A Quick Review of the Olympus 50MM F1.8

Kate in the Kitchen, OM-1, 50mm F1.8, Delta 400 @ 800, Xtol
Kate in the Kitchen, OM-1, 50mm F1.8, Delta 400 @ 800, Xtol

I’m thoroughly impressed by this cheapie little lens. You can often pick up bargrain grade copies of the Olympus 50MM F1.8 for $15-30; I got mine with an OM-1 for something like $60. Here’s what you get for the cost of a couple of pints of Dragon’s Milk at the Blind Pig.

  • Build Quality: Typical pre-af major manufacturer build quality. In other words, this thing is rock solid.
  • Size: Like many OM lenses, the 50 f1.8 is pretty tiny, although in this case it’s only a touch smaller than a comparable normal lens from the competition. I already manage to get my finger in front of the element fairly often, so I wouldn’t want anything smaller.
  • Ergonomics: Despite being 30 years old at this point, my copy has smoothly damped focus and positive detents for the aperture.
  • Distortion: There’s a tiny bit of barrel distortion, but nothing else is too glaring.
  • Sharpness: Even up close (under 3 feet is close for an RF user) and wide open, there’s more resolution than you need for hand-held shooting. When I first got this lens I took a few frames of a book page while playing around with that whole “you can focus closer than arm’s reach with an SLR” thing. The 10 point type was clear, so I figure it must be pretty sharp.
  • Flare: Flare really doesn’t seem to be a problem for this lens. Mine is about as full of dust and crud as you would expect from an abused thirty year old, but it can still shoot into the light with little problem. See here for some examples.
  • Bokeh: Bokeh from this lens is smooth and pleasant. Point light sources come out fairly lopsided, so there’s definitely some under-corrected spherical aberrations.
  • Tonality: Shadows are bit dark with this lens particularly in OOF regions. Other than that, the tonality is smoooooooooth.
  • Subjective Image Quality: Apart from the slightly crunched up shadows, this lens has got a great look. It’s a fairly literal lens, but unlike a lot of its contemporaries it doesn’t seem to have been designed for absolutely maximum sharpness and contrast. It’s far more imaginative than something like the Nikon 50 F1.4 AIS, which is a nasty little lens despite its technical abilities.

To see some samples, type OM-1 into the search box or click here.