Review: Olympus OM Zuiko Macro 50mm 1:3.5

The Olympus OM Zuiko 3.5/50 Macro packs decent performance into a lens which is as small as it is affordable. In-Depth review on the Sony a7ii.

Specifications

Diameter 60 mm
Length 40 mm
Filter Thread 49 mm
Weight 200 g
Max. Magnification 0.5
Close Focusing Distance from the sensor 0.23 m
Number of aperture blades 6
Elements/ Groups 5/4, floating elements
The Olympus OM MC 3.5/50 Macro usually sells for around $40 used at ebay.com (affiliate link). 
In Germany you can buy it used for around 50 at ebay.de (affiliate link). 

Image Samples

Just click on any image to get to the full resolution.

Versions

For practical purposes I see three versions of the Olympus 3.5/50 Macro:

  1. The Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm was released in 1973. It is single coated and there are versions with “silver nose” and without.
  2. The Olympus OM Zuiko MC Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm shares the optics of its successor but it is multicoated.
  3. The last version is the Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-Macro 50mm 1:3.5. It is multicoated, probably with updated coatings but there is no MC-engraving. The copy I own is of this generation.

All three versions share the same optics but I would recommend to stay away from the first version (no MC in the name and f=50mm) because my experience with single coated Olympus OM lenses is that they flare a lot.

Data according to Olypedia.de

Build quality and handling

Olympus OM lenses usually combine a very small size and great handling. The Olympus OM Macro 50mm 1:3.5 is no exception.

Focusing Ring

The focusing ring travels around 40 degrees from 1 m to infinity which is  rather steep, normal lenses usually travel around 90 degrees. From 1 m to 0.23 m the Zuiko travels a further 200 degrees.

The rubberized focusing ring offers good grip and a pleasant diameter. The resistance is pleasant but a little on the higher side. My copy has had a CLA recently so I don’t know if other copies will have a similar resistance.

Aperture

The aperture ring sits at the front of the lens and it has full stops from f/5.6 to f/22. There is no stop  between f/3.5 and f/5.6. I think this is one of the best aperture ring designs I have come across.

Hood

The front of the lens sits deeply recessed in the lens and is well protected from flare and damage. This is one of those lenses you can throw in your camera bag without lens-cap or hood which is always nice.

Size and Weight

At 200g and with a length of just 40mm the Olympus is quite small but still large enough to be very pleasant to handle.

Optical performance

These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7/7II.

Flare Resistance

I was very positively surprised by the Zuiko’s good flare resistance:

Compared to the modern Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro the Olympus Macro shows a very respectful performance as long as the light source is in the frame.

There is one scenario though which causes issues and that is when a powerful light source is just outside of the frame. This will result in significant veiling flare:

Exposure was the same for both images.

Bokeh

In general the Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro has good bokeh.

At f/3.5 background bokeh is smooth with minor cat’s-eye effect.

Stopped down to f/5.6 though the hexagonal shape of the aperture blades becomes quite obvious and it can be distracting for some images. Also note the neutral foreground bokeh:

full resolution f/3.5 | f/5.6

The transition zone isn’t very smooth which won’t matter at macro distances but can be distracting at longer distances.

Chromatic Aberrations

CA is very well corrected, both axial as well as lateral.

Vignetting

Vignetting at f/3.5 is 1.4 stops which can be noticed in critical situations and is significantly more than other normal lenses show at f/3.5. From f/5.6 it is below 0.8 stops which will hardly be noticeable.

Distortion

Typical for a macro lens the Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm 1:3.5 Macro has close to zero distortion.

Sharpness

Most lenses are optimized for infinity. Not so the OM 3.5/50. It is sharpest at a reproduction ratio of around 1:10 where it is very sharp from wide open and only gains a little as you stop down:

 100% crops f/3.5 | f/5.6

At the largest magnification ratio of 1:2 it is somewhat soft at f/3.5 and there is a very significant gain in sharpness as you stop down to f/5.6:

100% crops f/3.5 | f/5.6

At infinity the Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro has decent resolution in the center but lower contrast and the corners are rather soft. Stopped down to f/8 it shows very good sharpness across the frame but also quite a lot of field curvature: the corners are focused behind the center. If you want sharp corners for a flat infinity scene you need to take the field curvature into consideration and sacrifice some performance in the image center.

Applications

I think macro lenses are among the most versatile lenses you can buy. Compared to a faster normal lens you gain a wider focusing range and better performance as well as flare resistance. Right now it is spring here in Germany and I choose the Olympus over a fast normal lens any time when I go for a walk in the forest.  

Of course you sacrifice speed and some performance at longer distances but even at a distance the results are quite good if you consider the field curvature so the only real disadvantage is the slower speed.

Alternatives

Sony FE 2.8/50 MacroThe Sony offers AF, focuses down to 1:1 and it shows excellent sharpness at any distance. Bokeh is a tad smoother but the Olympus offers better build quality and it is more pleasant to handle. How much the performance difference matters depends a lot on what you shoot but the Olympus certainly offers the better value at 10% of the Sony’s price.

Olympus OM Zuiko 2/50 Macro: In the 80’s Olympus released a range of spectacular unusually fast lenses. I have already reviewed the spectacular OM 2/100 and from the available information the 2/50 Macro plays in the same league.

Nikkor 2.8/55: Nearly 100g heavier but also half a stop faster it offers a little better image quality and costs a little more. I am tempted to buy one.

Leica Elmarit-R 2.8/60 Macro: At twice the weight and several times the price the Leica is a bit faster, longer and sharper outside of the 1:10 reproduction ratio. It also show a lot more flare.

Minolta MC 3.5/50 Macro: I found the Olympus to be sharper, smaller and a lot more flare resistant.

pros

  • Size & Handling
  • Price
  • Bokeh
  • Flare Resistance
  • Versatility
  • Sharpness
  • No distortion
average

  • 1:2 max magnification
  • Rather slow
  • Vignetting
cons

  • Somewhat soft wide open at 1:2 and infinity
  • 6 aperture blades cause hexagonal bokeh from f/5.6
  • Significant field curvature at infinity

The Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm F3.5 Macro has many arguments going for it: It is very well built and none the less it weighs just 200 grams. No other manufacturer managed to put that much performance in such small SLR lenses as Olympus did. Usually I was quite happy with the images, when I used it to capture spring flowers the results were usually pleasing with good sharpness and bokeh and I could even play with back-light which is an issue for many legacy lenses.

Olympus did not manage to maintain very good sharpness at any distance though. I think this is less of an issue at longer distances because if you take the field curvature into consideration you can still manage to get good across the frame sharpness. I found it a bit limiting at short distances though: I want to avoid stopping down because then the six aperture blades will yield less pleasant bokeh, but wide open it is rather soft at a 1:2 magnification. If you work a lot at really close distances I wouldn’t know of a manual lens which offers better quality at a comparable price though. I think the Olympus offers great value at the current rate of around $40. Especially if you only occasionally need a macro the Olympus is a great option.

All in all I can recommend the Olympus: It has some shortcomings but its strengths usually matter more to me  and I will keep my copy for those occasions when I my focus is on smaller objects.

The Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro usually sells for around $40 used at ebay.com (affiliate link). 
In Germany you can buy it used for around 50 at ebay.de (affiliate link). 
If this review was helpful to you, please consider using one of my affiliate links. Thanks 🙂

Images Samples in full resolution

You can find more images in this flickr set: Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm F3.5 Macro

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

24 thoughts on “Review: Olympus OM Zuiko Macro 50mm 1:3.5”

  1. Hi Phillip! Nice review as always 🙂

    I own a single-coated “silver nose” copy of the lens and can confirm that the multi-coated ones are preferable… I am sometimes using mine to “scan” film and the veiling flare becomes rather obvious there.

    Like you, I am tempted to buy a Nikon Micro 55 as it should offer several improvements:
    – even better coatings (at least when comparing the AIS with the older Olympus MC)
    – floating elements for better infinity performance
    – 7 straight aperture blades for better sun stars

    The only downside for me: As much as I like the handling of AIS Nikkors, I think OM lenses are built even nicer. They feel somehow more “dense” and with incredibly smooth focus.

    Would love to see a review of the Nikkor at some time (maybe other Nikkors, too like 2.8/28 AIS or 2.5/105).

    Grüße aus München
    Felix

    1. I would be curious if the Nikon actually performs better especially wide open at 1:2. It is a few years younger than the Olympus and not that small, maybe Nikon’s floating elements design is more effective than that of the Olympus.

      One downside of the Nikkor for me would be the reversed operation of the focusing ring.

      Right now I am working at creating a Olympus OM guide like I have done for Minolta SR and Canon FD but after that I might have a closer look at the Nikkors.

      1. Wenn Du in der Nähe des Aufnahmeorts der Fotos wohnst, kann ich Dir gerne mal die 2.8 und 3.5/55 Nikkore für ne Woche leihen.

  2. Nice review, an affordable and likable little macro. For how I macro (handheld and opportunistically) I’ve come to appreciate auto-aperture (compose wide open, auto stop down when exposing) and am therefore using an A-mount 50mm macro. It handles nowhere near as nice as a Zuiko, though.

    The bokeh-treeline-fullres shots are switched (5,6 – 3,5).

  3. Thank you for this review! I was looking for a macro lens for aquarium fish photography. I like manual focus because I can manually focus on the eye of a fish.

    I want to take pictures from a close distance to avoid reflections of the glass. Since the sharpness of this lens at close distance isn’t that well, is there a lens which you can recommend for me?

  4. Thank you, Phillip. I always love to read your reviews and see your new photos. You rock!

    I impulsively bought the OM 50/2 just yesterday for a decent price (for that more expensive lens). Springtime is a little ways off, but I will be walking through the woods with an OM 50 macro too.

    I’m curious how the 50/2 will compare to my S/N 1,xxx,xxx multicoated OM 50 1.4, which is a fantastic 50, though a bit glowy at 1.4. Sharp and smooth. I’m guessing the 50 1.4 would do even better than the 3.5 macro for non-macro work, and it’s tiny. The later run 50 1.4 seems to have gone up in price over the last months by quite a bit.

  5. Hi Philip, thank you for your review and sample pictures, very well done. Do you think there are any alternatives in canon FD or M42 mounts ? I have two speedboosters for my nex5r in those mounts, but was also thinking of getting one in olympus. Thanks.

    1. Industar 61 LZ : ) Should perform similarly to the Volna 9 and I quite liked my 9 until the day I decided to fix the stiff focus action.

  6. Erstmal ein riesiges Kompliment an phillipreeve.net und die engagierten Leute dahinter, weil sich der kompetente Inhalt und die Bilder so wohltuend vom großen, teilweise gekauften Internet-Gear-Rest unterscheiden.
    Das OM 3.5/50 war das erste Makroobjektiv an meiner OM 2n vor langer Zeit. Es folgten u.a. das 2.0/90 als auch die beiden 4.0/80 & 4.5/135 am nach wie vor unerreicht innovativen OM Auto-Makrotubus aus dem vorzüglichen OM-Makroprogramm.
    Mit dem Auftauchen der spiegellosen Systeme (MFT & Sony) konnte ich diese Schätze zum Glück reanimieren. Daraufhin besorgte ich mir noch gebraucht das OM 2.0/50er Makro, was sich an meiner Sony A7r nicht hinter dem Sony-Zeiss 1.8/55er zu verstecken braucht. Unter anderem zeigen sie auch ihr Potential auf dem bzgl. A7x höher auflösenden MFT 16M – Sensor!
    Bitte vermittelt weiterhin den Spaß mit guten, manuell fokussierbaren, oft günstigen Oldtimern zu arbeiten. Sie haben es verdient.

    1. Phillip,
      auch von meiner Seite vielen Dank. Meine Frau bekam das Objektiv (silver-nose 50/3.5) als Konfirmationsgeschenk für eine OM-2, die noch heute funktioniert. Ich habe es nun beim OM-Doktor richten lassen (Schnecke gefettet und Linsenreinigung). Nun funktioniert es wieder gut an einer Fuji oder Canon. Wie Ludwig haben wir noch die beiden 4.0/80 & 4.5/135 Makroköpfe. Vorallem der 80ziger ist gut.

  7. Hey Phillip great review!
    I recently bought a kind of unique lens, a Sigma 16mm F/2.8 Fisheye Filtermatic Lens for my Sony a7. It’s a Minolta MD mount and fills the sensor beautifully! I think if you could find one for a good price (I paid $70, they’re normally like $180 or more) it would be a great lens for you to try! I was very impressed with the quality of the build and over optic quality. Keep up the great reviews!
    -Tory

  8. Nice review again 🙂
    If you are going to buy the Micro-Nikkor 55 2.8 ais – look for the older versions. I have had 3 copies and the newer it was the worse it was both mechanically and optically. Now I have one old and dented copy which is veeeery sharp and contrasty even on 42mp sensor. I can’t tell how to recognise how old is the lens but there were some differences from the outside. Now I regret that I did not shot them from the outside. I know that the best one is an old production because I sent them all to the CLA and he told me that :).

  9. Hi!
    As I compared Olypmpus you described, I wanted to buy Nikkor 2.8/55, which, as you said, is only a bit more expensive while better. Could you send me a link with Nikkor where I could buy it? So far I’m really struggling to find this lens on market.

    Kind Regards

    Robert

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