My main camera is my Olympus E-410, and in the main I’m very happy with it. However, there is one big fly in the Olympus ointment, and that is the choice and price of lenses available for the 4/3 lens system.
Regardless of the technical benefits/issues, the 4/3 system is different to most other lens systems on the market, having been designed especially for digital cameras. This has made third party lenses a lot rarer than for other major manufacturers such as Canon as it isn’t simply a case of putting a new fitting onto an existing lens. So, the majority of new 4/3 lenses available are rather expensive for the amateur (although they tend to mostly be very good). Luckily, there is an alternative…
For not very much cash (mine was under £10 from Fotodiox) you can obtain a 4/3 – OM converter. OM is Olympus’ old, pre-digital lens format and this converter allows you to fit these lenses to your new 4/3 camera. So far so good. There are some trade-offs however. Firstly, say goodbye to auto-focus and all the automatic lens settings such as shutter and aperture control – it’s going to be a manual world with these lenses as the converter does not let the lens and camera body communicate. Secondly, the focal length of the lenses will be rather different. Without getting into technicalities, the focal length of an OM lens on a 4/3 camera will be multiplied by around 2x. This means a 50mm OM lens will have a field of view similar to a 100mm 4/3 lens. For telephoto this can be an advantage, for wide-angle, it can spoil things. Other trade off’s include the lens not being designed for digital use which can affect the picture quality, but due to the small sensor size of the 4/3 system only using the central ‘sweet spot’ of the OM lenses this tends not to be a major issue.
If you’ve been convinced then where do you start? Well, eBay has a good selection of secondhand OM lenses (try this ebay search for a start). Obviously when buying on eBay you need to take care who you are buying from – look for people with a high feedback score for selling similar items recently (also look out for the full guide to ebay we’ll be writing soon). More specifically for lenses, you are looking to make sure that the lens is fungus and dust free (as this can be very expensive or even near impossible to have cleaned) and that you are happy with the level of imperfections described. As mentioned, only the centre portion of the lens will be used by the digital camera so you may be able to ignore some speckles around the edge of the lens. Plus, even if the lens isn’t perfect it may still be a bargain. I managed to pick up a fast f1.8 50mm lens for less than £20, which works very well as a ~100mm portrait lens. I also got a 28mm (which is roughly equivilent to a 50mm prime on a 4/3 camera) for less than £6 including postage! At these prices you might be able to overlook a few imperfections, it’s all down to personal choice.
If you really get into this manual lens way of working, you can even get replacement viewfinders for your camera to give you a ‘fisheye’ to help with focusing, just like those on pre-digital cameras. These aren’t required it can be difficult to focus a manual lens quickly and accurately without help, although it gets easier with practise.
You can see a few more of the photos I took with my 28mm lens on my recent Street Photography article – this was a perfect first project as it’s suited to a prime and I could prefocus the lens and not worry about that aspect of things!
As a final note, Olympus do an official converter but it’s rather expensive and doesn’t seem to add anything over the cheaper ones.