Lens of the Year, Best Standard Prime:
Full Review: Olympus 25mm f/1.2 Pro
The allure of the fast standard prime is alive and well, and has until recently been the sole purview of full-frame sensor camera manufacturers (the notable example being the Canon 50mm f/1.2). That changed this year with the introduction of the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 Pro, which offers extremely sharp performance, even at f/1.2, and weighs less than its contemporaries.
The lens is built with all the fixings that Olympus can bring to bear: all-metal construction with splash- and dust-proofing, an ingenious and effective manual focus solution, and a button on the lens with which to assign a custom function. Olympus has put a lot of effort into manual focusing as well: normally, the focusing ring on Micro Four Thirds lenses will turn forever, but when this lens is in manual focusing mode, hard stops at the close-focus and infinity-focus ends are engaged.
The Olympus 25mm f/1.2 is certainly more expensive than other Olympus prime lenses, but it doesn’t get any better than this, and it’s destined to become one of those classic lenses that retains its value over the years.
Lens of the Year, Best Telephoto Prime:
Full Review: Olympus 300mm f/4 IS Pro
Until the Olympus 300mm f/4 IS Pro debuted, there really wasn’t a true professional-grade telephoto prime lens for sports, wildlife and bird MFT photographers. Offering a massive 600mm-equivalent focal length, but at a fraction of the size of its DSLR counterparts, the Olympus 300mm Pro lens is a stunning feat of optical engineering.
Like other Zuiko Pro lenses, the 300mm f/4 is fully weather sealed and excellently constructed. Autofocus is very quick, and its image quality is thoroughly impressive. Wide open, the lens is tack sharp across the entire frame and remains sharp if you need to stop down or even when you add the 1.4x teleconverter — which, by the way, gives you an easily hand-holdable 840mm-equivalent lens! Try doing that with a DSLR.
It’s also the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses to feature optical image stabilization. When used with compatible Olympus camera bodies, up to a whopping 6 stops (or 6.5 stops with the new E-M1 Mark II) of stabilization correction is provided. A typical 600mm prime on a DSLR is so big and heavy, and while most also offer optical I.S., you typically end up shooting with a tripod or monopod. The 5-axis Sync I.S. with the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro is stunningly great, making this lens even more versatile and easy to use handheld. With the original E-M1, we were able to get usable photos with this 600mm-equivalent lens at shutter speeds as slow as a full second!
The Olympus 300mm f/4 IS Pro a fantastic option for the professional and advanced photographer looking for a top-notch wildlife, nature or sports lens. It may be pricey, but this is one of the best lenses Olympus has thus far made.
Lens of the Year, Best Travel Zoom:
Full Review: Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro
Micro Four Thirds shooters have an excellent new travel zoom option with the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro lens. With a weather-sealed metal body, this surprisingly compact lens proved to be a pleasure to shoot with. It has great ergonomics but even more important, it has excellent optics.
The lens offers users a 24-200mm equivalent focal length range, which is very versatile. This level of versatility often comes with optical compromise, but not in the case of the Olympus 12-100mm which offers great performance across its entire range. The lens also includes powerful image stabilization, which when attached to compatible camera bodies, offers up to 6.5 stops of image stabilization performance at its telephoto focal length.
When considering its build quality, optical performance, image stabilization and focal length versatility, the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS Pro is a clear winner for 2016’s Best Travel Zoom Lens of the Year award. It checks all the boxes photographers look for in a travel zoom: portability, performance and durability.