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  1. #1

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    OM Zuiko 90mm f/2.0 Macro (Long-term Impressions)

    I have been using this lens as my most-used lens for about a year now, and it is simpy the most astounding piece of glass (for 35mm cameras) which I have ever used, it continues to delight. I know they are quite rare, and bargains are not easily to be had, but this is a lens which could happily live on your camera forever - it sits on my OM-1n 90% of the time.

    It's a little bit larger than typical OM fixed-focal length lenses, but still quite small compared to, say, a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro (which only lets in half the light). The Zuiko (this 90mm, and many others I have used) is built superior to every other modern Japanese 35mm lens I've ever seen, with paint-filled engraved (stamped?) markings for every last piece of information on the lens (nothing will ever "wear off"), an absolutely smooth and solid mechanical action, a tough but beautiful surface finish, and a wide rubber focusing ring. It's a thing to behold.

    I only use this lens for close-up photography about 20% of the time (where it achieves 1:2 magnification on its own, more if you put it on extension tubes or the 65-116 auto tube) but the resolution and clarity is just phenomenal. This was a simpel hand-held test image (of, you guessed it - a wristwatch, favourite test subject of so many Macro lens testers). Taken on FP4+ film, together with the T8 Ring Flash 2, I wet-printed this image on 5x7in RC paper (through a Rodenstock Rodagon 80mm f/4) and scanned the print on an Epson V700 scanner to show here.

    The full image (f/11, 1/60s):


    A crop to show the details present in the dial area:


    Remember, this is a scan from a pretty small optical print. While this lens is not at the same performance at 1:2 as the 80mm f/4 bellows lens (since it has been optimised for 1:10 magnification) the floating system indeed corrects it almost to perfection, the prints I get from this lens make we want to sell all my Mamiya RB gear (see my post on the Mamiya 140mm Macro), I don't really need medium format for typical print sizes.

    What is wonderful about the 90/2.0 is it's versatility, and the results it yiels for egenral photography also. I was a long-time user of a Cano 100/2.8 Macro USM, and though an optically perfect lens, it was "harsh" or "clinical" - it didn't have that special something, that smoothness in drawing, that solidity it imparts an image. Here are some examples, various films from Pan F to TMZ P3200 (all scanned wet prints, one of them toned in Thiocarbamide):





    I consider myself quite lucky to have purchased my 90/2.0 for an affordable price on eBay, due to it having a small chip in one of the glass elements. Such a mark will, of course, never visibly affect the image, so I am happy, and got it for at least $500 cheaper than the going rate for mint copies.

    In anyway, after using this lens for a year without posting about it, I am now more than ever convinced that it's a truly special lens, one which can form the basis of a very capable two-kit lens if you want to travel light (the other being a 35/2.0 or 24/2.0, depending on your fancy, or even a fast 50). The reason for the high second-hand price is more than just collectability, it's because this lens is unlike any other Macro out there. Sure, there are technically better ones (though I doubt in the 1:10 magnification range) available, but they all strive for optical perfection at the expense of image character. The Zuiko 90/2.0 has to be the most well-balanced lens I've used.
    Last edited by philosomatographer; 08-25-2009 at 04:18 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Typos! (argh)

  2. #2

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    Wow! High praise indeed. Very nice shots!

    I take it you're happy with it, then?

    Well, you've sold me, though it might be hard to find one.

  3. #3

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    Wow, I was looking at one in a Tokyo camera store yesterday, the price was about $450. I'm glad I don't have to buy from Ebay. I have my eye on another lens which I was planning to buy next weekend, but if it's gone, perhaps I'll go ahead and pick up the 90 f2.

  4. #4

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    From what I can tell the main factor in favor of this lens is the high speed. Not much macro work is done at f/2 but the extra speed can make focusing easier. Some "true macro" lenses like the Zeiss Luminars and Leitz Photars are optimized for use wide open. I have tried using my 12.5/2 and 25/2.5 Minolta micro lenses wide open but have had better luck closing them down several stops for high magnification work.

    I wonder how the 90/2 compares to the 100/2.8 amd 100/2 Zuikos at the distance a portrait would be shot from. For my OM cameras I have a 100/2.8 Zuiko, a 90/2.8 Vivitar Macro and a 90/2.5 Tamron SP (2nd version). These are all good for portraits. If I know I will be shooting portraits and not macro work I would use the 100/2.8 Zuiko. The Vivitar goes to 1:1 without additional extension. I also have a 135/2.8 Vivitar Close Focusing which is a good general purpose 135, a good long portrait lens and a very nice lens for close-up shooting. It goes to 1:2 by itself with nice working distance. It would be interesting to see how the 90/2 Zuiko compares to the recent 100/2 Zeiss macro lens.

    I have many other medium length macro lenses in other mounts and I have many mount adapters for the Tamron. Lately I have used the 100/2.8 Vivitar macro (22XXX...) on a Canon F-1 with an L D screen and I have taken a few shots with the 100/4 Canon New FD macro. Last month I shot some portraits of my father with an X-700 and a 90/2.5 Rokunar VH-Q (same as Elicar, Spiratone etc.) macro. I wanted to use one of my 100/2.5 MC Rokkors but couldn't find them in time. When that roll ran out I took out a Nikon FE and shot a few more frames with an 85/2 AI Nikkor.

  5. #5

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    dynachrome, the 90/2.0 is much more of a general purpose lens, and not a high-magnification micro lens like the bellows-mount lenses you mention. So the use-case is very different (and in no way can be compared), and the 90/2.0 is called a 'macro' only - i suspect - because it is a lens not optimised for infinity work. For high-mangification work, we'd have to be discussing the OM 20mm f/2.0, but that lens wouldn't "live" on my OM-1 like the 90/2.0 does - and that's the difference. This lens is a small (tiny, tiny compared to any other similar macro lens), ultra-high quality, faithful companion, ideal for using your OM camera with a small, two / three lens kit.

    I can say with certainty that the 90/2.0 is pretty much unequalled in the OM (or most other makes', of the same era) range for every aspect of image quality. It's the last prime lens ever introduced for the OM system.

    People on the web get all lyrical about this (and the OM 50/2.0 macro) lens, waxing lyrical about how the lens appears to draw objects as if they are illuminated from the inside, etc. I often join them after a year with this lens :-)

    I too would love to see a comparison with the latest Zeiss 100/2.0 macro lens. I would expect the Zeiss to beat the Zuiko's absolute performance, but there is an aspect of 'drawing' - of character, which is not so easy to match. And no similar Macro I've ever held (this includes Nikon, Canon) is even nearly as small, and solidly built.

    Anyway, dynachrome, you seem to have access to a number of great Maro lenses - enjoy them! I am sinking my teeth into a OM 20mm f/3.5 at this stage, enjoying it very much. But I've never used anything like the 90/2.0, you should try to get your hands on one if you can (and have an OM body, or EOS with adaptor).

  6. #6

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    Due to this review (and the praise of others who are familiar with this lens) I ended up buying one of my own. So far I've shot only one roll of film with this lens, but to say that I'm very pleased with the results would be an understatement. The second roll of film I've shot with the lens is hanging up to dry as I write, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it came out.

  7. #7
    Ade-oh's Avatar
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    I've always loved the OM system and - particularly - the Zuiko lenses. The first 'serious' camera I bought was an OM-1 with the excellent 50mm f1.8 and I've still got, and use, both even though I long ago switched to Nikon and Leica for most of my 35mm shooting. My personal favourite is the 100mm 2.8 which is a fantastic 'go anywhere' short tele.

  8. #8

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    Another example

    I have recently scanned some older darkroom prints made from negatives captured, and wanted to share this additional image:


    (OM-1n, 90/2.0 Macro at f/11, FP4 at ISO125, hand-held)

    This image (8x10 optical print scanned to ~35MP) was taken at around 1:10 magnification (the published optimum for this lens) and to say that the image quality is perfect down to grain level, and to the extreme corners of the image, would be an understatement. An extraordinary lens performance - this is one of the few 35mm film images I would happily print to 20x24in or more and stick my nose right in it (revealing, of course, a bunch of crisply rendered sand ).

    Disclaimer: This print was made via a very old beat-up Agfa enlarger while I was still learning, I look forward to re-printing it with the better equipment I have at hand now.

  9. #9
    Mark Fisher's Avatar
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    Dang, another lens on my list (:

    Wonderful review. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

  10. #10

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    I thought I'd add a couple of photos which I took with this great lens. They were shot on Neopan 400 developed in ID-11, and scanned on my Epson 750m. They are unedited.




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