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Olympus Super High Grade (SHG) Lenses for 4/3 and Micro 4/3 MFT

Olympus OM-D E-M5
Olympus OM-D E-M5

In Micro 4/3 Cameras Make the Grade, I mentioned the Olympus Super High Grade (SHG) lenses.

The Olympus SHG lenses are not only as good as Nikon and Canon lenses, they are almost certainly better. How? Because they are designed for a very high quality level (some pride there at Olympus methinks), they aren’t cheap, they aren’t small and light, and they only have to cover a sensor 1/4 the size of a full-frame sensor.

See my gear page for recommended Olympus lenses.

Things to know about Olympus SHG 4/3 lenses

See my review of the Olympus E-P1; it contains an evaluation of the Olympus 14-35mm f/2 zoom.

Here are some practical things that 4/3 and Micro 4/3 (MFT) shooters should know about the Olympus SHG full 4/3 lenses.

Practical considerations

These considerations might dissuade some users from the SHG lenses, rightly so.

  • The Olympus SHG lenses are all full 4/3 lenses, meaning that to use them on a MFT camera, you’ll need to use the Olympus MMF-3 adapter, or similar. This makes the already large and heavy SHG lenses protrude even more from the body. The SHG lenses are not available in Micro 4/3 mount.
  • There is no tripod socket on the SHG 7-14mm f/4 or the 14-35mm f/2; this is a headache because they are large and heavy enough that I would not want to bolt the camera in and have the lens weight exert a lever effect and thus stress the lens mount. Plan on supporting the lens by other means (e.g. beanbag), or shooting handheld only. This is not an issue for the 35-100 or other lenses, which have tripod-mount sockets.

Quality

  • Consider the SHG lenses as reference lenses for the 4/3 and micro 4/3 formats; you won’t find better lenses. The MTF charts that Olympus publishes show 20 and 60 lines / mm (NOT line pairs, as is conventional); Canon and Nikon show only 10/30 lp/mm; the Olympus 60 lp/mm charts in most cases look as good or better than Canon/Nikon/Zeiss 30 or 40 lp/mm figures, which is impressive. But if these are lines and not line pairs, then they drop to fairly normal levels—not so impressive.
  • The SHG lenses are a high quality world-class investment that will serve you for years. Presumably Olympus will push forward the full 4/3 format with a new E-6 or similar DSLR (the E-5 exists now, but is outdated); such a DSLR would mount the SHG lenses directly.
  • How about a 300mm f/2 equivalent? (the SHG 150mm f/2). I have one coming to test. Also a 600mm f/2.8 equivalent (the hand-built 300/2.8). And a 28-70mm f/2 zoom equivalent (the 14-35/2).
  • The SHG optics are not the only good lenses; the Olympus 12mm f/2 is a stunner (and native micro 4/3 so no adapter), and I expect the 45/1.8 and 75/1.8 to perform extremely well also (to be tested and shown).

See my gear page for recommended Olympus lenses.

Olympus Zuiko 14-35mm f/2 SHG zoom lens
Olympus Zuiko 14-35mm f/2 SHG zoom lens

Other lenses

The nice thing about 4/3 and micro 4/3 formats is that lenses from many brands can be used. For example, the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Micro 4/3 (50mm equivalent) can be used on Olympus or Panasonic camera bodies. With the terrific built-in image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, this should allow some very low-light shooting.

Leica M lenses can also be used with an adapter like the Panasonic DMW-MA2M adapter for Leica M.

Olympus Zuiko 14-35mm f/2 SHG zoom lens
Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Micro 4/3 Lens

Reader comments

Kit L writes:

I just used the 12/2 (and only this lens) to make over a thousand images during a gymnastics seminar (three days).

The background separation, even at ƒ2, is excellent, under the standard hideous lighting these venues have—and most at 1/30th, at ƒ2, at ISO 1000—that's not much light at all. The OOF areas are not as good as the 45/1.8, but for a WA, excellent, and the separation really helps the 3D feel.

DIGLLOYD: The Olympus 12mm f/2 is a must-have lens.

Andrew T writes:

The Olympus 14-35mm f/2 lens is why I held on to my Olympus DSLR for so long. Simply a stunning lens. I eventually broke down and sold them both because I never carried such a large, heavy setup. But I do miss it and I hope that in time they release a close to or comparable M43 lens. This weekend I'm renting the Panasonic 12-35/2.8 but I don't have the same expectations.

The E-M5 is certainly better than the E-5 in terms of overall IQ. Put that sensor in an E-7 and pair it with the 14-35/2 and watch out!

DIGLLOYD: Such lenses are worth holding onto.

I wonder if the SHG lenses are (in part) full 4/3 because the increase distance to the sensor simplifies the optical design (ray angle). Just a guess. Certainly a different back end could be put onto the lens, though this would not reduce the overall length on the camera versus an adapter.

I for one an hopping to see a 24 megapixel sensor from Olympus in a pro-grade body. The lenses can certainly deliver, it’s just a matter of sensor technology getting there with the requisite quality and noise characteristics.

James K writes:

The build quality of my 35-100 and my 90-250mm SHG lenses world class. Designed for digital applications and built for the long haul.

The 300mm f/2.8 is a custom build optic. Hand finished by a master lens maker. The tolerances are so fine that only hand polishing the glass can produce the required quality. Apparently there is only one tech at Olympus Japan who has the skills and experience required to work on the 300mm f/2.8.

DIGLLOYD: from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

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