Everything I know about OM Zuikos

MarkRyan

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I've become a Zuikoholic. After first getting my feet wet in manual lenses with a cheap C-mount Fujian, I've gradually learned to prefer them to modern autofocus glass. To the point that I've sold off nearly all of my native Micro 4/3 lenses and replaced them with a modest set of Olympus OMs.



Why OMs? For starters, they are 100% mechanical lenses, with no electronic functions. So on an adapter, they handle and function just as well as they did when operated on original OM cameras. The feel of a real, clicking aperture ring and the methodical process of manual focus are things I really appreciate. The metal construction and the hand feel of OM lenses is consistently stellar.

I also appreciate that OM lenses have aperture rings at the front of the lens, where some other manufacturers put them near the mount. For starters, it's nice to have consistency when moving from lens to lens in my kit, but also the arrangement avoids awkward interaction with the aperture ring when trying to mount and unmount a lens. I have an MD-mount Minolta lens with the aperture ring near the base of the lens, and it invariably gets twisted around when I'm mounting the lens. Another small consistency with OMs: Many of them have 49mm filter threads, and most that don't do have 55mm threads. So you can reasonably put together a decent kit and use the same filters on all of your lenses.

That's a boon for maintaining a compact kit. Which brings up another reason why I like OMs: They're small! Sure, once you factor in the added size of a lens adapter, they're not quite Micro 4/3 small, but if you want an adapted lens (I do) and you want it to be small (I do), OMs are a pretty good choice. If you're packing a small kit, you can use one adapter between a handful of OMs, and still realize the benefit of the small OMs which pack away tiny without adapters.

To get much smaller with my adapted lenses, I'd probably have to get rangefinder lenses, which (a) I can't afford, and (b) may have some issues with the thick filter stack on Micro 4/3 cameras. So I've read. Further, (c) with rangefinder lenses I don't have the option of using a Speed Booster to claw back some wide angle.

So OMs are reasonably-priced, not hard to find, and available in a full variety of focal lengths and specialties, including macro, telephoto, and shift lenses. They look great, they feel great, and they pack away small.


Picking a lens model

There are a bunch of online resources for discovering lenses, including the Adapted Lens Sample Image Showcase on this forum. I've got a few other resources linked below.

Something important to keep in mind when assessing image quality of these lenses via online sources is that not all copies of a given lens model are created equal. An early-model 50/1.4 might not give the same image quality of a late-model 50/1.4, so it's important to note the vintage of a lens used to evaluate IQ. Moreover, each photographer's standards for quality are different. Personally, I require a decent level of sharpness, but am happy if that sharpness is available only after a lens stopped down to f/4. I am not too picky about vignetting, chromatic aberrations, or even barrel distortion. I can correct for those in post. Your preferences may vary.



Picking a lens copy

OM lenses were manufactured for about 30 years, from 1972 to 2002. Over those years, new models were introduced, and existing models saw subtle improvements and redesigns. By my research, the latest versions of each lens are regarded as the best examples. This is a guide to identifying the vintage of Olympus's OM lenses. When I'm shopping Zuikos online, this is how I do my best to pick good copies.

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Serial number

A lot of older manual lenses have serial numbers printed on the metal ring surrounding the front glass. Think of serial numbers as a counter that goes up with each new lens that's manufactured. A higher number indicates the lens was manufactured at a later date. A lower number indicates the opposite. It's the most obvious way to tell if a lens is old or not, but in practice it's not so useful.

Serial numbers are not typically actual counts, and I've read that sometimes serial numbers were reset for a given OM lens. Also worth considering that not all lenses were manufactured in similar quantities. Olympus's 50mm lenses have serial numbers that stretch into millions, while some more specialty lenses have much lower serial numbers. For instance, a 28/2 lens with a serial number of 110,000 is actually newer than a 50/1.8 lens with a serial number over 1,000,000.

So serial numbers are indicative of lens age, but don't reliably tell the whole story. The only OM Zuiko I've shopped where users consistently cite serial numbers as indicators of lens quality is the Zuiko 50/1.4. With that lens, users seem to think there was some undocumented manufacturing change for lenses after serial #1,100,000 that makes for better images. I don't have the budget to test the validity of these urban legends (but I did go out of my way to find a lens with such a serial number).

Zuiko & MC labels

The "Zuiko" marking on a lens is, in conjunction with the "MC" label, the best indicator of a lens's age. It's what I look for first.

There are, as far as I've deduced, essentially four generations of Olympus OM lenses which can be differentiated based on these two markings.

Generation 1: X.Zuiko + Silver Nose

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The oldest OM lenses have a prefix letter in front of the Zuiko label, such as E.Zuiko, or H.Zuiko. The letter corresponds to the number of glass elements in the lens, which isn't that relevant to my goal. What is relevant is the simple presence of the X.prefix, as it indicates the lens is from the oldest OM lens batches. These are often also called "silver nose" lenses as the front metal ring of the lenses with X.Zuiko labels are typically chrome against the otherwise black exterior.

Generation 2: X.Zuiko + Black Nose

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X.Zuiko lenses eventually shipped with "black noses" instead of silver ones. There may be some difference in lens coatings between the two generations (black noses are single coated?), but to be honest I haven't used a lens from either generation, and generally sample images I've seen from either generation are pretty soft and glowy.

Generation 3: Zuiko + MC

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At some point, Olympus dropped the X.prefix and started marking their lenses with "MC," which indicates that the lens is multi-coated. "Zuiko MC" marks an improvement in the lens coatings which resist flare and ghosting, and also often improves contrast from what I've seen.

Generation 4: Zuiko

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Eventually, Olympus dropped the "MC" markings on their lenses and simply labeled them "Zuiko." This marking configuration generally indicates the latest version of OM lenses. Though note that "latest" doesn't mean it's particularly new -- these lenses seem to have started appearing in the early 1980s, so one "Zuiko" may be up to 20 years older than another.

Based on online resources that indicate this last generation of Zuikos is the best, I've made a point to buy only simple Zuiko lenses. And I've been satisfied with the performance of each lens I've bought so far. I don't have the experience to confirm that these lenses are actually better than their older counterparts, but I am reasonably confident that they are -- at the very least -- newer.

Focal length label

The focal length label changed over time for some models. Older lenses are labeled "f=XXmm," where newer lenses dropped the "f=" portion. For example, "f=35mm" became simply "35mm" on later lenses.

This is useful for some lenses, where the "f=XXmm" labeling overlaps with the simple "Zuiko" label mentioned above. A "Zuiko f=35mm" lens is older than a "Zuiko 35mm" one.

Manufacture mark



The last generations of OM lenses, the ones manufactured after ~1983, have manufacture details printed on the mount bottoms. (Earlier lenses reportedly have similar markings printed on the lens barrels, under the rubber focus grips. I'm not sure how you find those without destroying the rubber.) These markings indicate three things: (1) The plant where the lens was manufactured, (2) the year the lens was manufactured, and (3) the month the lens was manufactured.

The manufacture plant isn't particularly interesting to me. The dates, however...well, that's what this post is about. The markings look like this:

PPYM

The first two letters indicate the manufacture plant (PP), the third letter indicates the manufacture year (Y), and the fourth number (or letter) represents the manufacture month (M). (Source: konrad_beck on Photo.net.)

Translating the year works like this:

A : 1981
B : 1982
C : 1983
D : 1984
E : 1985
F : 1986
G : 1987
H : 1988
I : 1989
J : 1990
K : 1991
L : 1992
M : 1993
N : 1994
O : 1995
P : 1996
Q : 1997
R : 1998
S : 1999
T : 2000
U : 2001
V : 2002
W : 2003
X : 2004
Y : 2005
Z : 2006


The month translates like this:

1 : Jan
2 : Feb
3 : Mar
4 : Apr
5 : May
6 : Jun
7 : Jul
8 : Aug
9 : Sep
A : Oct
B : Nov
C : Dec


An example from one of my lenses is the manufacture mark SAVA. I don't know anything about the manufacture plants, so the first "SA" letters don't mean anything to me. The third letter, V, indicates that the lens was manufactured in 2002 (quite late for an OM), and the last A indicates it was produced in October.

Japan / made in japan label

There's some variation in the "Japan" labeling that appears on the front of OM lenses, but I haven't noticed a pattern that helps identify a lens's vintage, at least not universally. The one lens where this labeling is -- allegedly -- important for identifying late lenses is with the simple 50/1.8 lens, where a "made in japan" (note the lowercase) indicates a late-model lens. Unfortunate for simplicity, this isn't a pattern that's repeated for other OM lens models.

Speed Booster & Fit issues

I use my OM lenses on a Speed Booster. Of course, you don't have to.

My real, honest #1 reason for using a Speed Booster is pretty dumb, but I'll say it anyway. I like that a Speed Booster is a shorter mount than a standard adapter, and it shrinks the overall package of OM lens + adapter. The visual balance on my OM-D is nicer, and the compact OM lenses still feel relatively small on the reduced-length adapter. My #2 reason is that a Speed Booster allows me to stop down my lenses and still get their original speed, which is pretty crucial. Apart from my 100/2.8, I almost never shoot my OMs wide open because the image quality improves so significantly when stopped down. My #3 reason for using a Speed Booster is the ability to get a decent wide angle out of the adapted OMs. My 24/2 on a Speed Booster, with Micro 4/3 crop factor, gives the same angle of view you'd get from a 35mm full frame shot, and that's about as wide as I like to shoot.

I've now owned two Metabones Speed Boosters for my OM lenses, both for Micro 4/3 mount. The first Speed Booster was a standard unit, and the second is the Speed Booster Ultra.

Metabones makes note on their website that not all OM lenses fit the Speed Booster, but doesn't specify which lenses are problems. What's interesting is that lenses compatible with the standard Speed Booster might not be compatible with the Ultra. For example, the OM 24/2.8 fits fine on the standard unit, but not on my Ultra.

The fit issue comes down to little metal petals on the back of some OM lens mounts. If you examine photos of some lenses, you'll see these little petals poking out from the rear of the mount, toward the inside of the camera.



Above: Left lens, a 35/2, has no metal petals on the back. Right lens, a 24/2.8, has one large enough to prevent fitting to a Speed Booster Ultra.

These petals appear to be implemented to protect protruding rear lens elements in the event that the lens is set down on a table without the rear lens cap. (They serve no other function, as far as I know.) And these metal petals are different sizes between lens models, some lens models not having them at all. When they're long enough -- like in the case of the 24/2.8 -- the petals clash with the glass in the Speed Booster and prevent the lens from mounting.

I don't have comprehensive a list of compatible lenses, but in my experience the majority of lenses fit just fine. The problem petals seem to be implemented on the very wide OM lenses. When shopping for OM Zuikos, try to view images of the lens mounts, from a side-on view, to assess whether the petals may be large enough to pose a problem. At the very least, I can confirm that the lenses listed below fit fine on both the standard and Ultra Speed Boosters.

  • 24/2.0
  • 28/2.0
  • 35/2.0
  • 50/1.4
  • 100/2.8

Looking at lens diagrams, the lenses I suspect may have an issue fitting are:

  • 16/3.5
  • 18/3.5
  • 21/3.5
  • 24/2.8
  • 28/3.5
  • 35/2.8

Aside from the 24/2.8, this second list is speculation -- I haven't used these lenses myself. And there may be other problem lenses I haven't identified.

As I mentioned, these metal petals help the lenses sit on a flat surface without the rear lens caps. Which sounds a pretty barbaric practice, regardless of the presence of petal kickstands. One user on YouTube successfully cut off the metal petals for his 24/2.8 in order to safely fit the lens to his Speed Booster Ultra and without disrupting any of the lens's function. So if you're open to a bit of surgery, you can probably make any OM lens work. Personally, I can't bring myself to mar an otherwise pristine lens.


Conclusion

That is, roughly, everything I know about buying OM Zuiko lenses. Of course, I use them to make actual photographs. My photos are organized by lens on my Flickr page, should you want to see what these things can do.

I love Zuikos. You might, too.
 
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PakkyT

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Very nice post. One thing you might want to mention in the beginning where you are talking about how compact they are is that these old lenses are all metal and glass. No plastics or other light weight materials were used. So while compact, they are a bit hefty in weight. One or two in your bag is not going to be noticeable of course, but they can add up if you are traveling and want to bring a small arsenal of them with you. ;)
 
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MarkRyan

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Very nice post. One thing you might want to mention in the beginning where you are talking about how compact they are is that these old lenses are all metal and glass. No plastics other other light weight materials were used. So while compact, they are a bit hefty in weight. One or two in your bag is not going to be noticeable of course, but they can add up if you are traveling and want to bring a small arsenal of them with you. ;)
Fair point -- especially when you throw them on a Speed Booster, which weighs more than basic $15 adapter. The weight is a large reason why I got the HLD-8G grip. Now the lenses balance quite nicely and I can enjoy the extra heft (it feels nice) without minding the impact on handling.

I had a native Voigtlander 25/0.95 at one point. I think the weight was comparable to an OM + Speed Booster, but the balance felt somehow worse.
 

pdk42

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This is a great post. A candidate for a sticky I'd say. Might be worth posting over on talkemount as well. The OMs play really well on the A7 range where you can use the lenses' full image circles (no crop factor).

This one was taken in bad light with the 100mm f2.8 at f5.6 on the A7rii. It's the full frame - no crop.


Evanston Lighthouse
by Paul Kaye, on Flickr
 
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snowleopard

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In the 1980s I chose my first 35mm SLR system. Before that I used mainly an Olympus Pen-D and 620 and 120 folding roll film cameras, so I like mechanical and manual. Because I did a lot of my photography hiking and xc skiing, I wanted equipment that was light weight and able to operate purely mechanically. I hated the idea of carrying a heavy camera up a mountain and the cold killing the battery so no photos. At that time most new gear was becoming heavier and more dependent on electronics. The lighter, mechanical, affordable cameras then were Olympus OM and Pentax K-mount. I ended up with a Ricoh K-mount camera and a few Pentax-M lenses. Many of these manual focus Pentax lenses were excellent optically and were small and light. I haven't used them on m43 much yet but will be doing so more.

I certainly won't match MarkRyan's wonderful post, but much similar information is available at the Pentax Forums for everything Pentax: here's a link to the M series Pentax lenses Pentax M Prime Lenses - Reviews and Specifications - SLR and Interchangeable Lenses - Pentax Lens Reviews & Lens Database. Many of the other Pentax lenses have good reputations.
 
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Jonathan F/2

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Nice write up! I have a similar collection of Nikon Ai-S lenses that I've collected. If I hadn't collected the Nikkors, I would of for sure collected an Olympus set!
 

MarkRyan

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Looks like an area I would like to get into. I have been looking for some old lenses but have yet to find some that are not full of fungus.
I've found eBay descriptions reliable so far, and pretty much every serious camera seller will mention the following with a "yes/no" qualifier:

  • Haze
  • Dust
  • Oil on aperture blades
  • Fungus

Dust is pretty inevitable in a lens, especially one that's 20+ years old -- unless it's excessive, it's not a problem. Oily aperture blades usually still work, but indicate they may on their way out. Haze will cause ghosting and contrast issues, I presume -- I don't have any hazy lenses, but that seems quite bad. And fungus can show up in photos, and get worse.
 

tkbslc

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Great resource, thanks for posting.

Can I be nosy and ask why you are sticking with m4/3 when you shoot mainly FF manual lenses? Especially given what you spent on speedboosters, you could be using a Sony FF camera and using the lenses in all their glory.
 

MarkRyan

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Can I be nosy and ask why you are sticking with m4/3 when you shoot mainly FF manual lenses? Especially given what you spent on speedboosters, you could be using a Sony FF camera and using the lenses in all their glory.
A fair question. I'll give it a shot:

  1. I mentioned a dumb -- but big -- reason I use the Speed Booster is because it's physically shorter than a standard adapter. If I used my OMs on a full frame camera, I'd have to use the full-size standard adapter. I admit I'm a sucker for aesthetic -- both visual and tactile -- and an OM mounted on an A7 just doesn't look that appealing to me.
  2. IBIS is a must for me, focusing at 10x magnification without IBIS is not fun. So that requirement limits my options, none of which are cheap.
  3. I really like how the E-M5ii handles and operates. I haven't used a Sony camera extensively, possibly they would be just as agreeable for me, but possibly they would be worse. So there's some risk for me to buy a new camera and discover I don't like the operation with manual lenses.
On point #3, some justification for the apprehension. I have shot on Panasonic quite a bit and much prefer shooting on Olympus. Primarily it comes down to (a) the much better histogram on Olympus, and (b) Panasonic's inability to lock exposure preview in live view when the shutter is half pressed and the shot reframed. That second point is particularly frustrating. And not that Sony cameras are going to have these same annoyances, but they're examples of small differences in operation that make a big difference in my enjoyment, and I know that Olympus suits me, and do not yet know if Sony suits me.

One thing that concerns me, for example, is the effort required to change the focal length setting for the IBIS when jumping between manual lenses. Olympus could make this easier, but it is pretty quick to adjust focal length from the quick menu without leaving live view. I've seen screenshots of Sony cameras with this option buried in menus, which would be a huge pain for someone shooting multiple manual lenses.

The option that makes most sense is a Sony A6500, which I'm interested to try, but unlikely to any time soon. The camera is not cheap, I'd need to get a new Speed Booster, and for what? Maybe slight improvement in IQ, different FOV through my lenses, and unknown advantages/disadvantages.

Ultimately, I'm very satisfied with the E-M5ii coupled with my OMs, and don't have any problems I'm trying to solve with a different camera. Though I do dream of an OM-1 body with a digital sensor, EVF, and IBIS...
 

boobakiki

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Hey Mark! Love your videos and stoked to see you have even more great info on this forum!

I've purchased the following lenses for use with my Metabones Ultra (.71x) and wanted to share my experience:

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[Same order as top photo; clockwise from top-left - 100mm 2.8, 28mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4. Already filed down for the ones that needed it.]

First of all, I almost returned my Metabones because I thought it didn't fit onto my Pen F. Turns out I just needed to use a good deal of elbow grease to get it twisted on there. It's not a great fit, but I don't want to go through the hassle of returning it.
  • The 100mm 2.8 and the 50mm 1.4 fit perfectly on the Metabones with no problems.
  • The 50mm 1.8 and the 28mm 2.8 both needed to be filed down to fit on the Metabones.
    • The 28mm 2.8 flanges are made of plastic, so I was able to file those down with sandpaper. This shows them filed down enough so that they fit on the Metabones - I only needed to shave off a couple millimeters.
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    • The 50mm 1.8 flange is made out of metal, so I needed to use a metal file to get that down. This photo shows the flange before filing; the photo taken with all lenses (above) shows how much I filed it down (not that much really).
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I also have a Minolta MC Rokkor-X 50mm 1.4 that I use with a Zhongyi Lens Turbo, which I love but which is SO much bulkier than my OMs. I do really dig the sunkissed, dreamy effect my Minoltas give me though (I also have a MD 28 2.8).

OM 50 1.4
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MC 50 1.4:
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As for whether I prefer the OM 50 1.4 or the OM 50 1.8, I'm not really sure at the moment. Do you have a preference? My 1.4 is a pretty early copy and I think there are some issues with fuzziness at both ends of the aperture ring, but it does seem pretty similar to the 1.8... I dunno, I haven't really decided / done enough comparisons yet.


Thanks again for all the great stuff!

-MJ
 
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3dpan

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I've become a Zuikoholic. After first getting my feet wet in manual lenses with a cheap C-mount Fujian, I've gradually learned to prefer them to modern autofocus glass. To the point that I've sold off nearly all of my native Micro 4/3 lenses and replaced them with a modest set of Olympus OMs.

View attachment 548893

Why OMs? For starters, they are 100% mechanical lenses, with no electronic functions. So on an adapter, they handle and function just as well as they did when operated on original OM cameras. The feel of a real, clicking aperture ring and the methodical process of manual focus are things I really appreciate. The metal construction and the hand feel of OM lenses is consistently stellar.

I also appreciate that OM lenses have aperture rings at the front of the lens, where some other manufacturers put them near the mount. For starters, it's nice to have consistency when moving from lens to lens in my kit, but also the arrangement avoids awkward interaction with the aperture ring when trying to mount and unmount a lens. I have an MD-mount Minolta lens with the aperture ring near the base of the lens, and it invariably gets twisted around when I'm mounting the lens. Another small consistency with OMs: Many of them have 49mm filter threads, and most that don't do have 55mm threads. So you can reasonably put together a decent kit and use the same filters on all of your lenses.

That's a boon for maintaining a compact kit. Which brings up another reason why I like OMs: They're small! Sure, once you factor in the added size of a lens adapter, they're not quite Micro 4/3 small, but if you want an adapted lens (I do) and you want it to be small (I do), OMs are a pretty good choice. If you're packing a small kit, you can use one adapter between a handful of OMs, and still realize the benefit of the small OMs which pack away tiny without adapters.

To get much smaller with my adapted lenses, I'd probably have to get rangefinder lenses, which (a) I can't afford, and (b) may have some issues with the thick filter stack on Micro 4/3 cameras. So I've read. Further, (c) with rangefinder lenses I don't have the option of using a Speed Booster to claw back some wide angle.

So OMs are reasonably-priced, not hard to find, and available in a full variety of focal lengths and specialties, including macro, telephoto, and shift lenses. They look great, they feel great, and they pack away small.


Picking a lens model

There are a bunch of online resources for discovering lenses, including the Adapted Lens Sample Image Showcase on this forum. I've got a few other resources linked below.

Something important to keep in mind when assessing image quality of these lenses via online sources is that not all copies of a given lens model are created equal. An early-model 50/1.4 might not give the same image quality of a late-model 50/1.4, so it's important to note the vintage of a lens used to evaluate IQ. Moreover, each photographer's standards for quality are different. Personally, I require a decent level of sharpness, but am happy if that sharpness is available only after a lens stopped down to f/4. I am not too picky about vignetting, chromatic aberrations, or even barrel distortion. I can correct for those in post. Your preferences may vary.



Picking a lens copy

OM lenses were manufactured for about 30 years, from 1972 to 2002. Over those years, new models were introduced, and existing models saw subtle improvements and redesigns. By my research, the latest versions of each lens are regarded as the best examples. This is a guide to identifying the vintage of Olympus's OM lenses. When I'm shopping Zuikos online, this is how I do my best to pick good copies.

View attachment 548894

Serial number

A lot of older manual lenses have serial numbers printed on the metal ring surrounding the front glass. Think of serial numbers as a counter that goes up with each new lens that's manufactured. A higher number indicates the lens was manufactured at a later date. A lower number indicates the opposite. It's the most obvious way to tell if a lens is old or not, but in practice it's not so useful.

Serial numbers are not typically actual counts, and I've read that sometimes serial numbers were reset for a given OM lens. Also worth considering that not all lenses were manufactured in similar quantities. Olympus's 50mm lenses have serial numbers that stretch into millions, while some more specialty lenses have much lower serial numbers. For instance, a 28/2 lens with a serial number of 110,000 is actually newer than a 50/1.8 lens with a serial number over 1,000,000.

So serial numbers are indicative of lens age, but don't reliably tell the whole story. The only OM Zuiko I've shopped where users consistently cite serial numbers as indicators of lens quality is the Zuiko 50/1.4. With that lens, users seem to think there was some undocumented manufacturing change for lenses after serial #1,100,000 that makes for better images. I don't have the budget to test the validity of these urban legends (but I did go out of my way to find a lens with such a serial number).

Zuiko & MC labels

The "Zuiko" marking on a lens is, in conjunction with the "MC" label, the best indicator of a lens's age. It's what I look for first.

There are, as far as I've deduced, essentially four generations of Olympus OM lenses which can be differentiated based on these two markings.

Generation 1: X.Zuiko + Silver Nose

View attachment 548888

The oldest OM lenses have a prefix letter in front of the Zuiko label, such as E.Zuiko, or H.Zuiko. The letter corresponds to the number of glass elements in the lens, which isn't that relevant to my goal. What is relevant is the simple presence of the X.prefix, as it indicates the lens is from the oldest OM lens batches. These are often also called "silver nose" lenses as the front metal ring of the lenses with X.Zuiko labels are typically chrome against the otherwise black exterior.

Generation 2: X.Zuiko + Black Nose

View attachment 548889

X.Zuiko lenses eventually shipped with "black noses" instead of silver ones. There may be some difference in lens coatings between the two generations (black noses are single coated?), but to be honest I haven't used a lens from either generation, and generally sample images I've seen from either generation are pretty soft and glowy.

Generation 3: Zuiko + MC

View attachment 548890

At some point, Olympus dropped the X.prefix and started marking their lenses with "MC," which indicates that the lens is multi-coated. "Zuiko MC" marks an improvement in the lens coatings which resist flare and ghosting, and also often improves contrast from what I've seen.

Generation 4: Zuiko

View attachment 548891

Eventually, Olympus dropped the "MC" markings on their lenses and simply labeled them "Zuiko." This marking configuration generally indicates the latest version of OM lenses. Though note that "latest" doesn't mean it's particularly new -- these lenses seem to have started appearing in the early 1980s, so one "Zuiko" may be up to 20 years older than another.

Based on online resources that indicate this last generation of Zuikos is the best, I've made a point to buy only simple Zuiko lenses. And I've been satisfied with the performance of each lens I've bought so far. I don't have the experience to confirm that these lenses are actually better than their older counterparts, but I am reasonably confident that they are -- at the very least -- newer.

Focal length label

The focal length label changed over time for some models. Older lenses are labeled "f=XXmm," where newer lenses dropped the "f=" portion. For example, "f=35mm" became simply "35mm" on later lenses.

This is useful for some lenses, where the "f=XXmm" labeling overlaps with the simple "Zuiko" label mentioned above. A "Zuiko f=35mm" lens is older than a "Zuiko 35mm" one.

Manufacture mark

View attachment 548896

The last generations of OM lenses, the ones manufactured after ~1983, have manufacture details printed on the mount bottoms. (Earlier lenses reportedly have similar markings printed on the lens barrels, under the rubber focus grips. I'm not sure how you find those without destroying the rubber.) These markings indicate three things: (1) The plant where the lens was manufactured, (2) the year the lens was manufactured, and (3) the month the lens was manufactured.

The manufacture plant isn't particularly interesting to me. The dates, however...well, that's what this post is about. The markings look like this:

PPYM

The first two letters indicate the manufacture plant (PP), the third letter indicates the manufacture year (Y), and the fourth number (or letter) represents the manufacture month (M). (Source: konrad_beck on Photo.net.)

Translating the year works like this:

A : 1981
B : 1982
C : 1983
D : 1984
E : 1985
F : 1986
G : 1987
H : 1988
I : 1989
J : 1990
K : 1991
L : 1992
M : 1993
N : 1994
O : 1995
P : 1996
Q : 1997
R : 1998
S : 1999
T : 2000
U : 2001
V : 2002
W : 2003
X : 2004
Y : 2005
Z : 2006


The month translates like this:

1 : Jan
2 : Feb
3 : Mar
4 : Apr
5 : May
6 : Jun
7 : Jul
8 : Aug
9 : Sep
A : Oct
B : Nov
C : Dec


An example from one of my lenses is the manufacture mark SAVA. I don't know anything about the manufacture plants, so the first "SA" letters don't mean anything to me. The third letter, V, indicates that the lens was manufactured in 2002 (quite late for an OM), and the last A indicates it was produced in October.

Japan / made in japan label

There's some variation in the "Japan" labeling that appears on the front of OM lenses, but I haven't noticed a pattern that helps identify a lens's vintage, at least not universally. The one lens where this labeling is -- allegedly -- important for identifying late lenses is with the simple 50/1.8 lens, where a "made in japan" (note the lowercase) indicates a late-model lens. Unfortunate for simplicity, this isn't a pattern that's repeated for other OM lens models.

Speed Booster & Fit issues

I use my OM lenses on a Speed Booster. Of course, you don't have to.

My real, honest #1 reason for using a Speed Booster is pretty dumb, but I'll say it anyway. I like that a Speed Booster is a shorter mount than a standard adapter, and it shrinks the overall package of OM lens + adapter. The visual balance on my OM-D is nicer, and the compact OM lenses still feel relatively small on the reduced-length adapter. My #2 reason is that a Speed Booster allows me to stop down my lenses and still get their original speed, which is pretty crucial. Apart from my 100/2.8, I almost never shoot my OMs wide open because the image quality improves so significantly when stopped down. My #3 reason for using a Speed Booster is the ability to get a decent wide angle out of the adapted OMs. My 24/2 on a Speed Booster, with Micro 4/3 crop factor, gives the same angle of view you'd get from a 35mm full frame shot, and that's about as wide as I like to shoot.

I've now owned two Metabones Speed Boosters for my OM lenses, both for Micro 4/3 mount. The first Speed Booster was a standard unit, and the second is the Speed Booster Ultra.

Metabones makes note on their website that not all OM lenses fit the Speed Booster, but doesn't specify which lenses are problems. What's interesting is that lenses compatible with the standard Speed Booster might not be compatible with the Ultra. For example, the OM 24/2.8 fits fine on the standard unit, but not on my Ultra.

The fit issue comes down to little metal petals on the back of some OM lens mounts. If you examine photos of some lenses, you'll see these little petals poking out from the rear of the mount, toward the inside of the camera.

View attachment 548907

Above: Left lens, a 35/2, has no metal petals on the back. Right lens, a 24/2.8, has one large enough to prevent fitting to a Speed Booster Ultra.

These petals appear to be implemented to protect protruding rear lens elements in the event that the lens is set down on a table without the rear lens cap. (They serve no other function, as far as I know.) And these metal petals are different sizes between lens models, some lens models not having them at all. When they're long enough -- like in the case of the 24/2.8 -- the petals clash with the glass in the Speed Booster and prevent the lens from mounting.

I don't have comprehensive a list of compatible lenses, but in my experience the majority of lenses fit just fine. The problem petals seem to be implemented on the very wide OM lenses. When shopping for OM Zuikos, try to view images of the lens mounts, from a side-on view, to assess whether the petals may be large enough to pose a problem. At the very least, I can confirm that the lenses listed below fit fine on both the standard and Ultra Speed Boosters.

  • 24/2.0
  • 28/2.0
  • 35/2.0
  • 50/1.4
  • 100/2.8

Looking at lens diagrams, the lenses I suspect may have an issue fitting are:

  • 16/3.5
  • 18/3.5
  • 21/3.5
  • 24/2.8
  • 28/3.5
  • 35/2.8

Aside from the 24/2.8, this second list is speculation -- I haven't used these lenses myself. And there may be other problem lenses I haven't identified.

As I mentioned, these metal petals help the lenses sit on a flat surface without the rear lens caps. Which sounds a pretty barbaric practice, regardless of the presence of petal kickstands. One user on YouTube successfully cut off the metal petals for his 24/2.8 in order to safely fit the lens to his Speed Booster Ultra and without disrupting any of the lens's function. So if you're open to a bit of surgery, you can probably make any OM lens work. Personally, I can't bring myself to mar an otherwise pristine lens.


Conclusion

That is, roughly, everything I know about buying OM Zuiko lenses. Of course, I use them to make actual photographs. My photos are organized by lens on my Flickr page, should you want to see what these things can do.

I love Zuikos. You might, too.

Superb article, Mark.

I have just two OM lenses, so far.
A 50/1.4, serial greater than 1,100,000, but no date code. Presumably it's under the focus ring.
and a 500/8 reflex (mirror), date code TNCC, (made in Tatsuno Dec '83).
And now I'm saving for an OM 90/2.0 macro.

Here's the link to a website explaining the date codes, including the place of manufacture,
Google Translate

I have also found Enrico Savazzi's website a useful source of information relating to OM lenses on the m4/3 system,
Photography

Cheers,
 
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One thing that concerns me, for example, is the effort required to change the focal length setting for the IBIS when jumping between manual lenses. Olympus could make this easier, but it is pretty quick to adjust focal length from the quick menu without leaving live view. I've seen screenshots of Sony cameras with this option buried in menus, which would be a huge pain for someone shooting multiple manual lenses.
The Pen-F and E-M1ii have the ability to assign lens profiles. You can in turn add the toggling to a Fn button. If I understand this correctly, it would make things easier for you. Maybe this will be available as a firmware update or presumably with a E-M5iii.
 

ijm5012

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One thing that concerns me, for example, is the effort required to change the focal length setting for the IBIS when jumping between manual lenses. Olympus could make this easier, but it is pretty quick to adjust focal length from the quick menu without leaving live view.

The option that makes most sense is a Sony A6500, which I'm interested to try, but unlikely to any time soon. The camera is not cheap, I'd need to get a new Speed Booster, and for what? Maybe slight improvement in IQ, different FOV through my lenses, and unknown advantages/disadvantages.
EDIT: I see TNCasual already beat me to it...

Just as an FYI Mark, the Pen-F and E-M1 II both have a feature where you can manually enter adapted lens information (name, focal length, aperture value) and save it, for quick recall later. I've done this with my Voigtlander lenses, and mapped the function to one of the buttons on my E-M1 II so that once I press the button, it brings up a menu of all the save lenses, and I simply select which lens I'm shooting with. It automatically sets the correct focal length for IBIS purposes, and displays the programmed aperture value (which I admit, isn't entirely useful unless you either create a ton of presets for each aperture value, or shoot a lens at one specific aperture most of the time).

Having said all of this, I doubt the ergonomics of the Pen-F would be a good fit if you had to buy the grip for the E-M5 II, and the vast majority of the E-M1 II's features would be lost by shooting manual, adapted glass. Plus, shooting manual glass is a slow process anyways, so the marginal increase in time it takes to change the focal length for IBIS purposes through the SCP is likely trivial, and does not result in missing a shot. Anyways, I thought you may be interested to know about this feature on newer Olympus cameras. Who knows, maybe it'll even appear in the E-M5 II via a FW update one day?

Regarding using a larger sensor camera, if you really only shoot down to a 35mm FoV, then I agree, what's the point? Sure, you'll get some nicer files with the a6500, but the handling is far worse than the E-M5 II, the EVF isn't even comparable, and you'd have to deal with Sony menus as well as buying a new Speed Booster. I agree that if the current focal lengths work for you on a m43 camera and you're happy with the E-M5 II's files, why switch?

One question I do have for you is that you said you used to own the Nokton 25. In your opinion, how does the Nokton compare to the Zuiko 35mm f/2 on your Speed Booster? Both yield a 50mm FoV, with the Nokton being a stop faster. Is the sharpness comparable between the two stopped down to f/2 (I find the Nokton to be extremely sharp at f/2), or does the Nokton still hold the edge over the Zuiko?
 

MarkRyan

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I've purchased the following lenses for use with my Metabones Ultra (.71x) and wanted to share my experience:
Very cool to see you had success with shaving down the kickstands. I do have a 50/1.8 as well but it's on loan to a friend since I got the Speed Booster Ultra, so I haven't yet had the disappointment to find that it doesn't fit :) I will probably be selling the standard Speed Booster with the 50/1.8 and 24/2.8 to a good home since (a) they fit that Speed Booster, and (b) I have the Ultra + equivalent lenses (50/1.4 and 24/2) which fit the Ultra.

As for whether I prefer the OM 50 1.4 or the OM 50 1.8, I'm not really sure at the moment. Do you have a preference? My 1.4 is a pretty early copy and I think there are some issues with fuzziness at both ends of the aperture ring, but it does seem pretty similar to the 1.8... I dunno, I haven't really decided / done enough comparisons yet.
I think this will depend on the vintage of your lenses. I did a comparison between my 50/1.4 and 50/1.8, with results in this thread:

Olympus OM 50mm comparison: 50/1.8 vs 50/1.4

The Pen-F and E-M1ii have the ability to assign lens profiles. You can in turn add the toggling to a Fn button. If I understand this correctly, it would make things easier for you. Maybe this will be available as a firmware update or presumably with a E-M5iii.
Just as an FYI Mark, the Pen-F and E-M1 II both have a feature where you can manually enter adapted lens information (name, focal length, aperture value) and save it, for quick recall later.
Thanks for the heads up guys, now I'm envious :) Seriously would love if Olympus adds this to EM5ii, but I won't hold my breath. Unfortunately, last time I checked (admittedly a firmware update or two ago), focal length setting was not saved as part of MySets so even that can't simplify my process. But I am happy at least that the focal length setting can be changed via the quick menu, without leaving live preview.

One question I do have for you is that you said you used to own the Nokton 25. In your opinion, how does the Nokton compare to the Zuiko 35mm f/2 on your Speed Booster? Both yield a 50mm FoV, with the Nokton being a stop faster. Is the sharpness comparable between the two stopped down to f/2 (I find the Nokton to be extremely sharp at f/2), or does the Nokton still hold the edge over the Zuiko?
Unfortunately I can't comment on this. I sold the Voigtlander a while back and only recently got the OM 35/2. What I do remember of the Voigtlander is that it is very sharp at f/4, and it has a surprisingly close minimum focus distance.

Looking at a couple of photo albums I have for either lens, I'd wager the Voigtlander is sharper at f/4 than the OM, but it's not a direct comparison.

OM 35/2 album
Voigtlander 25/0.95 album
 

eteless

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Generation 1: X.Zuiko + Silver Nose

The oldest OM lenses have a prefix letter in front of the Zuiko label, such as E.Zuiko, or H.Zuiko. The letter corresponds to the number of glass elements in the lens, which isn't that relevant to my goal. What is relevant is the simple presence of the X.prefix, as it indicates the lens is from the oldest OM lens batches. These are often also called "silver nose" lenses as the front metal ring of the lenses with X.Zuiko labels are typically chrome against the otherwise black exterior.
To muddy the waters even more, I have one commemorative edition which is silver nosed with a X.Zuiko prefix... however it's also also "Made in Japan" and fully multicoated, IIRC it was made around 2000 for the 20th anniversary. It came with a case and some other things which are lost to time at this stage.
So serial numbers are indicative of lens age, but don't reliably tell the whole story. The only OM Zuiko I've shopped where users consistently cite serial numbers as indicators of lens quality is the Zuiko 50/1.4. With that lens, users seem to think there was some undocumented manufacturing change for lenses after serial #1,100,000 that makes for better images. I don't have the budget to test the validity of these urban legends (but I did go out of my way to find a lens with such a serial number).

The first version was shorter and single coated with thorium glass elements (it's mildly radioactive)
The second version was 4mm longer, however no longer had radioactive glass, still single coated. These are a mix of silver nosed and black nosed.
The transitional version was when they started rolling out multicoating and used the same optical design as the second, most of these didn't have the MC prefix at all (they were using up their stock of already made bezels). These always have the front element multicoated however the middle elements are often only single coated.
The third version redux was identical to the previous, however they added the MC prefix (purely cosmetic redesign), fully multicoated.
The fourth version changed the multicoating to NMC (just a different more effective process), these are the 'made in Japan' lenses over 1.x million or so.
 

MarkRyan

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Thanks for the added info, @eteless.

A bit back on a tangent, but I was listening to the Cameras of Whatever podcast and was reminded of another reason I've stuck with Micro 4/3 rather than larger formats for my OM lenses: I prefer the 4:3 aspect ratio to 3:2 sensors.

I shoot a lot of vertical-oriented image (evidence on my Flickr page), and IMO 2:3 is just too tall to feel comfortable. In fact the 3:2 sensor is the Ricoh GR is the primary reason I ended up selling the camera, I kept wanting to turn it vertical but it often felt too tall. Of course I can crop a 2:3 image into a 3:4 aspect ratio, or even enable a 4:3 ratio in the camera, at the expense of filling the EVF. Or I can stick with the camera I've already got and enjoy it's native 4:3 ratio.
 

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