Hands on with the M.Zuiko ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO!

A month ago, we reported the introduction of a rather unusual and, in my opinion, creatively stimulating lens by OM System: the M.Zuiko ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO. Thanks to our friends at OM System, I got a chance to spend a week with the lens before its official release and I am here to tell you that my enthusiasm at the announcement was not unwarranted.

It’s available starting today on our website or in-store at a Mike’s Camera near you, and if you have any interest in super-macro photography, you have got to check this one out. Plus, it’s wrapped up in a solid telephoto prime—the very best of the very near and the very far! Read on for more of my firsthand impressions, or click here to snag yours right now.

This lens isn’t just peacocking—it’s the real deal!

I’ll try not to repeat too much from the previous article (click here for more exhaustive details and image samples provided by OM System) but it’s worth going over the basics again. The M.Zuiko ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO is a rugged, IP53-certified true macro lens with 2:1 maximum magnification, meaning that at the closest possible focusing distance, the image of the subject on the sensor is twice as large as the physical size of the subject itself. Again, YOW!

It’s an unprecedented step forward for the Micro Four Thirds system… on paper. But how does it do in real life? Let’s take a gander! For illustration purposes, I’ll be using out-of-camera JPG images, unedited except for cropping. I had my trusty OM-D E-M10 II for this adventure; more advanced cameras like the OM-5 and OM-1 would perform even better. (For example, the in-lens image stabilization system is rated to provide six stops of shake correction. With a compatible camera, Sync-IS is rated for up to seven.)

Fit & finish

Click to enlarge

As someone who is highly susceptible to gear obsession, I know how easy it is to get distracted by the tools of a trade from actually performing the trade (for me it’s keyboards, typewriters, pens, and, of course, photo equipment). That being said, the feel of your tool can sometimes make all the difference. For a truly intuitive imaging experience, it’s important that you feel like your gear is an extension of your natural limbs. Nothing can ruin an incredible shot like fiddling around with menus!

To this end, I have to put the AF/MF clutch firmly in the spotlight. I adore this feature, and the engineers at OM System have done a great job making the clutch on the 90mm macro feel sturdy, dependable, and even satisfying to use. Pop it forward and you’re cruising in autofocus. Pop it back, cleverly revealing focusing guide ring that indicates both distance and magnification level, and you’re in full control. The sound and level of required pressure are perfect. I found myself switching between AF and MF quite naturally as I bounced between subjects. Outstanding job!

The bulk of the exterior appears to be plastic (I couldn’t find specifics) but it feels thick and durable. Having used much chunkier long lenses, I appreciated the minimal burden of its weight—just under a pound.

As a telephoto lens

The primary appeal of this lens is obviously its macro capability, but a 90mm lens on a Micro Four Thirds body is a draw in itself. (That’s a 180mm full-frame equivalent field of view.) That’s an impressive distance, and can be expanded with both M.Zuiko 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. I happened to be visiting the Inland Empire right after an unbelievable blizzard and took the opportunity to capture a rare view of their mountains under a blanket of snow.

Nice reach, and pretty sharp, too! When you’re working at a distance, you can keep both the foreground and background clear. The palm tree (love that contrast) was probably about 30 feet from me and turned out a wee bit blurry, but the houses (maybe 100 feet away) in the second image turned out wonderfully. And check out this pixel-peeping crop!

Very… cool. Get it?

I’ve always said these MFT sensors bat above their size classification, and I stand by that.

I also tested the lens out in the always-challenging field of “quick, take that picture at the red light!” photography. As with the rest of the images presented, click to enlarge!

When I remembered to turn off the self timer (not on a tripod anymore, mister), I found the autofocus performance quite up to the task. I officially approve the M.Zuiko ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO for use as a telephoto prime!

Bonus test: I wasn’t able to make an extremely impressive sunstar (not to say it couldn’t happen), but sans hood you can get some really neat rainbows.

The main event: a master of macro

Finally, the question you’ve all been wondering:

How’s the macro performance?

The short answer is that this lens provides exactly what it claims to on paper: larger than life imaging! It requires a little know-how to use effectively, but it opens up a world that’s totally impossible to explore with almost every other lens in existence.

Welcome to the microzone! Flattened penny & stacks of change for scale; the raccoon’s head is roughly 1/4″ tall.

If you’ve never experimented with macro photography, especially at greater than life-size magnification, there are a couple things you’ll need to properly enjoy it.

  1. A tripod or equivalent (large, small, or improvised, any kind of stable support is fine—just so long as you’re not trying to hand-hold at the most extreme magnification)
  2. Lots and lots of light

With sufficient light, of course, it is possible to hand-hold macro shots, but it can be frustrating to get your focal point exactly right. Look at this AlphaSmart key: even at a very narrow aperture, from a near perpendicular position the entire in-focus slice fits inside the “S” when you’re this close.

The rounded, seven-blade aperture imbues a lovely character to the bokeh.

Colorado Gators, yo!
Look at that gradual blur…

More examples are below—from the fibers on a coaster to the faces on an antique cookie tin, unassuming candle holders to a bottle opener that’s seen better days, this lens was a passport into another dimension for me. It’s hard to believe how easy it is to delight those around you with the infinite wealth of details they may have never otherwise noticed. I greatly enjoyed using this lens, and if you’re asking yourself if you would, the answer is probably yes. Stop in at one of our brick and mortar camera shops to check it out in person—and maybe even bring one home!

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