Great Bokeh On Micro Four Thirds

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I’ve been meaning to do a lens post for a while now. This is quite a geeky little look (but by no means hi-level profesh!) at a range of micro four third lenses to show that you can get just as good blur and bokeh as on bigger frame DSLRs…

Let’s face it, in the world of blogs it’s all about the blur, right? Or bokeh, if you prefer (bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to the quality of the blur – often down to personal preference.) This is one of my favourite creative aspects of photography, isolating a subject with shallow depth of field to such an extent the background is a dreamy hazy blur and one of the main reasons I use only prime lenses (the other being I like how you’re forced to work harder with a prime, having to move about to get your shot).

Also, I know there are super duper zooms out there that can produce great blur, but I just don’t know which ones as I haven’t used them, so sorry I can’t help you on that! From my understanding and experience so far, to get great blur ideally you need a prime lens of 1.8 aperture or lower – most of the top personal style bloggers work with a 50mm 1.4 or even 1.2 lens – and to get close in to your subject and allow lots of space behind.

A POTTED HISTORY OF MY LENS JOURNEY

When I was deciding to switch from my old DSLR to micro four thirds one of my main concerns was whether I could get the same results as I was getting with the much-loved Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. After a little online research, I realised it was not only possible, but there were all sorts of options to explore in addition to the Olympus range, including the mind-blowing dreamy haze of old Olympus manual 50mm lenses, 1.4 apertures from Panasonic and heavy-weight, ground-breaking lenses like the Voigtlanders with apertures stopping down to 0.95. Micro four thirds lenses made by other companies like Panasonic and Voigtlander will fit straight onto an Olympus, whereas the older OM lenses need an adapter.

My day to day arsenal of lenses include the Olympus 75mm 1.8 which I like to use for outfit posts as well as more detailed work – but it’s such a long lens you need to back away loads to get your subject in shot – the Panasonic 25mm 1.4 (which I haven’t featured here as my test shot was on the wrong settings – sorry!) and the very neat Olympus 17mm 1.8, which is great for travel and city shots as you can get so much in frame. The Olympus 45mm 1.8 is a beauty too and great value for money in the world of lenses, which is an expensive ones unfortunately. I say, go cheap on the body and spend on the lenses!

THIS POST…

All my test shots were taken on the brilliant little PEN E-PL7 (update: these all work with the new model Pen E-PL8, the new little sister camera to the E-P5 which is my main camera. I actually often take both out with me with a different lens on each to save changing lenses! In this post, I wanted to show you what a range of micro four thirds lenses opened to their widest aperture can do… I  sort of tried to set up ‘test conditions’ but being an inconsistent type haven’t really kept each shot exactly the same, so it’s only really for general demonstration to show the amount of blurring of each lens. In terms of editing, I did a small amount of brightening & contrast in Lightroom on each shot, all exactly the same…

WHAT TO BUY?

If you’re looking to buy your first prime lens, out of the lenses I’ve used, I would definitely go for the Olympus 45mm 1.8. It’s a great blogger lens as you can get gorgeous blur, lovely detail shots but also use for outfit shots (if you have enough room). It’s also the cheapest lens here coming in about £220. Alternatively, you could go for an old OM 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 lens on eBay which are less than £100 and you can pick up a cheap converter (OM – M4/3) for under a tenner. Next step would depend on what you do the most of – for travel, street style and city shots I’d go for the 17mm 1.8, but if you are getting very serious about detail shots, blur and portrait you might want to consider saving up for the 75mm 1.8. I also find myself using the Panasonic 25mm 1.4 practically everyday. Not cheap, but then lenses ain’t a cheap game I’m sorry to say.

Disclaimer: As an ambassador for Olympus, the Oly lenses I use are on loan and the others I have paid for myself or borrowed from a friend!

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SAY HELLO TO CUBEBOT!
Also before we start, a special shout out to the Cubebot I use as a prop throughout! A beautiful traditional wooden toy sent to me for Gus by the lovely Molly & The Wolf (for those of you with kids, check out the site and get 10% off with Stylo10). While I’m on the subject, I should mention that Molly & The Wolf run a lovely monthly crafts club for kids which you can sign up to for £15 a month for which you receive a surprise craft project – this month it’s a fun little guitar which Gus and I have been hard at work on!


 OK, NOW FOR THE LENSES AND ‘TEST’ SHOTS… 

OLYMPUS 17mm 1.8

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The 17mm is a great all rounder – a ‘shorter’ lens it offers less depth of field blur (see below) than the rest of the lenses but is a perfect street and travel shooting lens. I also think it’s one of the nicest looking lenses on the Pens sizewise…


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Above test shot on Olympus 17mm 1.8


 OLYMPUS 45mm 1.8

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The 45mm really is a gorgeous bright portrait lens, with lovely blur. Like all Olympus lenses its widest aperture is 1.8 but you do get a really nice result. And look how lovely and bright the shot is… You can also augment your 45mm with a fun little macro adapter which allows you to get super close to your subject and get some great detail and blur, this is about £70 so won’t break the bank.


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Above test shot on Olympus 45mm 1.8


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Shot on 45mm with macro converter


OLYMPUS 75mm 1.8

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The Olympus 75mm is an absolute dream of a lens, just incredibly bright and beautiful blur but you have to have room to get your shot. It also costs a bomb and it quite a big lens on the Pen, but with my experience of this lens I would definitely save up to buy it…


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Above test shot Shot on Olympus 75mm 1.8


OM 50mm 1.2

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TIP: FOCUS PEAKING FOR MANUAL LENSES

When I was researching M4/3 lenses that would do a good bokeh job, this OM 50mm 1.2 came up again and again as a bit of a holy grail lens for the beautifully dreamy shots it could create. I tracked one down on eBay for about £250, swiping it from under the nose of quite a few other bidders – I have quite  a brutal eBayer bid technique! I bought a cheap adapter and got completely obsessed with the lens – you can see some of the shots here, very soft and dreamy.

It also got me comfortable using manual and I figured out how to use focus peaking on the Pen. Focus peaking highlights the area of your shot in focus even with a manual, so very useful as sometimes it can be hard to judge with your eye. Turn on you focus peaking on the Pen E-P5 and E-PL7 by going to Menu, Custom Menu, Button/Dial and then assign a button (I use the Fn button for this) to Peaking.


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Above test shot on Olympus OM 50mm 1.2 – used with adapter – you can see how much more of a softer shot this takes. I think I could have got in a bit closer with this, and wish I had to compare more accurately to the shot below! 


35mm 1.7

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I discovered this fun little $15 CCTV lens while geeking out on You Tube. This cheapie is identical or practically identical to the real SLR Magic lens which is a bit more expensive – it’s a manual lens that comes with an adapter (I bought it from here, took a few weeks to arrive) but as you can see you can get a great shot… Actually really impressed by the test shot, I should use this more! (In fact, I was so surprised at how well this shot came out, I’ve just done a re-test against the other manual lenses which confirms it’s amazingness; it definitely seems sharper close up on the needles than the Voigtlander which seems crazy – but as a I mention below this Voigtlander wide open is considered to be quite soft. The 35mm also seems to excel in brightness, although I think it aberrates more but this can just add to the arty look which I like!


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Above test shot on 35mm 1.7 – see how close it allowed me to get in!


VOIGTLANDER 25mm 0.95

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Equivalent to using 35mm film, I find 25mm micro four thirds lenses extremely useful – it’s a great size to cover off a variety of situations, shooting outfit posts, snapping food in restaurants and getting good detail shots! This is a super luxe manual-only Voigtlander 25mm 0.95 lens I borrowed from a friend. With a 0.95 aperture it’s as wide open as you can get for a lens that fits straight onto a M4/3 camera. I’m not sure I’ve entirely done this lens justice with this shot, but you can see the blur of the cubebot is extreme! However, as you can see it is quite soft wide open, apparently this lens is at its sharpest at f/2.8. The other lens I have my eye on is the Voigtlander 42.5mm 0.95…


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Above test shot on Voigtlander 25mm 0.95


Phew, this has been a whopper of a post! I’m not sure how useful it has been, but it’s been quite fun to put together and got me thinking more about lenses. Do let me know any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help. Also would love to hear your experiences with any of the older manual lenses… Peace out, bokeh buddies.

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Julia! Ever since purchasing my E-PL7 I have absolutely loved it. I found this post really helpful as I’m trying to learn exactly how different lenses affect the shots and research the type of lenses to think about getting next. Prime lenses are definitely the way to go! Keep up the amazing work! Thanks, Tash x

    1. Hi Tash – that’s such great news! Yes, you really get to see the capability of the Pen when you start using primes… The 45mm would be a great starting point! Drop me a line if you’re thinking about buying, might be able to help out again! Jx

  2. Fantastically helpful Julia! I’m a newbie to the world of bokeh and shallow DOF (not recognising it, but in the ability to achieve it) so this is just the information I was looking for.

    Thanks again, C.

  3. Wow!
    Amazing review.

    I recently adquire my pen EPL7 (for instagram), I love your pics, I got DSLR, but maybe I’ll start working more with this one for Fashion Blogging.

    I’ll probably buy the 45mm 1.8

    One question, Do you use the art filters? or just do a RAW and the edit on for example in Lightroom?

    Again thanks a lot!

  4. Oh wow! I just left another comment on another article of yours asking for lens advice, then found this article – perfect! Really great to see the results of the different lens – so much easier for a beginner like me!

  5. Hi I have the Olympus ep6. Do u know of a compatible lens equivalent to Canon 50mm 1.4? I’m looking for one to take portraits, and of (fast moving) kids, Tks!

    Love ur post btw!