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



  1. Very well done. I love using other than Canon lenses on my Canon cameras and I've found that I like the "signature" of the Olympus optics. A very nice blog entry that should push others to do some experimenting. Well done.

  2. Woah! I'm really honored Kirk, thanks for all the nice words.

  3. I've got an old Olympus OM-2 with lots of lenses. I'll have to try this out.

  4. I'm glad you will try, I would really appreciate if you get back to us with the results.
    Good luck.

  5. Received the adapter yesterday. Tried my 50mm 1.8 and autobellows with 135mm lens. The 50mm lens is very small compared to my 7D and is almost "lost" on the body. I'll also try the adapter on my original Rebel. Initial results were good (pix some home items) but my modern Canon lenses give better results. If one has a reason to use their old OM lenses and other acessories, the adapter works as stated. Glad I paid only $29 for the unit.


  6. Hi, thanks for the feedback and sorry for the delay in my reply.

    I know how small the 50mm feels on a body like the 7D. I don't know about your 50mm f1.8, there are two versions, the better one is the one that has "made in japan" on the front of the lens.

    I would also suggest you give the adapter and the lenses some time to have a feel for them, it took me lots of practice to get used to it. Try taking this lens alone for a walk.

  7. My 50mm is made in Japan (camera was purchased in 1978.) The above comments are from a few shots in the house and not good subjects to really evaluate the lenses / adapter. I'll get more shots outside and test things out. The adapter worked well on my 7D and autofocus confirmation seemed to work fairly well.

  8. Hi, Really nice article as I've been looking for ways I could experiment with cheap primes with my 600d and these OM lenses seem to fit the bill quite nicely.

    One question though, you mention that due to the adpater the aperature is fixed at f/1.4 which is also what I've been seeing on adapters on ebay but how is it possible that you could take pictures at aperatures such as f/4-f/8? From what I understand, you cannot change it from within the camera or can you?

  9. Thanks Jake, the f/1.4 aperture thing is all in the EXIF data recorded by the camera in the pictures.
    The camera has nothing to do with the lens, you have to operate both aperture and focus from the dedicated rings on the lens itself, and whatever aperture you set from the lens, the camera will assume it is f/1.4.

  10. How do you get the correct exposure? Do you use Auto setting on the camera or manual or shutter priority?

    1. I use aperture priority, and the camera figures out the correct shutter speed, it is 100% reliable, except when I go to f/11 or f/16, then the camera chooses a very dark exposure, and I have to correct it using exposure compensation.

  11. Thank you for this post - I found my Dad's old Olympus SLR with the 50mm Zuiko lens over Christmas so after a quick search I came across your blog and decided to try the Fotodiox adapter. The lens and adaptor work really well, I'm not sure the pictures are as sharp on my 600D as the Canon EF 1.8 50mm but that might just be the challenge of manual focusing! But for £25/$40 it's great to be able to take pictures of my daughter using the same lens my Dad used to take pictures of me when I was small.

    Plus the Canon 50mm lens broke after two weeks (the focus ring gave out) whereas the Zuiko feels pretty solid and is still going strong after 30 yrs!

  12. I have the OM 1.8 but for some reason the adapters price aren't coming down although old glass in ebay land is going up considerably. Wish I had got into old glass back in 2010 when I did not have the money for a DSLR. I envy all those folks who got those early deals on f1.2 glass.

  13. I have one of these lenses, the same as yours with teh 'made in japan' on the front. When you change the aperture should you be able to look through the lens (off camera) and see the blades (ie see the hole open and close)? Im not getting the results i want at lower f stops.

  14. I have the same lens as yours that has the "made in japan' on the front. When you change aperture (off camera) should you be able to look through the lens and see the aperture blades (ie see the whole open and close) when you change f stops?? Im not sure mine is performing right at lower apertures. I am also using it on a 550d.

    1. I am not sure I understand your question, whenever you move the aperture you should be able top see the aperture blades opening and closing accordingly.

      As for the lower aperture settings, when I used the lens on my 550D in aperture priority mode "Av", and closed down the aperture beyond f/4, the camera did not meter correctly and underexposed the photos.

    2. There's a Dof preview button on the Zuiko lens. If you want to check the lens at small apertures, you'll need to press the Dof button.

    3. Obviously, the aperture closes down when the lens is used with a converter but if you want to check the aperture blades with the lens off the camera, then use the Dof button on the lens.

  15. Great review, thank you! I've looking at this as a cheap but quality prime lens. Don't mind the manual focus. Quite a few people are getting fantastic shots with it (including you).

    I wanted to ask you... what did you mean that the lens has "vintage looking colors"?

    Also, don't you lose a full f-stop with the converter? So, when you have it at f1.8 it's actually 2.8 equivalent?

    1. Hello there. By vintage looking color, I mean that the colors are slightly muted and have less contrast in general compared to a modern lens. I like that look.

      As for losing f-stops, no you don't lose anything, the adapter is a piece of metal with no glass inside, just air.

      Finally, you might not be aware, but I moved completely to MFT cameras, and have also bought some old lenses, one of which I like more than all of my modern lenses, so you might give it a look. It is the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 Macro lens. It is an incredible portraits lens, as well as macro. And it is incredibly sharp as well. Give it a go if you can.

    2. Thanks so much! I'll definitely check it out. Honestly I hadn't even considered older manual focus lenses until a dpreview post earlier today, which sent me searching. Eventually I found your blog link in one of the threads). There are so many great manual lenses... I'm making a list to keep an eye out on ebay/craigslist.

      1. Nikkor 50mm f1.4
      2. Nikkor 85mm f1.8
      3. Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.7
      4. Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8
      5. Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 55mm f3.5
      6. Olympus Zuiko 28mm f3.5

      Thanks again!


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