1.5 years with the mighty Olympus 45mm f/1.8

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by fader, Nov 8, 2017.

  1. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    Photography has been on the back burner for me both life and career wise, so I've been reluctant to invest much into gear. I use the 45mm 1.8 as a general lens and it is, in fact, the only one I have with the Pen E-PL7. I've had to settle for this combo for financial reasons, and it's been a good one. This site and the wonderful community here has graciously provided over 1500 likes to my tourist snaps, all taken from a single body/lens combination. You have all helped me to maintain my sanity while working on some tough business ventures and a move to a foreign country - a word of thanks for that. The longish post below is a summary of some of the challenges I've had using the 45 as a general purpose lens, and as a landscape lens, which I find it ill-suited for.

    When I bought the camera I knew in advance that I would be unhappy with most of the zooms, and have kept myself from picking up one of the less expensive ones out of fear of disappointment. I still have a Canon film SLR kit back in the states, but have not shipped it over ... and I may never use it again. I'm spoiled with the IQ from the 45, but there are blind spots I have largely keep to myself. I'm posting this to share what I've learned with it, and also to see if anyone has had similar conclusions.

    Most of the issues I've encountered are for landscape style photography. So if that isn't an area of interest to you, fear not and pick one of these up for portraits, and save a big chunk of change over the 1.2 and 1.4 lenses. For the price and when shooting portraits, the 45 1.8 cannot be beat.

    Nits and woes

    AF issues: low light AF precision with my Pen E-PL7 (same guts as E-M10) is terrible, and it's not much better in good light. I never shoot with the AF point in automatic mode under any circumstance, it's that bad. The AF-S is lighting fast, and the fastest I've ever had on a camera, but 6 out of 10 times it's just wrong. I have learned to overcome most of these AF limitations by shooting in center-weighted metering, and expanding the AF box to 5x (the maximum). Using the touch screen I center the box over an intersection of the rule-of-thirds guide lines and then AF doesn't hunt at all. Example:

    AF-focus-box-45mm.

    If you keep it stopped down to f4 or higher a lot of the AF problems go away, and a quick manual correction w/ the focus peaking makes this a non-issue most of the time, unless the subject starts moving. My Pen shoots 8 or 9 FPS in burst, and this has worked surprisingly well for getting the dog / kids in action. C-AF issues are a big complaint on m43 and I have no shortage of them, but the work-arounds are largely sufficient.

    Face detection in low light significantly ups the keeper rate. unfortunately, 45mm in a living room or kitchen is too narrow. A sigma 30 or a 25mm lens is a much better choice for interior candids in low light. An inexpensive 25mm and an external flash unit is the only answer for interior low light candids. I won't harp on this too much, it's just to say not to expect too much from what we have, which is already quite a lot between IBIS and 1.4~1.8 glass.

    For general purpose shooting, the focal length is just plain weird. It's not long enough to be a tele, and not wide enough to use without stitching. At this latter task, it excels. I'll keep the pros for last.

    * focus breathing, I find, is a big problem on this lens. Especially so if you've classically composed a shot with near foreground subject and hyperfocal one like a mountain range or rocks, dunes, etc. Trying to blend a series of f4-f5.6 shots (a sweet spot) in photoshop is very tedious mask work, if you can do it at all. I've thrown away a lot of work at the coast (which was difficult to arrange time to shoot for) because of this. If you can shoot downward from a cliff it's okay, but flat'ish slopes with near-to-far composition is often a disappointment. You have to get it in a single shot or not at all.

    * diffraction is a problem after f8. This is true for most of m43, but it annoys me to no end as I often need f11-f16, even at ISO 200. Filter holders for this lens size are non-existent, so the result when stopped way down will be a mess of what I call fractured mud - there's a lot of detail in there, but it's hideous.

    * hyperfocal sharpness / rendering is ugly for often than not. I can see that it's sharp, but the rendering is kind of cold and there isn't much micro-contrast. If the light is at oblique angles the sensor on my EPL7 washes out very early. When I compare to images from 12-40 pro and 12-100 pro, I just can't pull that kind of contrast, clarity, or color with the 45mm in landscape. The light has to be pretty soft for it to work. If it's shooting into the sun or shooting in hard light then there's no forgiveness, even in post. There is, ironically, virtually zero lens flare.

    * inconsistent corner sharpness. even at f5.6 ~ f8 and a fast shutter (> 1/125), I often see this lens exhibit softness in 1 of 4 corners. But it rotates ... If you want a square shot of a flat subject with corner-to-corner sharpness, you'll need multiple takes and a tripod. This could be specific to my copy of the lens, but it vexes me quite often.

    * night sky. forget about it ... I get significant coma in the corners with exposures longer than ~ 2 seconds. Any longer than this is a problem at this focal length because of the earth's rotation. My attempt to stack 20~30 night sky shots out of the 45mm was a failure. It looks like old webcam images I used to take with my meade ETX-90, but without the convenience of the micro drive. I think this is largely due to how this lens renders when focused to infinity.

    Pros:
    • lens flare: virtually zero. when shooting into bright lights and/or the sun. Flare control this good is awesome at any price.
    • barrel distortion: virtually zero, and what little there is easily fixed in post. don't fix it and try to tell the difference. most often you can't.
    • chromatic aberration (purple fringing): virtually zero. even shooting directly into a brightly lit tree top I almost never see any CA.

    If you're careful with the FOV and find a subject within 20~30 meters, the surgical consistency of the lens makes for wonderful stitched images. I often shoot a 5 image grid like this:

    stitched_example.

    The result is ridiculously easy stitching with perfect corner-to-corner sharpness. It's a bit more work in post, but since the 45's so close to being distortion free, the stitcher algorithms work quite quickly, and are extremely tolerant of body rotation to get all of a scene. Less than 10 meters and the nodal point gets to be an issue, but that's true for any lens in the same focal length. Bottom line - getting around the weird focal length is easy. Don't have the bottom of the door? 2 snaps, one up and one down, will stitch perfectly. If the subject is moving, get a center shot of them in 1 frame, then when they move out of the frame, shoot down to the right to balance it out the composition in post. no problem.

    Conclusion

    This lens is a superior optic that is tuned for portraits, it's as simple as that. It's a hard focal length to master for general usage and the characteristics will leave you a bit disappointed if shooting it as such. When it shines for the purpose in which it was designed for - obvious subject shot with background separation between f2- f4, it is stellar. Cars, pets, horses, people, and other objects with lots of dimensional depth will absolutely sparkle at the lower apertures, and you cannot get this level of quality in another system at the same price point.

    Given the highs, when shooting everything else it can be deeply frustrating. I give it a solid 3.8 of 5. Again - horses for courses. A $300 f/1.8 portrait marvel is a great value by any measure.
     
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  2. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    How do you handle vertical lines when shooting a stitched image like that @fader@fader? I'm assuming that you're rotating/tilting the camera to capture the four outer frames, which would distort the vertical lines. Does your stitcher account and correct for this? What software are you using to stitch?

    While I no longer own the 45/1.8, I do own the 42.5/1.7 from Panasonic, and agree with you. The quality of the images these lenses deliver make the larger and faster portrait options a tough sell IMO. The Panasonic has better sharpness IMO, but the Olympus has smoother bokeh.
     
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  3. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    @ijm5012@ijm5012 - I use Hugin on a linux desktop, exclusively. Even with crappy a dual-core Celeron CPU I can stitch up to ~ 10 198MB TIFs in native resolution in less than a 1/2 hour. Time shrinks considerably if working in 16bit TIF or 2500px on the longest dimension. JPEGS at full resolution stitch pretty fast. I did play around with exporting the project file to text and ran a stitch job up on my servers on amazon's AWS cloud service. nerdy and a bit pointless :)

    I don't bother with worrying about vertical lines at all when composing for a stitched image. CPFIND stacked/rows is my default algorithm in Hugin. I take care in not rotating my body too much and fire away. Closer subjects won't line up without accounting for the nodal point. I've had a nodal ninja on my wish list for a while now, and to be honest, I think 17mm is probably as wide as I'll ever go on M43 with primes given my luck with stitching. I can put together 30~50 megapickle images very easily, which has left me with no envy really for the hi-res shooting modes on the higher end Olympus bodies. Most of that data is getting thrown away, anyhow. What I've learned there is that dealing with 30~50 mp images is mostly just a pain in the backside unless you've got a verybeefy computer.

    What messes up a multi-row stitch more than anything is shallow DOF. Anything less than 5.6 tends to be a no-go, resulting in blurry patches in the final image. Here's an example I'm working on right now of an abandoned driveway. 2 shots at 5.6. I exported these to 32 bit tif at native resolution from darktable with no further edits (aside from neutral base curve). The result is a 20 megapixel image after the stitch. no other PP or sharpening here beyond resizing to 1600px, which I did in one jump at 16 bit. normally I set my precision to 32 bit and scale down in 2 or 3 steps to retain sharpness. this is what it looks like before beginning editing.

    yucky_driveway_stitch.
     
  4. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Nice post. A couple questions for ya...

    Are you saying that the AF works better or that the increased DoF makes slight AF misses not be apparent? Because shouldn't the lens AF at f/1.8 no matter what aperture you have your shot set for (only closing down after to take the shot)?

    While holders for the tiny lens are non-existent, how about a simple screw on Neutral Density filter simply for the ability to allow the camera to open up the aperture in brighter daylight? Those are readily available in 37mm size for not a lot of money. For example I see a Tiffin 3-stop one on B&H for only $16.25. That would take your f11-f16 shots down to f4-f5.6, getting you below that f8+ diffraction problem.
     
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  5. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    Q1 - that’s exactly what I’m saying. More DOF means that focus isn’t so critical. 1.8 is pretty unforgiving at this focal length. I tend to manually tweak focus with both focus helpers enabled, which has helped significantly at wide apertures.

    Q2 - I might have to give up and try one of those, thanks for the info! I have been reluctant because usually there’s an IQ penalty with the cheap ones, and at 16mp I’m already working from a deficit.
     
  6. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Ya certainly avoid the cheapo no name (or weird names you have never heard of) ones sold on ebay and the like. But I would guess most of the known lower priced name brand ones, like Tiffin, aren't garbage. And then of course if you are willing to spend more you can go for brands like B+W and other similar brands that are usually considered on the upper end of the quality (better glass, coatings, mounting ring, etc.). But even with in the same brand you can find a wide range of "models" with an equally wide range of prices. I am not always convinced that some of the super expensive ones give you much more than a mid level model, but there are choices for how ever much you are willing to spend. :)

    I see B+W, as an example, have a 3-stop 37mm ND filter is single coated for $33, multi-coated bumps it to $58, while the so called "XS-Pro MRC-Nano" coated puts you at $70 (all prices from B&H Photo). Makes you wonder how much real world improvement you see paying over twice as much for the "XS-Pro MRC-Nano" over the plain old single coated. Or likewise paying twice as much for the SC B+W compared to the Tiffin.

    I am sure I have seen web pages with comparison testing of various ND filters. You might search for some of those and see if after looking at a few if certain brand or models stick out as being a safe bet or to avoid.
     
  7. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    982
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    I use Haida filters (slim pro II MC) for 30$ approx in 52 mm diameter and I've been perfectly happy with them.

    And working the 45 mm, the problem may not be the 16 Mpix... the resolution of this lens is not impressive... at least on my sample.
    I won't even speak of high apertures, but even at f/5.6, borders were not sharp (center was fine).
    For me it was a very good portrait lens, but I was disappointed for a "landscape" use, and I didn't even tried stitched panoramas with it...
     
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  8. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    okay, it's not just me then. I've seen some jaw dropping landscapes from this lens in the gallery thread that I could never reproduce. I suspect we're fighting sample variation, as they made quite a few of them.
     
  9. SojiOkita

    SojiOkita Mu-43 Top Veteran

    982
    Feb 23, 2014
    France
    There is sample variation on this lens.
    I compared to another sample that was a little better, but not much. I've read some user that had both poor & very good copies of this lens, and I find P42.5 / O45 comparisons where the O45 was very good, and some other where the O45 was not sharp at all.
    Considering the number of "poor" lenses, that probably mean that they are "good enough" for Olympus.

    It's a quite cheap lens, so that's not shocking. I've taken some pictures with this lens that I really like (mostly portraits).
    But as I also wanted to use this lens to shoot lanscapes (I find that this is an interesting focal length for landscapes, sometimes using it wide open).

    I've since replaced it by a Panasonic 42.5 f/1.7, and I'm perfectly happy with it. It's a more versatile lens to my taste.
    (which doesn't make the O45 f/1.8 a bad lens... it's not just what I wanted).

    The main problem with my O45 is that as the borders/corners were very soft at f/1.8, so if I shot wide open, with a focus point in the border/corners, no part of the picture was sharp.
    The point where I focused was soft because of the lens, the rest was out of focus.
     
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  10. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    re filters and DOF.

    1) maybe I wasn't clear about the DOF issue. The problem isn't that I want to get down below f11, it's that I need f11 or higher to get sufficient DOF for near + far style landscape shots. That can be a challenge at higher focal lengths, and because of the focus breathing, blending at lower apertures often isn't a (clean or easy) option. From looking at 12-100 and 40-150 pro threads, there just doesn't seem to be such an issue with diffraction around the higher focal lengths for those lenses as there is with the 45mm.

    2) both NiSi and Lee have a great square filter package for m43 systems, and each has an adapter for 37mm and basically all popular m43 lens sizes. I think the NiSi system looks the best bang for the buck. I used a 3 slot square holder on my SLRs and have little interest in anything else. Especially for gradient filters - being able to clock and adjust it on the fly is a must. So rather than frustrate myself with a screw on 1-3 stop filter, I just do without.

    New body and lenses will come early next year, so I'm not sweating it. Most likely a 12-60 f/3.5 panny zoom and 17mm f/2.8 are going on the Pen, and I'll use something nice for more purposed shooting.
     
  11. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    You are far better off taking separate images focused in different areas of the scene (one near, one mid, one far), and stacking them in Photoshop on different layers. Then what you can do is brush in the specific focal areas from the different images to get around the focus breathing issue.
     
  12. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    It is indeed a very useful focal length for certain landscape shots, and that's what makes it so frustrating. On the verge of greatness ... but no.
     
  13. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    I know - but this is far too tedious work to do with a mouse, especially when you've got a bit of carpel tunnel like me. I'm a software guy by trade ... I don't think there are any post tricks I haven't unearthed. One thing that can make that a bit easier is to make a pass w/ enfuse and use the --save-masks option. If you have a shot where breathing isn't an issue, enfuse will average it out really well and save a bunch of time in photoshop or gimp. There's a lot of settings to weight exposure, contrast, and saturation during the process.

    edit: here's an article that gives you a tour of using enfuse for focus stacking. In most cases they're expecting macro type shots. my luck with blending landscape has been pretty mixed, but the masks it generates can be useful.

    Focus Stacking Macro Photos (Enfuse)
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
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  14. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    Here's a pic to do some pixel peeping, shot at 1/30s, f8, ISO 200. camera was on a gorillapod wrapped around a sturdy log based hand rail above this beach, and it wasn't windy. Antishock shutter setting with 2sec delay. Manually focused ~ 1/3rd in to the image. The foreground is at least 30 meters away. First 1:1 crop from the top and the second crop is from the bottom. these are screen caps from my raw editor, Darktable. no sharpening has been applied or changes other than olympus profile base curve and horizon straightening.

    Top of the image. Clearly you can see that we've resolved the far left rock outcroppings in the distance at infinity, which are about 10 km away as the crow flies. The rocks in the right hand frame around 5km away.
    1for1-distance_45mm-test.

    I know the lighting is bad and robbed of any precious light to lend some contrast. But this is as good as it gets. In good / dramatic light, any ol' lens will do to make a contrasty scene in the blue hour. I never have time for those kinds of shots. This 1:1 crop is from the bottom of the image.
    1for1-45mm-bottomrocks.

    and here's the whole mess, output from raw w/ virtually no edits. It's alllmooost there in having some good bones. Some selective sharpening and saturation, a bit of dodge and burn could spruce this up and make it look presentable. But it's missing something. The rocks and the reddish vegetation is muddy looking and sharp at the same time. It's a head scratcher. Atmospheric conditions are part of the problem. If you look at the sides, there's definitely no problem here with sharpness at the edges.


    oct29__1010155.

    Mostly I should just export to 800px on the long end and stop peeping, otherwise I'm going to end up with one of those dreadful Sonys.
     
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  15. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Man I wish I could find an article I read on this which what I came away with (I should have saved the link) was that rather than aiming 1/3rds of the way in like you did or trying to use the so called hyperfocal distance is instead to focus at the furthest distance you want to maintain details and then setting your aperture to some calculation based on the focal length being used. I forget that calculation as well but made notes to myself for some of my lenses as P12-35 (f2.8-f4)-(f7-f11), O17 (f3.4-f5.6), O25 (f5-f8), O45 (f9-f15) and then of course I never got around to playing with it to see if there is a decent improvement using that method versus just focusing a 1/3 of the way into your scene. I will search a bit longer and see if I can find it. I recall it being an older article and he may have been shooting film. Will post back if I find it.
     
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  16. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
  17. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    @PakkyT@PakkyT I Just reread your comment - huh! That sounds cool so I’m googling for it, too!
     
  18. Joe Smith

    Joe Smith Mu-43 Veteran

    208
    Mar 6, 2016
    Funny that you mention "virtually zero chromatic aberration (purple fringing)" in your pro list. Mine shows a considerable amount of purple fringing in the focus plane, even moderate situations. Actually, I consider purple fringing the biggest issue of this lens. And the background blur shows very pronounced green fringing.

    I guess there is a lot of sample variation with this lens. Not surprising considering the low price and the cheap construction.
     
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  19. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    473
    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Isaac
    Yeah, for sure swap it. DxO rates CA better than panny 42.5 1.4

    I’ve only seen slight CA once or twice in ~10k shots.
     
  20. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    I looked for a while and couldn't find that specific article. I did find some others that promote focusing at infinity instead of the hyperfocal distance, but the one I wanted to find was a good one because he gave a good explanation that gave some details like how much a small object way off in the distance would be covered by how much of the film or sensor when in focus and how closer in objects would still resolve well enough, etc.

    Looking at those settings I gave above again it would appear that the advice must have been to focus at the furthest off object you want to maintain decent focus and then set your aperture for your focal length divided by somewhere in the range of 3 to 5. So your 25mm lens /5 is f5 and /3 is approx. f8 for example.