1.11.2018

Assembling a set of prime lenses for a Panasonic G series camera that will see a lot of action in both the video and photography camps...


One of my friends who is a professional videographer is thinking seriously of supplementing his Sony FS7 dedicated video camera with the new Panasonic GH5S. He's looked closely at the files and finds a lot to like about them. We were sitting around having coffee and he asked me for recommendations of lenses to use with the new camera. His requirements (or strong preferences) are to have lenses that have apertures of f1.8 and faster for each lens. He would also like to keep cost down; if possible. 

My first suggestion was that he consider the three new f1.2 Pro lenses from Olympus. All three have been well reviewed and seem to have superior imaging characteristics as well as the ability to move into a manual focusing mode that has hard stops for minimum and maximum focusing distances. We both are on the fence about this family of lenses, we love the "idea" of them but also feel that there are more cost effective options in the overall m4:3 universe which might not be the highest performance where high resolution still photography files are wanted but which would definitely do justice to the 4K video files he (and I ) will likely shoot. 

Now, this is a topic I like to sink my teeth into. He also stated that he was more interested in using lenses specifically designed for the format instead of trying to match lenses from other systems via various mechanical adapters. 

I started making a list. The first lens on my notepad was the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 short telephoto. It fills an important slot as a perfect focal length for intimate video interviews. It's also fast enough that when used close in allows for dropping backgrounds out of focus in a very nice way. I bought my second copy several months back and, in the past, found this lens model to be a bit sharper, wide open, than the Olympus 45mm and it also features lens based image stabilization. It's a solid recommendation for a low cost video centric kit. We wish the focusing ring had hard stops in manual focus but you can't always get what you want at the price you're happy to pay. If you want good, sharp performance at a bargain price then this is the system lens I start with. 

My next suggestion is a cheat because it violates his first preference of only considering lenses faster than f1.8. I'm suggesting that everyone who shoots longer focal lengths with the m4:3 cameras get their hands on the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN Art lens. Of course I understand that it's a stop and a third slower than my friend's limit but it's so sharp and so inexpensive that you just can't go wrong. This is a lens that you can set at its widest aperture of f2.8 and never have a moment's hesitation about its optical performance. At an equivalent of a 120mm lens in the full frame world its a focal length that's almost perfect for classical, tight head shots. Sorry, no built in image stabilization so it's either no coffee or a tripod if you want those frames to be nice and sharp. I love the sleek and minimalist lens body design but it's not everyone's cup of tea. Especially those who shoot year round with soft wool gloves. Not enough grippiness to make those folks happy...

Next up on my list of really good and really well priced fast(er) primes is the universally well-reviewed Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens. It's priced at $339 (or close by) and this will be the second time I've owned this product (albeit in a different mount: I had it for the Sony a6300). On the APS-C frame of the Sony it's the equivalent (FF) of a 45mm lens but on the m4:3 it's closer to 60mm and that's a focal length of happiness for me. I ordered the m4:3 model last week and it came this Tues. Today is the first time I've had enough free schedule to walk around and shoot with it but the first few hundred frames I shot today reminded me what I like about this lens: the center of the frame is nicely sharp and contrasty at f1.4.  The lens is a bit bigger than other m4:3 lenses but it's not nearly as big or heavy as the Olympus Pro series primes. If you like slightly long normal lenses this might be a lens you put on the front of your camera and never take off. I recommend it whole-heartedly. 

Heading down to the wider focal lengths puts me into territory that I only care about when clients request it. The shortest lens I would work with for my personal work would be the 25mm focal lengths for this format which, of course, yield an angle of view like a 50mm lens on full frame. My first choice here (at prices much lower than the Pro series) would be the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 which is getting long in the tooth but is also a very well made and good performing lens. It's a classic fast lens with the best performance at wider apertures being in the center 2/3rds of the frame. It's not a lens for flat field macro work but if you like shooting fast and you're working in the video world the performance will exceed the resolution the video files well past 4K. So, it's my first choice in this focal length range for the Panasonic cameras. Important to note that this lens does not offer image stabilization either so it's best used on the latest cameras (G9, GH5) for stills or on a tripod or gimbal if paired with the new GH5S. 

If price is an object (and of course it is since we've rejected the budget busting territory of our first choice of the Pro series lenses) then there is one more normal lens that I can recommend with no trepidation or hesitation and that is the Panasonic 25mm f1.7. It's exactly what you might think of as the system version of the Canon or Nikon "nifty-fifty" lenses for full frame bodies. It's decent wide open and then sharpens up very nicely so that by f4.0 and above it's almost on par with the pricier options. This lens is priced at around $250+ but it goes on sale with clock-setting regularity for the blow-out price of $159 and I think it's well worth that price. You can use it wide open and get most of the frame into the very good to excellent category or you can stop it down to f4.5 and get sparkly sharpness throughout. 

As we move down into wider lens territory I can only parrot what I hear from my experienced users and take my cues from them. If I were not content with my Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens and I wanted to stay away from zoom lenses with slower maximum apertures the one additional prime I am actively considering buying is the Panasonic-Leica 15mm f1.7 lens. It seems well made, gets high marks across the reviewing world and seems affordable for 28-30mm equivalent users at around $549. 

I'd suggest lenses wider than 15mm if I knew of any that were really any better than the zooms that cover the wider ranges (Olympus Pro 7-14mm, Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm) but I think when you get into focal lengths under 15mm the inherent depth of field of any of the available primes is no smaller than that of slower zooms; in a practical sense. I can't think that an 8mm f1.8 would have that much less depth of field that the 8mm end of a zoom at f2.8. The zooms I mentioned both have high optical quality; especially near their wider ends so it's not really a question of the primes delivering better image quality. In the end, the flexibility and quality of the two wide zooms wins out in the actual world of making photographs or videos. An added note: I bought (and am happy with...) the Panasonic 8-18mm zoom specifically because it is capable of taking filters directly on the front of the lens. The Olympus Pro and the older Panasonic 7-14 both have bulbous front elements which make it impossible to use conventional, screw-in filters on them. This will be more important to people who want to make video outside and less important to those who dismiss video entirely.

My ideal kit for the m4:3 cameras would include the three fast Olympus Pro Primes, the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro and the (incredibly flexible) 12-100mm lens and all of these would be supplemented by wider zoom options (the Panasonic-Leica gets my cash because it has filter threads and I can use variable ND filters on it).

I haven't covered long, fast lenses because I just don't think you can do better than the 40-150mm f2.8. If you need longer or faster you'll probably head into adaptations. The 75mm Olympus f1.8 gets very high marks and I consider it somewhat of a speciality lens. One I'd like to own but one that I have to work hard to justify. 

Everyone's choices will be different. I'd opt for different lenses if I were photographing solely for my own pleasure. I'd be happy with a 25 and a 45 and I'd be opting out of the buying cycle after locking down those two models. But here I am on the cusp of a week long shoot for a large medical practice that will call for very wide shots, very tight shots, large depth of field and shallow depth of field in a random pattern throughout each day of the assignment. It helps me to justify the choices I've made!
To my videographer friend: I hope this is helpful. 

Have I left any good lenses out of the mix that I should know about or learn about? Let me know!


13 comments:

Gilly said...

Knowing your love for the Sigma lenses I am hoping you get and review the new 16mm 1.4. This lens has me intrigued, I want this focal length in a quality lens.

ODL Designs said...

For video, as long as AF isn't an issue, the trio of VL f0.95 lenses have a lot of character.

Also the 12mm f2 from Olympus is a good small lens.

One test I would love to do is to color check all each set... So the Olympus 17 1.8 25 1.8 and 45 1.8 and see how they pair up. Same with the Panasonic 15mm 1.7 25mm f1.7 and 42.5 mm f1.7 to see if their colour response is similar.

Oh the 15 is also a solid lens.

Peter said...

There's nothing wrong with your choices, but I would offer as alternates the Olympus 45 f/1.8 and the Olympus 25 f/1.8. These lenses are serious challengers to their 'Pro' brethren, and at a fraction of the price. It's been a long time since I've bought a lens I would consider a dog. Virtually everything is between 'good enough' and 'excellent'.
Peter Wright

Joseph Kashi said...

I have many of the prime lenses that you suggest and they are all excellent. Comparing the Panasonic 42.5/1.7 and the Olympus 45/1.8, the Panasonic seems slightly crisper and sharper, but not by an overwhelming advantage. It's also my preference.

In the intermediate range, the Oly 17mm/1.8 is a nicely made lens but the edges can be a bit soft due to distortion correction. I prefer the Panasonic 20mm/1.7, a very nice available light lens with really good corner to corner sharpness.

The Olympus 75mm/1.7 is amazingly sharp and beautifully made, but it's expensive and heavy. I find myself mostly carrying my Sigma 60mm/2.8. It has almost as magnification and resolution, but is much smaller and cheaper.

Nigel said...

One lens worth considering at the longer end is the Samyang 135mm f2, if the excellent 40/150 zoom is simply too expensive, or the extra stop is important.
Other than being manual focus, it has no real faults, and contrast and sharpness wide open are really, really good. The lens purchase I'm happiest with over the last couple of years (the Pan/Leica 25/1.4 might have been that, but the noisy aperture, which sounds almost like a shutter, is truly annoying at times).

CWM said...

I have the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 in E mount and it is excellent. Haven't tried the M4/3 version yet. I agree with your preference for the Panasonic 42.5 vs. the Olympus 45. However, the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 is my preference over the Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 although it goes for $324 on Amazon (more than the Panny). I've shot with both quite a bit. There is something great about the overall look and color quality on the Olympus.

For long lenses, I keep trying to find a better alternative than the Panasonic 45-175mm f/4.0-5.6. I know, it is somewhat slow. However, this lens is super sharp wide open, focusses internally and weighs very little. I am constantly amazed at the quality of photographs I can achieve with this super compact gem. I keep looking because of the aperture, etc. Still impressed that this lens goes for a bit over $400 and is the telephoto I always have with me. At age 62, I have carried all the big beasts of yesteryear. To have the equivalent of 90-350mm in a tiny super portable lens is what keeps me shooting M4/3.

Dogster said...

Thank You for this. Valuable info. I am now using all Olympus. Saving up for the Sigma 60, and a Panasonic G85.

George Janik said...

Hi Kirk, just wondering if you would get this new Panasonic to use since it seems that you are doing more and more video? I looked at Youtube reviews and they seem to say that it is more of a niche camera (video) even though better performance in low light.

jonno said...

Now a medicare aged amateur who owned a bunch of cameras from 10 x 8 down to Minox film cameras my current GH5/GX8 bodies rock two simple lens sets: portable panny primes (14mm 2.8, 20mm 1.4 , 42.5mm 2.8 macro on the GX8 for walkabouts) which remind me of happy days with an older favorite (the Minolta CLE system). The first two lenses are super affordable but deliver visually way above their pay-grade probably due to the simple low element count construction. Get the 14mm instead of the Leic 15mm! I use the Voigtlander set for video (17, 25, 42.5) which have reassuring last-century build quality and bring the cosina/zeiss glass look to stills and video - but probably are not nimble enough for the demanding professional. Horses for courses.

David said...

I would ask why the f1.8 need. Is it for DOF or for light gathering. Then a T stop is better to look at. The Olympus 25mm f1.2 is reported to have the same T stop as the Panasonic 25mm f1.4. At half the cost, weight and almost half size I still like the Panasonic. Lensrentals, just looked at the M43rds 25mm lenses. The fast manual Voit. tested well. Also accounting same variation the Panasonic that you might get may not be as bad as the Olympus. There seems to be high variation in the lenses.

My prime set is the Panasonic 15mm, the Panasonic 25mm f1.4, the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 and the Olympus 60mm f2.8 Macro.
I like the aperture ring on the 15 and 42.5, and wished the 25 had one. However the ring only works on Panasonic bodies.

Frank Grygier said...

How about the two par focal zooms from FUJI.
Fitting the new mount options for the Fujinon MK lenses will be offered as a service from the team at MTF Services.
https://www.mtfservices.com/fuji-mk-lens-mount-conversion

Frank Grygier said...

Another option is Canon glass using a Speedbooster. With the multi-aspect sensor,If you add a Speed Booster Ultra to the GH5s you get a crop factor of 1,275x with 35mm lenses in DCI 4K. If you add a Speed Booster XL to the GH5s you get a crop factor of 1,149x with 35mm lenses.

Brandon Scott said...

Thanks for the reviews and the comments are very helpful. Another vote for the Olympus 60 f2.8 macro. Not only is this a superb macro lens, but doubles as an excellent short telephoto. It stays in my kit all the time.
Also the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 with Metabones booster is a killer video combination with the GH5.
As an aside, even though my style of photography is very different from yours Kird (I'm into birds, etc.), I always enjoy your take on photography as whole. I love your independence of mind.