Olympus 45mm F/1.8 – The pocket portrait gem

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About Tony Ventouris

"I am a full time commercial photographer specializing in architecture and panoramic imagery. I love working with all kinds of businesses and creative people in various industries to help them visually achieve their goals. I also love landscape photography and spending time creating images of insects and the natural world. I started the Unlocking Olympus site with the goal of helping others liberate their creative passion for photography through smaller and lighter gear. It has grown into an amazing community that has been a joy to interact with on a daily basis. Thank you my friends!"

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The Olympus 45mm F/1.8 prime lens is currently Olympus’ only fast short telephoto lens. Yes the 60 macro is perfect portrait length… but it is F/2.8. The 75mm F/1.8 lens is also amazing… but it is a bit long for working in close distances. Luckily the 45mm is a stellar offering.

Notice the small diameter as opposed to the mount.

 

As usual I won’t go into detailed specs… there are hundreds of other reviews and sites that offer all that info. I like to focus on real world benefits and what makes or breaks the lens. Starting off it is impossible not to speak of the size of this lens. It completely captures Olympus’ desire for big quality in the smallest package. Check out this lens next to the other primes.

45mm – 25mm – 17mm

 

The 45 might be tall relative to the other primes… but only slightly.

Lens front elements

 

The actually lens diameter is very small compared to the others. It has a 37mm filter thread. 37mm!!! Luckily that means cheap filters… of even the best kind! It also makes the lens very tiny in hand. The lens has a plastic body but it still feels fine. A little extra heft would have been nice. I don’t know of any other prime sets that are this small next to the Leica primes. (the slower ones) You can literally have three primes and an EPL8 in a vest pocket and forget you brought a kit with you. Amazing.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8 vs Canon 50mm F/1.8

 

Just for fun I wanted to give a real reference for size. This is the 45mm next to a Canon 50mm F/1.8. The “original nifty fifty” as it is called. A small fast prime most people are familiar with. I used this since they are almost the same focal length and speed. Notice the Olympus is just slightly taller… but it could literally fit inside the canon lens. Talk about small.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8 vs Canon 50mm F/1.8

 

So what is amazing is not that this lens is so small… but that it packs such a punch regardless of its size. For an inexpensive lens (relative) you get a fantastic lens. I’ve been shooting with this lens for a while and am greatly surprised. I love its color and rendering.

Portrait shot with window light

 

Being small and fast means the camera is easy to work with, doesn’t get tiring to hold, and your subjects don’t pay attention to it. In fact it is very easy for the camera and lens to become virtually invisible. Good gear does that… but the larger the camera the harder to forget about its presence in your hands. This lens disappears.

Maternity portrait with a touch of glow

 

Wide open the lens just melts backgrounds, especially as you get closer. I am using examples of shoots that I don’t normally show to make a point. Your subject won’t feel intimidated by this lens at all. Getting up close is much easier with a lens that doesn’t look large or menacing.

Child’s portrait

 

If you work with children this lens is absolutely perfect. Soft dreamy bokeh, great colors, and it won’t distract your subject or be scary to hold over top of them.

Child’s portrait

 

I know a lot of new parents that find photography as a way to capture and share their new life experiences. Lots of friends have suddenly gotten very interested in photography, even at a low level just to capture their day to day moments with their newborns. A large dslr doesn’t fit in a diaper bag and becomes one more burden to carry. An em10 or Pen-F, or especially the EPL7 or 8 become a perfect choice. Paired with the 45mm you have an amazing portrait setup with minimal size. It takes very little space at all and weighs virtually nothing compared to usual camera setups. And no iphone 7 portrait mode will yield the same results. Especially when it comes to control. Pair that with a 17mm or 12mm prime and you have a fantastic travel kit with pro level results.

Live performance

 

This is another perfect lens for live performances where you can get closer to the action. Local venues are often quite dark so F/1.8 is perfect. And the fact that we get the equivalent depth of field of F/3.6 due to the crop factor makes it even better in these scenarios. It means you get more of the image in sharper focus. I prefer that compared to a razor thin sliver when someone is moving. You have a greater chance to actually keep your focus point in focus.

When you are back far enough to do at least a waist up shot, the lens renders a great 3D look when shot wide open. Using eye-focus is good in these scenarios because recomposing after focus at F/1.8 will often change the focal plane enough to be off from your intended mark. I highly recommend using the eye-focus. In studio I pick which eye, but for general portraits or live music I let the camera decide.

Soft and sharp

 

Wide open the lens is both soft and sharp. The fall off and out of focus areas have a pleasingly soft appearance while the focal plane is nice and sharp. Crisp, great resolving, but not overly clinical. It’s a wonderful balance in my opinion.

Close up… kinda…

 

I’ve used this lens for nature images as well. I love the rendering as I already stated… but here is the big catch for this lens. The closest focusing distance is around 19″. The 25mm lens can focus down to 9.5″, the 12-40 goes down to 7.87″, and the 60m Macro gets to 1:1 at 7.4″. At 19″ your close focusing ability is not nearly as close as what we have gotten used to with other Olympus lenses. The panasonic 42.5 F/1.7 can focus to about 14″ which is a nice difference for a very similar lens. This might be appealing if you need the close focus. The close focus distance on this lens is usually the factor that keeps it on the shelf in favor of the 12-40 or 60mm Macro for me. I find I grab this lens more when I want the size advantage or am specifically doing portraits that need that extra special shallow depth of field. For general nature, the lens works great. It was never designed to be a macro lens and if you chose subjects that don’t need that you will love this lens outdoors. The beautiful rendering really helps bring out your subjects.

Dinosaur in the grass

 

In this image of a dinosaur looking log, the 3D rendering can clearly be seen. I love shots like this that allow me to visually explore the subject and get a sense of depth. If you hike a lot, such a small lens will be quite appreciated too.

Even though close focus isn’t macro distance… the focus speed is excellent and you can get close enough usually for larger subjects. Example being this small jellyfish. Focus was fast enough to nail the shot for quite an erratic and fast moving subject. Sometimes fast portrait lenses are not the quickest to autofocus. These two jellyfish examples are another example of the soft out of focus areas and nice and crisp focal plane.

There isn’t much to say negatively about this lens. In harsh bright contrast you can definitely get some chromatic aberration… but nothing horrendous for a fast lens. Easily correctable in Lightroom. A metal body would have been nice, and snapshot manual focus… but those are small items that can be overlooked in terms of the overall package. Especially when price is considered. The lens hood is not included. That is probably the biggest negative to this lens.

If you want a solid performing short telephoto for every day life, portraits, food, and general nature… this is the lens for you. Especially if you want to travel light or be inconspicuous. Paired to an EPL8 or Pen-F and a wide prime, this would be an excellent two lens travel kit that would often weigh less than your travel guide book! Quality is right up there with the big heavy gear for sure. This is little gem of a lens in my opinion.


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Olympus M.45mmF1.8

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  • Blubber

    “Olympus 45mm F/1.8 prime lens is currently Olympus’ only fast short telephoto lens”
    What about the Oly 45mm 1.2?

    • Hi Blubber! Thank you for visiting our website.
      By the time Tony wrote this review, the F/1.2 PRO had not yet hit the market. But currently he is working on a comparison between the two lenses, so we hope to have some good news soon 🙂