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I'm looking at picking up a new prime portrait lens to augment the kit lenses that came with my Olympus OM-D M-10.

My brother has a Canon with a 50mm f/1.8 lens that takes beautiful photos and costs only AU$60 - ideally I'd like to find something similar. (http://cameraparadise.com/Buy-Canon-EF-50mm-f-1.8-II-Lenses-412.html)

The closest I can find is an Olympus 45mm f/1.8, which can be had for just under AU$300 - 5 times more expensive. (http://cameraparadise.com/Olympus-M.-Zuiko-Digital-ED-45mm-f1.8-1068.html)

A bit of a search seems to show a wide variety of surprisingly cheap Canon lenses available, with most m4/3 lenses cost several times more.

Is this simply a case of Canon producing some very low quality lenses for the bottom end of the market? Is the Olympus substantially better, or am I simply paying for the brand?

As a casual amateur photographer I'm not overly concerned about high end lenses - if I'm more interested in keeping my prices low, am I better off returning the Olympus and picking up a Canon instead?

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AU$60 ah ok. I was going to say I've never seen the Canon 50mm f/1.8 for $60USD before even used. Even Canon users themselves are taken aback when they figure out how much more expensive every other lens is compared to the kit lens(included in original body price) and the 50mm f/1.8. If you want the same quality and wide aperture as the 50mm f/1.8 in a range of focal lengths on Canon, be prepared to spend a LOT more money. –  dpollitt Jul 25 at 13:29
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The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is staggeringly good value: it's by far the cheapest lens they make and it delivers serious quality. It is a total anomaly and you shouldn't compare anything else to it. Any other Canon lens of the same quality costs several times more than the "nifty fifty". Even having said that, as others have said, AU$60 for that lens is unusually cheap, so you're looking at an anomalously cheap price for a lens that is already anomalously cheap. Not a good comparison. –  David Richerby Jul 25 at 23:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The basic answer is that Canon's 50mm f/1.8 is an exception even within Canon's lineup. It's an old, simple design with nothing fancy, and made to be mass-produced cheaply. Compare the Canon 85mm f/1.8, at AU$360.

Basically, almost no lenses are as cheap as the one you're using as your reference point, so your perception is skewed. The Olympus lenses aren't cheap, but they're not expensive either. (And they are generally regarded as high quality and fairly priced.)

Consider the total cost of the basic collection of lenses you want ("need") — a portrait lens like the 45mm, maybe a normal prime (around 25mm on micro 4/3rds), perhaps a wide angle zoom (to upgrade your kit lens) and then maybe a telephoto zoom. Then compare.

It's also helpful to look at the big picture. I got my favorite lens about a decade ago when I got my first DSLR, and back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that over that time, it's cost me about 0.2¢ per frame. Over the same time, camera bodies have cost about 2.5¢ per frame. Convert cents to dollars if you consider images worth keeping. But either way, if I'd paid 10× the price for the lens, it'd still be less than camera bodies. (Or lighting equipment, for that matter, although the value of that per image is skewed significantly because I don't use it constantly.)

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Please take into account that manufacturer may label the lens for the equivalent focal lenght, rather than the actual (physical) focal length. I have owned two Olympus cameras (E-300 and Evolt E-500), a currently have Canon 50D. When I compare them for crop factor, If I set the lens on both brands on the same fl mark, I get quite similar framing for the same scene/distance/point of viev. (Canon lens being an EF-S one). –  Jahaziel Jul 25 at 15:32
    
@Jahaziel Neither Canon nor Olympus label lenses for their interchangeable lens systems in this way — they both use the real focal lengths. But do consider that these cameras have different aspect ratios, (see this question), with Canon using 3:2 and the 4/3rds sensor being, not surprisingly, 4:3. That means that along the short dimension, there's only about a 10% difference. –  mattdm Jul 25 at 15:45

Camera and lens designs are full of compromises and certain decisions have knock on effect throughout the system.

Olympus decided on a particularly thick filter stack when specifying the micro four thirds system. This and the short backfocus distance of a mirrorless lens mount necessitate a telecentric or near telecentric lens design where rays exit the lens perpendicular to the sensor (this prevents smearing in the corners from the filter stack). This in turn rules out cheap symmetrical double-Gauss lens designs, such as found in the 50mm f/1.8.

My brother has a Canon with a 50mm f/1.8 lens that takes beautiful photos

Be aware that the small sensor in m43 cameras makes it harder to get blurred backgrounds like you may have seen from your brother's camera. You need a 40mm f/1.4 to get the same angle of view and depth of field as a 50mm f/1.8 lens on an APS-C DSLR, which pushes the cost up further.

The smaller sensor in the micro four thirds does allow a much greater degree of shake reduction in the camera, in fact m43 bodies have the best stabilization out there. But there are consequences to every decision as outlined above, increased cost of lenses being one of them, depending on what you want to shoot you may be better served with a APS-C sensor DSLR.

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+1, although note that neither Sony NEX nor Fujifilm X offer a cheap 50mm — the closest I think would be Sony SEL 50mm f/1.8 at around AU$250 and, I guess, Fujifilm XF 60mm f/2.4 at AU$700. –  mattdm Jul 25 at 14:28
    
Sorry to keep nitpicking :) –  mattdm Jul 25 at 14:30
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@mattdm that's a good point, looks like all mirrorless systems are out of the running for cheap 50s, in order to offer compactness you need a more complex design which adds to the cost (or release a double gauss design with a big tube stuck on the back!) –  Matt Grum Jul 25 at 14:49

The Canon 50/1.8 II is a pricing anomaly. A better comparison might be the EF 45/2.8 STM pancake lens ($200), and the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens ($250).

And if you really think about it, a normal fast lens on Canon APS-C would be a 35/2, which, if you get the non-IS version is about $550, new. The EF 35/1.4L is about $1500. And the Panasonic Leica 25/1.4 is roughly $600.

Overall, I've actually found the mft lineup to be price-equivalent (or cheaper) for the most part. For example, a crop-body fisheye lens, say a Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 lens is $775. The Panasonic 8mm f/3.5 is $640. An EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro (non-L) is about $600. The Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro is around $450. The EF-S 10-22 ultrawide is about $650. The EF 24-70/2.8L II is about $2100. The Panasonic 12-35/2.8 is about $1000. The 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM II is about $2500. The Panasonic 35-100/2.8 is about $1400.

A single price comparison doesn't accurately represent the lens lineup prices overall.

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Part of the reason is probably that Canon and m4/3 have different flange focal distances, which has a big effect on what focal lengths can be done with simple and cheap lens designs.

For the flange focal distances found in typical SLR systems, 50mm is a sweet spot in that regard. For the much shorter distance of the m4/3 system, this is not the case.

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If 50mm is a sweet spot for Canon SLRs, what is the sweet spot for the m4/3 system? –  Adam Davis Jul 25 at 14:25
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@AdamDavis there is no sweet spot due to the short flange distance and requirement that all lenses be [object space] telecentric –  Matt Grum Jul 25 at 14:44

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