Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm F2.8-3.5

About a year ago I made an interesting lens purchase, the Olympus Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens to be used on my Olympus DSLR E-5. I have always have a weakness for long telephoto zoom lenses, and when a friend gave me a deal I could not resist, I knew I just had to have one. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and this is probably one of the lens that have provided me with some of the best images I have ever shot. 

Since the range of focal length is longer than usual, the 50-200mm is a rather specific purpose lens. It is surely not a lens to be used for everyday walk-around purposes, or something that you would bring to a dinner party or street shooting. I find it strange how many new generation photographers would frown upon long telephoto lenses, because I strongly believe that having one is very important even though you may not necessarily use it very often. There are times when you need that extra reach, and when you have the zoom lens, you will feel that it is a life saving situation. Throughout the past year, I have had quite a few of such mentioned situations when I was very, very glad that I have brought along the 50-200mm lens to capture the shots that I have had in mind. 

In this blog entry, I shall compile a collection of random images, all shot with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens. 

At 200mm focal length (effectively 400mm on 35mm format) you will get a very profound subject isolation, not just in terms of background blur, but the compression effect that just enhances the 3-D feel of the image. This image was shot at a beach at Bali, a pre-wedding shooting. 

Another example of background compression effect, the sun appears a lot larger than it was seen with naked eye. An even longer lens will provide even stronger compression. This effect can only be accomplished with a long lens. KL Tower in the morning, shot at Dataran Merdeka. 

200mm focal length is not exactly long enough to shoot the moon. This shot was a 100% crop of the original image, but even at 100% crop, the sharpness and amount of details captured by the lens was really incredible. 

A zoom tele-photo lens is surely a must have if you shoot a lot of events. The 50-200mm lens was a god-sent when I was covering the Bersih 3.0 rally back in April this year. The extra working distance means you do not have to take unnecessary risks of going too close, and the extra far reach have me flexibility in tight composition, such as the image above, zooming right into the hands motion and gesture only, to express and tell the message which was very evident on its own. 

A long lens can produce very flattering shallow depth of field, rendering very dreamy bokeh. 

Some insects are very sensitive to movements, hence appraching with a macro lens shooting at close distance may not be the best solution for such case. Also, not all insects require macro lens capability. A dragonfly is actually very large, and when you need to fit two dragonflies in a shot, macro lens is not really necessary. I remember shooting this pair of dragonflies across the pond (about 3-4 meters away from where I stand). I love how at 200mm full zoom, the background can be blurred to pure, creamy nothingness !!

Long lenses are perfect for very sensitive butterflies or bees, especially those that are constantly in motion. The Autofocus of the 50-200mm lens I had is not as fast as the newer SWD version, but it was good enough to capture some decent in motion shots. 

Though I am not really into bird photography, or have done any sort of birding before, I must admit even by just shooting birds in Bird Park or Zoo was quite exciting, and can be rewarding. I think I am a fairly open minded photographer, I pretty much enjoy shooting anything at all. I acknowledge that birding is probably one of the more challenging photography genre, requiring unsurpassed amount of patience and extremely good eye-sight. Not something that anyone can do, or are willing to do. 

An attempt to freeze a bird in flight. This was taken about a week ago in Zoo Negara. Coupling the 50-200mm lens on my Olympus DSLR E-5, the autofocus performance was quite fast and reliable. 

Long lens is very good portrait lens. Shooting at longer focal length, they are free of any barrrel distortion which would make the subject look cartoonish. Also, at longer focal length the compression effect creates very good facial profile, looking very natural and pleasing. Oh and the superb background blur rendering, on top of heavily compressed background added the "cinematic" effect. I like how long lenses would just direct you straight into the "facial expression", and being void of all other distractions. 

Another example of how I use the 50-200mm as a portrait shooting lens. Even when I placed my subject right at the corner (head on left top corner), the proportions and geometrical profile were maintained, without any ugly distortion or unwanted "stretch-pull" effect known in most 50mm or wider lenses. A lot of new-comers to photography do not realize this but you will be murdered if you do not take care of the distortions of human portraits. Trust me, I learned it the hard way. And long-telephoto zoom lenses can save your ass here. 

If you have a great looking background, and you want to "enlarge" the background as the backdrop for your outdoor portrait, zooming in is the answer. I noticed how the morning harsh sunlight made the water on the lake glistened and sparkled. Shooting the couple Anston and Janice against the sparkling background can only be achieved with a longer lens. If I was shooting with anything wider. I might have included the ugly sky, the trees, and probably the rubbish bin next to them. The compressed background effect is a powerful tool for composition and subject isolation. 

I love shooting live music, especially those performed on stage. I shot this image of Rashdan Harith last year in Suara Kami 2011 Festival, out in the open. I like how the facial expression was intensified, and the attention is drawn straight to that expression. 

Concert lovers? You will suffer without a long lens !! Well it also depends on where you are standing. If you have the media pass, you can get away with wider lenses. If you were like me standing 10-20 rows behind the front of the stage most of the time, the only way for you to get close to the performers without physically being there was the use of long lenses. This was Kyoto Protocol performing at this year's Hitz FM Birthday Invasion Party. 

When I was shooting the Hitz FM Birthday Invasion I did not know Jason Lo was lined up as one of the performers. Thank goodness I had my 50-200mm with me !!! Listening to Jason performing life was a truly memorable experience, but being able to capture some good, clear shots of him was even better. 

I was on a destination wedding assignment in Bali, shooting for Mabel and Calvin. The bad news was that I had to work with a group of videographers, and they had the priority to be in front at all times, taking away all the auspicious shooting positions. It was at times like this that the 50-200mm was very useful. I somehow managed to zoom pass the videographer (well, me standing from one side, not that my lens can see through them) and using very tight composition to capture some very important moments. 

I was shooting the Bersih 3.0 rally earlier this year, and you have no idea how many people there were. It was very crowded and messy, and no way I can go away with clean composition. Again, tight compression composed shots, coupled with good background blur was the answer. 

In some very rare occasions I do shoot the street with the 50-200mm lens. 

This traditional Malay dance performance was taken last year, in KL Festival 2011. I have just acquired my lens back then, and this was one of the "getting used to the lens" session. The Autofocus performs very well, even in such unevenly lit condition, and sometimes, very dark. 

Another shot from the traditional Malay dance

A conceptual, modern, artistic sort of dance. I love watching live dramas, theater shows, or dance performance. I like watching music bands perform live. Having the 50-200mm lens was surely a plus when I go to one of these shows. 

It is disheartening to hear some people who has not really used or found the need to use long tele-photo zoom lens to make quick judgment or label others who use the long lenses as being lazy. I agree that if you can get close to your subject, you should, and the zoom that you need would be your feet. I also have to acknowledge the fact that would not be the case for all situations, and there are indeed some circumstances that require the use of longer lenses. Laziness has nothing to do with this, different lenses are designed for different purposes. It would be selfish, and unwise to dismiss the importance of a true, powerful long tele-photo lens. There are many things that the long lens can do, that shorter lens cannot. 

Do you own a long lens? Perhaps a Canon or Nikon 70-200mm? What are your thoughts? Do share !


  1. Robin,

    the term "zoom with your feet" is actually wrong - it changes perspective. You've laid out that before with your couple shot against the water. There's no other way to compress and enlarge a background than with a long lens - so you *do* need one. Getting in closer, and using shorter focal lengths would have drawn in considerably more background (and made it sharper as well).

    I only have the 40-150mm kit zoom for my E-520, and Mitchie has the same (with adapter) for her E-PL1. And sometimes you just have to have them - and not only when you can't get closer. Reducing the background and compression are the keywords here.

    But you know that. Just to make it clear for some of your readers who might not.

    Superb images, as always.

    1. Thanks for further explaining the concept of compression and perspective !! I am sure this will help some people who are trying to grasp the meaning of it. Yes, it is very different using wide angle and getting close, not necessarily a bad thing just a different outcome in terms of perspective altogether.

      Thanks for the kind words !

  2. I love my 50-200, it’s why I have hung on to my e3 as long as I have. do you know anyone that has used this lens on the pen series or OMD (getting an OMD soon, just wondering if i should keep this lens for it), was wondering how out of balance it would be or if it would be bearable for the few shots you need it for occasionally.

    currently saving for the Nikon 70-200 as i mainly use Nikon now but still have a soft spot for Oly.

    1. Hey Anthony,
      Nice to find another fellow 50-200mm user !! I did not mount it on the OMD during my review of the camera but I dare say that it will surely be out of balance. Not recommended unless there is no other choice. Hoping micro 4/3 either panasonic or Olympus would come up with something similar to our 50-200mm !!

    2. If you have nothing else to try out one day, maybe ask your Oly contacts for the converter and let me know how it all goes for you :), I still don’t know if I could part with the lens even if I sold my E3 for the OMD. i don’t want to sell the E3 but my wife wouldn’t let me buy a 6th camera with out selling one of the others :(

    3. But Anthony, what is an E-7 is coming with an updated sensor as good or even better than OM-D??? That is the main reason I am staying with my E-5. I don't like the idea of selling all my beautiful zuiko lenses off and then suddenly E-7 or something better comes along and I have to buy the lenses back again !!!

    4. yeah that’s why I wouldn’t sell the lens, but I’m selling the E3 so I can get a carry anywhere camera (OMD) I have my Nikon D700 and man with the 24-70 that thing is a brick, bought my wife the Nikon V1 (she wanted a white camera) so we could take it everywhere but she wont let me use it lol, so the E3 has to go if I’m to get a walk about camera. I still think I would give the converter a go with the OMD when I get it, I have pretty big hands so holding the lens wont be to bad for me at least but don’t think ill be hanging it round my neck with it on, plus a day at the races I could stick it on a mono pod as the lens has the Tri pod mount as well so wouldn’t be to bad and when something better comes along (E7) ill find away to get that at some point if I see a use for it. Some people buy watches, some shoes I like my cameras 

    5. 43rumors website today says E-7 might be coming sooner than we think !!

    6. Anthony, Robin,

      we have an Olympus endorser and book author in Germany, and he has some photos and stories. These are in German, so you might want to use Google translate if you need to read the text. Here you go:

      1. E-M5 with the old 50-200: http://pen-and-tell.blogspot.de/2012/02/e-m5-und-livebulb.html (and yes, that's Mr. Terada beside him)
      2. Some pictures taken with that combination: http://pen-and-tell.blogspot.de/2012/02/e-m5-und-das-alte-zuiko-50-200.html
      3. Photos *of* the camera to show size even with an 35-100mm: http://pen-and-tell.blogspot.de/2012/02/oh-my-goodness.html


  3. Great examples! I used to own a Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens. It was a wonderful lens to shoot with, but I rarely brought it too far from home due to the size. In the end I decided I would rather get better fast primes for the focal lengths I would commonly use. I see a 75mm Olympus in my future, but frequency of use means I'll probably settle for a cheap telephoto like the Panasonic 45-200mm. Not as fast or as nice and this lens you have, surely :)

    1. Thanks Brad C. I have heard good things about the 45-200mm zoom lens too, so I am sure it will do its job very well. I have also tried that Canon 70-200 F4 lens very briefly, it is a very good lens indeed !!

  4. Thank you for sharing this valuable info on zoom lens.
    Though I am shooting with my 50mm and 17-50mm but at the back of my head I always want to have a better reach. It's tough sometime to squeeze between the crowd and get a well composed shot. Your information on this 50-200mm will surely drive me more hungry for the zomm lens. The downside is the price is a bit too high (Nikkor 70-200mm f/2G VR) and I may have to let go of my OMD dream.
    As I am more and more invole in Church and Corporate(DKSH) events, I have no choice to get one in the near future when my budget permit. BTW I am doing all these for my passion for photography.
    Thank you again for those great images and info on zoom lens.
    John Ragai

    1. Thanks John, it was my pleasure to share those images, collected over a year.
      For event shooting certainly a long lens is needed, for that extra reach. I foresee that shooting such activities in church may require you to step back a little and not being too intrusive all the time, getting in too near. That is when the telezoom lens is convenient.

  5. Thank you for the timely post on telephoto zooms and the outstanding (as always) images. I recently acquired the 45-200 Panasonic for my OM-D and took it to the Gold Coast to photograph birds and wallabies. Delighted with the results so far. In fact the lens can be razor sharp as long as I hold it rock-steady. Robin, your rule of thumb that the exposure cannot exceed the length of the lens' angle of view is absolutely the case. When I observe that rule it doubles my percentage of acceptably-sharp files. Before I learned to righteously obey that rule I thought that maybe the lens was "soft" at every aperture when in fact I was simply not holding it still. Also the OM-D's battery grip provides a nice balance for the tele-zoom at full extension. More shutter therapy!

    1. Hello again Reverend,
      It was my pleasure to share as always. I am glad you have found the rule of thumb to mitigate shake/blur when using long telephoto lenses useful !! It is after all just a general guideline, with practice and more getting used to handling the lens + camera combo, I am sure you will be more comfortable to push the limit and use even slower shutter speed.
      I am sure the battery grip's extra weight and bulk helped in balancing the tele lens !!

  6. Got to visit your blog by chance.. Love those shots and thank you for sharing.. I owned a E3 and several other Oly lenses, including 35-150mm F2... I have learnt from you the power of telephoto shots :-)... thinking of switching back to Nikon if they still do not come out any DSLR with good sensor like Nikon or Canon... but I am reluctant to part with those excellent Oly lenses.. Brought close to 12kg of camera stuff for my China trip last year without regret as I took lots and lots of pictures.... would not have achieved that with a point and shot camera... Hope to see more of your work.. !

  7. hi.thanks for sharing the post.plan your wedding more memorable with sankar live music wedding events.sankar is one of the best singers in bangalore.he performed many corporate events like INTEL, IBM,Centum Electronics, Wipro, Accenture, TATA Group, Karle and many more..

  8. Great shots Robin! I recently started following your blog. I ordered OM-D E-M1 and I am planning to buy the 50-200 fourthirds lens to use with adapter. I am wondering if we can use it handheld. Also, does SWD or non-SWD matter on E-M1 (in terms of autofocus speed)?

  9. Hi Robin
    Did you ever use the 50-200 with the E-M1 body? If so, how do you rate it against the 40-150mm f2.8 at equivalent focal lengths and with the TC-1.4 fitted to the 40-150? Some commentators have claimed the 50-200 is a tad sharper than the 40-150 but I would guess a little harder to hand hold, especially at 200mm

  10. Hello, I have the non SWD version of this lens. It seems that most of the shots I take with this lens come out slightly dull and not very good sharpness. Any suggestions on how to get better image quality and sharpness using this lens. I have the Olympus OM E-M 10 body by the way.


  11. I was going to buy the 40-150 2.8 and rented it for a weekend..It was slightly quicker on my Em1MII but all taken together it just wasn't like my 50-200 glass..Images just were not as sharp and didn't have that pop of my old 4/3 lens..also the 40-150 did not have the tactile feel when shooting like a comfortable pair of shoes as the 50-200 had...