Lens Kit Choices

Regardless of the interchangeable lens camera format that we may choose to use, it is critical that we make the right lens kit choices for the work that we do. This article discusses some of the considerations that come into play when making lens kit choices.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 IS PRO @54 mm, efov 108 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-1600, Hand-held Hi Res Mode

Anticipated Camera System Life Expectancy

When buying camera gear it is fairly common that the lenses we choose will outlast the initial camera body we buy. In many cases the investments we make in lenses will keep us married to a particular brand of camera for many years. It is simply far too expensive for most folks to completely convert their camera/lens system to a different brand. Divorces can be very expensive.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/.2.8, efov 120 mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-1250, subject distance 225 mm

Over the years I’ve met countless other photographers who feel ‘locked in’ to a particular camera brand because of the substantial investments they’ve made in lenses. The camera body we buy may represent the ‘sizzle’ in our kit… but the lenses are the meat and potatoes of photography.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 90 mm, f/5.6, efov 180 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-5000, subject distance 1.2 metres

When my wife and I were considering making a commitment to the Olympus system. we assessed that our equipment investments would need to meet our requirements for a decade or more. In the near term this would include about 5 years of doing client assignments, as well as our personal use in the following years.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 55 mm, efov 110 mm, f/5, 1/100, ISO-400, subject distance 24.1 metres

Investment Limitations

Most of us do not have unlimited funds to spend on camera equipment. Depending on the amount of our planned investment a multi-year approach may be prudent. Taking a longer term outlook helps us avoid making purchases of budget lenses that involve too many trade-offs, and were purchased solely on price. Buying inexpensive lenses that are not a good fit for what we do, can result in frustration, disappointment, and gear that ends up collecting dust. The money that was invested in such lenses was wasted.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm Kenko extension tube, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-6400, Hand-held Hi Res Mode, subject distance 190 mm

When we transitioned to Olympus we made a number of lens purchases spread out over time. Since our top priority was to our client video assignments the first lenses we purchased included the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko Pro 12-40 mm f/2.8 and the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8.  This is in keeping with a basic approach of building one’s lens kit beginning with critical lenses first.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/1250, ISO-2000, 16 mm extension tube used, cropped to 3225 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H mode

From project efficiency and flexibility standpoints for our client video work, I knew  that we needed to work with f/2.8 constant aperture zooms. Variable aperture or f/4 constant aperture zooms just wouldn’t cut it given the typical industrial environments in which we operate.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2677 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

Over time we purchased two additional zoom lenses, as well as two prime lenses. to round out the kit that I typically use. This overall kit was divided into two basic functional groups. Our final investment included two variable aperture zoom lenses used primarily by my wife with an E-M1 Mark III.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, 1/10, f/5.6, ISO-200

Determine current photographic needs and anticipate future ones.

One of the best ways to make prudent investments in camera gear is to spend the time necessary to identify in detail our current photographic needs. Once those immediate needs have been well defined, we can then ponder our future photographic needs. This thought process will help us tightly define the gear that should be in our lens kit choices. Not defining our current and future photographic needs thoroughly can result in poor lens kit choices.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, f/10, 1/2, ISO-64, Live ND

Prime vs. Zoom Preferences

Regardless of the interchangeable lens camera format we are using there will likely be a very good selection of lenses from which to choose. Some photographers prefer using zoom lenses, while others enjoy working with prime lenses. Based on our personal preferences, we built our kit primarily around zoom lenses. Of the nine M.Zuiko lenses we own, only two are primes (60 mm f/2.8 macro, PRO 45 mm f/1.2).

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-800

No lens format is necessarily better than another. Every photographer has their own specific needs and preferences. Over the years I’ve used four different camera formats (full frame, APS-C, Nikon 1 and M4/3). I’ve owned both zooms and primes in each of those formats. Other than for macro work, I very seldom used prime lenses for anything else other than video work.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/4, 1/500, ISO-2000, Handheld Hi Res mode

One thing has remained constant with my choice of lenses for still photography… I much prefer using zoom lenses. To me, prime lenses have always represented specialty needs… almost akin to ‘necessary evils’. 🙂  We’re all different and other photographers build their kits primarily with prime lenses.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 115 mm, efov 230 mm, f/2.8, 1 second handheld, ISO-200

Compatibility with Computational Photography Technolgy

As more camera manufacturers integrate various types of computational photography technology into their cameras, lens compatibility will become increasingly important. From a marketing perspective it makes sense that a manufacturer would limit the compatibility of its less expensive lenses with higher end computational photography technologies. It also makes sense that a manufacturer may not engineer compatibility with off-brand lenses. Considering lens compatibility with computational photography technologies should be something that photographers do with every potential lens purchase.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 @ 40, efov 80mm, f/4.5, 1 second handheld, ISO-200

Lens Speed, Focal Length and Weather Sealing

Lens kit choices can become complex when considering lens speed, focal length, and weather sealing. Do we need a constant aperture zoom or will a variable aperture lens do the job for us? If we want a constant aperture zoom should we use a faster lens like f/2.8 or will an f/4 lens be a better choice? How important is weather sealing to our photography? What focal lengths do we need for our work? If we have done a good job assessing our present and future photographic needs, it makes it much easier to answer these questions. And, make good lens kit choices.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/3.2, 1/125, ISO-5000, subject distance 630 mm

It can be helpful to write a statement that defines our overall lens strategy. For example, before we made any M.Zuiko lens purchases for our business kit I defined our lens strategy as “creating an integrated lens system that provides the best balance of durability in a range of environmental conditions, creative flexibility in terms of focal lengths and apertures, and overall functionality including compatibility with computational photography.”

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 195 mm, efov 390 mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO-5000, subject distance 4.5 metres, full frame capture

On the surface this statement may appear somewhat broad and perhaps lacking some direction. Sometimes it is important to consider the attributes that are not stated… such as ‘small’ or ‘lightweight’.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-2500, subject distance 4.9 metres, cropped to 4762 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI used

Using this lens strategy helped us select a total of 7 lenses for our main E-M1X camera kits. These lenses provide us with focal length coverage from 7 mm to 400 mm (efov 14-800 mm), and extended it even further with the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, 1/2000, ISO-5000, subject distance 24.9 metres, cropped to 3189 pixels on the width

My main lens kit is divided into two components, each with its own camera bag. One is my ‘outdoor/nature’ kit (PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS, 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS, 60 mm f/2.8 macro, MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters, extension tubes). The other one is my ‘business/low light’ kit (PRO 45 mm f/1.2, PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, PRO 12-40 f/2.8, PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8). Each kit has a dedicated E-M1X body.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/7.1, 1/2500, ISO-1000, full frame capture, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, subject distance 17.2 metres

Depending on the subject matter to be photographed I do occasionally adjust camera bag contents. For example, I may substitute the PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 with the 60 mm f/2.8 macro if I anticipate more landscape opportunities.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2715 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 79.2 metres

Having a defined lens strategy can make it much easier for a photographer to review a number of lens options, and quickly rule out lenses that aren’t a good fit for their stated lens strategy. For example, other than the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro and M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2 we did not give any other prime lenses any serious consideration. We do have a need for macro and portrait work lenses so those two primes made sense. Generally speaking prime lenses do not provide the focal length flexibility we prefer.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 381 mm, efov 762 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-2500, cropped to 2525 pixels on the width, subject distance 3 metres

Focal Length Overlap

When new lenses are introduced it can sometimes be tempting to purchase that new lens, even though it may have a significant amount of focal length overlap with our existing kit. Being vigilant when it comes to GAS is prudent. One of the original lenses that I borrowed under the Olympus Pro Loaner program was the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS. At the time I did not buy that lens as it had too much of a focal length overlap with the PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8. Plus, it wasn’t fast enough for our video business.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3852 pixels on the width, subject distance 14.9 metres

We eventually did end up buying the M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 IS as it was an ideal zoom lens to match up with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS for our outdoor/nature kit. In that context there was no focal length overlap. If the 100-400 mm did not accept teleconverters we would never have purchased that lens. It would have had too much focal length overlap with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 when used with the MC-20 teleconverter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/800, ISO-1250, cropped to 4489 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.1 metres

Brand Continuity

Whether a photographer wants to maintain brand continuity between their camera bodies and their lenses is an individual decision. On a personal basis I did not consider any other M4/3 lenses other than those from Olympus. I did not want to risk potential downstream computational photography technology incompatibility by purchasing off brand lenses. Another factor was a previous unsatisfactory experience with products from another M4/3 manufacturer.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 521 mm, efov 1042 mm, f/9, -0.7 EV, 1/640, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

Kit Lens Suitability

Many people end up buying a kit lens with a new camera body simply because the package is very attractively priced. This can be false economy if the kit lens isn’t a good fit with their overall lens strategy. Over the years I’ve met a lot of photographers who acknowledge that some of their early lens purchases were not well thought out. This resulted in some folks trying to develop a lens system around that initial kit lens. It may have been more beneficial to skip buying the kit lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, 1/25, f/5.6, -0.7 step, ISO-200

Take a Systems Approach From Day 1

Taking the time to sit back and really define our photographic priorities, and develop an integrated lens strategy can save a lot of money and frustration down the road. Once our lens kit choices have been determined, a realistic time line can be established to make the necessary investments over time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-200, In-Camera Focus Stacking, subject distance 255 mm

The best approach is to do your own homework and ignore any specific lens recommendations you may get from other people. Just because a particular lens is well suited to the needs of another photographer does not guarantee it represents good value for you.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files or out-of-camera jpegs using my standard approach in post. This is the 1,218 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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