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.
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 all of the following:
History of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
The F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 comes from the original Olympus PEN F cameras, which were produced from 1963 to 1972.
The PEN F is the best-known of the range, but PEN FT and PEN FV models were also made.
Both the name and styling of the Olympus PEN film cameras are the inspiration behind the range of Olympus PEN m4/3 cameras available today.
Take a look on Amazon and tell me that film DNA hasn’t led to a beautiful digital camera.
The old PEN F, PEN FT, and PEN 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 Zuiko lenses – were really rather small.
As a quick camera history lesson, that’s all very interesting
However, to reiterate something just mentioned, what caught my eye the most when I was looking to buy a vintage lens was this:
The Zuiko lenses were really rather small.
The size and adapter of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
I use a small Sony mirrorless camera, which meant the small size of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 was an important selling point for me.
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 original Olympus PEN cameras were small themselves, that distance was small too.
The result is the PenF-NEX adapter that I use, and which you can find on Amazon, is also really small.
By the way, if you have a large DSLR and want a little mirrorless to use with your vintage lenses instead, I recommend the Sony Alpha range; again, check them out on Amazon.
To illustrate how small the 38mm F.Zuiko is even when connected to the PenF-NEX adapter, here it is next to the original 18-55 Sony NEX kit lens and also the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 (plus adapter).
One final note about the adapter needed for the PEN F lens; make sure you get a PEN F adapter (that link will take you straight to them on Amazon) and not an Olympus OM-NEX 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 on these 38mm lenses is that they aren’t difficult to find, which helps keep the price down.
Some F.Zuiko lenses of other focal lengths 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 we know where this vintage 38mm 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.
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 mirrorless.
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 seems to 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 the Olympus F.Zuiko 38mm?
Well, wide open, don’t expect super-sharpness. This is true of most lenses, 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 vintage Olympus lens does wonderfully.
Sharpness when you want it, softness when you don’t. I like the colours, and I like the textures.
Every image you see here is a real world shot taken with the 38mm F.Zuiko.
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.
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. It isn’t far.
Why buy an F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8?
F.Zuiko lenses taken from old Olympus PEN film cameras are well-liked by vintage lens shooters, and based on my 38mm I can see why.
For me, they have three major things going for them.
These are that they:
- are small
- will not break the bank
- give 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.
Get yourself one from eBay (and if you’re luckier than me an original Olympus PEN F lens cap with it), a PenF-NEX adapter from Amazon (if you have a Sony mirrorless), and perhaps even a Sony mirrorless camera from there too if you don’t.
In all the time I’ve had the 38mm F.Zuiko and shot street photography with it, 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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