35 Problems with Micro Four Thirds

Looking back over my photographs across several decades, it’s clear that for my people and travel photographs I always end up coming back to a 35mm equivalent lens. Lately I have been going wider and love the wonderful Olympus 12mm f/2 lens on my OM-D E-M1 mark II for street photography, I also enjoyed the 50mm Summicron on my Leica M3, but ultimately for a single camera, single lens combination, the 35mm focal length wins out.

Spoiled for choice on 35mm lenses for full frame

As you will see from earlier articles in this blog, I have settled on Olympus micro four thirds for the foreseeable future, its compromise of portability and quality hits the sweet spot for me, but what has stood out, is the slightly strange array of 35mm “ish” lenses that are available.

From Olympus, there are now three 34mm lenses. Arguably the slightly taller and narrower aspect ratio of micro four thirds 4:3 sensors, compared to the 3:2 ratio of 35mm full frame sensors offsets this 1mm difference, but the angle of view of 63 degrees compared with 65 degrees is not a huge difference in any case. There is an old and in my opinion weak 17mm f2.8, the 17mm f1.8 which I own and now the 17mm f1.2 PRO - from images I have seen, superb, but comparatively big and heavy.

From Panasonic, there is the slightly too wide Leica 15mm f1.7 - photographs I have looked at show this to be marginally sharper wide open than the Olympus 17mm f1.8, and there is now the Sigma 16mm f1.4 - good on price but with all the bulk and weight of the Olympus 17mm f1.2 PRO, in part because it has to cover the APS-C image circle for compatibility with the other mounts offered for the design. Finally the somewhat specialist Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 - performs well but with a weight and functionality penalty, being manual focus only. 

It appears we are spoiled for choice - but I am suggesting we might not be.

With full frame I would normally favour around f4 - f5.6 for street and travel photography - wide open shooting was not something I did frequently. However with micro four thirds, I much prefer the look of pictures at around f2 - f2.8. Of course this makes perfect sense as depth of field is quite similar. (In fact my initial view of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 was negatively skewed by taking my pictures at an aperture of f4 - f5.6.

I find that the Olympus 17mm f1.8 falls below the sharpness wide open of the other small and superb Olympus primes that for me, epitomise the M43 system. Annoyingly my favourite focal length seems to be the only one from the 12/17/25/45 range of f1.8 / f2 primes that is not great until stopped down to around f2.8. 

Maybe I am being greedy, not satisfied with the five prime lenses currently available, I want a sixth. 

A 35mm equivalent focal length that is excellent optically at f2 AND not as big and heavy as a full frame equivalent. At every other focal length Olympus have proven this to be possible. For me the Olympus 17mm f1.2 has gone too far, or should I say too big and I am very reluctant to pay the very high weight / size / conspicuousness penalty (and of course extra price) for sharpness at f2.

Though I am seriously tempted. And at least it comes with a hood!

[edited Apr19 - and at the end of March, I have bought the Olympus 17mm f1.2 - most of what I have said above stands, read my review here]

35mm Equivalent Lens Specs for Micro Four Thirds mount:

  • Olympus 17mm f1.2 PRO is 390g and 68.2 x 87mm length
  • Olympus 17mm f1.8 is 120g and 57.5mm x 35.5 length
  • Sigma 16mm f1.4 is 405g and 72.2mm x 92.3mm length
  • Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7 is 115g and 57.5mm x 36mm length
  • Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 is 540g and 63.4mm x 80mm

And to compare my favourites for full frame:

  • Zeiss Milvus 35mm f2 is 649g and 77mm x 81mm
  • Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH is 252g and 53mm x 54.4mm length (impressive, eh?)

Read about my 35mm lens choices for full frame here.

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