The micro 4/3 format is a quickly growing lens mount that is shared between Panasonic and Olympus, and those who are currently sitting on the platform should get excited about any expansion to the lens selection. Last year, Olympus brought us their M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, a luxurious looking device marketed as a “high grade portrait lens”. Still found for $900 almost a year after its release, it certainly does come at a premium, but that is a word that tends to describe this device through and through.
From the outside, this Zuiko lens is an impeccably machined metallic ring with a soft gray luster, around which control markings and the brand name are neatly printed. There is a minimalist feel to the entire barrel; the singular control is the focus ring at the center of the lens. This ring is snug to the focus mechanism, so all adjustments feel firm and precise as a result. Autofocus is full-time manual override, and on the 4/3 standard, image stabilization is performed at the sensor, which eliminates the need for any other switches on the barrel. One point against the Zuiko is that the matching lens hood is not included; an inconvenience that seems a bit troubling considering they ask another $70 for it. However, Olympus does embody the feel of a top-of-the-line lens, and does so without misleading, as the inner workings operate nearly flawlessly.
Being a prime lens means that Olympus could concentrate narrowly on making its one focal length perfect, instead of needing to worry about covering a wide range well. On the inside is a 10 lens system that accomplishes this goal, and I think the most immediately noticeable parts are their extra low dispersion elements, due to the fact that chromatic aberration is so small as to be practically absent. Vignetting is equally negligible, and it’s good to see an optic of this quality available on the 4/3 platform. The only problem with this lens is in its description. Because of the 2x cropping factor, it is equivalent to the field of view of a 150mm lens on a full frame SLR. A usual range for portrait type photography is around 80-140mm, and this lens sits just outside that comfort zone. At any rate, for whatever you may find this lens suited for, have no doubt that it will exceed expectations.
The only drawback of the Zuiko really is its price. I have a feeling that at $900, many people would feel it to be a squandered purchase on the 4/3 platform, as that amount of money can go a long way toward an SLR setup. But for those that feel comfortable with their Olympus cameras, and perhaps already have a kit, there isn’t at this point better competition for this lens.