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Thoughts on Olympus SHG Four Third Lenses, Including Video Usage

With my recent coverage of Olympus Zuiko SHG Micro Four Thirds lenses, I showed that the Olympus SHG optical performance trounces the best Leica M glass on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (28mm, 35mm).

  • Quality and value — the Olympus 7-14mm and 14-35mm covers the range of the Leica M 18/21/24/28/35/75 lenses and more. One zoom to rule them all, and at roughly 1/10 (one tenth) or so of the cost the Leica M lenses needed to cover the same range, and with demonstrably superior optical quality from the SHG lenses on the Olympus OMD E-M5.
  • Size and weight — the Olympus SGH 14-35 is equivalent to, and as large and heavy as any 24-70 for a full-frame DSLR. Basically, to achieve its superlative world-beating performance, the lens had to be huge and heavy. Leica M lenses have always aimed for being very small, and this forces optical compromises.
Olympus Zuiko SHG: 7-14mm f/4 ED, 14-35mm f/2 ED, 35-100mm f/2 ED
150mm f/2, 90-250mm f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8
(not to scale)

Design and usage goals

Every lens has design goals. Olympus did something unusual and probably money losing— very early on in the emergence of the Four Thirds format, Olympus committed to superlative quality in a form factor that is off-putting to most: the SHG lenses.

I hear regularly from readers something like this: “I was sick and tired of lugging my DSLR around, so I sold it and got X”, with “X” often the Olympus E-M5. Unfortunately, the SHG lenses put E-M5 users right back into the heavy and bulky playground. Such is the compromise.

James K writes:

One has to keep in mind that the top Olympus SHG optics are zooms. Imagine the hard work that went into creating these lenses. A very bold move by Olympus early in the MFT game.

Now you can see why I like the Olympus glass. Plus the lens mount is very sturdy and produces very little vibration. Build quality is top notch. I compared results with my Leica 90mm Apo f/2 ASPH and it was on Ebay the next week.

The images from the 90-250mm are really beautiful. Robust build with a great mounting foot that is virtually vibration free (very important).

You can see why Sony wanted to partner with Olympus. Very good fit- industry leading sensor with spectacular glass.

These lenses work well for video. Very few lens changes are necessary. Blackmagic will have a new MFT video camera with a fully functioning mount next year.

Olympus should be applauded for not compromising the SHG designation. They classify lens quality very accurately. When I see a fast prime SHG my hand will immediately grasp my wallet.

DIGLLOYD: professional video users don’t care about size and weight; they just want beautiful results. The SHG lenses deliver.

Will Sony work with Olympus on optics? Could be an outstanding match, as Sony NEX is badly lacking in lens choices. Would also make sense to drop Zeiss and let Olympus build the high performance optics for cameras like the Sony RX1.

My one gripe: Olympus has not brought the SHG quality to any of its prime lenses so far; they all show clear limitations, and all are inferior to the SHG zooms optically.

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