Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

Image Credit: Olympus America

Despite being very attractive, I was on the fence about the Olympus 75mm for several weeks after it first started to become available. From all accounts it was simply excellent, but it was also expensive, and I was looking forward to the forthcoming Panasonic 35-100 as an alternative.

Then the weekend of a wedding shoot began to draw ominously near, with my longest native lens being a 25mm, and I got nervous and placed an order. Unfortunately, the lenses were delayed somewhere between Oly and B&H, and still desperate for a longer lens I bought a used Panasonic Leica 45mm macro, which worked very well at the wedding and has probably earned a permenant place in my bag.

Fast forward another week, the 75mm is still on pre-order at B&H with an estimated arrival in late-August. I’m okay with that, I can make it. And once again I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I don’t really need it. I’ve pretty much settled on prime lenses for my kit, but I’d really be okay with having the 45mm as my longest, at least for a while.

Naturally that’s when I get an email from my buddy Zack, who has himself become friends with the owner of Cameraland in NYC. The owner of Cameraland plays golf with the Olympus reps.   He often manages to get a few of the harder-to-find Oly items. This time he has three 75mm lenses, and one of them is yet unclaimed. Am I interested?

If you’re a regular reader, you know how this story ends…

I go through the usual 45 seconds on agonized decision making: $900 is a lot of money, and coupled with the 45mm I just bought it wipes out my camera fund. For the foreseeable future.

So I said yes, gave my credit card another kick in the shorts, and 24 hours later I had a gleaming new Oly 75mm in my hands.

Mandy Boyle takes a break from picking blackberries in Dallas, PA, on the afternoon of 04 August 2012.

It took a couple of days before I was able to actually put it through its paces, but it traveled with me on Saturday while Mandy and I went berry picking (she picked, I shot) and then to Hillside Farms for a visit with the critters.  Which is why aside from Mandy, chickens are among my first subjects with just about every new lens I’ve had this year.  But that’s okay, chickens make good subjects. They’re very tolerant of photographers – much more so than some of the people I’ve worked with over the years!

(I posted a shortened version of this on the m4:3 forum, where someone cautioned me about comparing my girlfriend and chickens as portrait subjects.  Girlfriends tend to be a bit touch about such statements.  It’s a good point, but as you can see I’m throwing caution to the wind here.  Plus, Mandy herself admits that she’s not the best model, since she can’t take it seriously.)

 

So here’s the short list of pros and cons for this lens.  Keep in mind that this isn’t a full review, just my thoughts after a couple days of use.

Pros:

  • very sharp, even wide-open.  I think the technical term is “wicked sharp.”  Check out the rooster down below.  That dude is sharp!
  • amazing separation, by which I mean the lens’ ability to separate the subject from the background by rendering the BG out of focus.
  • great build.  This lens feels like it can easily hold up to real, professional use.  It’s solid and it feels good on the camera.  It ain’t no cheap plastic kit lens.
  • fast AF that locks on target.
Cons:
  • it’s expensive; $900 is a lot for a prime m4:3 lens, even if it is Olympus’ “best lens to date,” as their marketing coins it.
  • that price tag doesn’t include a lens hood.  Oly wants another $75 for the hood, and $40 for the metal lens cap.  (You know, if the plastic cap it comes with isn’t good enough for you.)  The price of the hood, and the fact that it doesn’t come with the lens, is just a really cheap move on Oly’s part.  I certainly won’t be buying one – I’ll go to eBay and get a 3rd party version that will work just as well and only cost me a fraction as much.  (Suck on that, Olympus!)
This is the rooster shot I mentioned above.  It’s wide open, and it’s pretty darn sharp.  If you can’t really tell in the web version, click the image below.  It’s the full-res file, straight from the camera.  All I did was convert it to jpeg.  If you zoom in on it, you’ll see two things: one, the lens is truly very sharp without any help in post.  And second, the DOF is very shallow.  I missed his eye by just a little; the central focus is just in front of it, about where his beak meets his head.  And from there the focus falls of on either side in a very short distance.  This is the sort of lens where you’ll get a person’s eye in focus, and the tip of their nose and edge of their ear will already be going soft.  At least when you’re wide open, or near to it.

Click to view larger

Here are several more shots of my chicken friends.  A mother hen and her chicks, for a combined performance & cuteness factor.  Go ahead, say, “Awwww.”  We all know you’re thinking it.

Chicks, overseen by their mother chicken, scratch for insects in the gravel trail at Hillside Farms in Dallas, PA, on the afternoon of 04 August 2012.

Chicks, overseen by their mother chicken, scratch for insects in the gravel trail at Hillside Farms in Dallas, PA, on the afternoon of 04 August 2012.

Chicks, overseen by their mother chicken, scratch for insects in the gravel trail at Hillside Farms in Dallas, PA, on the afternoon of 04 August 2012.

I’ve processed all these images with a combination of VSCO Film presets in ACR.  This treatment boosts the contrast and colors – it’s a look I like, for some subjects.  Just throwing it out there as a disclaimer.  Straight from camera, the images are a little flatter, a little more clinical.  But then, that’s the case with most lenses…

The 75mm is now a permanent member of my kit. And I can’t wait to shoot more portraits with it.  Of people…not chickens. It’s designed for portrait work – that much is easy to see.  And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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9 Comments

  1. I’ve never heard wicked sharp before it’s always been “tack” sharp or sharp as a tack. Regardless of the term used it seems to be one hell of a lens. Mandy should take modeling seriously she’s got the look :)

    • Brent Pennington

      “Wicked sharp” surpasses “tack sharp.” Or at least it does now :) As for Mandy, I’ll pass the compliment on, but I’m not sure it will make a difference.

  2. Do you think the “M” in M. Zuiko stands for Mike?

    • Brent Pennington

      I’d have guessed it stands for “micro,” but what the heck, we can give “Mike” a try as an alternative. Now you’ll just have to change your last name to Zuiko and you’ll be all set!

  3. Edgar_in_Indy

    Thanks for the informative write-up and the sample images.

    As a very happy PEN E-P1 owner I was seriously considering selling all of my Pentax DSLR gear recently to switch to the OM-D and m43. And the new 75mm was one of the lenses I was looking forward to owning. If I sold all of my Pentax gear, I would have had $4500 to spend on m43. But in the end, I decided to buy the new Pentax K-30 to replace my old K-x.

    One of the main reasons I decided against m43 for now is the lack of fast zooms and good telephoto options. Sure, they’ve got the new 12-35mm f/2.8, but I don’t appreciate being priced gouged. And that’s what they’re doing, because they know there are no other options right now. And I think they’re doing the same thing by charging outrageous prices for a lens hood that should absolutely be included. Like I said, I don’t appreciate Olympus taking advantage of the situation to extort additional money from their customers.

    So for now m43 misses out on my immediate $4500 investment, and the future investments I would have made down the road. Maybe I’ll take another look at the system in 2 or 3 years, assuming they’ve fixed the problems.

    • Brent Pennington

      Thanks for your thoughts, Edgar. I tend to agree with you about the high prices on this first wave of truly excellent, pro-level lenses – there is gouging going on. Canon’s excessive prices are part of the reason I left them, so I’m a little disappointed to see this in m4:3 now.

      On the other hand, pro lenses have always commanded a top price, so we do need to remember that a healthy mark up over the super-consumer level zooms is to be expected. In that light, perhaps the Olympus 75mm and Panasonic 12-35 aren’t so far out of line.

  4. Prices of new electronic devices are always high, especially if the build quality is also a little better then normal. In the old days everything was build like a tank, that’s why we still use much of that stuff today. Nowadays most things are build to quickly damage or wear. Anyway, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is a little diamond and a beautiful lens for portraiture if you ask me. It allows the photographer to make close-up’s with beautifull bokeh and without getting uncomfortably close to the subject. Also, this lens can be used wide open. This is of course very important on a micro 4/3 camera. Yes it’s expensive, but you get what you pay for. Just like Panasonic 12-35mm this lens will serve you well.

  5. This is an excellent lens. There’s nothing more that I can say really. Nothing bad, no shortcomings, no hidden problems, nothing. Excellent image quality straight from the maximum aperture of f/1. freaking 8.

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