Successful Hunt

 

The winter sun was low to the horizon as I steadied myself upon a rather uncomfortable wooden perch.  My back to the sun and downwind, target in clear sight, I drew in a deep breath then slowly exhaled as I prepared to take the shot.  At the bottom of my breath I waited for that brief moment between heart beats as I took up the slack in my finger.   Thump thump… Thump thump… squeeze.  The sharp report from my mouse-click heralded the confirmation of success.  “Congratulations, you won! OLYMPUS OM-SYSTEM S ZUIKO AUTO-ZOOM 28-48mm F/4 MF Lens W/HOOD ( HAZE )”.

 

iPhone 7+
iPhone 7+

Come on now!?  Did you really think I would shoot at some defenseless, fluffy woodland creature?  Ebay is my hunting ground and lenses are my game (unless I was going hungry and needed to knacker a few squirrels to up the calories of some BBQ sauce).  In this case, I’m well fed so my sights were singularly set instead upon bagging the only wide-angle zoom lens Olympus ever made for the OM system cameras.  This was not a mass-produced product, only manufactured from 1981 to 1983. While this lens is only a 1.5x zoom, its range is perfect for the unladen, wandering photographer whose images are found rather than planned.  Beautiful, ancient building structure in the middle of town – 28mm.  Turn around and see an interesting person – 48mm.  It really is a nice focal range to have in hand.  ‘Comfortably limiting’ is how I might describe it.  Compare it to the modern 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses and you may find its compromise of less focal range and max aperture are counter-balanced by its significant savings in size and heft.  Weighing less than 11 ounces with a barrel length of only 2.1 inches and a maximum diameter of 2.5 inches, this entire lens can fit inside just the hood of a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8.  I don’t make this size comparison to knock the excellent Nikon lens; I just want you to be able clearly visualize how small this Olympus wide-angle lens is in relation to something you’re likely more familiar.  One way Olympus was able to achieve this was by limiting the max aperture of the lens to f/4.  That may have been a deal-breaker for some film shooters back in the day but it hardly makes a difference in most situations when that f/4 is attached to a camera with a modern, digital sensor.

iPhone 7+
iPhone 7+

Back when this 28-48mm was designed, most zoom lenses hadn’t quite advanced as much as their elder primes.  Zooms were still considered by many to be the woeful compromise that the uncommitted photographer resorted to using when either their bag weight or wallet thickness couldn’t handle the task of supporting “proper” gear.  Years later, the efforts in optical science, lens manufacturing and marketing for zoom lenses had finally broken down that stigma to the point now where many photographers are questioning the need for even including a prime alongside their trusty 24-70mm and 70-200mm zooms.   I want to go back though to that late 1970’s to early 1980’s period when zooms were still the devil.  It has been my experience that many of those zooms were indeed as bad as everyone claimed.  However, there are a few gems in there that few people talk about today simply because we tend to fall in step to the wisdom of our predecessors in their all-encompassing disregard for these early zooms.  The Kiron 70-150mm f/4  and my all-time favorite zoom from any time period, the insanely good Minolta MD 35-70mm f/3.5 (3rd Gen), are just two examples of some outstanding zoom lenses that have been buried in the dust of time and generalization.  Both of those lenses can be had for 1/10th or even 1/20th the price of a modern equivalent capable of competing with their uniquely excellent light-wrangling abilities.

Enter this Olympus Zuiko OM 28-48mm f/4.  Prior to buying this “damaged” lens off eBay, I had done some research into Olympus’ OM lens history to first find out all of the lenses that were made and then to zero in on a few that showed some glimmer of hope.  Most of my OM Zuikos are primes and the few zooms I do have are in the telephoto range and not that good.  In the few forums and websites I could find that had any comment on this Wide-Angle 28-48mm, I found the general consensus to be positive, if not glowing.  I found a copy of this lens on ebay for less than $50 due to the fact that it had a strong internal haze and some unsettling spotting behind the front element.  From the photos I could tell it wasn’t fungus or off-gassing of the helicoid grease but it was something that would absolutely affect the usability of the lens – that kind of haze is a real contrast killer.  This copy I found had two good things going for it to justify the risk of a few bucks:  The lens body was in excellent condition and the auction included the hard-to-find OEM rubber hood which alone has a value of about $50.

Here, you can see the reason the seller of this lens offered it at such a low price.

img_0660-small

I spent less than an hour disassembling the front half of the lens, gaining access to the front element group so that I could get in there to clean it up.  My trusty rubber crutch foot works really well for removing the front trim ring (not to be used directly on the glass).  A few round-turns of the front element group, actioned by the aid of a lens spanner, and I had the lens disassembled as far as I needed to go to work on that haze.

iPhone 7+
iPhone 7+

With the offended glass removed, I was able to properly clean it.  The front element looked milky and dusty on the backside.  It was the only piece to show any signs of this issue.

iPhone 7+
iPhone 7+

I believe what had happened was the lens had been exposed to numerous bouts of temperature change which caused internal condensation that eventually left behind this harmless veil of haze and dust piles.

Whatever the cause, it was very easy to completely remove all trace of it.

iPhone 7+
iPhone 7+

So the real question here is whether this early 80’s zoom is a hidden gem or a justifiably dismissed relic that deserves to be left in the dust and haze of a bygone era in lens design.

Have a look for yourself.

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

Every speck of settled or falling snow is sharply rendered in this image shot at 28mm with the aperture wide open at f/4!

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

Another shot: wide open, neighborhood o’ 35mm focal length.  The subject separation is excellent with that smooth out-of-focus background that lacks any sort of nervousness.

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

This was shot at 48mm @ f/4 and in post, I cropped in a little on the leaves.

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

One of my youngins became too cold to play in the snow any longer but she didn’t want to go inside either.  It doesn’t snow very much here in North Carolina so when it does, the kids are all too excited to stay outside even after they’ve turned into miserable little popsicles.  And there is Elsa (from Disney’s Frozen) on the front of her jacket mocking her in song that the “Cold never bothered me”.  Gotta love the irony.  “No, sweetie, Daddy’s not laughing at your misery.”

Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4
Olympus OM Zuiko 28-48mm f/4

I think it is safe to say that this old, Wide-Angle Zoom deserves a round of applause and recognition for defying the era in which it was born.  It is an exceptional lens that even under the unforgiving resolving power of the A7RII’s 42MP FF sensor it was able to produce edge-to-edge sharpness even wide open, excellent contrast, good color, low distortion, and smooth bokeh.  Given that it is able to achieve all of that within the confines of such a tiny, robust, all-metal, lightweight package, I don’t feel I’m over-stepping here to call this lens a proper gem.  I put it up there with my Minolta.  The only minor complaint I have is its minimum focus distance of about 2 feet.  That aside, I give this my full-on recommendation for anyone looking for a great wide-angle zoom that can squarely rival modern lenses for WAY less money.

Final note:  I did snap this thing onto my NEX-5T (APS-C) to see how it did on the smaller sensor body.  The equivalent 42-72mm focal length was very natural feeling and the way this tiny lens balances with the small-frame camera, it felt like it was made for it.

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Successful Hunt

  1. Tom,
    Thank you for the lens review and the story. I like Olympus OM lenses because they’re compact and solid, the focus rings especially feel like you’re using some excellent equipment. I started liking them after I bought the 50mm 3.5 macro lens, which you wrote a post about it. The macro photos on that post are awesome, kind of like a benchmark of how I want to shoot macro photos. Also, your stories of how you clean old lenses encourage me to do the same but I still need a little more of courage to begin. I bought a good set of JIS screwdriver but I still need to buy lens spanner and few more things. I know I’ll be doing it sometimes very soon…… Anyway, thank you for the post again!
    Jon

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  2. Hi Jon,

    Good to hear from you bud. I’m very happy to hear you’re enjoying the excellent Olympus macro. I encourage you to keep gathering the few tools needed to perform surgery on these old lenses. If we don’t keep them in circulation, who will? Ebay is full of cheap as chips old primes. I recommend starting with a simple 50mm that works. Take it apart so you see how a functioning lens works inside. Doing this will make it easier to later identify the problems in one that doesn’t work.

    I’ve updated the About This Blog page. It now has a link at the bottom to send emails to me directly. Feel free to utilize this.

    Thanks for your readership and valuable comments!

    Tom

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  3. I just missed that exact lens on an ebay auction..with an Olympus OM-2n ..that lens with the hood..43 dollars..damn it!!
    I would like to ask your advice as you have used many different cameras.
    I am currently wanting to upgrade from a D700. For the longest time I for sure wanted the D810 . The big draw of course is the 36mp..but also the sans anti alias ..supposedly giving sharper images.. Then I see all the amazing photos done with the Sony A7R also no anti alias… but then I read the a7r is cheaply made..not strurdy like a D810..
    SO.. riddle me these 2 querries
    1..is there really that big of a difference in sharpness without an anti alias filter? I ask this because the A7 non R ..no anti alias is supposedly a better built camera then the A7R.
    and..
    2.. is the Sony cheaply constructed..or how does the a7’s compare to d810 in build quality?

    Thanks in advance
    Steve

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  4. Hi Steve,

    Good to hear from you again. I shot quite a lot with the D700 – in fact it was my gateway into full-frame. To answer your questions regarding the difference between it and the filterless D800/810/A7R: it is significant.

    1) It’s not just the absence of the filter though that makes the difference. Even if the D700 had no OLPF or AA filter over the sensor it still would not be capable of resolving the detail you get from the higher pixel-count cameras. For clarity on where I’m coming from, here is the order of cameras I went through: (We’ll start from the D700 for brevity) D700(12MP) -> Sony NEX-5 (14MP) -> NEX-7(24MP) -> D600(24MP) -> Sony A7(24MP) -> A7R(36MP) -> A7RII(42MP). I list all that to show the upward progression in resolution. The full-frame D600 was better than the APS-C NEX-7 due to the better dynamic range and low-light ability but not in much else. When I bit the bullet and bought the A7R, that is when I saw the biggest difference between anything I had ever used before (the same would have been true had I gotten the D800/810). Not only did I have a bigger file for more crop flexibility but there was just more ‘image’ to the image. Something that always bugged me about previous cameras was the lack of fine detail in distant objects. As a former print maker, I paid a lot of attention to that sort of thing because when you’re final output is 4ft x 6ft, you’ll notice that vagueness right away. With the A7R/RII’s files, every distant leaf and needle seemed to be rendered as such, rather than the colorful micro-smears I had seen in every camera prior. Does that make an image better? No. A good image is a good image but I find that the fine details do make a good image something you want to look at longer simply because there is more to see. I recently made a 10 foot wide print of a city scene I shot in Norway (shot with A7RII). The longer you look at it, the more you see, and see clearly. Whenever someone would look at that print, I would ask them at what time I made the image and tell them the answer is in the image. After a few minutes of playing Where’s Waldo, they’d find this clock on the front of an old church that was situated over 1/2 a mile away from where I stood to make the shot. In the print, the clock face was no bigger than a pea but you could easily make out the hour and minute hands; a testament to that sensor and the lens I was using. The smaller/more distant an object, the more pixels you need in order to render it with any sort of detail.

    2) The A7 series is not at all cheaply made. The all-metal body feels very dense and robust in the hand. I think some people confuse ruggedness for quality. The A7R is not a combat camera, but I would not call it delicate either. I’ve shot in SE Asia rain storms, Arctic Circle snow, and Middle East/Africa deserts with them and never had any issues. Grant it, I did well to protect it from wanton exposure but no more so than I did with any of my Nikon bodies. Between all my Nikon and Sony bodies, I’ve never broken a single one. I will say that the Sony MKII cameras feel like they’ve been built to be even more robust than the 1st Gens. All said, the D810 is built to be seriously abused and I believe that under the worst of conditions it would outlast the Sonys.

    Choosing between a D800/810 and an A7-series, it really comes down to these few factors:

    Do you plan on shooting with old lenses? If yes, Sony. Short FFD allows you to adapt nearly any other mount to it, and manual focusing with EVF and Focus Peaking is a dream come true.
    Does size matter? Sony for travel-ease, Nikon for big hands.
    Do you plan on shooting more than 50% of the time in a studio (lighting) or doing HSS? If yes, Nikon. A lot more products to support studio lighting control.
    Do you plan on using your camera as a self-defense weapon during a riot? If yes, Nikon. The plastics surrounding the metal chassis act as a shock absorber when the camera body compresses flesh into the bone – it’ll survive longer than the A7 and has more weight, causing more blunt-force trauma to your attacker.
    Do you plan on traveling through places where it is likely you’ll get robbed? If yes, choose the Sony because it is smaller, less recognizable, and with a small lens it can just about disappear in your hand or coat pocket. I black out all the badges on my cameras for this reason because I do travel in some rough parts of the world. Thieves often pick their mark based on how identifiable the victim’s stuff is so they know the value of it. I cringe every time I see a tourist in these places, toting around a massive camera with an f/2.8 Zoom all being restrained to their body with a brightly badged “Nikon DXXX” neck strap. They’ve removed all guess work for the thieves who are quite familiar with the total value of that camera and lens. Unless you’re in a large group, you’re just setting yourself up to get rolled. Had a buddy who was in Greece get stabbed in the lung over this kind of thing.
    Final consideration: EVF or OVF? EVF allows you to see (even in low light) what your image will look like before taking the shot – includes focus, exposure, color, tilt, etc. OVF just shows you what the light looks like coming through the lens and whether it is in focus (depending on how good your eyesight is). I didn’t think I’d ever like EVF but I do; massively. I feel like it’s easier to compose through an EVF. I set my camera to shoot RAW+JPG and set the image mode to B&W so that all I see in the EVF is a monochrome image. This eliminates the distraction of color and helps me focus better on the important elements of the composition.

    I hope all that helps you out. There is no fundamental right or wrong in this. It really all boils down to your use, tastes, and shooting style.

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  5. Tom, Thank you for the detailed answer to my question. I have decided to purchase the Sony A7Rii at some point. I have recently acquired Fujifilm XF bodies and a slew of Olympus PEN lenses that I am going to shoot with for a time. I really like the pen lenses that I have acquired thus far. I especially like the 25mm F2.8..a great lens. The tiny footprint of those lenses with the small Fujifilm XF bodies makes for great portability. After using this combination the D700 feels like an anvil. I have the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 which is a fantastic lens but hasn’t the character of the older lenses. The nikkors too are great. An old 135mm f2.8 AI’d has rendered unbelievable images. I love a lot of the photos you have posted with the Minolta 35-70mm f3.5 macro and A7rii.. so much that I am looking at picking one up. There are a few on fleabay with issues that I may purchase and attempt to refurbish..thanks to your posts on this subject.
    Again I have to comment on how much I enjoy your web site and congratulate you and wish you all the best.
    Steve

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  6. So glad to hear of your continued enjoyment of OutFor30. It’s good news, too, to see you’re getting into a nice collection of lenses. I have to comment about “the anvil”: After shooting with the mirrorless for a good bit, I was fiddling about in a camera shop when a salesman tried to entice me with the D800. He pulled it out of the case and handed it to me and I’ll tell you it felt like I was holding big-block Chevy V8. I couldn’t help but laugh at how massive it felt compared to my little mirrorless wonders, questioning myself how I could ever go back to DSLR. If image quality is what you’re after, there is nothing finer than what one can squeeze out of the no-compromise A7RII and in an almost laughably small size. Since I travel so much, it makes zero sense for me to consider anything else. Most of the mirrorless cameras one could make an argument for as to the reason to carry anything larger. Those Fujis are no slouch at all either, I just can’t give up the crop-free full frame sensor.

    If you’re interested in the old Nikkors, I highly recommend investigating the old 180mm f/2.8 AI, and the insanely good Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 AI-s. I have both and they give anything modern a proper run for its money. I think paid ~$150 for the 180mm and around $120 for the 55mm.

    Cheers,

    Tom

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