OM Zuiko Lenses on Olympus E-1 and E-300 Cameras

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

This article has been written in co-operation with John Foster from England, a long-time Olympus user and collector, an expert on Olympus film cameras, and an author of two books on the subject. This, I believe, is a perfect symbiosis: John brings in his knowledge of the OM system, and I — familiarity with the digital technology and optics.

 
See also:
  • Using any SLR lens on your E-System camera — a general, technical introduction to the subject, a required reading before you continue with this article;
  • The 50 mm, F/1.8 Zuiko "standard" prime lens used on E-System cameras — my own remarks and image comparisons; best read after this one;
  • Using macro bellows to get really close — with extreme close-ups shot with two old Exakta lenses (applicable to OM as well).
Shown: an E-1 with OM Zuiko 90 mm F/2 Macro lens.

(Photo by John Foster.)

Background

Olympus has been in business of precision optical instruments since 1920, and has been making cameras since 1936. In the last decade of the 20th century, however, they withdrew from the interchangeable-lens camera market, limiting themselves to compact point-and-shoot cameras (including the still current Stylus Epic or mju-2 in Europe) and fixed-lens SLRs (sometimes referred to as ZLR, Zoom Lens Reflex).

In 1972 Olympus introduced to the market the revolutionary OM-1 (which was their second SLR). This innovative camera, much smaller than any other full-frame SLR on the market, introduced the OM lens bayonet, and the Zuiko lenses made by Olympus are famous for their optical quality.

Unlike other manufacturers, Olympus never developed an AF SLR system, and ceased making OM cameras in the late Nineties. Their top-of-the line OM-3Ti and OM-4Ti, however, still fetch high prices on the used market, not as collectibles but as working cameras for advanced photographers.

If you have a collection of OM lenses, you may be interested in using them on your E-system camera. Even if you don't, you may be interested in acquiring one or two for special purposes.

OM Lens adapters

The Four Thirds lens mount is very similar to the OM bayonet, but not compatible with it. Olympus offers an adapter, designated as MF-1 and priced at around $100. The adapter allows for use of OM-bayonet lenses (Zuiko or any other make in that mount) on any Four Thirds body.

As you can see here, the effective thickness of the MF-1 is 7.34 mm (measurement and picture by Matthias Zahn).

Interestingly, the difference between flange-back distances (listed here) for the Olympus OM and Four Thirds systems is 7.42 mm — 0.08 mm more and well beyond any measurement error. Therefore OM lenses mounted on Four Thirds cameras are a bit closer to the image plane than when used on OM-series cameras; this means they can be focused beyond infinity.

There is nothing wrong about it, but a difference in the opposite direction would make focusing at infinity impossible. The only downside is that setting an OM lens to infinity just by turning the focus ring all the way is not quite optimal for distant subjects.

Until 2005, Olympus used to offer a similar adapter, MA-1, either selling it at an outrageous $200, or giving it away upon request to buyers of the E-1 or E-300 (depending on the market, time, weather, and Moon phase). This offer is, however, no longer available.

You can see that the MA-1 adapter is 7.33 mm thick, quite close to the MF-1. (Measurement and picture by Jerzy Wojewoda.)

John's observations and opinions

Andrzej: I already introduced to you John Foster, who not only amassed, I believe, more than 100 OM Zuiko (OMZ) lenses of all kinds and vintages, but also knows all of them by heart. Here are some of the points he made after having tried many of these lenses on the E-1 against a number of Zuiko Digital (ZD) lenses.

The remainder of this section is by John; any comments by me will be clearly marked as such.

  • Zuiko Digital 14-54mm resolution is equaled or bettered by some OMZ primes in the 16-55mm range (the former is generally soft throughout the range; better at telephoto end, and not just mine).
  • OMZ "normal" macro lenses (50, 80, 90, and 135mm) perform well with excellent-to-stunning results.
  • Most fast OMZs do not perform as well as their slower siblings i.e., 24mm/2.8 is better than 28mm/2.0.

    Andrzej: I could expect that the faster lenses, while having enough resolution for film, do not have the 2x margin over "just enough" I mentioned previously, not when wide open.

  • OMZ zoom results are disappointing (except 75-150mm, a comment by C.H. Ling of Hong Kong).

    Andrzej: Same here.

  • OMZ primes perform best stopped down one or more clicks.

    Andrzej: Again, while for the film frame size the "not best" could be still "good enough", for the smaller, digital format it may no longer make the bill.

  • There are some color rendition issues between OMZ (very slight cast) and ZD. The latter is generally purer.

    Andrzej: Interesting; I would have thought the auto WB should take care of that. Still, use the preset WB for consistent results.

  • Fast primes used wide-open even in dull conditions over-expose (meter fooled); stop down.

    Andrzej: Refer to my general article on the subject for a discussion of this effect. The bottom line is that you need to introduce an aperture-specific correction (sometimes just for one or two widest aperture values), and this correction stays constant for a given lens, regardless of conditions.

  • ZD and OMZ lenses seem to be equally susceptible to chromatic aberration; much depends on conditions.

    Andrzej: As expected; this effect probably originates at the CCD, not in the lens.

  • Olympus recommends not using OMZ lenses below 50 mm; I disagree: except for 18 mm or less, you can ignore this.

    Andrzej: See, again, here why I tend to agree with Olympus on this subject.

  • "Super wide-angle" OMZ lenses, 16 and 18 mm, produce unacceptable barrel distortion.

    Andrzej: And they are no longer "super wide-angle", having EFL of 32 and 36 mm...

  • Olympus is overstating the corner shadow issue with OMZ wide-angle lenses; much depends on conditions.
  • OMZ 21mm and up produce little barrel distortion, vignette, or corner shadow, acceptable.
  • Though I've no comparable reference points, the OMZ telephoto primes (100, 135, 180, 200, and 500 mm Mirror) produce excellent results (180/2.8 shows a little too much chromatic aberration).
  • Long OMZ's like 300 and 400 mm (I don't have 600 and 1000 mm) can be used with care — the lens must be tripod-mounted first, and then the E-1 fitted gently to it — with excellent results. For unknown reasons these long OMZ are excluded from MA-1 lens use chart supplied by Olympus.

The bottom line? If you have a selection of OMZ lenses, try them, find out their strengths, note how best to use them, and keep the good ones for your E-system armory (the days of affordable primes are almost over).

If you've abandoned film, it's up to you whether to cash in OM lenses that don't perform on your E-1. Maintain a selection of OMZ's for those times when a ZD zoom just can't cut it. Do not abandon your OMZ's until you've tried them in differing conditions; you might be surprised.

A 500 mm F/8 Mirror OM Zuiko on the E-1. This combination gives you the reach of a 1000 mm lens mounted on a film camera.

(Photo by John Foster.)

My favorites? 24mm/2.8, 40mm/2.0, 50mm/1.2, 50mm/1.8, 50mm/3.5 Macro, 90mm/2.0 Macro — the macro lenses produce stunning results on the E-1.

And as an OM user, I'm not parting with any of my stable.

Other resources

  • John Foster posted a more detailed article on the same subject at his biofos.com site. I consider that one a definitive reference.
  • Leofoo's OM Zuiko pages are the most comprehensive information on OM Zuiko lenses I know about, covering in detail more than 60 lenses.
  • Paul Farrar's Zuiko Lens Page lists specifications and second-hand prices for all (or almost all) OM Zuiko lenses ever made.
  • Gary Reese's list of OM lenses (more than 80!) with performance ratings and auction prices (as of 2002). Some lenses from other manufacturers are rated too.
  • A Year in the Arctic on my site includes two very nice examples of shots from the Olympus E-300 equipped with the 300 mm F/4.5 ZD lens.

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

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Posted 2005/01/20; last updated 2007/04/22 Copyright © 2005-2007 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak and John Foster