Updated Sept. 21, 2016 with the M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2
A normal lens is defined as a lens that gives you a natural perspective comparable to that of the human eye. Note that perspective is not the same as angle of view, the human eye has an angle of view similar to an ultra-wide fisheye lens. Perspective is how the various objects in a picture are rendered in relation to each other. For example, a telephoto lens compresses the perspective, making objects at various distances look crunched together. A wide-angle does the reverse and a standard lens doesn’t do either, the perspective is similar to what we see with our own eyes.
Technically speaking, a standard lens is a lens that has a focal length that is very close to the diagonal dimension of your sensor or film. So in the case of a full frame sensor that is 24mm x 36mm, this is calculated by taking the Square Root of the height squared + the width squared or in this case: SQRT((24×24)+(36×36)) = 43.2mm. On full-frame we generally consider any lens from 40mm to 58mm to be a normal lens. Shorter focal lengths are wide-angles and longer focal lengths are telephotos.
Since M4/3 cameras have sensors that are 13mm x 17.3mm we have a diagonal of 21.6mm or exactly half that of the full-frame sensor, hence the 2X crop factor. So in M4/3 parlance, a normal lens is one with a focal length between 20mm and 28mm. Normal lenses are the easiest to design and manufacture so they tend to be the smallest, fastest, sharpest and most affordable lenses you can buy for your camera. They provide the most useful and flexible focal length and many photographers only use a normal lens.
Since everyone has different budgets, needs and priorities, there is never a single best lens for any person or camera. In this article I will look at which normal lenses are best (in my humble opinion) in various situations.
The newly announced M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO Lens looks to be the absolute best prime lens for M4/3. The detailed tech reviews have yet to come out, but according to everyone who has used it so far, the lens is a stunning performer, super-sharp even wide open, completely devoid of distortions and aberrations, with superb rendering and stunningly smooth bokeh. Neil Buchan Grant who used it for a month, said it is nothing short of phenomenal and even beats the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux on his Leica for the smoothness of its bokeh. I will provide more details when the tech reviews come out.
This lens will be too big and expensive for me: at twice the price, size and weight of the superb Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux, and three times the price, size and weight of the excellent 25mm f/1.8, is the difference in performance and aperture worth it? Since I switched to the M4/3 system for the small size and weight, I don’t think so, not for me. Of course it all depends on your needs, the pros who have used it so far say it’s a game-changer and absolutely worth the price. I guess if you’re a pro who needs the fastest and the best then the f/1.2 is for you!
Runner-up: The Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH is one of the best autofocus normal lens you can buy for M4/3. At around $600, it is also one of the most expensive. It is somewhat larger and heavier than the other M4/3 normal lenses, but it is still quite compact in comparison to the M.Zuiko f/1.2. This lens is very well built and very sharp and usable right from its widest f/1.4 aperture and is one of the sharpest from f/2.0 and above. Chromatic aberration is a little high but easily corrected. Autofocus is not the fastest but still very good. Focus is a bit slower and noisier than on the newer lenses. If you don’t mind the price and size this is an excellent choice.
If you want the best normal lens in terms of price/performance ratio, the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH is probably your best choice.
In my opinion the M.Zuiko Digital 25mm f/1.8 is slightly better in terms of build and optical performance, but it costs a fair bit more at $399 vs. $249 for the Lumix, making the latter a better value. However, with the frequent Olympus promotions you may be able to find the M.Zuiko at $299 or so. If you own a Panasonic body with the DFD autofocus technology the Lumix will autofocus faster than the M.Zuiko, otherwise there is very little difference between these two. Both are small, light, optically superb and super fast-focussing lenses. Since I own an Olympus body I personally went for the M.Zuiko as I prefer the look of it.
In the early years of the M4/3 system, this was THE normal lens to own and it was nearly legendary for its optical quality and compactness. The Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH pancake lens is a little old now and as such, it suffers from slower auto-focus. It is still perfectly usable mind you but not as blindingly fast as most modern M4/3 lenses. Still, with a slightly wider field-of-view and a super light-weight and small size, for many people this is the lens of choice especially for street photography with the smaller camera bodies.
If you want to purchase one of these lenses please use the links above to buy from B&H or this one if you prefer buying from Amazon. It doesn’t cost you anything more and it helps me pay for this website with a small commission.