The announcement by Olympus of their divestiture of their camera division seems to have stirred up my appreciation of the M4:3rds format and its gear. This comes at a cost...

Lumix GX8 with the Sigma Contemporary 16mm f1.4 DC DN for m4:3.

I've had an on again, off again love affair with the mirrorless, m4:3 cameras since I bought an Olympus EP-2 with its clever, detachable EVF, back in late 2009. My original rationale for buying that camera was to experiment using vintage Olympus Pen F film lenses on a digital camera. It was, for the most part, a successful and fun adventure. If I was always only a devoted amateur/lover of photography instead of someone splitting my attention between the "pleasure of" and the "business of" photography I'm fairly sure I would have dug into the m4:3 systems only, and stayed there. It's a system that checks nearly all the boxes I'd be interested in if I shot photographs only because of my own passion for the art. 

But like most insecure commercial photographers I vacillated between believing the system was enough and wanting to hedge my bets with clients by showing up with bigger format equipment. Over the past twelve years I've bought into m4:3 systems, with the intention of using them for everything, at least five times, only to retreat the instant a goose-y client questioned whether full frame might be...better. 

But my appreciation for the jewel-like cameras that Olympus kept introducing, and the sheer usability and wide ranging prowess of Panasonic's cameras, stays with me throughout. 

Before the Olympus announcement I was at Precision Camera buying a tilt base for a video head I was putting on top of a big, Benro tripod. Reflexively, I looked through their collection of used gear, concentrating on the m4:3 stuff to see if there was anything that was absolutely irresistible. I found one lens that was interesting but decided the money might be better spent elsewhere. I found the tilt base, bought it and moved on. Until yesterday. 

Boredom will bankrupt us all... I finished all my domestic chores and was hesitant to leave the house and studio because of the air quality warnings about the Saharan Dust storm. After lunch I gave in to the relentless ennui, grabbed a handful of face masks, and headed off to take a quick stroll through the camera store. You know, just to see what's new. 

In the Olympus/Panasonic used case I came across a couple of the Olympus 25mm f1.2 Pro lenses, one of the 45mm Pros, and one of the 17mms. All in nice condition but none seemed to tweak my desire gland in the moment. I searched around a bit more and came across a lens that was counter-intuitive for me. It's the Sigma Contemporary 16mm f1.4, DC DN with an m4:3 mount. It's a lens that's usually in high demand and sometimes out of stock but I'd never thought of owning it because it's a bit wide and the focal length is also covered by my Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 zoom lens.

This particular lens is in really good condition and I decided to negotiate a bit and see if I could take it off their hands at a better price than what they marked on the attached price tag. I imagined that it might be fun to play with. I might even train myself to like a lens closer to 30-35mm as much as my usual 50mm range. The tipping point spec was the fast max. aperture... and a number of very solid reviews.

I took the lens home with me, put it on my GX8 body and headed to Zilker Park for a lone walk through the trees. I'm trying to be careful to always wear a mask now, even when outdoors and socially distancing because I do want to model ethical behavior for all those other people... But, damn! It's hotter walking in high heat and humidity with your mouth and nose covered. The sacrifices we make to test out new lenses... (being sarcastic as I know the mask is good and walking through the park, testing a lens is not an essential duty!)

I like this lens very much. It focuses closer than I expected and once you find out the sweet spot for the aperture it's insanely sharp and contrasty. Wide open the center is sharp enough and and I don't care about the far edges and corners. F2.8 is the optimum setting for me. It's the point where the center section of the image becomes wildly sharp and contrasty while the far edges have become "good" to "excellent." If your image absolutely MUST be sharp across the frame then the best compromise is probably f5.6 which gives you slightly lower performance in the central quadrant but brings up the edge and corner sharpness and contrast firmly into the excellent zone. 

For walking around outside I stuck with f3.5 and found it a perfect combination of overall image quality bundled with enough depth of field for the kind of photographs I'd normally take with a lens with this angle of view. I presume that once you get past f8.0 you'll start seeing more and more sharpness robbing diffraction so I don't even bother to play around with the smaller apertures. 

While the lens is big on the GX8 it's not too heavy and doesn't feel like it's out of balance or overly weighted to the front. At $265 for a mint-y example I think it's a nice addition to my little collection of m4:3 cameras and lenses. I'm itching to try it for environmental portraits in lower light. Ah, the promise of the future.

I am impressed by just about every lens from Sigma's Contemporary and Art lines. This one is no different. In a pinch it's competent used wide open and, when you suss out its strengths, it's a very, very nice lens at smaller apertures (up to f5.6). I think I'll keep this one. 

Here are some "FIRST DAY SAMPLES!!!!!!!" More to come soon. 

I always thought a 50mm equivalent lens would be my favorite on a GX8 or G9 but I'm slowly (very slowly) coming around to the wider perspective. Curious to take a casual poll of VSL readers: What's your favorite single focal length for m4:3? Let me know in the comments. 

Have a great and non-dusty day. KT

The city of Austin is limiting attendance to the pools. At Barton Springs Pool you have to make an online reservation days in advance to sign up for a two hour slot during the day. When you arrive for your swim they do the public health questioning (have you been out of the country? Do you know if anyone in your household has tested positive? etc.) and they use a I.R. thermometer to take your temperature. You also need to wear a mask any time you are not in the water....

As a result, there's hardly anyone in the 1/8th mile long pool. 

The picnic table where I go to write notes in my little notebook. 
Sometimes the notes grow into blog posts. Sometimes into books, 
but mostly into pieces of scrap paper with which to wrap up used chewing
gum before tossing into the trash.

No health checks at the spillway just to the N.E. of the Barton Springs Pool. 
It's jammed with people, none of whom are masked...


Victor Bloomfield said...

Favorite focal length for Winogrand-type "street photography": 28mm (14mm in M4/3).
Favorite otherwise: whatever best frames the scene. I use mainly zoom lenses, esp. the 24-350 equivalent on my Panasonic ZS200 (1" sensor), and Olympus 14-150 II on GX85.

Fred said...

I recently got the Pany 20mm lens for my G85. I have never before had a lens of this focal length. Back in the dim mists of time I used a 35 f2 on my FD mount Canons as my normal lens so this may actually be a telephoto from that perspective. I find that when I use the kit lens with this camera I am in the 12 to 16 or so neighborhood. I have considered getting a 15 to split the difference between the e-28 and e-35, but I'm having root canal work done next week so no new lenses for a while.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

My wife's Panasonic 20mm/1.7 by far - that one was the reason for me to get over from the regular 4/3rds camp into the ยต4/3rds one... it's still my favourite one until today. So I guess on a 35mm film camera it would be the 38mm to 40mm ones.

That said, my PanaLeica 25mm/1.4 also takes nice pictures.

Andrea Bellelli said...

My favorite lens is Oly 45 mm f:1.8; however, the lens I use most frequently is probably the Oly 17 mm.

Mark the tog said...

As I lived with a 35mm lens with delight from the 70's my favorite FL is the range between 12-17mm range.
I have always been a person that needed (I felt) context in images I have always gravitated towards the wider FOV.

Anonymous said...

Panasonic 20mm here. My favourite, most used lens ever.

Lovely rendering, compact. Just the right framing for me (I grew up on pentax nifty fifties) The auto focus is a little slow by recent standards, but is workable.

Ticks all the indoor environmental portrait boxes. I've done several ongoing projects with it. It has bound me to the system. Works nicely on my olympus Pen camera.


Pale Fire said...

Oh and lovely photos. Nice colours in the water and sky and great composition.

I think the closer to 1:1 format suits you.


AlexG said...

I have always been a 50mm person and I spent a long time using the Olympus 25mm 1.8. I bought the 17mm 1.8 Olympus and got on great with it but I managed to snag a very well priced 15mm PanLeica and its been absolute bliss. That is the first lens I reach for on one of the GX80's my poor 25mm is left sad and lonely seldom coming out.

Gato said...

Another vote for the Panasonic 20. It just fits the way I see. I bought the 17 first but found myself always having to move a step or two closer to the subject than seemed really right.

MikeR said...

Interesting how the Sahara dust affects some of the shots.

I've tried repeatedly to love the 50mm focal length, Canon FF, Nikon FF, 25mm on m43, but it doesn't do it for me. I really like the Pana 20mm. With the PanLeica 12-60, I find my self either just shy of all the way in, or somewhere short of all the way out.

Phil Stiles said...

What's your favorite single focal length for m4:3?

Under "single focal length" I have to say the 75mm 1.8. Just a fantastic performer, and great for portraits. With the 12-40 zoom as a companion, one is ready for just about anything.

ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk, has to be 25mm (50mm), save the 25mm f1.8 and f1.2 are just perfect for my shooting.

Enjoy the equipment, that first shot with the sky and the activity below is great!

Michael Kohnhorst said...

Went back and forth between the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 and Olympus 17mm f/1.8 then tried the 15mm f/1.8 Summilux and sold the others. I'll occasionally use the 45mm Olympus f/1.7 for a closer portrait.

Anonymous said...

Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH is my favorite on my GX8. Love the look of photos taken with it, the 30mm equivalent for FF, and the aperture ring on the lens. Great lens (expensive, but worth it in my opinion.)

Steve B

Anonymous said...

there are so many good ones... last night i went out in the 'hood w/ my 20f1.7 = v nice

hwulff said...

Probably the PanaLeica 15/1.7 is my favourite fixed focal length lens for m43. It's in the right range of 'favourite focal length', which is between 28mm and 40mm FF equivalent, and is both sharp and never harsh.

Michael Ferron said...

I am 100% Panasonic now with the G9, FZ1000 and a little ZS100 that goes everywhere with me.
My lenses are the 12-35 2.8 II, 20 1.7, 42 1.7 and the 100-300 F4-5.6. My favorite is the 12-35 but for walking around and general purpose I am very happy with the 2omm. That 40mm equivalent for me is the Goldilocks of focal lengths. Just wide of normal with no wide angle disadvantages. Makes my G9 more compact too. What's not to like?

Eric Rose said...

My go to walking around lens is the Panny 20mm f1.7. It's the perfect lens for those that don't want to get stuck on the standby 50mm but find the 35mm just to HCB. A truly Canadian solution, middle of the road lol.

Joe said...

By a wide margin, the 20mm / f1.7 Panasonic is my most commonly used M43 lens. Compact, near-normal field of view, and every sharp corner to corner.

Ken said...

While travelling in East Asia last year, I opted to carry 2-3 primes rather than the 12-100 to use with my G9. Lightroom tells me that the Panasonic 20/1.7 got the most use during that trip. Even with the lens cap on it doesn't protrude beyond the camera's grip.

That lens is one of the first I bought with my first M43 camera in 2013, and remains the most-used one over the past 7 years.

Bob said...

Panny 20mm f1.7, hands down. A joy to use, and beautiful rendering. I think it exemplifies the m4/3 ethos.

RiverdogsCrossing said...

I have the Oly 17 1.8, and the oly 17 1.2 - the 1.8 version is my travel favorite. The 1.2 is one stellar lens for weddings, group shots in low light environments. The Oly 75 1.8 is my favorite portrait lens on my EM1.2.

Jim Restle said...

For me, probably a tie between the 12 f2 and the 75 f1.8. Sometimes those are the only two I'll carry with me.

Miguel Tejada-Flores said...

Truly lovely shots from your Sigma 16mm, Kirk. Sigma seems to have a habit of making outrageously fine - and reasonably-price - lenses for micro four thirds cameras. Their 56mm f/1.4 is currently at the top of my very short list of interesting lenses to perhaps acquire.

But to answer your question, my favorite all-time lens has to be the Panasonic-Leica 15mm - which lived on my GX8 for a few years, and now lives on my other mu43 body, the truly-and-surprisingly-fun-to-shoot-with-in-spite-and-not-because-of-its-retro-styling Pen F.

In the #2 spot right behind the 15mm has to be the diminutive Lumix 20mm pancake.

Weirdly, right behind both of those is another PanaLeica offering, the 45mm Macro Elmarit which, in spite of a relatively slow f/2.8 max aperture, has to be one of (if not the) finest all-around portrait lenses I've ever used.

And, to really, widen the envelope, there is also a small handful of zooms - the fixed f/2.8 Panasonic 12-35mm - the oh-so-unbeleivably-pancake-tiny 12-32mm zoom - and a cool Rokinon fisheye.

But the 15mm takes the cake.

Coasting said...

That 16 Sigma is such a sleeper in the M43 system but boy is it a gr8 lens possibly one of the better ones in the ecosystem of lenses and that comes from someone that has owned and used most of the gr8 lenses.....but do yourself a favour and grab the 25m 1.2 its about as good as a lens gets and levels the playing field quite somewhat when you want to compare the small sensor cameras with some of the bigger boys

Scott said...

Had the Panasonic 25/1.4, but it suffered from isolation in the drawer and I sold it last year. My favorite prime lens is the Olympus 17/1.8. It was on my camera for a month walking around Southeast Asia last fall, whenever I wasn’t touring a “site”. Then the 12-100/4 was mounted. Only two lenses in the bag for that trip.

CWM said...

Just had to "ring the bell" for the trio of Sigma f/1.4 lenses for M43 and Sony E. I started with the 30mm f/1.4 for M43 and it is a honey. However, I just like the effective focal lengths better on the Sony E, so I now have all three for my A6500. Super small kit and incredible results. Sigma 16mm f/1.4 (24mm), 30mm f/1.4 (45mm) and the newest 56mm f/1.4 (84mm). For M43, I love the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 PRO lens. Technically the best lens I've ever used on M43 cameras. I'm fine with 35mm effective focal length lenses although not my favorite. If they still have the used 17mm at Precision Camera, I highly recommend a "test drive" if you like that focal length.