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The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is Expensive Because It’s Worth It.

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The first Olympus 75mm f/1.8 m4/3 lens arrived today, courtesy of Tyler’s connections with the King of Siam or wherever it is he gets these things. I had to test it, of course, because that’s what I do. I hadn’t planned on writing about it; the lens has already been reviewed thoroughly at SLRgear.com, sample images posted at DPReview, and a very nice user review done by Robin Wong. My Imatest numbers aren’t going to expand the world’s knowledge of the lens much. It obviously rocks.

I was already having a lens crush about the equivalent of teenage-girl-on-Justin-Bieber. I love to shoot at 135mm for long portraits and stealth street photography on SLRs (Canon 135 L, Nikon 135 DC, Sony 135 f/1.8) so this lens was very likely going to fill a niche for me. I was going to Imatest it and then take it home for some extensive long-term testing. You’ve seen all my long-term test write ups, right? No? Well, yeah, I generally don’t get around to doing them. Just keep the lenses in case I want to do a long-term test write up. Or something like that.

But guess what? When I opened up the new lens, there, right inside the center of the rear element, was a big chunk of Loctite (for those who don’t know, it’s a type of glue used to seal screws in lenses, dries to a plastic like finish, and occasionally a piece breaks loose inside a lens).

Now, before you decide to a) go major fanboy and declare to all who aren’t listening that this never happens to your brand, or b) sing the “quality control should never allow this to happen” song in three part harmony with the My Nation Assembles Better Than That Choir singing in the background, come back to reality.

This happens not infrequently, and in every lens brand. Not a week goes by that we don’t see it. A test shot wouldn’t have picked it up, it doesn’t show on images. Looking through the lens in regular room light didn’t show it. Looking through the lens against a smooth background using a couple of  halogen front lights shows it. It may sound like silly overkill, but I can assure from long experience that had we sent it out, the first renter would have done just such a check and complained about my quality control. So yeah, we overkill the QA thing a bit.

So guess what? One thing about Tyler’s somewhat-unique sources of supply: they don’t have a 14 day exchange policy. So Aaron and I had to go get that out. Which means a little lens disassembly and a chance to peak inside this bad boy.

 A Quick Internal Look

Compared to a lot of m4/3 lenses, there’s an immediately apparent quality difference: the lens is large with metal barrel and lens mount, both electronic contacts and rear baffle are screwed in, not just held in by friction.

 

The baffle removes first, after which you can remove the 4 screws that hold the lens mount in place, and the small screws that hold the electronic connectors to the mount.

 

Under the rear mount is what is shim. Thickness is likely adjusted to assure infinity focus since the entire lens is forward of this.

Underneath that we can see another bit of heavy-duty assembly. The barrel is attached with 4 large, long screws. These are of the size and number comparable  to what we see in “L” quality or “Pro” quality SLR lenses, and rarely in m4/3 lenses. Mirrorless cameras often have 3 small screws here. As an aside, that is Aaron’s thumbprint on the edge of the lens now, so if any of you are in law enforcement you may want to forward it to check for outstanding warrants.

Taking out the 4 screws lets us remove the rear barrel

Opening up the PCB and attached flexes controlling the electronics and exposing the AF motor at the top. Notice again, the PCB is attached with two large screws where most mirrorless lenses have one small one or even just a couple of plastic posts with the board held in by friction.

For fun, if we angle the flash just a bit on this shot we get a nice look at the color of the lens coatings used on this lens, which also brings Aaron’s fingerprints into clear relief.

Taking off the PCB and disconnecting the flexes gets us down to the core of the lens.

One thing that’s apparent, and nice, is that instead of screws and keys attaching the outer focusing ring to the actual focusing mechanism of the lens, Olympus has molded the part into the focusing barrel (red arrow). This would eliminate one of the possible causes of a jammed focusing ring we see fairly often.

Removing 3 more screws lets us remove the rear groups in one piece (you can see the bit of hardened Loctite is in there).

The remainder of the lens contains the diaphragm unit (notice the diaphragm spring), and the front elements.

Slipping the diaphragm control lever with a forceps demonstrates the very nice 9 bladed aperture ring which remains fairly circular even stopped down.

If you’re following along at home with your lens diagram scorecard, the 4 rear elements are in the removed group, the remaining elements are in the front section above.

Lens Diagram copyright Olympus

 

As we had been living right, apparently, the bit of loctite was easy to blow out from the side of the removed assembly and things put back together in a few minutes.

What’s the Point?

Not much really, except I like to look inside equipment and see how it’s built. (Some of you like to see, too.) This lens is built in much the same way that top-quality SLR lenses are made, which is not always the case for small, mirrorless camera lenses, as we’ve seen before.

Some people are put off by the price, at least from the discussions I’ve seen online. My perspective is that sometimes things are expensive because they’re worth it. This seems to be one of those times. The build quality is different than the majority of mirrorless lenses. The ones that are built like this are about this price range.

As far as image quality, I won’t repeat what has already been done more thoroughly elsewhere. But I will say the Imatest results are spectacular. Even wide open at f/1.8 the lens is resolving 880 / 765 Line Pairs / Image Height which is truly outstanding, especially in the corners. Stopped down to f/2.8 it resolves 1020 / 925. For me personally, it’s a focal length I’ll use a lot. Probably more importantly, it gives m4/3 users a high-quality short telephoto lens, something that has not been available without using adapters and giving up either small size or autofocus (or both).

Obviously, some of you will find it amusing that I’m writing about what a high-quality lens this is, considering we had to clean it out on arrival. Chances are if you’ve owned 10 or 20 lenses you’ve never had one arrive like this. Trust me, if you had 10,000 lenses you’d consider this an everyday event that affects every brand. It’s not common, but it happens.

It amuses me that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the new 24mm and 28mm Canon IS primes that I felt were overpriced at around $900, yet I believe this $900 lens is well worth the price (if you can get it for list price). This lens is built better and is arguably sharper. More to the point, I can choose from among a lot of good SLR lenses in the 24 to 28mm range. For the micro 4/3 mount in the over 45mm range I can choose this one.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

July 2012

30 Responses to “The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is Expensive Because It’s Worth It.”

JL Smith said:

I always like these disassembly articles – keep it up Roger & crew! I once did a reassemble of a Minolta 58mm 1.4 manual focus, and it didn’t turn out nearly as well as this did. I believe the entire world owes me a thanks for not working at LensRentals ;)

Siegfried said:

Roger,
thanks for another exciting striptease, but I think you could do better: i.e. measure the lens performance before and after the clean-up and precisely show it in digits how much this little crumb is (in)visible.

Yours,
Zig

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Zig,

We did, actually. There wasn’t any difference we could tell numerically. Not surprising because the spec wasn’t visible on any images.

Roger

A said:

Go on, make Aaron wear the gloves of shame; you know you want to ;)

Chris Nichols said:

Very nice, especially since I have this reserved with you in Aug; hope it’s available! AND, I have it ordered, but have no confidence I’ll get it in time for the trip I’m renting for. I’m so impressed with the OMD 5 I have (which I also rented from you before I bought; a great way to get hands on gear for longer than 5 seconds at a counter).

Joachim said:

When I got my first Distagon 35/1.4 decades ago, after saving some months of small salary, the front element looked like somebody poured a sponge of chalk water on it. You can’t imagine the disappointment when opening the box and it already looked like been used badly by some idiot. Sure, I could clean it, but some questions remain: If Zeiss was careless enough to let slip such a frontlens of shame through quality control, then what about the rest of it? The focus ring went always a bit stickier than the one of the 85/1.4 – bad sign?
After a while I decided I have to do something about it, sent both to Oberkochen and made a cycle trip to pay the factory a visit. At that time I was easy to be impressed by a modern factory plant of lenses, so I don’t recall the apologies.
At that time I only had a body and a standard lens, not 10.000s of it. It might happen – but if we could not sing the bad quality song when bad quality happens, for which kind of cases it was composed, then?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Chris,

You’ll definitely have the rental if the other doesn’t come through for you.Tyler appears to have gathered in a couple of more. And I promise Aaron’s fingerprints are gone.

Roger

Siegfried said:

Good morning, Roger.
I’m 100% with you in this debate (all mirror lenses feature – OMG!!!11oneoneone – a huge snot on the 1st element, but they work quite fine nevertheless), but I was referring more to that very chorus you mentioned in the beginning of your post. So if you numerically showed that very MTF decrease and the image area affected with it, then it would be very *pictorial* example.
I’d expect it to be like… pixel-peeping of 20mp image with some hot pixels bicubically resampled to 12mp – you can hardly find any traces of those dead pixels there. Especially, if you haven’t seen the original and do not know where to search for them.

Cheers,
Zig

Markus said:

Hi Roger,

any comment from your side on handling the OM-D 5 with the 75mm lens? Is the battery grip absolutely necessary to get a decent balance?

Bye,

Markus

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Markus,

I’ve been using it without grip simply because I can’t get a grip. I have big hands but it’s no problem, although I think I’ll prefer it with the grip. But certainly it’s no problem to shoot this lens without it.

Roger

Markus said:

Thanks Roger, this helps.

Rich said:

Roger, if you’re still looking for the HLD-6 grip try Mike’s Camera in Denver (MikesCamera.com). After searching online for a couple weeks, I was very surprised to find this at a local store today. Drove over and picked one up a few minutes ago. They’re priced $20 below the normal price, but it looks like they might make that up on shipping charges for web orders. Good luck!

Jeff Moore said:

Sure, Roger, you say that your “Imatest numbers aren’t going to expand the world’s knowledge of the lens much.”

But there’s something I really want to see, and I’m hoping you’ll become interested in seeing it as well.

The Olympus is a 75mm f/1.8 lens. That’s nearly exactly the same as a 75mm f/2.0 lens. Which is what the Leica 75mm Apo-Summicron-M ASPH is. Do you see why we really really need to see your Imatest numbers for both lenses on the same micro-4/3 body?

They’re the same thing, except of course the Leica lens is designed for that image circle twice as far across. And what do you know, the prices vary approximately proportionally to the area of their design image circles!

Coincidence? You tell me.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Jeff, you just had to go there, didn’t you? Now I can’t stand wondering what the results will be. Truth is the Summicron ASPH is a world-class lens and I think it will be really fascinating to see. I’m going to do what you suggest, but first I’ve got to get an Oly 75mm in stock long enough to do it. We’ve only been able to get a couple and they’ve been rented out for the next couple of weeks. But the next one in the door we’ll do the comparison.

Regards,

Roger

Jeff Moore said:

Roger: Oh, goody! Can’t wait to see that.

Because I have the 75mm Summicron, and I have the E-M5 (which has mostly had the excellent Olympus 12mm welded to it, but that’s a whole other direction), and I can’t help but wonder if the Olympus 75 offers me anything but autofocus.

The Leica 75 has made some really nice pictures for me with earlier mu-4/3 bodies, but I’ve been too busy taking pictures of stuff I actually want to take pictures of with the fantabulous OM-D E-M5 to bolt on a lens longer than I’ve needed so far just for test purposes. That camera not only seems to have a dramatically better sensor than earlier Panasonic-sourced ones, the whole system seems less laggy – I’ve been pretty successful taking pictures of people moving around and being people, something which has in the past been problematic with any electronic-viewfinder system I’ve tried.

nandadevieast said:

Roger, how does this compare to the following: AF-S 85 1.8 G and Sigma 85 1.4 (or let’s say, what’s your feeling about it since you haven’t perhaps compared these lenses)
anurag

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Anurag,

It’s a feeling but the 75 is awesomely good. To get this resolutions on a 16-megapixel sensor is really excellent. Those are two good 85mm lenses you mentioned, but the more I shoot with the 75, the more impressed I am. Seriously, I think it’s as good as about any lens I’ve shot with. We just did a comparison to the Leica 75mm Summilux and the results surprised me so much I won’t publish until I repeat them, but it should be obvious I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Leica was better.

Roger

nandadevieast said:

Thanks Roger,
I wonder why you said “20″ megapixel ??
You already published the results, didn’t you :)
I guess this one is too good :) If only it wasn’t a F3.6 DOF (Ah)
anurag

Gary said:

So many electronics! Auto self-destruct in 10 years by tin whiskers.

Jeff Moore said:

Wait, was that just a hurried typing typo when you said, “We just did a comparison to the Leica 75mm Summilux and…”? Because the Summilux is a pretty old design, and goes all the way out to f/1.4, and while it makes some *beautiful* pictures, I wouldn’t expect it to be a technical resolution champ.

But if, as I suspect, you were testing the 75mm Apo-ASPH Summicron, which is a modern Leica design, and the Olympus taught it a lesson… that would indeed be interesting.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

It was the Summicron, Jeff, you’re correct, a hurried typo. We only have 4 copies of the ‘cron, though, and I want to repeat that on some other copies (3 are out) before I run my mouth too much.

Roger

Lisandra said:

Run your mouth!!!! I wanna know how they measured up!!!!!!! Theres like a 4000$ difference!!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

I will run my mouth soon. But I’ve spent weeks now hanging myself out there on the autofocus series. I want to make sure I’ve double checked things on the 75s before a bunch of Fanboys come burn my car and stuff.

Jeff Moore said:

That would never ever happen.

So, on a completely unrelated topic… what kind of car do you drive, again? And what color was that? And just to make conversation, where do you usually park?

Mike Richart said:

I enjoy your ‘gear’ blogs. We’re all gearheads to a degree. I really liked your dissection of the Oly 75 mm. Could we see more of why some lenses cost so much more than others and the value?
Also, as one with a commitment to the Sony A-mount, I’d like to see a little attention directed to this smaller market field.

Thanks!

ed said:

my 75mm f1.8 was dropped from a freak accident today and the corner of the lens barrel over the front lens element is dented

was it a seperate piece by any chance ?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Ed,

We didn’t go in from the front because we assumed (like most m4/3 lenses) the makeup ring was glued on, so I’m not certain. I’ll look at one Monday and see if I can figure that out.

Roger

PeterK said:

Hello Roger. How about that comparison with 75mm Apo-ASPH Summicron on same body? ;-)

Jeff Moore said:

Yes, please. What PeterK said.

I’m all ready with my rationalizations if the Olympus stomps the Leica.

Um, image circle. And, uh, the “look”.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

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