Olympus 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko
Lab Test Results
July 5, 2009
by Andrew Alexander
The Olympus 50mm ƒ/1.8 manual focus lens is no longer in production, but was the standard lens of the Olympus OM camera series, employing a design using six elements in four groups.
In moving to digital, Olympus has abandoned the original OM mount, adopting instead the four thirds standard (and micro four thirds standard) for its digital camera bodies. However, Olympus has made available the MF-2 lens adapter, which allows OM lenses to be fitted to a micro four thirds digital camera. With this system in place, we have tested this vintage lens on the Olympus EP-1.
As a micro four thirds camera, the EP-1 produces a 2x ''crop factor,'' meaning lenses used with it provide an effective field of view that is double their listed focal length. So in this case, the 50mm ƒ/1.8 operates effectively as a 100mm ƒ/1.8 lens.
We reviewed this lens out of curiosity to see what one might experience with an old OM lens on Olympus's latest digital camera. There were far too many versions made of this lens for us to review them all, and we won't likely be seeking out or posting reviews of other OM lenses; as such, this was as much a test of the OM adapter as it was an older lens. Olympus engineers warned us that a lens like this, designed for a 35mm body, would suffer in the corners and appear soft wide open, thanks partially to all the light bouncing around in the adapter and chamber. Add that it was designed for film, while Olympus's Zuiko Digital lenses were designed for sensors, and you have all the qualifiers you need. This isn't necessarily a perfect representaton of how this lens would perform on a 35mm film camera, and it should not be seen as criticism of the old Zuiko 50mm f/1.8, which Senior Editor Shawn Barnett, the owner of this lens, can attest is a good quality optic on the OM-1.
The lens is available used in the $50 range. The MF-2 lens adapter is available for $170.
Wide open at ƒ/1.8, the 50mm is not a sharp lens, particularly in the corners. At this setting we note a fairly linear progression from a center point of relative sharpness (2 blur units) to corners which are very soft (9-12 blur units). Stopped down to ƒ/2.8 however, this corner softness is very effectively reduced (4-5 blur units) and we see a larger and sharper central region (1.5 blur units).
Stopping the lens down to ƒ/4 improves sharpness further, and by ƒ/5.6 the lens is essentially as sharp as it will get, with results of around 1.5 blur units across the frame. There is some negligible improvement at ƒ/8, and diffraction limiting sets in at ƒ/11 (even so, the lens is sharp at 1.5 blur units across the image). Fully stopped down at ƒ/16, the lens provided results of 2 blur units across the frame.
Obviously, sharp corner-to-corner performance is out of the question when used wide open at ƒ/1.8, but for portraits this isolating corner softness could be very useful.
Despite the fact that the lens is quite long in the tooth, its multi-coating does a good job of reducing chromatic aberration - when the lens is stopped down to at least ƒ/4. There is some significant fringing in areas of high contrast at ƒ/1.8 or ƒ/2.8, which is fairly evident in our sample photos.
Corner shading isn't really an issue with this lens, with the corners just 1/3 EV darker than the center when used wide open at ƒ/1.8. Stopped down anything greater than that, and there is practically no light falloff.
The 50mm ƒ/1.8 is excellently optimized against distortion, showing just the slightest bit of barrel distortion (+0.1%) in the corners.
The 50mm ƒ/1.8 OM Zuiko is a manual focus lens.
Build Quality and Handling
They just don't build them the way they used to, is the mantra when handling lenses of this era. The 50mm ƒ/1.8 is built with all-metal construction, with a smooth black finish and a rubber focus ring near the middle of the lens. The 49mm filter threads are metal, and the lens uses a metal mount to attach to the camera body. The lens features an aperture ring near the front of the lens, and a distance scale in feet and meters behind the focus ring. There's also a depth-of-field scale, with markings for ƒ/4, ƒ/8 and ƒ/16.
The focus ring takes up the most real estate on the lens, with a rubber composition and a nice crossed pattern. The ring is 3/8'' wide and takes about ninety degrees to turn through its entire focusing range. The focus ring ends in hard stops at infinity and its minimum close-focusing distance of 45cm. There is some lens extension during focus operations.
Our sample of the lens didn't have a lens hood, though literature we've consulted suggests that a ''slide-on'' hood is available.
Olympus 50mm ƒ/2 Zuiko Digital Macro ~$450
The Olympus 50mm ƒ/2 macro is hands-down sharper than the 50mm ƒ/1.8 with the MF-2 adapter, showing less CA as well. Both lenses show virtually no corner shading or distortion. The 50mm ƒ/2 has the benefits of autofocus and 1:2 macro reproduction, but would have to be attached to an EP-1 with the MMF-1 adapter.
Sigma 50mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM ~$500
Sigma offers its 50mm ƒ/1.4 in the four-thirds configuration, so (theoretically) with the MMF-1 lens adapter this lens could be mounted on the EP-1 and would offer the same focal length and 2/3 of a stop faster performance. It would appear that the Sigma is a sharper lens wide open, with better tolerance to CA.
If you're looking for sharp edge-to-edge performance wide open, you're out of luck with the older 50mm ƒ/1.8, but stop it down to ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6 and it's a different story all together. Its extremely soft corners wide open at ƒ/1.8 would make it quite the portrait lens on the EP-1, with its effective focal length of 100mm.
Mounting the old 50mm on the new EP-1 was an interesting combination, and if you already have a collection of older OM glass looking for a home, the Olympus adapter could give them a new lease on life.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Olympus 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko
Olympus 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by wilsonpettit (1 reviews)pricenot much
Strengths: Sharp, even at f/1.8, gorgeous bokeh, cheap a sin (or so cheap it ought to be a sin, take your pick), built very solidly, small and light, renders light beautifully.reviewed December 2nd, 2015 (purchased for $25)
Weaknesses: OM mount is film-only so you'll need a mount adapter for digital, no autofocus (obviously) so you'll have to MF through the tiny viewfinders on today's DSLRs.
Wow, what an amazing lens for the price of a pizza delivery! I'm using it mounted to an Olympus E-300 digital (8 megapixel) with an OM adapter bought on eBay for half the price of a pizza delivery.
The lens renders light beautifully. Contrast and tonality are subtle and lovely, while in-focus areas are sharp. Bokeh is lovely. To a one, images from this lens have a timeless, clasic look that you don't often see anymore--even the "snapshots," especially at f/1.8.
I'm more than happy to sacrifice autofocus to have the opportunity to shoot a lens like this on a modern digital body. What a joy!
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9 out of 10 points and recommended by 108 (3 reviews)cheap, light,sharp, excellent color rendition, fun.none
Got interested in this lens after much reading on the Internet. I waited till I found a "made in Japan" engraved on the front since those are supposed to be the best, and MC also, according to OM gurus. I wanted to try these old lenses on my "old" E520, just for fun. I equipped months before the old body with a split image focusing screen purchased from Taïwan ( 75 euros ) and an viewfinder magnifier ( x 1.36 ) for 35 euros from Hong Kong. This has proven a very good decision and makes manual focus much easier.... until f5.6. Then at smaller apertures the screen darkens and it gets complicated. In very low light just forget it. Another alternative, and easier too, is using Live view on the Dslr or back screen on EPL-2 for exemple, works best with the EVF. It just means buying another ( OM to M4/3 ) adapter, preferably from some Hong Kong dealer since Olympus's are so expensive. So I finally purchased the lens on eBay germany and just could not wait to try it on. And man I just fell on my ass when I saw what I got with this little wonder. But first the manual focus, no confirmation from the body : tricky at the beginning, then it gets better and after a day or so you develop a feel for it, it's not just the aligned split screen it's that little extra brightness that indicates you got it. Now 90 % of my shots are in focus, and by focus I mean real focus, not the so-so AF I get from my Olympus kit lenses, good as they are, or from the Digital 14-54 mm, or even from my Pana Summilux 25 mm f1.4, expensive as it is. This lens is magic and I feel like a kid in a candy store. If you pay attention to what you're doing , you can get perfectly sharp shots at 1.8 or at least sharp shots of what you want to be sharp in the picture. At f2.8 and to f5.6 it becomes wonderful, never a miss. Color rendition and depth are super, and with the E520 you don't get that cold digital nikon-like picture treatment. it's a magic lens for portraits, details of houses, details of buildings, close-ups on table items, on machinery. For lanscape not worth it. i leave the aperture ring on f2.8 now, way enough for low light, and keep my iso at reasonnable 800, except naturally by broad daylight up to 5.6 and iso 100. This little lens is a joy to use and now that I caught the Zuiko fever I'll go for the 200 mm f4 and the 28 mm f2.8 as well.reviewed March 24th, 2013 (purchased for $45)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by cwrt (1 reviews)Sharp enough at F1.8 and gets pretty good by F4, nice colors, light weight, very cheapa little stiff focus
This review pertains to a black nose F.Zuiko F1.8, Serial 16xxxxx, tested om E-PM1.reviewed February 25th, 2013 (purchased for $25)
The particular copy I got is much better than Nikkor 50mm F1.8 from around the same time. I tried both E series Nikon and the normal one and both were much worse wide open. Stepped down they are probably comparable.
I don't see much CA or distortion. Wide open there is a little bit of 'soap coating' that you often see in old lenses wide open. It is however nowhere near the Nikkors. There are some flares even from distant objects that could be troublesome.
In terms of sharpness at F1.8 I would say it is on par with the M4/3 14-42mm kit. At closed-down apertures it is a little better.
One minor flaw could that, at least in my copy, the focus is somewhat stiff. This is a little of a problem during shooting video.
7 out of 10 points and recommended by jnolan (7 reviews)Size, Cost, BuildPerformance with 4/3 sensor
I have a third party adapter that I use to mount OM lenses on my Olympus E-5. I actually have multiple adapters because the third party copies are so cheap (and functionally the same).reviewed May 31st, 2012
I have both this f-1.8 lens and the 50mm f-1.4 OM Zuiko. I find the f-1.4 superior to the f-1.8. The f-1.4 is definitely a pain to deal with wide open, but stopped down to an estimated f-1.8 it's clearer than this one wide open. At f-2, the f-1.4 lens objectively clearer. I've been using 'clearer' because it's not a focusing issue or the condition of the lens. Both lenses are clean, free of scratches and fungus.
As other reviewers have noted, there isn't one f-1.8 lens. the OM line existed for long enough that we're forced to lump a number of different lenses together as if they're the same product. I'm not sure, then, if my model is simply inferior to the other versions. I unfortunately don't have the lens with me right now, so I'm not sure of the details regarding its production run.
So, my review ends up being fairly useless. I guess you can take away the fact that the OM Zuiko 50mm f-1.4 lenses are decent. It's slightly larger than the f-1.8, but not that much larger.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Stoka (1 reviews)
I used this lens for several years in the early 1980's, especially on an Olympus OM10, which I used as a lightweight travel camera in India.reviewed May 23rd, 2011
I've posted some images shot with this lens at the following flickr addresses.
Note that the slides are very old and I have just recently scanned them to digital.
0 out of 10 points and recommended by SLRGuy (1 reviews)
"As a micro four thirds camera, the EP-1 produces a 2x ''crop factor,'' meaning lenses used with it provide an effective field of view that is double their listed focal length. So in this case, the 50mm ƒ/1.8 operates effectively as a 100mm ƒ/1.8 lens."reviewed March 11th, 2010
Not quite true.
On the E-P1 the effective field of view is HALF that of the lens if it were on a full-frame camera, not double.
Put the other way, the FOV is that of a 100mm lens on a full frame camera.
The focal length does not change. If you could change the focal length by altering the size of the sensor or film, we wouldn't need lenses of varying focal lengths.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Ashley_Pomeroy (6 reviews)Excellent image quality, small, light, chic, works well with adapters, cheap!Slightly wobby aperture ring, not much "character"
Literally the day before this went up, I wrote a short article about the lens for my blog, where I tested it briefly on a full-frame Canon 5D. I was looking exclusively at its extreme corner performance at f/8. On a Canon 5D I concluded that it is at least as sharp as Canon's EF 50mm f/1.8, in the extreme corner, at f/8. The colour balance seemed to be relatively cool. Mine was a later version, with a serial code that indicates it was made in January 1983, with "Made in Japan" written on the front.reviewed July 9th, 2009 (purchased for $30)
I imagine that its performance on a less pixel-dense sensor than the Four Thirds standard would be very, very good. If the Micro Four Thirds - OM adapter cost $17 rather than $170 it would make sense as a backup. For $200 it is silly. Of note, I have a Pentax Takumar 55mm f/2 which is almost as small as the Zuiko, and seems to perform just as well, at least in the corner at f/8.
It would be interesting to see how the Olympus 24mm f/2.8 fares with such a setup. I have one of these lenses and it is very, very sharp right in the centre even at f/2.8.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by chucknorcutt (1 reviews)
Thanks for the review. It was good to see one of my favorite oldies given new life. But there are a couple problems with your review. There are at least 5 versions of the OM Zuiko 50/1.8. This is one of the older ones which can be determined by examining the text on the name ring. Despite your praise for the multicoating this version was not multicoated. And, even if it was, the mulitcoating shouldn't have any effect on chromatic aberration. The final version was multicoated (as were others before it) and is a superior performer to this one.reviewed July 8th, 2009
0 out of 10 points and recommended by adamleahyphotography (4 reviews)
Just wanted to say thanks guys for doing this test! I have this lens sitting on my desk right now. I carried it with my OM1 on my shoulder for about 20 years. The camera body was destroyed, but the lens survived. Anyway, I'm buying the new Pen as soon as it's available with the 17mm lens. I'll get the adapter to use my old 50mm too. Will post on my experience with it later. :) Thanks again for doing the testing on this, can't wait to do my own.reviewed July 6th, 2009