2017 Update: I've left all my MFT gear behind a dumpster in favour of the full frame A7RII and... have never looked back.
Micro four thirds lenses come in 99 flavours. So if you're looking for the best lens for your MFT mirrorless camera... read on!
(I used to shoot with an EM5 MKII and a Pen-F. Not anymore. Since summer 2015, the full frame Sony A7RII is the camera of choice for all my work and have never looked back!)
It's true that gear doesn't replace the ability to see and I prefer to focus on taking photos rather than spend late nights locked in my bedroom reading dirty magazines full of sexy lenses.
But since I often get asked what MFT lenses I'd recommend, there you have it!
We're really spoiled for choice and that's one of the many reasons I initially chose micro four thirds. So let me make it a little easier for you micro four third users with this objective review of MFT lenses which I've used extensively for my own work.
This review will not explore individual pixels or graphs, because we all have better things to do... like being out shooting!
A last piece of advice... don't completely rule out buying second-hand lenses.
It's something of course a little scary but I bought my Voigtlander and my Pana Leica 45mm second hand for top Ebay sellers (check feedback carefully) and they were like new, only... a lot cheaper.
Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95
Cost: Around £740-£799
This is a great lens for street photography. Micro Four Thirds prime lenses don't get better than this. I wrote about this manual focusing lens immediately after I bought it and since then, it has barely left my E-M5 Mark II and Pen-F, I have now spent thousands of hours shooting with it and it's made all other lenses nearly redundant.
How good has a manual lens got to be for me to favour it over the easy option of fast auto-focus?
It’s my absolute favourite, possibly the perfect prime lens for street photography and yet it’s just humble metal and glass, no electronics. Of course that means no EXIF data but it's not a deal breaker for me since I rarely look at EXIF data anyway.
Also a great one for video for you video lovers!
Check out "The Great Londoners" series which was at the centre of my last 3 month exhibition and shot entirely using this lens.
A 35mm full frame equivalent, it’s very special and produces aesthetics unique to it, call it Voigtlander'esque. The skin tones and colours rendering are just astonishing. The ultra wide aperture makes it ideal in very low light or for anyone wanting super fast shutter speeds. Bring it up to f2.8 and it reaches peak sharpness.
The shallow depth of field has multiple applications from isolating your subject in street photography to creating a very arty / dreamy look in close-ups such as in food photography or cinemagraphs. Yes, it can focus extremely close! They say 15cm minimum but I manage 7-8cm. The construction and quality is reminiscent of old school lenses, it's solid.
It's heavy, it's beautiful, but more importantly, everything takes on a new creative dimension with the Nokton. Whenever you run out of ideas or inspiration, screw it on and go for a walk. You’ll never come home empty handed (unless you get mugged of course). It'll change the way you shoot and see things, bringing excitement back if you've somehow lost your mojo, which we all have experienced at least once.
Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH
Cost: Around £429
For a long time this lens was my favourite. It's only just surpassed by the Voigtlander. The image quality is fantastic, really sharp and the f1.4 aperture means it'll shoot extremely well in low light and it's easy to carry around since it's very compact and light. I use it for portraits, food, urban and street photography (for a lot of street photographers a 50mm equivalent is the perfect focal length). It's actually a very versatile focal length I find.
My only dislike it the rattling sound it makes when focusing.
Olympus - M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm f/1.8
Cost: Around £699
This prime lens needs little to no introduction. It's the portrait lens with a slightly unusual/awkward focal length (150mm FF equivalent) but it really shoots and focuses well. It's a fast lens, again with a beautiful shallow depth of field and it's built the way old school lenses were. It's probably the sharpest of the lot here and I have found it interesting for street photography (once familiar with the distance required to shoot) as well as my minimal urban photography where I try to pick on specific details of architecture.
Olympus - M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro
Cost: Around £799
I have recently found myself using this lens more and more. I'm not much of a zoom lens person but they are for sure convenient and this one is as close as it gets to a prime in terms of quality. Definitely a professional standard lens, that is fast and quiet in auto-focusing and sharp. Being a London photographer, I get my fair amount of rain. This lens is weather sealed so that's a BIG high five. Just bear in mind you'll need a weather sealed body such as the EM1 or EM5 Mark II to take full advantage of that. Construction is solid and it's a very versatile lens which can be used for a multitude of applications. I found it perfect for video, Interiors Photography (click link or see examples below) as well as some of my Urban Landscapes and street shooting and even a rare wedding I shot! The constant aperture of f2.8 makes it perform pretty consistently in various light conditions. Another lens which you can switch from auto to manual focus by a simple pull of the focus ring, I find that particularly useful when I shoot timelapse so I can pre-focus and then switch to manual so my focus doesn't change. A unique and excellent feature is the addition of an L-Fn button which can be customised from the camera menu.
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 Power OIS
Cost: Around £895
I mentioned earlier using the Olympus 75mm f1.8 for my minimal urban photography. Well actually the one I use most for this is the Panasonic 35-100mm. Again, that's a weather sealed lens of excellent construction so perfect for the London life. The constant aperture of f2.8 allows it to perform consistantly well throughout the 35-100mm range. Telephoto lenses (especially this one since it's not too big) are very useful in an urban environment. I never shoot street photography with it, but it's great for shooting architecture and close-up details of our cities and I've seen myself use it for corporate events too and gigs. It may not have the range of the Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO but it's also a lot smaller so really a matter of personal preference since having tried both, I think IQ is very on par.
Olympus - M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f/1.8
Cost: Around £349
That is a GREAT little lens. For days when I just don't want to carry my sweet sweet (yet heavy) Voigtlander or bother with manual focus, the 17mm f1.8 is a go to lens for street photography or just everyday snaps. It's also a lot smaller, less intimidating for people I shoot and cheaper if you're on a budget yet looking for a very good everyday 17mm lens. I love the all metal construction and switch from auto-focus to manual by simply pulling the ring As for the 12-40mm, it's convenient as long as you don't pull it by mistake and realise as you take THE shot that you're in manual. I may sound amateur here, but in a street photography situation, you often get your camera out in a rush. But all in all, a great lens and one of the cheapest. Paired with the Pen-F it makes for a very compact and light combination.
Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH
Cost: Around £549
This is a very good portrait lens actually, probably one which gives the least distortion, quite important for portraits. I also have used it for street photography and it's sharp. But as the name suggests, what this lens excels in is macro photography. Beware though, you'll have to get close... a little too close, and that's tricky for anything that moves such as insects, etc...
Samyang (Rokinon) 7.5mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-eye MFT
Cost: Around £225-£250
This lens goes by Samyang or Rokinon depending on the market but essentially the same lens. Another manual focusing lens, so not for everyone. Although it has such a huge depth of field it's rarely an issue especially on urban landscapes where you've got plenty of time to set the focus. It's quite cool for urban shots in general. I sometimes mix it with in-camera art filters such as cross-process or tilt-shift and they really produce interesting results. Beware though using this on the E-M1 or any camera with a protruding grip... it's hard not to get your right hand in the picture as it's so wide! So maybe better suited for a Pen, EM5 or EM5 Mark II. The big thing it's got going for it is a very decent image quality for a ridiculously cheap price compared to other fisheye lenses. And it's the tiniest lens too. I've always loved fisheye lenses to look at things differently. Ideal if you run out of inspiration, screw it on and have fun, one of the key factors to being creative!
Voila! I have of course not covered the entire catalog of lenses for MFT, but instead the ones I love, which I bought myself as an MFT user.
If I had to sell all of them and keep one? It'd be without hesitation the Voigtlander... but then I think you guessed that.