I really like shooting portraits with my Pen 70mm f2.0. It's pretty sharp for a forty year old lens....

Ben.  Olympus 70mm f2.0 Wide Open.  Panasonic GH2

Like most fans of micro four thirds cameras I've heard about the eminent arrival of the Olympus 75mm 1.8 lens for months now. By all rights it should be a great lens.  It's a fairly long focal length (which is generally easier to design) and given the proven prowess of Olympus's lens designers it should be sharp and contrasty even wide open.  

With this in mind I went over to the Olympus Pen drawer in the Visual Science Lab Armory and extracted what I think is the progenitor of the new lens, the 70mm f2.0 Zuiko from the late 1960's.  Yes, they actually knew how to make lenses out of metal and glass even back then....

I had always remembered this lens as a good performer but I wanted to revisit it given the much improved cameras I have at my disposal these days.  So I pulled out the GH2 (which seems to perform as well as the OMD, as long as we stay away from the "nose-bleed" ISOs....) and I put the 70mm f2.0 Zuiko on with the help of a Fotodiox adapter and I called Ben into the studio.

Ever the perfect child he dropped his chemistry homework on to the top of his desk and hustled to the studio.  It would have been easy to set up conditions that would favor even the worst lens, if that had been my intention.  I could have lit Ben with hard flash for the appearance of high sharpness.  I could have stopped the lens down to its "sweet spot" which makes every lens look like a contender....

But I chose to shoot a quick portrait at ISO 160 with the camera on a tripod.  No IS in this combination.  Just straight ahead, late 1960's technique.  I shot the lens wide open and put it on a Berlebach wooden tripod.  The shutter speed was 1/20th of a second.  The depth of field was so small that just by breathing Ben would move in and out of fine focus.

So, what did I find?  I have the benefit of having looked at the file at 100%.  Where I focused (Ben's eyelashes) the sharpness is easily equal to any of the camera and lens combinations I've shot over the years.  The tonality is wonderful. The contrast right out of camera is lower than that of a modern camera/lens combination but it sparkles up well with a small application of curves in PhotoShop.

By the time you reach the kid's ears or the back of his tee shirt collar the lens is already going out of focus quickly (hello all you crazy people who think limited depth of field is only provence of larger sensor cameras).  By the time we hit the background all focus is totally gone.  And the background is only six feet behind him.

I probably won't be buying the new lens.  I have one near that speed and focal length that is already very, very good.  But I'm excited for everyone who does buy the new lens because I think it will be another product in a line of game changing products being released by Olympus this year.  It will either push Canon and Nikon back to the design computer to make better and more exciting glass or it will push hundreds of thousands of camera users away from last century paradigms and into using the new technology that's even now changing all the maps of photography.

The "reverse roadmap" that will allow you to understand what Olympus is doing is the original Pen system.  You have only to study it to parse what's coming next.  A whole line of fast, sharp-wide-open lenses and a wide open playing field.  

The defensive among us harped on the OMD's focusing as a reason why we "won't see any micro four thirds cameras at the Olympics..."  One or two more lens releases and we'll be able to say "bullshit" to another worn out assumption by the mirrored class.  EVF, Mirrorless and small sensor cameras are here to stay.  No....that's not quite right.  They are here to dominate.

The next camera from Olympus will doubtless offer hybrid autofocus for fast, continuous performance.  Couple that with a bag of fast long optics that weighs less than one big, fat, L lens and photographers would be crazy to choose the "old school" methods with their attendant bad backs and hernias.  You heard it here first.

And it all started with the original Pen half frame cameras....


  1. Excellent portrait of Ben. Just as handsome as his father.

    I went looking for one on ebay. The cheapest I could find was $659. Rather used. I think I'll wait for the M.Zuiko 75mm f1.8 and invest that much money on one of those. I'm hoping the price is no higher than $800 for the 75mm.

  2. Replies
    1. I hope you're right. The Rumor Site That Must Not Be Named has written his "trusted" sources put the price at $799. It sure does look like a sweet lens regardless.

  3. That really is an amazing portrait. Love these articles you're doing about how everything we did in the 70's and 80's is still relevant, despite the technology blitzkrieg that has been going on ever since that fateful day when Minolta introduced the first AF 35mm film SLR, and the world has never been the same since.

    As a sports/action shooter, the fast 75mm has little appeal to me, as zooms are necessary to allow me to get more of the shots I need, and, more importantly, the kind the customers want to buy. Still, I'm all for small, fast primes for micro 4/3, and I'm very glad that Olympus is taking that approach very seriously.

    I'd love to see that same sort of hybrid focusing on the micro 4/3 cameras that the Nikon 1 enjoys, but I'm very pessimistic about it's chances, as Olympus and Panasonic would have to come out with an entirely new line of lenses to take advantage of that sort of thing, as it's not just the body that has to be hybrid, but the lenses as well. It would be better for us action & sports shooters if they were to do that, but we are just a tiny part of the market, and I believe Olympus and Panasonic have already ceded that territory to the other players in the camera world.

    But if you have some sort of insider knowledge about this, maybe you could drop 43rumors an anonymous e-mail... :-)

    1. Ron, you've seen the PD A to E Sony adapter that allows Nex users to use Alpha series lenses with Phase Detection AF, right? If they can do it so can everyone else. I also think were just a processor away from CD AF being ready for prime time. Add a 150mm f2.8 to the line up of lenses and you're ready for some action.

  4. You rotten beggar, you just gave me a bad case of GAS. I'm trying to hold out against this new lens from Olympus, and wait for the 35-100/2.8 from Panasonic. I'm also holding out against the E-M5, trying to eke out the last few pixels of learning from my E-PL1. The gates are cracking, and I'm passing through Singapore in 5 weeks.....

  5. Bah. I see CA around the eyelashes, and it's a little smeary in the corners.

    Plus, it won't work on a real (ie, full-frame) camera.

    If you'd like, I'll take it off your hands. I'll pay the postage.

  6. Kirk, thanks for the post; that's a great shot of Ben, looks like it was shot with BW film. I was fortunate enough to get.a Zuuko 70mm on eBay last year for much less than the projected price of the upcoming Olympus digital 70. It really is a beautiful lens, very sharp and it will hopefully keep me from springing for the newer 70. The 38mm Zuiko for the Pen F has helped me avoid the siren song of the Panasonic-Leica 25mm (so far). The Pen F lenses are really perfect, size and balanc-wise, for the M43 bodies.

    1. Ed, thank God someone beside me sees the merit of the old Pen lenses. Can we say "thirty years ahead of their time?" My all time favorite is the 60mm 1.5. It's just flat out amazing. You lucky dog. The 38 is better than the Panasonic. Honest.

  7. "the mirrored class"

    I love it!


Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!