Olympus to make a tiny fixed focus 15mm f/8 lens?

Written by Gary on August 15th, 2012

43Rumours site today posted a highly probable rumour that Olympus is to announce a 15mm f/8 lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

There are 4 very good reasons to produce such a lens:

  • it will be extremely cheap and allow a lower cost entry point into the mirrorless camera market whilst still providing great travel photos and candid shots of kids and friends.
  • at only 9mm long, it will be the smallest lens for any mirrorless system camera or dSLR, and make the camera even more pocketable (for comparison, the small pancakes are almost 3 times as long!)
  • it obviates the need for the user to worry about focus – a major problem with beginners migrating to the larger sensor cameras with their usually narrower depth of field
  • it will allow much less shutter lag in low light, fast moving subjects or poor contrast situations thus allowing beginners to have a better chance of capturing the shot they want without having to know how to set the camera to do this.

A fixed focus 15mm f/8 lens on a 2x crop sensor effectively gives a popular 30mm field of view in 35mm full frame terms which is nice for street photography, landscapes, and potentially group shots at parties (with a flash).

Beginners get extremely frustrated when they take their brand new dSLR or mirrorless camera to a party and they are just about to capture the blowing out the candles on the birthday cake shot when someone turns all the lights out causing their camera to go berserk in trying to get autofocus, and the crucial shot is lost – this lens will solve that problem for them (although they will need to get relatively close in to the action and use a flash)!

Likewise these same people seem to like taking photos of their black cat or black pup indoors at night and wonder why the camera can’t get a good shot when it keeps moving around – well, again, this lens will solve that problem for them – as long as they use flash.

Assuming the focus is fixed at the hyperfocal distance of 1.9m for such a lens, everything will be acceptably sharp from 1m to infinity – perfect for travel and landscapes, and OK for portraits indoors using a flash which will highlight the faces whilst hiding the background in a similar way that point and shoot cameras achieve this, but with less facial distortion than with most point and shoot cameras.

However, it now seems it will have 3 fixed focus settings – reminiscent of the old Kodak Instamatic cameras,  with closest focus setting allowing close focus down to 0.3m.

I think such a cheap lens will be a winner if it means ease of use for beginners and pocketability but still good image quality.

I can imagine this lens will be fantastic for use on the smallest cameras such as the Olympus E-PM1 or E-PL3 (and its successors) and combined with their built-in image stabiliser, it will take great shots for the purposes for which it is defined.

Of course, it will not be as versatile as a 3x zoom, a 20mm f/1.7 pancake or 17mm f/2.8 pancake, but it will be even smaller than these, cheaper, and much simpler for novices to use.

Of course, one could achieve most of the above other than super compact size with a 3x zoom lens – just set focal length to 15mm, aperture to f/8 and set manual focus or lock AF to a subject at 1.9m from the camera – but applying these settings is not a trivial task for someone with zero understanding of aperture and focus – and that may just be where this lens is a big hit until they get past the initial learning curve of photographic basics.

What I would like to see Olympus do is add an extra firmware option for AF mode called “hyperfocal” where the camera determines the hyperfocal distance from the focal length and aperture and sets it automatically then displays in the viewfinder the closest distance that will be in focus and the user will know that everyuthing further away from this distance is in focus.

This would be a cool mode to use and very easy for a camera manufacturer to implement – assuming the camera “knows” how to set a lens to a given distance.



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