*Olympus 75mm f/1.8, all it’s cracked up to be?

Oly 75mm f/1.8 Lens

After my recent disappointment with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro (read here), and my ongoing ups and downs with the Olympus OMD EM5, I have been looking to be convinced by Olympus.  I hear so much about Oly’s stellar reputation, but I’d not personally felt those plaudits justified through my experiences with the few Olympus products I’ve owned (hopefully the fanboys will be kind to me here).  In comes the M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens.  A solid, sharp, 150mm EFOV lens with quite a reputation of its own has come onto the scene.  After returning the 60mm macro, I wanted to make sure that the investment in the 75mm lens would be worth it to me…

Oly 75mm f/1.8 Lens OMD EM5

Let’s get the weirdness out of the way.  Yes, the silver metal is an odd choice (especially knowing they’ll likely offer a black model at a higher price (Yep HERE,…no thanks) and yes, $900 for a 75mm f/1.8 lens is much too high if looking purely at other comparable lenses being manufactured for full frame systems, as I’d feel $600 would be a more realistic price which would still be about 150% of comparable full frame, non weather sealed, metal 85mm f/1.8 lens, price points.  Ignoring these wide spread grumblings, has the micro 4/3 system found itself a mid range tele portrait juggernaut?  I think so.  In true Olympus fashion, we’re charged a premium and completely left wanting for accessories that other lens manufacturers tend to include, especially for lenses at this price point (uh uhmmm, lens hood).  But, those gripes aside, I must admit, this is a beautiful optical tool.  While the 150mm equivalent fov resides in mid tele no-mans land being traditionally too long for the go to head shot, mid tele focal lengths, and too short for most of the responsibilities usually doled out to the longer range telephoto lenses, you will have to ignore your preconceptions of focal length when looking to this lens.  If you are familiar with or enjoy shooting a 135mm lens on an 3:2 format sensor, the angle of view is near identical if you were to crop into the full frame of a 135mm lens’ in a 4:3 format.  In this way, it is fairly unique, and offers something a little different than the 85mm to 135mm “portrait” range giving users a different choice.  A choice, I’m happy to say, that I made. (*** UPDATE *** read the new article pitting the Oly 75mm vs the Canon 135mm L HERE)

Olympus OMD EM5 and M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens

I will say, this lens, like the 60mm macro (although not nearly as bad), has some trouble focusing in low light on the OMD EM5.  I chalk this up as much to the CDAF as I do to any flaws with these lenses, but when even my Lumix 14mm f/2.5 or the PL25mm f/1.4 both have noticeably fewer problems focusing under the same conditions, on the same Olympus body (and for those pointing out the focal length differences, my EF 135L lens is much faster in low light), I have to assume that the Oly lenses just aren’t as good at focusing in lower light for whatever reason.  I have no scientific evidence, but I feel there’s a noticeable difference (especially with the 60mm macro in lower light).  This shouldn’t be a breaking point because while challenged in certain circumstances, the 75/1.8 does well, and certainly better than the 60mm macro in less than good light.

Here is a quick unboxing video:

I can point you to SQF charts and lens resolution tests, which I’m sure many of us have seen, but this lens is as sharp as you’d need a lens to be.  I’m sure you could measure a slight falloff of sharpness at the edges or corners, but really, it does just fine for any task you’d need to use this lens for in my opinion.  If you’re the type to really worry about a lens’ sharpness and resolution, you can rest assured, this lens is as sharp as most anything else out there.  To me, much like the 60mm macro didn’t feel right, this lens does, and here’s why:

Oly 75mm f/1.8 Lens Outdoor Portrait

Oly 75mm f/1.8 Lens Indoor Portrait

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

And here’s a 100% crop of the above shot (click to see larger):

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

Here’s a shot straight out of the camera, captured in RAW and converted in Aperture 3.4, exported as jpeg.

SOOC

SOOC

SOOC 100% crop

SOOC 100% crop

I expected to love the Oly 60mm macro lens and I absolutely did not unfortunately.  The Oly 75mm is a different story though.  While the price is high in my opinion, I’ve just accepted that it is what it is, and have moved on knowing I’ve got a wonderful lens for the micro 4/3 system.  For me, this lens is closer to being worth it’s price than the 60mm macro was for it’s.  I feel it provides a unique mid tele focal length with a nice flattening effect for portraits, will easily allow for separation of subject and background, and is great for anything you want to throw in front of it.  I feel it may struggle to focus quickly in low light, for instance making it a bit tricky to capture quick moving indoor sports, but I’m sure with a refined focusing technique, it could handle this too.

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens

So, who is this lens for?  I really think that this lens can create shots for any user.  It does require a little bit of working distance for traditional subjects and with an MFD of 2.76’/.84m) can make it a little difficult if you’re looking to really magnify small subjects, but I find that when using this lens as a walk around lens for instance, I tend to start finding shots that I’d not particularly see, or look for otherwise.  It’s easy to isolate a subject, be that a person, a flower or anything in between.  A shallow DOF monster, that can help with anything from portraiture to street, nature and landscape shooting.  Sideline sports shooting at relatively close distances can create a nice, intimate action tool to focus into a single subject or small grouping of subjects.  While it isn’t the fastest focuser compared to comparable full frame optics geared toward sports, et al, and is largely dependent on very contrasty situations to be at its best AF-wise, with a bit of practice on your focusing technique, I think it can certainly do well in these situations.  The better and more contrasty the light, the faster the AF operation obviously (it is capable of being very fast under the right circumstances), but it does admirably down to a reasonable level of light.  At its foundation, it excels in controlled lighting situations, and is more a studio type lens, but can certainly be employed in a street, location/environmental portrait or sport shooting application in my opinion.    It’s sharp, too sharp some may even say for portraiture as you’ll potentially need to be softening skin to get the most flattering results.  The price is high, but that is what it is.  Should Olympus have provided a hood and sealing at this price point?  I think so yes, but once you get over that hurdle, you won’t be left wanting from a pure image quality standpoint.  Whether it is worth the asking price is, or course, entirely a personal decision.  If you want or need a sharp, fast mid-tele lens, it does really well and is capable of producing as nice an image file out of these micro 4/3 cameras as I’ve seen.

If you’re interested, have a look at this lens via B&H here: Olympus Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 Lens

I’m planning on doing a comparison between this lens on the OMD EM5 and the legendary 135mm f/2 L lens on a 5DII just for fun (yeah, that article is now HERE).  They provide a comparable enough field of view, and are similar tools for their respective systems, so stay tuned for that.  If you’d like to be alerted as articles are posted, feel free to add your email to the alert list at the top of the page, follow me on twitter or on linkedin.  If you’re on flickr, feel free to stop by our flickr group here and say hi.

Here are a few other recent micro 4/3 articles if interested:

Against the grain on the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro

OMD EM5 Firmware Update includes IBIS for legacy lenses!

Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 Lens compared to the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake

Thanks for the read and as always, happy shooting.

Tyson

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18 thoughts on “*Olympus 75mm f/1.8, all it’s cracked up to be?

  1. That lens is likely the technically sharpest M4/3 lens now available. But like you I’ve had a devil of a time feeling good about focus. Auto or even otherwise. At least on the present OMD camera. Which with any lens is positively slo mo compared to decent full frame normal.
    But the weird optical throw at the 150mm equivalent is worse. I’m no fan of 135s and would greatly prefer a 180. That said I’ve not kept this lens as I’ve simply no love for it’s look. Darn.

    • Hey Jim,
      You’re a wide angle guy, what were you doing with this thing strapped to the front of your camera anyway? ;)

      It is capable of being remarkably sharp, which really shows what the system is capable of, so in that sense it’s quite a cool benchmark, but it is a somewhat odd focal length, and it can struggle in the AF department.

      Did you end up grabbing that 7-14?

  2. Nice article Tyson – you already made me buy the Pana-Leica 25 now you are going to make me buy this beauty! Seriously though, the portraits looks stunning – there is definitely a different feel from the 45mm which I have but don’t seem to use much.

    • You’d think I was working on commission :) I am somewhat of a glass junkie as I’m sure you can tell, so I would certainly suggest avoiding my habit if at all possible.

      The difference between this and say a 45 or 50mm lens for this system is just about right for me. It certainly provides a tight enough angle to differentiate the signature when shooting things like headshots or the like.

  3. Hello, Tyson, another excellent and candid presentation. It’s what I like about reading your stuff — your heart is on your sleeve, as they say. Refreshing.

    Anyway, I absolutely LOVE this lens, but it really is a dog focusing sometimes. All longer lenses can be, but this one, sans focus limiter, can hunt worse than Dick Cheyney on a bender…

    If you really want to torture yourself, trying shooting night time sports on a dimly lit field with it on the E-M5, lol. I have a blog post about that and though I got some decent shots (it was a pro bono job for an inner-city flag football league, so whatever I delivered was fine) it was quite a challenge to pull off. Here’s that post if you’re interested: http://blog.entropicremnants.com/2012/10/16/men-at-work-the-paulo-kohl-flag-football-ministry.aspx

    • How we have not collectively come up with a hilarious moniker for shotgun Dick yet is kind of amazing. Great comparative visual.

      I must say, the shots you did stick look great, but I’m sure there were a few that didn’t. Great post.

      I hope that when we see the phase detection implementation on sensor in the (hopefully) next generation, it will go some ways to help this system out in these situations.

      Thanks for the comment and link, great examples.

      t

  4. Thanks Tyson. Another good open-hearted review. I’ll have to stare a few months on food to get this expensive glass.

  5. Oh boy, I have to say I like those photo examples of, just a wild guess, Rainier Park and certain people dear to me. And now I think that bird in the tree is dear to me too, as its enlargement was… stunning. It almost looked 3D. How did that happen? And the little guy in the fur lined parka? Have you tried marketing that photo to darn near everyone? Of course, you would need a model release from his parents, I suppose, but it would be worth it! Well, a great review of what seems like a desirable piece of glass, even though I have never been a fan of short telephoto lenses as a primary or walkabout, but these results speak for themselves. Great job as a photographer and writer! Thanks again.

  6. Pingback: A new review of Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens - Blog for micro four third and competing cameras

  7. Pingback: *Against the grain on the new Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens | Tyson Robichaud Photo-blography

  8. Pingback: *Micro4/3 Holy Trinity: It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean. | Tyson Robichaud Photo-blography

  9. I use this 75 mm 1.8 lens on my Olympus E-PM2 and I shoot indoor sports…mostly ice hockey and a little lacrosse…I find this lens to focus quickly and accurately…no hunting at all …and you are right sometimes the lens can be too sharp and will bring out some unwanted detail in portraits…I think it is worth every penny…and for those who really like sharp lenses and a really fun one to work with , you might want to check out the Rokinon 7.5 mm fisheye…it is fully manual but if you set it to near infinity and f/5.6 everything will be pretty much in focus…and thanks for your 60mm macro review….I am still considering it and solely for macro work in a studio setting doing food photography…this is the 1st time to your web page…enjoy your honest critiques

    • Hi SLF!

      I have and love the Rokinon fisheye, even did a little write up on it a while back.

      I was just today doing some shooting with the 75 and found that it (or potentially, more accurately the OMD EM5) tends to struggle with determining fine detail and focus in certain colors. Yellow particularly, or at least yellow in open shade. I took a series of shots of yellow flowers on a darker background outside this morning and noticed that the OMD + 75 combo struggled to lock focus and hunted a bit before incorrectly locking focus in front of the yellow flowers, while I didn’t see the same issue with red or purple flowers being shot in the same location under the same conditions. I have no idea why, but it could be a very conditional or possibly even an isolated quirk.

      Cheers and thanks for taking the time to comment!
      T

  10. Pingback: *Another set of this guy’s opinions, or Mirrorless Lens buying guide! | Tyson Robichaud Photo-blography

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