Olympus OM Zuiko 55mm F1.2

So Christmas is near, so is my birthday and I decided that I deserve something to pamper myself with. I decided to splurge (OMG) and bought something which I do not really need, but I do desire to have, an F1.2 lens. Unfortunately the Panasonic 42.5mm is just too far a stretch out of my affordability. Hence I settled with something low key and more wallet friendly, the old OM Zuiko 55mm F1.2 lens. 

I know the lens is an old one, and it comes with a bagful of imperfections. I totally understand that at F1.2 the image is soft and I do need to stop down to at least F2 to obtain reasonably useful and sharp results. I also understand that such lens will exhibit plenty of other flaws such as chromatic abberation, and well, I think many of you can fill in the blanks better than I do. The main point is not enough obtaining a perfect lens or the best lens, if I wanted that, I would have gotten so many other amazing digital lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. The idea of using an old lens, was purely just for the fun of it. Who cares if my images are not exactly that sharp, who cares if they were all technically flawed? This is probably one of the cheapest F1.2 lens I can ever get (the CCTV lens does not count) and I am loving it so far!

I found myself a OM 55mm F1.2 at a reasonably good price, and in mint condition (no scratches, no dents). The glass does have a little fungus and foreign aliens growing inside but they were minor issue and did not affect the image quality much. 

I have used the OM 55mm F1.2 lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and so far I am loving what I see from this combo!

The lens is not sharp at wide open F1.2, but the image is still perfectly usable and you do get very soft out of focus area. However, the bokeh can get busy and is not creamy buttery smooth. Nonetheless, it was not distractingly harsh, and is considered better than many other older lenses. 

Stopping down the lens to F5.6, it is actually very sharp and I believe the image quality is close to what we can expect from modern lenses. 

Somehow the camera has difficulties handling the white balance properly when using the old OM lens and I needed to correct the white balance manually in post processing. 

Again, another F1.2 shot. There are issues with blooming and edges softening effect when the subject is shot against bright light. 

Manual focusing was a pain, and I immediately treasured the ability of Olympus fast focusing system in the Micro Four Thirds system. I tried using the focus peaking (hacked, using the art filter method) on the E-M5 but it was not very successful when I was dealing with F1.2. Therefore, I resolved in using the focus to magnify the area that I wanted to focus. 

Shooting at F4, the image comes out pleasantly beautiful

Whenever faces with bright light, the F1.2 images turn out to be rather soft. 

Even by just stopping down to F2 the image quality improvement is significantly better. The aperture ring control only allows stepping down from F1.2 to F2, then F4 and F5.6. There is no finer stepping of F1.4 or F1.8. 

At F1.2, the shallow depth of field is something to marvel at. 

An example of not so nice bokeh

When using the lens to shoot food, I found the big challenge, getting sufficient depth of field. At 55mm, the lens is actually very long, and even at F4 or F5.6, the depth of field is still very shallow, and not enough to cover a wide zone of focus which is required. 

The OM 55mm F1.2 makes a great portrait lens. There is an overall feel of softness and smoothness over the frame. This is Anna, who currently uses Olympus PEN E-PL7 actively. You can check out her images at her blog here (click) 

Say hi again to Carmen, who has made numerous appearance here before. She also has an Olympus PEN E-PL7 which has helped her in her beautiful photographs on her blog. 

headshot of Anna

Image credit: Tian Chad
We had an outing to shoot portraits with wireless flash system. Say hi to Jackie and Tian Chad, both awesome bloggers that I know. 

Sophia performing live at Live @ The Actor Studio. 

Amir Shariff checking out the 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens. 

I am sure some of you come from a long history of using Olympus system, even all the way from the glorious film OM days. If you have used, or still own the OM 55mm F1.2 lens, kindly share your thoughts and experience on the lens!

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  1. Nice Photo of Amir..
    the Images are so Dreamy..
    This lens have a certain character on it. Certainly gave a tasty twist to the Robin Wong Style..

    1. hi Robert,
      I know right, there is that dreamy effect! Maybe Olympus should have the "dreamy" art filter.

  2. I've the same lens made by Canon FD mount... 55mm f/1.2
    Looking at these images and your description, I think the canon FD seems a bit better in comparison. wide open it does have similar softness, but the bokeh seems better with the canon FD. Also, this one has finer aperture control, to 1.2->1.4/1.8->2.0->.... so I usually just stop it down one stop 1.4/1.8 level, and it gives me sharp enough pics!

    1. Glad to find out that you have a Canon one! but if I am not mistaken the going price for the Canon is a lot higher than the Olympus one. And i do think the finer control of Aperture is a necessity.

    2. What a coincidince. I have bought 4 weeks ago the Canon FL 55 f/1.2 to use on my E-M1. I got it for a really good price on eBay, much lower than even the Zuiko. I am enjoying it a lot, especially with the vintage filter on the E-M1. And by the way, having focus peaking along with magnified view makes it much easier in focusing.

      I have yet to post about it, but I will share with you my photos when I do. One last thing, you have to try it with video wide-open (I use ND filter), it produces some filmic results.

    3. Robin, the Oly OM lenses were deliberately designed to only have full-stop detents. They are also designed to be used in between the stops. From the Oly OM-1 manual, page 11, right column: "Setting the Aperture"--"When setting the aperture ring you can use either the click-stop positions or any in-between settings to obtain precise exposure." (Printed Oct. 1978) A shooter with experienced fingers can sorta get 1/3 stops with careful manipulation of the region between the detents. This aperture ring design was as opposed to the OM-1's shutter speed ring, which only permitted selection of the speeds marked on the ring (in full stops). See manual, also page 11.

      Love your photos with the 55/1.2!

      Tom Moynihan

    4. Hi Shafik,
      Long time no hear from you!
      I have heard that the Canon is a great performer! But I also thought it was more expensive than the Olympus.

      Hey Thomas,
      I also realize that i can manipulate in between the full stop but it was cumbersome for such rough estimation. Nonetheless this does not affect real life shooting much at all I admit.

    5. Hi Robin,

      As promised, here's my Canon 55 1.2 review using it on the E-M1. And by the way, it cost me $138, how much did yours cost? ;-)


  3. Nice photos Robin! I am a huge fan of legacy glass (especially the Zuiko flavor) and love the this ones' rendering =) Recently I got a generic focal reducer for my OM 50mm f/1.8. It actually improved the performance of the lens wide open and when mounted gives an equivalent of a 35mm f/1.4. If you used it with your 55mm you would have a 39mm f/0.9 (or 39mm f1.4 when stopped down to f/2)! I wrote a short review of the focal reducer here if interested: http://samgoldphotos.blogspot.com/2014/11/user-review-generic-canon-ef-to-m43.html

    1. Thanks for sharing the article and surely I shall have a look when I can. And I do like the idea of an F0.9 lens!

  4. Very nice! I sure wish Olympus would release some fast modern primes for m4/3. I would love a 17mm and 45mm f/1.2 or faster.

  5. Great photos. Really like your blog and your reviews. Your using and adapter, right? What is it?

    1. Hi Miguel, thanks for the kind words. And yes, it was an OM to Micro Four Thirds adapter. I got a third party one.

  6. I liked the lens character. Now I want one too!

    1. Go and get one! I am sure it can be found on e-bay or used photography gear shops.

  7. i have the same lens and here you can see my samples on E-520 and E-M5: http://forum.mflenses.com/testing-my-lenses-part-14-olympus-55mm-1-2-t31138,highlight,%2Btesting+%2Blenses.html

    1. Thanks for sharing! The images look fantastic. Were any of them taken at wide open F1.2? they looked like being stopped down a little.

  8. Something different I see from this lens, I like.

    1. Kelvin, find an adapter and try mount on your DF!

  9. I own this lens, but have yet to try it on my E-M1. Mine's in mint condition, save for some oil that has developed on the aperture blades. I should probably take it in and have it professionally cleaned.

    The 55mm version is affectionately known as the "radioactive lens", since the front element used a [mildly] radioactive coating in the design. It is also not multicoated, but rather single coated. The later OM-System G.Zuiko 50mm f/1.2 was multicoated and as such a bit better performer.

    Still, the 55mm looks like a great lens to shoot portraits of women, particularly out of doors. I would probably tend to stay at f2, however, otherwise things get not only soft, but a bit "glowy", even in the in-focus areas.

    1. Glad to know another person is using the same lens. And there is a method, using a lens baffle to improve the lens performance at wide open F1.2: http://www.forum-olympus-france.com/forum/topic/29437-tu-veux-une-baffle/
      I used Google Translate and I can quite follow what the author was explaining.
      I have not tested this out myself but I figured why not?

    2. I've never seen that before. Good find! I'll have to translate the page to see the science behind it ... but it could be a solid solution. Seems to bring the performance right up to near-contemporary lenses.

      There was also a hood for the 55mm f/1.2, but they're even rarer than the lens itself.

    3. I am eager to try out myself! Unfortunately for me I can only do so with my free time in the weekends. If you have done some experimentations please do share your thoughts!

    4. More info on this topic here:

      This group on Flickr was born because of the same idea. They call the baffle "shirt"

      You should be aware that the diameter of the central circle will determine the real maximun aperture of the lens once it is installed. The effect is the same you will get by simply stopping it down. But if you manage to find the proper diameter, you can get F1.4 or F1.8 stops, which are not present on your lens.

    5. From what I have read, the amount of light is reduced, but the depth of field stays the same. I need to do some experimentation to verify this. I was recommended 18mm opening.

  10. Wow, what a dreamy lens. Reminds me of the old soft focus effect filters featured in those Hoya brochures that I used to collect as a lad. Long before the Photoshop era.

    On the topic of focus peaking though, I don't think Olympus got it right on the EM-1. Somehow it's one of the things Olympus is just not good at. If you enable focus peaking, your screen refresh suffers (yes, I'm on firmware 2.2) and it's difficult to see the peaking effect under most conditions. It's just not workable.

    Don't get me wrong though, I loved my EM-5 and I love my EM-1 for all the other things it does right. In fact I'd call it the best mirrorless camera to date for all that's right about it. But for focus peaking with vintage lenses I always use my GX7.

  11. Robin, these are amazing pictures! I fully agree that it could make a lot of fun to discover the "old fashioned way" with lenses like. I personally like to shoot sometimes with an old Canon FD 50mm/1.4 - and I am always enjoying it!

  12. Nice soft focus photos! I have also done some shooting with a legacy Konica 55mm/1.4 which will fit on the MM-3 adapter after minimal modification.
    This lens is a bit softer but has a much nicer bokeh, which is primarily the reason I occasionally shoot with it. But is still much prefer the M. Zuiko 60mm/2.8. I find little need to lessen depth of field further than 2.8 at 60mm.
    I have not had any issues with the focus peaking with standard lenses, but I do not know how to turn this feature on with a legacy MF lens.

  13. Hi Robin!

    I have used the Zuiko 55mm f1.2 quite a bit over the years and some of my best photos came from this lens. I have used it on different cameras m43, Sony nex, A7 but I personally think it is most nice on the older analog OM film cameras. It is soft and at the same time sharp. Very nice for portrait.
    Here are some shots on an Olympus E410
    Greatings Jens

  14. Other excellent manual focus lenses for the E-M5 and E-P5 are the Leica Tele-Elmar 135mm /f4 and Olympus Pen-F 100mm f/3.5. Stopped down and focuses careful, both are capability of professional quality work.

  15. Ilearned the word "flawed" and... definitely your pics are FAR from that term.

    I have an olympus omd em1 and still don't know how to get the best of it. I possess a zuiko 14-150 but comparing its 55mm with these fix lense...pffff...these win with many .. advantage? Sorry I am spanish.

    Well, I will fav your galleries since rightnow.

    I'm looking for a oly 55mm 1.8... I know it is not a 1.2 but at 55 euros... it's ok. Will see if I find the 1.2