How suitable are Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses for infrared photography? Here we review the IR performance of 14 Olympus and third-party MFT lenses.

Please consider this post a work in progress. My plan is to add the missing reviews until Christmas. When all the reviews are online, this message will disappear.

If you search the Internet for the performance of Olympus MFT lenses in infrared light, usually what you find does not contain a lot of details. Since I did own a while ago quite a few Olympus MFT lenses, I decided to do a review to determine the best Olympus lenses for infrared photography.

If you are not familiar with potential lens issues in IR photography, I suggest to quickly read the section about lens issues in my Infrared Photography Tutorial. But before we get to the lens ratings, let me quickly explain the review process so you can get the most out of the results.

The review process

Disclaimer: Please be aware that this is a totally non-scientific review. The purpose is to provide information about how certain Olympus MFT lenses perform in infrared light, in a real-life scenario. This means I did primarily focus on IR hotspots and flares. You will not see any brick walls or resolution charts, I leave that to others.

Taking the test pictures

I took the test pictures around noon on a sunny day in May 2019, in my backyard. The sun was about 90 degrees to my left. Every lens was tested with the lens hood mounted or extended, unless noted otherwise.

For the tests I used a Olympus OM-D E-M5, converted to Standard IR (720nm). Therefore, I don’t have to use IR filters in front of the lens. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and a remote release with a 2 second delay was used to minimize vibrations.

For every lens, I took pictures every full stop from f/2.8 to the minimum lens aperture. Why not lower, like 2.0 for the primes? Because I found that my E-M5 has an issue with apertures lower than f/2.8. It underexposes images so badly that I can no longer recover them. For every zoom lens, I took pictures at both ends and the approximate middle of the focal length range.

Processing and presenting the results

I used Lightroom to import all the pictures. The following steps were applied to every picture:

  1. Assign a proper infrared camera profile (see my article How to Set Proper Infrared White Balance in Lightroom).
  2. Move the Saturation slider to 0 (zero) to create a black and white version of the picture. It is easier to see the hotspot when the color is removed.
  3. Apply Auto-Tone to normalize the pictures and get rid of slight exposure differences. I tried it with Match Total Exposures, but the results were not as good.
  4. Create a square crop of the picture by cutting off the left and right edges.

Finally, I exported the pictures with a size of 768 x 768 pixels and used some batch tools to visually add lens data. Per lens and focal length, I created an animated GIF from the pictures so you can watch what happens as you stop down the lens.

Ratings explained

Every lens starts with a full five-star rating. For optical IR deficiencies, I will lower the rating as follows:

  • Hotspot:
    • No nor barely visible hotspot up to f/5.6: no change
    • Correctable (meaning even brightness, no “donut” shape) hotspot up to f/5.6: minus one star
    • Non-correctable hotspot up to f/5.6: minus two stars
  • Flare:
    • No flare at all: no change
    • Flare at apertures beyond f/5.6: minus one star
    • Flare at apertures up to f/5.6: minus two stars
  • Minimum aperture:
    • f/2.8 and wider: no change
    • f/3.5-f/4: minus half a star
    • f/5.6 and higher: minus one star

For zoom lenses, I take the results from the focal length with the worst result.

Why the lower rating for lenses with a higher minimum aperture? Read the explanation below in the diffraction section of the conclusions. This is also the reason why I generally don’t care about hotspots beyond f/5.6.

Are my ratings subjective? Absolutely, so they may or may not be in line with your personal impressions. But this is why the animations are there: go and form your own option about your lens of interest.

Now that you have full insight into how the pictures were taken and the lenses were rated, let’s finally start with the reviews:

Olympus prime lenses

12mm F2.0 ED

Hotspot: A nice performer, although not quite among the best. No hotspot at f/2.8, barely noticeable but rather large in diameter at f/4. As of f/5.6, the hotspot gets more pronounced but the size decreases. As of f/11, you get an even more pronounced bright inner circle.

Click on the preview image to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: No flares at any aperture. I would use this lens from f/2 to f/8. For anything beyond f/8 the hotspot will likely be hard to correct in post-processing.

12mm F2.0 ED IR rating:

17mm F1.8

Hotspot: This is one of the better performing prime lenses. No hotspot at f/2.8, barely visible at f/8. Maximum at f/11, slightly less at f/22. But overall nothing to worry about.

Click on the preview image to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: No visible flares at any aperture. I would use this lens without reservations, at any aperture.

17mm F1.8 IR rating:

25mm F1.8

Hotspot: This lens does not show the slightest hotspot at any aperture. Simple as that.

Click on the preview image to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: My personal favorite for IR photography. No flares, no hotspot – what else can you ask for? Highly recommended.

25mm F1.8 IR rating:

300mm F4.0 IS PRO ED

Hotspot: A very nice performer. No hotspot up to f/8. Only if you look closely, you can see the image center getting brighter at f/11. A very small bright spot at f/22.

Click on the preview image to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: I realize this is not your standard IR walk-around lens, but since I had it available I decided to include it in the review. This lens will not disappoint you when you use it for IR photography.

300mm F4.0 IS PRO ED IR rating:

Coming soon

  • 45mm F1.8
  • 60mm F2.8 Macro
  • 75mm F1.8 ED

Olympus zoom lenses

7-14mm F2.8 PRO ED

Hotspot: At 7 mm, the lens is usable only up to f/4. As of f/5.6, you get a big bright hotspot, and it gets worse from there. The same is true for 10 mm. At 14 mm, the lens is quite usable up to f/5.6 or even f/8, if you apply a slight correction. At f11, the hotspot gets too bright.

Click on the preview images to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: I did not use a hood with this lens. It is known that this lens can produce flares, and we can clearly see it at 7 mm. Longer focal lengths seem to be fine. Just make sure that no direct light sources hit front element.

7-14mm F2.8 PRO ED IR rating:

12-40mm F2.8 PRO ED

Hotspot: At 12mm, I can see a barely visible hotspot at f/8, which gets smaller and more pronounced as you stop down. At 25mm and 40mm, there are no visible hotspots at any aperture.

Click on the preview images to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: As there are no flares at any focal length, this is a highly recommended lens for IR photography. Together with the 40-150mm PRO zoom, it forms a perfect IR zoom kit.

12-40mm F2.8 PRO ED IR rating:

40-150mm F2.8 PRO ED

Hotspot: This lens does not produce any hotspots at any focal length and aperture, it is a pleasure to use this lens in infrared light.

Click on the preview images to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: Since there are also no flares at any focal length and aperture, this lens is a perfect candidate for IR photography. Together with the 12-40mm PRO zoom, you have a killer combination in your IR bag.

40-150mm F2.8 PRO ED IR rating:

Coming soon

  • 9-18mm F4-5.6 ED
  • 12-100mm F4.o IS PRO ED
  • 14-150mm F4.0-5.6 II ED

Third party lenses

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fish-eye

Hotspot: Surprisingly, this lens is nearly hotspot-free. Only from f/11 onwards I can see a barely noticeable hotspot, but nothing that would bother me.

Click on the preview image to see the full lens IR performance animation:

Comments: I did not use a hood with this lens. Unfortunately, flare is a rather pronounced issue. Already visible at f/4, it gets worse as you stop down the lens. As with the 7-14mm PRO zoom, make sure no direct light sources hit the front element. If this is possible, this lens will make you very happy. Be aware that this lens is also being sold under different brand names (Rokinon, Bower).

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fish-eye IR rating:

Conclusions

After reviewing 14 different Olympus and third-party MFT lenses, there are some findings I would like to share:

Be careful when using different IR filters

For the tests, I did use a 720nm filter, called Standard IR – for a reason. It is probably the most used IR filter. Just be aware that you cannot directly apply the above results to different filters, like 590nm or 850nm:

As a general rule of thumb, lens issues usually increase in intensity when using a filter with a higher cutoff frequency (e.g. with a 850nm Deep Black and White filter). And issues usually decrease in intensity when using a filter with a lower cutoff frequency (e.g. with a 590nm Super Color filter). This is because a lower cutoff frequency filter lets more visible light pass to the sensor, which is what the lens and sensor were actually designed for.

Infrared diffraction needs to be taken serious

Looking at the test pictures taken at smaller apertures, I was shocked by the level of visible diffraction. It was far more than in pictures taken in visible light. This finding actually made me write another post: Why You Should – and How to – Avoid Diffraction in Infrared Photography. This post provides a calculator where you can test your individual combination of camera and infrared filter for diffraction impact.

Go and use the calculator to determine the technical diffraction limit for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and a 850nm deep black infrared filter. The result is f/2.5. That means that as of f/2.8 you are already in diffraction territory. Unbelievable, isn’t it? This is the reason why I am downgrading MFT lenses with a smaller maximum aperture.

Does this mean your pictures taken with this setup are unusable? Not at all. But if you are a pixel-peeper, just be aware of the limitations and set your aperture accordingly. For years, I am using my converted OM-D E-M5 (the one I used for this review) mostly with a 14-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom, and I could not be more happy with the results.