Olympus 25mm f/1.8 Impressions Part I: Panasonic Comparison - Build, Perspective, Brightness, Bokeh,

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Feb 22, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    12702331535_06e8891c6f_z.

    Olympus’ long awaited 25mm f/1.8 prime for Micro Four Thirds is finally here. Coming in with a more affordable price point than its Panasonic f/1.4 competitor--$399 vs $599/~$529 street--forums are sure to be populated with questions about which prime to choose over the other. There are a few other available lenses of similar focal length it’d be interesting to compare to, namely the 20mm f/1.7 and the 25mm f/0.95, but unfortunately I don’t have those lenses on me, and they are not as similar as the two I’m assessing here.

    I’ve been playing around with the two 25mm's for a few days now, and though I haven’t had much chance to bring them outside, I’ve been able to make a few technical comparisons. Part II will assess sharpness more critically, as I haven't done conclusive enough testing yet, but will primarily focus on real world shooting. There have been some other comparisons out there already (please, let’s not let things get out of hand), but you may nevertheless find my own results interesting!

    As a disclaimer, the Panasonic 25mm is my own personal copy, which I bought used and has since seen its fair share of abuse in the year I’ve owned it, but the glass is completely clean. The Olympus variant is a completely new copy. The lenses were tested primarily on an Olympus OM-D E-M5, with some tests on a Lumix G3, and all images shot from either lens are unedited JPEG or RAW files unless otherwise noted. In these comparisons its always important to keep in mind potential outlying factors like sample variance or other imperfections, so don’t take everything here as absolute.

    Build and Operation: more than meets the eye

    Panasonic’s 25mm spends much more time on my camera than any other lens, so I was curious to see what Olympus would bring to the table. I never thought that the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 was burdensome (as long as I’m not comparing to the tiny 20mm f1.7), but my first impression of the Olympus was that it was noticeably smaller and lighter--196g vs 134g, according to my kitchen scale. That said, the Panasonic also feels much more solid. Not that the Olympus feels flimsy at all--construction is similar to its 45mm cousin--but I’d trust the Panasonic to survive a drop more. I will not, however, be testing this with my review units, so don’t ask.

    The Panasonic 25mm both is both wider in diameter and about a centimeter longer to accommodate its wider aperture. Not too much of a difference, but noticeable. The Olympus 25mm is slightly shorter and slightly wider than its 45mm cousin, although the 45mm tapers to nearly the same width near the mount.

    12702806024_4e9f9c1198_z.

    That being said, if you factor in the hoods that both 25mm include (yes, Olympus is including hoods now!), the Olympus turns out to be way more portable. Not only is the hood itself about half the length of Panasonic’s, it also includes a fancy new feature called “reversal” which allows you to mount the hood backwards to save space. Amazing! (That was sarcasm, makers of non-reversible hoods everywhere.)

    12703023094_077c16d358_z.

    12702709613_2c3f57d774_z.

    I don’t particularly care about hoods much, but might as well use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em, right?

    Perspective and Distortion: 25mm>25mm

    It’s been mentioned before, but the Olympus 25mm is indeed ever so slightly wider than its Panasonic counterpart. I’m torn as to how significant this difference is; you wouldn’t be able to tell which lens a photo was shot with simply by looking at the perspective, but the little extra wideness of the Olympus might just come in handy in the tightest of spaces, or when trying to take pictures across a dinner table.

    Panasonic (RAW)
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    Olympus (RAW)
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    Panasonic (RAW)
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    Olympus (RAW)
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    This difference is consistent on both my E-M5 and G3, so the body has nothing to do with it.

    But there’s a bit more to that story. At first glance,the Panasonic also seems to exhibit less distortion than the Olympus, but this is only partially true. As Micro Four Thirds includes software distortion correction as part of its standard, the PanaLeica can get away without showing the reality of its optical distortion, which doesn’t fare nearly as well.

    Panasonic uncorrected
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    Olympus uncorrected
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    In fact, the Olympus’ uncorrected RAW looks nearly identical to the corrected files. As fixing barrel distortion generally means sacrificing some corner sharpness, it’s possible Olympus chose not to implement strong software correction in order to maximize corner-to-corner performance. You will also notice that the Panasonic’s uncorrected field of view from corner to corner is nearly identical to the Olympus’.

    Brightness and Vignetting

    Well, this was a surprising result. While previous impressions had suggested the Panasonic 25mm was consistently 1/3rd of an EV darker than the Olympus, but I found pretty much the opposite when shooting at wider apertures. It seems that the additional vignetting of the Olympus causes ever so slightly darker overall exposures at f1.8 (I have shading compensation OFF), a result also consistent on both of my bodies. This may very well just be a case of sample variance, and is not very significant in my opinion.

    Panasonic (RAW)
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    Olympus (RAW)
    12702794475_3d0d1c1da7_z.

    Stopped down to F4, I no longer notice a difference.

    Panasonic (RAW)
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    Olympus (RAW)
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    This outdoors sample showcases the difference a bit more dramatically (there was no cloud cover, and results were consistent across several frames):

    Panasonic (RAW)
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    Olympus (RAW)
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    You might also be able to see the difference in the other samples here, such as the books below being slightly darker in the Olympus shots.

    Bokeh:

    Bokeh can be a pretty subjective matter, but the difference between these two lenses boils down to this: the Panasonic can produce more of it, the Olympus produces cleaner results. It can be difficult to visualize whether 2/3rds of a stop makes a noticeable difference, so I tried to use point light sources to create bokeh circles you can easily compare in size. I also used a book that was approximately head-sized so you could get an idea of what sort of bokeh you could expect from portraits.

    From the same camera shooting distance (note the Panasonic is physically longer, and therefore slightly closer to the subject):

    Olympus - f/1.8 (RAW)
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    Panasonic f/1.8 (RAW)
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    Panasonic f/1.4 (RAW)
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    More important are the results matching subject magnification:

    Olympus f/1.8 (RAW)
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    Panasonic f/1.8 (RAW)
    12700823134_9f0470cafb_z.

    Panasonic f/1.4 (RAW)
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    To test the quality and shape of the bokeh circles, I created an image with several white dots on it, which I displayed on my monitor. Note that although I tried to match magnification and focal plane for these images, they may be slightly different, and thus this comparison is more about the shape and quality of the bokeh than the sheer amount.

    Olympus f/1.8 (RAW)
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    Panasonic f/1.8 (RAW)
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    Panasonic f/1.4 (RAW)
    12700812034_ac77454ac4_z.

    Both exhibit a noticeable cats-eye effect at the very edges, but the Panasonic’s bokeh has a “dirtier” look to it. However, it nevertheless produces more of it, and the “dirtyness” will generally only be visible from point light sources.

    Other notes:

    --The Olympus definitely focuses faster than the Panasonic 25mm, although the Panasonic is hardly a slow lens. This is true on both my E-M5 and G3. It seems to be more accurate and hunts less.

    --…. Most of the time. The Panasonic actually consistently focused faster with less hunting in lower indoor light. This is probably simply due to the fact that the Panasonic just lets in more light in the first place, and thus has an easier time focusing in the dark. The Olympus is still very fast by any standard, but it would hunt more as light diminished.

    --Manual focusing is much better on the Panasonic. The Olympus’ focus ring feels pretty smooth, similar to the 45mm, but operation seems to be rather jumpy compared to the silky PanaLeica.

    --The Olympus has a noticeably closer focusing distance than the Panasonic.

    --The Olympus lens is quieter, although the Panasonic is hardly loud. Have not noticed any aperture rattling on it either.

    --Both lenses are very sharp wide open, and more than sharp enough for my needs. However, the Olympus does seem to show more even sharpness across the frame, which may be due to less software distortion correction. Need to do more testing.

    --Overall contrast seems excellent on the Olympus 25, closer to the 75mm f1.8 than the 45mm f1.8, and I've noticed no tendency to flare abnormally with or without the hood.

    --The Olympus has a slightly cooler tone, as noticeable in the white walls of the brightness example.

    What should you buy?

    It depends.

    Were you expecting a different answer? I honestly think to 95% of users, any difference in optical performance between these two lenses is essentially negligible, and preferences will come down to budget, weight, size, and brightness. This isn't like the differences between f1.8 and f1.4 primes on other systems.

    If you don't shoot at night all the time, the Olympus variant seems like the better choice. It's smaller and lighter, quicker to focus, and most importantly, cheaper. But if, like me, you do spent a lot of time shooting in low light, the Panasonic offering still provides 2/3rds of a stop of extra low light performance, which also helps it focus in darker settings, as well as a sturdier build and smoother manual focus feel. I would probably recommend the Olympus over the Panasonic to most newcomers simply because it's cheaper (and will probably get even cheaper as the street price drops), and overall optical performance doesn't seem worse, just ever so slightly different.

    Either way, Micro Four Thirds just added another prime to its list of excellent optics.

    The Olympus 25mm f1.8 is available for $399, whereas the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 can be had for $529. Can't go wrong with either!

    Part II may have a few more technical tests, but mainly I look forward to being able to take the lens out in the streets properly.

    Please note that purchasing any product by clicking the links in this article helps Mu-43 grow.

    Addititional samples

    I’m including some additional real-world samples, which are processed to varying extents via LR and Exposure. A couple also show very slight motion blur.


    f/5 (RAW)
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    f4.5 (RAW)
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    f/4.5 (RAW)
    12701959275_14317be20e_c.

    f/1.8 (RAW)
    12702435404_1cd0e6c8a5_c.

    f/1.8 (RAW)
    12702962344_0c347afc7d_c.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. Cruzan80

    Cruzan80 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    Denver, Co
    Sean Rastsmith
    Is it just me, or does the orf viewer show Pana a slight bit wider? Looking at the bottom left of the frame, where the wood thing is on the ice, and a bit of snow on concrete. Any chance we could get corner crops from the un-corrected (and maybe corrected) files so as to see exactly how much wider each would be in each situation?

    Overall, great clean review. Looking forward to hearing more about it in part II. Will you reveal which one you are likely to keep long-term, and why?
     
  3. speedandstyle

    speedandstyle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Great review, can't wait for part 2.
     
  4. snaimpally

    snaimpally Mu-43 Top Veteran

    572
    Dec 31, 2012
    Thanks for the analysis. Olympus has really upped its game in terms of lens quality.

    In terms of your response "It depends" to the question of which lens to buy, I suspect the Panasonic lens would be better for Panasonic camera owners because of the OIS built in to the lens. Panasonic should bite the bullet, license 5-axis IBIS from Olympus, and build it into their bodies. It would make the Panasonic lenses smaller and cheaper.

    Also, it would be nice if both Olympus and Panasonic would coordinate their lens roadmaps so that we end up with a wider range of lenses rather than having 2 versions of every lens.
     
  5. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Actually, the Panasonic 25mm has no OIS whatsoever, so Olympus users in fact have a performance advantage there. I also forgot to note this in the review, but Panasonic bodies correct for CA on their lenses, but Olympus only just started doing this with the E-M1. The E-M5 doesn't have automated CA correction, but I didn't do Amy proper CA tests.
     
  6. Art

    Art Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2011
    San Francisco, CA
    DoF difference is definitely noticeable between f1.8 and f1.4. I use my Panny 25 wide open at f1.4 most of time including outdoors (w/ND filter). The weight is ok but I wish the size would be smaller. I would be most interested in seeing low light pictures of people with Oly 25 at f1.8 vs Panny 25 at f1.4.
     
  7. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    Tom
    Great comparison, thanks. I'm curious whether your testing in Part II will show the same differences SLRGear found (Panasonic slightly sharper in the center, perhaps a tad less sharp at the edges). But I agree so far with one of your conclusions: resolution differences are probably not the reason someone should pick one lens over the other. They're more different in other ways.
     
  8. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Dara
    Faster focusing in low light on the PL 25/1.4? That makes me feel better somehow...

    It sounds like the uproar over the t-stop of the 25/1.4 vs. the 25/1.8 was probably much ado about nothing given that the Olympus was actually darker here at f/1.8 than the Panasonic. Thanks for sharing your results.
     
  9. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Yep, I myself figured that the Oly probably had a worse T value, but my results show there to be little difference, and if anything, the other way around. That's not to negate other results, could be anything from sample variance to use of vignette-fixing. I probably wouldn't have noticed a difference has I not been looking for it.

    As for focusing, it depends on the subject, but on average, the PL25 would consistently hunt less indoors. Ironically, the difference was more noticeable on my E-M5 than my G3. I do want to emphasize the difference is really not that much though, and that the mZD is still faster in most circumstances. Perhaps I'll make a video.
     
  10. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 25, 2012
    Australia
    good comparison, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next part!
     
  11. fortwodriver

    fortwodriver Mu-43 Top Veteran

    959
    Nov 15, 2013
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Frank
    Actually, if Robin's copy had a faulty aperture blade or two, or suffered from aperture asymmetry like some Sigma lenses that could account for a t-stop difference ...
     
  12. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Vin
    Another great write up Napier! Both seem like fine lenses, a win win situation if you ask me.
     
  13. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Thanks, and that's what I hope the general takeaway is!
     
  14. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    799
    Oct 28, 2013
    Great review - really enjoyed the read. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this for us.

    Subjectively to my eyes, the Olympus looks more clinically accurate but ignoring the differences in light gathering, I much prefer the overall Pana-Leica rendering personally.

    The rendering reminds me a lot of the classic 35mm summilux.

    I could see a clear case for owning both actually as both are excellent - It's a bit like asking somebody if they would prefer a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.

    Another excellent piece of glass from Olympus.
     
  15. Thanks for the write-up, Napier.

    The reason why I am considering the MZ25 in place of the PL25 is because I find that the latter does not really reach proper levels of sharpness until f/2.8 which limits it's apparent advantage of a 2/3 stop wider maximum aperture. Centre sharpness is reasonable at wider than f/2.8 but that doesn't help a lot when your subject off-centre. I would wager that if the MZ25 is sharper across the frame wide-open then it's focusing will be more reliable when using an off-centre focus point because all lenses focus wide-open. If the MZ25 can still display some kind of "character" like the PL25 at wider apertures it's going to be hard to resist.

    As a side note, I wonder if the debate over transmission between the two lenses is solely due to vignetting at wide apertures. With shading compensation turned on, is the vignetting from one lens corrected more than the other?
     
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  16. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    826
    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Good question Nic; I'll have to get back to you on the vignetting correction.

    So far, I do think the MZ25 is more evenly sharp across the frame, even if I'm less sure of which has better maximal sharpness at equal apertures.

    Testing for character is going to be hard, as that is probably my main concern here too, and I haven't shot nearly enough to fairly judge that. That said, the MZ25 renders very much like Olympus' other high end lenses, and my first impressions are that it's a little more clinical than the PL25, although I was also surprised by its contrast levels.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    673
    Sep 27, 2013
    FR
    Do you shoot more with your gh3 or your omd5? The latter looks damn sexy with the oly while the gh3/4 will feel better with the pl. Also there is that leica logo doing its thing...

    Personnaly I won't buy the oly unless I shoot a oly body...
     
  18. Very difficult indeed, unless you can somehow devise a method for measuring and graphing the "character units" of a lens :smile:
     
    • Like Like x 1
  19. Andym72

    Andym72 Mu-43 Veteran

    330
    Mar 4, 2013
    Reading, UK
    Thank you, that was a good read.

    In summary, you can't go wrong with either. The m43 lenses are an embarrassment of riches.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  20. zpierce

    zpierce Super Moderator

    661
    Sep 26, 2010
    Minneapolis, MN
    Zach
    Looks like a real winner, thanks for sharing your time and energy for the write up!

    Personally, I have had the PL25 for a few years and would need it pried from my cold hands before I gave it up. I won't argue better or worse on technical merit, but it's the only lens I've ever owned that has that noticeable extra special rendering. That frequent 3D pop it creates takes my breath away every time. I've had some of the other prime hits (45 1.8, etc) and not experienced that on any of them. I'm not saying the Oly can or can't do that as I haven't seen enough samples, but that alone is worth the extra $100 to me. I recently picked up the 12-40 as well and while also clinically sharp it also lacks that pop.