I was planning to call this post “Failures of Micro Four Thirds” but found it unfair when viewing the massive lens catalogue. There are so many lenses available for different kinds of photography. How can there possibly be any missing lenses 10 years into the development of the camera system?
I got invested in the micro four thirds camera system in 2010 with the Olympus E-P2 and the Olympus 17 mm pancake lens. What I had hoped for was a compact “street shooter” with a sharp enough lens. The current vision of what I looked for is the Fuji X100 series of cameras. I favored the 35 mm focal length from using my 135 format film cameras. It’s my absolute favorite field of view, one that never feels awkward. What I found in the tiny pancake lens though was disappointing. It focused slow with hunting auto focus. It was never sharp with the 12 megapixels camera and suffered from severe cromatic aberrations and glow in contrasty lighting. Well, everybody knows how terrible it was except for lomographers. I became happier with my camera choice after replacing it with the Panasonic 20 mm pancake lens introduced with the Panasonic GF1 camera at around the same time. Two more lenses were added to the arsenal before upgrading to the Olympus E-M5 in 2012. The Olympus 12 mm lens and the Olympus 45 mm lens. The 12 mm lens was freakishly expensive at introduction and again I became disappointed. It’s certainly not terrible in the way only the 17 mm pancake lens can be but my lens is never sharp in the corners at infinity. To be fair I think I may have a “bad copy”, a problem that seems to plague micro four thirds lenses, gotta get lucky at the lens lottery to get a lens that is not out of alignment. The 45 mm lens is a gem though, sharp at all apertures and one of the cheapest lenses available.
In 2012 rumors began to circulate that Olympus were about to replace the poor 17 mm pancake lens with a new design. Hope arose, would I be able to procure a decent lens with my favorite field of view? Reviews were mixed, the Olympus 17 mm f1.8 was not a killer lens. It rendered favorably but was generally considered to be, if not soft, certainly not sharp. Why this obsession with sharpness? There are many other lens properties that are important but sharpness is immediately noticed. Few people want soft lenses! I gambled on the lens anyway in 2013 despite the mixed reviews, which I by the way found entirely accurate. It’s not a sharp lens. I’ve taken many photos with it that I like, but it’s not sharp! God damnit!
Fast forward to 2017 and the rumour mill starts whispering again. A 17 mm f1.2 pro lens is in the works. Will it be great? Will it be freakishly large? Will it be expensive? All true. Many camera forum dwellers had hoped it would be smaller than the existing 25 mm pro lens at the time. All the lenses in the pro prime lens trio are of the same size with the same filter thread size. This make sense. It’s pro lenses after all. Reviewers where ecstatic. A perfect lens! sharp edge to edge wide open! Resolution record! Bravo, bravo! Alas, the size is not my cup of tea. I have been tempted at times. It’s not expensive for what it is. It’s a much better value proposition than the 12 mm lens ever was. The size though! The lens is only balanced on the larger camera bodies such as the Panasonic G9 and Olumpus E-M1.
So finally the conclusion. What is missing in the micro four thirds lens line up? Optically excellent enthusiast wide angle prime lenses of the same caliber as the Olympus 75 mm lens with a similar target price. That lens is the largest lens that is balanced on the smaller “street shooter” camera bodies. It’s optical perfection and pixie dust!
The future of the micro four system is uncertain. Panasonic is playing on two fronts with the L-mount alliance and Olympus has sold the camera division to a new corporate entity called OM Digital Solutions. Most camera businesses seems to be unprofitable. Sales are collapsing due smartphones replacing dedicated cameras for non-enthusiasts. Therefor most new cameras and lenses move upmarket where margins are higher. OM Digital Solutions will focus on macro and telephoto going forward as that plays to the advantages of the micro four thirds system.
Still one can dream. In an alternate reality timeline I would have enjoyed the following large premium lenses. Lenses no larger than the 75 mm lens but with focus on optical performance rather than small size.
Pretty please with sugar on top?