In one corner we have a black nosed Zuiko 50mm 1.8 that sells for about the price of an original OM lens cap but has a heck of a reputation!
In the other corner we have a chrome-nosed Zuiko 50mm 1.4 that sells for 3 or four original OM lens caps and has a controversial reputation!
And in some other corner, we have a chrome-nosed Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Macro that can sell for one or up to four original OM lens caps depending on who you seem to buy from!
Without going into too much detail, the earliest Zuiko OM lenses featured a chrome ring in front of the glass and as time marched on, Olympus discontinued this style cue and went with black enamel. Many will tell you that the newer black lenses also feature some optical improvements. However, many will also tell you that the early chrome-nosers are plenty nice. I’m only a casual OM shooter so I really have not gotten too immersed in the debates.
All OM lenses are pretty tiny and well built. These three nifty 50’s can nearly disappear in your fist and are reasonably dense. I have also found OM lenses easy to work on, sometimes needing aged, migrated aperture lubricants removed from the blades and replaced with a little graphite (as was the case with my 28/2.8). The lenses are made of metal and glass with the only compromise being a rubber focus grip as was common from all quarters by the 70’s.
OM lenses remind me of Leica because, unlike all other Japanese SLR lenses, the aperture control is up front behind the front element and focus ring is behind that, close to the camera body. This and the small, quiet nature of OM bodies make them good alternatives for the Leica shooter wanting an SLR but who is disinterested in the various Leica/Minolta R offerings.
First up, the 50/1.8 Black
I used to shoot on the Zuiko 50/1.8 Black-Nose fairly frequently as, for a long time, it was my only Zuiko lens to pair with my chrome OM-1. As you’ll probably notice in these images, it brings a clarity and near 3D like quality to the images it renders. Between its high resolution and creamy bokeh, separation of in and out of focus parts of the image really pops when using a fine-grained film in good light. Flaring is very well controlled. I seldom used this lens with a hood and yet I saw little flaring. The Zuiko 50/1.8 is a spectacular lens for the money.
Next the Zuiko 50/1.4 Chrome-Nose
I haven’t had the 50/1.4 for very long and just haven’t shot much with it yet, but I do like it quite a bit. It shares the standard 49mm filter diameter with all the Zuiko lenses that I own and is only slightly larger but a good deal heavier than the 50/1.8. Stopped down, it shares the separation and pop with the 50/1.8. Wider open, however, the 1.4’s got some of that early Leica soft/sharp look going on. It also has a pleasant tendency to flare slightly. I tend not to use hoods with my OM lenses because I like their small factor without them. So you see the separation and flaring happening in the VW shot above. And you can see that soft/sharp character in the shots of Christa where I was stopping down no more than f2 at close distances at 1600 ISO. This is an excellent portrait lens in this regard but I wouldn’t recommend paying the extra $$ for the 1.4 if you already have the 1.8 unless you are looking for something very specific.
And finally, the Zuiko 50/3.5 Macro Chrome-Nose
Macro’s are just fun to play with. With a macro on your camera, you will likely find yourself shooting oridinary, commonplace objects and bringing new life to them. I’ve never found a poorly performing macro lens. Maybe partly because they fastest ones are f2.8. This is just the 3.5 and a great value for the money. Sharpness, bokeh, lack of any optical aberrations, all this is on point and what you’d expect or demand from any good lens. Not really much to say here other than that if you have an OM body but don’t have a macro, you should get one. The OM-1 has mirror-lock-up and is tiny so you can get great handheld macro shots very close up with a very narrow depth of field, easily. Don’t forget that you can also use a macro as a normal lens!
While this lens is a bit slow, you can get some gorgeous bokeh out of it while ensuring a good amount of DoF, AND, for something like an engagement shoot such as the example above, you can do the portraits and the ring shots with just one lens! Sometimes it’s liberating to dash around with a tiny camera and just one lens for a shoot. Frees you up to just consider eash shot carefully instead of staring at your camera thinking what should come next!
So anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief comments on these Olympus Zuiko nifty 50’s! Drop me a line and tell me about your favorite Zuiko lenses. Do you prefer silver or black noses? Does it matter?