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Just a little bit closer

What’s your definition of a good neighbour? Someone who is always available to lend you a cup of sugar? Someone to keep watch over your property when you are away? Someone who doesn’t party ’till 0300 with what sounds like a herd of nympho elephants on crack? My definition is someone who regularly buys new camera equipment and then immediately lends it to me to play with. Which is why Nik is such an excellent neighbour.

Yesterday, Nik came home with one of these:

Photo from ePhotozine

It’s the Olympus ZD 60mm f2.8 macro lens and it’s really rather lovely.

Until this lens came along, your only choice for a native Micro Four Thirds macro lens was the Panasonic Leica 45mm. It’s good, but but it’s expensive, and both Nik and I had gone with a cheaper legacy lens option, the Yashica 55mm; bolted onto our cameras via an adapter.

But along came the Olympus, lighter in weight and just two thirds of the price of the Panasonic offering; and Nik indulged. Then he handed it over to me.

First surprise is that it is so light, and much smaller than I expected (a phrase I have sadly heard before). It’s of plastic construction, but it feels more solid than, say, the Olympus 45mm and the overall impression is of a well-constructed lens. It’s “splash proof” too, although I decided it might be wise not to test out that aspect. Sadly there is no hood; it now seems to be standard Olympus practice to make this necessity a costly extra. Bastards.

To give a further idea of size, here it is with the Olympus 75mm and the Yashica 55mm macro:

On the top of the lens there is a distance scale which tells you how far away you have focused from the subject. And on the left of the lens can be found a dial for setting the focus range.

Macro lenses can focus from infinity to very close indeed; and if you want the auto focus system to perform in a snappy manner, then it is good to provide a bit of assistance. This lens solves that problem with the focus range switch. If you are doing some general shooting and not getting too close; set the range 0.4metre to infinity. Slightly confused this morning and not sure what the hell you want to shoot? Go for the 0.19 metre to infinity setting, but expect the auto-focus to take a little longer. Getting up close and personal? 0.19 to 0.4 metre is what you need. And that 1:1 setting? We’ll come to that.

For my brief test I headed out to the new cactus display area at Nong Nuch Tropical Gardens. The cactus display has many things to photograph, if you can fight your way past the hordes of Russian tourists taking it in turn to sit on a cactus and get spikes in their bum.

Wisdom dictates that you manual focus a macro lens. Being so close to your subject means that the depth of field is minimal and you really need to precisely set the focus point. In addition, you would ideally use a tripod so you can increase the F stop to maximise depth of field, which in turn would mean a very slow shutter speed. In the past, manual focusing was the only option I had anyway, because I was using the Yashica lens with an adapter. But here I was with this lovely little Olympus that seemed, like most M43 lenses, to focus quickly and precisely; so I decided to give auto focus a whirl, and every shot below, with the exception of one, was shot hand-held using auto-focus.

I set the GX1 focus box as small as possible and tried to focus on a small strand on a weird cactus. No problem:

So off I went gathering a few more shots.


I really liked the freedom of using auto-focus, and switching between close and not so close subjects. Image quality seemed excellent, even wide open; and I could feel myself falling dangerously in love (again).

Finishing up and I spotted a thumbnail sized butterfly sitting on a cactus; inconveniently sited among other cacti. Much to the amusement of the assembled Russians, I crouched at an awkward angle and tried to snap him (/her? How do you sex a butterfly?).

Shame about the broken wing; but happy with the shot as a hand-held, auto-focus, crouched over cactus effort.

I wanted to see how close I could get, and that’s where the 1:1 switch came into play. The lens offers 1:1 magnification, meaning that the image size on the sensor is the same as that in real life. This is only achieved when the lens is focused as close to the subject as possible. So if you want to maximise magnification, you flick the 1:1 switch and that moves the focus to the most extreme (closest) position. At this point, depth of field is tiny and you really should be using a tripod. But I had no space because some dick had filled the ground with cacti; so I set the focus on manual, flicked the 1:1 switch, and then moved the lens towards the butterfly until it came into focus.

With a tiny depth of field and unsteady hands, I failed to focus on the eyes, but this gives an idea of how close you can get, and the lines up the wings show the very small focus depth:

Seemed to me that the Olympus provided more magnification that the Yashica, but back home to confirm. The target was a small flower, the size of which is illustrated by a baht coin held in my slightly grubby fingers:

This is as close as the Yashica could manage:

And this is the Olympus:

The Olympus wins; hurrah!

While taking these shots I had a chance to play with the manual focus ring, and it has a lovely smooth action with many, many turns from infinity to close up, allowing for very precise focusing; although all the turns prompted me to auto focus first and then zoom in and refine manually.

I spent a little over half an hour in the cactus garden, hardly long enough to really give the lens a work out (and much of that time was spent being annoyed by Russians; and some of the time receiving a call from Grant, announcing his arrival in this fair land. I fear beers may follow). But from the brief time I spent with it, it seems to be a total delight.

It’s carefully designed to be both a macro lens and a general shooter, the image quality and bokeh appear excellent, and it lightweight construction and small size make it an easy and pleasant companion for whatever body you might care to stick it on.

If you want some proper reviews written by real photographers, I recommend the macro features review by Robin Wong here, and his general shooting review here. If you want a more technical review, together with some rather stunning watch shots, go here.

As for me, I’m convinced. Anyone want to buy a Yashica?

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. It’s a nice lens, obviously. But one intrinsic problem with a smaller sensor and macro is getting enough DOF. By the time you stop down, diffraction softens things up. Whereas I am kinda used to using f/18 for 1:1 shots. That highlights the second problem of macro — light. One really needs a ring light or suitably positionable dedicated macro bulb. Then one can get more of the subject in focus.

    But your photos are nice as always despite the limitations. Another lens I want but can’t have!

    1. On the other hand, a smaller sensor gives you more depth of field, so maybe it balances out a little? I used to use a macro at F/1000000 on a Canon with a ring flash and the DOF was still hopeless. The only solution is to catch the insects, murder them softly, super glue them to a twig and then use focus stitching. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but I always use environmentally sensitive super glue.

  2. If you’re trying to sex butterflies you’ve been in Thailand too long…
    Well herded cacti though, glad you didn’t include the wobbly shot when your phone rang.
    Spanky will buy your Yashica on Tuesday night. We’ll get him in that brief period between acquiescence and unconsciousness and whip him over to an ATM, job done.
    Anything else you want to sell? Could be on a roll here…

  3. “On the other hand, a smaller sensor gives you more depth of field, so maybe it balances out a little?”

    Arg, no, Spike. I hate to see this disinformation repeated. A smaller sensor does not give “more” of anything, no more reach, no more DOF. Consider: you can accomplish exactly the same as a small sensor by taking a piece out a larger sensor. (This assumes equal quality sensors, identical processing, same pixel density, etc. as we must for fair comparison.)

    Want more reach? Crop your full-frame photo and you have exactly the same photo. What a smaller sensor restricts is how wide you can go without resorting to a distorted field. And how deep you can go without diffraction softening things up.

    Though I also have a medium format film, 35mm, and APS-C, I working almost exclusively with MFT… it is the sweet spot for me! But there are some things it is not ideal for.

    (I won’t bang on about this, trust me!)

    1. You are of course correct. What I meant to say of course is that an 60mm (120 equivalent) M43 lens will have a greater depth of field than a 120mm lens on a full frame camera.

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