Some thoughts on m4:3 lenses

There’s been several new lens announcements for micro 4/3 lately and I just wanted to share a few thoughts on them. Sadly, none of these announcements are very exciting, at least not directly. But here’s the recap:

  • 3 new Sigma lenses (19mm, 30mm, & 60mm f/2.8s)
  • 1 new Tamron lens, a 14-150mm
  • a Olympus 75-300mm Mk II
  • several other third-party MF lenses

I don’t have anything to say about that last item, the manual-focus lenses. Frankly I’m not sure who buys those – in my mind, if you’re getting a manual lens, then why not just buy some great (and cheap!) legacy glass and an adapter? But that’s not really the point I wanted to make here…

The Sigma and Tamron announcements aren’t earth shattering. Two of the three Sigma lenses are just redesigns, and none of the three are faster than f/2.8, which is only moderately fast for a prime. The Tamron is a 14-150mm zoom, with the usual slower aperture range. Nothing too special there, since both Olympus and Panasonic already have a few of those.

But what is exciting is that both of these well-known third-party manufacturers are creating lenses for m4:3. Sigma is porting the lenses from the NEX system and Tamron only has the one lens at the moment, but it’s clear that both companies are recognizing the m4:3 system as one worth investing in. They are investing slowly, which is probably prudent from a corporate standpoint, but with any luck they will pick up the pace in the next year or so and continue to expand their line of offerings.

More offerings from more companies is a good thing; competition is good for us, as photographers, because it not only provides us with more options, but also helps drive prices down in the long run. The Sigma lenses are already really cheap (yet supposedly good performers), which will hopefully help moderate the prices of some of the Olympus and Lumix lenses.

 

Image credit: Olympus USA

Speaking of which, the Olympus 75-300mm Mk II is a good example of this. It’s a redesign of the original lens, although “redesign” might be a bit of a stretch since the optics are essentially the same and the differences appear to be mainly cosmetic. But the price is down – in the $500 range, as opposed to the insane price of the Mk I, which was almost $900.

I own the Mk I version, so this is all bad news for me from a value standpoint, as I will never be able to recoup my investment in this lens. I expect I’ll be lucky if I can sell it for $400 in the future (unless the Mk II turns out to be a real dog). And I always felt that the Mk I was grossly overpriced, given that it’s really just a slower version of a lens that every other camera system has at least one version of, all priced between about $300-$550. So I’m screwed, but the news is still good for m4:3.

There was another announcement a week or so back that five other companies had joined the m4:3 standard and would be producing lenses. None of them jumped out at me as names I really knew – a couple I don’t think I’d ever heard of. So again, not sure I’ll personally be buying anything from them – but it’s great that they exist as options. The more players who buy into this system, the better!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a personal level, I’m making a couple of changes in my own bag as well. The Panasonic Leica 45mm macro lens is on eBay now. I never really took to the focal length as much as I had hoped. And I’m still lusting after the Lumix 35-100, which the 45mm’s sale will help finance. No sense having two lenses that cover 45mm at f/2.8. But I’m not giving up on macro, as I still have my Takumar 50mm f/4 macro. It’s all manual, but for macro shooting I don’t think that’s a problem. Plus it’s incredibly sharp, so I’m sure I’ll do fine with it.

I’m also tempted by the idea of the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 at some point in the future. It’s mostly a matter of convenience, having one fast zoom in the bag instead of a mix of primes for times when I want a very small but versatile kit with me. However, I suspect that Olympus will be coming out with a fast zoom in the near future, so I may hold off a while, just to see what their option is.

I guess my point is that m4:3 is well-established at this point. There are pros who have switched systems and are using the E-M5 or GH3 exclusively. Plus a whole range of semi-pros and ameature photogs. And I think there are good things on the horizon. Buying into a young system is always a gamble (will it last? will it grow?) and the options are limited at first. But given enough time and demand, it will grow. After all, I don’t think Canon launched with 200 lenses, either.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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3 Comments

  1. Do you ever wonder if you left a system which while based on an older design and getting more expensive by the minute was at least mature and photographically satisfying for one that isn’t yet ready for prime time? In other words with Canon you had pro and semi pro gear that took the images you wanted. With Oly, you took a leap of faith that the system would develop over time and frankly move upscale.

    It’s possible that the manufacturers see the 4/3 and now APS-C mirrorless cameras as replacing the “Rebel” class of DSLR’s and they arent going to stretch them toward the pro end. You mention that when Canon introduced the EOS system 25 years ago they didn’t lauch with 200 lenses. Yet look at this chart of EOS history (which is far from complete) http://www.ayton.id.au/wiki/doku.php?id=photo:canoneoshistory , and you can see that there was good glass from the beginning. It could be that you are waiting for something that isn’t coming.

    • Brent Pennington

      It’s a fair question. I definitely left a mature system for one that has yet to mature. But the good news (well, at least for me) is that m4:3 truly is maturing. Since I switched, there have been additional fast primes of excellent quality (with more on the way) and also the introduction of f/2.8 zooms to mirror the Canon 24-70 and 70-200, from Panasonic. Olympus has just announced that they are now working on their own f/2.8 lenses to compete with the Panasonic versions. I think this is great, that m4:3 photos will have a choice between Panasonic and Oly lenses of equivalent performance and standards – which is something Canon lacks, unless you’re willing to go to the 3rd party lenses.

      Olympus has also stated that the next body they release is likely to be some kind of hybrid between the m4:3 and regular 4:3 systems and will accept both types of lenses natively – and presumably with much better AF support for the 4:3 lenses. If this does come to pass this way, it’ll effectively open the system up to a third range of excellent glass, including some of Oly’s f/2 telephotos, which would be pretty sweet.

      There are actually several pros who have made the switch to m4:3 as well, plus a large ameature user base. I think the system is here to stay. Canon/Nikon may well migrate away from the APS-C sensors, or convert them to their own mirrorless line, but I don’t think there’s any real risk of m4:3 hitting a dead end. It certainly meets my needs and, with 3rd party manufacturers getting into the game, I think we can expect strong continued growth.

  2. I was wondering what your take on the new 75-300 would be. Truth be told I’m lusting over that new Nikon 800 f/5.6 but I don’t see 18 grand sitting around collecting dust so odds are I won’t own one anytime soon. I’ve been in a bit of a photographic funk lately and actually picked up my E-M5 for the first time this weekend to shoot a new visitor to the back yard feeder. What’s really sad is I couldn’t remember how all of the controls are supposed to work. I guess it’s time to break out the manual. The E-M5 still meets 90% of my needs and I’ll most likely buy the 75-300 when it’s released next month.

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