Conclusion - Pros
- Superb image quality even wide open - sharp, distortion-free with no lateral CA
- Compact and lightweight compared to similar lenses for larger formats
- Fast maximum aperture for a macro lens
Conclusion - Cons
- Unrefined autofocus motor and no focus range limiter switch
- Susceptible to flare with bright light sources in the frame
- Bokeh chromatic aberration at wider apertures
- No macro ratio scale
The Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F2.0 Macro is a lens which we've held in high regard ever since we started using it for our reviews of Four Thirds camera bodies, and subjecting it to our full optical test suite shows precisely why. Certainly in terms of the studio results, it's the nearest we've yet found to a technically perfect lens (although it's important to appreciate that we haven't yet tested any comparable short tele macros for other formats). It's impressively sharp right across the frame even wide open, shows no significant lateral chromatic aberration or vignetting, and is near-perfectly corrected for distortion. Real world results not only bear this out, but also show that the lens maintains image quality across the entire focus distance range, making it suitable for macro, portraits and general-purpose short telephoto use alike - no mean feat at all. And in design terms it's compact and reasonably lightweight, yet solidly build and weatherproofed, providing a combination of features unmatched by any other manufacturer.
Of course there's no such thing as a perfect lens, and the 50mm F2 is not without its faults. Probably our biggest issue is with the focusing system, which is something of a let-down especially when compared to the internal-focus ultrasonic designs offered by competitors. The focus motor is relatively slow and noisy, and the lack of a focus range limiter switch can be a distinct irritation when shooting portraits. We're no fans of the electronic 'focus-by-wire' manual focus system either, as it's simply not as positive and precise as a well-designed mechanically-coupled focusing ring; overall this means the lens can sometimes be frustrating to use. The optics aren't completely faultless either, with a certain susceptibility to flare with a strong light source in the frame, and distinct bokeh chromatic aberration at wide apertures; however neither of these are particularly unusual problems in fast primes, and relatively rarely impact on the normal uses of this lens.
We expect many potential buyers will be interested in comparing the 50mm F2 Macro to the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, which has been recently announced in Four Thirds mount. Our recent review of this lens (albeit in Canon EF mount) should give a good idea of what to expect; the Sigma is likely to be no slouch on Four Thirds, but unsurprisingly for a lens designed for a format with four times the area, won't quite achieve the same stellar levels of sharpness we see from the Olympus macro. The faster maximum aperture and more refined ring-type USM focusing will surely make the Sigma a compelling option for portrait shooters, but in all other regards the Zuiko is likely to be the better all-round option.
So in summary we have a lens which, despite its design flaws, offers a winning combination of optical quality and solid build in a compact package. The greatest strength of the Four Thirds system undoubtedly lies in the optics, and the 50mm F2.0 macro ranks alongside the likes of the Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD as one of the finest lenses of its type currently available from any manufacturer. With its relatively fast maximum aperture, it also offers Four Thirds users the opportunity to use true selective focus effects. Quite simply, every E-system user should own one.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
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