*Micro4/3 Holy Trinity: It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean.

I’ve had a little time now with the absolutely minascule Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens and I have to say, I have no problem proclaiming that I have a tiny lens. A truly impressive optical feat considering it’s being used on a 17.3mm x13mm 4/3 sensor. Of course, there is the beautiful Olympus 12mm f/2 lens, but at 2.5x the cost, could one be satisfied with the trade offs and savings? Beyond that you have the much ballyhooed 20mm f/1.7 pancake which is amazing in its own right, but for a bit more coin you can get the Panaleica 25mm f/1.4… And then of course, the Oly 45mm f/1.8 which has been universally praised for both quality and price, but the other Panaleica lens, the 45mm f/2.8 macro should certainly get some attention too. Folks, I think we have a few candidates for the micro 4/3 holy trinity.

Many photographers have heard of the “Holy Trinity” for various systems in regards to lenses, and often when asked, an experienced photographer will rightly say that lenses are a better investment than a new camera body in most cases. I feel that the Micro 4/3 system has not only a Holy Trinity, but two. One for the truly budget conscious and another for those who are willing to spend a bit more coin to get to the top of the IQ hill. Both are great and depending on your needs, you really can’t go wrong. How many systems can you say that about?

The idea of a Holy Trinity in lens terms usually starts with a moderate wide angle lens, then a standard to short portrait focal length and finally a longer portrait / short tele focal length.

Users of the micro 4/3 system are lucky in that they not only have access to truly quality lenses but quality choices, which is unique in the mirrorless world (and any system really). Here are my two versions (with their current estimated prices which may change daily!) of the micro 4/3 Holy Trinity… Click on any of the links to see the lenses at B&H.

First, the “quality is king” choice:

Oly 12mm f/2 (NOW $699) – What’s not to say about a fast, well built, optically precise wide angle lens?

Panaleica 25mm f/1.4 (NOW $505) – The first proprietary “standard” lens for the micro 4/3 system, and it is a beaut.

Panaleica 45mm f/2.8 OIS Macro ($719 ) – The tortoise of the bunch. Not the fastest focuser, not the fastest prime lens in the lineup, but has optical image stabilization, is sharp as a tack and also does true 1:1 macro.

(set total $1923.00 )

*Since this article was written, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens has come on the scene as well.  You can read my take on it HERE.  It’s certainly a jewel in the micro 4/3 system’s crown.  Have a look:

867365

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 ($899 ) – The mid tele monster.  While arguably a little on the pricy side, its quality cannot really be debated.  It’s as good optically as any lens for the system, and from my experience is only limited by the sensors it may focus light onto.  As the sensors get more advanced for the system, I think we’ll see this lens get even better.

Next, the budget minded/mine are smaller, choice:

Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 ($325 ) – Better than average optical performance for the mirrorless category as a whole, and absolutely friggin’ tiny. I have lens caps that are bigger that this lens.

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 ($348 ) – In my opinion, the one true, must have lens for the micro 4/3 system. It is fast, it is sharp, it is small, it is reasonably priced and at a 40mm equivalent fov, great for almost everything.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (NOW $349 ) – This would be my next m4/3 lens (and still may be) if it weren’t for my Contax G Zeiss 45mm f/2 lens that I use. By all accounts, this Oly gem is exactly what the system was screaming for in a lens. Fast focusing, fast max aperture, relatively small, sharp and all at an honest price for the package.

(set total $1022 )

Of course, any one of these can be easily replaced by the other and beautifully fill out a shooter’s personal holy trinity. Something that no other mirrorless system can boast at this point. Choice is good. Some may point out the newly rumored/leaked f/2.8 X zooms, which for what they are look great, but I’m a prime fan, period. I do have some zoom lenses for my other systems, but they only get busted out for specific shoots. Zooms are big, bulky (in my case, heavy) and my whole love affair with the mirrorless systems is overall size reduction. No disrespect to zooms, or the people that love them, I’m just not interested at this point with my compact system. Luckily for me, the micro 4/3 system has really rounded out their prime lens offerings and this is exactly why I think, as a system, it is far and away the best system in the mirrorless landscape right now. There are better sensors, better AF performers and better systems at handling noise, but none have the optical choices for anyone who desires fast, discreet, sharp, affordable prime lenses. Of course, if fast, small primes aren’t your bread and butter, than feel free to ignore my claims.

My lens cap, er, 14mm pancake lens. Sorry.

I’ve gone the way of compact in my micro 4/3 system quiver. As a secondary system, I used it to replace my compact, carry around cameras. I chose the micro 4/3 system largely because of the stellar 20mm f/1.7 pancake, and at the time, it was the only game in mirrorless town. When the 14mm f/2.5 pancake was announced, I’d wished they’d gone a little wider (I was hoping for a 12mm f/2.8 at the same price and relative size) so I’d held off on buying it to see what Olympus was going to do. When the beautiful 12mm f/2 lens was announced, I was a little disappointed. Certainly not for the lack of quality in the new Oly lens, but because I was hoping for another pancake, and one that would have come in under $400. Oh well, it’s better that the system have two different choices, one faster, larger and more cost prohibitive for the more discerning shooter. I’m happy with the 14. Would I like the Oly 12mm? Yep, but I’ll stay happy as is. With the 14mm and 20mm pancakes, you get two very quality lenses at reasonable prices. That, and they’re both absolutely tiny. Here is a shot showing the 20mm overlaid on the 14mm to show how much smaller the 14mm actually is compared to the already small 20mm lens on my GF1. I haven’t measured, but I’d say the GF1 (or even more the GF2/3 and EPL/EPM series) + 14mm pancake is close in size to the LX5 for example.

20mm pancake over the 14mm pancake on a GF1

My last holdout is the 45mm, and I have to say, I would go with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 at this point due to the cost and 1 + 1/3 stop speed advantage over the Panaleica. Lucky for me, I have a great, compact 45mm f/2 Contax G – Zeiss lens. I don’t have auto focus, but that’s okay. If the pricing drops even further on the Oly, I may grab one, but for now, I have my own holy trinity with my 14mm, 20mm and 45mm lenses. A perfect kit for most any situation, for me.

Now that I’m feeling better about low light performance in the G3 vs the GF1 (see GF1 vs G3 comparison shots here) I think I finally feel comfortable with bringing out my micro 4/3 system in lieu of my larger full frame system for traveling and the like. I would not have been caught without my 5DII and L lenses on any trip in the past, but now, I think I’m actually ready to take my first trip without a full frame camera in over 5 years… It may seem trivial, but trust me, it is a big deal for me. I was curious to see the pure difference in weight seeing as I’d literally carry my camera bag everywhere anytime I was travelling, so I added up the total weight between my two “travel kits” and here’s what I found:

G3 + 14mm f/2.5 + 20mm f/1.7 + Contax 45mm f/2 = 675 g (just shy of 1.5 lbs)

5DII + 35mm f/1.4 + 85mm f/1.4 + 135mm f/2 = 2,841 g (about 6.25 lbs)

I guess that I should also mention that I’d normally have the GF1 +20mm with me on trips too so, with filters, cords, cards, ipad, etc I’d probably be slinging 10-15lbs + around when all things were said and done which may not seem like much, but after a full day and sometimes many miles of walking, I’d feel it in my neck, back, shoulders, …… Seeing that my m4/3 kit weighs less than my 85mm lens alone, I feel that I might have just convinced myself I can get by without a full framer on this next trip.

I enjoy photoblogging and do it purely as a passion project, so I don’t have my blog monetized. Because of this, I don’t have any links to B&H, or Adorama, etc which would give me a commission, so I’d like to direct you to two places I visit regularly that do and would whole heartedly suggest the next time you do make a purchase through B&H, Adorama, Amazon or the like, do so from these guys. FourThirdsRumors (Ale is awesome and has helped me by linking to many of my articles in the past) and SteveHuffPhoto (I read Steve’s blog daily). Both of these hard working gentlemen are well worth helping out, so if you do feel like making someone’s day brighter by buying your lenses on line at no extra cost to you (they get affiliate commissions if you buy by clicking their links) I’d like to suggest these two.

As always, thanks for reading through. Fire off any questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them.

Happy shooting.

*the product shots of the listed lenses are used for editorial reference and are the property of Olympus and Panasonic. All others are © Tyson Robichaud Photography

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34 thoughts on “*Micro4/3 Holy Trinity: It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean.

  1. Living in a comunist bailouted european country – that is, Portugal – I’m on the budget minded side and I have to agree with you regarding the 20mm f1.7 and the 14mm f2.5 which I both have and find excellent.

    Regarding telephoto I got a Olympus 50 mm f1.8 (100 mm in MFT) manual lens for about 50 GBP on ebay and I’m really happy with it (since it’s a portrait lens you always have to manual focus, so there’s no need for AF).

    Regards from sunny Porto,
    gouchomarx

    http://portostreetshooting.blogspot.com/

  2. Great post. The equivalent in golf is the “three club bag”. As with photography, it’s a philosophy of building creativity by imposing constraints. I like your choices for the 3 lens kit. I’m loving the 45mm Olympus and can recommend it as a partner in crime for the 14mm and 20mm.

    • Thanks Peter.

      I hope to get the opportunity to round out my three club bag with the Oly someday as well. Amazing what the last 9-10 months or so have brought to the system. It went from kinda blah to really well rounded. The sensors are catching up and I can’t wait to see what the OM-D does. I have a feeling it is going to be a bit of a leap as opposed to a step forward for the system.

      Cheers,

      tyson

    • The 45mm macro is my favorite lens. Love what it does for tiny critters and flowers! Otherwise, I’m not clear why I’d spend for a 14 and a 20? Speed might be worth it and size is nice (especially if you’re toting around 2 kids and a car full of kid stuff, eh Tyson?). ;-)

      I often wish the 45 were a BIT wider and I could just leave it on the camera until it was getting dark or going indoors, but it’s a great lens for nature.

  3. Even as personal religions vary, so do holy trinities for photographers. I have to put in a word for nature photographers here: the 45mm macro (I got last week, whee!) tho expensive does what none of the other do: true 1:1 macro. You can see some examples at:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35742767@N04/sets/72157628845611013/

    or 1st day shots (no tripod in either):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35742767@N04/sets/72157628831327179/.

    The other missing nature facet is telephoto for which I have the slightly short 14-140mm f4. And you are absolutely correct that the must have lens is the 20mm f1.7 kit/pancake. I may buck up that 14-140 with a multiplier when the bank account has recovered.

    • Something I would really be interested in seeing for this system is long, fast primes. For birding, nature or even certain sports an f/2.8 300mm, while a bit pricy would be pretty nuts as a 600mm equivalent. A 400mm f/4 or 5.6 even would be cool and a 600mm f/5.6ish lens would be nuts. Not sure if I would bite, and I don’t think the micro 4/3 system is really the venue for these types of lenses, but I think it would be pretty cool for those looking to gain length for whatever application through the crop. At 12-16mp and into the super tele range, you could do some cool stuff I’d think :)

  4. I just got the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 for my E-PL1 (to complete the budget/smaller holy trinity) for around US$320 and free postage to Australia.

    It focuses fairly fast (the one problem I had with the Panny 20mm on the E-PL1), and I was just feeling like it ‘completed’ me when I saw this post!

    I was out yesterday with a friend who had a giant Sigma lens, and like you, I’m sure my entire kit (including a Gorillapod and Tamrac Zipshot tripod) weighed less than her lens.

    Thanks to 4/3 Rumors for pointing me here, I’m going to follow your blog from now on!

    • Iain,

      Thank you. I will try to provide content, which at the very least will attempt to be entertaining :) I feel the siren song of the Oly 45 and I feel that I’ll eventually cave. The Contax is a great lens, but it is a very slow shooting experience by comparison. Not bad in all ways, but with a two year old running around, I end up with quite a few missed frames.

      Pretty amazing when I did the math. I’d never really seen just how big a difference the kit is weight wise. Just think of all the gear you will be able to buy by saving all that money that would have otherwise gone to chiropractors and physical therapists. See, the micro 4/3 system is making you money!

      t

  5. I have the “budget minded” holy trinity – and just came back from my first travel using only m43 gear – I visited Cuba. I’ll write a detailed post on my site as soon as I have some time (time’s what always missing it seems!). In terms of size, weight and portability, the kit worked admirably. It was sooo refreshing having a small bag with everything I needed for the day, lenses, batteries, flash and backup body. GREAT. My main criticisms at this point are:

    1) Ergonomics: I keep hitting buttons unexpectedly on the GH2. Its frustrating at times. I haven’t had that problem with any other camera before (including GF1).
    2) Metering: There’s no way I can trust GH2 metering reliably like I do with my Canon cameras which are 90% of the time spot on. The GH2 will severely underexpose some scenes for no apparent reason. As a result I saw myself constantly battling with exposure compensation, and in a few occassions i forgot to put the settings back to zero which ended up in overexposed shots – in fact that ruined a couple of pics that otherwise would have made it to the final edit.
    3) LCD Screen: Both GF1 and GH2 under daylight are unusable for critical framing.
    4) Viewfinder: In some lighting situations, the GH2 viewfinder is not very accurate. Highlight and shadows clipping creeps in fairly easily, so its difficult to assess your exposure. There were quite a few shots that in the viewfinder looked like they were all blown out which later when reviewed on the computer turned out much nicer than what i was expecting.

    With regards to lenses, the system is pretty mature, and thats the stronger point of m43 today. There were few occassions where I would have loved having a longer lens (maybe in the 200mm FF equivalent range), but what I mised the most was a wider angle for urban spaces shots. The 14mm turned out not being wide enough several times for what I wanted to convey.

    I guess i’m still looking for the perfect travel system…

    • Thanks Nico,

      I agree with you on all counts. I’ve not shot with the GH2, but I do find myself becoming somewhat frustrated from time to time with the cramped button layout on the G3 combined with my large hands. I knew it would be a challenge though, for me at least as I even had occasional issues with the GF1.

      I find that with the G3, when using the 20mm, the evaluative metering is much more accurate than when using the 14mm. I tend to have more metering problems with the 14 and I can’t quite nail down exactly why. May be getting more of the scene in which in the cases I’ve shot with the 14 have largely included the sky. With the G3 completely defaulting to saving the highlights, I notice that in general, any exposure tends to push the histogram to the left. I think I need to just start spot metering when using wider lenses on the G3.

      The washed out LCD was exactly why I really wanted a quality EVF in my next m4/3 body. I have the LVF1 for the GF1 and while it is better than nothing, it’s not much better than nothing. The EVF on the G3 is miles better and while still an electronic finder, is an admirable tool considering the tech I guess. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m still a fan of an optical ttl finder over any electronic finder no matter how cool the newer EVFs are. That may change in the future as technology builds, but in many situations, I don’t think you can beat the ability to see through your lens. Another trade off for size reduction of course.

      I hear you on the longer lens, and I don’t think that we will have to wait too long for a prime in the mid tele range ;)

      I’d love to see your post on Cuba (when time permits of course), where’s your site?

      t

      • I’m ready to spring for my second MILC Panasonic, probably the budget G5 but my wife said yesterday, “You’re not thinking of buying another camera for this trip, are you?”

        “Gosh, no Honey! Why would you think that?!” Back to the drawing board and maybe when the Utah trip gets a little closer…

  6. The new 12mm f1.6 Hyperprime is pretty awesome looking for people more inclined towards manual focus, video, and or macro wide angles. Have you gotten to look at that one yet? It’s in my top running for wide angle primes to get myself for my birthday :).

    • Hi Justin,

      I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the 12/1.6 hyperprime. I think that if I were using this system for more video, or as a primary system, I would certainly try it out. For me, and my needs from the system, I tend to default to the size saving aspects first, and performance second so unfortunately, I’ve not been able to shoot with either the hyperprime, or the Oly 12mm yet. My ideas on the holy trinity were limited to Oly and Panasonic built lenses just to keep it simple (and most other “holy trinity’s” are comprised of proprietary optics as well). Not to say the list is definitive by any stretch. Steve Huff did a good comparison article between the HP and Oly a little while ago and it might be a good article to help you figure out the best route. Happy birthday and enjoy whatever you end up with!

      t

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    • Sounds like a pretty sweet Bi-fecta! How do you find the quality of the Sigma? I was a bit confounded when they announced them as they’re pretty slow (comparatively) and fairly large as well. Certainly seemed to be kinda, down the middle focal lengths between what might be optimal for the micro 4/3 and APS-C sensor MILCs. For the price though, I love that we have the option to get quality optics for this system and hope that more and more of these will create enough competition to bring down the slightly inflated prices of the proprietary optics.

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    • Hi Brad,

      Thanks for the read and comment. I think that the 14, 25 and 45 are a much more natural threesome, focal length wise (vs the 14-20-45). The 14 and 20 are just different enough for me to justify holding onto both, but I would have greatly preferred a bit more distance between the two compact pancakes (I’d have liked a 12mm pancake instead of the 14, even if it meant being a third or half stop slower). The 25 is a lens I see myself potentially pulling the trigger on in the future as I begin to take the system more seriously and get used to using it more as an “everything but work” type setup, but the 20 pancake is just too good for me at the moment to switch it up (I don’t see myself really holding onto both if I were to buy the 25). I think, once a black version of the Oly 45 is released this Fall, I will be looking at it as a replacement for my fun, but awkwardly focusing Contax Zeiss 45/2.

      Thanks again,
      t

    • Hey John,

      Thanks for the comment. While a decent lens, I don’t think it belongs in the conversation when the 20/1.7 performs better in most every way, and arguably the 14/2.5 offers a much better bang for the buck. I’m excited to see what the Zuiko 17/1.8 will do, but it is going to really have to perform well, and be priced realistically to unseat the 20/1.7 in my opinion. If I were to guess, I’d say it will be optically on par (excellent) with the pany, it will focus faster (which will be a plus), it will be a hair slower (minus) and it will be priced at $499usd (would be too expensive for what it is in my opinion, again entirely guessing at this point). Sure it will be “built like the 12/2″ but that in and of itself, to me, isn’t enough of a justification. If it comes in cheaper, then I think it will really begin a debate, but the 20/1.7 is lightning in a bottle with the only real drawback I could see someone upset by is the AF speed which, while slower than average, it’s been plenty fast enough for everything I’ve shot with it and its built quality is as solid as I’d need.

      Thanks again!

      t

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  15. Excellent info.
    I use Pan 17mm & 20mm also Olym 45mm on Epl3.
    Very happy with kit. Hardly ever use SLR except for longer lens for nature.
    The Olym 75mm would complete.
    Thanks for your various blogs on related subjects.
    Very helpful. Now confident to leave SLR behind except for real necessity.

    • Thanks Donald.

      I feel the real benefit to a system like the micro 4/3 (aside from compactness) is the crop/reach we gain, turning telephoto lenses into super tele lenses. I kind of see the micro 4/3 system as an expensive 2x teleconveter :) The rumored 150mm f/2.8 from panasonic should be a lot of fun, and I would LOVE a reasonable 250mm or 300mm f/4 lens. Canon has a 300mm f/4 L lens for about $1300, so I know that PanOly can design and build one for no more than that. I’m sure we’ll see something like it eventually, but my guess is we’ll start to see these types of lenses get closer to $1500 or more if I had to guess.

      t

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