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Exclusive: Hands-on preview of the new Olympus m.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

Olympus' third fast Micro Four Thirds prime is set to be a premium portrait lens

Olympus' new m.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 medium telephoto (equivalent to 150mm in 135 format 'full frame'), according to Olympus, delivers the best image quality yet from an m.Zuiko Micro Four Thirds lens. Its optical design owes much to the exceptionally good Zuiko Digital 150mm f/2.0. Apparently the front element is polished to an astonishingly small tolerance that, in turn, requires extremely tight tolerances for construction during manufacture. As we have come to expect from modern lenses optical sharpness is available even at full aperture. The lens body is a metal build, like the m.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0. There is a new 'ZERO' (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) lens coating that reduces reflections and ghosting by up to 50%. Olympus sees the 75mm as a particularly useful lens choice for studio portraiture, indoor low light photography - theatre and concerts, for example, and for indoor sports photography. This might explain why the lens is not dust and splash proof, despite its premium price and specification.

As the 75mm is designed to be used at wide apertures the quality of the de-focused areas of an image, becomes very important, Olympus says that not only is the bokeh suitably soft and creamy, but circular highlight discs are much more uniform, even towards the edges of the frame, something not always guaranteed with a very wide aperture lens. I have been discussing the merits of the new lens with Olympus' Tokyo-based product planning manager, Toshi Terada, He kindly quoted one of his colleagues with regard to the bokeh capabilities of the new lens:

At the top of this bokeh comparison provided by Olympus is what you can expect from the 75mm f/1.8 and below is an unnamed lens at an equivalent focal length.

"Thanks you so much for your cooperation with Olympus. We are really appreciate your support for our products and FTS/mFTS. As you realised, this lens describes very beautiful bokeh, because it has been designed with as less vignetting as possible. If you take night scene with spotlights in background, you can get almost perfect circle of the blurred spotlights as attached file shows. Because of priority of small and light weight recently, manufactures design a lens with acceptable level of vignetting We can compensate the lack of brightness in corners by digital processing, but the perfect circle of blurred spotlight can't be got in this case. As you know, not only this lens but also 45mm F1.8 gives beautiful bokeh. As a camera manufacturer, we are developing these specific lenses with strong policy."

What does the m.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 feel like?

There is a lot of glass in the 75mm f/1.8, including three ED elements and two HR (high refractive index) elements. This, along with the metal construction, gives the lens a weighty feel. Its official weight is 305g, which is roughly 50% heavier than the m.Zuiko 12-50mm that is the official kit lens for the new OM-D E-M5. Attached to an E-M5 body with grip and battery pack fitted, the combination is very nicely balanced. Indeed, it is only very slightly front-heavy. While the lens has the same fast and almost silent 'MSC' (is also designed to be used with manual focusing. The fly by wire focus ring is very smooth and nicely weighted and wide enough to be gripped easily. For a lens commanding a 799 price tag you might expect a distance scale window, but you will be disappointed. And unlike the 12mm f/2.0, there is no trick manual focus mode ring with depth of field scale.

Fans of limited depth of field will love the 75mm f/1.8, For example, at a distance of five feet and with the aperture set fully open at f/1.8 the depth of field is only 21mm. Compare that to a depth of field for the same distance and aperture using the m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 at 61mm. Early indications are that the bokeh quality claims Olympus make for the lens are justified. One thing that this lens isn't is a macro optic. Closest focus is 2.8 feet.

The 75mm example I was able to try was an early pre-production sample and although I can report that the image quality is every bit as good as I had expected, Olympus isn't allowing sample images from this early lens to be published. So you will just have to believe my words; sharpness wide open is superb and bokeh is very impressive. Toshi Terada says that we will be supplied with a sample equivalent to a production lens in a few weeks time and we will be able to publish samples from that.

While it's true that the 75mm f/1.8 is a premium lens, both optically and in construction, its not an inexpensive lens like the 45mm f/1.8. But compared to some high-end primes from Nikon and Canon the lens is comparatively good value. We can't wait to show you what this lens can do, but in the mean time here is a gallery of shots taken while we had the pre-production sample to play with.

 

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