F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 Lens Review

z.fuiko 38mm f1.8 lens

Looking for a good, versatile, and not too expensive manual focus lens? This F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 lens review will point you in the right direction.

In short, I believe it’s a fantastic vintage lens for people looking to get into the hobby. Indeed, it 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 and more in this comprehensive review.

If it all makes you want to pick up an F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 for yourself, check out what they have on eBay or at KEH Camera.  

Listings ending soon!
f.zuiko 38mm f1.8 lens review

A great vintage lens, very compact and with only a thin adapter needed. Terrific image quality with a character that new glass just won't give you.

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.

olympus f zuiko 38mm f1.8 pen f camera lens

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 to marry this lens to my Sony mirrorless is also really small.

To illustrate just how small the 38mm F.Zuiko and PenF-NEX adapter combo is, the picture below shows it next to the original 18-55 Sony NEX kit lens and also the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 (plus adapter).

f-zuiko-38mm-sony-nex-kit-lens-super-takumar-55mm

While I need a PenF-NEX to adapter for my Sony mirrorless camera, you can easily find PenF adapters for most other lens mounts on Amazon too – lens mounts like m43, Fujifilm X-mount, Canon EOS-M, and a few others too.

Whatever your lens mount though, just be sure that you get an Olympus PEN F adapter for your F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8, and not an Olympus OM one.

OM type Olympus manual focus lenses can be fitted to digital cameras and used to great effect, but as they come from a different camera system the adaptor needed is a different focal length to that of the F.Zuiko.

f.zuiko-38mm-f1.8

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.

If you’re unsure how to even use a vintage lens on a digital camera, you can read this guide. And if you’re looking to buy a mirrorless camera to begin this hobby yourself, this guide here will have you covered there too. 

I’m repeating myself here, but the size of this 38mm F.Zuiko 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.

A lot of 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 Lens Review

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.

chinese tea for sale yangshuo china
giant duck in hong kong harbour
bangkok public bus
bangkok giant swing

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 very good length for 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.

And 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.

street sepak takraw game bangkok thailand

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.

As you can see on this original flyer from Olympus, 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 or KEH Camera if they have any, an adapter from Amazon, and perhaps even a new mirrorless camera to use them on too.

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. 😀

Listings ending soon!
f.zuiko 38mm f1.8 lens review

A great vintage lens, very compact and with only a thin adapter needed. Terrific image quality with a character that new glass just won't give you.

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful and want to learn more, dig into some more lens reviews and helpful guides below: 

  1. Buying a mirrorless camera for your vintage lenses
  2. How to use vintage lenses on digital cameras
  3. Check out all the other vintage lens reviews

And if you think others will enjoy this F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 review too, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

19 thoughts on “F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 Lens Review”

  1. Thanks for your post on the lovely Zuiko lens. You describe the process of switching the aperture ring to show the f stop, not the propriatary Olympus ‘thru the lens number’ and in particular, how you exercised caution. Please be reassured that the ability to switch is designed into the lens – see this link to an original advert. from Olympus themselves. http://www.klassik-cameras.de/Olympus_Lens-Flyer_1969_09_m.jpg

    Reply
    • Thanks Simon, that’s really interesting to see the original flyer. I’ve added a link to it in the review. Cheers. 🙂

      Reply
  2. You’ve gotten me interested. The Pen-F was a half-frame camera. Will this lens cover full frame?

    Reply
    • Hi Daniel. Have not tried it myself but according to this forum thread it will. They did mention slight vignetting and maybe field curvature issues though. Seems it’ll be fine so long as you can accept a bit of ‘character’ and don’t need perfection. 🙂

      Reply
  3. I’m definitely getting this len after reading your most insightful review on this lense. Thanks for you review and insight on this lense.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading and commenting James. Hope you enjoy using the lens and get plenty of great shots with it. 🙂

      Reply
  4. I would like to inform you that the lens has a radioactivity. I bought it not long ago, and checked her Geiger counter. There certainly are not as large values such as the famous Takumar 50mm 1.4, but it is better to take precautions

    Reply
  5. Thanks Lee, I really like these lens. I recently took it with me on trip, managed to get some great pictures and make some obvious mistakes as well. I ended up loosing some good shots by shooting with the wrong aperture. Live and I learn I guess :).

    Also what filters do you use on these?

    Reply
    • Great to hear mate. Let me know if you share your pictures online anywhere. Live and learn, for sure. If you mean filters on the lens itself, I don’t actually use any. I edit in PS afterwards but even then I don’t use any presets. Perhaps I should; would save me time.

      Reply
      • Sure thing. I am really new to photography. Currently, I am not doing any post-processing; I am just shooting in jpeg mode. But it is something that I would like to try.

        I would post a link, once I get all the images out of the camera.

        Reply
  6. Thanks for the great, in depth review. I just got an Olympus Pen Ft with the 38mm passed down to me from my grandfather. I just started shooting my first roll which (which is obviously heavily experimental.) I had a lot of questions about everything, and you answered a lot of those questions for me so I really appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Hi Eric. Thanks for reading and commenting. You’re welcome. I’m pleased someone can take something useful from this. Do you have somewhere online you publish your photographs? Would be great to see the results you get from you Pen F, once developed. 🙂 Cheers!

      Reply
  7. Thanks for the review. I have been thinking of buying these lens. I still have to compensate the crop factor right? So is going to something like ~55 mm on a nex camera?

    Reply
    • Hi Abhiram. Yes, you’re right. 38mm x 1.5 = 57mm. I find it a versatile enough length for the kind of photography I do.

      I’d recommend picking one of these lenses up if you’ve been thinking about it. Not expensive, small (and with a small adaptor for NEX), and really good image quality. I don’t remember seeing much bad said about them online anywhere. I’m sure you’ll love it if you do decide to go for it.

      Thanks for reading the review and commenting too!

      Reply
  8. Hi, YM. Thanks for the kind words.

    I never actually shoot in RAW, as I don’t feel the need to when using these vintage lenses, so I don’t actually have anything I can share with you right now. Next time I’m out with this lens, I’ll take a couple of shots for you. Thanks!

    Reply

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