DxOMark lens tests show the Micro Four Thirds Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens seems sharper with less vignetting and distortion than a Nikon 85mm f/1.4G on a Nikon D700, at 1/5th the weight and price!!

Written by Gary on February 18th, 2012

DxOMark has tested the Micro Four Thirds Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens on a Panasonic GH-2 and shows that despite its very compact and light size and sub-$400 price tag, it seems sharper and with less vignetting and distortion wide open than a much more expensive, heavier and larger Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G at f/1.4 or f/2.0 on a Nikon D700 full frame.

See also my wiki comparison of a range of “85mm portrait lenses”

Let’s look at the test results compared to the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G on a full frame 12mp Nikon D700 dSLR:

  • at f/1.8, corner sharpness is similar, but central sharpness is better than the Nikkor lens at f/1.4 or f/2.0
  • at f/4-f/8 overall sharpness and centre sharpness is better than the Nikkor lens at the same aperture
  • degree of distortion is half that of the Nikkor lens although distortion level is low
  • vignetting is about half that of the Nikkor lens at f/1.4-2.0 compared to the Olympus lens wide open at f/1.8 but vignetting becomes comparable at f/2.8 on each lens
  • CA is well corrected on both lenses
  • Nikkor lens uses expensive, large, 77mm filters while the Olympus lens uses tiny, cheap, 37mm filters
  • Olympus lens is optimised for movies and fast contrast detect AF whereas the Nikkor lens is not.
  • when used on an Olympus OM-D, you gain 5 stops of 5 axis image stabilisation which is not available for the Nikkor lens on a Nikon camera.
  • Olympus lens allows faster more accurate AF for slow moving subjects with option of subject eye detection when used on an OM-D or E-P3 or E-PL3 camera
  • Olympus lens focuses to 0.5m whereas the Nikon focuses only to 0.85m
  • the Nikkor lens weighs 5x as much and is almost twice as long and 5x the price!!

There does not appear to be anything much in favor of the super expensive Nikkor lens, except that being used on a full frame sensor provides 3 significant advantages:

  • improved dynamic range and high ISO performance
  • f/1.4 aperture allows better capabilities for capturing moving subjects in low light
  • f/1.4 aperture on a full frame dSLR allows for shallower depth of field and even better ability to blur the background and blur the region around the subject

Nevertheless, for most situations, the Olympus lens will give sufficient ability to blur the background and give shallow depth of field to function very nicely indeed as a portrait lens, even if its depth of field is similar to f/3.5 or so when using the Nikkor lens on a full frame camera.

At 1/5th the weight and cost, thank you very much Olympus, I know which option I will take on my travels and for parties, and family photos in the park!

If you really want shallower depth of field at this focal length on a Micro Four Thirds camera, you can always resort to the Cosina Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/0.95 lens, although it is manual focus, bigger, and more expensive than this lovely Olympus lens.

If you want an even sharper lens with macro capability, one can always use the incredibly sharp Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens via an adapter – and then you can also use the Olympus Ring Flash as a fill-in flash for your portraits.

But before we leave this lens, let’s look at how it compares with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens on a Canon 5D Mark II full frame dSLR:

  • the Canon lens is sharper at all apertures – partly due to the higher resolution sensor, but even when used on a 5D Mark I it still seems marginally sharper.
  • the Olympus lens has less distortion and almost half the amount of vignetting wide open and at f/2.8, but a touch more CA wide open
  • the Canon lens uses a 58mm filter, and weighs just under 4x as heavy, and 50% longer but is priced at a similar price point
  • I must admit, my personal experience of the Canon lens seems a lot worse than these tests indicate when looking at the CA levels which to me are quite problematic wide open on the Canon lens.
  • the Canon lens is an older design which does not have circular aperture blades and thus the Olympus lens should have nicer bokeh stopped down
  • Olympus lens is optimised for movies and fast contrast detect AF whereas the Canon lens is not.
  • when used on an Olympus OM-D, you gain 5 stops of 5 axis image stabilisation which is not available for the Canon lens on a Canon camera.
  • Olympus lens allows faster more accurate AF for slow moving subjects with option of subject eye detection when used on an OM-D or E-P3 or E-PL3 camera.

The DxOMark tests on the Canon lens surprisingly beats both the Olympus and the much more expensive Nikkor lens, although it has been known for its sharpness but significant CA.

That said, the Olympus combination of movie capability and 5EV IS along with 1/5th the weight makes it a compelling choice for travel when compared with either the Canon or the Nikkor lenses.

So now we have at least 4 compelling autofocus lens scenarios where Micro Four Thirds competes admirably for even full frame options let alone APS-C dSLR options, and at a much more compact, light and cost effective kit beautifully designed for travel – I can’t wait for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 to get to market to make the most of these lenses.

Oh… the other great autofocus lenses for Micro Four Thirds available now are:

  • Olympus 12mm f/2.0 wide angle discussed in the previous post
  • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – the brilliant party lens
  • Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens – high quality wide aperture standard lens

Coming later this year are the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 which will be very high on my wish list, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro and the f/2.8 zoom lenses from Panasonic.

Very exciting times to be a photographer not wanting to carry around large lenses and cameras, and the lens tests so far show these easily beat the smaller Nikon 1 lenses in terms of image quality, while the larger sensor of the Micro Four Thirds will provide enough ability to blur the background which the Nikon 1 system will struggle to achieve.

Oh, and I don’t compare it with the tests on a Nikon DX dSLR or a Canon APS-C dSLR as I just don’t see much point in owning a cropped sensor dSLR now that Micro Four Thirds cameras AF faster than them with comparable image quality at low ISO, plus you get the 5EV 5 axis IS for any lens when using the Olympus OM-D camera.

But there are still good reasons to buy full frame dSLR to compliment a Micro Four Thirds kit for those wanting to push the boundaries of shallow DOF, high ISO, or higher dynamic range photography, or for those who need more than 20mp to print larger than 20″ x 30″ prints. Well-heeled Canon full frame dSLR users may want to consider the extremely expensive slow AF but superb Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 lens if they really want to push the boundaries.

ps.. Sony NEX users have the option of the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 lens but this has not been tested by DxOMark yet and it has a field of view of only a 75mm lens in 35mm camera terms which is quite a bit too short for a portrait lens which historically has been 90-100mm focal length in 35mm terms and it is designed to be a cheap $120 consumer lens. Thus NEX users are out of luck in a true high quality autofocus portrait lens at this stage unless they resort to the much larger Sony alpha lenses.

 

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