Thursday, May 15, 2014

Long Term Review: Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

The handsome 75mm f/1.8

This is one of them posts where I don't know where to start. The 75 f/1.8 has been reviewed all over the internet, and I don't want to repeat what other reviewers said (as best as I can; at least), so how do I approach this review then? For those who don't like long reads, I will sum up the review in one sentence at the beginning, then go into more details in whatever order the thoughts spring to my mind, with a lot of pictures for demonstration. So here we go.


TL;DR (Too long; didn't read)

For those who don't want to read the whole review, here's the short version: this is the best MFT lens I have, wonderful metal build quality and aesthetics, extremely sharp wide-open and beyond, beautiful bokeh, color and contrast, allows you to get shallower DoF and beautiful background compression than all of the other fast but shorter lenses can, and it has almost non-existent CA to speak of. It is as good as my Canon 200 f/2.8L ever was, and that is very high praise indeed. But it is not very fast to focus in low light, and might hunt a bit. For the more patient readers, there is more below.

I like the silver color on the EM5 and the EM1, very classy, the black version looks terrible IMO

Now, let me give you a bit of a background about my lens preferences, and why I bought this lens. In my Canon APS-C days, the 50 f/1.8 or the 60 Macro was as long as I thought apropriate for my family portrait shooting, and I didn't understand the appeal of longer focal lengths like the 85 f/1.8 (136mm eq.) or 135 f/2 (216mm eq.) on crop sensors, until one day when I tried the 85 f/1.8, got hooked, and bought one. I discovered how much I prefered the look of a long; fast lens, the background compression; added to a fast aperture creating a shallow DoF; and a narrow field of view, all led to a distinct look that isolated the subject and melted the surrounding beautifully, and really ignited my passion for this look, you can read my 85 f/1.8 review to see what I'm talking about. When I moved to full frame, I always used my 200 f/2.8L for special portrait shots, it gave me an even creamier look being a longer lens combined with a FF sensor, you can also read about it here.

When I moved to MFT and sold all of my Canon gear (full story here), I started on a budget and didn't want to spend much money, so I bought the E-M5 in a kit that contained the 12-50 and 40-150 lenses to cover my normal and long focal length needs, while I got the 25 f/1.4 to cover my normal focal length with some background separation, and the 45 f/1.8 for better background separation when shooting portraits. Time passed, and I really craved a longer focal length with a fast aperture, neither the 45 f/1.8 nor the 40-150 were cutting it, one had a fast aperture with a short focal length, and the other had the focal length but a slow aperture, so I did the worst thing anyone with GAS symptoms can do, I read a lot of reviews for the 75 f/1.8 and viewed lots of pictures, and the rest is history as they say. Now I have one, and I am extremely happy I bought mine. Story telling over, time to see what this lens can do.



IMAGE QUALITY

Blue eyes, f/1.8, 1/160, ISO 1600, bounce flash, don't you like the Olympus skin tones?

Cinema Style, f/2.5, 1/160, ISO 1600, TTL flash inside Lumiquest SBIII camera left

Cluttered room, I really like the dust revealed by the sun rays coming from the window behind the bed

My daughter was playing with these plants and a cup of water, the colors attracted my attention, f/1.8, 1/3200, ISO 200

Playground disraction, f/1.8, 1/4000, ISO 200

3D, f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 400

Remember this picture?

Work portrait, a quick available light portrait at work of my colleague, f/1.8 and a combination of different colored fluorescent lights

Bat Man (pun intended), f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 200, 3 flashes camera right, and one rim flash camera left, more about that later

So how did you like the pictures? Did you notice how the background seems to come very close to the subject? As I said at the beginning, there are almost no faults in the image quality of this lens, it is the sharpest MFT lens available (joined recently by the $1,600 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron), it has great colors and contrast, and very little (if any) visible chromatic abberations. I can't comment about flare resistance since I usually don't shoot directly into the sun with this lens.



BOKEH TEST

As you can see, the background rendering is very smooth and pleasing, a very important characteristic to consider, but what about busier backgrounds like leaves or tree branches? These usually appear as harsh or distracting in lenses with bad looking bokeh (called nervous bokeh). I searched for pictures with trees or busy bushes in the background and found these images, you judge for yourself.

Trunk, f/1.8, 1/1250, ISO 400

Flower Sepia, f/1.8, 1/1000, ISO 200

Just for fun, same as above but with focus on the flower instead

Conservative smile

Night tree, f/1.8, 1/80, ISO 5000, shot under sodium street lights after sunset, you can still see the blue in the sky



FOCUSING SPEED & ACCURACY

Unfortunately, nothing is always complete (maybe the Nocticron is, but it is almoust double the price, weight and size of this), there is one glaring problem with this lens, it is not the fastest MFT lens in focusing speed, both my Olympus 45 f/1.8 and Panaleica 25 f/1.4 focus much faster. In good to bright light it focuses quickly, but in lower light levels, it hunts, sometimes just once, and sometimes a lot. Accuracy of course is very reliable, thanks to the contrast detection based AF, once the lens locks focus, there are no problems to fear.

Fortunately though, focusing performance is definitely better with the EM1, and I find it best to turn off face detection and use a small AF target, this way, it focuses much quicker with very little hunting in the lowest light conditions. I just took the picture below (actually, around 10 shots to make sure I got a good expression, moving and re-focusing each time) in very low light, and the lens didn't hesitate once, but it didn't focus lightning quick like the 45 f/1.8 does for example.

Kids of today, playing games on the Nexus 7, f/1.8, 1/80, ISO 4000


SHUTTER SHOCK

This was something I didn't know anything about until I had some issues with the 75 f/1.8. As I mentioned before, the lens is extremely sharp, but sometimes I found some pictures, especially indoors in low light, to have some motion blur, or so I thought.

When I learned about shutter shock and understood what was going on, I was able to reproduce the problem every single time, which goes like this: between 1/50 and 1/160 shutter speeds on my EM5, the 75 f/1.8 consistently produced a double image like the example shown below, higher shutter speeds 1/200 are fine and free from this issue.

This bugged me a lot when I used my lens indoors in low light at moderately slow shutter speeds, like 1/100 (a piece of cake with 150mm eq. for the IBIS), which would allow me to use a reasonable ISO 1600 and still not get motion blur. I don't have a solution for it, but now with the new EM1 firmware update (EP5 and EM10 to join the party this week), using the electronic first curtain shutter makes this a non-issue.

Severe shutter shock, f/1.8, 1/80, ISO 3200



PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES


As far as build quality goes, this lens is at the top of the MFT lens chain, just check what Roger Cicala of LensRentals.com said about this lens (short version: the lens is expensive because it's worth it). And I have to agree, it has a metal exterior with that cold-to-the-touch feeling reminiscent of expensive lenses, and it feels incredibly solid and robust. The focusing ring is silk smooth and very easy to use for manual focusing.

On the E-M1, picture taken with the 60D and the Zuiko 50 f/1.8 wide-open, remember that lens? I posted about it years ago

As far as size goes, this lens used to be my fattest (it has a 58mm thread, we're talking relative fatness here) and heaviest lens until the 12-40 f/2.8 arrived, using it on the EM5 was fine, but it felt slightly front heavy, now with the EM1, it is a perfect match, and looks much more at home, even with the lens hood, which I'll be discussing in a moment, I pity those who use this lens or the Nocticron on the puny little GM1. How does it compare to other lenses?

From left: 45 f/1.8 - 12-40 f/2.8 - 75 f/1.8 - Canon 18-55 kit lens. Picture taken with the EM1 and 25 f/1.4 @ f/2

As you can see, the lens is incredibly small for a 150mm f/1.8 lens (please don't get started about 35mm equivalent aperture, I know), even smaller than the tiny 18-55 Canon kit lens. It also shows you how fat/large the 12-40 actually is compared to other MFT lenses, yet it is not larger than the Canon kit lens.

And since I had my brother's 60D, I put them side by side to see how they compared. Pictures were taken with the Sony RX100 and available room light.

Despite being a relatively large MFT camera, it is quite smaller than a mid-range DSLR

Top view for my favorite "top view" cameras ever produced

The lens doesn't ship with a lens hood, which is not acceptable for a $900 lens, and to add more insult, the original lens hood sells for $75!!! When I bought my MFT system, I didn't care about getting lens hoods like I used to do on my Canon lenses, I was going after small size, and frankly, the lenses looked better on the EM5 without hoods (I receieved an irreversible rectangular lens hood with the 25 f/1.4, and it didn't look nice with the EM5).

When I got the EM1 though, lenses like the 45 f/1.8 and 25 f/1.4 looked silly on the EM1 with its large grip, so I brought out the lens hoods I already had (I also received a nice tiny JJC lens hood for the 45 f/1.8 as a gift) and tried them, and the lenses looked much better indeed on the EM1, so I decided to get the remaining lens hoods I needed.

JJC metal lens hood, 60D + Zuiko 50 f/1.8 wide-open

I bought the JJC metal lens hood for the 75 f/1.8 after reading good reviews on Amazon, and I have to agree, it's an excellent lens hood, it is made out of metal, with the exact same silver color as the lens, it is very solid, and it's lined up from the inside with black velvet-like material. It cost me $24 compared to Olympus' $75. I also bought the $24 Olympus lens hood for my 40-150R since I shoot it a lot under strong sun light and it is susceptible to flare.

It uses a smooth screw for tightening

Oh, and here's the camera that took the above pictures:

60D + Fotodiox OM adapter + Zuiko 50, picture taken with the 75 wide-open

And on an irrelevant note, I bought a 62mm Nikon lens cap to replace the stupid (but cool looking and metal built) Olympus lens cap that came with the 12-40, which can only be pinched from the middle, while I am used to pinching the lens caps more from the sides. I think it looks cool.

Cool looking Nikon lens cap, reminds me of the Tamron lens caps I had for all my Canon lenses


FINAL IMPRESSIONS

To sum it up, I love the 75 f/1.8 a lot, and it is my go to lens when I want to take portraits, it is worth every dollar I paid for it. If you're like me and have a thing for long; fast lenses, then do yourself a favor and give this lens a try, you might end up owning one. But if you're happy with the 45 f/1.8 and don't want to spend this much, I suggest you try to un-read this review, and maybe have a look at the excellent Sigma 60mm f/2.8.



Photography vest! I was one of the organizers/photographers at a team outing, and we were all wearing these yellow phosphoric vests so that people can easily find us if they need something. You can also see my lovely ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag.


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