Monday, 22 July 2013

Olympus OM 50mm f/1.8 on Micro Four Thirds

One of the strong points of the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system is that, thanks to its short flange focal distance, you can mount lenses designed for almost any other camera system.

I believe you can get the best deals by buying Olympus OM lenses: There is no current camera supporting those lenses anymore, but they were produced in mass in the 80's and 90's. These are ingredients for a high supply, low demand, therefore low prices on auction websites.

This is especially true of the Olympus OM 50mm, f/1.8, that used to be a kit lens with many film Olympus cameras. Almost a year ago, I bought one on eBay, for 13.50 USD (+ 11 USD shipping). I mounted it on my Panasonic DMC-GX1, using a OM to MFT adapter (less than 10 USD).

I originally bought this lens to use it as part of a custom tilt-shift adapter, but realised that the 50mm focal length is usually too narrow, and purchased a Promaster 28mm f/2.8 for that purpose (OM mount as well).

This lens is really amazing (especially considered its price): It becomes a short telephoto lens on the MFT system (100mm full-frame equivalent), which gives you interesting constraints: you have to focus on details, or put some distance between you and your subject. The large aperture makes it particularly interesting in low-light conditions (museums, night markets, etc.). On the other hand, it does require ND filters in bright daylight, as you are hitting the maximum shutter speed of the camera (1/4000s for the GX1): a 3-stop ND filter, that is ND8 or 0.9 optical density, works perfectly for these situations. I actually never stop the aperture down: I would rather switch to another lens if I want more depth of field.

Focusing is not easy, especially without a viewfinder. MFT cameras provide a magnified view to help you focus, but, with a bit of practice, I'm able to get a reasonably good focus without using that mode, by moving the ring back and forth until I have a good idea of the best position.

The lens I got was in good condition, except for the aperture, that is a bit sluggish: you need to jiggle the aperture ring to get it back to f/1.8 if you stop it down. I could also see some oil on the aperture blades: probably the reason why the mechanism is not working as well as expected. But again, since I only use it at maximum aperture, this is not really a concern for me.

I used that lens for a number of night shots, and realised that the bokeh is not exactly as round and nice as it should be: there is some "dirt" on the left side of the disk (when held in landscape orientation). This does not show up clearly in most shots, but it looks quite silly when the same pattern repeats in different locations on the frame:
Each of the bokeh rings shows some black spots at the bottom: looking through the lens, I can see some oil marks.
The next post will show you how I managed to fix the problem, by opening up the lens.

In the mean time, I uploaded on Flickr a collection of photos taken with that lens: