Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 60 mm 1:2.8 Macro

Introduction

The Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro was the second weather-sealed, and first (and currently only) macro lens released by Olympus for the Micro Four Thirds system. I bought mine almost two years ago, to replace the macro and short telephoto lenses I’d used when I was running Pentax gear.

The Olympus M. Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 Macro, with the optional lens hood in the extended position.
The Olympus M. Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 Macro, with the optional lens hood in the extended position.

As usual, this isn’t an in-depth review: I’ll simply be giving my opinion on the lens, focusing on observations I’ve made over the past two years relating to its design, handling, and image quality.

Design

The 60 mm macro belongs to the M. Zuiko Premium line of lenses from Olympus, and features a sturdy plastic housing with a metal bayonet mount. While it’s a shame the housing isn’t metal to match up to the M. Zuiko PRO line, or other premium line lenses like the 75 mm f/1.8, the plastic housing no doubt helped in keeping the price relatively affordable, and unlike other premium line lenses, this one is weather sealed (and quite well, too). The front of the barrel is dominated by a large and well damped focusing ring, while the narrower rear portion of the barrel houses a range limiter switch (with a momentary position to rapidly shift the lens to its minimum focusing distance), and a large, easy to read distance and magnification scale. The overall dimensions are quite petite, making it easy to pack into most bags or cases.

Allan's Beach, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin. Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/500 s, f/8, ISO 100.
Allan’s Beach, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin. Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/500 s, f/8, ISO 100.

As with all Olympus lenses beneath the M. Zuiko Pro line, no lens hood is included with the 60 mm macro. An optional, retractable black plastic lens hood is available. I couldn’t find any aftermarket alternatives at the time, so I wound up ordering a genuine Olympus lens hood. It’s a very deep hood, and the retraction mechanism is quite neat, although it completely obscures the focus ring in the retracted position, so I always shoot with it extended. For what it is, the hood is reasonably priced, but I still feel like it should be included, especially for a “premium” lens. There are similar lens hoods available aftermarket which may work out to be cheaper; it’s worth researching this option, especially if you’re prone to damaging or losing lens hoods.

Handling

The lens is quite narrow, especially viewed from the side with the hood extended. I find this isn’t an issue on the OM-D E-M5 with the battery grip fitted, as my wrist hinges on the grip, allowing my fingers to cradle the lens quite comfortably. However, without the battery grip, or on the E-P5, I find the lens awkward to handle at times, although this could be down to my hands or the way I’m holding the camera. That being said, it’s certainly not unusable on a smaller camera body.

Honey mushrooms growing on a fallen tree at Jubilee Park, Dunedin. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 3.2 s, f/22, ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Honey mushrooms growing on a fallen tree at Jubilee Park, Dunedin. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 3.2 s, f/22, ISO 100, tripod mounted.

The broad focusing ring is nicely damped and very responsive. I have noticed that the degree of rotation required increases at closer ranges, which helps in obtaining accurate manual focus, or making precise corrections to any autofocus errors. The focus distance and magnification scale is biased for close range work, so distances from ~0.5 m to infinity are difficult to distinguish between by looking at the indicator window. However, it is a macro lens, so concessions to close range work are to be expected. I find the distance indicator is most suited to determining how much closer to a subject I can get when I’m working off a tripod.

Pink lilies at the Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/1250 s, f/2.8, ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Pink lilies at the Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/1250 s, f/2.8, ISO 100, tripod mounted.

I have observed that the lens has some suscpetibility to forward or back focus (depending upon the situation). This appears to be caused by the limited depth of field at the extremes of the focus range, where I notice that the foreground or background (as the case may be) is blurred to the point where the autofocus can’t seem to find the intended subject. This can be overcome by roughly focusing the lens manually, and or carefully selecting and aiming the (smallest possible) autofocus point. A further aid to overcoming this is the focus range limiter switch, which is useful in biasing the autofocus towards either close or distant subjects. I find the switch a little stiff at times, causing me to frequently take the lens to the closest focus distance when I have the camera to my eye. This could be solved by softening the detents on the three fixed positions, use of a lockout button (like the “macro” setting on the Olympus 12-50), or moving the function to a separate switch on the lens barrel. Speaking of separate switches, it would be nice to see at least one function button on the barrel of the lens; I typically have these programmed for depth-of-field preview. However, it could be argued that a dedicated depth of field preview button should be added to the camera bodies; I realise that this function can be programmed onto any number of function buttons, but I have already assigned those to features that I use on a frequent basis, like auto exposure lock, manual focus assist and ISO adjustment.

Image Quality

Overall, image quality is excellent, as befits a lens regarded as one of the best native Micro Four Thirds mount lenses. I have never noticed any distortion, and images appear uniformly sharp between the centre and the edges of the frame. This is especially the case in the close-focus range for which the lens is optimised, but performance does not appear to suffer appreciably at longer subject distances. Out of focus areas are rendered competently, though from what I have seen, it is some way off the rendering achieved by the Olympus 75 mm f/1.8, or the likes of the Panasonic-Leica 42.5 mm f/1.2. However, it should be noted that these two lenses would be expected to have smoother rendering of out-of-focus areas, as they are more geared towards portraiture.

Fungi at Jubilee Park, Dunedin, whose identity I was unable to confirm. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 5 s, f/16, ISO 100, tripod mounted.
Fungi at Jubilee Park, Dunedin, whose identity I was unable to confirm. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 5 s, f/16, ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Flare handling and contrast are excellent. I have seldom seen any image artifacts caused by lens flare, and the photos I’ve taken with this lens have never required any radical contrast increases in post-processing. I put the good showing here down to the very deep lens hood, which shades the front element at all but the most acute of angles, and the Olympus ZERO coating, which along with all modern multi-coating (like Pentax’s HD coating) appears to noticeably improve contrast and reduce flare.

Crocuses at the Dunedin Botanical Garden. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/125 s, f/4, ISO 100.
Crocuses at the Dunedin Botanical Garden. Olympus PEN E-P5 with Olympus 60 mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/125 s, f/4, ISO 100.

To my eyes, the performance of the 60 mm lens is fairly consistent between f/2.8 and f/5.6, although like all other Micro Four Thirds lenses I’ve come across, diffraction is noticeable at apertures of f/8 and smaller. The effect worsens significantly at f/16 and f/22, with images getting noticeably softer, especially at f/22. However, the sharpness of the 60 mm macro lens at f/22 is, by eye, comparable with that of the Olympus 12-50 mm at f/8-11, and very similar (if not quite so good) as the Olympus 12-40 mm PRO at f/22. I attribute this to the fact that the 60 mm lens is so much sharper than the 12-50 mm lens to begin with, meaning it may be stopped down a lot further before the diffraction-induced loss of sharpness becomes unbearable. The similarity in sharpness to the 12-40 mm lens comes down to design objectives: both of these lenses were designed for optimum sharpness and edge-to-edge performance, which suggests that some of Olympus’ microscope objective design expertise (apparently, this is the basis of the PRO lens line’s superlative performance) found its way into the 60 mm macro (not a bad thing at all). In the event a macro lens is added to the M. Zuiko PRO line, it will be interesting to see how significant the performance increase will be over the existing 60 mm f/2.8.

Conclusion

The Olympus M. Zuiko Premium 60 mm f/2.8 Macro is a very sharp, verstaile and compact lens, that is usable in most all weather conditions. The lens’ performance is fairly consistent across a broad range of subject distances and lens apertures, making it ideal for macro photography (as its name implies), as well as portraits and landscapes. I think the optional lens hood is a must, though it is worth investigating the option of a similar aftermarket lens hood, to reduce your overall cost. Because of its quality, versatility, and price point, I can highly recommend this lens to any Micro Four Thirds system user.

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2 thoughts on “Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 60 mm 1:2.8 Macro”

    1. Thank you. Fungi tend to come up quite well with the 60, but I still feel like there was a slight edge in colour and contrast (if not sharpness) with the Super-Multi-Coated Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4 I used on my Pentax gear. Sadly, I found that lens didn’t perform as well on the Micro Four thirds sensor as it did on APS-C.

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