Olympus 38mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S Lens Review

The Middle of Everything “PEN”

6 min read by

Having become obsessed with the Olympus PEN cameras via Danilo’s review of the system, I finally caved and bought my dream SLR off eBay. A week later, my precious package arrived “stock” with an inconspicuous Olympus 𝒇1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S Lens — the star of today’s review.

A glance at this lens’ specs compared to other “native” offerings for the PEN mount placed it smack in the middle for speed, focal length, and size.

A portrait of an Olympus f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S Lens.

Lens size, weight, and specifications.

The lens’ fairly fast 𝒇1.8 aperture on a “normal” 38mm focal length (53mm full-frame equiv.) is impressive, yet not as much as the lineup’s fastest 𝒇1.2 H.Zuiko Auto-S. The F.Zuiko has no supreme specs like the insanely-long focal length of the 800mm Zuiko Mirror T or the feather-like 74g of E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake. Though it is still on the light side, weighing a modest 138g (4.87oz) and measuring 3.5cm (1⅓”) from the base to the front of the lens.

Notably, the lens is suitable for near-macro photography with its minimum focus distance of 35cm (1’1¾”). If you end up adopting this lens to your digital camera, the minimum focus distance doubles to somewhere around 0.6m — depending on your mount.

But despite having no edgy appeal like some of its seemingly more interesting siblings, I found this lens to be quite versatile, a pleasure to operate & capable of producing reasonably sharp images. You’d be hard-pressed to find many half-frame film cameras capable of making images of such quality.

Image quality.

When slightly stopped down, the lens is capable of bringing out a lot of detail with only slight barrel distortion and minimal chromatic aberration.

Kodak Portra 160 with Olympus f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S.

I found Auto-S being able to render a surprising amount of information on such a small format (only 18 ╳ 24mm). If you are reading this article on a large screen, you might be able to see individual buildings over 15km (9mi) away in the below scan of my Kodak Portra 160.

The lens isn’t perfect, of course. I found my scans requiring a bit of work to fix the colour and contrast levels. The F.Zuiko in my possession had visible fungus spots on its elements that may have contributed to some hazing and loss of contrast. It’s hard to say what was at fault here: Olympus or the mushrooms.

When it comes to pixel peeping, F.Zuiko gets a little soft in the corners, with the least area affected while stopped down — though still visible at 𝒇5.6. You’ll need a good scanner and some magnification to notice these blemishes — at their worst, they occupy less than 2% of the image.

Kodak Portra 160 with Olympus f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S.
Kodak Portra 160 with Olympus f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S.

The bokeh, when the lens is shot wide open at 𝒇1.8, is pronounced. However, I wouldn’t say that it looks as good as the dreamy Voigtländer Ultron 2.0 renderings, as smooth as Polaroid SX-70’s, or as head-spinningly swirly as that of Industar-10. A decent way to create a ton of background separation — but nothing worth labelling as “legendary.”

Stovetop espresso on Kodak Portra 160 with Olympus f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S.

Shooting this lens at its widest seems to also reveal some loss of sharpness across the frame, particularly in the low-contrast scenes.

An apparent plus is that the lens does not seem to be prone to much flaring. Although, to be fair, the weather in Vancouver was a little dusk in the weeks I’ve been playing with it; thus, you may have a different experience.

Overall, I am very pleased with F.Zuiko’s sharpness, correction, and optical “character.”

It is not incredible by any means, but a solid performer, especially when compared to other fifty-year-old half-frame cameras’ glass.

Lens build quality, handling, and ergonomics.

Like all other lenses in the PEN-mount series, this F.Zuiko sports a well-made frame comprised mostly of metal and glass — with very few plastic parts. Though (close, but) not quite at the level of a luxury item, it is a good-looking gadget that feels solid to touch and isn’t fiddly — while still small enough to fit in a jacket pocket comfortably.

It has a pretty wide focus throw, though I didn’t find any issues with that personally. Much of the rotation is reserved for close focusing that could be ignored in most situations.

The aperture clicks are firm. The silver ring that sets them can be pulled towards the front and then rotated 180° to reveal exposure numbers instead of 𝒇-stops on top of the lens (when mounted) — a feature meant to be used with the PEN SLR’s light meter.

However, my favourite part of this lens’ aesthetic is the original lens cap that comes with it. A solid metal black paint peripheral with a large gothic “F” at the front. What a beauty.

Light lens repair.

There are plenty of lenses and cameras that I still find too intimidating to take apart. F.Zuiko Auto-S isn’t like that. I had no trouble taking it apart, cleaning the elements and putting it back together without having to look anything up online. Of course, you’d need to have the right tools and some experience working with old equipment like that if you want to do the same.

Where to buy your F.Zuiko Auto-S lens.

The lens currently averages around $120, depending on the condition. Most of the copies are sold from Japan, which means that you may have to pay a bit of an import fee — in Canada, it was around 15% of the total.

I would certainly advise you to check pictures for fungus, haze, and major scratches on the glass elements — and the seller’s reputation rating.

By the way: Please consider making your 38mm F.Zuiko Auto-S lens purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!