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

Written by Gary on 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).


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anonymous says:

    fantastic information Gary, thanks, hopefully others will post some links to their photos taken with this lens here.

  2. Geir says:

    Very nice article, indeed!. Encourages me to stick with the Oly setup that I have invested in.
    I suppose you are writing about the new version of the 50-200. Do you have any experience with the older sibling? I’ve got it, and wonder whether it would be a good idea to swap for the newer one.

  3. admin says:

    Apart from the improved AF with the SWD version, the other improvements are probably quite subtle although I have not used the older version to make a direct comparison.