which macro lens to pick for your gh5 or micro four third

I see many posts on line debating which macro lens is best for your micro four third system.

If I refer to the Nauticam system we have 4 macro lenses:

  • Olympus 30mm
  • Panasonic 30mm
  • Panasonic 45mm
  • Olympus 60mm

For the purpose of this article I will skip the Olympus 30mm as the Panasonic lens is known to be sharper and will focus on the other 3 lenses.

DxOMark is a popular tool for comparison as it gives you the results on one page. I have run it for the Oly 60 and the Pana 30 and 45 on the 20 Mpix OMD E-M1 MKII

DxOMark Comparison on Olympus OMD E-M1 MKII

Surprisingly the much more expensive Leica performs worse than the other cheaper models, this is confirmed on all internet sites running other type of tests.

What we can see is that there is little difference between the Panasonic 30mm and Olympus 60mm when it comes to image quality so whichever lens you choose your subject at the same level of magnification and aperture will have more or less the same detail.

Common Misconception: Shorter focal length give more depth of field

Many people think that using a longer lens is harder because there is less depth of field this is actually incorrect conceptually.

Let see why

Using an online calculatore like Dofmaster https://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

Enter for the Panasonic GH5 the following parameters

Circle of confusion: 0.015 mm

Focal length 30mm

Distance 10.5 cm (minimum distance of the 30mm Macro)

Aperture f/11

Result Total depth of field 0.3cm

Now enter

Focal Length 60mm

Distance 21 cm (as it achieves the same magnification)

Aperture f/11

Result Total depth of field 0.3cm

So depth of field is not a consideration when choosing a macro lens…

Shooting a subject close to the background

In the following 3 shots am taking an image of a widget at f/11 at 29-44-60 mm on a Leica 12-60 (it is just easier it makes no difference to the outcomes)

Shot at 60mm
Shot at 44mm
Shot at 29mm

At the same aperture you can clearly see that there are no difference whatsoever in the detail and actually overall in the picture you don’t notice anything.

Shooting a subject far from the background

For the second shot I have moved the widget away from the wall.

Shot at 60mm
Shot at 44mm
Shot at 29mm

Again there is no difference in the level of detail of the widget however looking at the background we can see that

  • The 60mm shot reveals one brick and less than one quarter
  • The 44mm shot reveals one brick and a half
  • The 29mm shot reveals two bricks

So while the subject is exactly the same as the 60mm lens has a narrower field of view we see much less of the background.

This means that if you are shooting a nudibranch on the sand or something flat on a rock you won’t notice anything however if there is space behind the subject you will capture much more of that resulting in less subject isolation.

Underwater Comparison 30 vs 60 mm

In the first shot the Rhinopia is taken with a 60mm lens

Rhinopia Olympus 60mm

In the second shot the same Rhinopia with the 30mm (in a different place to be fair)

I have marked up with red the areas that with a longer focal length would have been minimised.

Which Lens to choose?

Now that we have clarified that depth of field is not a consideration and as each macro lens will have the same magnification there are only two factors that matter:

  1. Working distance
  2. Isolation from background

The 60 mm will have a longer working distance and at the same magnification will isolate the subject better from busy backgrounds, the 60 mm is also better for skittish subject because of the longer working distance. I have this lens and I have borrowed the 30mm in couple of occasions but do not have the 30mm yet.

There are however situations where longer working distance is not a benefit, specifically when the visibility is poor and there are suspended particles or the subject is really large.

In the example below I was at one meter from the two frogfish, a 30mm would have been better however the shot came OK.

Hairy frogfish Olympus 60mm

Conclusion

I believe the Olympus 60mm is a must lens to have. To date I have not felt the need for the Panasonic 30mm that is indeed a very sharp lens because I have always managed to pull out the shots. However for someone diving in murky water and focussing on nudibranches or subject laying flat on the seabed the Panasonic 30mm could be a better choice. I also want to say that using the 14-42mm at 42mm for me is actually a better choice for portraits and with a close up lens works very well with small subject not super macro and therefore as I already own the 14-42mm and various diopter for me the 30mm is not on the shopping list.

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