Olympus Zuiko 50mm Shoot Out!

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

Spring Grove abandoned mental hospital | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 1.8 Black | Fuji Pro 400H


Spring Grove abandoned mental hospital | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 1.8 Black | Fuji Pro 400H


Stephanie Lee of Martyr & Lee Photography | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 1.8 Black | Agfa Vista 400


Statue in Druid Ridge Cemetary | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 1.8 Black | Fuji Pro 160S

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

Early 70’s VW Beetle | Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 1.4 Chrome-Nose |Kodak Tri-X


Christa Kummerlowe, owner of You Salon | Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 1.4 Chrome-Nose | Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600


Christa Kummerlowe, owner of You Salon | Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 1.4 Chrome-Nose | Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600


Christa Kummerlowe, owner of You Salon | Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 1.4 Chrome-Nose | Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600 (diptych)

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

Argus C3 camera | Olympus OM-1 |Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Chrome-Nose | Fuji Superia 400


Savon De Marseille & Pears classic European soaps | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Macro Chrome-Nose | Fuji Superia 400


Piano found in abandoned hospital | Olympus OM-1 | Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Macro | Kodak TMAX P3200


Underwood typewriter hammers | Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Macro | Kodak TMAX 100

Macro’s are just fun to play with.  With a macro on your camera, you will likely find yourself shooting ordinary, commonplace objects and bringing new life to them.  I’ve never found a poorly performing macro lens.  Maybe partly because the 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!

Olympus OM-1n | Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Macro | Kodak Tri-X 400

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?

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Insult, Contact Johnny Martyr 












9 thoughts on “Olympus Zuiko 50mm Shoot Out!

  1. Nice piece on the OM 50s.

    Recently I found an OM 4 with the 50 mm 1.4 and wander around downtown Portland with it set to manual and a Luna Pro for incident metering. Flexible lens hood. XP2.

    You are right–a whole lot of fun doing photography as simply as possible.


  2. They are great lenses and you summed them up perfectly. I used to be a wide angle user and have ended up with the 1.8 i had with my OM10 a 1.4 and the Macro. I was lucky to get a 55mm 1.2 the blades are sticky now and it needs a service. Great examples and yes they are often compared to Leica cameras, but there is a romance with those machines. Olympus glass as you have hinted at is very good and in most cases better than the other two big names. Your colour shots in the hospital really pop, like them. The other F2 Zuiko size lenses sell for much more, but are worth seeking out….


  3. Hi Johnny, I have a bunch of 50 f1.8’s ranging from a silver nose I just bought today, a few MC’s, to a few marked “Made in Japan”. All of them are sharp as all get out. Now for the 50 f1.4, it’s a silver nose just lke yours. I took it out on a Toronto Film Shooters FB Group Photowalk in downtown Toronto and Harbourfront, I shot both Kodak Ektar 100 and ORWO UN54 through the camera. I was blown away at how well the chrome nose 50 f1.4 lens rendered colour from Ektar 100 on super bright sunny day in April. Is it better than the 50 f1.8’s? I say different, if you need just a bit more wide open in crappy light situations than the 1.4 might be for you. I have been up on landscape photography trips in the wilds near Algonquin Provincial Park with a pair of MC Zuiko 50 1.8 lenses on the pair of Olympus OM-2n’s I took with me. Depends on circumstance and taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you need to give us a review, Bill! They difference between the 50/1.4 and 1.8 is definitely only a question of character. I have since sold my 1.8 just to lighten my load on redundant lenses. But I recommend the 1.8 to anyone seeking economy and maximum resolution, which is a rare combo! Are the copies marked “Made in Japan” any different?


  4. I was about to buy an ancient but lovely contax rangefinder with a 50mm 1.5 Zeiss lens. This review, along with the lovely photographs, have reminded me how much I like my Zuiko. Looking at my work, I actually think the best I have done with 35mm film has been with the 50mm 1.8 on the OM and the 42mm lenses on the Olympus 35 RC and 35 SP…and I have owned and used a few Contax/Zeiss combos.
    Thanks for saving me money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow! I can’t knock Zeiss but I’m glad to have helped you come to a realisation about Olympus and your work. It’s great when you find a system that you excel with and can stop all the searching and buying to just concentrate on shooting! Thanks for your comment.


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