Why the 'best Olympus lenses' and not the 'best Micro Four Thirds lenses'? It's true that Olympus and Panasonic MFT lenses are physically interchangeable, but there are a couple of reasons why Olympus fans might want to stick to Olympus M.Zuiko lenses: full compatibility, and Olympus brand loyalty!
It's true that you can fit Panasonic MFT cameras on Olympus lenses without any obvious issues. However, in our experience, Panasonic's lens O.I.S. doesn't always play nicely with Olympus's in-body stabilization, and you get better results from switching off the lens O.I.S.
And while Panasonic lenses autofocus as you would expect on Olympus cameras, they are tuned for Panasonic's own DFD contrast detect AF system, and we think Olympus lenses are just that bit snappier on Olympus cameras.
As for brand loyalty, don't knock it! Olympus as a company may have gone through some turbulent times recently, but the launch of the new PEN E-P7 shows it's still developing new cameras and has its eye firmly on the future. Better still, Olympus has one of the best lens ranges of any camera manufacturer, as we're about to find out...
How to choose the best Olympus lenses
There are a few too many Olympus M.Zuiko lenses to cram into a single guide and they cater for a multitude of purposes and user types, so we've split our guide into four sections:
• Wide-angle zooms: ideal for architecture, street photography and landscapes
• Standard zooms: one lens to handle 80% of your everyday shooting
• Telephoto zooms: essential for sports and wildlife fans
• Prime lenses: top choice for low light, bokeh and portability
In each section we've picked out what we think are the stand-out candidates and we explain why. That's not to say there aren't some equally great candidates that didn't make it on to the list (this time, at least!), and we'll give them all an honorable mention as we go along.
So without further ado (as they say on YouTube), here's our list of the best Olympus lenses to get right now.
Best Olympus ultra-wide-angle zooms
If you're a fan of ultra-wideangle photography then you're in luck, because Olympus makes three rather good ultra-wide zooms and we've included them all. These lenses are great for travel, architecture, interiors and dramatic landscape shots.
This is one of Olympus's oldest Micro Four Thirds lenses but still one of the most desirable. It arrived alongside the company's first PEN cameras and the standard kit lens back then, another retracting design, this one a 14-42mm. The Olympus 9-18mm doesn't go as wide as other, more recent Olympus ultra-wides, the F4-5.6 maximum aperture is a tad restrictive and the retracting mechanism is not a deal breaker but it is a bit of a faff. Even allowing for all that, though, this lens's size, light weight and ultra-wide angle of view make it a unique proposition for travel photography and interiors, and dated as it might look, there's still nothing like it today.
This lens is so new that we're still carrying out our lab tests, but right from the moment you pick it up you can feel the Olympus Pro lens quality in its design and operation – and we don't expect its optical quality to disappoint, either. This is another unique lens, this time because of the focal lengths it straddles: you could see it as an ultra-wide zoom that goes right up to a standard zoom range, or as a standard zoom that also goes ultra-wide. Either way, this one lens could replace two lenses for many travel, street and architectural photographers. It's not particularly small, to be fair, but the focal range it covers is quite unprecedented.
While the crop factor of MFT format cameras boosts the telephoto abilities of lenses, it makes the design of ultra-wide optics more of a challenge. The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 7‑14mm 1:2.8 PRO is a remarkable wide zoom lens with a minimum focal length of just 7mm, delivering an astonishing 114-degree viewing angle, similar to using a 14mm lens on full-frame cameras. Like other lenses in the M.ZUIKO PRO line-up, it’s immaculately turned out, with fabulous build quality. Contrast and sharpness are outstanding, while colour fringing and distortions are negligible. As with many ultra-wide lenses, however, the hood is built-in so there’s no filter attachment thread.
Best Olympus standard zooms
There are so many good Olympus standard zoom lenses that we had to leave some out! That's not because we don't rate them, but because we wanted to offer a balance spread of favorite choices. So even though they're not listed below, we still want to mention the original retracting M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14‑42mm F3.5‑5.6 II R kit lens (plasticky feel, but rather good), M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12‑45mm F4 PRO (a slightly smaller alternative to the 12-40mm F2.8), the incredible M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12‑100mm F4 IS PRO (with a big zoom range and its own stabilizer) and the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14‑150mm F4‑5.6 II superzoom (yes, a superzoom, but optically better than 9 out of 10 examples of its type).
For people who don't know this lens, it would be easy to dismiss it as a cheap and cheerful – but inferior – alternative to a 'proper' standard zoom lens. But not so fast! Optically, this little lens is a lot better than you might expect, and while its 3x 28-84mm zoom range and F3.5-5.6 maximum aperture are about as ordinary as kit lenses get, its sheer size – or lack of it – makes it incredibly useful. Fitted to an E-P7 or a PEN, it means you can slide your camera into a jacket pocket or a handbag and take it anywhere without a second thought. We've all had to accept cameras and lenses getting bigger and bigger and bigger over the past few years, but this lens, on a compact PEN body, takes carry-round cameras right back to the size they ought to be!
Whenever you buy any kind of serious OM-D body, this lens will be one of the bundle options. It's kept the same design for years, but that's not because it's some kind of low-cost throwback that's just used for lens bundles – it's because Olympus got everything right with this lens from day one. Its 24-80mm effective zoom range is just a tad longer than the 'standard' 24-70mm on other cameras, and its optical performance is consistent right across the zoom range. It can also focus very close for a standard zoom lens too, so it's very versatile. If you had to choose one standard zoom lens for your Olympus, this is the one to get.
Sick of changing lenses? Want an all-in-one solution? Olympus reckon they've cracked it with this impressive 16x optic, covering everything in between a wide 12mm (24mm equivalent) perspective to a telephoto 200mm (400mm equivalent). And, by and large, they've done it! The lens is great to use, delivering impressive results from a body that's not only lightweight and easy to carry, but is also weather-sealed and hardy. It's not perfect of course, with a narrow-ish maximum aperture and a few sharpness issues (all but unavoidable with a lens of this type), but it's a hugely impressive achievement of optical engineering and one that any Micro Four Thirds user will get a great deal of value out of.
Read more: Olympus M.Zuiko 12-200mm 1:3.5-6.3 review
Olympus makes five telephoto zooms and we only have space for three – but we still want to give a mention to the other two. The M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75‑300mm F4.8‑6.7 II looks amazing, with its 150-600mm effective focal length, but the truth is it's not the sharpest knife (or lens) in the box. And while the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 150‑400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO is a spectacular 300-800mm F4.5 ultra-telephoto, it is a massive lump of a thing, with a price to match. For sports and wildlife pros it's a must-have dream lens, but probably not for anyone else.
Olympus makes two 40-150mm telephoto zooms: the F2.8 Pro version below, and this one. They could not be more different. The Pro version is big, heavy and spectacularly good. This one is tiny, light and... well, let's not pretend, more adequate than spectacular. But you can forgive a lot in a telephoto zoom that's this small and this cheap. It's equivalent to an 80-300m lens in full frame terms, but a fraction of the size and price – it's a reminder of the advantages of the Micro Four Thirds format over APS-C and full frame systems. Yes, the sensor is smaller, but so are the lenses – often spectacularly so.
Every professional photographer keeps a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in their kitbag to combine telephoto capability with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture and controllable background blur for everything from wildlife to wedding portraits. The M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40‑150mm F2.8 PRO is the Olympus equivalent... except that it goes further. Its effective zoom range is actually 80-300mm, so it offers 50% more reach than a regular 70-200mm. (You might also want to check out what it would cost to get a 300mm f/2.8 lens for other formats.) Better still, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40‑150mm F2.8 PRO works with Olympus's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters to offer the equivalent of a 112-420mm f/4 or a 160-600mm f/5.6. It's like not one lens, but three (potentially)!
The M.Zuiko 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 IS perfectly illustrates some of the key advantages of the Micro Four Thirds format. Namely a compact and light weight lens that offers an incredible amount of reach for its size. With a focal length equivalent to 800mm at the long end, the M.Zuiko 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 IS is also compatible with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 2x Teleconverter MC-20 and 1.4x Teleconverter MC-14 – which means that you can extend the maximum focal length to an enormous 1600mm if you want or need to. The downside is it's not at its sharpest when shooting at its maximum focal length, while you can't expect an f/6.3 lens to achieve the same results as faster and more expensive optics. If you're prepared to make a few sacrifices though, this is a decent lens if you're looking for a portable lens that'll hit 800mm.
Olympus makes so many excellent prime lens that picking just three to represent the whole spread was VERY difficult. With that in mind, we have to mention some lenses that aren't on the list but deserve maximum respect. They include the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8mm F1.8 FISHEYE PRO (how is an F1.8 fisheye even possible?), the compact and classy 35mm equivalent M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm F1.8, the big but tasty M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 25mm F1.2 PRO, the dinky little M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 30mm F3.5 MACRO, the equally dinky and ridiculously cheap M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm F1.8 portrait lens, the amazing 150mm equivalent Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 and the remarkable M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 300mm F4 IS PRO telephoto prime. Phew.
Measuring a mere 58x42mm and tipping the scales at just 137g, this diminutive lens feels right at home on even the most compact MFT format body. Like the Olympus 17mm that we favour for street photography, this one is available in either a silver or black finish, and the hood is sold separately. Naturally, the 2x crop factor of MFT cameras gives this lens an effective 50mm focal length, delivering a classic ‘standard’ viewing angle with a fairly fast f/1.8 aperture rating. Image quality is impressive in all respects. Considering the prices of Canon and Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lenses for full-frame cameras, the Olympus doesn’t look terrific value. However, its performance fully justifies the price tag.
As well as making very compact and portable f/1.8 and f/2 primes, Olympus makes a series of whopping f/1.2 Pro primes too, and this is one of the most useful. Its 45mm focal length equate to 90mm in full frame terms, so this makes a superb portrait lens for Olympus cameras. Now we need to come clean about the MFT format and point out that the smaller format means you don't get the shallow depth of field of a full frame lens with this aperture, or an APS-C camera – its closer in its effect to f/2.3 on APS-C and f/3.5 on full frame. Even so, at f/1.2 the depth of field is extremely shallow and it's easy to blur backgrounds in portraits – and this lens has been designed to produce super-smooth bokeh too. Olympus's f/1.2 primes are pretty hefty brutes, but they are optically superb.
A focal length of around 100mm is often preferred for extreme close-up ‘macro’ photography. Due to this lens’s shorter focal length, the minimum focus distance drops from about 30cm to 20cm. However, those distances are measured from the focal plane, which corresponds to the position of the image sensor at the rear of the camera. With the more compact build of MFT cameras and lenses, the actual working distance between the front of the lens and the subject remains entirely usable, at about 10cm. Another bonus is that the 2x crop factor of the MFT format effectively boosts the maximum magnification factor from 1:1 to 2:1, or double life-size. The excellent quality of the weather-sealed construction is a credit to Olympus’s line-up of ‘Premium’ lenses, and the smart focus distance/magnification indicator is a bonus. Image quality is great overall, and the electronically coupled ‘fly-by-wire’ focus ring operates with smooth precision. It’s great for macro focusing, where you’ll often want to focus manually. All things considered, this is unquestionably the best macro lens on the market for the MFT system.
• Best camera lenses to buy
• Best Micro Four Thirds lenses
• Best Olympus cameras
• Best wide-angle lenses
• Best standard zoom lenses
• Best telephoto lenses
• Best cameras for travel
• Best professional cameras