zd 35mm x f=3.5 macro lens

budget zuiko digital macro lens on test


MANUFACTURERS DESCRIPTION:

Equivalent to 70mm Macro lens on a 35mm Film Camera.

For close-ups and portraits; Closest focusing distance of 0.146m.

The ZUIKO DIGITAL 35mm 1:3.5 Macro lens offers an equivalent range of 70mm on a 35mm film camera. This is a special macro photography lens designed for use with the Macro flash system but also equally good in normal use. It is extreme compact and the worlds lightest macro lens. It offers a magnification of 1:1 life size which has an image magnification size equivalent to 2:1 in a 35mm film camera.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS:

Modelname EM-3535

Focal Length: 35mm; equiv = 70mm

Maximum Aperture: 1:3.5

Minimum Aperture: 1:22

Lens Construction: 6 Elements in 6 Groups

Angle of View: 34

Number of Diaphragm Blades: 7pcs

Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.146m.

Maximum Magnification: 1:0x

Filter Size: 52mm

Lens Hood: No

Dimensions: Diameter 71mm x Length 53mm

Weight: 165g

Compatibility:

Tele converter EC-14 = Yes.

Extension tube EX-25 = Yes.

Lens cap: LC-52B ( 52mm) Back cap LR-1

Box contents: Lens cap (LC-52B), lens rear cap (LR-1), instruction manual, warranty card.

CHARTS:

Lens architecture and MTF chart (courtesy of Olympus Imaging, Japan.)


INTRODUCTION:

The reason I haven't gone for the expensive and fast ZD 50mm Macro is simple; price and probable use. I have a selection of OM Zuiko Macro lenses including the renowned 90mm x 2.0 and its smaller sibling the 50mm x 3.5 and these normally serve my purpose for the limited amount of macro work I undertake. But, now and then, I have need of an AF macro lens. The 35mm ZD offers a greater ratio capable of 1:1 whereas the 50mm faster version gives a lesser 1:2. These factors as well as price (OK mainly price) persuaded me to add this lens to my armoury.

Recommended retail price is 189. I managed to buy mine for 150. Not a star buy by any means but I did support one of the local photo shops. I've also been told that UK prices for all Olympus lenses are set to rise by about 12.5% in autumn of 2007.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

The box is the usual silver livery with black markings. Inside is spartan; there is no lens case provided - I find this irksome and it means I have to look around for a separate case. The lens comes only with its front and back caps. No hood is provided (a hood is hardly required as the front element is set deeply into the body though at full 1:1 the front element is very near the front of the barrel). However I cannot see many circumstances where a hood would be an imperative. A generic rubber screw-in hood would suffice. There's an idiot's guide of do's and don't's, a warranty card and that's about it.

The lens itself is of typical budget construction being similar to the ZD17.7-45 and the new ZD14-42 and also shares the same 'deep finger' front cap. It is light and a tad plasticky but no worse than other budget lenses from Olympus. Obviously there's no zoom ring, only the front manual focus ring made of hard ribbed plastic, not rubber. The nomenclature plate is printed, not embossed, and set into a small recess on the top of the lens. The usual red nipple acts as a mounting guide. Underneath is the serial number plate and the whole lot is 'Made in China'. The front dress ring is anonymous with lens and filter size (52mm) details printed on the outer edge of the barrel just in front of the manual focus ring. The mounting ring is stainless steel though I'm sure the weight of the lens would be just as well served by a composite mount.

Weight is 165g and the lens is very light. Size is 2.75" diameter by only 2" front to back giving it an undersquare and 'chunky' look. The front element is tiny, about 14mm dia, whereas the rear element is 18mm. Front and back elements reflect mainly purple and are likely to be only single coated.

There's not much to this lens. A manual focus ring, thread for a 52mm filter, an ID plate and that's about it.

Here the ZD35mm Macro is mounted on the diminutive E-400. These are made for each other!

AESTHETICS:

The ZD35mm Macro is a budget lens so don't expect it to look stunning. It is functional. On the E-400 above and the E-500 it looks fine but on the E-1 or E330 it looks a tad dwarfed. I like the look of the plain black dress ring; reminds me of the Sigma 30mm. As with all short focal length Macro lenses the front element is small and deeply recessed so there is little glass to be admired. It is reminicent of the OM50mm x 3.5 Macro.

ERGONOMICS:

Quite simply there's not a lot to dislike about ergonomics. The lens feels OK in the hand and the fingers nicely fall to the manual ring. Its shortness means that overhand holding is a little restricted and be carefull not to include your fingers in the frame if using it overhand. Underhand seems the more natural hold.

AF SPEED & ACCURACY

The AF motor is reasonably quiet though it won't win any 'silent running' prizes. I compared it to the ZD 14-54 on an E-1 body and in the close down sequence of returning the lens to infinity, the high grade lens was certainly quieter than the budget ZD 35mm. It appears to be the same overall speed of any other ZD lens but remember the internal mechanism has a lot more to do winding the elements in and out from infinity to 1:1 than a non-macro lens, so it appears to be slower. A complete movement takes a full 2 seconds.

OUTDOORS: Accuracy in normal outdoor conditions is just fine and the more light the better. But, even in deep shadow it never failed to give a first time and accurate lock. To me this little lens behaved the same as any other ZD though it seems to run a little 'rougher'.

INDOORS: In a 14' x 14' room lit only by a standard 100W bulb the AF worked fine 99% of the time. The AF seems to work in a three step process; search: approximate lock: final lock. Ocassionally when focusing away from a close object on to a non-too contrasty surface the AF system would get confused and wind in and out again before locking. In darker areas the AF relies on a strobe from the on-board flash to provide a lock (except E-1 that has an IR system). In all but the most dire circumstances this worked satisfactorily. Having read some opinion about the sometimes poor AF lock on the 50mm Macro in imperfect conditions, I was happy with the speed of AF lock on the budget version. Without sophisticated equipment it's impossible to be give readers a precise indication or measure of AF speed and accuracy, and having little experience with other manufacturers I'm not in a position to compare. To me its performance was fine for an everyday DSLR user.

MANUAL FOCUS:

I use MF with ZD lenses very little, but to me the manual ring on this little lens seems more responsive than other ZD's. It feels different from the 'fly by wire' on other ZD's, but it's not as good as the fully mechanical mechanism in the Sigma 30mm. To wind out the lens fully takes about 2 1/2 turns of the ring. As a user of older OM glass on the E-System none of the newer mechanisms have the responsiveness of the helicoil and I still miss the 'snap to focus' we enjoyed on the big screens of all OM cameras (gripe over!)


STANDARD TEST:

I know many folks will buy this lens as an all purpose tool and not purely for macro. So it seems appropriate to test it against my normal target which is a stone gate pillar with a small house sign (landscape A4 size) that is 230 foot from the camera-on-tripod position.

For all sessions of testing I use the E-400 with these base settings: A mode, ESP, ISO = 200, WB AUTO, NR= OFF, S-AF, File = SHQ, VIVID, COMP -0.3.



And here are the crops:


These are all much of a muchness. I was slightly disappointed when first seeing the results; it is possible to see an improvement between f3.5 and f 5.6 and then a deterioration. But it's not possible to see any major difference at differing apertures. It's also pretty easy to see the diffraction effect as the example at f=22 is very poor. ZD lenses are best used between wide open and around f=11. On studying other ZD lenses performance against this long distance test the little 35mm Macro actually peforms quite well. But I need a direct comparison so I mount the new ZD1442 lens on the E-400, set it to 35mm to get the following results:


Hmmmm......these are much the same though with this lens there's a more evident dropping of resolution as the aperture closes. Both of these little lenses have almost defined the lettering on the sign but they might be approaching the edge of their resolution capabilities. Again you can see the F=22 result is poor due to diffraction. Reluctantly I decide to use a closer target. A little improvisation came up with this new target that is positioned 40 feet from the cameras sensor. (Crops follow on).





Surprisingly, the 35mm Macro lens appears to perform better wide open. (Yes I checked, twice!) This is unusual; normally the finest level of sharpness is obtained with any lens closed by two stops. The subsequent progession of worsening sharpness as the aperture closes seems correct from f5.6 and above and is typical, though I expected better at f=11. The f=22 example is poor. For the sake of completeness I repeat the test with the ZD1442 lens:


It's plain the internal positioning of the elements gives a slightly closer point of view at 35mm on the ZD1442 zoom - not unusual. These examples show the normal image degradation as the aperture is closed. (The ZD 1442 when set to 35mm gives an aperture of f=5.3).

OBSERVATIONS ON STANDARD TEST:

Making sharpness and resolution comparisons is difficult when measured over the distance involved in my STANDARD TEST 1 as any perceived differences are small. There is little difference between the ZD35mm Macro and ZD 1442mm and maybe at a focal length of 35mm (70mm equivalent) and at this distance they are both on the edge of their resolving power. However, I use this standard test throughout my lens testing, and it's good to copmpare results across the range of tested lenses. I'm going to leave the initial set of results in. Thinking I might do better using a closer target to illustrate a point, I set up STANDARD TEST 2. Not only do I wish to compare the two lenses I also want to demonstrate the effect of closing the aperture on the macro lens (and the first test did not clearly illustrate this).

STANDARD TEST 2 - the 'air can' - does show that aperture has a big role to play in rendering sharp images. Continually closing the aperture does not increase sharpness; quite the opposite. The 'Rule of Thumb' to obtain the best level of sharpness with most lenses is to close the aperture by 2 stops only from its maximum. However, as we can see in the results from the ZD 35mm macro lens it appears to give its best results wide open (f=3.5) and deteriorate by f=11. This might be due to this lens giving the best contrast when wide open which gives the apperance of better sharpness. The lesson here is not to continually close the aperture thinking this will sharpen up your image; use only the first 3 or 4 stops, lighting conditions permitting. And don't forget the diffraction phenomena that kicks in around f=11 significantly reducing resolution.


TEST TWO - BARREL DISTORTION:

Here is the standard test for barrel distortion:

Please bear in mind my test set-up for barrel is quite primitive. The ZD 35mm Macro lens shows a tiny amount of barrelling though I doubt very much if you will see it in your images.




TEST THREE - MACRO WORK Pt 1:

Now we get down to demonstrate the ZD35mm macro strengths. The first set of images endeavours to explore full macro capabilities:

Pretty, but boring, flower arrangement.This is taken at a distance of about 18".

I tried hard to hit the various macro steps as shown on the barrel. This is at 1:4


Next maro step of 1:2


Next macro step of 1:1.5


Next macro step of 1:1


OBSERVATIONS ON MACRO FLOWER IMAGES:

Remember, the above are full size images, not crops. I've not got much to add other than for a 'budget' lens I think these results are exceptionally good. It took a bit of messing around to get the final image at full stretch 1:1 as the lens front element is less than 50mm from the subject and getting an AF lock proved tricky but not impossible. I used f=5.6 for all macro shots with the E-400 tripod mounted. As you can see there is a little forgiveness in the DofF, but not much. Using the preview button to assess DofF might be good on paper but practically it is of limited use. Checking the shot on the monitor is a better way and certainly a Live View function is always welcome for any macro work. The final test for sharpness must be via the PC screen. I had one attempt only at this series and the images are untouched except for dpi resizing. Sharpness is excellent with good colour rendition and plenty of detail.


TEST THREE - MACRO WORK Pt 2:

A second series of images (one pound coin).

This will give you an idea of how close the front of the lens needs to be to the object to produce a 1:1.

Again, I tried hard to hit the various macro steps as shown on the barrel. This is at 1:4


Next maro step of 1:2


Next macro step of 1:1.5


Next macro step of 1:1


OBSERVATIONS ON MACRO COIN IMAGES:

Remember, the above are full size images, not crops. Very nice indeed. What else can I say? I am more and more impressed. At last a DSLR outfit that can compete with the huge advantages held by current digicams for macro imaging, at an affordable price.


TEST THREE - MACRO WORK Pt 3 ~ WITH ZUIKO DIGITAL EC14:

Although there is a slight loss of available light, using the ZD EC14 with this little macro lens has the advantage of allowing the user to step back a little way from the object. This is especially useful if you require 1:1 imaging. It also increases image size. Here's another set of coin images taken using this combination:

Once again, I tried hard to hit the various macro steps as shown on the barrel. This is at 1:4


Next maro step of 1:2


Next macro step of 1:1.5. If you compare this with the 1:1 image in the first series you'll see they are about the same. In other words using the EC14 adds almost another macro ratio step output from this lens.


Next macro step of 1:1

OBSERVATIONS ON SECOND MACRO COIN IMAGES:

Remember, the above are full size images, not crops. It just gets better. The EC14 is a remarkable piece of glass. I bought it some time ago and was astonished to find it does not degrade the image in any way. Its only disadvantage is the loss of light but with this type of macro work you will have the camera tripod mounted so a long exposure is no problem. As an accessory it is expensive and I wouldn't recommend buying it for this alone. But as a general addition to all your ZD lenses it's well worth thinking about. As said the advantage here is twofold: more magnification from slightly further from the object; but don't expect to be significantly further away - I found the difference to be only a few (but convenient) centimeters.


TEST FOUR GENERAL PHOTOGRAPHY:

Finally here's a few shots I took around my garden just to show this little lens is a very capable all-rounder. Yes, some users might consider it a tad slow but think about it; when you set your ZD1442 kit zoom to 35mm it works at an aperture of f=5.3 or f=4.8 on the ZD1445. (Even used in conjunction with the ZD EC14 you are no worse off, speed wise!)

Don't ask me what these are called! I caught this image in a low sun which gives them the effect of being back lit. I was truly amazed to see the level of sharpness and colour rendition in this particular image.

Another shot in the dappled light of heavy shade and bright highlights.


Interesting detail of mother nature in the process of re-cycling an old tree.


I couldn't resist these delightful baby Spotted Flycatchers (not Robins as I first thought) that hatched about 6 days ago. It's the first time I've managed to see a Flycatchers nest so close.


OBSERVATIONS ON GENERAL IMAGES:

These garden images are all sharp and well rendered. There's no distortion that I can see. There's little to complain about in any of the images throughout this test which illustrates the tiny Olympus macro lens is a serious contender as a reasonably priced prime lens. The Flycatchers nest is about 8.5 feet from the ground so the camera was held overhead and more liable to camera shake. An E-410 or E510 LV monitor would have been no help here as overhead shots require a tiltable screen. All in all the E-400 and 35mm Macro did a good job though the fledglings parents weren't too impressed!


OPINION:

To be honest what more do you want for 150? This is a very capable little all-rounder that is equally good as any of the standard kit lenses and as far as sharpness goes is superior. Add to that its excellent 1:1 macro capabilities and this lens must be set to become one of Olympus' best sellers. Many experienced OM photographers used the OM 50mm Macro as a standard lens and there's no reason why you can't treat this lens the same way. Whilst its aperture may not be super fast, f=3.5 is adequately generous for most applications and, for sure, it is on top of its job as a Macro lens.

SHARPNESS: The results above speak for themselves. This lens provides very sharp images from wide open to around f=11.

CONTRAST: The ZD 35mm Macro might be a tad too contrasty for some tastes. I really should have re-set my E-400 to 'NATURAL' but I simply forgot. This additional contrast adds a further level of sharpness perception to already very sharp images, but this effect in no way detracts from the images.

COLOUR RENDERING: To my eyes colour rendering is not a problem for the little ZD 35mm. When used in combination with the ZD EC14 there's no loss of colour or tone. (This was an issue with the Sigma 30mm x f=1.4 lens).

RESOLUTION: The optical resolution of this lens is well matched to the 10MP of the E-400's sensor. The first set of distance crops above showed it may have been struggling a little. But, this is a budget lens after all.

CHROMATIC ABBERRATION: Generally the ZD 35mm seems free of CA. We can always force the error but that applies to any lens. For 95% of situations I believe this lens has no major CA issues.

BARRELLING: The ZD 35mm displays a very small amount of barrelling; not enough to worry about.

FLARE: Not an issue.

HANDLING: It is light and suits the smaller E-cameras well. It is a tad hard and plasticky to the touch, but it is a budget lens.

FINAL COMMENTS:

There's a lot of truth in 'the simpler the better' and this lens is simple and straightforward. Its 6 element construction and single coating provides enough sharpness and colour rendering as most folks would want or need. The little ZD 35mm Macro is very good at its job.

Have I any negative comments? I've been struggling with this since I began writing this article. The answer is no; I cannot think of anything negative to say. I suppose if I compared MTF and lens resolving charts with its sibling I will likely see it is 'down' a bit in strict laboratory conditions. But I've judged it by what it produced for me and I'm very happy. I can't compare it with the more expensive ZD 50mm Macro as I don't have that lens, but my good friend Andrzej Wrotniak has just completed his test of the ZD 50mm Macro and if you wish to study his findings you can read them here. According to Andrzej and based on various posted samples he has seen from the ZD 35mm, it strikes him as being not quite as good as the ZD50mm. I'm not surprised, after all the ZD 50mm is three times the price; but I doubt it is three times 'better'. Buying the ZD 50mm Macro you are paying a big margin for the higher specified lens; faster at f=2.0, better construction with dust & drip proofing, a distance scale, a lens case etc. The more expensive lens will give a better 'bokeh' no doubt, but I doubt it will be significantly sharper.

I can compare the results between the old OM 50mm Macro lens and the ZD 35mm. The latter certainly equals the OM version on sharpness and rendering and beats it on ratio. Many E-system users deploy the ZD 50mm Macro as a portrait lens; personally I don't consider it's cheaper and shorter sibling is suitable for portraits because of its shorter focal length, lack of a really deep 'bokeh' and, frankly, being too sharp, but you may disagree.

There are always those who 'dis' a lens because it is budget. If you ignore this Zuiko Digital lens on that basis then you are missing out. For both experienced E-system users and newcomers alike who fancy macro work, or adding a very useful fixed focal length (prime) lens to their armoury, this really is too good to miss.

Do I recommend it - absolutely. A cracking lens at a cracking price.

ACTUAL PRICES (MRRP):

UK 189; Available on-line for about 130. US prices are unknown.


NOTE: This article seeks nothing other than to inform. Only you can decide what equipment you want/need for your use. Bear in mind I own these lenses, out of my own pocket; I have nothing to gain or lose by publishing this article, photographs, examples or opinion.


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Posted July 2007 Copyright © 2004/2005/2006/2007 John Foster