Olympus 50mm 'Japan', 'Made in Japan' and f2 MACRO comparison

Discussion in 'Olympus' started by jim_baker|6, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. I'd like to share with you a comparison I have just made between these lenses. The 'Made in Japan' is reputed to be the best of the standard f1.8 lenses. The 'Japan' is an f1.8 lens I've had for many years and have been very happy with. The f2 MACRO is said by many on the net to be the best 50mm lens ever made (e.g. look in www.photography review.com). I have not used this lens very much for 'general' use. It's always seemed a bit of a handful. Anyway, I have a certain arrangement I shoot (see below which is HALF the negative: the left hand disc is in the centre of the picture and the right hand disc is towards the edge).The lettering on the discs gives a good idea of sharpness. The LANTERN lettering is interesting because it is about 0.1mm high on the negative. The depth of field scale of a lens is defined by the maximum 'acceptable' size of an out-of-focus point source and is around 0.03mm (Olympus used 1/30mm according to an old OM1 instrution manual I have). So LANTERN is interesting: if the 'E' can be resolved, for example, the image could be regarded as 'acceptably sharp'.
  2. This is the arrangement:
  3. Sorry I meant 'test' arrangement, not 'teat' arrangement! Below is a crop of the central (left hand) disc and it can be seen that the MACRO lens is clearly the best. The 'Japan' and the 'Made in Japan' lenses are similar. I would not like to say that one was better than the other. There is a certain variability with this (outdoor) setup so you have to be careful, but it's clear the MACRO is better. In fact, the closer you look the better this lens becomes e.g. there's absolutely no suggestion of chromatic aberration (CA) at any aperture, anywhere (there's just a hint of CA at large apertures with the standard lenses). All-in-all, I think I will be using the MACRO a bit more for 'general' photography!
  4. If the word "LANTERNS" was 0.1mm high on the negative, and as I view it on my monitor it's now approx 4.0mm high, isn't that on the order of a 40x enlargement? While I do see a slight difference in sharpness, I wonder how much of a difference I'd notice in a normal 5x7 print? Since the first shot of the setup as shown on my monitor is approx. 4x7 inches, I'd guess very very little if any.
    I also see the MACRO lens as being very cool temperature wise. If there was no difference in the lighting between the 3 tests, I actually prefer the warmth of the plain "Japan" lens.
  5. You would notice absolutely no difference in a 7x5 print. LANTERN can only just be read using on a full 6x4 print using a magnifying glass and the full images look equally sharp. For smaller print sizes there is nothing to choose between the lenses. The MACRO image appears cool but this is due to the changing conditions. It was intermittent cloud when I ran the test and I shot the MACRO images just as the sun disappeared behind a cloud. I print 50cm x 30cm prints in my darkroom and at this magnification I might notice a difference between the lenses although I doubt it would make the difference between a 'good' and a 'bad' picture. Unfortunately, that's down to me! All Olympus 50mm lenses will produce good images but if you want to compare them you have to look at this high magnification.
  6. Jim,
    This is an interesting post. I have had access to one of the MIJ 50mm/1.8 lenses, two of the MC variety and one of the old F.Zuikos, a black-nosed. After reading so much about the superiority of the MIJ lens on the web (and suspecting that a lot of people were just repeating what they had read somewhere else on the web), I did a series of three lens tests. Two tests were of subjects at infinity and one was of the splines of books carefully arranged across book shelves at a distance of 100 inches (50 x f). For the latter, I focused and shot each aperture three times and chose the best shot for comparison.
    The result: For f/4 and smaller apertures, the MIJ lens was indeed the sharpest (although at f/4 it was almost a draw). But the sharpest lens from f/1.8 to 2.8 was the F.Zuiko. The two MC lenses were as alike as two peas in a pod and solid performers, but were in the middle performance-wise at all apertures.
    Sample variations, exposure settings and processing could give different rankings for the different varieties of lenses. I suspect that the difference between your f/2 macro and MIJ shots shown above might be due to aperture variations in the two lenses, with the macro lens giving less exposure. But this is mere conjecture, and does not negate your careful testing.
  7. Dennis
    If there is one thing I learned from this kind of exercise, it's that it's extremely difficult to get a reproducible result. You have addressed this by taking multiple exposures (a good idea) and it's interesting that you could indeed select the best shot from three. With a probable manufacturing variation and certainly a variability in use, it begs the question: how 'sharp' is 'sharp enough'? As I said, the largest print I make is about 50cm x 30cm which is about a 14x magnification. The LANTERN words would therefore be about 1.4mm high. I think a 50cm x 30cm print needs to be viewed from about 2 feet (60cm) away. I think at this distance I could read LANTERN but I'm not sure I would register exactly how sharp it was. So on that basis all the lenses are 'sharp enough'. As I said in the original post, the Olympus OM depth-of-field scales are worked out on the basis that the out-of-focus image of a point source whose disc is 1/30mm is still 'acceptably sharp'. I'm beginning to see how this figures once the print size and viewing distance are taken into account.
  8. I have a number of 50/1.8 Zuikos as well as a 50/3.5. I would be more interested in seeing a comparison between the 50/3.5 and 50/2 macro lenses. Comparing a macro lens to a regular standard lens is a little like comparing apples and oranges. A 50/1.8 with extension tubes or on a bellows, used fornt forward, and at a magnification of 1:2 to 1:5 will not be nearly as sharp as a macro lens used at the same magnification. Conversely, it used to be true that the macro lens, when used at a magnification of 1:50 wouldn't be nearly as sharp as the non-macro standard lens. These assumptions changed when macro lenses with floating element designs started to show up. The 50/3.5 Zuiko is sharp throughout its range of distances thanks to such a design. The same goes for the 55/2.8 AIS Nikkor. I find the 55/3.5 Micro Nikkors from the P to the AI very good from 1:2 to infinity even if some purists feel that the earlier compensating 55/3.5 is better at 1:1. There is still one more issue. The threads inside the helical mount of a macro lens are pitched at a steeper angle so it takes less time to go from infinity to 1:2 or 1:1. This makes them more difficult to focus on subjects from 5 or 10 feet to infinity. The extra speed of an f/1.8 or f/1.4 standard lens also makes focusing easier in low light. I have read many times that the best 50/1.8 Zuikos are sharper than the 50/1.4 Zuikos but that the build quality of the 50/1.4 Zuikos is better. The 50/2 and 90/2 Zuiko macro lenses are very sought after even though most macro shooting would not be done at f/2. In any case these fast lenses are versatile and, I am sure, fun to use.

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