September 24, 2018

Olympus 25mm ƒ/1.2 PRO

The definitive prime lens for Micro Four-Thirds

In my review of its sibling, the Olympus 17mm ƒ/1.2 PRO lens, I called the 25mm PRO my workhorse lens.

It spends more time on my E-M1 Mark II than any other lens, and it tends to be the first lens I reach for. With a field of view equivalent to the standard” 50mm in full-frame terms, this is an established favourite for general shooting.

Still, there’s a lot of apprehension around these ƒ/1.2 PRO primes…do they make sense? Are they in keeping with the Micro Four-Thirds ethos” (as interpreted by each user)? Is it silly to spend so much money when you could get shallow depth of field for less money with a different sensor size?

I remember feeling the same apprehension when I bought it, not too long after its release. At the time, I was still shooting two systems: Fujifilm and Olympus. I was doubting the wisdom of shooting two systems with such similar capabilities, and wondering if there was a chance I could get results with my Olympus setup comparable to what I was getting with Fujifilm in a few key focal lengths.

Their 35mm ƒ/1.4 lens (also equivalent to a 50mm FOV in full-frame terms because of the APS-C sensor size) is simply sublime, and I thought it was almost unfair to put the Olympus 25mm ƒ/1.2 PRO against it in a comparative shootout. But I did it anyway.

And the Olympus won.

I loved the Fujifilm lens because, despite being slow to focus, it has a beautiful, special sort of rendering that you can’t help falling in love with. It’s why I kept it even after buying the smaller, faster, weather sealed XF 35mm ƒ/2 lens for my X-Pro 2 when that was released.

Even so, the Olympus managed to pull ahead not just in the obvious categories where it wins by default—focus speed, weather sealing, build quality—but also in that special secret sauce category where objective measurements stumble and the heart takes over interpretation.

Before feathered bokeh” was even a glint in the Olympus marketing department’s eye, I knew I was looking at something exceptional when I examined the images from the 25mm PRO. The lens separates subject from background more effectively than I expected—even as an Olympus shooter, I apparently had some latent pre-conceived notions to overcome. The quality of the out of focus regions is soft, flattering. The fall-off from in-focus to out feels precisely tuned for aesthetic appeal. The rendering is contrasty, engaging, and real.

All this while not sacrificing on any of the basics: stunning sharpness, contrast, and acuity even shooting it wide open. Near-instantaneous focus acquisition. Precision build with focus clutch and weather sealing. I don’t think Olympus gets nearly enough credit for the sheer quality of their lenses. They deploy world-class optical prowess on their high-end glass.

Suffice it to say, comparing the Olympus to its Fujifilm sibling was among the final straws in my eventual decision to consolidate my work down to shooting just Micro Four-Thirds.

I’m still happy with that decision, and that’s about the most honest and pragmatic praise I can offer. I consider this to be one of the standout lenses in a system that has no shortage of good glass, and I firmly believe it deserves a place in every professional Micro Four-Thirds shooter’s bag.

If you’re looking to start your collection of PRO primes, this is the one to get first.

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