Olympus 75mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko lens captivates editor


posted Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 6:26 PM EST

Z75mmmounted-ss2012 is the year of the lens, with more drool-worthy optics hitting the street every month. Some of the most exciting lenses are coming out for Micro Four Thirds cameras, effectively packing lots of imaging power into a small package. With the E-M5 still fresh in my mind, when the new Olympus 75mm M.Zuiko lens landed in our office, I claimed post-test dibs on the gorgeous glass, hoping to write this little report of my experience.

With the OM-D E-M5 out of the office for review by one of our new Pro writers, the natural choice was my new/old Olympus E-PL1 body, which I nabbed from Amazon/Cameta Camera not long ago for a mere $150 (Click here to see that deal). Though the E-PL1 doesn't have the latest models' F.A.S.T. autofocus, its JPEG noise suppression is a little less aggressive, which is better for testing this super-sharp lens. As it turned out, I processed the raw ORF portraits in Lightroom, so it didn't matter much anyway.

The 75mm M.Zuiko lens is somewhat large on the E-PL1, its big, bright optic threatening to pull in all it can see. Its heft is impressive and its depth imposing, bringing to mind the fine Leica 50mm f/1.4 Aspherical I reviewed earlier this year. It's not quite as heavy, but like that lens it reminds me of looking down into a glass of glacier water, with very little to choke your view to the other end.

Attached to the camera, the lens focuses noiselessly, thanks to its MSC focusing motor, making it great for stills or movies. The exception is the aperture, which does make a slight sound when opening and closing to adequately preview exposure as the light changes. Surprisingly, though, these changes occur silently when recording movies, so that's a nice plus. The aperture moves a lot more often when attached to the E-PL1 than when it's attached to the more modern E-P3.

In use, the 75mm M.Zuiko is frankly wonderful. It can't focus closer than about three feet (2.76 feet according to our SLRgear.com review), which is frustrating, because you're going to want to focus on everything with this beauty. I had to learn to keep my distance when framing most of these shots, which enforces a different kind of discipline; usually I'm challenged to zoom in with my feet, but here you have to step back a bit. Equivalent to a 150mm lens, it's already a requirement to step back to frame most objects, and take another step or two to frame people adequately. The surprise is that the lens is so small it's hard to believe it's equivalent to such a long focal length.

It's pretty amazing when you think about it. Add that it's an f/1.8 lens, and the possibilities for indoor sports, indoor portraits, indoor anything start to open right up.

I walked around town trying to find objects to include in the review. It was mid morning, so the light was good, but most merchants where I normally walk hadn't set out their more interesting objects just yet.

So I shot a lot of flowers, and later found some more interesting objects designed to weather the elements posted in front yards. Those are in the gallery at the end. Click on the images to enlarge, then click again to see the full-res image.

f/5.6, 1/160 second, ISO 1,250 f/1.8, 1/200 second, ISO 200,

Of course I fell into the trap of trying to illustrate what kind of bokeh the 75mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko could deliver, but I've learned to back off on that as well, also shooting at f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6, often bracketing around these settings to be sure I didn't overdo it. But because this is a smaller sensor, I didn't run into the trouble I've found when shooting with full-frame cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III, where my efforts to show bokeh have resulted in grossly out-of-focus images. There was usually just enough focus on a flower to make my point even wide open, leaving luscious bokeh behind.

A lens hood is not included with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko. That's a shame, and it came up wanting in at least one shot, particularly with the Sun still low in the sky. This shot above is an example of the low contrast you can get with a little light hitting the lens. Still, the detail is almost good enough to read the notes on the door (and would be good enough with the 16-megapixel E-M5, no doubt). I definitely recommend a lens hood.

Later that day, I switched to portraits, roping in my daughter for yet another photo shoot with a hot camera, or in this case, lens. You can see some incredible detail in her eyes and skin. Click on the images to enlarge, then click again to see the full-res image.

I also tried out my Zeus Ringmaster ringlight for a shot or two, but I haven't mastered that one yet. I used it here with my other three lights for a more even fill light. Still, the 75mm f/1.8 performed beautifully.

Finally, to illustrate that bokeh again, we went out into the back yard and my son held the reflector for that sun-on-the-beach look. This was shot at f/1.8. I find it just right, though I was expecting it to be too soft in one eye compared to the other. But only the hair falling off her right shoulder is soft, pleasantly so. And the background is like butter. Yes, that's a deep grassy field in evening sunlight behind her. I only had moments to make this shot, as my son was late going to bed and we were late for an appointment. I'd have had my young boy hold the reflector about two feet higher, but I'm still pretty pleased with the image considering the time we had.

That's more than enough to show that a photographer with a little more time on his hands could make some incredible images with the Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 portrait lens.

Below is a gallery of more images taken with the 75mm M.Zuiko lens.

Meanwhile, check out our technical review of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens on SLRgear.com.

Buy the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens from Amazon. (Currently available only for pre-order.)

Buy the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens from Adorama. (Currently available only for pre-order.)



Don't miss our technical review of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens on SLRgear.com!