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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8 Gordon Laing, Jan 2013
 

Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 vs Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8

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To compare the real-life performance between the Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 and Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 lenses, I shot this landscape scene with both at every aperture setting using a Panasonic Lumix GX1 mounted on a tripod.

The GX1 was set to its base sensitivity of 160 ISO and the lenses were focused on the center of the composition using magnified Live View assistance. Most of the scene is effectively at infinity so even at f1.8 the depth of field covers the range of distances from top to bottom.

I also have a seperate page illustrating the depth of field and bokeh of this lens, along with another demonstrating its macro performance; see the contents above right.
  Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 results
1 Olympus 45mm f1.8 sharpness
2 Olympus 45mm f1.8 vs Panasonic 45mm f2.8
3 Olympus 45mm f1.8 bokeh
4 Olympus 45mm f1.8 macro
5 Olympus 45mm f1.8 Sample images


As before, I shot the scene using the GX1's RAW mode and processed the files in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) via Photoshop using the following settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts.

All lens corrections were disabled, so there's no software compensation for vignetting, geometric distortion or chromatic aberrations. Normally this would allow us to evaluate the uncorrected optical performance of the lenses alone, but with Micro Four Thirds lenses there are additional corrections stored as profiles within the firmware; these are automatically applied to JPEGs in-camera, and also by most RAW converters including ACR when opening the RAW file. You can't turn them off.

As such it's often hard to see exactly what's going on behind the scenes of Micro Four Thirds lenses without using an obscure RAW converter which ignores the profiles, so instead of trying to chase the pure optical performance of the lenses for the sake of it, I thought it would be much more useful to simply show how they will compare in normal use. That said, as I understand it any chromatic aberration profiling is lost when fitting Olympus lenses on Panasonic bodies and vice versa, and that vignetting is only corrected in-camera on JPEGs. So in the results below the geometry is corrected on both lenses, but chromatic aberrations are only corrected on the Panasonic. Meanwhile, there's no correction of vignetting on either lens below.

This is a very interesting comparison as both lenses may share the same focal length, but physically the Panasonic is considerably larger and heavier, not to mention more expensive. You'd think all that glass would deliver superior all-round performance, but the results tell a different story.

I'll start with the corner performance in the first table below. With a brighter focal ratio, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 kicks-off the comparison with a result that's a little soft in the extreme corners at f1.8 and f2, but which sharpens up considerably at f2.8 and becomes completely crisp at f4 across the frame. The f5.6 result also looks good, although at f8 diffraction is visibly kicking-in with a progressively softer and lower contrast result as the aperture is closed.

The Panasonic 45mm joins the comparison at f2.8 with a very respectable result in the corner that's a little crisper than the Olympus at the same aperture - although note the higher perceived contrast from the Panasonic result here is partly attributable to greater vignetting causing the corners to darken at f2.8. But even with that taken into consideration, the Panasonic still enjoys a small lead at f2.8 in the corners.

Interestingly while the vignetting on the Panasonic 45mm is essentially eliminated at f4, the sharpness doesn't visibly improve from the f2.8 sample; likewise for the f5.6 sample which again looks very similar to the two before it. In contrast though, the Olympus 45mm enjoys a visible boost in sharpness and contrast when closing from f2.8 to f4 which is maintained at f5.6, allowing it to deliver crisper results in the corners than the Panasonic across this range.

Like the Olympus, the Panasonic visibly deteriorates at f8 with noticeable softness and reduced contrast, which due to diffraction becomes progressively worse at smaller apertures. But interestingly the effect is much more pronounced than on the Olympus. For example the Olympus 45mm is just about acceptable at f8, whereas you'd really want to avoid using f8 on the Panasonic where possible.

Moving onto the crops from the center, the comparison becomes much closer. The Olympus once again kicks-off the comparison at f1.8 with a sharp but slightly lower contrast image which improves greatly at f2.8 and becomes slightly better at f4.

The Panasonic starts at f2.8 with a result that looks very strong in the center with only a very minor loss of contrast compared to the quality peak at f4.

In the center I'd say the Olympus enjoys a fractional edge at f2.8 compared to the Panasonic, but there's virtually nothing in it, and between f4 and f5.6 both lenses are essentially neck in neck - again for the center of the image. Pixel peepers may notice a minor boost in contrast and ultimate crispness from the Olympus within this range, but nothing to really differentiate them.

At f8, diffraction kicks-in for both lenses with a steady reduction in contrast and sharpness as the aperture is closed further, although again I'd say the Panasonic deteriorates a fraction quicker.

So in terms of performance in the middle of the frame, both lenses are pretty close and deliver superb detail, especially if you can close them to f4. Even wide open, the details are sharp in the middle. Look to the extreme corners though and the Olympus enjoys a visible edge at matching apertures. Once again if you close it to f4, you'll have an image that's uniformly sharp and detailed right up to the edges and corners. It's a remarkably good performance.

What makes this all the more impressive is the Olympus lens is considerably smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Panasonic too, while additionally boasting an aperture that's just over a stop brighter. Where the Panasonic scores is with optical stabilization (useful for Panasonic bodies but not Olympus ones which already have it built-in) and true 1:1 macro performance which I'll compare on my Olympus 45mm f1.8 macro page, but if you're not bothered about shooting extreme close-ups or having optical stabilization and just want a very sharp short telephoto lens, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 will give you superb results in a small, light and affordable package.

But what difference does f1.8 make to f2.8 when it comes to depth of field and blurring the backgrounds on portrait and macro shots? Find out in my Olympus 45mm f1.8 bokeh results page.



Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner sharpness
 
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner sharpness
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f1.8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop. f1.8 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f2
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop. f2 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f2.8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop at f2.8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f4
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop at f4
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f5.6
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop at f5.6
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop at f8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f11
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 corner crop at f11




Olympus 45mm f1.8 vs Panasonic 45mm f2.8 center sharpness


Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center sharpness
 
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center sharpness
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f1.8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop. f1.8 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f2
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop. f2 not available
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f2.8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop at f2.8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f4
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop at f4
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f5.6
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop at f5.6
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f8
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop at f8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f11
Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 center crop at f11


Now let's see how the Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 compares against the Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 in terms of their minimum depth of field. See my Olympus 45mm f1.8 bokeh results.
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