Olympus 25mm f/1.8 Review - Part 2: Real-World Shooting

Discussion in 'Micro 4/3 News and Rumors' started by napilopez, Mar 7, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Olympus 25mm f/1.8 Review - Part 2: Real World Shooting

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160​

    A couple of weeks ago, I posted my first impressions of the new Olympus 25mm f/1.8 prime, with several comparisons to the much loved Leica-branded Panasonic 25mm f1.4. Amin also posted his impressions along with several more technical tests of his own. Those threads should all have plenty of technical content to pore over. For part 2 of this review, other than a few crops showing off sharpness, I'm treating this lens as I would use it on the field. As such, my impressions are less about the comparison with other similar lenses and more just about how it feels using this lens day-to-day.

    As my usual disclaimer, my real world photos are typically processed to my tastes and mostly treated as I would shots from any other lens I own. That said, there is no cropping in these photos other than where mentioned, so you have an accurate sense of field of view and DoF. All photos are imported into Lightroom 5, and sharpening is set to 40, with a radius of 1.2. Some additional processing with Exposure 5. Most of the photos here were with a Lumix G3(yes, G3, not GH3), instead of my usual Olympus OM-D E-M5. Worth noting as the the two sensors render things differently, and the G3 isn't nearly as good in low light. Neither camera corrects for CA with this lens.

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/4 - ISO 160​


    So let's get this out of the way: this lens is super sharp. To be honest, so far I've been more consistently impressed with the sharpness of the Olympus 25 than the Panasonic, and this is likely because the Olympus seems to provide more even sharpness across the frame. After spending a long time pixel peeping at results between the two, my general impression is that the Panasonic is maybe a little sharper in the central portion of the frame-- I'm not even sure if it just appears sharper due to being a bit more contrasty--but the Olympus typically does better at the corners throughout the aperture range. After a certain overall sharpness threshold, I appreciate even sharpness throughout the frame more than just maximal resolution.

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/2.8 - ISO 160

    Quite sharp

    Wide open now:
    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160

    Still sharp - 100% crop:

    And it's particularly helpful when placing your subjects off-center, again, even wide open. A 100% crop from the header image:


    Heck, I could make a decent small print from that last crop. Seriously, if you need anything sharper than this, you better be making billboards or something.

    Shooting impressions:

    Now that that's over, I can get back to just shooting. I took a short trip to Florida with only my G3 and the Olympus 25--this was the first time I'd gone out shooting with a single lens kit in over a year, and it was great getting to assess the lens for its own merits rather than being tempted to directly compare to my Panasonic 25. It shouldn't come as any surprise at this point, but it's been a pleasure. It's small, light, quite to focus, and basically has no serious flaws. Although I was unsure of the difference the size reduction from the Panasonic 25 would make, I do find this kit to feel quite a bit stealthier and less imposing, particularly thanks to the small hood that's easily reversible. If you tend to use a hood, you will definitely feel less conspicuous on the streets.

    E-M5 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 3200

    Or taking ninja-shots of your friends:
    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160

    Or from the window of a car:
    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160

    Or during the night:
    G3 - Oly 25 - f/2.8 - ISO 800

    Of course, you'll get caught occasionally (cropped):
    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160​

    The lens is fast, focuses accurately, and does so decisively. As mentioned in my first impressions, in the daytime it feels a tinge faster than the Panasonic 25, and in low light a smidge slower (likely due to less overall light gathering). It seems to hunt less overall than the Panasonic, but you probably wouldn't notice unless you looked for it.

    Other than the even sharpness of the Olympus, one particular advantage it has over the Panasonic 25 is that it exhibits much less longitudinal (purple/green) chromatic aberrations. That's not to say the Panasonic has huge amounts of it, particularly not stopped down, but at wider apertures, the difference is noticeable. Whereas with the Panasonic I often found myself fixing fringing in post, I've yet to encounter a scenario where this needs to be fixed on the Olympus, despite shooting in many high contrast situations. Conversely, it suffers more from lateral(red/blue) CA, but to a very minimal degree overall, and this is something more easily corrigible.

    So where does the Panasonic win? Well, obviously there's the issue of light gathering; those 2/3rds of a stop can be the difference between 1/60 and 1/100, whether your subject is blurry due to motion. Given how much worse my G3 is at low light than my E-M5, particularly without image stabilization, the difference is noticeable in low light.

    When it comes to bokeh, I personally haven't found one lens to be superior than the other, but when it comes to overall quality, my preferences lie with the Olympus. Its bokeh seems to experience much less CA, which helps it look smoother in many scenarios where I feel the Panasonic would struggle. On the other hand, the Panasonic can just make more bokeh in the first place to compensate.

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160​

    On the other hand, given these advantages aren't very drastic, I find myself missing the Panasonic 25mm's "character", whatever that means. It seems to have some positive attributes that I enjoy, such as nicer flare, ever so slightly more contrast, and a bit of a warmer tone. The Olympus renders very much like the other high quality olympus lenses. High contrast without being incredible, very smooth bokeh transitions, slightly cooler colors than Panasonic's offerings generally provide, and nice, even sharpness across the image. Very similar to the 45mm f1.8, albeit a bit sharper and more contrasty, and the opposite when compared to the 75mm f1.8.

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160​

    The Panasonic also feels much more solid, and the difference becomes more apparent in the field. Doing tests on a tripod at home is not quite the same as quickly going into my camera bag to pull out a camera and/or switch lenses. My Panasonic 25mm has taken quite a beating in the time I've had it, and though the Olympus 25mm doesn't feel flimsy, I doubt it'd survive the same amount of abuse without more serious damage. The focus ring is also a lot nicer on the Panasonic, with smoother operation.

    So again, which one should you buy?

    Well, Amin broke it down nicely in this post, and I agree with pretty much everything he says. When it comes to pure image quality, I really can't place one lens above the other. Unlike with many DSLR lenses, the faster one isn't necessarily the better one.

    The Olympus is probably less flawed a lens, but it also simply can't shoot at f/1.4, and to many people, the "Leica" look and build quality of the Panasonic will be more appealing. As I like my bokeh and ultimately prefer the super-contrasty rendering, I'll be happily keeping my PanaLeica

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160​

    That being said, the Olympus 25 ultimately gets my nod for bang-for-the-buck thanks to costing $130 less at current retail, and is a more than worthy entry into Micro Four Thirds' list of excellent lenses. In fact, as the spiritual successor to much-lauded Olympus 45mm f1.8, the 25mm f1.8 outdoes its older brother with what I consider to be the best overall performance for your money on the system--and the street price hasn't even gone down yet. When a newcomer asks what should be the first lens they buy for their camera, this will be the lens I most point to.

    The Olympus 25mm f/1.8 is available for $399, and it's worth every penny.

    Please note that buying any product by going through the affiliate links in this article (or throughout the forum) helps Mu-43 keep growing.

    G3 - Oly 25 - f/1.8 - ISO 160
    • Like Like x 44
  2. natex

    natex Mu-43 Rookie

    Dec 22, 2011
    Nice concise review. Great photos. Thanks.
    • Like Like x 2
  3. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    Thanks Napier - nice review. Matches my experiences too. Only quibble I have is the price - I think this is over-priced in the UK at £369. Even at $399, it's expensive for an f1.8 standard prime.

    I did a little mini-review myself over on the UK e-Systems group. You can find it here: http://e-group.uk.net/forum/showthread.php?t=31804
    • Like Like x 1
  4. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Thanks! It's overpriced compared to standard lenses with other systems, but it also performs better than the equivalents. I think the issue here is simply that Olympus doesn't make enough to be able to price it more competitively. Hopefully as time goes on, the street price will come down significantly.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Great review, Napier! Enjoyed all the photos. Like you, I think I will keep the PL25 and sell the Olympus despite the Olympus being a "more perfect" lens and having less bokeh color fringing, which is something I really appreciate.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. speedandstyle

    speedandstyle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Thanks! I am going to get one but will wait until the price comes down a bit. That might not be till next Christmas but I am as patient as I am frugal!
  7. Jacquesass

    Jacquesass Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 17, 2014
    I find the "O25 is more sharp" finding from some sites to be curious. SLRgear.com's results sort of mesh with your opinions:


    You can click on the "blur index" on the right and it brings up an interactive chart.
    - At wide open, same center sharpness, but more corner blurring on the PL25
    - At f/2, slightly sharper center on the PL25, but with more corner blurring on the PL25
    - At f/2.8, sharper center on the PL25, more corner blurring on the O25
    - From f/4 on up, the PL25 is sharper everywhere than the O25

    I haven't shot the O25, so test charts may not equal real world performance ... but it's still curious. Great pics, btw!
  8. Driggs

    Driggs Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 27, 2012
    Portland, OR
    I havent used mine enough yet to get the hang of it, but I like what I see so far!

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xnbsx/12886989995/" title="20140228-P2280002.jpg by xNBSx, on Flickr"> 12886989995_1fc34f221e_b. "1024" height="768" alt="20140228-P2280002.jpg"></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xnbsx/12603671653/" title="20140215-P2150054-2.jpg by xNBSx, on Flickr"> 12603671653_5cf28074d1_b. "1024" height="768" alt="20140215-P2150054-2.jpg"></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xnbsx/12886996335/" title="20140301-P3010004.jpg by xNBSx, on Flickr"> 12886996335_05f7d5c708_b. "1024" height="768" alt="20140301-P3010004.jpg"></a>
    • Like Like x 4
  9. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    A few comments on this, as I've read both of these reviews before, and indeed was curious about results.

    It's worth noting that both of these lenses are already extremely sharp under SLRGear's testing parameters, but I find the drop-off in corner sharpness on the Panasonic to be more noticeable than any potential sharpness advantage it may have.

    There are two significant caveats to SLRgear's testing.

    1) These two lenses were tested on different cameras. If you look above the blur graph, the 25mm f/1.4 was tested on an E-P1, whereas the 25mm f/1.8 was tested on a GX1. Not only are these different cameras, they are also different resolutions, which can have significant effects on the results.

    2) SLR gear is part of Imaging Resource, and unless I'm mistaken, all of their testing is done on jpegs only. If you notice, in none of their reviews do they mention doing RAW tests, and indeed, their sample images are SOOC jpegs. There's nothing terribly wrong with that, it's just their policy, but the results of jpegs can obviously be very different from RAW files.

    Basically, comparing the sharpness results of these two specific lenses on SLR Gear is not incredibly useful. Not that my own words may be more helpful--it's not as if I were shooting test charts--but thought I'd point things out!

    These points are particularly pertinent as lenses can perform differently on different cameras and resolutions. For example, when tested on a 12mp sensor, the 25mm f1.4 generally performs better than the 20mm f1.7 overall in imatest results. However, mounted on a 16mp body, the 20mm f1.7 seems to perform significantly better. Roger Cicala is my most trusted authority on lens testing, and he shares his results of sharpness comparison of several wide angle M4/3 lenses here: http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/05/wide-angle-micro-43-imatest-results

    The 20mm f1.7 is on average sharper than the 25mm f1.4 throughout the aperture range (although the results suggest it may perform slightly worse in the corners). It's a very interesting result, because the anecdotal consensus among users always been that the 25mm f1.4 is sharper. The difference in results at different resolutions and anecdotal impressions is likely primarily due to the difference in contrast of these two lenses. At lower resolutions, a higher contrast lens will appear sharper than a "duller" one, because lines and edges are more clearly distinguished. However, once more resolving power is available, these differences can be lessened as additional detail is revealed.

    Anyway, moral of the story is use your own processing and make big prints and see which lens looks sharper for your own uses =P
    • Like Like x 4
  10. Jacquesass

    Jacquesass Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 17, 2014
    Thanks for the long, obviously thoughtful response. Cicala's blog post was also great, so thanks for sharing it.

    I think this may be the most salient difference in the lenses (excluding the non-optical price/size/weight/build).

    It seems like the fact that SLRgear compared the Panny lens on an Oly body (and vice-versa) would be somewhat helpful when comparing their tests. It also seems intuitive that being "sharper" on a lower resolution camera (P25 on a 12MP E-P1) would extend to being "sharper" on a higher resolution camera, but maybe not.

    Objectively comparing lenses is apparently harder than I thought - and that's just comparing compatible lenses on the same system! We appreciate you and Amin for taking the time to (subjectively) compare them.
  11. pointbob

    pointbob Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 2, 2012

    napil, Great shot - but I'd like to now how did you post process this? PS? Lightroom? filters?
  12. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Thanks! This was done with lightroom, a slight gradient filter to darken the sky, and otherwise just a Velvia filter from VSCO with reduced contrast.
  13. DigitalD

    DigitalD Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 10, 2014
    Thanks Napier, very thoughtful review. Seems you were in my neck of the woods? Looks like you were you in Miami?

    Love the shots and write up as always. I think the biggest selling point for me with this lens is the size. I love the 'smallness' of the MFT system and Oly doesn't disappoint there. Ill be keeping my PL25 but in the future, if an E-P5 or GX1 makes it my way i think I will be grabbing this lens. ;) 
  14. deang001

    deang001 Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 16, 2013
    Hong Kong
    Nice review and discussion ... you're a real credit to this forum. Cheers !!
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