The usual hit on micro four thirds format cameras is the lack of control over depth of field. Not that you can't get everything you want (usually) in focus but that you can't drop enough stuff OUT of focus to get the kinds of results you might be used to if you are coming to this format from a full frame camera and moderately fast lenses. The lens I have been pining for is the old Canon 100mm f2.0 which is fairly (but not perfectly) sharp wide open but really seems to be more comfortable when used stopped down to f2.8 or lower. It's a great focal length for my work and there are three contenders in m4:3 that I've been considering. I just initiated ownership of one of these three. It's coming from Amazon.com and I'll be testing it on a series of portrait assignments over the next week.
If it doesn't meet my "stringent" test results I'll send it back and go on to choice number two and, if that doesn't work, choice number three (the choices being order by the decreasing desirability of increasing cost).
I've been on a cheap lens buying jag for the last couple of months and I'm not really slowing down much. I (re-)bought the small and beautiful Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN Art lens because I've always liked the ones I owned before. I like this one as well but even at f2.8 there's more in focus than I would like in some situations.
I thought the Sigma 30mm f1.4 would get me into sweeter territory, andit does help when shooting subjects close to the camera (see just above or just below), but it's still tough to get a really over the top, out of focus background because of the shorter focal length. I've been using a Zeiss 50mm f2.0 lens with good results in portraiture but if I want to go all zany have eyes in focus and ears profoundly out of focus I'm still getting images in which the background is too detail-y.
The portrait images I've liked best from this format so far are the ones I've done with the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro zoom lens from Olympus. But the main reason I like them is that I've mostly shot them at longer and longer focal lengths. Bring the photoshoot into a smaller studio and you quickly run out of ways to back up and put more distance between you and your subject...
Now, at this juncture I should mention that it's not like I'm getting any pouty feedback from clients. Nope, they are pretty happy when everyone is in focus and everything they want to see in a frame is sharp. Some even consider shallow depth of field to be a technical mistake on the part of the photographer; not high art.
And I should also say that it's great to shoot group shots at something like f4.0 or f5.6 and not be worried that someone on a second row is going to be visibly unsharp. No, the mania for less sharpness in the backgrounds is just a personal preference based on my years of shooting bigger formats. Real formats; like 6x6cm and 4x5 inches.
In quiet moments spent during the first half of this month, in a lonely house seventy miles from the rest of my family, I would research some fast, one hundred millimeter equivalent lenses for m4:3 after getting my dad to bed. (Incidentally, I made almost continuous use of my iPhone to create personal hotspots for my laptop. My parent's house was a computer-free zone).
I narrowed down my choices to three. They range from low price to high. There are additional choices I toyed with but ultimately I restrained myself to looking at nothing over $1,500 dollars. I figured that if the price for getting reasonable OOF (out of focus) areas was a couple thousand dollars I'd be miles ahead just buying an older full frame camera and a 100mm f2.0 or, to be even more retro, an older full frame camera on which I could use one of the Nikon Ais 105mm f2.5 lenses I still have rolling around in a tool cabinet drawer.
The final candidates are: The Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens (a smaller lens made specifically for cropped format. Available in the m4:3 mount). This one gets great reviews for wide open sharpness, additional kudos for having nice bokeh and many stars from me for costing just under $400, delivered.
The second contender is the Olympus 45mm f1.2 Pro lens which would be the tied first choice for me if I had almost boundless cash. This is a lens that, on paper, is the one I really want. I've loved using the two Olympus Pro lenses I already have and I'm over the moon about the clutched switch to a nice manual focusing mode. But every time I buy another Olympus Pro lens I find myself trying to talk myself into getting an Olympus OMD EM-1.2 to go with it. You know, so I can take full advantage of the dual I.S. features.... It's quite a bit pricier at around $1200.
The third applicant to grace our list of finalists is the odd, Quixotic, 42.5mm f1.2 Panasonic/Leica lens. It has the usual, mystic Leica allure. A vague and almost indefinable promise that your photos will rise above the rank and file and show themselves to be exceptional by dint of the lens's magic,
Bavarian Hessian-induced super performance. This lens falls in and out of my consideration as its price sways back and forth, now under $1500 and now over $1500. I'd probably give into my barely restrained Leica lens worship (even if the lens in question isn't really made by Leica....) without looking back if it were just a little bit longer. 45mm would be nice. 50mm would be better. I'm a sucker for the cosmetics and the visual theater of the lens's presentation but I hate the idea that I'd always be cropping away at the sensor to get where I want to go.
Earlier today I went out for a nice walk around downtown. The light was flat and people were scarce so my camera didn't see much action. There's a limit to how much grayness I want in my work, but I did see a few things to look at more closely and each time I wished I'd brought along something longer than the 30mm on my camera. Never did I wish for even a fraction of a mm wider...
By the time I got back home, drank another cup of coffee, had a grilled cheese sandwich and paid a few bills, I was keyed up and ready to start the competition. I took one more look at the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 on Amazon.com, decided to forego the money savings on settling for the cheap looking silver finish, and pushed the "one click" button to select the "prime" option. The lens set me back a whopping $378 (which always makes my friends in the movie industry chuckle - "Hell" they say, "We've got filters that cost more than that!").
The lens will arrive via some carrier or another on Sunday. Sure, I would have bought it locally but it's not in Precision Camera's inventory. At least not according to a deep dive onto their website....
I'll shoot it for an hour or so after it arrives and, if it's a good one, I'll use it for a series of portraits I'm scheduled to shoot on Monday evening. The portraits are of doctors from a practice I provide photos to here in Austin. There are 14 partners, that gives me 14 chances to get stuff just right....
This one is wide open at f1.4 and I still wish it was a bit less crucnchy in the background.
It was so cold in Austin this week that we started insulating the sidewalks.