Review: The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for Micro Four Thirds

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One of the earliest lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system, the Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit (hereafter known as just the 45 for the rest of the article) is also perhaps one of the most underrated. It acquired a reputation of being a slow focuser; that might have been as much due to the bodies available at the time as the lens mechanics. (The lens actually has a range limiter switch).

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Square hoods are a very typically Leica thing – just look at the S lenses. Oddly, the hood for the 25/1.4 is much deeper than this one.

Something I’ve always wondered was whether this was a Panasonic design, a Leica design, or a mix of both. Turns out that the answer is that the optics are designed by Leica in Germany; they’re assembled at Panasonic’s factories in Japan, and QC’d by a Leica rep who’s based there. Regardless, the optics are pretty darn superb. The lens is very useable even wide open at f2.8; unsurprisingly, for a macro lens, every focus distance is sharp. Performance is slightly worse in the corners than the center, but even this slight degree of blurring is removed by stopping down to f4 or smaller.

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The midsize lens balances well on the Olympus OM-D.

Don’t go any smaller than f11 though, because after this point there is clear diffraction softening visible on the OM-D’s sensor; fortunately due to the short real focal length, you’re unlikely to need to do so even if you require extended depth of field. f2.8-f8 is a good practical working range.

I’m pleased to report that the lens is also very low in chromatic aberrations of any kind; lateral CA is almost completely absent, and longitudinal CA (spherochromatism or ‘bokeh fringing’) is mild, and completely gone by f5.6. This suggests that the lens’ design is almost entirely tele centric, and definitely optimized for the M4/3 mount as we don’t see any evidence of purple fringing.

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Study of a pepper, 1. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Bokeh is a slightly different story. Whilst bokeh is superbly smooth and uniform with no ghosting or double images if you have enough distance between subject and out of focus area, there is a very odd transition zone immediately on either side of the focal plane that is both slightly nervous and displays bright edges on highlights. It’s worse at larger apertures and complex/ busy subjects. If you stop down to f5.6 or so, this property goes away.

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Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Chronograph Magic Gold. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Outside of macro work, in truth, a 45/2.8 as a multipurpose lens just isn’t that exciting because it’s a bit in no mans’ land. You have the equivalent FOV of 90mm, but none of the bokeh separation; it isn’t a sufficiently compressed perspective to be exciting or let you do something compositionally different with all-in-focus telephoto shots. In fact, it feels more like shooting with a 60-75mm lens in that regard. Yet you can’t be lazy with your shooting discipline, because it really needs about 1/100s for a consistently sharp image – providing you’ve got either one of the stabilizers off.

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Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

As with all of the Panasonic lenses on Olympus bodies, you have a choice of which stabilization system to use – either the moving-lens based system, controlled by a switch on the side of the lens, or the sensor-shift type built into the body. I did quite a lot of testing comparing the two systems – unfortunately there’s no real quantifiable way of doing this – and didn’t see any significant benefit of one over the other. As with all IS systems, you need to turn it off if the shutter speed is high enough otherwise you will actually land up with double images. The threshold is probably around 1/500s. I think this is because it can’t react fast enough to the high-frequency vibration caused by the shutter, but I’m sure there are others far more knowledgeable on this subject.

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Doctor Zoidberg. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

There’s a second switch on the side of the barrel, and that’s to control the focus limiter. Like all M 4/3 lenses, manual focus is entirely fly-by-wire; I personally don’t like these systems because they don’t give you enough tactile feedback and lack hard infinity or near limit stops. Although I prefer to use manual focus when shooting close focus so I can set my magnification before focusing, this is one of the few lenses where I have no choice but to rely on autofocus.

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Street scene in Geneva. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

It will hunt a bit if you have the lens set to full range and aren’t focusing on a close subject; but for the most part, focusing is actually pretty swift if only small changes in focus distance are required. Switching on the limiter – near focus of 45cm – makes things much faster. (The full limit is 25cm, which gives 1:1 magnification and about 10cm or so of working distance from the front of the lens). I haven’t actually tried it on the E-PM1, but I don’t expect focusing performance to be much worse.

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Hublot Ultra Thin. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro, ambient light on location.

The 45 works much better as a dedicated macro lens, and will serve handily as a portrait lens in a pinch; however, my general purpose pick would be the Olympus 45/1.8. Image quality is superb; there’s a biting sharpness and fine microcontrast structure you’d expect from a lens with this price tag and implied heritage. It definitely renders in a very different way to the Olympus 45/1.8; I suppose the best way to describe it would be tight and controlled.

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Geometry. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

It’s a midsize (for M 4/3, but about the same size as a 50/1.8 for any SLR mount) lens which balances well on an OM-D, with or without the optional grip. Sadly, the only metal parts in this lens appear to be the lens mount and screws; whilst the plastics are of high quality and the build quality and tolerances are tight, it just doesn’t have the feel of a precision instrument in the same way that say the Leica M or Zeiss ZF lenses do.

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Study of a pepper, 2. The full size shot shows some nervousness of bokeh around the focus transition zone near the stem. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

I would personally prefer a bit more control over my depth of field in a macro lens. Having said that, the extended depth of field offered here can be useful for certain applications where you need to get a large amount of the subject in focus. Perhaps the forthcoming Olympus 60/2.8 macro will better suit my requirements. However, it does offer some advantages over my normal setup – at maximum magnification, it covers a 17x13mm frame, against 36x24mm for full frame, and without the need for any extension tubes and the accompanying degradation in quality*. I can also see some uses for it for macro video, though the fly-by-wire focus ring may prove to be a bit of a problem.

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Grilled wagyu done right. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

*Extension tubes add another set of mount interfaces into the optical system; any slight deviations in planarity, or looseness, or give, will result in the optics being slightly off-axis. This is visible as softening, coma or astigmatism.

For now, though, the Panasonic Leica 45 retains a place in my bag, especially for use as part of my backup system on watch shoots. Don’t let the plastic exterior fool you: optically, this is a serious lens, and in the grand scheme of things it actually represents fairly good value for money despite being one of the more expensive lenses in the M 4/3 system. MT

The Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 is available from B&H and Amazon.

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Hublot Diver’s Chronograph. OM-D and 45/2.8 Macro

Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system

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The Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau China special edition.

For a system to be able to serve as backup, it must fulfill one important function: the ability for me to continue working with it and delivering images if my main system should fail for any reason. And it should be able to cover all genres of what I shoot, without too many workarounds or compromises. The obvious choice would of course be to buy two of the same camera, but a) where’s the fun in that, and b) sometimes it’s also useful to have a different camera system to give you other shooting options not available from your primary.

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D for most jobs which do not require special purpose lenses (e.g. tilt shifts) or huge resolution; the Nikon D800E of course covers everything else. What I’ve found so far is that from a usability and image quality point of view, the camera has no problems delivering the goods consistently; the only exception being a peculiar lockup problem that only happens if you use the Fn1 button to zoom into an image after shooting, then hit the protect button if you’re in the screen with the zoom toggle slider on one side. Unfortunately that does seem to be part of my workflow, but I’m learning to avoid it.

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The biggest question, in my mind, was whether the system was a viable alternative to the D800E for doing watch work – rather important, given that this is the majority of what I do commercially. I acquired a Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro Elmarit (yes, a review is in the works) for this purpose. Suffice to say – the lens isn’t the limiting factor at all, it’s pretty darned awesome (and one of the better macro lenses I’ve used, actually).

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Although Olympus does have a wireless flash system (FL36R, FL50R and FL500R) which is IR-triggered like Nikon and Canon’s systems, I wasn’t about to buy another set of speedlights, and certainly not about to carry them around along with the primary system, too. Fortunately the Nikon SB900s I use have a SU4 optical slave trigger mode – with manual flash power, of course. I used this and manually set the output levels. Yes, it’s much slower than using iTTL and dialing in adjustments directly through the camera, but it works.

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All in all, as you can see from the images here, I think the results are pretty darned good – my client didn’t say anything about the file quality, or lack of it; the OM-D’s files interpolated very cleanly to 25MP and their required resolution.

Depending on what I shoot, I’ll carry the OM-D body and 12mm and 45mm macro lenses, or just the 45; the 20/1.7 rides along as a body cap. One nice thing is its ability to use the Zeiss ZF glass I’ll normally carry for my D800E via an adaptor, so I don’t even have to carry the 45 and 20mms if I’ve got the 50/2 Makro-Planar and 21/2.8 Distagon.

One note of caution – during my recent Hong Kong workshop, the camera decided to stop working in a very humid environment (light rain, probably 90-95% humidity) and didn’t come back to life again until being dried out in air conditioning and with a few blasts from a hair dryer for good measure – so they’re probably not as well weather sealed as they claim. It continued to work intermittently for a few days afterwards, with menus self-navigating (as though one of the buttons was shorted out) before working normally thereafter. Odd. MT

The Olympus OM-D in various configurations is available here from B&H and Amazon.

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Photoessay: Kowloon in color

Shot on a particularly rainy night in Kowloon, post-typhoon with a Leica M9-P and Zeiss ZM 28/2.8. Surprisingly, both functioned fine despite the moisture and humidity. I must be one of the few strange photographers who actually like shooting in the rain – it’s not masochism, despite what it might appear as. Three simple reasons: one, there’s a lot more texture and color from the water, reflections and umbrellas; two, the light is a bit more diffuse; three, nobody pays you any attention – everybody is simply too busy trying to keep dry. And this makes street photography significantly easier. MT

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Enter the August 2012 competition: Compact Challenge – here!

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Photoessay: Macau, part two

A continuation of the set from Macau. Shot in the tail end of a typhoon with a Leica M9-P, Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon and ZM 2/50 Planar lenses. MT

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Enter the August 2012 competition: Compact Challenge – here!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Photoessay: Macau, part one

Part one from Macau; immediately post-typhoon and still very, very rainy, not to mention humid. This set was shot with an Olympus OM-D, 45/1.8 and Panasonic 20/1.7 lenses. Images can be clicked on for larger versions, or to go to the flickr hosting page where exif data is available. Enjoy! MT

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The curious thing about outbound Macau customs was that there were none…take whatever you will from that (and the country).

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Enter the August 2012 competition: Compact Challenge – here!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Photoessay: New car time

I don’t normally shoot cars – I leave that to my good friend Darren Chang – but my wife recently got herself a new ride. Since I photograph everything that moves or doesn’t move as a matter of habit and for practice, I couldn’t help myself. The 6R Volkswagen Polo GTI is one of the best bang for the buck cars you can find here – 185bhp from a 1.4 turbocharged and supercharged four; it gets to 100km/h in the mid-six second range, and has a great growly exhaust note. Also, it’s a lot of fun. MT

This series shot with an Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini and 14-42 kit lens.

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Review: the Voigtlander 25/0.95 Nokton MFT

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There are several fast-normal options available today for Micro 4/3 users – the Panasonic 20/1.7, the Panasonic-Leica 25/1.4 DG Summilux, and the fastest of them all, the Voigtlander 25/0.95. There are also a whole host of modified CCTV and C-mount lenses, some of which cover the whole M4/3 frame, some of which don’t. None of them have enough resolving power to match the resolution of the sensor at full aperture, either.

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Given the limited high-ISO capabilities of the earlier M4/3 sensors, there was an obvious gap left for a hyperspeed lens of any sort; being one of the M4/3 consortium members, Voigtlander stepped in to fill the gap. However, not having AF technology, Cosina had to make do with a manual-focus only design, but with a native M4/3 mount. The lens feels nothing like the M4/3 lenses from Panasonic, Olympus or Sigma; it’s a hefty lump of metal, built with the same solid feel as the more premium modern manual focus lenses. It’s not a small lens, especially once you attach the supplied hood – it’s actually about the same size (and much heavier) than the Voigtlander 75/1.8 for M mount. This lens rates very highly on the tactility scale; the focus ring is well-damped but turns smoothly without much effort; there’s no backlash and this makes focusing a very pleasing experience. The aperture ring has neat half-click detents, but I would prefer the stops to be a bit more decisive and less easy to turn.

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Cinnamon. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

Let’s talk a bit about focusing – because one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve had with this lens. I would say it’s easier than expected, but not as easy as I would like – especially when using the lens stopped down. Since there’s no electronic linkage between the lens and camera, aperture is entirely mechanical; this means that you’re always seeing the stopped down view through the finder or on the LCD. The trick is to shoot raw, and turn focusing on your jpeg settings up to the maximum – this actually creates a little bit of a shimmery halo in the finder. (These settings of course do not affect the raw file). It also accentuates sharpness of the image, which makes it easier to tell when things are in focus – as you turn the focusing ring past then point of focus and back again, there’s a slight shimmer in the live preview. The focusing ring is also well-spaced – the normal range from about ~0.4m to infinity is easily covered by a turn of the wrist without having to reposition your hand; the near range – down to just 0.17cm – is more widely spaced, and allows for precise placement of the focal plane.

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The whole frame at the near limit and f1.4. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

One doesn’t buy this lens with the intention to use it at any other aperture than wide open, at least most of the time. There’s simply no point in paying so much (it’s considerably more expensive than the Panasonic-Leica, which of course has autofocus and is about one stop slower) and carrying around so much extra weight if you’re going to use it at f2. In fact, you might as well get the Panasonic 20/1.7 – it’s cheaper, much smaller and focuses itself. The good news is that the center produces acceptable sharpness, even wide open – providing you focus it accurately. (The shallow depth of field transition profile of a 25mm focal length lens means that that finding the optimum plane isn’t always easy, either.)

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Satay. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

There’s a considerable improvement in acuity at f1.4 in the center, and again at f2; however, the corners don’t reach anywhere near central levels of sharpness until f2.8 and beyond. Note that I use the term ‘acceptable’: it’s not great at f0.95, and there’s a distinct softness that’s probably caused by internal flare; I suspect that if the internal surfaces of the barrel were better coated against reflection, we’d see a corresponding improvement in contrast and sharpness. Microcontrast is simply nonexistent until f2, and macro contrast is generally quite flat, too – making it good for retaining dynamic range under extreme lighting situations, but poor for fine texture reproduction.

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The hills are made of rice. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

What about the other common lens shortcomings, like vignetting, chromatic aberration, flare and distortion? The 25 has all of them, and in quite generous amounts, too. It will vignette wide open, but this is easily corrected and gone by f2.8. Chromatic aberration is a bit more problematic; we see that and purple fringing against high-contrast backgrounds, especially when subjects are backlit. If you get a bright point light source in the wrong part of the frame, you’re going to have fun with flare, lowering already low contrast even further – and the hood isn’t going to help you much. I didn’t actively look for distortion, so I can’t comment on it; the types of subjects this lens is suited to probably wouldn’t show it anyway.

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Family corner, at f0.95. Due to the short real focal length, f0.95 doesn’t have as shallow depth of field as you might have otherwise imagined. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

After all of that, you might have come to the conclusion that this lens is pretty bad – optically, it’s definitely not the best I’ve used. But, what other lens offers a true f0.95 aperture (and T stop that’s not far off, either) at US$1200? I can see some uses for the 25 – portraiture, mostly – but it just doesn’t suit what I do. Even though the optics at f4-5.6 are excellent, and the 17cm near focus distance makes it quite useful for food photography, there just isn’t enough reason for me to keep the lens around since it replicates the performance of the Panasonic 20/1.7.

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Untitled. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

As much as I love using the lens simply because it feels like a real lens, not a plastic shell – I just can’t recommend it for the kind of photography I do; it’s not sharp enough wide open to be used as an available-light lens, and is further hampered by the difficulty of focusing it under low light conditions; it’s big enough to defeat the point of the compact M4/3 system, and expensive enough that I think having the 20/1.7 and 45/1.8 lenses instead makes much more sense.

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Burger time. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

If you’re an object shooter, as tempting as the close focus capability is, you can’t really use it wide open without dealing with rendering that’s best described as ‘impressionist’; you’re better served by the Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro, or the forthcoming Olympus 60/2.8. If you’re an available light shooter, and don’t mind the occasional softness due to focusing misses, then go ahead; if sharpness bothers you, then go for the Panasonic Leica 25/1.4 Summilux. However, I can see a very narrow niche of portrait photographers for whom pictorial style takes precedence over sharpness; this is your lens, and it offers a look previously limited to larger format systems.

If you must still have one, get it here from B&H or Amazon.

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Crash test portrait dummy. Olympus OM-D, 25/0.95

Photoessay: Hong Kong life in monochrome

The first set from my recent Hong Kong and Macau workshop. Click for larger versions or EXIF data via the flickr landing page. Enjoy! MT

Images shot with a Leica M9-P, Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon, ZM 2/50 Planar, Olympus OM-D and 45/1.8.

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Enter the August 2012 competition: Compact Challenge – here!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Photoessay: A Swiss landscape or two

On a recent assignment in Switzerland, I had the occasional break, and the even more occasional bit of interesting weather – fog or sun, it was either 5 C or 25 C with nothing in between – so I made the most of it by doing a spot of landscape work. I was surprised to discover that the Swiss countryside in summer really does look like the postcards – intensely blue skies, emerald meadows, and lots of cows. It’s positively bucolic, but in a good way.

Landscape photography is tough without a car or sufficient time to do some hiking. Part of the time was spent outside Geneva in the very scenic Vallee du Joux, home to a number of the old watchmaking manufactures. The big body of water is the Lac du Joux, which is as still as a mirror in the early mornings, but can get quite choppy once the mid-afternoon breezes start to blow. I’m told that as idyllic as it seems in summer, it hits -20 C at times in winter, and there’s nothing to see but white. I suspect I might have some problems with the small buttons on the OM-D in that weather, though.

This was the second time I’ve used Zeiss lenses on M4/3 – I actually find the ZF2s work better than the ZMs because they’re mostly telecentric designs. The 21/2.8 is particularly good, actually – it has very refined contrast that the Panasonic 20/1.7 lacks. (You’re probably wondering why I didn’t use that lens – I can put the 21 on the D800E and the 85 on the OM-D, swap them, and have a very nicely spaced set of 21, 42, 85 and 190mm 🙂 I still maintain that so far, the best color I’ve seen comes from Olympus bodies and Zeiss lenses…now if only they’d make some M4/3 AF glass. Preferably a fast 28mm equivalent…MT

This series was shot with an Olympus OM-D, Panasonic 20/1.7, Zeiss ZF.2 21/2.8 Distagon and ZF.2 85/1.4 Planar via adaptor.

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One of those trees that fell in the forest which we never hear about

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Review: The Olympus ZD 75/1.8 for Micro Four Thirds

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One of the more eagerly awaited lenses for compact system users, the Olympus Zuiko Digital 75/1.8 ED MSC (hereafter just referred to as the 75) is one of the final confirmations that Micro Four Thirds has finally come of age. We now have all of the popular lenses we need – including a fast 24-70/2.8 equivalent, fast primes at 24, 35, 50 (multiple choices) and 90mm equivalents; the very fast portrait tele like a 150/1.8 (for example, the subject of this review) or 200/2 is now here to round out the lineup. Curious, there’s no fast 50 from Olympus, and no fast AF 35 from any of the manufacturers; that Schneider-Kruzenach 14/2 looks extremely interesting indeed.

But we’re not here to talk about that.

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Compared to the 12/2.

I picked up a final production sample 75 from Olympus Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, having handled a much earlier prototype; honestly, the only thing that seems to have changed is the lens’ finish color (a light champagne color over bare metal) now matches that of the 12/2 perfectly. Unfortunately, during my free days, the weather has not been as conducive for shooting as I would have liked; I look forward to updating the review again once I’ve had a chance to use the lens for a longer period of time.

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The 75 is a superbly well built lens; it’s solid, but not unexpectedly heavy, say in the same way as a brass Leica lens. However, the only plastic to be found anywhere on the lens is the cap – I’m guessing the rest of it is aluminum, including the optional hood. It sits at the top of Olympus’ lens pyramid for M4/3, together with the 12/2 – and presumably other lenses too, at some point. Curiously, for a lens of this build quality and price (RRP around RM3,200 give or take; availability at retail end-July or early August) there is no weather sealing – unlike the much cheaper (and honestly, cheap feeling too) 12-50 EZ. So, don’t get this one wet – even if your OM-D can take it. The focusing ring is well damped and smooth to rotate, with about the right amount of resistance. Sadly though, it’s once again a fly-by-wire design, like every other M4/3 lens except the 12/2. A nice touch is that all markings on the lens are engraved deeply and painted in relief – including ‘Made in Japan’ on the bottom.

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With hood.

I was also given the (optional) hood; it nearly doubles the perceived size of the lens, and is thoroughly enormous. It secures with a thumb screw (why no bayonet, Olympus?) and provides good shading of the front element. I’m told that it will ship with another cap that clips on to the end of the hood; this is absolutely required as there’s no way you can get your fingers in to remove the originally supplied cap once the hood is in place. It also reverses for storage. Again, given the price of the lens…not including a hood seems a little, well, cheap.

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A Bollywood still. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8
All images in this review may be clicked on for larger versions (and click through the Flickr landing page again).

That’s about all of the improvement points i’ve got, though. There’s a lot to like about the 75, and I’ll start with focusing speed. The 75 is a fast, silent, and most importantly, accurately focusing lens. Unless there are huge changes in subject distance, the lens snaps into focus with the same speed as the 45/1.8. I’m told this is due to the design philosophy employed; there’s only one element that moves to achieve focus, and it runs along a track/ rail. The first part of this means that a) the focusing assembly is light and therefore requires little energy to move quickly or change direction; b) the focusing action can be entirely internal. The latter portion contributes to speed – most lenses contain focusing elements that are attached to a rotating helicoid assembly; a linear motor rotates this entire assembly in either direction to move it back and forth by means of a static cam and follower. However, using a linear motor or magnets (I haven’t been able to find out which), movement of the focusing element along a track/ rail can be accomplished much, much more quickly – and without the grinding sound of rotating parts. Bottom line: don’t question it too much, it just works.

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Two old men. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

On the subject of focusing, the 75 gets much closer than most 150/200mm equivalent lenses: the near focus limit is just 0.8m, which is even a little shorter than most standard 85mms. This makes for some impressively tight frames; just remember that your depth of field is also very shallow (though of course not as shallow as a true 150/1.8), and slight movement in either the camera or the subject will result in front or back focus.

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Delivery man. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

You’ll notice that up til this point, I haven’t said much about the optics of the lens. We are now fortunate enough to live in a time when there are very few truly bad lenses, plenty of excellent ones, and a few really exceptional ones -but the difference between excellent and really exceptional is so small, that it takes near perfect conditions to see it. I think the 75 is one of those that manages to cross the excellent threshold into exceptional – at least in my mind. It delivers absolutely stunning resolution and sharpness across the frame, even from maximum aperture at f1.8; stopping it down increases your depth of field, but doesn’t really make much difference to sharpness. In fact, it’s one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used for Micro 4/3. There is a tiny improvement in microcontrast visible between f1.8 and around f2.8; things are pretty static from there on down, until you hit the diffraction limit somewhere between f8 and f11 (on the OM-D).

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Mirrored thought. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

Resolution isn’t everything, of course – if the lens had an ugly bokeh signature, a horrible transition zone, odd color transmission, or worse, massive lateral/ longitudinal CA – then we might well write it off completely for any one of those flaws alone. Except…the 75 doesn’t suffer from any of those maladies; it’s one of those very rare things: a transparent lens. It delivers a neutral, accurate rendition of the subject with very little of its own ‘personality’ (read: charmingly artistic optical flaws) impinging on your vision. The only flaw I could find was a trace of spherochromatism (color fringes on bokeh) on very strongly backlit subjects; regular lateral chromatic aberration is completely absent, and there are no odd corner gremlins to be wary of, either. Place your subject wherever you wish, with confidence.

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Searching for value. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

I think resisting the temptation to go to f1.4 or faster has paid off here – slower lenses of course being easier to make optically perfect than fast ones. Compared to the already excellent 45/1.8, there’s no contest – the 75 outperforms it in every way; it’s just that bit crisper, that bit clearer, that bit more vivd, and that bit more transparent. (Sadly, it’s also more than just a bit more expensive).

Overall, there are very few lenses I would place in the company of the 75 – the Nikon 85/2.8 PCE, perhaps; the Nikon 200/2 VR, definitely; the Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE; and I would go so far as to say it has that same level of clarity I’ve seen only so far in the Leica 50/2 APO ASPH. (Who knows if the 75’s ultimate resolution is as high as the 50/2 AA; it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t designed to cover more than 17x13mm anyway.)

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Yet another stop. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

The question is, though, what would you use this lens for? I think it’s actually a bit long to serve as the second lens in a two-lens kit; I’d still pick the 12 and 45mms for versatility, perhaps adding the 75mm if I feel I’m going to be shooting in a larger space. I suppose it would be good for portraiture if you have enough space to make it work – remember, we’re talking 150mm FOV equivalent here; alternatively there’s indoor sport (once we have a CSC that has decent continuous AF capabilities) or perhaps landscape work (though I’d go with the 100-300 and a tripod for more flexibility, since speed isn’t required).

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Suspicious lunch. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

It’s good for generating very cinematic images; this is a lens that will only deliver one type of look, and you must both like and know how to use it – it’s not a flaw of the lens, but more a consequence of the angle of view. No doubt street photographers will find it extremely handy to get closer to or isolate their subjects, because its relatively small and unintimidating physical size is out of proportion to its magnification. Put the 75 on an OM-D body without hood or grip, and you’ve got a package that’s still smaller than the entry-level DSLR and kit lens most people are toting around these days. After a week with it, I feel that the lens is one which you will just find a use for – solely because the way it renders images is rather addictive. It was a sad day when I had to hand mine back (even sadder, because one normally doesn’t give things away on their birthday.)

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Rainy traffic jam. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

I can’t help but think that to round out the lineup, Olympus needs a lens like this in 17/1.4, 25/1.4 and 300/4 flavors. MT

You can order the 75/1.8 here from B&H or Amazon.

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Lego city. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

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A hand in an inappropriate place. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

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Diner and watcher. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

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Between destinations. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

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The older you are, the less you care about the rules. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8

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Veiled (but empty) garden of pleasures. Olympus OM-D, 75/1.8