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Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens – real world comparison images

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Similar field of view and both have nice bokeh but are very different sizes and ergonomics.

I have posted similar DOF and background blurring comparisons for full frame 50mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 25mm f/1.4 and also full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 75mm f/1.8 taken twice as far away.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens is a highly regarded “portrait” lens, often regarded as one of the best Canon lenses which is not a Pro L lens. It is sharp but does have some CA issues wide open. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF.

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 provides the user with a further 2 stops of shallow depth of field options when compared to the much smaller (37mm filter vs 58mm filter), lighter (115g vs 400g), and similarly priced Olympus micro ZD 45mm f/1.8 lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?


Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses at f/1.8 as I walked around some gardens yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Olympus is first then the Canon:















The following Olympus image I accidentally shot at f/2.2 instead of f/1.8:


And I shot this Canon image at f/3.5:


While this Canon image was shot at f/1.8:


But what about portraits?

A group of young ladies asked if I could take a photo of them with their iPhone – for some reason this is an incredibly frequent happening for me – perhaps they know they can outrun me if I take off with their phone! One of the ladies became excited when she saw I had her “dream” camera – the Sony a7II in my hands and wanted to see what it can do with a portrait so I did some very rough comparisons of the two cameras (NOT the iPhone!):

Olympus 45mm:


Canon 85mm from a touch further away.


I tried to explain the differences, but what really got them excited was when I showed them they I could just touch the rear screen of the Olympus and instantly, it snapped it accurate AF on the subject I touched and took the candid shot:

Olympus image shot using the touch AF on rear of screen:



There is far more to photography than the technical aspects – photography should be about fun, affordability and inspiring exploration, and above all not be too cumbersome to carry around, and on these points the Olympus kit wins hands down!

The Sony’s poor ergonomics, lack of touch screen AF, no eye detect AF with the Canon lens, only 2 stops IS vs 5 stops in the Olympus, and its propensity to not turn itself off were also big factors in favor of the Olympus OM-D camera.

And, having just played with an entry level Canon EOS 1300D dSLR, it’s poor ergonomics, lack of features, very poor, dim and small viewfinder – I can’t understand why people would not just buy a much better built, weathersealed, very versatile and good looking second hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera for a similar price with similar image quality but much better image stabilisation, AF speed and accuracy as well as better dedicated lenses.

I can easily understand why Sony have jumped to 2nd place on full frame camera sales in the USA – leap frogging over Nikon – this would have been unfathomable even 5 years ago – but Canon and Nikon persist with their dinosaur mentality in camera and lens design – and I can understand why the traditional studio or landscape pro photographers who used their systems are jumping to medium format or to Sony.

I can understand why Canon and Nikon are reluctant to introduce functional mirrorless full frame cameras – it exposes their faithful who own very expensive dSLR lenses to the same fate that Olympus Four Thirds users have suffered when Micro Four Thirds was introduced – the realisation that all their existing AF lenses are no longer suitable for the new age of mirrorless CDAF technology and need to be replaced with CDAF-optimised AF stepping motors which will seriously devalue their lens collection – fortunately for me, most of my Canon pro lenses are manual focus tilt-shift lenses so this won’t impact me much when it happens.

In the meantime, we can buy Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with in camera image stabilisation with Eye AF capability, etc and ability to use Canon lenses and flashes even in remote TTL mode – so why buy a Canon dSLR?

In the end, you have to ask yourself if the full frame imagery is really worth it – and in some situations it may be – but if I am needing shallower DOF with the Olympus, I resort to the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is my go to lens in this situation – of course if you have the money you could also go for the Panasonic Leica DG 42.4mm f/1.2 lens.




The Bachelorette – a little photo story from an available light portrait workshop yesterday using the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

I rarely shoot portraits and so when an opportunity came up for an outdoor available light workshop yesterday on an afternoon in the harsh Australian sun when only crazy people shoot portraits, I just had to attend.

The Australian sun in spring and summer is high in the sky casting dark shadows on eyes and is not easy to work with – most fashion photographers shooting outdoors would only shoot in the early morning or late afternoon to catch a more flattering sun angle or just the glow from the sky after the sun has set.

Why do workshops?

Photography is a life long learning experience and by attending workshops you get to experience new ideas and experiment with them as well as network with like minded people. Another great benefit is that with a few people attending the costs of model and hair and make up artist time becomes more affordable for non-commercial photographers like me and this makes them attractive and a win-win scenario for all concerned.

This workshop was organised by a Melbourne professional photographer, Nelli Huié, who ran an excellent, well organised session and demonstrated several different styles and gave some great tips.

The brilliant actress / model was Kyla Nichole Nelson and the hair and makeup artist was Aneta Nabrdalik – both had their work cut out in the trying sunny conditions.

After perusing my images I decided to create a “Bachelorette” storyline (or perhaps it is more Mills and Boon?) to fit the emotive feel of some of my images I selected from the afternoon – a bit cheesy, but then so it is the reality TV show. The chosen images are partly to show the diversity of what we achieved and also show the talent of Kyla’s ability to morph from one emotion to another whilst still creating aesthetic poses with minimal direction, while I tried to position the camera for best subject and background interplay whilst juggling with exposure (mostly manual exposure mode), white balance and focus.

All images were shot hand held with a Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with my favourite portrait lens, the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 with available light only – no fill-in flash. The last two images used a diffuser in bright sunlight, the others were achieved with selective placement of the model amongst trees. The 1st image foreground bokeh was generated from out of focus fellow attendees in front of me which I decided to include in the shot.

Post-processing was of RAW files in Adobe Lightroom with editing mainly of removal of blemishes and some local and overall tone edits, but no skin smoothing and no sharpening other than the default sharpen for screen on export from Lightroom. No adjustments to eyes except for some lightening of her eyes in the smiling shot.

Enjoy.. and I hope they inspire you to get out and do some workshops and experiment – look for the light, always observant of how the light falls on your subject and just as important how you choose a background and how you render it with nice bokeh.

The Bachelorette:

Please, please, say yes ….

please say yes

Yes, he said yes!


Today is the day, I can’t wait til he gets here:



Typical guy, late as usual…


Now I’m getting worried, he should be here…


How could he do this to me?

glassy eyes

I couldn’t bear to live without him

sleeping beauty

Sleeping beauty waiting for another prince to come along:

sleeping beauty

In search for the holy grail of 85mm wide aperture portrait lenses – 2 new premium lenses announced this week – Panasonic and Fuji

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

For many 35mm full frame photographers, a wide aperture 85mm lens is the preferred tool for portraiture as the focal length allows a natural perspective without distorting facial features whilst still allowing the photographer to be close enough to interact well with the subject. Furthermore, the wider the aperture of the portrait lens means there are more options for creating shallow depth of field to ensure the subject is emphasized whilst the background is thrown into a nice blur – hopefully with nice bokeh qualities.

When it comes to shallow depth of field capabilities, Canon dSLR users reign supreme as they have access to the very expensive and heavy Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens – the only f/1.2 85mm lens currently manufactured.

However, all is not what it seems.

As superb as this lens is, there is one huge draw back – the autofocus is very slow and combined with the extremely shallow depth of field, this lens can be very challenging to use well wide open.

Canon users then are at a quandary, as their only other Canon autofocus 85mm lens is the excellent consumer grade Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, but this lens suffers from significant purple fringing wide open.

Nikon users don’t have access to a 85mm f/1.2 lens but they do have a good Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens (the 1995 D version lens was designed for film cameras and was not great on digital cameras), so perhaps they have a better compromise than Canon users.

Sony full frame dSLR users are in a similar situation to Nikon users as they have the Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* lens but AF can be slow and at $1700 it is not cheap.

All dSLR lenses using phase detect AF need microcalibration of AF and this is particularly important with shallow depth of field images.

In addition, the above users have access to 3rd party lenses such as the excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens although AF speed and accuracy can be an issue. For those on a budget, the Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens may fit their needs.

Cropped sensor dSLR users can resort to their 50mm prime lenses although they will have less ability to gain shallow depth of field.

What do we really need?

Extreme shallow depth of field is not usually the prime requirement, and most portraits can be shot at 85mm f/2.4-2.8 on a full frame camera and get potentially even better results wide open as most portraits are best if at least the area from the subject’s ear to tip of nose is in focus.

Indeed, if one is shooting low light portraits, or using fill in flash with a slowish shutter speed without a tripod, then image stabilisation becomes very important and none of the Canon or Nikon options offer image stabilisation.

Furthermore, the most critical technical part of taking the shot is often ensuring that the closest eye of the subject is the sharpest part of the image. This can be very difficult to achieve with dSLRs using shallow depth of field.

This is where mirrorless cameras can be the BEST tool for portraiture as they can offer:

  • sufficiently shallow depth of field
  • sufficiently out of focus backgrounds with lovely bokeh quality of the blurring
  • more depth of field wide open so you can use a faster shutter speed or lower ISO in low light if needed
  • image stabilisation to ensure excellent sharpness (Olympus cameras)
  • face detection autofocus with closest eye detection (Olympus cameras)
  • small camera and lenses to reduce the subject being intimidated and allow them to be more relaxed
  • high optical quality portrait lenses which are sharp edge to edge even wide open (full frame lenses generally lack sharpness just where you want the subject’s eyes)
  • consistently accurate autofocus (no need for microcalibrations)

This week, Panasonic and Fuji have officially announced 2 new premium portrait lenses for their mirrorless cameras.

The Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens:

Designed for the 1.5x crop Fuji X mirrorless system and gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/1.8 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

This lens is well built, relatively affordable at $US999, and it should be a very popular option for Fuji users.

However, there is no image stabilisation, AF of Fuji cameras still lags behind Micro Four Thirds cameras, and closest focus is 0.7m which may be limiting for some uses.

The Panasonic Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron lens:

A very expensive lens designed for Micro Four Thirds (which are 2x crop cameras) and thus gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/2.4 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

It has “Power OIS” optical stabilisation built-in, and Olympus users also have the option of using sensor-based image stabilisation.

Close focus is 0.5m.

Surprisingly it is a touch bigger, and heavier than the Fujinon lens, but perhaps it will have less vignetting.

This lens should be available from march 2014 at £1,399.


Given the advantages of image stabilisation, edge-to-edge sharpness, closest eye detection AF and generally quieter, smaller, less intrusive gear, my personal preference is for an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 combined with either the 42.5mm f/1.2 lens if you can afford it, or the much smaller, less expensive Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens. Having said that, I do most of my portraits with the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens but this may be too long a focal length for many people.

For group shots at parties, you can’t go past a Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens and a bounce flash – see my recent post.

If you don’t believe me that great portraiture is possible on these cameras, check out Sean Archer’s work with Micro Four Thirds cameras – see this post, and Edmondo Senatore’s work – see this post.

DxOMark lens tests show the Micro Four Thirds Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens seems sharper with less vignetting and distortion than a Nikon 85mm f/1.4G on a Nikon D700, at 1/5th the weight and price!!

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

DxOMark has tested the Micro Four Thirds Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens on a Panasonic GH-2 and shows that despite its very compact and light size and sub-$400 price tag, it seems sharper and with less vignetting and distortion wide open than a much more expensive, heavier and larger Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G at f/1.4 or f/2.0 on a Nikon D700 full frame.

See also my wiki comparison of a range of “85mm portrait lenses”

Let’s look at the test results compared to the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G on a full frame 12mp Nikon D700 dSLR:

  • at f/1.8, corner sharpness is similar, but central sharpness is better than the Nikkor lens at f/1.4 or f/2.0
  • at f/4-f/8 overall sharpness and centre sharpness is better than the Nikkor lens at the same aperture
  • degree of distortion is half that of the Nikkor lens although distortion level is low
  • vignetting is about half that of the Nikkor lens at f/1.4-2.0 compared to the Olympus lens wide open at f/1.8 but vignetting becomes comparable at f/2.8 on each lens
  • CA is well corrected on both lenses
  • Nikkor lens uses expensive, large, 77mm filters while the Olympus lens uses tiny, cheap, 37mm filters
  • Olympus lens is optimised for movies and fast contrast detect AF whereas the Nikkor lens is not.
  • when used on an Olympus OM-D, you gain 5 stops of 5 axis image stabilisation which is not available for the Nikkor lens on a Nikon camera.
  • Olympus lens allows faster more accurate AF for slow moving subjects with option of subject eye detection when used on an OM-D or E-P3 or E-PL3 camera
  • Olympus lens focuses to 0.5m whereas the Nikon focuses only to 0.85m
  • the Nikkor lens weighs 5x as much and is almost twice as long and 5x the price!!

There does not appear to be anything much in favor of the super expensive Nikkor lens, except that being used on a full frame sensor provides 3 significant advantages:

  • improved dynamic range and high ISO performance
  • f/1.4 aperture allows better capabilities for capturing moving subjects in low light
  • f/1.4 aperture on a full frame dSLR allows for shallower depth of field and even better ability to blur the background and blur the region around the subject

Nevertheless, for most situations, the Olympus lens will give sufficient ability to blur the background and give shallow depth of field to function very nicely indeed as a portrait lens, even if its depth of field is similar to f/3.5 or so when using the Nikkor lens on a full frame camera.

At 1/5th the weight and cost, thank you very much Olympus, I know which option I will take on my travels and for parties, and family photos in the park!

If you really want shallower depth of field at this focal length on a Micro Four Thirds camera, you can always resort to the Cosina Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/0.95 lens, although it is manual focus, bigger, and more expensive than this lovely Olympus lens.

If you want an even sharper lens with macro capability, one can always use the incredibly sharp Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens via an adapter – and then you can also use the Olympus Ring Flash as a fill-in flash for your portraits.

But before we leave this lens, let’s look at how it compares with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens on a Canon 5D Mark II full frame dSLR:

  • the Canon lens is sharper at all apertures – partly due to the higher resolution sensor, but even when used on a 5D Mark I it still seems marginally sharper.
  • the Olympus lens has less distortion and almost half the amount of vignetting wide open and at f/2.8, but a touch more CA wide open
  • the Canon lens uses a 58mm filter, and weighs just under 4x as heavy, and 50% longer but is priced at a similar price point
  • I must admit, my personal experience of the Canon lens seems a lot worse than these tests indicate when looking at the CA levels which to me are quite problematic wide open on the Canon lens.
  • the Canon lens is an older design which does not have circular aperture blades and thus the Olympus lens should have nicer bokeh stopped down
  • Olympus lens is optimised for movies and fast contrast detect AF whereas the Canon lens is not.
  • when used on an Olympus OM-D, you gain 5 stops of 5 axis image stabilisation which is not available for the Canon lens on a Canon camera.
  • Olympus lens allows faster more accurate AF for slow moving subjects with option of subject eye detection when used on an OM-D or E-P3 or E-PL3 camera.

The DxOMark tests on the Canon lens surprisingly beats both the Olympus and the much more expensive Nikkor lens, although it has been known for its sharpness but significant CA.

That said, the Olympus combination of movie capability and 5EV IS along with 1/5th the weight makes it a compelling choice for travel when compared with either the Canon or the Nikkor lenses.

So now we have at least 4 compelling autofocus lens scenarios where Micro Four Thirds competes admirably for even full frame options let alone APS-C dSLR options, and at a much more compact, light and cost effective kit beautifully designed for travel – I can’t wait for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 to get to market to make the most of these lenses.

Oh… the other great autofocus lenses for Micro Four Thirds available now are:

  • Olympus 12mm f/2.0 wide angle discussed in the previous post
  • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – the brilliant party lens
  • Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens – high quality wide aperture standard lens

Coming later this year are the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 which will be very high on my wish list, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro and the f/2.8 zoom lenses from Panasonic.

Very exciting times to be a photographer not wanting to carry around large lenses and cameras, and the lens tests so far show these easily beat the smaller Nikon 1 lenses in terms of image quality, while the larger sensor of the Micro Four Thirds will provide enough ability to blur the background which the Nikon 1 system will struggle to achieve.

Oh, and I don’t compare it with the tests on a Nikon DX dSLR or a Canon APS-C dSLR as I just don’t see much point in owning a cropped sensor dSLR now that Micro Four Thirds cameras AF faster than them with comparable image quality at low ISO, plus you get the 5EV 5 axis IS for any lens when using the Olympus OM-D camera.

But there are still good reasons to buy full frame dSLR to compliment a Micro Four Thirds kit for those wanting to push the boundaries of shallow DOF, high ISO, or higher dynamic range photography, or for those who need more than 20mp to print larger than 20″ x 30″ prints. Well-heeled Canon full frame dSLR users may want to consider the extremely expensive slow AF but superb Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 lens if they really want to push the boundaries.

ps.. Sony NEX users have the option of the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 lens but this has not been tested by DxOMark yet and it has a field of view of only a 75mm lens in 35mm camera terms which is quite a bit too short for a portrait lens which historically has been 90-100mm focal length in 35mm terms and it is designed to be a cheap $120 consumer lens. Thus NEX users are out of luck in a true high quality autofocus portrait lens at this stage unless they resort to the much larger Sony alpha lenses.

More portrait fun with Canon 90mm TS-E tilt-shift lens and Canon 1DMIII

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Following from my previous blog on tilt-shift portraits, I have added a couple of more portraits to show what it can do.

Click on the images to see an enlarged version.

The first is an outdoors Australian bush 1920′s style portrait and this is actually a crop of the original but no PS effects applied:


The second was one I took to demonstrate the tilt-shift lens and again has not been modified in PS:


The 800mm fashion shot

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I was helping another photographer yesterday shooting a very quirky fashion style shoot in the middle of the busy streets of Melbourne’s tramways. Instead of me holding his strobes, I suggested I show him what my lowly Olympus E510 could do from 100m away at a 35mm equivalent focal length reach of 800mm hand held.

Even with this relatively compact outfit in the fading light, many passing by asked who the famous model was and did their best to distract me so I would get hit by a tram.

Despite my shakes, the image stabiliser on the E510 worked well enough at 1/200th second, f7, ISO 400 to take shots like this one.

800mm fashion shot

Now, the 60′s outfit, etc will not be to everyone’s taste, and the sharpness may not allow a poster size advertisement to be scrutinised closely without criticism, but the point of the shot is, that this shot with such a compact, carry anywhere outfit is currently only possible with the Four Thirds system and in this case with two great optics – ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD and the ZD EC-20 2x teleconverter.

For the tech heads, I have added some vignetting and contrast in Lightroom and some selective sharpening in PS.

Now, I had to also demonstrate to him how good the ZD 50-200mm lens is on its own at 200mm (ie. 400mm eq. focal length) for outdoor portraiture to blur and compress the background.

This time we are in a back alley in Melbourne’s CBD, and we decided to go for a non-traditional, emotive portrait with a bit of anguish, and a touch disturbed – I do like emotional expressive works when dealing with people as a canvas. perhaps the model read my mind!


Larger size images are available here and here.

Portable portrait lighting with Olympus E510 & flash/strobe

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

There are several requirements for portable portrait lighting:

  • a portrait lens if you wish to blur the background
  • a key light – the main light that will light the face
  • a fill-in light – a light to fill in the shadows and thus modify contrast, hopefully without adding its own shadows
  • optionally a hair light or kicker rim light

I use a Ring Flash here, but you could use the built-in flash instead, it just give more shadows as it is further from the lens.

With the E510 we do not have the joys of wireless TTL automatic flash exposure, so we need to stick with manual flash if we are going to use more than one flash, but I prefer it that way anyway.

Of course, if you have the E520 or E3 with the R Olympus flash units you could go down the wireless TTL route as an additional option to my proposal here.

A further issue is that we can’t use the Ring Flash in TTL mode as the pre-flash prematurely fires other flashes (at least with my optical triggers), so I am resorting to full manual exposure and trial and error.

When doing complex things like this and people are involved, it is best to test things out and standardise your procedure so when the time comes, they don’t lose interest and get bored or frustrated.

Thus, in the name of standardisation, here is a setup I propose:

  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro + macro adapter + Olympus Ring Flash
    • the Ring Flash is handy here as it will fulfill three roles:
      • triggering the other flash(es) optically
      • providing a catchlight in the eyes (but at this distance it won’t be a beautiful ring as in the glamour magazines) – and hopefully not too much red eye as we will be under-exposing this flash
      • finally, the almost shadow-less fill-in lighting
  • a second flash with an optical trigger attached
    • I use a Metz 45CL-4 on its W (1/64th output) setting inside a Westcott Apollo umbrella softbox held ~1.5m from the subject – but you can use any flash/umbrella/bounce option you want
  • optionally, other manual flashes with optical triggers, eg a flash with a snoot attached for hair light

Now how do we set exposure for each when we don’t have a flash meter?

Let’s set the E510 to ISO 100, auto WB or daylight, manual exposure mode, 1/180th sec (the flash sync speed), f/2.5 (you could use any aperture but then you would have to adjust the flash outputs accordingly, and in case you want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, f/2.5 is a good aperture to start with).

Set the Ring Flash to manual mode and dial down the output to 1/256th second so we can see the effect of the other flashes.

Set the output of your main flash (or its distance to subject) until you get the exposure just right when checking your histogram.

Now do the same for any other flashes.

Ensure you are at the desired distance to your subject (as changing this will alter the effect of the Ring Flash).

Finally, adjust the output of the Ring Flash until you get the fill-in level to your desired aesthetics – you will probably find its between 1/256th to 1/16th when using f/2.5 and dependent on effect needed.

Write down these settings and perhaps make lengths of string so you can quickly reproduce the flash to subject distances.

Now, to tweak this a bit, you can adjust the shutter speed to longer duration to allow adjustment to ambient light exposure of the surroundings (as long as you are not in bright outdoors as this may require smaller apertures to allow a shutter speed at the flash sync).

Hope this makes sense, have fun with experimenting – if you have a macro lens with ring flash, you may as well use it for portraits as well as your macro work.

A new portrait lens for Four Thirds dSLRs – Sigma 50mm f/1.4

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Sigma have announced a new 50mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds cameras.

Its wide aperture and 35mm equivalent focal length reach of 100mm should make it ideal for portraiture, perhaps even better than my favorite, the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro.

It has 9 bladed circular diaphragm for nicely blurred backgrounds and Sigma’s HSM AF motor for quiet, fast AF.

It will be interesting to see how it performs optically on a Four Thirds as it appears to be the same design as for the full frame version which has been tested here on dpreview.com and this suggests it will not be anywhere as good optically as the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro but does give you the option of f/1.4 with AF if you need it, albeit at less sharpness and more aberrations.

Nikon entry level dSLRs finally get an AF portrait lens

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

My number one criticism of the entry level Nikon dSLRs such as the D40/D40x/D60 is that they are unable to AF with certain lenses and this means there were no affordable good portrait lenses available for these cameras.

Finally, Nikon has finally addressed this with an update to their AF-S 50mm f/1.4 lens – now a G version (no aperture ring), but now with a built-in silent wave AF motor so AF works on these cameras, and a circular diaphragm for nicer bokeh (quality of blurring of the out of focus areas).

On a DX Nikon dSLR, a 50mm standard lens gives an effective focal length of 75mm which is just adequate for portraiture, although I prefer more like 100-120mm in 35mm terms, hence the reason why I love the ZD 50mm f/2 macro on my Olympus with its 2x crop factor, and the EF 85mm f/1.8 on my Canon 1DMIII with its 1.3x crop factor.

see also my comparisons on bokeh in selected portrait lenses

see dpreview.com artcle on the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G lens

The Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

I have had this lens for a couple of months now and I am extremely impressed with it.

In 35mm terms, this lens gives a telephoto reach of 100-400mm at f/2.8-3.5.


Now this image would have been even more dynamic if a 1.4x or 2x TC was used as well – next on my wish list!

Unlike my Canon gear, it gives me high optical quality zoom at wide aperture with 400mm telephoto reach in a nice relatively compact and light lens (although much bigger and heavier than many other Olympus lenses) with a nicely made lens hood which even has a nice touch of a sliding window so you can adjust a polariser filter if needed.

Of course, it is image stabilised when used on an IS camera body such as the Olympus E510/520/E3.

see my comparison of specifications of this lens with those offered for Canon and Nikon.

Despite its 1kg weight, I can carry it with only one finger on my Olympus E510 – something there is no chance I could do with on my Canon 1DMIII – which, although you wouldn’t do this routinely, points to how easy this is to carry for long periods despite its weight.

There are many things to like about this lens apart from its optical quality and telephoto reach:

it is weatherproof – this is a big issue to me as it often starts to drizzle rain on a walk and it is during these times the best photos can be had – not the time to put the camera away – it would be even better matched to the almost waterproof Olympus E3.

it has beautiful bokeh – very nice blurred background quality as a result of its circular aperture diaphragm that most Olympus ZD lenses also have, but is accentuated by the narrower depth of field of the telephoto end of this lens at wide apertures.


the background blurring capability allows the subject to be emphasised very nicely and thus it makes a fantastic portrait lens, especially at the longer focal lengths wide open.

see my comparison of background blurring capability of lenses for portraiture here.

it has a relatively short close focus of 1.2m for a lens of this class (most other full frame lenses of this reach would have a close focus more like 2.4m) which means you can use it for your portraits but perhaps just as importantly, it becomes a very nice long telephoto macro lens with a 1.2m working distance so you don’t scare critters such as dragon flies while still giving high quality 1:2 macro performance.


Flower in the shade, hand held at 200mm (400mm telephoto reach) with IS on.

I just discovered that whilst the original version of this lens can be matched very nicely with the Olympus macro flash system. Thus the Olympus ring flash bayonet mount fits on the lens hood mount of this lens perfectly and is powerful enough for the 1.2m working distance. This could be used for editorial/fashion style portraiture although be aware that at this distance you wont get nice big ring flash catchlights in the subjects eyes and if the subject is looking towards the camera, you will most likely get red eyes which will need removing later.
Be aware that the bayonet mount for the lens hood is different on the SWD version of this lens and thus you have to hand hold the ring flash in place – why did Olympus do this!!!
see compatibilities here.

and if this were not enough, the wide aperture and high quality allow you to combine this lens with either of the Olympus ZD teleconverters for surfing shots, wildlife, etc.

assuming you are using it on an IS-capable camera body, you have an image stabilised outfit with:

the 1.4x TC then gives you a 35mm equiv. telephoto reach of a 140-560mm f/3.9-4.9 lens.

the 2x TC gives you a 35mm equiv. telephoto reach of a 200-800mm f/5.6-7.0 lens – still very usable although you might be considering a tripod or monopod at the longer end.

for most people, this lens combined with the very nice Olympus ZD 12-60mm (ie. 24-120mm – or the cheaper ZD 14-54mm which covers 28-108mm) and perhaps a ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro for closer working distances and more compact outfit, maybe all they need for 95% of their purposes.

This is what makes the Four Thirds system so attractive – quality optics designed for the system, weatherproofing, circular diaphragms, built-in image stabilisation in the cameras and portability.

And hopefully soon, you will be able to use this lens via an adapter on new silent Four Thirds Micro bodies with movie capabilities (hopefully even 1200fps one day).

Finally, here are samples of some of my photos taken with this lens

I highly recommend this lens – its one most people who can afford it should strongly consider getting, in short, I love it!

If you can’t afford it or its size is an issue for backpacking or travel, then consider the lesser capable but cheaper and lighter Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 ED lens which gives a telephoto reach of 140-600mm at f/4-5.6 although at lesser image quality and the smaller aperture means it will be less capable as a portrait lens or for mating with teleconverters, but you do get an amazing reach in only a 620g lens which will suit many people.

Of course, this doesn’t mean full frame Nikon or the Canon 1DMIII are not good, they just have different strengths such as less noise at high ISO, a little more dynamic range and, currently, faster burst rates of 6-10fps.

For instance you could buy a Canon 1DMIII and use a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS lens to give you 390mm reach at f/4, and get away with 1-2 stops higher ISO, but it would be heavier and much more expensive package, and less versatile.

Feel free to add comments and a link to your photos with this lens (you may need to click on the post title to bring up the comments field).