Since I bought my first micro four thirds (MFT) camera in the spring of 2017, I have bought and sold quite a bit of equipment to get to what I have now.
I started out with the Panasonic GM5 and the 12-32 mm f/3.5-5.6 compact kit lens that came with it. Then I got the Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 and the 42.5 f/1.7. I thought the 20 mm would be an ideal walk-around lens. I loved its versatile slightly wide standard focal length, the wide aperture, the excellent image quality, the compact size and low weight, but even on the first day shooting with this lens, I realised that even with all these excellent qualities, the autofocus was too slow for me. I actually missed shots on the first day I used this lens, so I fell out of love with it almost as fast as I fell in love with it. I recently sold it after not having used it for months.
The 42.5 was a different story. It is a really excellent lens in all possible ways. Like the 20 mm, it has excellent image quality and a wide aperture. It is not a pancake like the 20 mm, but it is still really light and compact. This lens also has built in optical image stabilization. Unlike the 20 mm, the focus is fast in all lighting conditions. This focal length is perfect for portraiture and sometimes for landscapes when compression is an advantage, for instance for moving mountains in the background closer to the middle ground and making them appear larger than a wider lens would. It is also a good faux macro lens for close ups. I don’t presently do many portraits, so this isn’t a lens I use a lot, but when I need this focal length, it is really nice to have this small and compact lens in the bag.
The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2 has a wider aperture and gives nicer bokeh when shot wide open, but in reality, I suspect f/1.7 gives a shallow enough depth of field, even with the crop factor of MFT taken into consideration. I think a lot of people shoot portraits where the subject is actually not properly in focus, especially full frame shooters that want to boast that they have the most expensive glass. Sometimes it is an artistic choice, but often it seems very unmotivated to have half a face in focus. I think the added weight, cost and size of the Nocticron might outweigh the advantage of the wider aperture for me.
I then bought the 14-140 f/3.5-5.6 mark II used. My idea was that this lens would cover everything and that the optical stabilization would be handy at the longer lengths. I even contemplated selling the 42.5 and just use the 14-140 for everything. I wasn’t disappointed. The lens is a really versatile lens that would cover most situations for most people. I have used it a lot exactly for this reason.
This spring, I bought the Panasonic Leica Summilux 25 mm f/1.4 standard lens. I fell in love with it instantly when I started using it. The image quality is superb and the lens just oozes quality. It is twice the length of the 20 mm pancake, but it has a fast autofocus and the even better (at least for people shots) standard focal length. Some people prefer 35 mm full frame equivalents, and I get why, since there is more room in the frame, but personally, I both love the perspective of a 50 mm equivalent and love the results I get with the Summilux, so this is the lens I keep on my camera 90% of the time. Cartier-Bresson did well with his fifty, and the advantage of the longer focal length compared to a 35 mm equivalent becomes very obvious when shooting any sort of portraiture or close ups, where a 35 mm would give a bit of perspective distortion, but where a standard lens has less perspective distortion, meaning it is possible to get closer to the subject without creating a caricature. Even if I initially like the 20 mm f/1.7 pancake, the slow autofocus ruined that lens for me. The Summilux has a really fast autofocus that is very useable for street photography and such where the subjects move without any need to prefocus manually or set it to the hyperfocal distance.
I also found a cheap used Panasonic Lumix 14 mm f/2.5 and bought it. This lens was released at the same time as the 20 mm f/1.7 and is also a pancake design, but it is slightly smaller in width than the 20 mm. It has none of the autofocus issues of the 20 mm. Like the 20 mm, the 14 is so small and light that you really can’t tell if it is in the bag or not. The image quality is good, but in reviews, they tend to find that it has slightly more cromatic abboration than the 20 and a bit of vignetting if shot wide open. In practice, CA isn’t an issue except in very high contrast areas, for instance if you shoot towards the sun, and if you want optimal quality, you can fix it in post-processing if you really need to. Stop it down to f/2.8 and the vignetting is gone. The f/2.5 aperture doesn’t seem very impressive, but wide angle lenses are seldom shot at wider apertures for a shallow depth of field anyway, and f/2.5 is still more than one stop faster than kit zooms when you need to open the aperture up in lower light. This lens fast became my second most used lens. It is really nice for landscapes, architecture, and cityscapes. I still prefer a standard lens for its natural look without perspective distortion, and also because the Summilux has some sort of Leica magic in its colour reproduction and microcontrast, but whenever I want to squeeze more into the frame and can’t back up enough to frame it all with the 25, the 14 comes out of the side pocket of my bag. I think the pictures I get with it looks decent enough and definitely compares well with the shots at 14 with the 14-140.
The GM5 is an excellent camera in a very small package. It delivered excellent results, but it is very small and when I used it over longer periods of time, especially with the 14-140, I had trouble holding it comfortably without shaking. I thought that maybe getting the handgrip would solve the problem, so I bought it, but it didn’t help much. I had also lusted after the Panasonic GX8 for a period of time, so when the GX9 was released, I found a used GX8 on ebay for a good price. The GX8 is a much better fit for my hands ergonomically. It also has some features the GM5 hasn’t like the wonderful tilting viewfinder, the fully articulating screen (which I usually keep facing inwards when photographing since the viewfinder is so nice to use, but which comes out when I shoot video) and built in sensor stabilisation with dual IS when the lens has optical stabilisation. And it has 4k video and the 4k photo modes. I am still exploring the features of this camera a few months after I bought it. This camera feels really special. The exposure compensation dial is really useful and the tilting and really excellent EVF makes using the camera a lot of fun. Looking through the EVF and having the screen facing inwards sort of reminds me of how I shot with my film SLR back in the naughties, except that my pictures are so much better now and the EVF is so much more useful than the OVF I had on my SLR. I have now sold the GM and the 12-32 that came with it.
After all these purchases, I found that I had a bit too much gear. My mantra the last few years has been “fewer and better things”. Better often means versatile, but sometimes better can also mean smaller and lighter. I had the 12-32, the 14-140, the 14, the 25 and the 42.5. Many of these cover the same focal lengths, which seems a bit wasteful to me. Over time, I tended to leave the 12-32 at home, use the 25 for most things, the 14 when i wanted something wider and either the 42.5 or the 14-140 when I wanted something longer. Over time, I realized I used the 14-140 mainly between 100 and 140 and often would have gone longer if I could. Without trying to, I had ended up with a classical three prime setup with the MFT equivalents to 28, 50 and 85 and a telephoto zoom for the rare occasions I wanted something longer. And I was very happy with the results I got from these primes. I still am. To make better photos, I need to learn more, not get better gear. People shot good photos with much less technically good lenses and cameras in the film days…
The 14-140 is a really nice superzoom lens, but since I didn’t really use it as such any more, I felt I would be better off by selling it and buying a lens that would cover the telephoto end of it and maybe extend a bit further than 140. I thought about the 100-300 or the newer 100-400, but since I don’t regularly shoot birds and animals at really long distances, they both felt a bit too expensive to be justified, even used. There are a few different options like the new 50-200, but that is new and expensive and not yet on the used market. The 50-175 might be an option, but it wasn’t available used in Norway when I looked. What I did find was the 45-175 power zoom. It is a bit of a strange lens that I think is now out of Panasonic’s lens catalogue, but once upon a time, it paired up with the 14-42 power zoom as an extremely small zoom set covering most use cases where a wider aperture wasn’t necessary. The power zoom is especially useful for smooth video zooming, and the lens has both a tele-wide switch like the 14-42 and a traditional zoom ring. I tend to use the zoom ring since my hand naturally supports the lens underneath the zoom ring anyway, but maybe the switch is better for video work. The optical quality of the lens is decent and the lens has a constant length and zooms internally. It is really quite short and light considering how long a focal length it extends to. Compared to the 14-140 at 140, the 45-175 is much shorter and lighter. It is a really nice fit for my otherwise very compact and light kit.
And then we have gotten to the present. I have ended up with the GX8, a three prime setup of the 14 f/2.5, the 25 f/1.4 Summilux and the 42.5 f/1.7. In addition, I have the 45-175 power zoom for the occasional telephoto shot. I get good image quality with minimal size and weight at the same time as I have enough versatility in focal lengths to shoot most types of photography. Sometimes I wish I had something in between the 25 and the 14 since I am not so fond of the perspective distortion I get with a wider lens, but sometimes find the 25 just a tad too tight if I am unable to back up enough to get the whole scene into the frame. For those tight streets when travelling or to get large buildings or landscapes into the frame, something in between the 14 and 25 would be nice. I liked the 20 a lot for its perspective and the slightly wider focal length than the 25, but the slow autofocus just ruins it for me. So maybe the Olympus 17 mm f/1.8 would be nice to have… On the other hand, the equipment I already have is both small, light, compact, versatile and delivers good results. Having good enough gear is important, but making good pictures is actually more about learning to see than spending money on gear.