Building the perfect BUDGET Micro Four Thirds kit

Steve Huff recently published an article titled “Building the perfect Micro 4/3 Camera kit for under $2500“, in which he talks about his favourite Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses and where to get them. While his “perfect kit”, consisting of an Olympus E-P3, Zuiko 12/2, Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7, Zuiko 45/1.8 and the VF-2 viewfinder, is certainly a killer combo, it also comes with a killer price tag – US-$ 2,697.85 if you buy from B&H Photo.

Not all of us have that much money to spend, so here’s my suggestion for the perfect BUDGET Micro Four Thirds kit.

Camera: Olympus E-PL1

The Olympus E-PL1 was the third Micro Four Thirds camera to be released by Olympus. While it has less buttons for direct feature access than the E-P1/2, it inherits the E-P2’s viewfinder connector and adds a “Live Guide” that helps you with choosing settings. It has also got a weaker AA filter than the E-P1/2 which provides slightly crisper images. All in all, the E-PL1, while more than a generation old now, is still capable of producing excellent results and can currently be had for as little as US-$ 399.99, including the 14-42mm kit lens, which is a nice allround lens for general shooting.

Alternative 1: If you don’t need the possibility to add an electronic viewfinder, you can get the E-P1 used for even less.

Alternative 2: The successor to the E-PL1, the E-PL2, brings back the sexy retro design of the E-P1/2, has more direct access buttons and features the new Accessory Port 2, to which several new accessories can be installed. It comes at US-$ 499.99 including the kit lens.

Lens: Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7

This was the first serious prime lens for the Micro Four Thirds system in that it was the first with an aperture large enough to make available light photography possible. Its field of view, corresponding to that of a 40mm lens on 35mm (full frame) is one of the most versatile. It is wider than a 50mm, which can sometimes be too narrow, yet not quite as wide as a 35mm, which can be a tad too wide sometimes, yielding unnatural distortion. Photographer Sally Mann describes the 40mm focal length as being “about right” for her kind of work. With its maximum aperture of f/1.7, the 20mm can provide nice subject separation and background blurring, while showing only little vignetting wide open and rendering tack sharp in the image center from the start. At currently US-$ 349.87, this lens is a no-brainer.

Lens: Olmypus M.Zuiko 45/1.8

This is the just-introduced portrait lens for Micro Four Thirds. With a field of view equivalent to that of a 90mm lens on 35mm full frame and its wide f/1.8 initial aperture, the lens is suited at both low light photography as well as portraiture, where an isolated subject with a strongly blurred background is wanted. It also functions as a short tele lens, meaning you can isolate subjects that are close up, or crop details in architectural or landscape scenes. All reviewers have been very positive about this lens so far, ascribing it good performance in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour reproduction. At ~ US-$ 399.99 (it’s not available yet at B&H), this is a no-brainer as well, and together with the little 20mm pancake lens makes for a formidable two lens kit.

Accessory: VF-2 electronic viewfinder

According to some, the VF-2 electronic viewfinder is a must-have. With its 1.44 million dots, it provides a crisp and clear preview image and makes precise manual focusing possible. It is also very useful outdoors in bright lighting conditions, where the built-in screen of the camera can get difficult to read. The VF-2 is available new for US-$ 225.82 in the black version.

Alternative: The VF-3 viewfinder, which has lower resolution (9k pixels) and a lower price tag at US-$ 179.99, but will work almost equally as well.


Olympus E-PL1 with kit lens: US-$ 399.99
Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7: US-$ 349.87
Olympus M.Zuiko 45/1.8: US-$ 399.99
Olympus VF-2 EVF: US-$ 225.82

Total: US-$ 1,475.67

So, for about half the money that Steve’s “perfect” MFT kit will set you back, you get a kit that is almost as versatile, delivers almost the same IQ and will be equally as much fun! (And if you decide on the VF-3 viewfinder, you’ll save another US-$ 50, and if you decide to get the older E-P1 without a viewfinder, you can save another US-$ 300 and still have a great kit!)

How’s that for a deal?! :-)

16 comments to Building the perfect BUDGET Micro Four Thirds kit

  • I totally agree, Felix. And the best of this all – well, at least for my wife – is that we have everything except the 45mm tele already 😉

    My wife sometimes complains that for her kid shots the AF of the E-PL1 is a tad too slow (it’s indeed slower but more accurate than the one in my E-520), so a E-PL3 or a E-PM1 should be listed as alternatives, too, I think.

    Otherwise: great recommendation. I’d be happy with the E-PL1 for what it is…

  • Nelly

    Well G2 body is only $299, and you can pair it up with 2nd lens of your choice

    And E-PM1 is only $499 and will give u fast AF performance

  • Thanks, Wolfgang and Nelly for your suggestions!
    I am a bit negligent towards the Panasonic models as I’m a huge fan of the PENs, but the G-series has its own strengths of course and is also worth mentioning. I imagine the GF1 and G1 can be had used or refurbished for as little as an E-P1, and will deliver almost the same IQ.

  • Clearly a more sensible kit than Steve Huff’s to enter the Micro Four Thirds world, if one should want to do so.

    For me, though, as a long-time Four Thirds user whose E-30 already has a built-in viewfinder which doesn’t even prevent usage of my external flash, and who owns, beside some other lenses and gear, both a 50mm f/2 and a 25mm f/1.4 lens, I ask myself why I should get rid of a four-digit amount of US-Dollars – only to get a stripped-down version of what I’m already using happily for two and a half years in a smaller package, while still not so small as to fit into a jacket pocket or to make an extra carrying bag unnecessary.

    • Rob, nobody says you should get rid of your very nice setup! :-) I think the 50/2 and 25/1.4 are among the best lenses made for the 4/3s system, so you should definitely hold on to your E-30 so you can continue to use these great lenses on a dedicated system. However, for an out-and-about solution, an E-PL1 + 20/1.7 is most definitely more pocketable :-)

  • [Edit]That should of course have been “to get in a smaller package a stripped-down version of what I’m already using”…

  • DonTom

    Exactly my kit (as of next week when the 45/1.8 arrives).

    In Steve’s defense, Amy Medina’s (dangrabbit) post on his blog: x
    yesterday points out that a new entrant can get the:
    -PM1: $499
    Olympus Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 IIR (included with camera)
    Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 Pancake: $199 (I got it on ebay)
    Panasonic 20mm f/1.7: $349
    Olympus Zuiko 45mm f/1.8: $399

    Total: $1,446

    Earlier in the year, I reccomended to a friend that the LX5 was the best option for a small, light travel kit (he was going to Nepal), even tho I had the E_PL1 already. Now, things have changed. As Amy says, there is no excuse to put up with a compact sensor. P&S is for mobile phones: bigger sensor with fast AF, choice of lenses, reasonable price, small size has arrived, finally. Good times.

  • Amber

    The Olympus E-PM is a great little camera. Nice image quality, quick autofocus and a very interesting selection of quality lenses. My favorite setup is the Olympus E-PM1, Panasonic 14mm f/2.5, Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. You can do so much with it and the image quality is excellent for such a compact system.

  • Leo


    I know I am late in commenting on this article. But what do u guys think if I replace the kit lenses with the new oly micro 4/3 12-50mm lens.
    My Kit
    Pana 20mm
    Oly 45mm
    Oly 12-50mm

    • Hi Leo — one is never too late asking questions! :-)

      As to your question, I guess that is entirely up to you. The new 12-50 will be expensive, make no mistake. It’s not just a simple kit lens, it’s a higher grade lens that is also weather sealed and contains Olympus’ latest technologies.

      Why you should switch:
      – greater focal length range
      – weather sealed
      – faster autofocus

      Why you shouldn’t switch:
      – more expensive
      – larger

      Up to your taste:
      – “power zoom” operated via a switch

  • Eugenio Sanchez

    My gear:
    Olympus epm-1 with 12-42 mm – $329 (I paid this much in 2003 for a Casio 3 MPx camera)
    Sigma 24 2.8 C/Y mount – $100 purchased in the mid 90â€ēs
    YUS 135 2.8 C/Y mount $75
    Yashica 50mm 1.9 C/Y mount $200?, was included with the Yashica FX-3 super 2000
    C/Y to m4/3 mount adapter – $25
    Being able to reuse my old gear – Priceless!!!
    For everything else, I have to negotiate with my best friend, my wife!

  • Kye

    just got two brand new e-pl1 cameras from cameta from $150 each, plus the 20 1.7 and 45 1.8 lens and then found this site… you think like i do! for just under a $1000 its a stellar, featherweight kit that does glorious jpegs – what else could i ask for?

    • Thanks for leaving your comment and sorry for not approving it earlier, but I was on vacation for two weeks. I think you have the perfect two-body-two-lens kit there! (Although, at this point, I would lean towards the E-PL2, which has the bigger display, better interface an 1/4000 top shutter speed — but at a slightly higher price.)

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