Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legacy Lens on a Modern DSLR: Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 Review

Did you know it is possible to use old legacy lenses from several manufacturers on your modern DSLR? I didn't know. In this post I will talk about my experience with the Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens on my Canon 550D.

This will not be a technical review of the lens but more of how it feels to use in normal photography situations plus I will also post some sample photos that I took for this article, but before we get to that I will tell you a little background about how I got this lens. Hit the jump for more.


If you remember my Canon Lenses Chat series, you will know that my first kit lenses where the 18-55 standard zoom, the 55-250 telephoto zoom and the Canon 50mm f/1.8. I was learning to shoot video with a shallow DoF and I was using the Canon 50mm f/1.8 for that, but the bad thing about this lens (other than the plastic build quality, noisy AF motor & bokeh) was the focusing ring. It is really flimsy and tiny, and changing focus from the closest focusing distance to the maximum focusing distance takes around 70 degrees (less than a quarter turn) which is not good, a slight turn of the ring changes the focus dramatically.

At that time I was talking to my father about cameras and lenses and he showed me my grand father's camera and offered it to me, I took a look at the camera and to my pleasant surprise it was an Olympus film SLR, it was quite small and light and felt really great, the viewfinder was HUGE with a split prism which made manual focus child's play, and the final pleasant surprise was, yes you guessed it, the Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Olympus OM30 35mm film SLR

Boy, was I impressed, I was new to the SLR world and never handled any lenses except the kit lenses, and neither of them had such a good build quality and expensive feeling to it. The lens is all metal except for the focusing and aperture rings and despite it's small size it weighed more than the Canon 50mm f/1.8. The focusing ring was really smooth and had a long throw (~ 170 degrees) so I immediately started researching how I could use this lens on my own DSLR, to my delight I found a post about someone who used it on a Canon 7D and I also found about the Fotdiox lens adapters.

There are several adapter options to fit the Olympus lens on my camera, but I liked the Fotdiox adapters for the good reviews and they seemed like a known brand, however I still found 3 options within the Fotdiox adapters, one was just a metal mounting adapter, the second one was similar but with an auto-focus confirmation chip and the last one was a pro version which cost a lot of money, and since I didn't take using this lens seriously I ended up with the middle version, the one with the auto-focus confirmation chip, I got it from Amazon. The chip on the adapter serves three purposes:
  • It will trick the camera into thinking it has a Canon lens mounted, so it will not give you a "no lens mounted" error.
  • It will enable lens EXIF data to be written to your photos, even though the aperture value is fixed at f/1.4.
  • It will give you a beep when you achieve correct focus since there is no auto focus on this lens, however I found that the auto-focus confirmation is erratic at best, I rarely got it to focus correctly this way.
Here are a couple of pictures for the adapter and the lens mounted on the adapter:

Fotdiox Canon-OM Adapter with AF Confirmation Chip
Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 + OM to Canon Adapter

ZUIKO 50mm f/1.8 vs CANON 50mm f/1.8

Strangely enough the specs on these lenses are quite similar. Both are 50mm f/1.8 lenses with 6 elements in 5 groups, both have a minimum focusing distance of 0.45m and 0.15x magnification. The Canon has 5 aperture blades while the Zuiko has 6 blades, the Canon weighs 130 grams while the Zuiko weighs 165 grams, the Canon has a minimum aperture of f/22 while the Zuiko has a minimum aperture of f/16. Finally the Canon uses 52mm filter size while the Zuiko uses an odd 49mm filter size, luckily enough I have one ND filter in that size.

The Canon is acceptably sharp at f/1.8 if focused correctly, however the AF cannot be trusted at this aperture at all. When stopped down to f/2.8 it is plenty sharp, and at f/4 or smaller it is razor sharp. When I started researching the Zuiko lens after I owned it I learned that there are two versions, one was not as good as the other, mine was the good one, you can know it by the "made in japan" written on the lens front.

The Zuiko exhibits similar sharpness behavior to the Canon, if focused correctly you can get good sharpness at f/1.8, at f/2.8 and smaller the sharpness is as good as the Canon. Check this picture taken hand held at f/1.8, followed by a 100% crop.

100% Crop - Click to see a larger version

If you look at the legs of the man in the right part of the image posted above you will see how bad it is, both lenses exhibit terrible bokeh in certain situations, especially if there are contrasting lines behind your subject, it gets really bad if you're shooting something and your background consists of tree branches (more about that later). I like to describe this bokeh as "nervous", it looks as if the background was nervously shaking while you took the picture. In other situations the bokeh looks normal.

The Canon has good colors and contrast while the Zuiko has less contrast and vintage looking colors, you can see it in the picture posted above as well, but nothing post processing can't fix.


The lens is quite small, it is even smaller than the Canon 50mm f/1.8 which is already Canon's smallest lens. It fits nicely on the camera and it offers a relatively small combo, the adapter fits both the lens and the camera quite good, however there is a bit of play where the lens can slide about 1mm horizontally on the adapter, it is sometimes annoying but I got used to it and can avoid it.

Olympus Zuiko f/1.8 mounted on a Canon 550D

The aperture on the Zuiko is controlled by a ring at the tip of the lens, the values allowed are full stops only. It starts at f/1.8, f/2.8 until f/16, no thirds of a stop values. Unlike Canon lenses with electronic aperture control, if you change the aperture to f/16 the viewfinder becomes really dark, the light transmitted to the viewfinder at f/16 is ~ 64 times less than the light transmitted at f/1.8, the work around is to focus at f/1.8 then change the aperture before I take the picture, which is done electronically in the Canon lenses.

Although I bought an adapter with an auto-focus confirmation chip, it almost never gave me correct focus, so I have to resort to full manual focusing, and since I have a small viewfinder in my Canon 550D and no split prism, manual focus proved to be quite a challenge which I was glad to take on. With lots of practice I am now able to quickly focus the lens manually and take good pictures, but nonetheless it is not always easy nor accurate, my current keeper rate is 40%. I find that the best usage for this lens is during video shooting because of its light weight and long throw focus ring which allows accurate focus racking.

Below are some samples that I shot for this article, the first group is all taken at f1/.8 and the second group is taken between f/4 and f/8. All pictures are hand held and focused through the viewfinder, click any picture to see a larger version.


Wardrobe Door - Click to see a larger version

Chair - Click to see a larger version

Olympus Lens Cap - Click to see a larger version

Water Bottle - Click to see a larger version

Tree Bark - Click to see a larger version

f/4 ~ f/8 SAMPLES

Eaten Apple - Click to see a larger version

Bald Tree - Click to see a larger version

Pink Flower - Click to see a larger version

Smart Village - Click to see a larger version

Smart Village - Click to see a larger version

Morning Moon - Click to see a larger version