Olympus Announces 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 Fast Professional-Quality M.Zuiko Pro Micro Four Thirds Prime Lenses, Perfect for Video

Olympus has announced the next two prime lenses in its M.Zuiko Pro collection of top quality zoom and prime lenses, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro. 

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens, first fast professional quality prime lens with manual clutch focus to appear in the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens collection, now joined by the 17mm and 45mm f/1.2 prime lenses.

The 17mm and 45mm high maximum aperture optics join their fast prime sibling the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro in the soon-to-be 9-strong M.Zuiko Pro lens lineup.

The M.Zuiko Pro collection currently includes 7-14mm, 8mm, 12-40mm, 12-100mm, 25mm, 40-150mm and 300mm focal lengths, or in 35mm sensor equivalent terms, 14-28mm, 16mm, 24-80mm, 24-200mm, 80-300mm and 600mm focal lengths.

Apart from the 8mm full-frame fisheye and 300mm long telephoto lenses in the lineup, the M.Zuiko Pro collection’s fast primes will soon number three that are equivalent to 34mm, 50mm and 90mm in 35mm sensor format terms.

Until the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro lenses join its ranks, Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional quality lens collection will remain at its current strength of three prime lenses and four zooms. Left to right: 7-14mm f/2.8, 8mm f/1.8, 12-40mm f/2.8, 12-100mm f/4.0, 25mm f/1.2, 40-150mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/4.0. Images not to scale.

Add the 21mm or 24mm equivalent focal lengths of 10.5mm and 12mm to those three and you have an excellent though lean core set of  colour-matched primes capable of repeatable manual focus via their manual clutch focussing mechanism.

Add the 28mm equivalent focal length of 14mm and you have a complete set of wide through to medium long focal lengths able to handle most anything that comes along, whether documentary stills or video.

Focus-by-wire is a right royal pain

As the guys at Calgary’s The Camera Store often point out, focus-by-wire lenses suck when shooting video and manual clutch focus lenses in the M.Zuiko Pro and other Olympus collections are preferable by far.

Manual clutch focus is also useful in achieving fast, accurate focus in stills photography, especially when using fast maximum aperture lenses in longer focal lengths.

I hope that these three fast M.Zuiko Pro lenses – 17mm, 25mm and 45mm – are just the start of a growing prime lens subset.

The start of a core matched set of high-end video production primes? From the rear: the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, all with focussing ring retracted to switch on manual clutch focus.

They don’t all need to be as fast at f/1.2.

A maximum aperture of f/1.4 is fine for wider lenses so long as they have the same construction quality, colour rendering and optical correction as the rest of the M.Zuiko Pro collection.

I can get by without 14mm for the time being.

The 14mm focal length (28mm equivalent in 35mm sensor size) is the default setting on my Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro zoom lens for documentary photography and video – I rotate the lens’ focal length aka zoom ring to the 14mm mark when extracting my GX8 or GH4 out of my camera bag.

Robert Capa’s saying that “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” holds true in the digital age and a reasonably wide default focal length like 14mm forces you to get up close, personal, immersive and emotional in contrast to 25mm’s surrealist distancing or 17mm’s neither-fish-nor-fowl though often handy moderate wide-angle compromise.

Don’t underestimate the joys of a matched lens set…

I learned about the many pleasures of matched sets of prime lenses when I first encountered the Leica M-System. Most of my lenses then were made in Germany, and each manufacturer instilled very distinct colour, tone, resolution and micro contrast renditions into their products. Later I discovered Japanese prime lenses had their own set of tone, colour and other optical characteristics. Imagine the needless labour required to match footage shot with different primes made by different makers.

… and never underestimate the usefulness of the 17mm focal length.

The Leica M-System’s pre-aspheric Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens was the very first lens I had for my first Leica M rangefinder camera when I was a young photographer.

When I discovered the Leica M-System during the analog era, the only lens I could buy locally was a Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens, the “compact classic prime”.

The 35mm focal length, 17.5mm in Micro Four Thirds, is the perfect compromise if carrying just the one lens.

Not too wide for portraiture and especially suited to environmental portraiture, not too narrow for getting deep and intense inside a rapidly moving mass of people such as a demonstration, protest or rally, the moderate wide-angle 17mm focal length is a versatile compromise and the one I always recommend to beginning photographers whether in its M43 17mm form, APS-C 23mm equivalent, 35mm sensor 35mm equivalent or 45mm for Fujifilm’s GFX 50S medium format camera.

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens mounted on an Olympus Pen F rangefinder-style camera.

Until the arrival of the M.Zuiko Pro 17mm f/1.2 lens, the only other M43 17mm lens will have been the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8, perfectly suited to small stills-oriented cameras like the rangefinder-style Pen F though less appropriate, according to users, for shooting video due to its noisy internal focussing motors.

Like many others in the various Olympus lens collections, the 17mm f/1.8 has manual clutch focus, a crucial feature that should be built into all lenses, especially those intended for use by moviemakers.

Primes or zooms?

As many wiser heads than I have pointed out over the years, relying on a set of prime lenses as opposed to zooms has a number of benefits despite the convenience of having a number of focal lengths in the one lens.

I would love Olympus to add the 10.5mmm focal length (21mm equivalent in 35mm sensor size) to the M.Zuiko Pro collection for scene-setting shots for which 12mm is too constricting, especially when shooting DCI 4K and other aspect ratios and resolutions.

No other lens maker has come up with a truly professional-quality M43 manual and autofocus native 10.5mm lens and I am sure Olympus has what it takes to do it.

Olympus does offer the 10.5mm-inclusive 7-14mm f/2.8 zoom lens in its M.Zuiko Pro collection, and from the all-too-brief in-store tryout I had when a mid-sized camera store existed nearby, the lens’ one downside is its large protruding convex front element.

Independent cinema lens maker Veydra is an inspiration in the optical and mechanical quality of its matched prime lens collection for Micro Four Thirds and Sony E-Mount cameras. Veydra was on its way to adding a wider lens at about 8.5mm or 9mm in focal length but abandoned the idea when cost and size considerations became an issue. Pity though that the company did not look into developing a 10.5mm lens, equivalent to 21mm in the 35mm sensor format, my preferred focal length at the widest end. I was seriously contemplating buying a set of Veydra Mini Prime lenses until that decision. I find 24mm less than wide enough at the wide end of the scale. My preferred Veydra set for M43 would be 10.5mm, 16mm, 19mm, 25mm, 35mm and perhaps 50mm.

Not such a problem when shooting stills, though I do feel better installing a top-quality protective or UV filter in front when working on location.

Way more of a problem when shooting video due to the size and expense of top quality lens adapters and big square or rectangular ND filters for the 7-14mm M.Zuiko Pro such as those found in recently released filter kits like the Formatt Hitech 165mm Firecrest Elia Locardi Signature Edition Travel Filter Kit for Olympus 7-14mm f/4 [sic] Lens.

Olympus deserves praise for keeping the filter diameter of its non-convex front element M.Zuiko Pro lenses within reason at 62mm, 72mm and 77mm.

That might help rationalize the number of brass-mounted UV filters and brass step-up rings needed, as well as Xume magnetic filter system components.

“Too big, too expensive, too heavy”?

I chose the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 camera in Compact Camera Meter then selected the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro lenses to compare relative size. They look well-balanced to me. I use my 12-40mm zoom on my GX8, GH4 and have used it on a review loaner GH5 for video and stills, and have no complaints.

Neither the 45mm f/1.2 nor 17mm f/1.2 are available yet and have only been tried out by a handful of users, mostly Olympus Visionaries.

Despite their early praise, some potential buyers chatting on online fora seem to believe that these two lenses plus the 25mm f/1.2 that appeared over a year ago are too large, too heavy and too costly.

So, I did a quick test on the Compact Camera Meter website in order to compare the dimensions of my most-used M.Zuiko Pro lens with the three  fast M.Zuiko Pro primes, placing them on the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5.

They look well-proportioned in relation to the camera to me, and all are about the same size.

As with most items of hardware, you get what you pay for and if the few photographs made with these lenses that have been released so far are any indication, these three lenses look well worthwhile.

I asked cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One fame what native lenses he would use on his GH5 for making feature films.

“Olympus would be my pick if I was using M43 lenses”, he told me.

Mr Leeming currently uses Metabones Speed Booster-adapted Zeiss Contax manual prime lenses on his GH5, attaching his ND filters with the Xume magnetic system.

Product Gallery

Product shots and sample photographs kindly supplied by Olympus Australia and Olympus USA and their public relations agencies and staff.

Conclusion

The addition of the 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 lenses to Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional Micro Four Thirds lens collection is an exciting development and offers the hope that more such fast prime lenses will be forthcoming.

When I began looking at Super 16/Micro Four Thirds as a serious documentary moviemaking and photography platform some years ago, my biggest concern was the apparent lack of an extensive optically and mechanically matched set of well-spaced prime and zoom lenses as we long have been accustomed to in other sensor formats.

The prospect of having to assemble a lens set comprising different brands and different optical and mechanical characteristics and qualities was not an attractive one.

That concern has now been largely allayed.

I will be even less concerned if Olympus adds a reasonably fast 10.5mm to the M.Zuiko Pro collection as the widest offering in its core prime lens subset.

I bought into the Super 16/Micro Four Thirds system when needing to shoot more video than stills, and while waiting for Fujifilm to come up with what finally turned out to be the X-Pro2, which was being spoken of back then as a Super 16/APS-C 4K-capable stills camera with accurate film simulations for video and JPEGs.

With the GH5, Panasonic has soared ahead and Fujifilm has years of catching up to do.

Of Panasonic’s own lens offerings, I am not so sure especially as they rely on focus-by-wire, which is fine for autofocus and back-button focus for stills but lousy for manually focussing video.

After trying out the Panasonic Lumix G 12-35mm f/2.8 and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses, I chose the latter and as Olympus released more M.Zuiko Pro lenses was increasingly impressed with the direction they were taking.

The three latest M.Zuiko Primes have me really impressed, for stills as well as video.

I relied on kits of two, three or four prime lenses for each camera system I used during the analog era, often carrying no more than three on most assignments, most often one long, one wide and one even wider.

It feels like I could do the same with these three M.Zuiko primes, for cinematography and photography, so long as I have a couple of matching zooms and one prime lens on the wide end socked away.

Olympus, please give us a 10.5mm prime lens to go with your 17mm, 25mm and 45mm primes, along with your 12-40mm and 40-150mm zooms to fill in the gaps.

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Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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