This is an extremely hard question to answer given everyone has different photographic needs and styles as well as budgets.
First, the consumer lenses:
Most newbies will tend to end up with one or two of the very good consumer level “kit” zoom lenses as they are very well priced and affordable, especially when purchased as a kit with a camera.
All camera manufacturers offer such kits to allow the entry level budget compromised photographer an option of getting into the system.
Fortunately for Micro Four Thirds camera users, these consumer kit lenses tend to offer very good performance for the money and historically, the lenses have often outperformed their Canon and Nikon counterparts.
HOWEVER, most enthusiasts will tend to end up purchasing the higher quality “premium” or “pro” lenses and generally will cease to use these consumer grade lenses once they have an improved option.
The main issues with the consumer kit zooms are that their aperture is quite narrow – often f/3.5-6.7 at their widest aperture and this means several compromises:
- they do not let much light in and thus will have more trouble locking autofocus in dim light and will probably require a flash to be used indoor, and will have very limited use when outdoor light levels fall unless you use a tripod.
- the aperture is not wide enough to allow really shallow depth of field images for when you want to blur out the background (unless you are shooting macro close up subjects)
- adding a polariser filter further darkens the already relatively low light intake, again limiting hand held options and AF locking capability in low light
- given the consumer grade optics, best image quality is often at around f/8 instead of around f/4 with the premium and pro lenses, which further limits your options if you want the best quality shots
- they generally are not weatherproof (important exceptions are the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens and the Olympus m.ZD 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II)
Nevertheless, if you are shooting mainly outdoors in bright light and not needing to blur the background, these lenses make great travel companions and there are a LOT of lenses to choose from depending upon your needs.
Some things to consider are:
- focal length range
- the majority of photographers would benefit most from a 3x standard zoom lens in the 12-40mm range (equates to 24-80mm on a 35mm camera), but if you don’t like changing lenses and don’t mind the larger size, a 10x zoom may be more your style and this generally covers 14-140mm (28-280mm in 35mm dSLR terms)
- if you are getting a second lens to match your 3x standard zoom lens then a 3x telephoto zoom lens in the 40-150mm range (80-300mm in 35mm dSLR terms) is generally the one, although, if you like wildlife, or sports, perhaps a 3x supertelephoto zoom lens such as the Olympus m.ZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens (150-600mm lens in 35mm terms) would suit you better
- in general, the more zoom, the longer and bigger the lens will be, so one has to weigh up what they can fit in their bag with what focal length range they need
- some lenses also have the option of reducing down to a more compact size when not in use, but these can be a bit clunky to unlock and you can miss shots because you forgot to have it unlocked
- silent autofocus for movies
- autofocus speed – the older lenses designed around 2007-2008 tend to have slower autofocus
- weatherproofing – only a couple of the consumer lenses are weatherproof
- macro capability – the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens is not only weatherproof but has very good macro capabilities
The Olympus “premium” lenses:
Olympus has marketed a middle tier of the m Zuiko Digital (mZD) lenses to the enthusiasts who want extra wide apertures either for low light work or for shallower depth of field and better ability to blur the background to emphasise your subject.
Furthermore, these are mainly “prime” lenses in that they only have one focal length and no zoom functionality which makes them easier to design for better bokeh – the aesthetic quality of the blurred background.
These lenses are generally very good optically even wide open at their f/1.8 or f/2.0 maximum apertures and are great for indoors or outdoors and perfect for portraiture, and creative arty work.
My personal favourite of these is the brilliant Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is fantastic for single person portraits and for creative shallow depth of field work.
If I only take 2 lenses with me, it will be this one and the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.
If you can’t afford the 75mm f/1.8 lens and you want a similar look and you can be happy shooting in manual focus only, then try the Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens.
Other great options are:
- Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.8 – great for street photography, parties, small group photos, etc (a more compact alternative to this lens is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – this lets you get your E-M10 or E-M5 camera into a jacket pocket at social events or for walking the streets at night and doing hand held night urban landscapes)
- Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 – great for portraits of couples or one person, if you have plenty of cash to spare, also take a look at the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens for even shallower depth of field
- Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro – the only “premium” lens that is weatherproofed – a must have lens if you are into macrophotography
My next tier down are:
- Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens – this is great for hand held night urban landscapes and infrared landscapes, but if you own the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, you may not use this as much as you think and for my mind, it is over-priced.
- Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8 lens – great for street photography and groups at parties, but perhaps not as good as the 25mm f/1.8 lens, although many people absolutely love this lens – I don’t have one
The Olympus “PRO” lenses:
These are the current holy grail for many Olympus users, great lenses, relatively compact for their capabilities, well built, weatherproofed, relatively wide apertures (most are f/2.8).
The most useful of these for most people is the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.
It could probably replace the need for the 12mm f/2.0 lens (unless you shoot hand held at night), and the 17mm and 25mm f/1.8 lenses (although I would still like my compact Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens to provide a compact, low light option).
The choice of a second lens to match with this lens depends upon your needs and may include one or more of:
- Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens
- Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens plus 1.4x teleconverter (gives 80-400mm total range in 35mm dSLR terms)
- if this lens is too big for you, check out the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8, although it will only get you to 200mm reach in full frame terms
- Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens if you want to get creative with a super wide angle zoom lens
- Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 PRO fisheye – very handy for night Milky Way landscapes, aurora shots, and creative photography including close up nature work
And for the nature, wildlife or sports photographer, the much anticipated Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens is due perhaps late 2015.
In the meantime, if I am shooting the moon or need super telephoto capability, I use the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens +/- EC-20 2x teleconverter which gives me up to 800mm f/7 capability in full frame terms.
Olympus has also indicated it will be working on even wider aperture prime lenses, so we can expect some f/1.2 and perhaps even f/0.95 lenses with autofocus and ability to AF on the closest eye which is one of the brilliant capabilities of Olympus cameras and much needed when using such shallow DOF cameras, and combine these with the awesome image stabilisation and your creativity can go wild!
Many, many more options:
The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds system is not only its compact, light size, the amazing Olympus image stabilisation which works on ANY lens, but it is extremely adaptable allowing one to use well over 50 lenses designed in Micro Four Thirds mounts as well as those in Four Thirds mount, but also almost any lens ever made via third party adapters which offer the following options:
- plain adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made albeit in 2x crop field of view
- focal reducer adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made but with a 1.4x crop field of view and a 1 stop wider aperture
- for example, a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 lens becomes a 100mm f/1.4 lens giving similar field of view and depth of view as a 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera
- autofocus adapters such as the Kipon AF adapter which allows relatively fast AF using Canon EF lenses while providing aperture control
- tilt-shift adapters which convert nearly any full frame Nikon lens into a tilt-shift lens