A Small Surprise

The Olympus 25mm f1.8 standard lens. Small but beautifully formed. Olympus even give you a lenshood!

The other day I was sitting at my desk just idly surfing the net when a courier van pulls up and leaves a small box. Once unwrapped it revealed an even smaller box containing  the Olympus m.Zuiko Digital 25mm f1.8 lens. Now for a long time I’ve always believed that every photographer should own a fastish standard lens. In fact I also believe that if should ever find yourself in the photographic doldrums then just committing to use a standard lens for a period of 12 months will see your photography improve no end. I had one for my OM film system (and still have and use it) and I have one for my Canon EOS digital kit, but a little while back I had a dalliance with film range finder cameras and I eschewed the fast 50mm in favour of a pancake 35mm moderate wide-angle. In fact I was so smitten with the focal length that when I adopted the m4/3 system the Olympus 17mm f2.8 pancake was a must have, and if I look through my Lightroom catalogue over half the picture I’ve taken with my Pen and OMD have been with that lens. So now I’m in possession of a fast standard again.

No obvious lens distortion.

My initial impressions are that although it has a plastic body it is well made, although not as well made as say the 60mm f2.8 macro. It continues with the clean modern lines that Olympus adopted with the launch of the EM-5 and it feels well-balanced on both my EP-2 and EM-10. The other small thing that makes feel very positive about the lens is that Olympus have finally stopped being tight and are including lens hoods. The hood is hard plastic and bayonets securely on to the lens after the front cosmetic rim of the lens has been removed. Nice – a good lens should have a lens hood to get the best out of it. After a couple of days of shooting stills out and about I found that the focal length took a little adjusting to, it is a bit narrow for my tastes, but I quickly adapted and started looking for subjects that would play into its strengths.

DOF comparison 1 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens wide open at f1.8
DOF comparison 2 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens at f8
DOF comparison 3 Olympus Zuiko 25mm f1.8 lens at f22

So optically how did it fare? Very well. There is no distortion worth talking about and although shooting wide open there is some slight chromatic aberration but this disappears very quickly and by f4 it is gone. Sharpness is good with the centre of the lens performing very well wide open with some softening towards the corners again things improve quickly as you stop down, but get down past f11 and things start to soften up again as diffraction rears its ugly head. Diffraction isn’t a fault of the lens it is a problem with the size of the sensor, and all sensor and film sizes suffer from it. The lens isn’t what I would call “clinically” sharp in the way a lot of modern lenses are, it renders nicely and has a nice fall off from sharp edges to the out of focus areas. I’m not by any means a bokeh slut but this lens does render out of focus specular highlights in a very pleasing way. It made me want to go out and look for images that would give me those velvety smooth transitions.

Decentering test on the Olympus 25mm f1.8 at f1.8.
Decentering test on the Olympus 25mm f1.8 at f5.6.
Beachside Bully Run. The autofocus is quick and accurate and was able to track my dog running erratically on the beach.

The lens focuses insanely quickly on the EM-10, which is as it should be on the latest generation of m4/3 cameras and is no slouch on my first generation EP-2. The worrier of DPReview now obsess over centring and on the micro four thirds forum the hysteria regarding the Olympus 25mm is something to behold. A few people there are expecting lens perfection from this lens and unfortunately no lens is perfect. Does the lens suffer excessively from being de-centred – well according my exhaustive testing of just one sample lens the answer is no. The lens is well within acceptable and I have seen much worse on lenses that cost ten times the amount this one does. My advice is that if you spend all day shooting pictures of brick walls and sheets of newspaper right way up and upside down then blow the resulting shots up to 3 or 400 % and then worry continually that you have a bad copy, or your rate of return rate of “faulty” products is so high that the customer service people know who is on the line just from the sound of your voice then you need a new hobby, therapy or both. Life is short, hobbies are supposed to bring enjoyment and fulfilment not create endless gear angst.

White flowers with bokeh balls. Dodges Ferry, Tasmania.
Tea Strainers
Banoffee pie Banjo’s Bakery, Hobart, Tasmania.
Liberal Party Hobart, Tasmania.
Coffee Lovers Hobart, Tasmania.
On location filming at the Bellerive Yacht Club with the Olympus EM-10 and 25mm f1.8 lens.

For video the lens is a very good choice. I shot the video clip below to test the lens’ resistance to flare, how it coped with continuous focus in video, close focusing and bokeh rendition.

Now there are some lenses which are so good that people buy into the system just to have a copy of that lens. Is the Olympus 25mm one of those? The short answer is no, but that is a disservice to this lens. It is a very capable performer and I think it should be given serious consideration by anyone who is already invested in the micro four thirds system. I really must say I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 25mm performed. It’s not the fastest lens, it’s not the most expensive, nor is it the cheapest. There are other m4/3 lens that are optically superlative and there are those whose performance is less than stellar to put it mildly. The Olympus m.Zuiko Digital 25mm f1.8 lens is a “Goldilocks” lens – just right.

Ouch! Don’t headbutt the buildings – it hurts.
Blowing in the Wind Bellerive Yacht Club, Tasmania.
The SS Kosciusko part of the facade of the Waterfront Hotel in Bellerive.
Looking out over the marina at Bellerive Yacht Club.
Stool Samples Hobart, Tasmania.