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

Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 quality

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To evaluate the real-life performance of the Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 lens, I shot this landscape scene 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 lens 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. The corner and center crops shown below were taken from the areas marked with the red squares, right, and presented at 100%.

I also shot this scene moments later using the Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 lens for a direct comparison and you can find this in the contents, above right. I also have a seperate page illustrating the depth of field and bokeh of this lens.
  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


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 lens 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 lens for the sake of it, I thought it would be much more useful to simply show how it will perform in normal use. That said, as an Olympus lens on a Panasonic body, I believe only the geometric distortion is being corrected by the RAW processor here; I understand 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. The bottom line then is I believe chromatic aberrations and vignetting are not being corrected below, only geometric distortion.

Phew, now that's out of the way I can start looking at the results, and thankfully it's a very straightforward and positive story. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 may be small, light and fairly affordable, but delivers industry-leading performance across the frame. All but the furthest corners of the frame look pretty good even with the aperture wide open, and become crisp at f2.8, with the best results arriving at f4. The extreme corners are a little soft at f1.8, but improve a great deal by f2.8, and again look fantastic at f4. Between f5.6 and f8, the image begins to soften and lose contrast due to diffraction, but still looks very good. You’d probably want to avoid anything smaller though as at f11, the image is looking noticeably softer than the peak. At any aperture there's virtually no evidence of any chromatic aberrations and only minor vignetting when wide open, which disappears almost the instant you start closing the lens.

So with the aperture wide open for the shallowest depth of field, your main subject will still be nice and sharp, and any minor issues in the extreme corners will go unnoticed. But if you can close the lens to f4, you'll enjoy sharp, high contrast and detailed images across the entire frame, including right up into the far corners. This makes the Olympus 45mm f1.8 a very flexible option, as while its specification suggests it's primarily a portrait lens, it's also surprisingly good for architecture and landscape shots which demand fine detail across the entire frame. This is where it differs from many 'portrait' lenses of a similar effective focal length which often hide any poor corner performance in the shallow depth of field, and frequently disappoint when used outside of a portrait environment.

Not so with the Olympus 45mm f1.8, which delivers one of the most uniformly sharp performances of any lens I've tested from any system. Indeed while I originally got hold of one for portraits, it quickly became one of my favourite lenses to use around cities for capturing fine details at day and night.

As such, I'd already place the Olympus 45mm f1.8 on the no-brainer list for owners of Micro Four Thids bodies looking for a short telephoto lens, but there is of course a pricier alternative to weigh-up: the Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 which may not be optically as bright, but as a dedicated macro lens can focus much, much closer. I'll be examining the macro performance and potential depth of field on separate pages, but for now want to see how their sharpness across the frame compares for the same landscape scene shot focused at infinity. See how they measure-up in my Olympus 45mm f1.8 vs Panasonic 45mm f2.8 comparison.



Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner sharpness
 
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center sharpness
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f1.8
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f1.8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f2
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f2
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f2.8
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f2.8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f4
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f4
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f5.6
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f5.6
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f8
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 center crop at f8
     
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 corner crop at f11
Olympus M Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 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. See my Olympus 45mm vs Panasonic 45mm comparison.
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