Olympus 45mm F1.8 first impressions

The recent spate of lens and camera releases has given me the chance to spend some time with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm F1.8 'Family Portrait' lens.

We've been asking manufacturers to make a proper portrait lens for as long as we can remember. APS-C may have become the de-facto standard sensor size, making up the majority of interchangeable camera sales, but you'd never know it to look at the lens ranges current available from most camera makers. There are very few prime lenses specifically intended for APS-C and fewer still that offer the classic combination of large aperture and the circa 100mm equivalent focal length that film users used to enjoy (though some people use 85s or less perfectly, 50s to give something around 135/85mm equivalent on APS-C).

So we were understandably delighted when Olympus announced a lens that fitted this definition almost perfectly. And still more encouraged when we discovered they were asking a fairly sensible amount of money for it. It doesn't have the 12mm F2's beautiful all-metal build and clever manual focus engineering but we'd much prefer a price tag that will see it end up in more people's kit bags.

What about the faithful 50s?

All my film shooting was done with slow-ish kit zooms so my first real experience of playing with depth-of-field came with a 50mm F1.8 on APS-C. It's a fun combination and one of the only really affordable ways to play around with the low-light and shallow depth of field capabilities of your first DSLR (it's no surprise that cheap 50s are sometimes seen as 'gateway' lenses, leading to addictive fast-glass buying habits).

Ultimately, though, it's not a focal length I enjoy shooting. Subsequent experience has led me to prefer a 35/40mm equiv. for all-round shooting (and sacrifice some of that depth-of-field control at sensible working distances), and yearn for something a touch longer for shooting people. There are 60mm F2.8 Macros, of course, but they're optimised for quite a different purpose and their list prices are often $600 or more.

Using the 45mm

There's always a risk of disappointment when you finally get the thing you've been hoping for, but I haven't found that to be a problem with the 45mm. The PEN Mini isn't the obvious body to mount it on - a model with little direct control, aimed squarely at a demographic that tends not to buy additional lenses - but it's still an Olympus, so buried away in there somewhere are all the customization options in the world. A few minutes spent enabling the Super Control Panel and toning down the noise reduction and sharpening left me with a seriously compact combination set up to produce very likeable JPEGs.

The lens looks nice on the Mini but it makes more sense, visually, sitting flush to the body of an E-P3, rather than out on a protruding mount (mounting it on the Panasonic GF1, meanwhile, emphasises the retro design cues of both to give a combination with serious camera-geek appeal).

Just because it's promoted as a portrait lens doesn't mean you have to use it as one

In use the 45mm is an absolute pleasure. Its autofocus is extremely swift - at least as fast as any DSLR/50mm combination I can think of. Critical focus fine-tuning isn't quite as immediate as using an optical viewfinder and a lens with manual focus override, but the PEN Mini is intelligent enough to magnify the selected focus point if you turn focus ring. This 10x magnified view gives better precision than an APS-C viewfinder affords. And, of course, the Mini's choice of 35 AF points and Face Detection gives more control over AF positioning than most DSLRs allow.

But what about the pictures?

Obviously it doesn't matter how a lens feels to use if the image quality is indifferent. From a technical point of view, I've been more than happy with the results I've been getting from the 45. Even at F1.8 it is sharp enough to give plenty of detail in subjects' eyes. Just as importantly, at sensible working distances, it gives a usefully shallow depth of field on the Four Thirds format and renders out-of-focus regions rather pleasantly in the samples I've shot so far. Obviously all this will be covered in more detail in the forthcoming lens review but the noises coming from the testing studio are similarly positive.

And, beyond the pixel-peeping potential, I've been really pleased with the results from a creative perspective. I found I liked the shallowness I was getting at F1.8 for head-and-shoulder shots, and can more easily imagine myself wanting to stop down a little than wish the lens was faster. Just as I said that 50mm F1.8s often turn out to be the key to unlocking the creative potential of APS-C DSLRs, I feel the 45mm/1.8 is likely to do the same for Micro Four Thirds users. And, just because it's touted as a portrait lens doesn't mean it can't be used for other things - a moderate telephoto isn't a bad lens to have to hand.

Sometimes shooting with a new focal length can be a challenge - getting used to 'seeing' the photographic opportunities in front of you - but having a proper portrait lens has been genuinely reinvigorating. I wouldn't claim to have suddenly become a great (or even particularly good) portrait photographer but spending a couple of weeks shooting with the 45mm has helped me enjoy photography (and the results I'm getting), more than in a long time. Definitely worth the wait.

Click here to see our 45mm F1.8 preview samples gallery

I own it
I want it
I had it
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Total comments: 46
Ian McDonald
By Ian McDonald (10 months ago)

I have recently bought this lens and here is what i think, the Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens is amazing, this is my first lens so i don’t really have much to compare it to. The depth of the focus is pretty amazing.

This lens is a perfect portrait lens and is very good at taken photos at anything, because the lens does all the work for you. The auto focus is pretty darn fast and the colors are great too.

For people who are not in to portraiture the Olympus 45mm is still an outstanding lens to have.

I found a web page that goes in to more detail on the lens here,

i hope this answers some of your questions

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
By gulffish (May 11, 2012)

Generally nice shots, looks like a keeper. One shot, 0046 fellow playing guitar, is super noisy, any guess why?


By bluevellet (Dec 1, 2012)

Because they've used the E-PM1 camera with its aging sensor to take the picture. ISO 1600 in bad light is essentially how far you can go with that camera and DPreview took it right there.

With an OM-D or the latest generation of Pen cameras, IQ in low light would have been a lot better, but I don't think thse cameras were out when this preview was made (maybe the OMD was, but not the new Pens).

1 upvote
By photohounds (Sep 28, 2011)

f1.8 translates to about f3.5 in 'full' frame, not F4.
Up close that's plenty of blur. Extreme shallow DOF is just an effect.

Close up 85/1.2 portraits look mostly ridiculous, portraits end up with with invisible ears!
Unnatural-looking pics are rarely saleable.
Whle fast lenses can be very useful, a small camera with a small lens can get a MUCH more intimate shot than a bazooka can.
Also well documented is that one is MUCH more agile with light, compact camera gear.
Few will be unhappy with the natural-looking shots achieved unless the "faster lens braggart" intimidates them.

As for the 50mm F2. Mine is not slow, it was on the E-1.

Up close, macro lenses I used have so/so AF. It only guarantee that "something" is sharp.
Don't rely on AF for macro except for postage staps on a copy stand
The 'slow AF' whine is moot for ths and other macro lenses.

That 45/1.8 does indeed make possible the "three fast primes" compact kit.

By e_dawg (Sep 21, 2011)

One of the cool things about this lens (and m4/3 lenses in general) is that the MFD (minimum focusing distance) is fairly short at only 0.5m or 20". Most 85mm primes on FF have an MFD of ~0.85m or 34". Not a deal-breaker, but the shorter MFD is nice to have sometimes...

By OlyAmber (Oct 31, 2011)

A lot (all?) Olympus lenses have good close focusing distance. (Isn't 'Macro' in the Olympus DNA? Especially the OM system) I'd like to know how other brands lenses were in this regard?

By SLOtographer (Sep 20, 2011)

Nice! Not many tiny 100gram lenses do what this one does. The triple prime era has arrived: Oly 12/2, Panny 20/1.7, Oly 45/1.8

By spontaneousservices (Sep 19, 2011)

f1.8 sounds nicer than it is, for a 45mm "portrait" lens on 4/3. As you can see in the sample pics, even when close focused, background blur is hardly there. You'd have to go all the way to f1.2 or so to get real blur.

By mister_roboto (Sep 20, 2011)

"hardly there?" Really? At the portrait distance the bokeh looks pleasing- and very apparent.

By spontaneousservices (Sep 20, 2011)

To me it looks like f4.0 on full frame, give or take half a stop. But yes, no hard or double edges in the blurry parts so that's good.

By karstdj (Sep 19, 2011)

Why is nobody mentioning the excellent Panasonic/Leica 45? It is one of my favorite lenses for m4/3.

By Mssimo (Sep 19, 2011)

Maybe because its a 2.8 lens and double the price. It is a very nice lens. The sharpest as far as u4/3 goes. Lenstip reviewed the olympus 45mm and found the sharpness to be almost as good around 75lppm compared to around 80 for the Panasonic.

Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Sep 19, 2011)

Exactly. The point I'm making is that this my early impressions suggest this lens gives a really nice balance of aperture (and hence d-o-f), size and price. The Panasonic/Leica 45mm may well be lovely but it's expensive and F2.8, because it's principle purpose is as a macro lens - which isn't the combination I'm looking for.

By ripimage (Sep 19, 2011)

I like the new format - and I hope it will be part of all the reviews to come. I like those personal bits too - makes it more, well, personal ;-)

By babart (Sep 19, 2011)

I know this a dumb question, especially since I have Pentax 50/1.4 that I mount on my GF-1 and wouldn't be interested in buying the 45, but.....when mounted on a Panasonic 4/3, this lens does NOT auto focus, right? The juxtaposition of the 45 mounted on a GF-1 and the text about quick focusing made me wonder. Or perhaps hope?


Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Sep 19, 2011)

Like all Micro Four Thirds AF lenses, it autofocuses on all Micro Four Thirds bodies. I mainly used it on the PEN Mini but we have shot with it briefly on the GF1, too.

By Mssimo (Sep 19, 2011)

Yes it does, feel free to use any Olympus lens on your Panasonic. Olympus lenses do not have any build in Image stabilization; about half of the Panasonic lenses have IS. If you like Olympus bodies, then all lenses can be stabilized via body IS.

1 upvote
By LinusP (Sep 19, 2011)

I know Four Thirds never got a huge share of the market, but isn't the Olympus 50mm f/2 macro worth a mention as a fantastic, relatively inexpensive 100mm-equivalent lens that's been available since 2003?

1 upvote
By Mssimo (Sep 19, 2011)

Is it is, but the focus is very slow and there is not limit for the macro. Olympus is working on a 50mm (F2?) and it should be out late this year or next.

NZ Scott
By NZ Scott (Sep 20, 2011)

Olympus is working on another 50mm - really? This is interesting news. Where did you hear it?

By Entropius (Sep 20, 2011)

Is the 50 f/2 really that slow to focus? I have the 35 f/3.5 Four Thirds macro (a cheaper lower-quality optic) and it focuses plenty fast for portrait use.

Dave Hanson
By Dave Hanson (Oct 26, 2011)

The ZD 50mm f/2 focuses fairly quickly at or near infinity, such as when shooting portraits. It can hunt in very low light or when shooting close-ups, so I usually focus it manually in these situations. It can take a very long time to ratchet all the way out and back.

By E.J. (Sep 19, 2011)

Shooting JPEG's??? - leave that to the cheapo kit lenses. You need to shoot a lens like this in RAW to get everything out of it. :)

Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Sep 19, 2011)

The 9 images with .acr in the name were converted from Raw using Adobe Camera Raw.

By Makinations (Sep 19, 2011)

Is that Arthur Dent in the first image?

1 upvote
Michael Barkowski
By Michael Barkowski (Sep 19, 2011)

Great article! Hope to see more "impressions" articles.

1 upvote
By compositor20 (Sep 19, 2011)

Please post some portraits with full body at f1.8 so that people can see how the background is blurred (to see if it is enough, which i think it isn't). For head and shoulders f2.8 is enough.

wainting for the mtf charts from dpreview:) but samples say the lens is sharp wide open...

By sarajoy (Sep 27, 2011)

Try the following:

By olyflyer (Sep 19, 2011)

Cool, a very nice lens but...

Why f/1.8? What this system needs is at least f/1.4 or even faster, especially if it is intended to be a portrait lens. Anyway, at least with this lens Olympus is showing it is not planning to abandon the Micro 4/3 system.

By nickthetasmaniac (Sep 19, 2011)

Price and size....

I own a legacy 50/f1.2 and it weighs nearly 3x the 45/f1.8 and costs more despite being 30yrs old... Can you imagine how much a brand new one would be?

By Prime_Lens (Sep 19, 2011)

Because that is the sweet spot.
1.4, while definitely desirable, it will make the lens bigger and heavier, costs more to make and purchase.

Look at other 85mm f/1.8 vs. 85mm f/1.4 prime lenses.
How bigger they are, heavier they are and more expensive they are.

What some of us want isn't necessarily the best for everyone.

By mister_roboto (Sep 20, 2011)

what other said- also, this is the first lens from Olympus that's FASTER than f/2 (digital that is).

By duckling (Sep 19, 2011)

I enjoyed reading this personal impression. While lacking in numbers and technical scores (which may come in due course), it certainly conveys the gestalt of using a small portrait prime. I also liked the reference to the author's previous photographic experience. Not all of us are veterans with past or present access to any piece of gear imaginable and the personal perspective offered by the author is very much in place IMO.

By h2k (Sep 19, 2011)

(1of2) This is an interesting article and it seems to be a new format on DPR: a personal experience report, not the usual technical examination down to the last screw. Thanks for the report and for the sample pictures!

Still i'd like to remark that this report, intended to be about the new Olympus 45 mm lens, could be somewhat shortened:
- cut out the remarks about the lenes "look" on a specific Olympus camera
- cut out the remarks about how to tune that specific camera's JPEG engine
- cut out the remarks about the writer's previous cameras

I was especially disappointed about the writer's retrospective of previous shooting habits ("All my film shooting was done with slow-ish kit zooms...").

Radu Grozescu
By Radu Grozescu (Sep 19, 2011)

> I was especially disappointed about the writer's retrospective of previous shooting habits ("All my film shooting was done with slow-ish kit zooms...").

Don't be, he may have been about 6yo at the end of the „film” era :-)

By cseiler (Sep 19, 2011)

I thought the same thing- what is all this info I don't need doing in there?

- and please dpreview- stop claiming that YOU asked for it and the manufacturers replied- are you really this arrogant?

- the other thing which is really missing is good examples. That portrait is horrible- and a landscape shot with a 90mm to show its qualities? Please get some more capable photographers!

By julieng (Sep 19, 2011)

" the other thing which is really missing is good examples. That portrait is horrible- "

I softer words, I thought the same. I read a lot of obsession about background blur, but whenever there is some blur on the actual subject, I can't help to wonder how the shot would have been with a little more DoF.
Then there is the background color and those background white stripes that bugs me too.

But its ok, I still can imagine what the lens can do.

By morton_goldberg (Sep 19, 2011)

I think h2k remarks are entirely justified.

Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Sep 19, 2011)

This article is specifically not a review or preview - it's my personal first impressions of using the lens. That's why it's published in the 'Opinions' section of the site.

The reason I wrote about the camera I used and my own photographic experiences are to set the context. I wanted to make sure I explained the underpinnings of my opinions, rather than simply announce them as if they were the only possible conclusion anyone could draw.

Furthermore I didn't want to preempt the review, which will be based on much more extensive use and testing, so have made very few comments about IQ.

Finally, I haven't stated that we believe the manufacturers have responded to our requests (I'm sure if we're requesting it, plenty of other people are too, and I'd hope any company would pay more attention to their broader market research than just making what we recommended).

It's true that we've been asking for such a lens for a long time and that explains why we're so pleased to see one.

By h2k (Sep 19, 2011)

(2of2) Everyone has different experiences, many DPR readers likely have used "portrait lenses" or such previously, so this personal history has not much to do in this article. It reminded me of so many hobby blog reviews of books, movies etc.: The reviewer doesn't get into his topic, but reminisces his expectations and personal history.

It used to be one of DPR's major strenths to *not* get into this wordy reminiscing, but stay matter-of-fact, close to the point, even though that style might be out-of-fashion. I still prefer close to the point writing very much over articles that spread more about the writer than about what's promised in the title.

One suggestion: You write about various Olympus cameras, but you don't mention using the lens on a Panasonic camera. That would have been interesting too! (I understand that on a Panasonic camera you will not have any stabilisation and i know that there is a stabilized 2,8/45 made by Panasonic, but that is very expensive.)

Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Sep 19, 2011)

This month we introduced a revamped Articles section with the goal of providing, among other things, short, personal perspective pieces on some of the equipment we use. It's been said, but worth repeating that this type of editorial coverage is in addition to, not a replacement of our typical in-depth camera and lens analyses. Our reviews, by design, give you "the facts". What we've added is the ability to convey personal impressions of some of the more interesting items that cross our desk. They don't take as long to write, or to read as our review content, so hopefully both new and longtime site visitors can get something out of them with very little effort.

By ThePhilips (Sep 19, 2011)

> What we've added is the ability to convey personal impressions of some of the more interesting items that cross our desk.

Long overdue IMO. And very appreciated. Keep it up, folks.

Tord S Eriksson
By Tord S Eriksson (Sep 19, 2011)

Amazing photos, another of those must-have items (the FA43 is in the same ball park)! Just a question: which Micro Four Thirds would be the optimum - E-P3, an E-PL3, or something Panasonic?!

By cheddargav (Sep 19, 2011)

I recently compared this to the FA43, which is a huge compliment to this lens because the FA43 is a legend. Ok, it's not as good, but it's almost as good, and considering the price difference, I believe that to be complimentary enough!

By Sosua (Sep 19, 2011)

Impressive samples here - particularly the ACR conversions look good.

By paparazzi666 (Nov 23, 2012)

It's more than a year since this prereview and I only decided to buy the lens about 1 month back. On the Olympus Ep2, which is not the most sharpest of cameras, the 45mm provides some nice bite and gives the image that sharp defined look. Here is one almost SOOC.


Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
Total comments: 46