The best Micro Four Thirds lenses offer all the optical quality, build quality, specification and features of any rival system, but have a couple of very specific advantages. The Micro Four Thirds format may use a smaller sensor size than APS-C or full frame cameras, but this means that equivalent lenses are (1) a lot smaller and lighter and (2) a lot cheaper to buy!
The Micro Four Thirds lens mount is used by Olympus and by Panasonic, in its Lumix G range – as well as by some other companies such as Blackmagic Design. Technically, you can use either brand of lenses on either camera, though in practice many users will probably stick with own-brand lenses, which is why we've split them into two sections below; one for Panasonic lenses, one for Olympus.
Olympus has had its share of troubles in 2020 with its sale to an investment group and speculation about its future, but the latest announcements suggest it will come back fighting fit in 2021, perhaps even with new cameras.
Panasonic, meanwhile, has been quite clear that it sees its Lumix G series as being entirely different to its full frame Lumix X range and aimed at a different kind of user – and that it has every intention of continuing its MFT cameras and lenses.
One of the things the Micro Four Thirds system is most famous for is the fact that it is based around a relatively small image sensor, especially compared to full-frame cameras, against which it provides a 2.0x crop factor. The main takeaway is that lenses for Micro Four Thirds will offer a longer effective focal length than it says on the box: a 50mm Micro Four Thirds lens provides the same perspective as a 100mm lens on a full-frame camera.
We're used to applying a 'focal factor' for APS-C cameras to work out effective focal lengths and it's just the same here, but with a larger 2x focal factor. At least the maths is easy!
While they tend to be relatively small, the best Micro Four Thirds lenses are certainly no lightweights in terms of build quality and performance. They’re usually beautifully engineered and deliver excellent image quality. Typically, they have stepping motor autofocus systems, which give rapid and highly accurate performance for stills, as well as delivering virtually silent, smooth focus transitions when shooting movies.
Olympus and Panasonic are the two main manufacturers of MFT format lenses. Many of Panasonic’s lenses feature optical image stabilization, whereas most Olympus lenses rely on in-camera, sensor-shift stabilization.
We've also ordered the lenses by their maximum focal length, from widest to longest, so it should be easier to find a lens in the perspective you're looking for.
So let's get to the lenses!
Best Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses in 2021
The Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f2.8 II Asph Power OIS is a standard zoom Micro Four Thirds lens that gives the same kind of performance and versatility as a pro-grade 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera body – but, typically for an MFT lens, it comes in a much more compact, lightweight package. Indeed, at 305g, it’s only about a third of the weight of a comparable full-frame optic.
Even so, the lens is no lightweight in terms of build quality, with a robust and weather-sealed construction. Centre-sharpness is excellent throughout the zoom range, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8, and corner-sharpness also becomes impressive at f/4 and narrower apertures. It’s the best Micro Four Thirds lens for everyday shooting, with the bonus of effective optical stabilization.
The Leica Nocticron legend is reborn for the MFT format in this metal-bodied beauty of a lens. It has a well-damped, smooth-action focus ring and useful aperture ring, both of which boost the overall handling characteristics. The 2x crop factor gives the lens an effective focal length of 85mm which is perfect for portrait photography. The flip side is that, because depth of field is linked more closely to ‘actual’ rather than ‘effective’ focal length, the MFT system struggles to give a really tight depth of field, compared with full-frame and even APS-C systems.
This lens fights back with a super-fast f/1.2 aperture rating, which helps to reduce the depth of field and give soft, creamy background blur in portraiture, as well as enabling fast shutter speeds even under dull lighting. And for when you want to use narrower apertures, there’s also optical stabilization, which is almost unheard of in f/1.2 lenses. Image quality is absolutely sumptuous. For portraiture on MFT cameras, this is the best lens that money can buy. It’s seriously expensive but, then again, Canon’s 85mm f/1.2 full-frame ‘portrait’ lens is getting on for twice the price.
The perfect supplement to Panasonic’s 12-35mm f/2.8 lens (at number one), the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f2.8 II Power OIS is equivalent to that other stalwart full-frame zoom for pro photographers: the 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto. Again, the popular ‘effective’ zoom range of this lens is delivered from a high-grade, weather-sealed construction that’s rugged and robust, yet only about a third of the weight of equivalent full-frame optics.
As with the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8, you need to stop down to f/4 before corner-sharpness really gets into its stride, but overall levels of sharpness and other image quality attributes are outstanding.
Superzoom lenses are often favored for travel photography, as you get everything from pretty generous wide-angle coverage to long telephoto reach, without the need to carry multiple lenses. Superzooms are also useful when you need to react quickly to different shooting scenarios, or you don’t want to swap lenses on your camera in dusty conditions.
The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH Power OIS has a powerful 10x zoom range and an effective 28-280mm focal length. Unlike similar lenses for full-frame cameras, it’s wonderfully compact and lightweight, yet retains optical image stabilization that’s commonly found in superzooms. Better still, while most superzooms compromise image quality in favor of a big zoom factor, the Panasonic delivers very good sharpness and contrast throughout its entire zoom range, even when shooting wide-open.
A zoom range of 100-400mm would give a powerful telephoto reach on a full-frame camera but, in MFT terms, you get a whopping ‘effective’ maximum focal length of 800mm. As we’ve come to expect from Panasonic’s up-market lenses, the Panasonic DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f4-6.3 Asph Power OIS is sturdy, robust and meticulously engineered. Highlights include a locking mechanism for the zoom ring and an autofocus range limiter switch. The effective optical image stabilizer is very worthwhile, given the enormous effective focal lengths on tap.
Even though the lens weighs nearly a kilogram, it’s still sufficiently lightweight for prolonged periods of handheld shooting. For added comfort and stability, the lens comes complete with a mounting foot for well-balanced use on a tripod or monopod. Image quality is superb, with excellent sharpness right up to the maximum 400mm zoom setting. The f/6.3 aperture rating at the long end of the zoom range is relatively ‘slow’ but quite typical for this class of super-telephoto lens.
Best Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses in 2021
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.
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.
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.
This lens is a few years old now, but it's still widely available and has garnered a reputation as being one of the best lenses around for Micro Four Thirds. And with good reason! The Olympus 75mm f1.8 M.ZUIKO is a solid prime lens in a useful focal length (equivalent to about 150mm), and it really provides a premium handling experience thanks to its all-metal construction and smooth focusing ring. Olympus included some of its best coatings in the construction of this lens, ensuring smooth images free from reflection and stray light, while that f/1.8 maximum aperture gives the user tremendous leeway in low light while also being useful for portraits. It's a little less expensive than it was on release but can still be quite pricey, so do be sure to shop around.
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.
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.