The F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 was the first manual focus lens I ever bought, and it is something of a classic.
Versatile, not too expensive and with good image quality, it’s an investment I’m glad I made.
Come see why in this review.
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I’m going to start this review of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 with a simple statement.
In short, I believe it’s a fantastic vintage lens for people looking to get into the hobby.
And in this review, I’ll explain why that is.
The F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 was the first vintage lens I ever bought, and I picked it up based on a few different factors.
Price, size, and the reputedly good image quality were the main ones, and I’ll expand on those later as we look at:
- the history of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
- the size and adapter needed for this lens
- using the 38mm F.Zuiko on a digital camera
- the image quality you can expect
- shooting street photography with the F.Zuiko
- the strange extra numbers on the aperture ring
- why you should or shouldn’t buy this lens
For now though, as is customary, we’ll start at the beginning.
History of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
The F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 comes from a range of old Olympus cameras which were produced between 1963 to 1972.
The PEN F is the best-known of the range, but PEN FT and PEN FV models were also made.
The name and styling of the cameras is the inspiration behind the range of Olympus PEN digital m4/3 cameras available today.
The old PEN F/FT/FV were half frame cameras, which meant they got twice the number of pictures from a traditional roll of film.
This in turn meant the cameras – and their lenses – were really rather small.
As a quick camera history lesson, that’s all very interesting
However, the thing that interested me the most when I was looking to buy a vintage lens was this:
The lenses were really rather small.
The size and adapter of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
If you have a mirrorless camera like the Sony NEX I use, its compact size was probably a factor in deciding to buy it.
I know it was for me.
So for mirrorless camera owners who want to maintain a small set-up, the small size of the 38mm F.Zuiko is a great selling point.
There is still the question of the adapter though, which for other lenses can almost double the actual length of what is actually attached to the camera.
Briefly, this is because of the distance required between the lens and the sensor.
As mirrorless camera bodies are so small, there’s no space to have the sensor very far from the lens.
When retro-fitting old lenses that were designed for cameras where the film was set further back into the body, that distance needs to be replicated.
Hence, big adapters.
The good news here is, as the Olympus PEN F range of cameras were small themselves, that distance was small too.
The result is only a small adapter is needed when using the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 on the NEX.
Here’s my direct comparison of the 38mm F.Zuiko to the original 18-55 NEX kit lens.
Notice the 55mm Super-Takumar on the right, with the adapter almost doubling its overall length.
This illustrates again how tiny the Pen F lens set up really is.
One final note about the adapter needed for the PEN F lens; make sure you get a PEN F adapter and not an Olympus OM one.
OM type Olympus manual focus lenses can be fitted to digital cameras and used to great effect, but the adaptor needed is a different focal length to that of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8.
More good news is that these lenses aren’t difficult to find, which helps keep the price down.
Some of the other focal lengths in the classic F.Zuiko range are now quite rare, and so are valued accordingly, but the 38mm f1.8 is a very cost-effective vintage lens.
Using the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 on a digital camera
So now we know a little bit of where this classic lens came from, why they are a good, compact size, and how they won’t upset your other half when you tell them how much you spent on it.
The question now is, how is the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 out in the field? And does it actually produce good results?
Being small and inexpensive is great, but if it’s annoying to use or just not very good, what’s the point?
Thankfully, there isn’t much to worry about here either.
It took me a week or two to really get to grips with the F.Zuiko. It was, after all, my first manual focus lens.
But once I did, it was fun. Real, good, honest fun.
And it still is.
Shooting with the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 is a joy, and is simple yet satisfying.
I’m repeating myself here, but the size is perfect. Some other vintage lenses I have, as great as they are, look huge on the Sony NEX.
This one looks like it belongs.
One thing you might notice is the aperture ring is at the front of the lens.
Most other manual focus lenses will have this near the rear, towards the camera body, with the focus ring at the front. The F.Zuiko 38mm has it the other way round.
Does this cause me any problems?
No. Not at all.
Whether using this or other manual focus lenses which are ‘the other way around’, the feel of having them in my hands adjust naturally to how the lens is built.
I have never changed my aperture whilst trying to change focus.
It’s just never happened.
F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 image quality
So I guess this is the most important thing.
How do the pictures turn out when using this vintage lens?
Wide open, don’t expect super-sharpness.
This is true of most lenses of course, vintage or modern, where the sweet spot is a couple of stops down.
What you can expect though is a pleasing softness not found with the super sharp modern lenses, and a creaminess to the backgrounds that adds a real classic touch to your photographs.
I never go wider than 2.8 with the F.Zuiko.
I find I can get a shallow enough depth of field at that aperture to satisfy me, and would rather up the ISO than go wider if I need more speed.
I feel the loss of quality is less between ISO 400 and 800 or even 800 and 1600 than it is between f2.8 and f1.8, but that’s just me, my tastes, and my camera’s performance at different ISO values. I’m not saying it’s a rule.
At f2.8 or above though, the pictures I get with this lens are more than good enough for what I want to do with them. I’m not a professional, and I’m not shooting for billboards or magazines.
I’m shooting for me, and for this website.
And for that, and with the aforementioned size and price, this classic manual focus lens does wonderfully.
Sharpness when you want it, softness when you don’t. I like the colours, and I like the textures.
I have no interest in doing test shots of mundane objects at different apertures, but if you want to see real world results from the 38mm F.Zuiko, this gallery is full of them.
Street photography with the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
At 38mm, especially when used on a cropped sensor, the F.Zuiko is not really a landscape lens.
Nor is it really long enough to be as a portrait lens like your 50mm or 85mm lenses are.
However, I’ve found it to be a good manual focus lens for street photography.
Not too wide and not too long, it’s a nice length somewhere in the middle. You can capture people, and you have some width to play around with getting some background in too.
The aforementioned small size comes in handy again here because it makes me discreet.
Nobody looks twice at me when I’m out using this set-up. The people who don’t want to be photographed are too busy hiding from the DSLRs.
Numbers on the F.Zuiko 38mm aperture ring
If you have an F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 of your own, you may notice the numbers 0 to 6 on the opposite side of the aperture ring to the f numbers.
Ideally they’ll be underneath, with the f numbers on the top.
When I bought mine, 0 to 6 was on the top, with my f numbers below.
I didn’t like this and wondered for a while if something was wrong with my lens; if maybe the aperture ring had been removed at some point and put back incorrectly.
The numbers, by the way, are part of how the exposure meter system on the PEN FT camera used to work, which is fine, but I didn’t want to see them. I wanted to use my f numbers.
Thankfully, I found a solution.
The aperture ring on the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 is designed so that it can be pulled forward (away from the camera body) and turned around the lens, until the f numbers (or exposure metering numbers, if you like) are at the top.
I was reluctant to try and, when I did attempt it, I was unbelievably cautious. The last thing I wanted to do was damage the vintage lens.
To hopefully ease any worries you might have of performing the same operation, I’ll show you.
Notice, from the black dot on the front of the lens, how far forward the ring needs pulling; not far.
You can click on the pictures to see them in a size that is actually useful.
Why buy an F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8?
Because they have three major things going for them.
- good image quality
Maybe I’m biased as mine was the first vintage lens I bought.
It’s like your first love. There’ll always be an attachment. But it was a great introduction to the world of classic lenses, for me.
In all the time I’ve had this lens and used it on my Sony NEX, I’ve not really found a downside.
I’m confident that if you pick one up, you’ll only find it to be a great value vintage lens too.
All sample images taken with F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
PEN F camera image from Wikipedia
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