Written by

Chris Gonzales


Tom Radford

It’s no secret we love Micro Four Thirds cameras here at Tools & Toys. By extension, we have an even larger interest in the large ecosystem of interchangeable Olympus/Panasonic M4/3 lenses out there — after all, they are the single biggest factor in determining image quality, moreso than the camera bodies themselves.

After much combined experience with these lenses, our team has selected a few favorites we’d like to share. Please enjoy, and happy shooting!

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The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. ($428)

The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. ($428)

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Pancake »

If there is such a thing as a “staple” M4/3 lens, this is it. The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens is the one we usually recommend people buy first. Why? Because it’s inexpensive, very small and compact — and thus very lightweight, to the point you’ll sometimes forget it’s attached — and can take some amazing photographs. It’s also an excellent compliment to the relatively smaller bodies of Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Olympus E-PL5 and E-M10.

Keep in mind that this lens is fixed at a 40mm full-frame equivalent focal length. This is kind of like viewing a scene through another person’s eye. You can’t zoom at all, but merely move nearer to or farther from your subject. Also, the autofocus is a bit slow.

These are annoyances for some, but consider the upside: They teach you to slow down and really consider your shot before firing the shutter. Having to physically move around and get settled in before shooting makes you think more about your compositions.

You’ll likely want more than just this pancake lens in your kit to realize your camera’s full potential, but it’s the perfect choice for beginners.

Use it for: Landscapes, Portraiture, Street Photography

The Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens ($598) attached to an Olympus E-M10.

The Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens ($598) attached to an Olympus E-M10.

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 »

One of the finest pieces of M4/3 glass you can get. Compared with the pancake lens above, the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 produces higher-quality images, has way faster autofocus, and produces a more shallow depth of field with creamier bokeh.

It’s also bulkier and $170 more expensive, which is why it’s not our first pick for beginners. With that said, once you’ve moved beyond what the pancake lens can do, the images produced by this lens will amaze you. The fact that it’s both handsome and well-built is the cherry on top.

A good, less expensive alternative is the $399 Olympus 25mm f/1.8.

Use it for: Pretty much anything. It’s a great daily shooter.

The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens. ($899)

The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens. ($899)

Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 »

Definitely one of the more expensive lenses in the M4/3 world. As of this writing, it’s nearly as expensive as the E-PL5 and E-M10 camera bodies combined. It’s worth every penny if you do a lot of portraiture work, though.

As our own Josh Ginter said in his review of the 75mm f/1.8, this lens…

…is meant for shooting photos of people. The 150mm full-frame equivalent is ideal for keeping your distance and capturing scenes in an intimate and natural way. I find this 150mm focal length to be absolutely ideal for shooting photographs of my young nieces and nephews while they play in the living room. I can stand across the room and have the lens do most of the walking. The results have been nothing short of spectacular.

The 75mm f/1.8 sports an all-metal construction with a large amount of glass inside, all of which give it a heft that just exudes quality. Performance-wise, the lens focuses on your subject super quickly and silently, all the while producing the creamiest bokeh you’re likely to see from a Micro Four Thirds camera. And, paired with the right camera, it can capture lovely video footage.

Use it for: Portraiture, Family Photos (particularly outdoors), Action, Videography

The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens. ($499)

The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens. ($499)

Olympus 17mm f/1.8 »

This is one of the older lenses in our lineup. Originally used as the Olympus E-P5’s kit lens, the 17mm f/1.8 is still a solid choice today, especially if you’re interested in street photography like our friend Álvaro Serrano:

It really offers just about everything anyone could ask for in a wide angle lens: small and light, incredibly solid, minimal distortion, amazing ergonomics and flare resistance, barely any trace of chromatic aberration and excellent sharpness, even wide open. As a street photography lens, it’s the perfect match for my E-M10 and although I’ve only had it for a few days, not once did I feel it wasn’t able to keep up with what I wanted to do.

The 17mm f/1.8 is a wide angle prime lens that fits right alongside Olympus’s other fast primes for the system. Like those, it packs great image quality in a remarkably small, light and well-built package. Fans of the traditional 35mm equivalent focal length will feel right at home with this little jewel of a lens.

With a nice, fast aperture of f/1.8, shooting in low light is not a problem. And while it may not be as clinically sharp as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens we mentioned earlier, the Olympus 17mm still provides excellent image quality.

It also features a premium, all-metal body, as well as Olympus’s handy clutch-focus mechanism — you pull the focusing ring on the lens barrel towards the camera body to instantly switch between AF and MF modes. And with its blazing fast autofocus performance, it is easily one of the most compelling walk-around lenses in the entire Micro Four Thirds catalog.

All in all, this is a great lens to have mounted on your Micro Four Thirds camera for almost any occasion. The great versatility of its focal length, the solid image quality and its all-metal build make it a must-consider for all Micro Four Thirds users in need of a wide angle prime lens.

Use it for: Street Photography, Portraiture, Landscapes

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom lens, attached to an Olympus E-M5. ($999)Photo: Chris Gampat, The Phoblographer

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom lens, attached to an Olympus E-M5. ($999)

Photo: Chris Gampat, The Phoblographer

Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens »

At $999, this one’s even more expensive than the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 we mentioned earlier, but for good reason. It similarly sports an all-metal construction, plus it’s dust-proof, splash proof, and even freeze-proof, making it ideal for even the most extreme conditions. It also boasts brilliant AF/MF control and awesome autofocus features, such as an L-Fn button that allows users to temporarily suspend continuous auto focus when something suddenly comes between the lens and your intended subject.

Simply put, this one’s designed for pros.

Use it for: Action, Outdoors, Concerts

The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 telephoto lens. ($399)

The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 telephoto lens. ($399)

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 »

The M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 lens by Olympus is a short telephoto prime lens that offers top-notch optical performance at one of the most affordable prices in the Micro Four Thirds system.

Make no mistake though, there’s nothing cheap about this lens when it comes to its optical performance. Sharp wide open, extremely quick and accurate to focus and with minimal distortion, it is a fantastic portrait lens for your Micro Four Thirds camera, and one of the first lenses you should consider when building your system.

The Olympus 45mm lens also offers a fast f/1.8 aperture, so it’s easy to use in low light conditions. And weighing in at only 4.09 ounces (116 g), it is also one of the lightest portrait lenses available for any camera system.

Of course, there are other, more exotic lenses that offer even better image quality, albeit not by much. The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 and the aforementioned Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 75mm f1.8 are two such lenses, but they both cost several times as much as this 45mm lens.

Simply put, there’s nothing that can match the performance of this lens at anywhere near this price point. If you’re in need of a great portrait lens that will not break the bank, look no further than the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. It is a winner in every way.

Use it for: Portraiture