5 frames with...

5 Frames with an Olympus Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 – by Thomas Risberg

November 15, 2018

I’ve been taking pictures for close to 50 years now. I started seriously shooting with a Pentax Spotmatic and soon moved to a Leica M2 that I bought as a demo unit from a small camera shop while traveling in the Austrian Alps. Unfortunately as much as I enjoy buying cameras I also tend to sell them to fund new purchases, so the Pentax and Leica M2 are long gone.

A few years ago I started experimenting with a Sony A7 and some adapted lenses. Looking for some creamy out-of-focus areas, I looked for a fast standard lens. Since I already had some Olympus gear I ended up getting a used Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 lens. I really liked the creamy rendering wide open, the lens definitely produces some nice “Zuiko glow”.

However, I couldn’t get used to the EVF of the Sony camera and the adapter pushed the lens out so far that the camera became very front heavy. I sold the A7 and added an Olympus OM-4T instead. I took the OM-4T and the Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 for a spin around the town of Exeter, New Hampshire with some Kodak Ektar 100 loaded in the camera. It was nice late autumn day with soft light from the overcast sky. Wandering around town and taking pictures of the shops and the old historic houses I gave the lens a workout. All shots are taken with the lens wide open and show some nice glow.

I really liked the results. The lens is reasonably sharp wide open with a very dreamy glow look due to what I assume are residual spherical and chromatic aberrations. Stopped down to f/2 it gets much less “glowy” and sharpness improves notably. The Zuiko 50mm f/1.2 that replaced the 55mm lens is a bit smaller and supposed to be sharper wide open, although I have not tried this lens yet.

I’m not really sure that I will stick to this shooting style, the blurry “bokeh” shots seems too be a bit overdone these days and I personally never quite got the importance of the out-of-focus areas. I tend to look for more depth of field and overall more even sharpness across the image. But for some types of photos like up-close head shots etc. I can see the value of a nice out-of-focus background, but that to me is a secondary concern. Having said this, I did like the results I got with the Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 and I still have it after 3 years, so it seems to be a keeper.

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  • Reply
    Robert Pugh
    November 15, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    i also have the Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 lens, love the lens and also use it on an adapter on my Sony.

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:12 pm

      Hi Robert, I still have the OM adapter for the Sony so some day I might try one again. I wish I could get used to shooting with the EVF.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    November 15, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Hi Tom,
    Hello from a fellow New Englander (CT.) I really like the shot of the home with the American flag pendant. It’s New England without being a cliché.
    I’m seriously considering the new Nokton 40mm f/1.2 for my M2. Your article and images are helping me make a decision whether buy it after the first of the year.
    I also follow your habit of buying & selling. The amateur’s currency.

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks Danial, I look at that Nokton every now and then as well. Now there is also the 50mm 1.2 available which fits the frame lines better for the M cameras. I must resist.

  • Reply
    Louis A. Sousa
    November 15, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Depth of field is quite narrow. Looks like you missed the mark a bit on the focus but the images where you hit the mark are great. Keep on keepin’ on….

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      Hi Louis, the depth of field is indeed very narrow. All pictures are shot wide open and it seems the closeup shots are a bit softer than more distant scenes.

  • Reply
    david hill
    November 15, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Lovely results. I’m just gonna mention this because I learned it the very hard way: Don’t bring your OM-4T out in snow nor rain nor cold wet mornings. These are not weatherproof in any way, and condensation in the electronics is a road to failure. I used mine hard in all kinds of weather, and paid the price. There are no replacement parts, no service options, once the circuit board dies. Just sayin’.

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks David, I’ll keep that in mind. I have an OM-2n and also an OM-2s as backups, just in case. The beauty with the OM cameras is that you can still find them for reasonable prices should something go wrong.

    • Reply
      November 19, 2018 at 10:47 am

      Thanks for this. I have wondered about whether or not there is a price, related to size and weight advantages presented by the OM cameras and lenses, that is manifest in reliability of these fun little OM cameras and lenses. Earlier this year I purchased an OM2 and had great difficulty in finding lenses that did not suffer from some sort of severe mechanical failure related to aperture or focus function. I mean, it is not like I have not experienced problems with other ancient glass and cameras, but with the OM stuff it seemed much more prevalent. When things work properly it is hard to imagine a more convenient and fun system; but…………..

  • Reply
    November 16, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Thomas, nice job showing the characteristics of your 1.2 lens. I think the scene with the flag worked really well! What is fascinating to me is how much your 1.2 lens images like my 1949-vintage Leitz Summitar 50mm f/2.0 lens when I use it at f/2.0. The Summitar creates the same dreamy, slightly soft overall view with a reasonably crisp center. My Summitar probably has more field curvature, which can be effective for many scenes. And by f/4.0, most aberrations are gone, and it looks like many modern lenses, although a bit lower contrast. Cheers and keep using film.

    Summitar in Nepal: https://worldofdecay.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-country-fair-gambling-food-drinking.html

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Yes, vintage lenses are fun and add another dimension to your photography. Nice work from Nepal.

  • Reply
    Aykut Karaca
    November 17, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    I love zuiko lenses. I did the same. I havent sold my leica but I bought OM4 and 35mm f2. I loved it. It has a very smooth bokeh and it is great on B&W. I should say although 55mm looks great, I didn’t like the bokeh. I still would prefer 50mm f1.2 ltm over this. I suggest you to try the legendary zuiko 50 f1.4. it is also cheaper.

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Aykut, I had the 35mm f2 years ago and I liked it, these days I have the 28mm f2 and that’s another lovely Zuiko lens. The 50mm f1.4 would be a lighter and less expensive option although this time I wanted to try an f1.2 lens just to see how it rendered wide open.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    I particularly like the last frame. It is hard to imagine the scene could have been rendered more perfectly. I suppose the lens is like most others: each has a specific environments in which it excels. Thanks for the write-up.



    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      November 18, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks Wayne, agree that many lenses excel under specific conditions, especially the large aperture designs.

  • Reply
    January 2, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Very Jelly. I have a collection of most of the Zuiko lenses, but I’m not up for paying the price that these 1.2’s go for now. I have an eBay daily search still active, and I’m keeping an eye open at every camera fair and swap meet I go to. You never know, I might get lucky.

    Until then, I’m mostly using my 40 f/2 pancake on my OM-1 — which in itself is a fantastic lens. In fact, all of the f2 zuiko primes are wonderful lenses

    • Reply
      Thomas Risberg
      January 5, 2019 at 2:03 am

      Yeah, most of the Zuikos are really nice. I would trade my 55mm f1.2 for your 40mm any day. I used to have one but sold it many years ago. I would love to shoot with it again.


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