OM Zuiko 250mm f/2.0 (First Impressions)

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by philosomatographer, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    I have been using this 4kg lens for almost two months now, enough to share a couple of impressions with other potentially interested users of this lens. This has unfortunately not been a photographically prolific period for me due to life's pressures, but hopefully that can now change.

    [​IMG]
    (sourced from the Olympus ESIF)

    Any Zuikoholic knows that this lens is the crowning optical achievement of the Olympus OM system, introduced in 1983/1984 as part of an aggressive new set of bodies / lenses to try and re-capture some of Olympus' glory from the 1970s, when the OM system took the photo world by storm.

    This lens is remarkable for a number of reasons:
    • The ridiculous focal length / aperture combination, exceeded only by Nikkor's 300mm f/2.0
    • Though the lens is very hefty, in use it's really not as large as it seems, about the same size as a typical 300mm f/2.8. It's absolutely tiny compared to Nikkor's only-slightly-longer 300mm f/2.0, which is a truly gigantic lens.
    • This lens is optical perfection, period. I can actually vividly see, by looking through the viewfinder, how much crisper this lens is than the Zuiko 90mm f/2.0 Macro. And the 90mm is a real dog, right? :tongue:
    • I can't get any real number anywhere, but by all accounts only a couple of hundred copies were produced, all hand-assembled by one master craftsman whose name we shall apparently never know (I would love more info on this, if anybody has).

    Swooning over specifications aside, I am a *user* (not a collector, otherwise I'd not be sticking this lens onto a plain old OM-1 body, but rather an OM-3Ti or some such) - what I found to be pertinent with this lens, compared to other OM tele lenses (e.g. I have been using the 300 f/4.5) are

    • The best focusing action ever. The internal focusing makes a massive difference, it's smooth, quick, and precise.
    • Wow, this lens exudes build quality. It has to be felt to be understood. The locking built-in metal lens hood is great. Though not official, some parts (like the drop-in rear filters) are definitely weather-sealed with rubber gaskets.
    • It's unbelievably difficult to hand-hold a 4kg lens when you're not used to it. After my first day, I felt like I swam a marathon or something (arms and upper body pain). When you're used to it, though, it's easy. Heavy weight plus f/2.0 has ensured that not a single of my hand-held shots have had appreciable camera shake. Accurate focusing is another story though!

    Some images (nothing that I would call great yet, I am still getting to know the beast): As ever, all of these are shot on B&W film (This is APUG, right?), and printed in the darkroom (unfortunately only to 5x7in, I didn't have bigger paper at the time). All of these were taken at f/2.0, hand-held:

    [​IMG]
    (OM-1, FP4+, f/2.0, hand-held)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    At f/5.6 (optimum aperture for this lens, although I can for the life of me not see any dfference from f/2.0):

    [​IMG]

    A colour shot (f/2.0, taken on expired Fuji 800 print film, ugh) just for fun, taken after sunset:

    [​IMG]

    My current evaluation: At f/2.0, in the corner, this lens has better resolution and contrast than any lens I have ever personally used, at any aperture, anywhere in the frame. It's un-be-lievably good.

    This comes at a massive weight cost, though it's not physically huge considering its specification. But the question remains:

    WHY?

    Of course, when one finds a deal on a lens like this (as I have) one does not ask questions. One does the right thing. One worries about so-called necessities like food and transport later. Or how?

    No really - I imagine - like so many of you fellow film users - one is increasingly drawn to rangefinder-land. We all want to use those great Leica M or Mamiya 7 (my personal preference, I have been bitten by the 6x7cm bug, it's just great in the darkroom) lenses.

    Until, in perhaps a year or two, I migrate to something like a Mamiya 7, I wish to focus on using the SLR system for what it's really, really good at. And this is telephoto and macro photography.

    My boring test images perhaps do not convey this, but a 250mm f/2.0 lens is capable of unique images which simply cannot be created with any other system (other than a 35mm SLR). I wish to find out if I can exploit this to my own artistic benefit. I've never really used a fast supertele before, it's an interesting change for me. This, together with Macro (and my, does the OM system have some nice Macro toys), shall be my main goals for this year.

    With this post, I simply wanted to share a bit of my experience with this lens with the group. When I was looking around, I could not find any such posts, so I simply bit the bullet.
     
  2. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    Wow :surprised: - it is so cool to see this lens again and find it being actually used - great find.

    Way back when I did sports work one of the other photographers specfically bought into the OM system (alongside his standard FD system) purely to use this lens and the equally epic 350mm F2.8 combined with the high flash sync possible with the OM system - up to 1/1000th/sec I think (hazy memory!). He used it primarily for indoor athletics and similar work. We were all shooting 800asa available light and he was on Velvia, who got published?!!!

    All of us were shooting with 200/F2 , 300/F2.8 or 400/F2.8 Nikon/Canon and everyone loved this Oly lens, perhaps only surpassed by the Nikon 300/F2 as you mention, but lots of guys had them. :rolleyes: It is a real classy piece, even now I am slightly envious you have one. However, actually glad that you are using it and not just in a glass cabinet.

    On a more boring note none of us ever used these type of lenses handheld, anything above 300/2.8 was put on a monopod (exception being a 500/4). It was not regarded as "wimping out" and if anyone used one without a 'pod for anything other than a grab shot - well, we were less than complimantary. They are designed for 'pod use, have the rotating collar and you should find that resting the hand at the top of the pod your thumb "falls" onto the focus ring, use that to focus and it's easy! Pre autofocus all these big lenses were focussed just using the thumb of the left hand - they knew how to make smooth focus systems back then.

    Shoot at F2.0
    It is what the lens is designed for, it is what you bought it for, it is why it is so big/heavy. Use it. Performance will be only marginally better at F2.8/F4 - forget the rest. Our lenses never when below one/two stops from max apaerture, it is what it is all about. Shoot slower speed film if needed but keep it wide!

    Backgrounds are the thing with these lenses. Because at anything other than infinity focus the background gets thrown out of focus so well that it can really isolate a subject. Burn some film to really understand how the lens renders. Watch your backgrounds, shoot wide and you will get shots that should amaze and delight, get it right and people will be asking you "how did you isolate that so well in photoshop?" Enjoy the moment!

    Enjoy this lens, you should be at the start of a great journey here - enjoy and have fun.

    Sim2.
     
  3. elekm

    elekm Member

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    Very nice work with that lens. In addition to being able to shoot at f/2.0, I think one of the other advantages is a bright viewfinder image that allows for very easy focusing.

    It certainly is an impressive piece of glass! I didn't realize that so few of these were made, but you certainly can understand that f/2.0 at that focal length wouldn't be inexpensive.

    I've tried handholding some long, heavy lenses, and they can be a real workout.
     
  4. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    Wonderful to hear from somebody who got exposed to this lens from 'back in the day'! I agree fully that this lens was designed for use on a tripod. I am currently lacking a decent tripod though (I am saving up for a steady-enough one to also tame the terrible vibration induced by the OM-1's aperture stop-down mechanism for high-magnification macro work with the 20mm and 80mm macro lenses). I do own a monopod though, I just always forget to keep it with me.

    Using it hand-held was more in the spirit of testing it, and rather spur-of-the-moment. I suspect I will only see what the lens is really capable of with decent support...
     
  5. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    Hey, no worries. We always tried testing the lenses handheld then thought about the longterm health of our backs! 'Pods are brilliant with these, light, manouverable (spellng!) and easy to sling over the shoulder - but always pick up by the lens or monopod - never pick this combination up by the camera/ You will bend/snap the lens mount - seen it done. These type of lenses had built-in "snap-points" to enable repair if seriously dropped, they would snap along component lines rather than dent at random. Hold the lens and cradle the camera.
     
  6. Pumal

    Pumal Member

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    What about MLU?
     
  7. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    After considerable testing, I have found Mirror Lock-Up to be completely useless for high-magnification Macro photography with the OM bodies. When you are working at 10x magnification (20mm lens) the vibration comes from the aperture stop-down level, and perhaps the shutter itself even.

    Remember, the aperture lever has to jam into the lens with all its might, to close down equally well and fast the monster aperture blades of lenses such as this 250/2.0 or the 1000/11. Not a great design, I wish they went the Nikkor route, where a spring in the lens does the work, and the camera body simply has to gently prod it into action. Oh well... Maitani-san is passed away now, we can't criticise his design...

    Since the 20/3.5 and old 80/4.0 macro are manual-aperture lenses, I have often though of modifying an OM camera body to remove the aperture stop-down level and associated mechanics completely... I may still try one day, assuming the internal mechanics of the OM-1 allows one to benefit from such a modification.

    Of course, i could just get an OM-2s/OM-4(Ti) with aperture pre-fire, but where's the fun in that? :tongue:

    I am thinking that a monster Gitzo with the biggest baddest ball head and no centre column might do the trick.
     
  8. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    Total Subject Isolation

    My goodness, 250mm f/2.0 takes "subject isolation" to new heights.

    "Innocence"
    [​IMG]
    (OM-1, Ilford FP4, 250mm at f/2.0, 8x10in darkroom print)

    This image is of a young girl sitting a couple of rows in front of me in an amphitheatre. The Zuiko 250mm F2 allowed me to de-focus the further rows of seats into completely abstract forms, even though the camera-to-subject distance was much further than the subject-to-background distance, usually a bad setup for subject isolation.

    As a "shallow DOF man" it's extremely useful to, with this lens, not have to care about the subject-to-background distance, opening up a whole new vista of photographic opportunities for my style (assuming it's OK for me to walk around with a 4kg white lenbs, that is!)

    This lens consistently surprises me with it's impeccable performance, the rendition of the finest image details (such as on her feet) wide open is implausibly good.
     
  9. Ken N

    Ken N Member

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    Dawid, when you are done with that lens, I'll gladly take it off your hands and let it sing on the front of an OM-3Ti. It won't be no "collector" lens either.

    :smile:

    Ken
     
  10. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    Ag Schnozz, I find there to be a certain irony in sticking a humble OM-1 on the back of this, king of Zuikos... My OM-1's meter is busted in anyway, so its all guess-exposure (and sometime incident meter) for me. This is good for me, it teaches me to get better at using my RB67 which has no meter in the first place, which is my current walk-around ("drag-around" ?) camera.

    Thus, I can reply to your offer only by offering to gladly take that OM-3Ti off your hands, and let it sing on the back of a 250mm F2 :smile:
     
  11. Ken N

    Ken N Member

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    When I'm done using the OM-3Ti, it will be given to somebody who is dedicated to keeping it in use. It was a gift to me for that purpose and I'll pass it on under the same terms.

    However, it may take a LONG time, so don't wait up for it. :wink:
     
  12. Sim2

    Sim2 Subscriber

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    Hey, this is just the sort of effect that these types of lenses excel at!

    Using out-of-focus objects behind the subject as tonal blocks can add something different to a composition,can be great fun just experimenting with what can be achieved, providing of course that one likes/appreciates the isolation of shallow depth of field!!

    Nice one.
     
  13. nsurit

    nsurit Subscriber

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    Lens envy! Bill Barber
     
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  15. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    Very impressive!

    Jeff
     
  16. VaryaV

    VaryaV Member

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    Holy Moly, Batman! Lens envy to the extreme. I want!

    What awesome shots you all are getting.
     
  17. Ken N

    Ken N Member

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    There aren't many lenses that make us drool like this. Puddles everywhere.
     
  18. John Hermanson

    John Hermanson Member

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    I'm glad you are so totally enthusiastic about that lens! John
     
  19. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Pretty cool, I guess...but do they make it for 6x6?
     
  20. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    I am glad you sold the Lens, John! It's an amazing piece of workmanship, something to master over a lifetime.
     
  21. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    I use a 250mm f/4.5 for 6x7cm format (Mamiya Rb) and it's already a monster, weighs about 75% of the Olympus 250mm F2. It's interesting to imagine what a 250/2.0 would look like for medium format, not to mention the incredible "look" that would be possible (similar to a 125mm f/1.0 for 35mm). Alas, such a lens would weight at least 16kgs (assuming one has to only quadruple glass volume, often it's more).

    I know you were kidding, and I also prefer medium format, but it's interesting to speculate...

    Totally Off-topic:
    I really love the old Mamiya 250mm on my RB67, the single-coated optics together with contrasty slide film make for some great colours I find:

    [​IMG]
    (Mamiya RB67, 250mm at f/4.5, Fuji Provia, Film Scanned on Epson V700)
     
  22. ronluxphoto

    ronluxphoto Member

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    It was interesting to come across this post. The Zuiko's are great lenses! As I began with the OM1n [which I still have] I found that for my work I now have stayed within the digital realm for many reasons. With that being said I can add to this thread that this lens lends itself beautifully on a digital body. I must add though that in certain situations there can be a fair amount of internal ghosting that shows up in the image. A longer lens hood usually helps as the stock hood is rather short. So far I have converted several other OM Zuikos for use on Nikon digital bodies and I have been extremely pleased with the results. Nice to see a thread on this lens. Others that are also great are the 350 F2.8 and the 180 F2.
     
  23. philosomatographer

    philosomatographer Member

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    Just to keep this thread alive, here are a couple of images (most of them, shot at f/2.0) I printed in the darkroom this past weekend shot with this lens:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    These were all actually shot a couple of months ago, I haven't used this "paintbrush" in my toolbox very recently, but the negatives are always a joy to work with. Whever I print negatives from this lens, I want to go out and shoot the lens some more :smile:
     
  24. Ken N

    Ken N Member

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    Outstanding, Dawid.

    Ken
     
  25. 131802

    131802 Member

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    Those are great images; that's an incredible lens. I've lusted after some big Zuiko glass for my OM2n, but never had enough cash. John Hermanson currently has this monster for sale at zuiko.com:

    http://zuiko.com/600_65.jpg
     
  26. Andrew K

    Andrew K Subscriber

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    I remember the first time I saw this lens - I was amazed. It was 20 years ago when I was working in the state forensic science lab. We had both the 250/2 and 350/2.8 lenses. They were amazingly sharp, but to me they never felt that well balanced hand held....probably because the camera bodies are so light - even when the bodies were fitted with motordrives...

    A few years later I also became a Canon NF1 user, and owned a 300/2.8. I had no problems hand holding this lens with a NF1 with a motordrive fitted when shooting motorsport - it was a very well balanced outfit...

    Same can't be said for a 400/2.8 - that would just about kill you if you tried to hand hold if for more than a few minutes....you had to use a monopod..

    Have fun with it..there's nothing quite like the results you get from a big, high speed lens...