Friday, September 23, 2016

Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro Lens Review

Important Notes:
1. I am an Olympus Malaysia employee.
2. This is a user experience based review, based on my personal opinion which can be subjective.
3. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 3.
4. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5. Minimal post-processing applied to the images, with slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were almost as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.

I am well aware that the hottest items that everyone wants to know about would be the newly announced in development Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, as well as the M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens. However, the E-M1 Mark II is still under development, and it will be quite a while before it is ready to be launched. I do have a very early pre-production sample of the 12-100mm F4 PRO lens, which is not fit for review purpose, The actual review-ready sample will be arriving soon, and trust me I will jump right into reviewing it when it is here, you know I will!

Now this leads me to another item which was also announced alongside the E-M1 Mark II, 25mm F1.2 PRO and 12-100mm F4 PRO, the strangely under-mentioned M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens. It is not difficult to understand how this new 30mm macro lens has become overshadowed by the OM-D new flagship and two PRO lenses! Nonetheless, Olympus should be acknowledged as an expert and industry leader in lens making technology and manufacturing expertise, hence like all other Olympus M.Zuiko lenses that 30mm F3.5 Macro lens should not be underestimated.

I have spent a total of two days (not successively), one day shooting the 30mm F3.5 Macro lens on my own OM-D E-M10 Mark II and another day on the OM-D E-M1 (original 2013 version) to gather sufficient photographs to compose this blog entry.

The Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens is compact and light. 

The front of the Macro lens. I really should have shot the lens product image BEFORE I went out and shoot with it. 

30mm F3.5 Macro lens fits perfectly on OM-D E-M1

honestly I do not really know how I hold the lenses these days. I did not realize I used only two fingers. Not sure if this is the best way to do so. 

ABOUT OLYMPUS 30MM F3.5 MACRO LENS

Olympus already has a macro lens in the Micro Four Thirds M.Zuiko line up, the 60mm F2.8 Macro which is an excellent lens. So why a 30mm Macro?

A 30mm macro lens is different than a 60mm macro lens. 30mm provides much wider field of view, allowing wider perspective to be captured while going in close to the subject, resulting in different and sometimes more interesting composition options. If you are getting the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, you would probably be using that macro lens for very specific macro shooting purposes, or for tight, medium tele-photo coverage type of photography, eg portraits or a stage performance. On the other hand a wider 30mm perspective is much easier to use for day to day, walkaround shooting conditions. It is smaller, more compact, easier to carry around and works just fine as a one lens do it all, capturing a wide range of scenes, food, people, street, tight landscape, you name it. The 30mm as a general, everyday lens is more versatile than the longer 60mm lens. I am not saying which lens works better, I also acknowledge that the longer 60mm macro lens will provide significantly better working distance for shooting insect macro. However, the truth is, not everyone buys a macro lens to shoot insects. 

Let's look at some highlights of the Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro Lens features

1) Maximum of 2.5x real life magnification (equivalent in 35mm format)
The older M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens can do 2x magnification in equivalent 35mm format. This new 30mm F3.5 Macro can do 2.5x magnification. While 2.5x vs 2x may not seem a lot, but in terms of magnification for macro photographers, we do appreciate as much magnification as we can get, and that extra 0.5x magnification is a huge welcome. 

2) Superb Optical Performance
The 30mm F3.5 Macro lens is slotted into the Premium range of M.Zuiko lens line-up, which is the same category as 45mm F1.8, 25mm F1.8, and of course the macro lens 60mm F2.8. I am expecting the sharpness and technical control of this lens to be very good. This 30mm F3.5 Macro lens is constructed from 9 elements in 7 groups, including the Dual Super Aspherical lens, Extra Low Dispersion lens, and Aspherial lens. 

3) Minimum Focusing Distance of 95mm
The actual working distance between lens and subject is about 14mm, which is too close for shooting insect macro. However, the super close up shooting distance allows for maximum of 2.5x magnification. 

4) 20-30% Faster AF than M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens
When shooting macro, I usually use manual focus since for extreme magnification shots there usually is hunting, so any improvement in the AF capability is good to have. 

5) Compact, small form factor
This lens weighs only 128g! The front diameter is 46mm and it is about 60mm long. 

For full specifications please go to the official product page here


So how big is the 2.5x magnification capable of?

Unfortunately the M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens did not have the magnification indicator built in. Therefore there was no way for me to tell what magnification to set for this comparison purpose I was doing with Mr Deadpool. I had to use the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens for the equivalent magnification of 0.5x, 1x and 2x examples as shown below. Only the full 2.5x magnification was done with the 30mm F3.5 in the comparison, since this can be achieved by fixing the closest focusing distance. 

60mm F2.8 Macro lens at 0.5x equivalent magnification. 

60mm F2.8 Macro at 1x equivalent magnification

60mm F2.8 Macro at 2x equivalent magnification

30mm F3.5 Macro at 2.5x equivalent magnification

Isn't Deadpool just gorgeous?

During the course of my tests in real life shooting, especially for insect macro photography, I only managed to successfully shoot one full 2.5x equivalent magnification image! It was not easy sticking the lens about 14mm away from the subjects. Everything flies away at that distance. Is this lens bad for insect macro? Not really, you still can get about 1x magnification to 1.5x magnification easily with comfortable enough working distance, but going in to 2x to 2.5x magnification might not be feasible. 

I know the biggest question that everyone is asking: how sharp is this macro lens? Is it as good as the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens?

The subsequent shots were taken with either E-M1 or E-M10 Mark II. I will specify which camera used in the captions. External flash was fire wirelessly, and for my insect macro shooting methodology please do read my blog write up here (click). 

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F13, 1/125sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash used
This is my only full 2.5x magnification shot. Everything else flew away before I got in too close. 
Flash execution was also very bad, with plenty of unwanted highlights. I need to design a new macro lighting technique for this lens, as I needed the light to go a lot nearer to the lens. 

This is not 100% crop. Just a tighter crop. The 100% crop was not that sharp, due to excessive hand-shake. Yeap, I screwed up my shot. Not the first time. 

OM-D E-M1
F8, 1/160sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash Fired


OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F8, 1/100sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash Fired

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M1
F8, 1/160sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash Fired

OM-D E-M1
F9, 1/250sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash Fired
Ok I admit, I cropped this shot, like a lot. I could not get near to this Ant Mimic Spider. It was so cute I just wanted to show the photo here. The original photograph was also severely underexposed hence I pushed up the shadows, resulting in grainy background. But that Spider is sooooooo cute!

OM-D E-M1
F8, 1/160sec, ISO200, Wireless Flash Fired
This is an actual ant. 

OM-D E-M1
F8, 1/200sec, ISO200
For shots like this, which is not full 2.5x magnification, it is quite easy to shoot. I do not know what magnification than this, but I'd think it is more than 1x magnification. 

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F6.3, 1/60, ISO320

LENS SHARPNESS

The Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens has excellent sharpness, as evidently shown in the crops of actual photographs. The lens is capable of resolving plenty of fine details, shooting even at extreme magnification ratios. I personally find that the level of sharpness is very close to the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, though I do think that the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens may be a tad sharper, but even pixel peeping closely the difference is not easy to tell apart, The level of sharpness is sufficient for any serious macro photography work, and if you are adamant in squeezing as much details out of your shot as possible, this is the right lens for the job. 

OVERALL LENS IMAGE QUALITY

The rendering of this 30mm F3.5 macro lens is quite similar to the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens. However, being a macro lens, the image look and feel is somewhat flatter than what we can obtain from the other non macro prime lenses, such as 25nn F1.8 or 45mm F1.8. I am referring to the depth and 3-D look of the images, though for macro lens, it is designed to be technically excellent, hence the flatter characteristics which is not necessarily a bad thing. This is also due to the reason that a F3.5, the lens may not be able to create shallow enough depth of field. 

In my insect macro shots, it is difficult to spot any chromatic aberration if any since I was stopping down my images to F8 or narrower. I did bring this 30mm F3.5 macro lens for a quick street shooting session, and shooting wide open at F3.5 generally yields no chromatic aberration, which I believe is in part due to the aggressive in camera JPEG processing to correct any chromatic aberration if any. When it comes to areas with difficult and confusing patterns, the camera fails to correct the purple fringing, as shown in one of the image samples (far below, of a pedestrain bridge). However the presence of the purple fringing was rare, and if there was any observed, it should not be difficult to correct in post-processing. Alternatively, you can stop down to F4.5 or F5.6, and there is no trace of chromatic aberration observed. 

Bokeh quality was very good. The background transition/rolloff was very smooth, and I did not observe any harshness, even shooting at F5.6. The F3.5 on a macro lens is sufficient to create shallow enough depth of field for subject isolation in macro shooting conditions as you get close to the subjects, and the bokeh is actually looking quite similar in quality with any of the current Olympus prime lenses. 

Being a macro lens, there is completely no noticeable corner softness, or barrel distortion, even shooting at wide open F3.5. I did not test the flare resistance, because, you know, how often do you point a macro lens against the sun? 

Besides testing the lens by shooting insect macro with flash, I have also shot a series of insect macro photographs without flash. For the following series of insect macro photographs, I shot only with available light, mostly with Aperture Priority, and varying ISO was used in correspondence to the intensity of the ambient light. I could not use tripod on location (tripods are prohibited in KL Butterfly Park) hence I needed to rely on the in camera 5-Axis Image Stabilization to steady my shots. The many cups of flat whites I have been consuming did not help in this situation at all. No, I am not going to give up on my flat whites. Coffee is something I can never live without. 

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F5.6, 1/80sec, ISO320, No flash used
This is a good example of wide angle macro. I could not do this with the 60mm macro shot. Suddenly, a butterfly decided to land on my stomach (thankfully I have lost some weight). It was drinking my...... sweat! The 30mm was just wide enough to shoot this, and you can see my feet a the top left of the frame. I was wearing orange sandals. That one butterfly was tagging me along for another 30 minutes! Was my sweat that delicious?

OM-D E-M1
Some depth of field comparisons, and also bokeh quality. 
Top left: F3.5, Top right: F4.5, Botton left: F5.6, Bottom right: F8

OM-D E-M1
F4.5, F6.3, ISO320, No Flash Fired
Same damselflies having sex as the previous one taken with flash, so I decided to shoot one without flash. 

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M1
F3.5, 1/60sec, ISO200, No Flash Fired

OM-D E-M1
F6.3, 1/80sec, ISO400, No Flash Fired

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M1
F4.5, 1/100sec, ISO200, No Flash Fired

OM-D E-M1
F6.3, 1/80sec, ISO400, No Flash Fired

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F5.6, 1/80sec, ISO500 

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F3.5, 1/250sec, ISO320

LENS HANDLING

The lens is so small and light, that I thought I was shooting with their the 25mm F1,8 or 45mm F1.8 lens! There really is nothing much to write about the lens handling, it felt comfortable in hand, and  am sure it will fit nicely into smaller cameras like Panasonic GM1 or any of the Olympus PEN Lite series (eg, E-PL7, or E-PL8). I chose E-M1 and E-M10 Mark II, because I needed the beefier hand grip for my one hand holding camera/lens and another hand holding flash shooting technique (you can read my extreme magnification insect shooting methodology here), I did not come into any issue throughout my shooting session with the macro lens. 

AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE
If there was a surprise that I have found about this lens, is the autofocus performance. 

Olympus claimed that there is a 20-30% improvement in focusing speed in comparison to the 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, which I think is a vague number. I did find the AF to be VERY reliable. 

I rarely use Autofocus in my insect macro shooting shots, usually I would set my magnification to a certain level (say, 1x magnification) and then I see through the viewfinder, moving myself (the camera and lens of course) closer and closer to the subject until I see it being clear on my viewfinder. Then I will rock myself slightly back and forth until the best sharpness is seen and I hit the shutter button immediately. 

I tried the AF on the 30mm F3.5 Macro and I got high success rates! I did miss a few shots, after all even if you have moved about 1mm away from the subject after the focus lock by half-press of the shutter button, you will still get an out of focus shot, it is that crucial. But overall, the AF was more confident, and locks on easier. Shooting experience did improve marginally just because of the much more usable AF capability of the lens. 

VERSATILITY OF 30MM PERSPECTIVE

Considering the 30mm perspective, which is not far from 25mm that I normally use, I thought why not I bring this 30mm F3.5 lens out to shoot other subjects other than just macro? 30mm is quite a usable, versatile focal length for general shooting situations. I walked around some KL streets and shot anything that caught my attention.

Did I miss the F1.8 wide open aperture on 25mm F1.8 or 45mm F1.8? I sure do, but hey, not everything needs to be shot with shallow depth of field.

OM-D E-M1
F8, 1/50sec, ISO200
Someone in some photography forum commented that I always have thick eyebrows in my eye crops. I never even realized that, then I thought hey maybe I should crop something else without eyebrows. You know, so that people do not get creeped out so much. 
You know, maybe shooting mannequins. And shooting mannequins in indoor shopping malls, with full air-conditioning, I can escape the cruel grilling Malaysian sun. 

Here, my non-eyebrow crop. Synthetic orange hair works too right?

OM-D E-M1 
F3.5, 1/125sec, ISO200
Expressionless face works too. Do you know how much work it is to walk around and ask permission to shoot close up portraits? From now on maybe I will just show expressionless faces. 

OM-D E-M1
F5.6, 1/160sec, ISO200
Ok ok, what was I talking about.  I was just kidding of course. Shooting portraits of strangers is so fun! Especially people along KL streets are usually friendly and cheerful. 
To whoever commented on the eyebrow, do keep those comments coming. Yes I do read and try to follow the discussion about my blog elsewhere, and I sincerely thank all of you who defended me when my integrity and review validity were questioned. You all make my time and effort here worthwhile. 

OM-D E-M1
F3.5, 1/100sec, ISO200
Here comes the.....

EYEBROW!!!!

OM-D E-M1
F5.6, 1/1000sec, ISO200
There have been many shots with vertical and horizontal lines in them and none of them exhibited any sort of distortion. As expected from macro lens, distortion should be well controlled. 

OM-D E-M1
F3.5, 1/30sec, ISO200
Here is the sample on the pedestrian bridge, shot at wide open F3.5 showing purple fringing in complex patterned area of the photograph. 

Do bear in mind that this is one rare photograph that shows such heavy purple fringing, which was not observed in other shots. This led me to believe that a huge part of the absence of chromatic aberration was due to software in camera correction. 

OM-D E-M1
F4.5, 1/320, ISO1000
I accidentally shot this at ISO1000. Yes I do screw up my shots. This was a sign I need a coffee break soon. Before more screw ups happen. 

OM-D E-M1
F5.6, 1/250sec, ISO200
Autofocus was super fast, like all other M.Zuiko lenses, and for non macro shooting, response was almost instantaneous. 

OM-D E-M1
F3.5, 1/250sec, ISO200

OM-D E-M1
F5.6, 1/60sec, ISO200


For your own pixel-peeping pleasure, as usual I am providing full resolution image samples. 

You may download the full resolution image samples of


I have enjoyed myself tremendously shooting with the M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens!

What I like about the 30mm F3.5 Macro lens:
1) Excellent sharpness, with very good technical lens flaw control
2) Improved AF performance, especially for close up shooting, increasing macro hit rates and better overall shooting experience
3) Versatile perspective for general shooting purposes, not just macro
4) Small, light and compact form factor

What I dislike:
1) Noticeable traces of chromatic aberration in some shots (complex scenes)
2) Not the best lens for extreme close up insect photography

I think the M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens is a great addition to the Olympus M.Zuiko line up. The lens has high level of sharpness, good contrast, can produce a maximum of 2.5x magnification which is incredible, has improved and reliable Autofocus performance, yet is versatile to be used for general purpose non-macro shooting. The lightweight and compact form factor of the 30mm F3.5 macro lens matches any Micro Four Thirds camera body perfectly, and if you have this lens, it is an easy to bring everywhere lens. The only downside, is the need to go too close to the subject to achieve high magnification, and this is surely not ideal for insect macro if you want to get full 2.5x magnification shots. Olympus 60mm F2.8 Macro is more ideal for that purpose. Nonetheless, the lower price point and the overall more versatile perspective makes this a good choice for those who may treasure the importance of having close up shooting capability over F1.8 shallow depth of field rendering on 45mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 prime lenses. More options is always better for us!

OM-D E-M1
F3.5, 1/20sec, ISO200

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F5.6, 1/60sec, ISO1600

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M1
F6.3, 1/160sec, ISO400, Bounced Flash used
Curry + Rendang Spaghetti. 

OM-D E-M1
F7.1, 1/160sec, ISO640, Bounced Flash Used
This dessert dish is called, Better Than Sex. I am not kidding.  

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F7.1, 1/25sec, ISO500

OM-D E-M1
F5.6, 1/25sec, ISO200

Crop from previous image

OM-D E-M10 Mark II
F6.3, 1/100sec, ISO500

OM-D E-M1
F8, 5sec, ISO200


I hope you have found my review and photograph samples of the new Olympus M.Zuiko 30mm F3.5 Macro lens useful! Do not hesitate to ask if there is any question.

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