In the series of “lenses I have been using for a while but haven’t reviewed yet” comes another gem that has always found a place in my daily work bag. The M.Zuiko 75mm is a telephoto prime lens with a fast aperture of 1.8. It is also ranked as one of the best Micro Four Thirds primes ever, and rightfully so.
I first tried the 75mm when I reviewed the OM-D E-M1 in 2013. For my work, I was using the Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 (review here) and at the time I thought that it was the more versatile of the two. Then at the beginning of 2014, I decided that I wanted a telephoto alternative with a faster aperture. I was satisfied with the Panasonic zoom but I also wanted something that could give me more light for my event work with the OM-D E-M1.
I didn’t expect that the 75mm would rapidly substitute the Panasonic zoom lens for most of my work.
M.Zuiko 75mm ED f/1.8 Specs
- Focal length: 75mm
- Focal length (equiv. 35mm): 150mm
- Maximum aperture: 1.8
- Minimum aperture: 22
- Number of aperture blades: 9 circular aperture diaphragm
- Angle of view: 16°
- Closest focusing distance: 84cm
- Lens configuration: 10 elements / 9 groups
- Special elements: 3 ED, 2 HR elements
- Lens surface coating: Yes (ZERO Coating)
- Maximum image magnification: 0.1x (MFT) / 0.2x (35mm)
- Optical Image Stabilizer: None
- Dimensions: 64mm Ø, 69 mm
- Filter diamater: 58mm
- Weight: 305g
Design and ease of use
The 75mm has a premium build with an all-metal surface. It is light but its best characteristics are its compactness and portability. It comes with either a silver or black finish. Unfortunately it is not weather sealed, although this has never been a problem for me. Another negative point is that the LH-61F metal hood is not supplied with the lens and thus needs to be purchased separately, which is a shame as the 75mm is labelled as a premium lens. The original hood is very solid – the connection mechanism is easy to use and you can also reverse it when you put the lens away. I can thoroughly recommend it but it isn’t cheap. A good alternrative is also the JJC LH-J61F (thank you Fred for reminding me in the comments). It is also made of metal but comes at a cheaper price. I own a metal hood by JJC for my Fujifilm X100T and it is excellent.
The only ring you will find on the lens is the focus ring which is of course “fly by wire.” It is pleasant to use and very smooth. Out of the various electronic rings I’ve tried on many lenses, this is certainly one of my favourite for Micro Four Thirds. That said, I admit that I rarely focus manually with it.
The lens’ autofocus is really fast thanks to the MSC motor. It is also very silent. I used it on several occasion for dance shows and at sports event and the autofocus has always been fast and reliable. However there isn’t any optical stabilisation which means that it is more limited on Lumix cameras that lack sensor stabilisation. (The GX7 and GX8 are the only Lumix models with IBIS.)
Through the lens: optical quality
You know that the quality of a lens is good when you look back at your photos on the computer and realise that you use it not only for the main purpose for which it was conceived (in this case, portraiture), but also for various other situations and genres. Even though a fixed focal length might not always be appropriate, you tend to use it because you know that it delivers in terms of optical quality. This is certainly the main reason I gradually began to use it more than the Lumix telephoto. What’s more, its small size means that I can easily fit it inside any bag I use.
75mm for portraits
This is certainly one of the genres that suits this lens the best, but the focal length might not satisfy everyone. 75mm gives you an equivalent focal length of 150mm on 35mm format which is longer than the usual portrait focal length (85 or 105). It works very well in large spaces but if you are in a small studio or restricted environment, you might have more trouble creating enough distance between you and your subject unless you are doing head shots. This is a valid point, especially if you are considering this lens as your only portrait lens.
That said, in terms of sharpness wide open and bokeh rendering, the 75mm delivers great results. I’ve never found relevant traces of vignetting. There is some chromatic aberration in extremely contrasty areas (like the fourth picture below – look at the camera Heather is wearing). I’ve almost always found the sharpness at 1.8 sufficient. Of course the best sharpness will occur at f/2.8. To me the only rival when it comes to portraits is the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 but it has a different aperture and focal length. But before the Nocticron, this lens was the best option for portraits and is still a relevant choice if you can cope with the longer focal length.
75mm for events
I decided to use this lens more than the Lumix 35-100mm mainly to have that extra shallow depth of field. When working at events, the background behind the people you photograph is not always pleasant or particularly interesting. Having the chance to blur it more allowed me to keep my subject at the centre of attention. Of course with the Lumix lens I could have zoomed in at 100mm, but being an f/2.8 vs f/1.8 on a Micro Four Thirds sensor, I simply find the M.Zuiko 75mm more attractive.
At first, I thought that having a single focal length would create problems but the more I used it, the more I realised it was just a matter of moving around and finding the right spot to create my composition. Of course it is not always possible to be positioned exactly where you want to be, so a prime lens can also have its limits. But when you have the freedom to move around, it will certainly deliver better results than a zoom.
75mm for shows
Given its excellent results at f/1.8, I’ve also found this lens useful for artistic shows like contemporary dance or music concerts. Now here the choice can be more critical, which is why I wouldn’t advise that you bring just the 75mm. The focal length you choose really depends on where the photographer can stand. In my case, I often have the chance to be positioned close to the stage, so I can switch between a wide angle lens and the 75mm for close-ups. The 1.8 aperture is a great asset since these shows are often poorly lit. It allows me to keep my ISO values as low as possible, usually no more than 3200 ISO. As mentioned already, the AF of the E-M1 (and also the E-M5 II) is very responsive, so I don’t have any difficulty taking these shots. Also, except for some minor purple flares that can occur around a strong light source, this lens has excellent flare resistance.
75mm for landscapes
I really like landscape shots taken with a telephoto lens. The M.Zuiko 75mm already has excellent sharpness at f/1.8 but it gets even better when stopped down. The sweet spot is around f/4 and f/5.6 but it remains very sharp up to f/11. After that, some diffraction will start to appear. The best sharpness is found at the centre but I find the performance at the corners excellent too and that’s why I like to use it for landscape work. (Since a zoom lens will give you more precision in framing your image, the Lumix 35-100 is also a valid option for telephoto landscape photography, also because you don’t really need the fast 1.8 aperture.)
Often images and extensive user experience have more value than lab tests or out-of-context pictures taken just to find some weaknesses that may or may not matter. The M.Zuiko 75mm is a lens I haven’t regretted purchasing. In fact, I’ve used more than I originally thought I would. It is not just the optical quality, which is obviously superb, but also its compact size that made me choose it over other similar telephoto lenses. I have said this many times, but I’ll say it once again: this is what I love about Micro Four Thirds. This kind of quality in such a small package isn’t something to be underestimated.
Just bear in mind that a 75mm fixed focal length is not always easy to use. You can sometimes find yourself too close or not close enough to the action. Also, it doesn’t come with optical stabilisation, which can be a disadvantage for Panasonic Lumix users.
What I like about the M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8:
- Good sharpness wide open, excellent when stopped down
- Small and compact prime lens with a premium feel
- Fast and silent autofocus motor
What I don’t like about the M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8:
- Hood not included with the lens
- Not weather sealed
- No optical stabilisation which can be problematic for Lumix users without a stabilised body