Is this a good lens for this camera?
May 17, 2016 10:53 AM   Subscribe

My partner is a novice photographer, and I'd like to buy her a new lens for her camera (Olympus PEN E-PL6 micro four thirds). Can you help me pick the right lens?

She currently only has the stock lens, 14-42 mm zoom f3.5-5.6.

I know nothing about photography. My goal is to get something that will compliment her current lens, but since she's still a beginner I don't want to dive into something too high-end, and price is a factor for us. We do a lot of outdoorsy stuff so currently most of her pictures are of mountains/sunsets/wildlife etc, but I know she's interested in taking more pictures of friends/family at parties and the like, and the occasional action shot when we're playing sports.

I've read this article which is very helpful but is the total extent of my knowledge. Based on it, I'm considering I understand that the 25mm is something everybody should supposedly have. Right now I'd rather increase the range of the types of photographs she can take rather then just improve on something the kit lens can do OK -- is the 25mm still the right choice? Price being a factor, I'm currently leaning towards the zoom lens. Is this stupid?

posted by no regrets, coyote to Technology (11 answers total)
Best answer: Prime lenses are awesome - but given your criteria, I'd get her the 40-150 zoom. Why? It's hella cheap (can be had new for $150), it's actually pretty sharp (still nowhere close to a prime, but good for a zoom), and it's brighter at 40mm (80mm equivalent) than the 14-42 at that same focal length (4.0 vs 5.6).

The brightness will let you take better portraits in tougher lighting, and the extra reach will yield better sports photos. It should be said that sports photos are hard. If you're zoomed in, you'll still be struggling with light, camera shake, and focus. Even if you were to spend 10x what the 40-150 costs, all of these things would still be problems - the best way to address those problems would be to read up on sports photography, for example at sites like:
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:20 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The third lens on your list, the 20mm f/1.7, is the lens that I got several years ago, when I started to get a sudden, dramatic improvement in the quality of my own photography. I can't say that the lens itself is responsible for it -- it just may be a matter of timing. But I do have a certain emotional attachment to it, and it does perform quite well. Despite being a single focal-length, it is actually quite versatile in practice. And it's currently selling for USD $270, so you might be able to find a better deal on it.

The first lens is hard to recommend. While it might be OK (not great) for wildlife and sports photography, it won't be very good for landscapes, and pretty useless for indoor photography, unless you want to exclusively take portraits of people's faces.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I really like the Panasonic Lumix pancake lens on my EP3 MFT.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would get that 25mm prime. The prime does increase the range of things you can photograph; that lens has a low f-number (low f-numbers gather more light). It means you can take photos at night without using a tripod or in a dark house lit by birthday candles or in a bar lit with dim lights. The low f-number also means you have shallower depth of filed, so if you shoot a photo of a person the background will be much blurrier which allows you to better focus on the person and no the background.

The kit zoom is plenty of zoom, so I would skip the $200 option, the $500 option is really similar to the $300 option, but way more expensive.
posted by gregr at 11:56 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Either of the first two are good choices. I have a m4/3 camera and have the stock 14-42 and the 40-150. The 40-150 is a decent complement to the 14-42 and really extends the range--it's long enough for decent wildlife shots. Downsides are it's slow and only decent image quality. The 25mm prime probably has much better image quality, better than the cheap zoom she had, and is nice and fast at f/1.7; a 50mm f/1.4 is my primary Nikon full-frame lens (they have equivalent lengths).

But, for landscapes, I'd go wider. Look for a 10 or 12mm prime that's fast--at least f/2.8 but more like f/2 or 1.8. That would be a great pick for somebody who shoots what's she does. I think the Panasonic 12 might be out of your price range, but look at the Rokinon manual focus lenses, which are sharp as hell and affordable.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the reason people generally take pictures of landscapes outdoors and group shots indoors is because those are the kinds of pictures most aligned with either smartphone cameras or kit lenses. If you want to take those same photos, just better, than get a prime somewhere betwteen 18mm to 50mm full frame equivalent (so 9-25 for micro four thirds).

Now, if you want portraits and sports, you need longer, brighter, and (at least for sports) faster to focus. The Olympus 40-150 delivers all of that vs. the 14-42 kit. If you want to maximize image quality and low light performance over flexibility, I really like the Olympus 45mm f1.8. Yes - 45mm for m43/90mm full frame is longer than most people typically shoot, but it will enable low light/indoor photos that your current kit lens doesn't have a chance at. Same thing with the 40-150 - that will also do things your current kit lens just won't do. Both will result in better pictures if for no other reason they'll look different than most people's. And I think in a good way - I've found that shooting long results in me taking way more shots of people and candids than I used to.

One thing to bear in mind - even though micro four thirds is an open standard, lens/body brand compatibility matters in terms of autofocus performance. For example, Olympus lenses focus much, much faster on Olympus bodies vs. Panasonic, and vice versa. Both the 40-150 and 45 focus crazy fast on Olympus PENs. The Panasonic 20 f1.7 is amazing for low light, but its autofocus performance is quite slow, in comparison.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:27 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have the Olympus Pen (E-P2) and then upgraded to the OMD EM-1, and I have that 20mm 1.7 lens you linked to and love it dearly. I've shot with it almost exclusively for about five years, starting out as a novice photographer doing a 365 project. The advice I read at the time was to buy a good prime and to embrace the constraints it gives you while enjoying the beautiful results. In terms of versatility, I've shot portraits and landscapes and everything in between. It's super flat which means I can carry my camera around wherever I want (my Pen fits in my pocket) - I think that 25mm is much chunkier which is worth keeping in mind. I don't take many action shots - it's not an action lens.

I agree with NoRelationToLea that the autofocus isn't too fast - I found that for me, the low light performance was way more important, and just adapted my shooting style (I shoot using backbutton focusing so I'm not such a slave to autofocus)

After five years I finally feel like i'm outgrowing this lens and am looking at this lens - but it's taken me that long to start to seriously look at alternatives.
posted by ukdanae at 2:22 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wide can be simulated somewhat with stitching. I'd go with the telephoto. Not only would it be a lot better for sports than the kit it'll be useful hiking too for wildlife.
posted by Mitheral at 2:24 PM on May 17, 2016

Best answer: Any of those lenses are fine, I would lean towards the 20mm a classic lens for the system, or the zoom.

Both are different, will push in different directions. If she mostly takes indoors, portraits, social events, get the 20mm.
posted by smoke at 7:48 PM on May 17, 2016

Best answer: 25mm is the classic 'normal lens' length. The 20mm is also a 'normal' lens. It's a matter of personal preference. One way to find out which suits a photographer best is set a zoom to a length and leave it there while shooting a variety of subjects, then repeat with the other length.

The 40-150mm is widely considered an excellent value for those who occasionally shoot longer than their standard zoom. Between the E-PL6 focus speed, the lack of a viewfinder and the relatively slow (large f number) lens, shooting sports when the subject is moving towards or away from the camera usually produces many out of focus shots.

Enough photographers try and move on from lenses to make a good market for used lenses. KEH Camera in Georgia has a well earned reputation for giving accurate 'grades' to their items and standing behind their warranty. They're as close as your UPS store (or similar). They also buy used gear.
posted by Homer42 at 3:31 PM on May 18, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks all! I ended up finding a good deal on the panasonic 25 mm so I grabbed that one. All the answers were super helpful in getting some context on this.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:43 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

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