The Legendary Olympus 90mm f2 macro lens

One of the internet search terms that often leads people to my site is for the Olympus 90mm f2 macro lens.  I’m not exactly sure where they end up since I use that lens a lot and post many shots taken with it.  Like this one.

Sweet Hitchhiker

I found this little crawler on my backpack yesterday and so moved it to a more photogenic location.  Given that it was so still when disturbed, I decided to use the 90mm for some close work.  If anyone has stumbled on this blog by searching on OM 90mm macro and are contemplating buying one of these lenses I can enthusiastically say (paraphrasing Ferris Bueller) I highly recommend picking one up, if you have the means.  Of all my 80s vintage 35mm lenses I think this one requires the least amount of correction in post processing.  The contrast is higher than most other of my lenses and it barely needs additional sharpening.  Color accuracy is really up to the camera, but insofar as the lens is concerned there is no visible cast.  There is a slight amount of chromatic aberration under certain conditions; mostly at the edges of certain flower petals against green or yellow backgrounds.  It is slight though.

If you’re looking for info on ways to master this lens, I can help you there.  OVEREXPOSE.  Shoot to the right.  Particularly when you’ve got this at its closest focus distance or when using an extension tube.  The distance the light has to make it to the sensor gets longer the closer you focus and you will need at least a stop extra and even more if you close down to f16 or 22.  Sometimes I forget to do this and end up with underexposures.

Focusing is very, very finicky due to the nature of a macro lens.  Focusing in manual is a foregone conclusion since this is a pre-autofocus lens and you’ll find you get the best results if you use live view and a magnification setting of at least 5x.  I find that 10x is a bit much for most of my work.  Also it is the nature of macro lenses to have very short depths of field under high magnification so be aware and give yourself some time for test shots since it’s so difficult to see what will be in focus with the lens stopped down.  Which by the way is the only way to meter in camera with a legacy lens.  The camera will not engage the aperture ring and close it down for you when you hit the shutter like new, digital lenses will.  If you use it with an Olympus OM 35mm camera, it will close down automatically when the shutter fires.

Seriously, this is one superior piece of glass.  You can put it up with comparable Zeiss and Nikkor lenses no problem.  Image quality is outstanding.  I waited almost 20 years to buy one and thankfully have.  It’s the last lens I’d part with even though giving up the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm would make me cry.  They don’t pop up for sale much and I think prices are still fairly high; around $1000 for a good copy.  If you’re serious about macro or close up work this is an excellent lens to use no matter what digital system you have.  I think adapters from the Olympus mount (OM) to almost any digital body are available.

I used to have a CD with tons of technical detail on everything Olympus made, but I can’t find it.  If you want technical detail on this lens, you’ll have to go here –  and put up with the guy misspelling lens.  Bah.  Makes my eyes hurt.  But the info is accurate as far as I know.

Anyway…that’s it, I hope it was helpful.  If you want more images, check out my flickr tag here and here – I’m afraid I wasn’t very consistent with lens tagging.  And you can hit the lens tag at the bottom of this post.  Oh and you can also drop down the Big Boxes and Little Boxes menu there and choose the Lily of the Valley study since I shot most of it with the 90mm.

UPDATE

Some info has come to light that most Nikon digital bodies won’t meter using AI lenses or any other legacy, manual lenses.  The same goes for some Canons as well.  I have not researched other brands like Pentax.  I guess I’m spoiled by Olympus’s commitment to its lenses and customers by giving us the ability to keep using the things we’ve bought from them in the past.  My apologies if I got anyone excited to use old lenses.  It’s a shame about that lovely Nikkor glass going to waste though.  So check thoroughly to see if your particular camera body can meter with old lenses and proceed accordingly.

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4 thoughts on “The Legendary Olympus 90mm f2 macro lens

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    1. Thanks so much. Yes, true macro lenses are pretty pricey, but if it’s something you really want to do you can try using your kit lens and get as close as you can, or you can try extension tubes with old manual lenses like the 50mm which are available cheaply and so are adapters I’m told.

  1. Wow, this image is absolutely stunning! Sharpness, detail, colors, and the DOF are sublime!
    I originally saw this image on your flickr site – it confirmed my desire to enter into macro photography, plus I purchased a 90mm f2 on ebay – the lens was part of an endoscope kit – I think this talks to the quality of the lens – (the seller emailed me a photo of the endoscope kit) – so I hope it has been handled by professional and is in good condition. You did say you waited 20 years for your lens, how did you manage to find one ? I shared my experience in the flickr group “4/3rds Adapters: Legacy Lenses on Four Thirds DSLR Bodies” –> “I just bought” discussion. Thanks for sharing this inspirational image.

    1. ah, you’re that guy! I can’t recall precisely where I found it; ebay or KEH maybe. I went into an OM buying binge and picked up an OM-3, a 35mm f2 and a 180mm f2.8 around the same time as the 90mm. Those and the OM-3s don’t come up for sale often so when I found some in the conditions I wanted at prices I could afford, I got them. Some day I’ll return to film, but the 90mm still gets regular workouts. I hope you love it when you get yours.

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