When I bought my first single lens reflex (SLR) camera in 1974, it came with a 50mm lens. This lens was often referred to as a “normal” lens because its focal length closely mimics the field of view of the human eye. Lenses with a focal length shorter than 35mm were considered “wide angle” lenses and those with focal lengths longer than 100mm were known as “telephoto” lenses. Zoom lenses were rare, expensive and considered to be inferior quality because of the additional glass elements.
I should also mention this was at a time well before an auto-focus lens was considered viable.
During this same time, Olympus introduced its OM-1 SLR 35mm film camera. This camera was primarily touted for its compact size.
Fast forward to the 21st century and we still try to reconcile the technology of film cameras with digital photography. With the advent of crop-sensor digital SLR cameras, the concept of lens focal length gets more confusing, requiring some quick multiplication with “crop factors” like 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon). As an example, a 50mm lens on a full frame camera is considered a normal lens, but that same lens mounted on a crop-sensor camera would result in a field of view more like a 75-80mm lens.
Adding to the crop-sensor arena, the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) format was introduced in 2008. The M4/3 sensor is approximately one-half the diagonal measurement of a full frame sensor. Conveniently for the math-challenged, the crop-factor is 2, meaning a 50mm lens would have the field of view of a 100mm lens on a full frame camera.
Olympus entered the M4/3 market with a line of Pen cameras and in 2012 released its OMD E-M5 DSLR camera. This camera has retro designs that harken back to the original OM-1 camera, including the more compact body size. Recently Olympus completed the retro package when it introduced the 25mm f/1.8 lens for M4/3. This 25mm lens is my new Normal lens.
When the E-M5 and 25mm lens are positioned next to the original OM-1 with 50mm lens, it is apparent how retro the E-M5 is. It is also interesting to note how small the OM-1 really was; it is only slightly larger than the E-M5.
The Olympus 25mm lens is small and light. It balances well when mounted on the E-M5 camera body. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it offers some very good low light capabilities. The construction of the lens is very solid. When using manual focus, the focus ring in well-dampened and smooth.
I put the lens on my silver E-M5 camera and headed out for a walk. I immediately felt like I was 17 again, the my brand-spanking-new fancy pants camera. The “normal” field of view was vaguely familiar, having many years of many different lenses since then to cloud my memory.
The lens focuses very quickly and quietly. Even at its widest aperture, the image area from edge to edge is sharp. The depth of field is not as shallow as its ancestors, due to the smaller sensor size. However, the 25mm lens does a great job at softening the background when used in the right conditions.