1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2 version 1.31
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. Only slight tweak of brightness/contrast and minor adjustment of white balance for better overall consistency.
This blog entry is a continuation from the previous entry: Part 1 of Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 Review. If you have not read the Part 1, kindly do so here.
In the Part 1 of my review, I have brought the Olympus 75mm lens out for street shooting in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, where majority of the shots were taken under abundant and good amount of light during early morning in the open air wet market area. In that shooting session, I have also found that the 75mm F1.8 lens is remarkably sharp even being used at wide open F1.8, and can produce admirably creamy and smooth bokeh (background blur). The 75mm F1.8 lens was tested at its optimum performance in terms of resolution and sharpness at mostly ISO200 settings, yielding best possible results under favorable natural available ambient lighting condition.
What if we reverse the situation, and bring the lens out shooting in the dark? That is precisely what I am doing in this Part 2 of my Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 review. I have brought the 75mm lens to Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur for night shooting to test how the lens perform under street lighting condition, where I needed to boost up the ISO settings to compensate for the lack of available light. While I was walking along Central Market (just opposite Petaling Street night market) I chanced upon live Chinese Kung Fu demonstration, which was performed free for the public !! Yet another fabulous opportunity to put this 75mm lens to test.
As a reminder, and a note to first time visitors, this review will be written from a photography-enthusiast’s point of view. This will be a user experience based review, sharing on what I think and feel using the M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 mounted on OM-D E-M5 in real life shooting situations. Therefore, this is not a technical review as there will not be elaborative technical explanations, such as explanation of corner softness, optimum aperture range, chromatic aberration and so forth. In addition to that, I will not be doing direct side by side image and performance comparisons with other lenses. What I am presenting in this entry is merely what I can do with the Olympus 75mm F1.8 lens for my usual shutter therapy session.
ISO1250, F/1.8, 1/1000sec
Wrong Side of the Fence
ISO1250, F/1.8, 1/30sec
Take note of the motion blur in this photograph, it was not intended, as I saw the man made a sudden jump over the fence, I pointed the 75mm lens and made a quick AF, snapped the shot and realized the shutter speed used was too slow at 1/30sec. Though there was motion blur, you can see (from the lines of the guard rail) that the image was perfectly in focus. This shows how fast and reliable the 75mm focusing is, for quick reflex shots such as this one.
ISO1250, F/1.8, 1/60sec
Smoke a Cigarette.
ISO1250, F/1.8, 1/125sec
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/80sec
AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE IN LOW LIGHT
I started shooting while there was some evening light available, but as the night progressed I have stumbled into some shooting situations where I needed to push up the ISO to 6400 to achieve sufficient shutter speed. The Olympus 75mm F1.8 performed flawlessly in determining the focus each and every time, quickly, and very decisively. There was no hunting encountered, and the lens just snapped in focus very quickly without hesitation. Coming from the stellar newer AF lenses line-up from Olympus Micro 4/3 lenses lately (such as the 12mm F2 and 45mm F1.8), I am expecting no less from this new 75mm F1.8. For stealthy reasons, I turned off the red beam AF assist light on the body, because while shooting in the dark the last thing I wanted to do was to alert my subjects with that annoying red beam screaming out in the dark. There is nothing to find fault about in this lens' autofocus performance, it just worked, and worked very efficiently. Considering the fact that I was dealing with narrow depth of field due to the large aperture of F1.8 at 75mm, the accuracy of the autofocus being determined at such blindingly fast speed was really impressive. You just click it and it instantly snapped into focus.
To torture the autofocus, I chose a scene in the backalley where there were two people walking towards me from afar. The lighting was so dim, even at ISO6400, F1.8, I managed to get about 1/50sec of shutter speed only, which was good enough to freeze the slow walk. I fired a couple of shots, and all of them came out perfectly in focus. Believe me, I have used many DSLR bodies, from many different manufacturers, in such challenging condition, shooting with a focal length longer than 100mm (on 35mm format) will have your lens at least struggling a little bit before locking on focus. I am truly glad to see Olympus micro 4/3 system, the 75mm lens in combination with the capabilities of the new E-M5 has made shooting in such difficult situation, a breeze !
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/50sec
The Dark Backalley. This was the shot I was referring to in the previous paragraph.
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/100sec
ISO400, F/1.8, 1/8sec
Handheld shot taken at slow shutter 1/8sec, shooting with the 75mm, again, I was reminded on how remarkable the 5 Axis Image Stabilization is inside the E-M5.
ISO1600, F/1.8, 1/100sec
ISO2000, F/1.8, 1/160sec
Fire and Smoke
ISO1600, F/1.8, 1/160sec
Tourists at Tourist Traps
Alright, so far we all know how wonderful the Olympus 75mm F1.8 lens is, and I have described on all the positive points and why I like about the lens. Now lets move on to the part where I wish the lens could have been improved.
So what could have been better?
Minimum Focusing Distance
This 75mm lens has very poor magnification factor, hence you will not be able to achieve any decent close up shots at all. Minimum focusing distance is about 0.84m and that itself is very restrictive for many close up shooting, which unfortunately is something I love to do a lot. I like to be able to get close to my subjects, and I am not expecting near macro capabilities, but Olympus lenses, even the cheaper kit lenses have always come with very admirable close up shooting ability. On the 75mm lens, the rated magnification ratio is 0.1x, and I wish somehow the lens could at least achieve 0.25x magnification, and have a closer focusing distance of maybe half a meter away, instead of nearly a meter.
Size and Weight
The 75mm F1.8 lens is not exactly a big lens, in fact I do think it is decently sized, and the weight is justified due to the all metal construction. Having the 75mm fitted on Olympus latest OM-D E-M5 body plus the battery grip, the lens felt right at home, as if it was tailored made to be used particularly for the E-M5 system. Nonetheless, we all know how small and light the rest of the micro 4/3 bodies are, including both from Olympus and Panasonic bodies. Smaller bodies such as Panasonic GF series or Olympus E-PM1 might not give you the comfort and balance of handling the 75mm lens for long shooting hours. I know many photographers have some soft spot for bigger and heavier lenses, with all metal construction, but in practical usage, balance and handling are more important when you are out there to get results.
For many of you who have the smaller micro 4/3 bodies, please do yourself a favor and try the lens on the body first before deciding to buy.
The Odd 75mm Focal Length
I have shared my thoughts on the 75mm focal length in my Part 1 review of this lens, but I have to say again that the 75mm focal length may not be suitable for the majority of photography applications. It is a case of "neither here nor there". It is medium tele-photo range lens, but it certainly does not have the reach of a true tele-photo lenses that shoots animals, birds, or concert performance from far. It is longer than usual prime lenses for comfortable shooting uses, and I admit it is even longer for comfort for general street shooting. If you want this 75mm focal length, you have got to know what you are getting into, and you must know what you are doing to do with this lens. I would say for certain style of street shooting, this lens works wonders, being able to shoot from far and allowing you that extra working distance between you and your subjects. Be warned, most professional street photographers would suggest you otherwise: go wider.
If shooting portrait is what you do most, I am very sure this 75mm lens wont disappoint. You will however, need to take that many steps backward to get what you needed to fit into the frame.
By now, we all know Olympus placed the 75mm F1.8 in their so called "premium" lens category, sitting together with the earlier 12mm F2 which was released about a year ago. This is not a lens easily recommended to anyone, considering the hefty price tag, but if you do need the lens, and it does what you do in photography, it will be worth your money spent. For the budget conscious crowd, such as myself, it is difficult to justify spending so much money for a prime lens with a focal length which is not my main choice of usage while shooting.
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/160sec
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/160sec
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/160sec
ISO5000, F/1.8, 1/250sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/250sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/250sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/250sec
SHOOTING LIVE KUNG FU FIGHTING
As I was strolling away from Petaling Street toward the Central Market area, I found out that there would be a Chinese Kung Fu live demonstration by local Kung Fu Artists happening right in front of Kasturi Walk entrance. This was the exact same place where the traditional Malay dance took place which I shot for the earlier Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 review, which you can find here (click). I thought to myself, what a perfect opportunity to do the ultimate lens torture test ! Think about it, extremely fast action shots, in dim street lighting, how much worse can it get?
The ODD 75mm Focal Length, Again.
Just before the show started, I had to decide where to position myself. I realized that the front line was actually too close to the performers, and I wont be able to get decent full body shots in action. If I did not go to the front line, I might get blocked by people in front of me, which would have been a no-no, since getting clear shots with nothing in my line of sight was my priority. After some quick thinking I decided to just stay at the front line and did what I could with the 75mm lens. In that moment, I knew very well that the 75mm lens was not the best suited lens for the job, and the right lens was obviously the 45mm F1.8. Nonetheless, I was there to test the 75mm lens, and I did manage to get some shots out of it.
You see, the problem with 75mm is being so tight, I have very difficult time framing my subjects. Since it was Chinese Kung Fu that I have no background or knowledge besides what I see on TV and the movies, I could not predict their movements, which can change, and go all around the place. Tracking the movement of the performers at such telescopic view was not easy at all, and I did have a lot of misses, either I accidentally cut off their head in my composition, or the performer already jumped out of my frame completely. However, on the positive side of things, with the 75mm, the view I get from the lens was VERY close to the performer, and the shots, when I nailed them, came out surprisingly pleasing, giving you the "in the face" impact.
Extremely Challenging Lighting Condition
I set the camera to Aperture Priority mode, shooting at the widest F1.8 opening to gather as much light as possible. Initially I started with ISO3200, and I kept firing away without chimping, so that I can get as many shots as possible. I was using a slow SD card, rated at class 4 only, hence I could not do the 9FPS continuous burst shooting. I did single shot for all the images, but even so, after firing 10-20 shots successively, I find the card not being able to keep up with the writing speed. My fault for using such a slow and lousy card. Do forgive me, because the main card I use for my current camera system was CF cards for Olympus E-5.
There was a very brief break in between performance, and I made a quick review on my images. To my horror, almost ALL of them were blurred !! Judging from the focusing I have seen from the Electronic Viewfinder while I was shooting I was very confident I got most of the focusing right, and it was then I realized the shutter speed was not fast enough to freeze action. The Kung Fu movements were a lot faster and much more violent in comparison to the previous Malay Traditional dance I have reviewed for the 45mm lens. Not only that, somehow I did feel the lighting this time was dimmer than previously, and that left me with very little options to go on. I had no choice but to push the ISO setting to 6400, to achieve at least 1/250sec or faster, so that I can capture the performers with less motion blur. I did not intend to push beyond ISO6400, we all know what the results would be, which would be pointless for any meaningful photography tests.
Auto-Focus On Action Shots in Difficult Lighting
I refrained myself from using the continuous focusing or tracking, because I knew from experience it would not work well enough for extremely fast action shots. Therefore, I used Single-Autofocus, and relied on the camera and lens' ability to instantly lock focus and snap right away with minimal delay. This technique worked, but due to extreme fast movements, I did have a lot of failures too, about 50% of the shots were out of focus. The one clear cause of this problem was me being too close to the performers, as I have mentioned earlier, and the hit rate will surely improve if I was a few meters back from where I was standing. I did not have that flexibility to work with, hence I just did what I could with the limited 75mm field of view. Another reason was due to the impossibly fast movements of the performers. Seriously, Chinese Kung Fu cannot be slow, if it was slow, it was not kung fu !! That itself is good enough reason for making the 75mm's test a miserable situation. I would say having 50% keepers is very, very good indeed considering how challenging the circumstances were.
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/160sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/250sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/320sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/400sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/320
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/320sec
ISO6400, F/1.8, 1/320sec
The System Matures
If we just take a few steps back and really think everything through, it is very evident that the Micro 4/3 system has come a long way. The usability and capability of the system, both the camera bodies and lenses have been improving to an extent that the system has become a promising choice and direct competitor, even to professional DSLR system. Micro 4/3 may not surpass DSLR in certain aspects, but having such blazingly fast autofocus, in combination with continually improving image quality, yet being offered in much smaller and lighter package is making the system such a compelling alternative.
If I was given a task to photograph the above Kung Fu performance with my current working system E-5, I might not be able to deliver results. I dare not go that far beyond ISO1600, and for the original 4/3 DSLR system the native lenses has widest aperture of F2 only. On top of that, the F2 lenses do not have as quick, or as accurate reliability in terms of autofocus, in comparison with newer Micro 4/3 body and lenses. Come on guys, rewind 2 years back, who would have thought we will be able to shoot usable ISO6400 on a great F1.8 lens with near flawless Autofocus even in challenging lighting condition? To me, practicality is very important when it comes to camera and lenses. This particular Kung Fu performance shooting made me realized that the micro 4/3 system has far surpassed the original 4/3 DSLR system. You may not agree with me, I also think that the micro 4/3 system is no longer lagging behind APS-C Sensor DSLR competitors, and it is moving toward to be on par with full frame capabilities. Bold claims, true, but we know the whole micro 4/3 system is still evolving, I am just thrilled of what future possibilities it could bring. The only question now is not how, but "when".
Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 Summary
What I like:
1) Buttery, creamy bokeh.
2) Extremely sharp, even used at wide open F1.8. Possibly the sharpest Micro 4/3 lens, and one of the sharpest lenses around in the planet.
3) Beautifully constructed
4) Solid built
5) Fast Autofocus, even in very unfavorable lighting
6) Almost no technical fault in image quality
What I don't like
1) Size and Weight: only balanced handling with E-M5 and battery grip. Will be off-balanced used with smaller micro 4/3 bodies
2) Odd 75mm focal length, not for wide range of shooting needs
3) Hefty price tag
4) Minimum focusing distance could be better, for close up shooting.
I shall not be providing full size JPEG images for this shooting, since the photographs were all shot at high ISO setting, and may not be representative on what the true image quality the lens is capable of. This Part 2 of review is all about how the lens handles shooting condition in unfavorablly dim lighting, and catching up with fast action movements. I also believe I have provided enough samples in my Part 1 for your pixel-peeping pleasure.
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/640sec
Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens will give you extremely sharp images, with very admirable bokeh quality and performs very well in autofocus. If you need the 75mm focal length, do a lot of portrait shooting, and know what you are doing with a 75mm focal length, this 75mm F1.8 lens will make you a much happier photographer.
if you have any questions or feedback, kindly leave a comment below, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org