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Olympus Zuiko 75-150mm F/4 Vintage Lens Review

John Riley has been putting the vintage Olympus Zuiko 75-150mm F/4 lens to the test on a much more modern Sony A7R III camera to find out how good it performs in the more modern world.


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Olympus Zuiko 75 150mm F4 Front Oblique View | 1/5 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 100
 

Olympus were the first, not the first to market a zoom lens but the first to confidently state that here was a lens that could compete with the quality of all the prime lenses whose range it covered. “The photograph that shook the world” was the advertising hype, showing as I recall a rather fuzzy image of part of a resolution chart. We have already looked at the SMC Pentax-M 75-150mm f/4 zoom, one of the first to copy the concept after Olympus, and found it to be an excellent lens, so it will be especially interesting to see how the original Olympus stacks up on a digital camera and whether or not it can challenge the primes it might replace. So, let's put to one side the 85mm, 90mm, 100mm, 120mm, 135mm and 150mm lenses and take the Olympus Zuiko Auto-Zoom 75-150mm f/4 and the full frame 42MP Sony A7R III body into the studio and out on location to see what it can do.

 

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Olympus Zuiko 75-150mm F/4 Handling and Features

Unlike the previously reviewed Pentax lens, which will happily fit directly onto any Pentax DSLR, the Olympus, with its OM mount, will need an adapter to use it on any current digital camera. Here we are using the K&F Concept OM-NEX adapter which, like the lens, is fully manual and without any electronic contacts. The lens is manual focus anyway and pre-dates having any contacts on the lens, so this is not really a problem. The adapter fits well and the lens is securely held. The aperture remains fixed at whatever is selected on the lens, so for ease of focusing it may be helpful to open the aperture to f/4, focus, and then close down to the required aperture before pressing the shutter. Film SLRs, for which the lens is designed, followed this procedure automatically, hence the “auto” description in the lens name. It has to be said that, despite manual focus aids provided, focusing the lens on a mirrorless camera is a tricky procedure, prone to focusing errors as the point of focus is not crisp. However, practice improves the hit rate as with most things.

Our tour of the lens starts as usual with the lens hood, and this time we have a built-in sliding hood. It is quite shallow, so of limited use, but better than nothing. There is the usual standard filter thread, taking modestly sized 49mm filters. One of the striking things about vintage manual focus lenses is how slim the diameter is. This lens makes the point, being just 115mm long, 63mm in diameter and weighing in at 455g.

Olympus Zuiko 75 150mm F4 Plus Adapter Plus Camera Body Exploded View | 1/4 sec | f/16.0 | 31.0 mm | ISO 100
 

The focusing ring offers an excellent grip and has the familiar Olympus finish. The lens rotates when focusing, making the use of polarising and graduated filters more difficult. Focusing is down to 1.6m, or 5.2 feet, not as close as the Pentax and really not close enough. All the prime lenses that it could replace are lighter, more compact, faster and focus closer, so the convenience of the zoom is not absolute by any means.

Next up is the zoom ring, as this is a two-ring design, not the trombone design of the Pentax lens. There are advantages both ways, but the two-ring design is not likely to suffer from the slackness that can develop with the trombone variety after heavy, prolonged use. Zooming does not extend the length of the lens, whereas focusing does.

The aperture ring has click stops at one-stop intervals, so there is less subtlety of adjustment than we are used to. It works well enough though. Finally, the mount is plain, without electronics of any kind, so metering is at stopped-down aperture and can only be controlled by the lens. Manual exposure and Av work well, so setting the aperture and letting the camera choose the shutter speed is an effective way of working.

 

Olympus Zuiko 75 150mm F4 Rear Oblique View | 0.3 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 100
 

Optical construction is 15 elements in 11 groups, very much more complex than any of the prime lenses that it might replace. Interestingly, when the OM system was introduced Olympus were still using conventional coating techniques and it was only later on that multi-coating started to be brought in. On the other hand, Olympus brought a huge system to the market, with every lens and every accessory that could possibly be needed, and made the availability good as well. The OM system was a huge success, with many well-known professionals on board.

As mentioned, focusing is the main issue and it is certainly possible to see the difference between a shot that hits the spot and one that does not. It is a pleasure though to use these lenses as they otherwise handle very well.

 


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