For portrait photography, you need a sharp lens with great colors and good background blur (also known as bokeh).
We went through all Micro Four Thirds lenses available and selected the ones that are perfect for not only portraits, but many other types of photography as well.
Whether you have a Panasonic, Olympus or some other brand’s system, the beauty of these lenses is that they fit on all different cameras. If you’re new to photography, this can easily be overwhelming since you have so many options to choose from.
For this guide, we focused on image quality, sharpness and value for money. Basically, everything you need in a portrait lens without it being overly expensive; plus something you can use for other scenarios as well.
We go through each lens specifically and talk about its strengths, and before that we quickly summarize what the most important factors are when it comes to portrait photography.
Best Micro Four Thirds Portrait Lenses:
We discuss all of these lenses below, but first let’s go through what matters when buying a lens for portraits.
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What’s Important for Portrait Photography?
Focal Length – For portraits, you want to be in the standard to telephoto range, which is anything between 17mm and 120mm (we’ve already accounted for MFT 2x crop factor). Buying a lens between these two focal lengths will make your subject’s faces nice and flat, whereas if you shot with something wider, their faces would appear distorted. Getting a 25mm or 45mm lens is your best option if you’re looking for something affordable and good that will instantly get your photography on a whole new level.
Aperture – We mostly want lenses with big apertures, which is f/2.8 and bigger (f/2, f/1.4). This is because bigger apertures will make your background appear much more out of focus, thus making your subject pop out the shot. Having an aperture this big also helps if you’re shooting in low light and don’t want to raise the ISO. This is ideal for weddings, concerts and night time photography.
Auto Focus – All lenses on our list have good and reliable auto focus. However, portrait photography is usually slower paced than let’s say sports, and many photographers focus manually. In a nutshell, try learning how to use both focusing types so your camera can never be an excuse. When shooting with big apertures, focusing on the wrong part will be more noticeable.
Image Quality – It’s all about image quality, sharpness and colors. You want good center and corner sharpness, especially if you print large. All lenses we chose are great and we made sure to select the ones that offer a lot for the money.
Bokeh – Good looking bokeh will make your subject stand out more and make the whole shot look more appealing. The more diaphragm blades the aperture has, the rounder it should look (9 is better, but more expensive than a lens with 7). The distance between your subject, your camera, and the background also plays a role; the greater each of these is, the more out of focus the background will be.
Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8
The Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 is a discrete and fast lens for use with Micro Four Thirds cameras. Boasting excellent optics and weighing just 4.23 oz/120g, it’s a great choice for everyday shooting. Fast maximum aperture, silent AF, and compact dimensions also make it well suited to unobtrusive documentary and snapshot photography in low light conditions.
At 17mm, focal length is equivalent to a 34mm lens in the 35mm format. The field of vision is moderately wide, but not so wide that you must be standing on your subject’s toes in order to frame their face large in the shot. Housed in a solid, stylish, all-metal casing, optical quality is identical to Olympus’s “premium” 12mm f/2 lens, producing ultra sharp, high contrast images from f/1.8 through to f/22.
The 17mm also comes with the same handy AF/MF focus selection mechanism as its wider sibling. This allows you to rapidly snap the lens into manual mode, estimate distance, and then quickly set focus and fire off a shot before the subject is even aware. Very useful for photographing in low light. Silent autofocus makes the 17mm well suited for video too.
Besides portraits, this is a great lens for travel and everyday situations, including street photography. As a matter of fact, 35mm is the focal length that’s most commonly used for street shots.
Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7
The super-slim Panasonic Lumix G II 20mm f/1.7 is a fast pancake lens for the Micro Four Thirds format. An all-metal barrel and lens mount update the cheaper build-quality of the Mark 1, making it a sturdy and compact choice for all-round shooting. Mounted on a suitably small body, it can easily be thrown in a coat pocket for quick and candid photography without compromise on image quality: ideal for portrait, travel, street, documentary and other discrete low-light uses.
In addition to being extremely sharp and displaying no color fringing, the lens is fast, compact, lightweight and well-built. It’s also quite cheaply priced. What’s more, 20mm is identical to a 40mm lens (35mm format equivalent): making it an excellent compromise between a standard and a wide angle lens. All in all then, this is a handy little all purpose piece of glass you can rely on to pull something out of pretty much any imaginable shooting situation.
If there’s anything bad about the lens, it’s that auto focus is too loud for video recording. Other than that, this is a must have for almost every photographer that just wants a compact, quality lens.
Olympus M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.8
The Olympus M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 is a must have for any photographer! It is an excellent choice for portraits, documentary, weddings and more general everyday shooting. Thanks to f/1.8, it also offers top low-light performance for those on a budget. Small, lightweight, and featuring Olympus’s ZERO lens coating for sharper rendering, this is a great little lens that is also particularly suited to travel photography, where compact size and versatility are real advantages.
As with Olympus’ similar but more expensive 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens, the f/1.8 is sturdily built and extremely sharp even wide open. While bokeh is perhaps not as smooth as with the f/1.2, it’s nonetheless impressive thanks to a seven-blade diaphragm. Sadly though, the f/1.8 does not feature the “snapfocus” ring for manual focus that has now become pretty much standard with many of the more expensive M. Zuikos.
If you’re looking for your first lens, or just something better than the one you got with your camera, this is where you should start. This is an inexpensive way to enter a more professional world and really make a big difference in your pictures. Aperture f/1.8 allows you to make your subject stand out and make the colors look rich, and also to shoot in low light. No more blurred indoor birthday/party/event shots, and no need for a flash anymore.
While at f/1.8 this is already a relatively fast lens, its much more expensive f/1.2 PRO sibling of course offers the ability to shoot in even lower light, and with a shallower depth of field. Optically, though, there’s little to differentiate between the two lenses, and the f/1.8 has the advantage of being considerably smaller. The only other major difference between these two primes is that the f/1.2 is weather-sealed, whereas this one is not. This means that if you can live without the extra stop of light and the all-weather durability offered by the f/1.2 PRO lens, the f/1.8 is a great buy.
Olympus M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2
Representing the top-end of Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds line, Olympus M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens is an excellent choice for portraits, documentary and more general shooting where optimal low-light performance is a must. The lens features nineteen elements and employs Z Coating Nano technology for improved clarity, making this standard prime a serious candidate for “the only lens you really need”.
As with Olympus’s cheaper 25mm f/1.8 lens, the f/1.2 is sturdily built and extremely sharp, even wide open. Also, bokeh is exceptionally smooth thanks to a nine-blade aperture. Olympus’s signature “snapfocus” ring is present here too, allowing you to quickly toggle between auto and manual focus modes without taking your eyes off the subject.
The primary advantage of this lens over its f/1.8 sibling is of course the ability to shoot in lower light and gain an even shallower depth of field. Optically, though, there’s little difference between the two. However note that while the f/1.2 is weather-sealed, the f/1.8 is not. Naturally these advantages also come with a significant difference in price (we’re talking more than double here!), so opt for the faster lens only if these considerations are a serious game-changer for you with regards to shooting style.
Finally, the f/1.2 is also somewhat larger than the f/1.8, so if a slimmer profile is more important to you than low-light performance, you would do well to save your money and go for the slower model.
Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
If you are looking for a fast, compact and lightweight lens for the Micro Four Thirds format, the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 makes for a convincing choice. Equivalent to a 90mm lens in the 35mm format, this is widely considered to be an ideal focal length for portraiture, allowing you to isolate a subject from their surroundings. What’s more, the bright f/1.8 aperture permits shooting in low light and lets you achieve the shallow depth of field and blurred background that is so desirable in portrait photography.
The 7 blade circular diaphragm makes for smooth, rounded bokeh, and Olympus’s ZERO lens coating helps keep ghosting and flare to a minimum, even when pointing directly into the light. Indeed, the lens generally performs very well in high contrast situations, retaining excellent sharpness and detail.
Although a nearest focusing distance of 50cm may not sound especially close, on a 45mm lens this is more than sufficient for shooting tightly-framed portraits. Fast, snappy and silent auto focus makes the 45mm a similarly good choice for head-and-shoulder video interviews, or other movie scenarios where a close-crop is desirable. Weddings, events, concerts, you name it; the length is ideal for these.
The 45mm f/1.8 comes in a rugged black or chrome metal barrel. However, despite being one of Olympus’s “premium” lenses, it is sadly missing the fast-select manual focus ring of other lenses in the same series. More surprisingly still – for a lens billed as “premium” – is that the 45mm lacks weather-sealing.
It’s ideal for concerts, weddings, portraits or any other situation where you can’t be close to your subject.
Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.2
The Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO is Olympus’s top of the range portrait lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras, offering a relatively short telephoto point of view that is equivalent to a 90mm lens in the 35mm format. Adding to its suitability as a portrait lens is Olympus’s “eye priority” autofocus system, which recognizes and automatically locks onto eyes.
One of the most attractive characteristics of the 45mm f/1.2 PRO is its feathered circular bokeh, leading to smoother, less busy-looking backgrounds. However, beyond elegant defocusing effects, the lens also offers excellent sharpness and resolution due to Olympus’s Z Coating Nano technology. Additionally, the fast, silent MSC autofocus mechanism makes this a great choice for shooting video, especially when close framing and top low light performance are required.
The 45mm f/1.2 offers the same closest focus distance of 50cm as its cheaper 45mm f/1.8 cousin. However, part of what makes this lens the “PRO” option, is the addition of a manual focus clutch-ring and hermetic sealing – the latter rendering the 45mm f/1.2 dust, rain and freeze proof.
To be sure, it’s unlikely that anyone would buy this as a first lens: the longer focal length will not easily permit shooting in enclosed spaces. However, for anyone with a particular interest in portraits who already has a more versatile lens such as a 25mm, the 45mm f/1.2 will be near the top of their wish-list.
Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
Marketed by Olympus as a “high-grade portrait lens”, the Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 is a sharp, well-made piece of glass offering a longer-length alternative to more traditional choices for portraiture. However, owing to it’s excellent auto focus and fast maximum aperture, this is also a lens that could be put to good use shooting nature, wildlife, concert, theater and sports photography.
Equivalent to a 150mm lens in the 35mm format, the 75mm f/1.8 exhibits excellent sharpness across the entire image area and throughout all aperture settings. Olympus’s ZERO lens coating helps to keep flare, ghosting and aberrations at bay – even when shooting in high contrast or backlit conditions – and the lens renders out of focus areas of the image beautifully. Indeed, pleasing circular bokeh and feathered edges further boost the 75mm’s portrait lens credentials. Nearest focusing distance is 84cm, which at this degree of magnification makes for some intensely close-up portraits.
Auto focus with the 75mm is fast and silent, owing to Olympus’s gearless MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) focus mechanism. The lens features solid metal construction in either silver or black, with a nicely grippable manual focus ring. On the downside, this is a fairly costly lens, and unlike the more standard 60mm portrait lens, 75mm is not a focal length that will appeal to all users. Additionally, despite the price, the lens is not weather sealed.
Panasoninc Lumix G X 12-35mm f/2.8 II Power
Equivalent to a 24-70mm lens in the 35mm format, the Panasonic Lumix G X 12-35mm f/2.8 II Power is a great all-round zoom covering all the main focal lengths the average photographer will need for general shooting. With a constant aperture of f/2.8 across all zoom settings, this is a lens that is fast enough to satisfy the most demanding shooters, while also being versatile enough to deal with nearly any photographic style or situation. Whether you shoot portraits, landscapes, travel, documentary, sports, or events, if you only have space to pack a single lens in your bag, this will likely be the one you’ll reach for.
The lens is pin sharp at the center, with only slight softness detectable towards the corners. Meanwhile, Panasonic’s nano surface coating keeps flare, ghosting and color aberrations to an absolute minimum. Bokeh appears very pretty, with nice rounded light-circles. With f/2.8, your portraits will definitely stand out.
When it comes to shooting video, image stabilization has been much improved compared with the Mark 1 version of this lens. There’s also a handy switch on the side of the barrel to toggle OIS on or off, allowing you to change modes mid-take.
The 12-35mm f/2.8 is highly portable and reasonably compact, at least when contracted. Aside from the metal mount, the lens is largely made of plastic, so it’s not as rugged as some of Panasonic’s other lenses for the MFT format. However, it is dust and splash proof (weather-proof lenses are great for rainy days and traveling).
Panasonic Lumix G 35-100mm f/2.8 Power OIS
The Panasonic Lumix G 35-100mm f/2.8 Power OIS lens is pro-level telephoto zoom for the MFT format. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8 constant throughout its zoom range, this is a lens that successfully combines, speed, versatility and image quality in one. It is a rugged high-performance lens that is ideal for portraits, sports, wildlife, nature, and even creative landscapes. The field of view is equivalent to 70-200mm in 35mm format.
Sharpness at image center is excellent throughout the zoom range, with an acceptable degree of fall-off towards the corners. Panasonic’s Nano Surface Coating also means that the lens exhibits minimal distortion, and chromatic aberrations are pretty much nonexistent.
Auto focus is about as fast as you could ever want – i.e. it’s pretty much instantaneous – and is also totally silent. What’s more, the internally-housed focus mechanism means that the front element doesn’t move as you focus. More unusually though, the lens doesn’t extend as you zoom either, with all movement taking place out of view inside the barrel.
Boasting a splash-, dust-, and freeze-proof metal body, the 35-100mm was designed to withstand the worst of the elements and is very well weather-sealed. Yet despite these rugged credentials, it is surprisingly small and lightweight.
Finally, although zooms are unlikely ever to compete with primes when it comes to maximum apertures, an f/2.8 telephoto is plenty fast enough to blow the background out to a smooth and pleasing blur at any zoom setting. Combined with the onboard optical image stabilization, it will also allow handheld shooting even in relatively low light.
Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO
The Olympus M. Zuiko 40-15mm f/2.8 PRO is an obvious choice for portraiture, stage, sports and wildlife photography. With a constant aperture of f/2.8 at all zoom settings, this a fantastic solution for photographers who frequently need to shoot in low light but who don’t wish to compromise on either portability or image quality.
Equivalent to an 80 to 300mm lens in the 35mm format, the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO allows you to get right into the heart of the action. And super fast auto focus means you’re unlikely to miss a shot when you do. Present, too, is the ever popular AF-MF clutch ring, allowing you to quickly switch between focus modes while shooting.
The lens is also very well suited to producing portraits, with beautiful circular bokeh backgrounds, and at a wide range of focal distance settings. Olympus’s ZERO lens coating keeps flare and ghosting well contained, and purple fringing is minimal. Image sharpness at the corners is excellent, while at the center it’s outstanding.
The sturdily built lens barrel features a user-assignable custom function button, and a twist-and-slide extendable lens hood. What’s more, as it’s splashproof, freezeproof, and dust proof, this is a lens you can rely on. This is a lens you buy and use forever, for anything; a true workhorse.