Olympus f/2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake SLR Lens Review

A 🥞 38mm Lens to Pocket Your Olympus PEN F/FV/FT SLR

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This summer, I went on a few hikes with my friends. Naturally, being obsessed with film cameras, I had to bring one with me every time. But it couldn’t be anything large or brittle: the walks took hours, often through mud, dust, roots, and boulders. The camera would also have to be light because every second wasted setting up the shot would bring me closer to making a fool out of myself: running and yelling, “wait for me, guys!”

A foldable rangefinder or a tiny zone/autofocus camera that could either slip into a pant or a jacket pocket usually worked great for those situations. But having recently acquired the excellent Olympus PEN FV half-frame SLR, I also discovered a lens for it that looked fantastically slim. Excited by the prospect of pocketable manual exposures and through-the-lens focusing, I clicked “Purchase.”

Lens size, weight, and specifications.

Having arrived days later, my 38mm Olympus 𝒇2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S lens measured around 1.25cm (½”) from the base when attached to the camera. It weighed 74g (2.6oz). Attached to the camera, it took up 5cm ╳ 13cm ╳ 7cm, which is about 2” ╳ 5⅛” ╳ 3” and weighted an exact 550g (1.2lb).

On a half-frame, the E.Zuiko’s 38mm focal length equates to about 55mm (57mm if converted to APS-C sensor or 76mm on M/43), making the objects in my PEN FV’s viewfinder appear slightly smaller than they do to my eye.

Its 𝒇2.8 max aperture (going up to 𝒇16) proved to be a little dark for certain scenes. With the minimum focus distance of 0.8m (2’7½”), it was capable of nice bokeh, but it would not melt backgrounds out of existence. Its depth of field at 𝒇2.8 and min. focus distance is 3cm or 1⅛”.

Image quality.

Having owned my E.Zuiko Auto-S  for just a few months, I can say that it definitely comes with a strong contrast, at least when used with slide film. It seems very sharp; however, I found it difficult to get its focus perfect every time. It’s probably my fault, as I’m still not as comfortable focusing with SLRs as I am with rangefinders.

I found the lens to also create great colour renditions on my slide film without much distortion, even in the corners.

Olympus 𝒇2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake SLR Lens with Provia 100F.
Olympus 𝒇2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake SLR Lens with Provia 100F.

It worked with my specialty film, Lomochrome Purple, quite nicely as well. The lens seemed sharp enough to get lots of detail from a grainy film on half a frame.

Olympus 𝒇2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake SLR Lens with Lomochrome Purple.

Despite its relatively large minimal focus distance, the lens drew pleasant-looking out-of-focus blurs. With the lens’ strong contrast profile, the bokeh made for a neat background separation effect on my Provia 100F slide film.

Olympus 𝒇2.8 E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake SLR Lens with Provia 100F.

My impression so far with this lens is very favourable. It has few drawbacks when it comes to the optics, mostly around its relatively long minimum focus distance and aperture. With it, you may not be able to do the “usual SLR things,” like near-macro shots or tons of background separation. But that may be a small price to pay for the freedom it brings along.

Lens handling and ergonomics.

The first thing I’ve noticed with this lens as soon as I tried to mount it was how thin the lens lock and DOF preview metal tabs are. All my other Olympus Pen F lenses have them as thick, easy-to-press buttons. But this Auto-S forced me to squeeze something a little less comfortable. It is, however, understandable, given the small amount of space there is.

The aperture ring didn’t feel much different from normal-sized glass. Though a little thin, my medium-sized man fingers had no trouble cycling through clicks or stopping in-between the marked apertures. It could even be lifted and twisted 180° to show instead the numbers used for PEN FT’s built-in light meter values.

However, it’s the focus ring that gave me the most trouble. Actually, it isn’t a ring — rather two tabs that partially hover above the aperture ring. The tabs are hard to find quickly — they are completely black and are about an inch wide and half an inch thick. When focusing near the infinity, one of the tabs would have just ½” (13mm) clearance between my PEN FV's shutter dial, making it mostly inaccessible. All these troubles become more apparent while using the viewfinder, forced to navigate by touch. Nowadays, I feel like I’m starting to get used to this setup, but a new owner should expect to take extra time with this dial.

With my Olympus PEN FV, the pancake lens made for a fantastically small SLR that I could legitimately stick inside a jacket pocket. Still much heavier and larger than Minolta TC-1 — but a proper SLR that shoots in a completely different way.

Light lens repair.

Note: This is an expensive lens that you should not attempt to repair without proper tools and prior experience.

My lens’ lubricant caked over the years, making the already fiddly task of focusing much more difficult. Thankfully, it proved to be an easy fix.

A self-healing rubber pad with inch marks is extremely useful for small repairs. It’s the best way not to lose screws and small parts, minimize all kinds of damage, and it’s a ruler!

I’ve removed the front bezel with the branding using a rubber lens tool and carefully unscrewed the back cover. Be careful that the buttons and other parts don’t immediately fall out (which is exactly what happened to me).

Next, I cleaned up whatever fifty years’ worth of gunk I could find and eased a few drops of a new lubricant into the thread that lets the barrel travel along the focus axis. I used something called “Super Lube,” which is a multi-purpose synthetic oil.

It’s important to ensure no excess oils were sitting inside the casing, fogging the elements. So I exercised the mechanism a dozen times, dabbing oozing oil drops with cotton swabs.

The lens performed like new.

Another slight annoyance that all PEN F lenses possess is the often-pricey all-metal lens cap with the gothic F logo. While beautiful, its design is far from one that can stand the test of time. Unlike the common caps with squeeze buttons that rely on the filter thread, this one slides immediately on top of the slippery lens barrel, barely holding on with a thin strip of a soft felt on the inside. Of course, the felt becomes compacted over the years, and the cap ends up holding on very flimsily.

I tried brushing the felt gently with a soft, clean toothbrush with the hopes of perking up the felt hairs a bit. This (sort of) worked, but the improvement felt negligible.

Where to buy your E.Zuiko Auto-S Pancake lens.

In late 2021, this lens averages on eBay around $600, with 90% of the copies being shipped from Japan. I would certainly advise you to ask the questions about the ease of focus ring rotation and, of course, check for fungus, haze, and major scratches on the glass.

By the way: If you choose to get your 38mm E.Zuiko Auto-S from eBay, please consider using the above links so that this website may get a small percentage of a sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!