Olympus H. Zuiko Auto-S 42mm f/1.2

One of the most sought after Olympus Pen F System lenses, the H. Zuiko 42mm f/1.2 is a superfast normal lens for the half-frame Pen F camera from the mid nineteen sixties. It was the fastest lens ever made for the Pen F cameras. It is popular today on NEX and Micro Four Thirds cameras due to its low light uses and extremely shallow depth of field.

Panasonic has recently announced they will be releasing a very similar lens for Micro Four Thirds. It will be a Leica branded Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2. It will be very interesting to test it once it is released, but it would be reasonable to assume it will have similar characteristics to this classic lens. Notably, the Panasonic will support autofocus, while this Zuiko is manual focus.

Lenses currently available for Micro Four Thirds cameras with comparable apertures fall into two categories:

  • Firstly there are the superfast native manual M43 primes from Voigtlander, the 17.5mm f/0.95, the 25mm f/0.95 and the 42.5mm f/0.95. SLR Magic similarly makes a native 50mm f/0.95.
  • Secondly, there are a large number of adapted superfast manual lenses, such as the Rokkor X 58mm f/1.2, Tomioka 55mm f/1.2, Porst 55mm f/1.2, and so on.

Note that all of these currently available superfast options have purely manual focus and aperture (until Pansonic release their Nocticron).

The H. Zuiko 42mm has some advantages over all other adapted superfast lenses, including:

  • Minimum focus distance of 0.35m
  • Robust, precision all metal body
  • Smaller size and light weight
  • Wider angle (42 vs ~50mm)

It also has 8 aperture blades for circular bokeh at all apertures, compared with the other Pen F primes, which commonly have just 5 blades.

Using the H. Zuiko 42mm f/1.2 on Micro Four Thirds

Now that I have a good copy of this lens I am beginning to explore its use for low light and short focus photography on my Olympus OM-D, I will be adding more sample images over the next month or two.

Of course, this is a manual focus and aperture lens which was originally designed for film cameras. It is pretty remarkable how well it performs on a 2013 digital mirrorless camera.

As with all my lens tests, what follows will be completely unscientific. I aim to discover how this lens captures the kinds of images I want to make, and this is naturally subjective. Additionally, unless noted otherwise, test shots will be processed and may have had sharpening, colour adjustments and other editing applied.

Bokeh

Bokeh is busy, with a tendency to swirl.

Thanks to the 8 curved aperture blades, even as the aperture is stopped down, bokeh maintains a nice circular shape.

Sharpness

Wide open this lens can be a little difficult to focus, particularly for distant objects. The image is quite soft with a lot of spherical aberration, or glow. Of course, this is expected with a lens of this aperture.

At f/2.0, this lens is acceptably sharp in the centre, with some field curvature showing as edge softness.

From f/4 onwards, this lens is sharp across the frame and perfectly usable for landscapes.

Spherical Aberration

One of the characteristics of a fast lens like this is “glow”, otherwise known as spherical aberration. It increases towards the outside of the image. When the H. Zuiko is wide open, the spherical aberration is quite pronounced. In the right circumstances, this flaw produces a very beautiful effect, with a delicate balance between sharpness and unsharpness, as below.

Flare

Single coated lenses are prone to veiling flare. This Zuiko is especially susceptible when at full aperture, in my experience. Thankfully, flare need not be a big issue — Use a lens hood when shooting into the light, and increase contrast in post when necessary.

Other notes

The H. Zuiko 42mm has a short focus throw of 180° to travel from 0.35m to infinity, making it quick and easy to pull focus to the general distance you need. The focus ring is well damped, at least on my copy of this lens.

I have mentioned it previously, but it bears repeating, this lens is quite amazingly small and light, but well constructed. It just feels beautiful to use.

Conclusion

When it comes to superfast lenses on Micro Four Thirds, options are somewhat limited. The H. Zuiko 42mm f/1.2 has several advantages over other adapted f/1.2 or faster lenses. In fact until the Panasonic/Leica 42.5mm is released, it is the smallest and lightest superfast lens available.

In my real-world testing over the last few weeks, I have found this Zuiko to be very enjoyable to use. It is a fun lens that is easy to get used to, and produces some amazing images. It will live on the front of my EP-5 for the foreseeable future.

Specifications:

Olympus Pen F Auto-S H. Zuiko 1:1.2 f=42mm

  • Focal length: 42mm
  • Max f stop: f/1.2
  • Min f stop: f/16
  • Elements/Groups: 8/6
  • Aperture Blades: 8
  • Filter: 49mm
  • Min focus: 0.35m
  • Weight: 255g
  • Year of manufacture: 1963-66
  • Mount: Pen F Mount
  • 35mm equivalent:
    • APS-C: 68mm
    • Micro Four Thirds: 84mm
  • Price: $800-1000

Sample Images

References

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