For street photography, Olympus cameras are an excellent choice. They’re compact, light and don’t stand out too much.
Olympus also makes excellent lenses, especially primes, with big apertures that allow you to shoot in all sorts of condition. Just like the cameras, they’re small and easy to carry around.
In this guide, we went through all Olympus’ lenses to pick out the 5 best street photography options, whether you’re a professional or a beginner. We made sure to focus on image quality, versatility and how much you get for the price.
Best Olympus Street Lenses:
We discuss all of these lenses below, but first let’s go through what matters when buying a lens for street shots.
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What’s Important for Street Photography?
Here are the 5 most important factors that make a good street lens.
Focal Length – For street photography, you want to stay between 17mm and 30mm. Not too wide, but not too long either. Many photographers use prime lenses, but you can just as well get yourself a zoom (or both) and cover a bigger range without the need to change lenses. It all depends on your style and preference.
Aperture – If you plan on photographing at night, you’ll want a prime lens due to their extremely big apertures (f/2, f/1.4 or even bigger). Having so much light allows you to shoot with a fast shutter speed, as well as keep the ISO low to not introduce much noise to your shots. A big aperture will also make your background appear blurred, but many street photographers prefer to have a small depth of field, meaning everything appears in focus. In that case, every lens will be fine.
Auto Focus – It’s great to have reliable and fast auto focus if you don’t have the time to focus manually. Street photography is quick most of the time, and you won’t usually have a second chance to get that same identical shot.
Lens Size – In many countries, you don’t want to stand out too much when taking shots on the street. Big, bulky lenses, with loud auto focusing and cameras is a big no no. This is why prime lenses win, due to their compactness. A zoom lens can still be fine, especially if you plan on traveling or you know that people don’t care that much in your country. Olympus’s compact cameras are lenses are ideal for street photography.
Image Quality – It’s all about image quality, sharpness and colors. You want good center and corner sharpness, especially if you print large. Olympus’ glass quality is great and we made sure to select lenses that offer a lot for the money.
Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8
The Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 is a discrete and fast lens for use with OM-D and PEN mirrorless 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. I.e. 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.
Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO
A moderately wide-angle lens with an exceptionally fast maximum aperture, the Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO is a great choice for everything from landscapes, portraits, to documentary or street shooting. And with a nearest focus distance of 20cm, it also handles close-up work pretty well too.
The lens features weather-sealed metal construction, and a button on the side to which can be assigned various user-customizable functions. As with many lenses within Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds range, the 17mm f/1.2 includes a “snap” focus ring that you pull back to switch from AF to manual mode while simultaneously revealing a focus scale engraved on the barrel.
The lens performs exceedingly well in low light, with corners remaining sharp even when shooting wide open thanks to its six ED elements. Similarly, color aberrations and distortion are minimal. However, flare is still an issue, despite a layer of nano particle coating having been applied to each individual lens element. More positively, Olympus claims superior “feathered” bokeh with this lens, due to the use of nine rounded diaphragm blades.
Although the word “pro” in conjunction with anything smaller than full-frame will raise a few eyebrows, this is indeed a high quality lens that is superior to most of its competitors within the Micro Four Thirds format. Overall the only major negative point we can mention is simply that it costs almost three times Olympus’s alternative 17mm f/1.8 offering – and is also way bigger – yet doesn’t appear to offer a corresponding increase in image sharpness. This is a lens you get because you know you want f/1.2 and even better bokeh.
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 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
The Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO is a great all-purpose, go-to lens for daily use. It is part of Olympus’s range of constant aperture f/2.8 “PRO” zoom lenses for the Micro Four Thirds format, covering everything from 7mm through to 300mm. It’s weather sealed (dust and splash proof), and ruggedly built to withstand the rigors of professional use, this is pretty much the only lens you need: regardless of the genre of photography you shoot, the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO will have you covered.
As with many lenses in this series, the 12-40mm features Olympus’s signature manual focus “clutch” selection ring, allowing you to quickly switch between AF and MF modes without taking your eye off the subject. Selecting manual mode provides excellent control by means of a satisfying grip, and there are stops at either end of the focus range.
The lens also has a custom function button, to which you can assign any one of many tasks, to quickly switch between preferred shooting modes. Indeed this is a lens designed for ease of use. And while for a similar price you could purchase two separate primes covering the two extremes of the 12-40mm’s focal range (35mm equivalent: 24-80mm) – this wouldn’t provide the same degree of flexibility as the zoom.
Unusually for a zoom, there appears to be no compromise on image quality: Olympus’s ZERO coating has pretty much done away with ghosting and aberrations altogether, and keeps flare to a minimum.