One of my favorite Olympus optics is the 45mm f/1.8. It's sharp, compact, and it sports a wide aperture. It also looks great on my PEN-F. So I was anxious to get my hands on the newly announced Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO. It promises even better sharpness and smoother bokeh. My wish came true this week in Charleston, South Carolina.
I spent some time there with the Olympus team and a small group of journalists. We had at our disposal an E-M1 Mark II, and the family of PRO prime lenses: 17mm, 25mm, and 45mm f/1.2s. Even though I did a lot of work with the 17mm as well, I'm going to focus on the 45mm for this post.
I also packed my own kit that included the f/1.8 versions of both lenses, and the Olympus PEN-F. So I was able to field test both 45mm optics side by side. This is a hands-on test, so I just shot as I normally would with both optics to I can give you a feel for their differences in the field. This isn't a lab test. Here's how things stacked up.
A Look at Bokeh
There were three categories that I used for comparison: type of bokeh, sharpness, and focusing speed. During our technical briefings, Olympus talked about 3 categories of bokeh that most optics fall into: ring, solid, and feather.
The new Olympus 45mm f/1.2 employs the feather style bokeh while the f/1.8 optic displays solid style bokeh. Here's a bokeh comparison of the two lenses. Notice the difference in how the background is rendered.
Even though it's very difficult to achieve, bokeh style is really an artistic preference. Sharpness, on the other hand, is much more analytical. The trick for a portrait lens is to provide sharpness, especially for the eyes, without rendering the skin with too much texture.
Of all the categories for comparison with the f/1.2, its sharpness is what impressed me the most. Not only was I able to capture a very sharp eye with the aperture wide open, the other eye was also rendered clearly. So I didn't have to battle the unforgiving minimal depth of field challenge that I typically face when shooting portraits at f/1.2.
With the 45mm f/1.2, when focusing on the eyes for a straight-on portrait, they were both extremely sharp, as well as the lashes, brows, and lips. Yet the nose had a slight softening (desired) and falloff was apparent with the hair around the face, mild to very soft, moving from front to back.
I didn't do anything special to achieve this effect. I simply set the E-M1 Mark II to ISO 200, Aperture Priority at f/1.2, and went about my shooting as I normally would. I tried both "focus hold and recompose" as well as "eye detection" modes. Both worked great.
The images shown here were opened as RAW files in Lightroom, then exported as full-sized Jpegs without any processing - no enhancements of any type other than Lightroom's RAW decoding algorithms. You can download the full-sized Jpegs from my Flickr site.
When you look at the cross-section for the 45mm f/1.2, note that the focusing mechanism is at the back of the lens. The front element doesn't move. The focusing elements only have to travel a short distance from close-up to infinity. This allows for very fast focusing speeds, which was also quite accurate.
The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 actually fared quite well in my field tests. It rendered pleasing bokeh, excellent sharpness, and fast performance. It's no wonder that I carry this lens with me all the time. In fact, I have two of them, one black and one silver, to match the camera that I'm packing.
The new Olympus 45mm f/1.2 PRO takes this performance to a higher level, however. First, the feather bokeh is different than any of my other optics. For lack of a better term, I would call it very artistic. The backgrounds have a painterly feel to them.
When I look at the f/1.2 images, the thought of bokeh doesn't jump out at me. Rather, I'm thinking more about an overall pleasing composition with outstanding subject sharpness and beautifully rendered background. In many ways, I feel like this is an optic for grownups (with grownup resources).
The sharpness is downright amazing. The portraits are crisp in all the right places, and softened where they should be. I honestly feel like the lens is doing most of the work for me. All I have to do is compose and focus on the eyes, and everything else just falls into place.
The improvements of the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 do come at a price, however. The lens weighs over 14 ounces compared to 4 ounces for the f/1.8 version. Plus the price is 3 times as much at $1,200, compared to $400 for its baby brother. And I think if you're really going to reap the benefits of the f/1.2, you need one of Olympus' Pro bodies, such as the E-M1 Mark II. Those are all real considerations.
So, is the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 PRO a must-have lens for you? It could be. If you're shooting with the E-M1, E-M1 Mark II, or E-M5 Mark II; regularly shoot portraits for hire or art, and have the budget for a $1,200 optic that is unlike any in its class, then I would say yes. It's magically impressive.
- Minimum Focus Distance 1.64' (50 cm)
- Elements/Groups 9/8
- Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
- Dimensions Approx. 2.20" x 1.81" (56 x 46 mm)
- Weight 4.09 oz (116 g)
- Price $399
- Minimum Focus Distance 1.64' (50 cm)
- Elements/Groups 14/10
- Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
- Dimensions Approx. 2.76 x 3.34" (70 x 84.9 mm)
- Weight 14.46 oz (410 g)
- Price $1,199
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