Macro Imaging with Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds Cameras

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Question: Is there a “best” format for shooting macro close-ups? If you tell me “full-frame,” I won’t argue with you. I’ve taken many fine macro close-ups with 4 x 5" studio cameras, medium-format cameras, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, and even point-and-shoot cameras. And you know what? They’re all perfect in their own way.

Above image: Detail, old railroad tie (Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 30 f/3.5 Macro ED MSC)

Do larger-format cameras take sharper photographs? Yes. Do larger-format cameras allow for finer control over selective focusing? Yes again. But then again, the infinite depth of field afforded by the shorter-focal-length lenses found on point-and-shoot cameras has enabled me to capture more than a few incredibly detailed macro photographs using cameras costing less than $200.

So, if you were to tell me Micro Four Thirds is an appropriate format for shooting quality macro photographs, resolution aside, I’d have little reason to argue with you.

A key advantage of shooting Micro Four Thirds macro photography is that you get the resolving power and exposure control of a (relatively) larger-format camera sensor wrapped in a smaller physical camera body with the extended DoF qualities of a smaller-format camera sensor.

Photographs © Allan Weitz

Shutter Speed Dial, 1946 Leica IIIC (Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 with Lumix G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH O.I.S.)

Another plus of taking macro photographs with a Micro Four Thirds camera involves weight. Many Micro Four Thirds camera bodies and their respective macro lenses feature polycarbonate components, which make them lighter compared to competitive camera formats.

How light is light? The total weight of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II and three lenses was 2 lb 6 oz. The total weight of the smaller Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 and two lenses was a mere 1.83 lb, including a battery and memory card. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have trouble shouldering this sort of weight around all day.

From Olympus we road-tested two macro lenses: the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 and M.ZUIKO Digital 30 f/3.5 Macro ED MSC (120mm and 60mm equivalents respectively). The third lens from Olympus was an M.ZUIKO Digital 25mm f/1.8 (50mm equivalent) which, while not a macro lens, can be combined with an Olympus MCON-PO2 Macro Converter, which enables you to focus closer than the lens’s native minimum focusing distance of a mere 9.4". The fast (f/1.8) maximum aperture of the 25mm lens also allows for a fair degree of selective focusing, especially when focusing at closer ranges.

To go along with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 we tested a Lumix G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH O.I.S. and a Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. (60mm and 90mm equivalents, respectively).

It’s worth noting that virtually all macro lenses designed for use with APS-C and full-frame cameras are totally compatible with Micro Four Thirds format cameras.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II

To check out the macro abilities of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system, I headed out to an inactive train trestle I had recently discovered, about a half-hour drive from my home. It’s an old bridge that’s been straddling a meandering river for decades and, in that time, has become host to an assortment of rusting hardware and ancient timbers begging to be photographed up close.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with M.ZUIKO Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 (left), M.ZUIKO Digital 30 f/3.5 Macro ED MSC (on camera), and M.ZUIKO Digital 25mm f/1.8 with MCON-PO2 Macro Converter (right of camera)

CAVEAT: Photography on and around active railroad tracks is extremely dangerous, due to rail traffic. The tracks photographed here are no longer active.

An old train trestle was the subject of my Olympus photographs.

Both of the Olympus macros—the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 and M.ZUIKO Digital 30 f/3.5 Macro ED MSC focus down to life size and, as a bonus, the 30mm can achieve a 1.25x magnification ratio, which is pretty cool for a sharp macro that sells for less than $250!

As mentioned earlier, even though the M.ZUIKO Digital 25mm f/1.8 can focus down to an impressively close 9.4." If you screw an Olympus MCON-PO2 Macro Converter onto the front filter threads, you can focus on your subject even closer, while retaining the ability to shoot shallow focus close-ups at f/1.8.

Photographs captured with Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with M.ZUIKO Digital ED 60mm f/2.8
Photographs captured using Olympus OM-D E-M1 II and M.ZUIKO Digital 30 f/3.5 Macro ED MSC
The above photographs illustrate the difference between the closest focusing distances of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 25mm f/1.8 with (left) and without (right) the Olympus MCON-PO2 Macro Converter. Both images captured at f/1.8 (maximum aperture).
Additional close-up photographs taken with Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 25mm f/1.8 and an Olympus MCON-PO2 Macro Converter

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

To illustrate the macro abilities of our Panasonic test camera and lenses, we focused Panasonic’s Lumix G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH O.I.S. and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. macro lenses on a collection of classic cameras.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 with Lumix G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH O.I.S. (on camera) and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. (left)
Classic camera close-ups captured using Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 and Lumix G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH O.I.S.
Classic camera close-ups captured using Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85 and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S.

As you can readily see, it’s possible to capture finely detailed macro photographs using any of the abovementioned camera-and-lens combinations. Gear aside, all you really need is an interesting destination and a pair of open eyes.

Have you captured any interesting macro photographs using Micro Four Thirds-format cameras and lenses? We’d love to hear about it—and send us some pix.

#MacroPhotoWeek

Share your best Macro Photographs with us on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #MacroPhotoWeek for a chance to win a new macro lens and other prizes. Sweepstakes rules and regulations can be viewed here.

Additional macro photographs using Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses

11 Comments

Lovely images Alan.

Makes me wish I had some like these as well.

Thank you for the note regarding photographing on railroad tracks. It is just too dangerous.

Lovely images Alan.

Makes me wish I had some like these as well.

Thank you for the note regarding photographing on railroad tracks. It is just too dangerous.

The sweepstakes rules state that the entry and deadline are in 2016. Don't think anyone will be winning a macro lens with those rules. Please fix the smallprint of the sweepstakes. Thanks

I've had the Olympus 60mm macro for a while and love it. While I'm always looking for an excuse to buy a new lens, I struggle to find a reason to buy the 30mm macro or any short focal length macro lens. I tried one in the store, and it seems like you have to get so close to the subject that either the lens or your body casts a shadow. And if you shoot farther back, why bother with a macro? In the old days when people used a copy stand for things, maybe a short macro had a purpose, but now with scanners those days are mostly gone. Are lens makers still making short macro lenses just because of tradition, because they always have? 

I'm not trying to be a smart alec, I am legitimatly curious, as having tried one in the store, I just don't see why a person wouldn't either use a long focal length macro, or just use a normal lens if shooting further back. I appreciate any answer anyone has, as it's something I've wondered about for a while now, and would love an excuse to buy the 30mm Oly.

Very nice macro images Allan. You should do this more often!

A few months ago I bought the Olympus 30mm f/3.5. If you are not shooting flowers, butterflies and bugs but small objects and their details the shorter focal length seems more convenient to me. You have more depth of field. Shallow depth can be charming of course, but in most macro situations it is your main problem. Standing in my own shadow has not been a problem so far. Of course you can’t move the sun or a rusty bridge, but you can move yourself and the camera. And in my case the objects as well.

Many of the other non-macro Micro Four Thirds lenses can get you very close too. Like my seven years old retractable Olympus 14-42 f/3.5-5.6. An enlargement of 0.24X. Fills the frame with an object of 72 X 54mm.

Kruit,

Thanks for the kudos and accompanying comments.

We're also glad to hear you like what we're doing around here.

Regards,

AW

Hey Greg,

There are numerous reasons - both personal and logistically, of why a 30mm macro would be 'the best lens for the job. While you're corrct about shadows when working up close, by altering your lighting and/or camera position these issues can often be managed. Focal length is another issue. Depending on one's needs a 60mm macro might introduce too much compression to the subject, which can be problematic. A 30mm macro on a MFT camera renders perspective in a 'normal' manner. For many shooters this can be extremely important. Otherwise I agree with you - a 60mm works better for me when shooting close-ups with MFT cameras.

Thanks for taking the time to sound off!

AW

Did you try the Olympus OM1 using the hi rez feature - with an 80 mega pixel RAW?  I would be curious to know how it does with static macro since it should be perfect for improved resolving power.  I've been thinking about a shift to that camera from my Nikons but lost detail for my maro work is a concern.

No. I don't have camera that will do the sensor shift. Anyway, for the types of photos I typically do, It may not be much of an advantage. I am generally shooting wildflowers and often stack 5-10 images to achieve the focus on the flower that I want. A higher res image would be nice but I am not sure that sensor shift is the best way to do it. I stick with Olympous becasue of the lower weight of the camera and becasue I really like the 50mm f2 macro.

The E-M1 will do in-camera focus stacking with the version 4 update, though I think it is only with M4/3 lenses.  I don't know if the 50mm f2 macro is one of those.  I have yet to try this feature out. 

I have been thinking about the 60 macro.  Most of my experience has been with Nikon doing technical photography that rewards depth of field in focus, so I often gave up some sharpness by stopping down to get more of the field in focus.  This was usually OK because my pictures weren't being enlarged for a wall, just put into a report at max 4 in by 6 in and print resolution. 

I think that for a truly static shot (not wildflowers moving in the breeze) that the sensor shift would be a win.  I know that at least one reviewer, when evaluating the first round of sensor shift Olympus (I think it was the E-M5 II?) used one of the other lenses, the 75mm, because it has a higher resolving power than other lenses and they wanted to make sure that they were getting all the sharpness that the sensor shift was capable of putting out, for the test. 

I have shot many macro images with various Olympus cameras. I did a comparision of the legacy 50mm F2 and the 60mm f2.8 a couple of years ago. My preferred lens is the 50mm f2. Since I manual focus, the digital lens offers no advantage. If you are interested, the comparison can be found at my web site. 

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