Eric L. Woods

That’ll do series: Olympus OMD E-M1/Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

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A lot of virtual ink is regularly spilled, myself included, about the latest and greatest gear. Perhaps a product of my nature and/or my Industrial Engineering degree minimum requirements are a bit of an obsession. This “That’ll do” series focuses on minimum requirements for my photography. The latest and greatest gear available is fantastic, but not everyone wants to, is able to, or even needs to buy into the latest gear. I focused on individual components already. Now I will focus on pairings as compared to much more expensive current alternatives. I will spend a little time on specs, make some comparisons, and then will share sample photos. Any combination suggested is not the only older gear that could suffice. Meant as a sample of what can be accomplished with gear that has a few years on it at a lower price. Or if you already have something similar it stands as an example of how upgrades are an option rather than a necessity for many.

The brief:

  • Long tele full frame equivalent focal length.
  • 16MP minimum.
  • Good ergonomics.
  • Sharpness and strong IQ.

Main Purpose:

  • Portrait lens set up with great levels of bokeh and subject isolation.

The title gave away the subject of this post…

OMD E-M1/Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
Olympus OMD E-M1 w/ Zuiko 75mm f/1.8

…but I will start with a few more recent set ups that cost significantly more. The equivalent full frame and APS-C portrait length, longer than 85mm at well over 100mm, prime focal length lenses are quite expensive and large. Modern full frame options cost more than I would like so I will be using a zoom instead. I will pull from past set ups I have owned or own so I can speak from experience and provide sample shots for comparison.

  • Full frame sample
    • Sony A7III w/ Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8
      • Pluses
        • Zoom is more flexible than a prime.
        • Better battery life.
        • Great AF performance, IQ, and bokeh.
      • Minuses
        • Considerably more expensive set up.
        • Much larger and heavier.
        • While impressive IQ is available the 75mm is a bit more so even with the added sensor real estate.
        • Up until recently you would need to spend more for a comparable full frame prime or much more for a Sony f/2.8.
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
One Handed at Arm's Length - Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
  • APS-C sample
    • Samsung NX1 w/ Samsung 85mm f/1.4
      • Pluses
        • More advanced AF.
        • Larger sensor and aperture yields better low light performance with this lens.
        • A great lens and camera combination.
      • Minuses
        • No IBIS.
Brother Art Portrait by request
Durham photo walk w/ Triangle Photography Club
  • MFT
    • I could not think of a better alternative MFT portrait solution at anything approaching a reasonable price.

Both options above are great. While they are not the most expensive options on the market at all by a long shot one will set you back hundreds and the other thousands. The least expensive option listed above, the Samsung NX1 and Samsung 85mm f/1.4, will run you around $1,400. Comparable APS-C options still on the market will cost even more.

Value:

Viewed in isolation I will admit that around $750 all in is a bit dear for a system that may or may not be around in a while. If that is a concern the 45mm combination is the more sensible alternative. But this particular pairing is not about being sensible. A portrait lens alone at other focal lengths could easily cost far more than that. I paid around $250 for my EX grade used OMD E-M1 and a used 75mm f/1.8 will run around $500. A new copy of the lens will cost considerably more. Full frame and APS-C equivalents will run you in the thousands.

Features:

I point you to my write ups on the camera and lens for details but here is a high level overview.

  • 16MP.
  • 10fps… 10fps!
  • 1/8000s top shutter speed.
  • Stellar IQ. One of the sharpest lenses I have ever used with some of the best bokeh I have ever witnessed. Fantastic colors.
  • Fast, silent hybrid phase and contact stills AF offers better performance than the already good E-M5.
  • Touch AF.
  • Many, many actually useful image modes and special features.
  • Articulating touch screen.
  • Camera is downright tiny.
  • Lens is surprisingly small and light for a long portrait length lens.
  • Unlike the E-M5 you can review images in the EVF.
  • Silent modes available with every shutter mode and easily activated in the shutter settings.
  • f/1.8 really makes the most of the relatively small MFT sensor rendering great bokeh, subject isolation, and respectable low light performance.
  • Fantastic ergonomics rivaling any camera I have ever used. Feels like it should cost far more than it does. Thought I might upgrade later but I am so pleased with this camera that I see no practical reason to do so.
  • Again, this is one of the best lenses that I have ever used on any system or sensor size.

As a quick comparison of what this lens is capable of Manu and I did a quick back to back with a stellar film set up.

Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Manu and his Pentax 67

For a comparison to gauge this lens’ potential here is a shot taken of me at the same time with the legendary medium format Pentax 67 Manu is holding above.

Pentax67 taken by Manu w. 105mm f/2.4 for Zuiko 75mm compare
With 75mm and camera in pocket.

What is missing?:

Practically speaking not much actually. Especially given the price point.

  • Battery life is not the best. A common malady for mirrorless cameras. Nothing surprising, but carry extra batteries.
  • Not a set up meant for video with no 4K and slow video AF. Correction. No 4K but I read the manual (go figure) and the secret is iAuto mode. Once set it makes the best of the phase detect AF and auto contrast. Add in the excellent IBIS and mic hack and it is a decent 1080p video camera.

Samples:

Mix of shots with this set up and previous samples with other cameras.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Olympus PEN-F
Olympus PEN-F
Olympus PEN-F
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Olympus PEN-F

Summary:

This is one of the best portrait set ups I have used at any price that is much smaller than I would expect. Small enough that it can fit in a larger jacket pocket and can easily be carried along with you in hand or in a bag. I can think of no other tele portrait solution at any cost that could do the same. Far better than the tongue in cheek “That’ll do” descriptor in the title. Stellar portrait performance in a relatively small and lightweight set up at a reasonable price. Any other comparable portrait lens would cost more than this camera and lens together and many would cost much, much more.

Olympus 75mm f/1.8
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