Best micro four-thirds lenses for Underwater Photography

For the Olympus OM-D, E-PL3, E-PL5, Panasonic GX1, GF2 and more...

By Scott Gietler

 

 
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There are many good options for lenses if you're an underwater photography who owns a mirrorless micro four-thirds camera like the Olympus E-PL1, E-PL2, E-PL3, OM-D E-M5, E-PM1, or the Panasonic GF1, GF2, GH2, or GX1. Let's take a look at some of my favorites for underwater:

 

Wide-angle lenses

Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens - top choice

panasonic 8mm lens underwater photo micro four thirds
Photo by Kelli Dickinson, with Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens

This is my personal favorite wide-angle lens. With a 180 degree angle of view, and focusing right in front of the lens, It allows you to create stunning wide-angle shots. This lens is perfect for coral reefs, divers, whale sharks, mantas, and large schools of fish. It is especially good for close focus wide angle. The only downside is you need to be close to the subject, or it can appear small in the photo. Beginner photographers may get frustrated in locations where there is a lack of appropriate subjects. Read our Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens review.

best panasonic lenses for underwater photography
Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens, lobster in kelp, photo by Kelli Dickinson

starfish and diver
Starfish and diver, E-PL2, F10, 1/180th, ISO 200

 

Panasonic 7-14mm lens

panasonic 7-14mm underwater photo
Photo from Palau, 7-14mm lens at 7mm, photo by Eric Gebhart

If I was going to do topside landscape photography, this would be the lens I would use. Underwater, this is a good lens for divers, whales, wrecks, and sharks. I don't think the results are as stunning as using a fisheye lens. Unfortunately this lens is very expensive, and it needs a larger dome port for sharper results. With a 6-inch dome port, the corners are ok but not great at 7mm, they are better at 9mm

panasonic 7-14mm lens underwater photography
Panasonic 7-14mm lens at 9mm

 

Olympus 9-18mm lens

olympus 9-18mm lens underwater photo
Photo by Curtis Mueller, 9-18mm lens at 9mm

This is a nice lens for the casual wide-angle photographer, or for someone who wants a lens that can be used for a mix of wide-angle, large fish / skittish shark shots, and topside use.

best olympus micro four thirds lenses
Olympus 9-18mm lens at 9mm, photo by Jonathan Mclean

 

Here is a Olympus 9-18mm lens review for underwater photography

 

Mid-range lenses

All these lenses are solid choices in your underwater arsenal, and are the least expensive when purchased with your camera. They are also excellent topside lenses to have.

Olympus 14-42mm II kit lens

olympus 14-42mm lens underwater photography
Photo by Jim Lyle, taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, 14-42mm II lens

 

This is a solid, fast focusing lens. Although it doesn't do true macro or true wide-angle, you can shoot a variety of subjects, and get good macro with a strong wet lens like the Dyron +7 or Subsee +10 lenses.

Olympus 12-50mm lens

Another good kit lens, that comes with the Olympus OM-D. More expensive than the Olympus 14-42mm, it has a slightly larger range, but again doesn't do true macro or wide-angle. With a wet macro lens, you can get very good macro results. Focus is good, right on par with the 14-42mm lens.  

This lens is perfect for video because the electronic zoom provides a stable and consistent zooming ability. If you do not want to get a dedicated macro lens, this may a good lens for you. Currently only Nauticam supports a zoom gear for this lens, which is very expensive, but do note that the installation of the 12-50mm zoom gear requires both time and patience.

Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens

This lens works well, just like the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens, but it doesn't focus as close. For a little more money you may want to look at the Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens.

Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens

I really like this lens, it has excellent silent auto-focus for video, and it focuses closer and is smaller than the non-PZ version of the lens.

 

Micro four-thirds Macro lenses

Panasonic Leica 45mm macro - great choice

panasonic micro four thirds 45mm lens underwater photo

This is a sharp, high quality macro lens, good for small subjects and fish of all sizes. It is a great macro lens to start out with because of it's perfect focal length for underwater. The downside is that it is an expensive lens, and it is a little slow to focus when you get near 1 to 1 magnification. Here is a 45mm lens mini-review.

panasonic 45mm macro lens underwater photo
Photo taken with the Panasonic G1X, 45mm macro lens

 

Olympus 60mm macro - top choice

olympus 60mm micro-four thirds macro lens underwater photo

This macro lens gives you a little more working distance than the Panasonic 45mm macro lens, and the same 1:1 magnification, at a better price. It is perfect for small marine life, shy subjects, and small fish. The extra working distance also makes it easier to use a wet diopter for supermacro. Highly recommended! Read our Olympus 60mm macro lens review.

olympus 60mm macro lens micro four thirds lens underwater photo
Photo by David Sutcliffe, Olympus 60mm macro lens, F8, 1/250th, ISO 400

 

 

Micro four thirds lens chart

 

 

Lens

Diagonal Angle of View

Max Repro Ratio1

Cropped sensor equiv

35mm equiv

USD Price2

Pany 8mm fisheye

180

1:5

11mm fisheye

16mm fisheye

$650

Pany 7-14mm

114 - 75

1:12

9-18mm

14-28mm

$999

Oly 9-18mm

100 - 61

1:10

12-24mm

18-36mm

$699

Oly 14-42mm

75 - 29

1:5

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens

Oly 12-50mm

84 - 24

1:3

16-67mm

24-100mm

Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 14-42mm

75 -29

1:6

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens

Pany 14-42mm PZ

75 -29

1:6

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 45mm

27

1:1

60mm

90mm

$720

Oly 60mm

20

1:1

80mm

120mm

$499

 

1)      A lens with a 1:1 reproduction ratio can take a photo 18mm (.7 inches) across at the closest focusing distance. A lens with 1:10 reproduction ratio can take a photo 180mm (7 inches)

2)      Approximate price in the USA in November 2012

 

About the Author

Scott is the founder of Bluewater Photo and the Underwater Photography Guide, and one of the world's leading experts in underwater photography education and camera / lens reviews..

An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries and aquariums. 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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