Review: Olympus 45mm f1.8

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Olympus 45mm f1.8 Prime

Olympus 45mm f1.8 Prime

The Olympus 45mm short telephoto prime has a maximum aperture of just f1.8 (min f22) making this an ideal low cost entry for portrait, low light and shallow depth of field shooting on the micro-four-thirds system.

Weighing just 116g (4oz) with a diameter of 56mm and a length of only 46mm this tiny lens takes an even tinier 37mm filter and provides a 27˚ angle of view equal to 90mm on a full frame 35mm camera.

With a relatively low street price, does this auto focus capable lens deserve to be on your wish list?

Olympus 45mm f1.8 mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1

Olympus 45mm f1.8 mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADesign and build quality
The first thing I noticed when opening the box was just how small and light this lens is.

Built from relatively high quality plastic it was originally only available in silver, but is now available in a choice of silver or black finish.

While the main body is plastic the lens mount is partially metal, with the words “Made in Vietnam” moulded in to the centre plastic section. Not being a a Japanese manufactured lens may be a negative for some, but if it helps to keep the price down while maintaining quality it really shouldn’t’ be an issue.

Focus Ring
Despite the small size of the lens, the focus ring is quite large and easy to use, with a smooth action and no sign of that semi-gritty feel you get with some others, such as the Olympus 12mm f2 I reviewed earlier.

Filter & Hood
As mentioned, the front of the lens includes a 37mm thread for mounting filters, but alas once again Olympus chose not to include a hood and a  relatively expensive optional extra I suspect most people will forgo it.

Auto Focus Speed
Focus speed has been very fast on all subjects with no real problems detected. As with all micro-four-thirds systems, low light contrast detection is going to be the biggest problem, but given the maximum aperture of f1.8 this lens is pretty handy, even in low light.

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Bokeh – General out of focus areas – Shallow DOF
One of the main benefits of a fast prime is the ability to obtain a shallow depth of field (DOF) when shooting wide open. While the micro-four-thirds system has a 2x crop factor compared to traditional 35mm full frame systems, shallow DOF is still quite possible.

Olympus 45mm Bokeh

Olympus 45mm Bokeh

At f1.8 the bokeh is nicely rounded due to the circular blades used. As expected, stopping down to f8 reveals slightly less attractive and much busier bokeh, but that’s quite consistent with other lenses and remains largely rounded.

Olympus 45mm f1.8 Bokeh Comparison

Olympus 45mm f1.8 Bokeh Comparison

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Sharpness @ Full stop apertures
Testing lenses at all apertures allows us to better understand the sweet spots when we really need sharp images, since primes are generally considered to be sharper than zooms while still being able to offer superior bokeh and reduced (shallower) depth of field.

The following sequence was shot beginning at f1.8 then moving through the full stop settings.  Each 100% crop area is highlighted on the main shot by the red box.

Olympus 45mm Sharpness Test

Olympus 45mm Sharpness Test

Disappointing Wide Open
Given how well many other micro-four-thirds lenses perform wide open I was disappointed with the performance of the Olympus 45mm when at f1.8 (wide open). It’s not until f2.8 that things really come together with the sweet spot somewhere in the f4-f5.6 range. At f11 diffraction is already softening the image again and I wouldn’t recommend shooting this lens beyond f8.

However, if portraits are your genre then perhaps the slight softening of the image wide open may well help you in softening skin resulting in less work in post, so this could actually be an advantage. While there are sharper primes available (at higher cost) if they result in more work in post production, e.g. skin softening, then do you really need them?

Chromatic Aberrations
Chromatic aberrations were well controlled in these tests and easily fixed in Lightroom should they become noticeable.

Minimum Focusing Distance
Closest focusing is approx 0.5m, which for a micro-four-thirds lens is quite a distance, with many focusing much close.  However, add a couple of third party extension tubes and this can come down to as little as 0.09m. To see what a difference this can make here are two shots of a steel ruler, the first with the 45mm f1.8 on it’s own at minimum focus distance and the second with a couple of cheap extension tubes from eBay.

Olympus 45mm f1.8 Minimum Focus Distance

Olympus 45mm f1.8 at minimum focus distance

Adding Extension Tubes
By adding some relatively inexpensive extension tubes a much closer focusing distance can be achieved making this a great little lens for detail shots.

Olympus 45mm with extension tubes

Olympus 45mm with extension tubes

I’m not going to pretend that this is a replacement for macro, but it shows how a relatively inexpensive short telephoto lens with a less than ideal minimum focus distance can be made to work just that little bit harder when we need some extra close up detail.

Here’s what the 45mm f1.8 looks like attached to the extension tubes:

Extension Tubes

Extension Tubes

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Olympus 45mm f1.8 on E-M1

Olympus 45mm f1.8 on E-M1

Conclusions & Summary
The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is small, lightweight and provides excellent value for money for those looking to dip their toes in to low light or portrait photography and is well worth considering as your short telephoto lens for travel & walkabouts.  While it’s not quite as good a performer wide open as many other micro-four-thirds lenses, for most people the size, weight & price will draw them to this excellent little lens.

The Good
• Small – only 56mm x 46mm
• Light weight – only 116g (4oz)
• Maximum aperture f1.8
• Fast auto focus
• Choice of Silver or Black finish

The Bad
• No hood included
• Not quite as sharp wide open as competing micro-four-thirds lenses
• Reletively long minimum focus distance (0.5m)

Overall I’d give this lens an 8/10.

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Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Olympus 45mm f1.8 Lens
Author Rating
4

2 thoughts on “Review: Olympus 45mm f1.8

  1. John B

    Thanks for the review and interesting shot comparisons. I too have been disappointed by this lens and was wondering if I just had a bad copy or if this is how it really was.

    Do you recommend the Lumix 42.5 instead? Do you have a review of it yet? It would be interesting to compare them side by side.

    1. David Partington Post author

      Thanks John. Yes I was disappointed, though it does seem to be distance dependant. A lot of closer shots don’t seem quite so bad. I’m going to be updating the review with some closer shots for comparison.

      I don’t yet have the Lumix 42.5 review up but if you subscribe you’ll get a notification when it’s ready.

      David

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