and lens equivalent. Usually, when you see a lens mentioned, it’ll also say another number that’s its “equivalent focal length”. What this is saying is how what it looks like through the lens compares to universal
standard—a 35mm sensor, also known as “full frame”. This 35mm equivalent changes depending on the sensor size. On most SLRs, it’s around 1.5x, and on the Micro Four Thirds sensor on one of these cameras, it’s 2x. That means that if you’re using a 25mm lens on one of these Micro Four Thirds cameras, you’ll see the same level of zoom as if you were using a 50mm lens on a full frame camera.
The flip side of that is that the depth of field of an image, how much of it is in focus, is much wider on a Micro Four Thirds lens. So f/1.8 on a Micro Four Thirds camera will show more of an image in focus than f/1.8 on a full frame camera. Which is tricky if you’re trying to blur out backgrounds and foregrounds and get your main subject well isolated. However, f/1.8 on either of those cameras will still let in just as much light, and photograph just as quickly.
If you want to read more on this, check out our footnote 1 below.
Also, there is something to be said for brand loyalty with these lenses. If you’re shooting with a Panasonic camera, keep in mind that you might want to favor Panasonic lenses over those from Olympus. Olympus cameras have stabilization built into the camera itself, not the lens. Panasonic builds it into the lenses rather than the camera, so if you have a Panasonic and are shooting Olympus lenses, you’ll get no image stabilization. And if you’re shooting Panasonic lenses on an olympus, you’ll be paying for more stabilization in lenses but should only be using the in-body stabilizer, not both, at once.
One other factor we’ve learned about recently is that Panasonic and Olympus have a similar problem with UV filters. where Panasonic has the filter in the camera’s body, and Olympus has it in the lens. Which means that if you use a Panasonic lens on an Olympus body, you might get some pretty notable chromatic aberration. It can be fixed by adding an extra filter to the front. but that’s a workaround, and often an inelegant one.
Panasonic lenses also tend to come with things like lens hoods and bags for free, whereas an Olympus might not. Not a huge deal, but definitely a nice bonus.
Heads up: All our following lens focal lengths are quoted as actual, unless specifically noted as the effective length. As such, the real-world length will be twice that number.