A camera lens isn’t considered a true macro until it’s able to reproduce the subject in life-size at a 1x ratio. But this 1:1 ratio is where most macro lenses stop. The few lenses that can produce a photograph two, four, or even five times its original size are typically manual focus. That is, until now. The new OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro can get close enough to magnify something 2x because the Micro Four Thirds sensor is actually equivalent to 4x. And the lens does it all with an autofocus motor, stabilization, and IP53-rated weather-sealing. Formally called the M. Zuiko Digital ED 90mm f3.5 IS Pro, the lens is expected to begin shipping in March for a retail price of about $1,500.
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When OM System first teased about the 90mm, I was itching to try it out. After trying a 2x macro manual focus lens, 1:1 autofocus macro lenses don’t feel that macro-ey anymore. But a 4x equivalent macro that can still autofocus? The 90mm sounds like a dreamy lens that’s able to achieve what few other lenses can. And, for the most part, that’s true.
Take a look at what a 1x equivalent on a full-frame camera looks like:
Now take a look at what a 2x equivalent looks like:
Now count the pieces of pollen in this 4x equivalent photograph taken with the OM 90mm f3.5 Macro:
Yes, the OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro is impressive indeed. But, there is a catch — the f3.5 aperture isn’t available in Super Macro. Considering the tiny sliver of focus that a 4x macro, 180mm equivalent lens has though, many photographers are going to want to stop down the aperture further. Formally called the M. Zuiko Digital ED 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro, the lens does what few others can do. While 5x macro full-frame lenses exist, few lenses past the 1:1 ratio are still equipped with autofocus, making the 90mm f3.5 Macro stand out.
The Big Picture
The OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro proves that the Micro Four Thirds system still has clout in an era of full-frame mirrorless. This macro lens does what a full-frame camera can’t do — use autofocus at a 4x equivalent macro. The 90mm is the kind of landmark lens that may even be big enough to sway some photographers over to the Micro Four Thirds system.
Besides the autofocus capability, the 90mm also makes Super Macro more accessible with a stabilization of six stops on its own or seven stops with compatible Sync IS bodies. That’s a huge help as camera shake tends to be exaggerated the closer the subject is to the lens. OM System’s weather-sealing is intact too, with the lens given an IP53 rating against dust and moisture.
Using the OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro, however, is a delicate balance between an aperture narrow enough to keep something in focus and an aperture wide enough to stave off diffraction. In that sweet spot, photographers can capture wonderfully detailed close-ups, but I did find myself using the sharpen slider a bit more than typical while editing my RAW files. The autofocus motor is also loud and, in limited light and Super Macro mode, autofocus can be sluggish.
The OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro is an incredibly unique and capable macro lens that takes full advantage of the Micro Four Thirds crop factor. It’s slightly held back by a loud autofocus motor, slower autofocus in limited light, and a limited effective aperture. But, the 4x macro capability is innovative enough to forgive those flaws, so I’m giving the OM System 90mm five out of five stars. Check Amazon or Adorama for sales listings.
- 2x (4x 35mm equivalent) macro capability is incredible
- The ability to use autofocus on tiny subjects is a huge advantage
- IP53 weather-sealing
- Up to 7 stops of stabilization (when mixed with in-body stabilization)
- Compatible with in-camera focus stacking
- Weighs just under a pound
- Good color and character
- S Macro setting limits the effective aperture to f8 at 4x Macro equivalent
- The autofocus motor is loud and can be sluggish
I used the OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro with the OM-1. I also tried out the 2x and 1.4x teleconverters to see how well they pair with the lens. A few photos were also shot with the Flashpoint R200 Ring Flash with the eVolve 200 Pro. All these products were loaner units provided to the Phoblographer.
Few autofocus macro lenses go closer than the 1:1 ratio required to make it a macro lens. Most if not all of them are manual focus only. Laowa, for example, makes a 5x macro lens for Sony E-mount, but it’s a manual lens. For this lens to have an autofocus that can capture a 4x full frame equivalent is pretty incredible.
The OM System 90mm Macro is a long lens that doesn’t widen much from the width of the mount. It comes in at under 5.5 inches long and weighs just under a pound.
The lens looks and feels like an Olympus (now OM System) lens, just a bit on the longer side. About mid-way down the lens is a bank of switches. The top is the focus limiter switch which has an S Macro, .25m to .5m, and a .25m to infinity option. The next switch is for image stabilization. The final control here is an L-fn function button.
The focus ring is large and grippy. Like most OM system lenses, it has the pull back to quickly enter into manual focus mode. Pulling the lever back, however, goes to the position that you last used manual focus with — it doesn’t stay at the position the autofocus last selected.
The front of the lens has a good chunk that’s not glass, which is to be expected for a lens with a narrower minimum aperture. The lens accepts 62mm filters and ships with a lens hood.
OM System is one of the few lens manufacturers putting an IP rating on their glass, so photographers know specifically how well it is weather-sealed. The 90mm is rated IP 53 against dust and moisture. I shot with this lens in the snow, including getting the front too close to a snowbank and tossing a few extra handfuls of snow on top, just for good measure. The lens shrugged it off like nothing happened.
The build of this lens is mostly metal, though there are a few pieces that feel a bit too much on the lightweight side. That helps the lens achieve a pretty good balance between the feel and durability of metal without pushing the weight over a pound.
Lots of you are probably wondering if this lens focuses internally or not. And yes, indeed. It doesn’t elongate when focusing.
The fact that this 90mm has autofocus is what’s most impressive about this lens. Typically the lenses that can shoot closer than a 1:1 ratio are fully manual. Being able to autofocus on a single snowflake is mind-blowing. I spent much of my time with this lens saying, “I can’t believe that just focused on something so tiny.”
Lots of you are probably wondering if this lens focuses internally or not. And yes, indeed. It doesn’t elongate when focusing.
That said, the sound of the autofocus motor reminded me of dial-up internet. Grrr—ehhh—rrr-eeee. The motor isn’t going to be audible across the room, but tiny subjects might take notice of the noise.
This lens has a very wide focus range — and with that comes a wide range of autofocus performance. With the focus limiter switch set to the .25m to infinity position, the focus is pretty snappy. I was able to photograph pet portraits with minimal misses.
I spent much of my time with this lens saying, “I can’t believe that just focused on something so tiny.”
But, the autofocus performance decreases in Super Macro mode. That’s understandable since the lens has a closer focusing distance than most. Small adjustments in the Super Macro mode are still reasonably quick, but changing to an entirely different subject often requires waiting for the focus to pull in and out before locking on.
Where the lens struggles the most is when either lighting or contrast is limited. We found this to be the case with and without Simulated OVF activated. The Super Macro mode performed much better outdoors in the sun than indoors. There were several times when attempting to shoot indoors when the autofocus wouldn’t lock on at all — it was just too dark (this was with exposure preview turned off). The Super Macro focus position on the lens is best reserved for well-lit subjects. In poor lighting, manually focusing may actually be faster. But outdoors, this lens will lock on to something as small as a snowflake with reasonable speed.
Ease of Use
Using this lens in Super Macro mode requires balancing several elements together to get a sharp shot. 4x macro doesn’t just magnify the subject, it also magnifies camera shake and narrows the depth of field. With the 4x magnification limited to an f8 aperture, diffraction is another thing this lens has to fight to get a sharp shot. I knew before I picked up this lens that those factors would be an issue, but they were less of an issue than I thought once I started shooting.
The closer the lens is to the subject, the narrower the depth of field. Yes, this is a Micro Four Thirds lens, but the depth of field is still pretty narrow. In the Super Macro mode, the effective aperture is narrower than f3.5. At the closest focus point, the effective aperture is f8, dropping to f7.1 at a 3x equivalent, f6.3 at 2x, and f5.6 at 1x. You can also focus at 1x outside the S Macro mode at f4 and 2x at f4.5.
Even with those limits, at 4x macro, there’s still only a very small slice of the image in focus. This lens will break a fancy depth-of-field calculator because it’s too small to measure in hundredths of a meter. The margin for error is essentially non-existent at the closest focusing distance and f8. I was initially worried about that aperture limitation, but became less bothered when actually using this lens because the depth of field is so narrow.
While I was originally worried f8 would introduce too much diffraction, I actually stopped the aperture down further several times. Even at f8 you can’t get an entire snowflake fully inside the depth of field. Being able to use autofocus is a huge help in locking in on the subject when using such a narrow depth of field.
Even with stationary subjects, autofocus is a big help because the margin for error is basically non-existent. Did I switch to manual focus a few times to lock the lens in at the closest focus distance and physically move the camera until the subject was in focus? Yes. But most of the time, I was able to shoot with autofocus. The autofocus capabilities make this lens much easier to use.
The biggest advantage of this lens is the 4x equivalent macro with autofocus, but the second biggest is stabilization. The stabilization in the lens mixes with what’s inside the camera body for up to seven stops of steadying power with compatible bodies. Camera shake is exaggerated the closer the camera is to the subject. But, I was still able to get some sharp shots at the closest focus distance at 1/30. Back off a bit, and I even managed some at 1/15. Shooting that slow requires bracing your elbows, holding your breath, and getting lucky though. A 1/100 shot is a more manageable shutter speed.
Stabilization isn’t the only perk coming from the camera body. Focus stacking is supported with Olympus/OM bodies that are equipped with the feature. With such a narrow slice in focus at 4X, the ability to create focus stacks in camera shouldn’t be underestimated. When that lack of room for error is unacceptable, focus stack it.
The snowflake in the photograph above speaks for itself. The OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro can see the detail in an individual snowflake — no teleconverter required. The ability to get in close negates the f3.5 to f8 maximum aperture to leave plenty of bokeh. And while sharpness is a battle between stabilization, a paper-thin depth of field, and diffraction, I was surprised at how sharp and detailed the final images are.
In the Super Macro mode, any background succumbs to a sheet of solid color. Points of light are occasionally rendered as round bokeh balls, but often form a seven-sided shape instead, due to the seven aperture blades. Snow that was catching the light just right created some fun rainbow-colored bokeh. Some of the bokeh has a bit of an edge to it, some even had a few layered circles inside. If you want soft, round bokeh with no edge and no soap bubble, this isn’t your lens. But if you like quirky bokeh, you’ll like this lens.
I rarely felt the need to edit colors coming from this lens and the OM-1 body. The colors felt true to the scene, though I did prefer the colors that resulted from using a pop of ring flash. I didn’t spot color oddities like chromatic aberration, either. The only caution here is that flare can quickly wash out the colors, so use the lens hood and watch the lens’ angle to the sun if that’s a concern.
Much of the character coming from this lens is simply the ability to shoot at a 4x equivalent. The lens gets in closer than most macro lenses and that can help set the images apart. The quirky bokeh also helps here too. At just the right angle, the sun can introduce some fun rainbow flare spots. Though, too much, and the image can be quickly washed out.
Here’s the big question for a macro lens with a limited maximum aperture: is it still sharp? Narrower apertures can cause diffraction, which results in less detail in the final image. But, surprisingly, this lens is still sharp even at f8 in S Macro. I actually thought the biggest challenge to getting a sharp shot is that ultra-wide depth at .224m, not diffraction. Which means I actually stepped down the aperture even further a few times. A diffraction calculator suggests a Micro Four Thirds lens becomes diffraction limited at f16, so there’s still a little room here (not much, but some).
If you can get the focus in the perfect spot, then this lens is sharp enough to capture tiny details, making even a snowflake appear sharp. Subjects placed towards the edges were perhaps a little less sharp, but still acceptable.
While I found most of the images acceptably sharp, I did tend to push the sharpness slider in post a little further than usual when working with RAW files.
What do the images look like with a teleconverter?
One of the features of this lens is that it still works with a teleconverter (either the 1.4x or the 2x, the latter which turns it from a 4x macro equivalent to an 8x macro). That’s impressive, but what do the images look like?
With the teleconverter, the super macro images are soft. This could be because the 2.0 teleconverter turns an f8 to an f16 which is where diffraction starts to set in. But it’s also due in part to the depth of field. The depth of field without the teleconverter is already too small to measure at the closest focusing point. Double that, and getting anything in focus becomes extremely difficult.
Frankly, I was able to autofocus on a snowflake and get a huge level of detail without the teleconverter. Trying to find a specific snowflake with a lens the equivalent of a 360mm is very challenging. The 2x teleconverter is ideal if you want dreamy, soft abstract macro images. The 1.4 is a bit sharper, but I think most photographers will be happy without modifying the 4x lens.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
If you want incredible close-ups, especially outdoors, buy the OM System 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro. It’s not utterly flawless, but it does what few other lenses can do. The ability to create 4x macro images with autofocus is incredible. And, it’s weather-sealed and reasonably lightweight.
If you want to photograph a lot of macro photos in low light however, be aware that the autofocus performance can be sluggish in Super Macro mode. The autofocus can also be rather loud. And while I was surprised at how sharp the photos turned out, the nature of such a close-up lens can mean pushing the sharpness slider a bit further in post. I preferred images without the teleconverter because getting a sharp shot with the 2.0 was difficult, so most won’t need to add the teleconverter to this lens.
OM System lists the following specifications for the M. Zuiko 90mm f3.5 Macro IS Pro:
- Focal length: 90mm
- Focal length equivalent: 180mm
- Lens configuration: 18 elements in 13 groups
- SED lens elements: 2
- ED lens elements: 4
- Super HR Elements
- HR elements: 1
- Angle of view: 14 degrees
- Maximum field size 8.7 x 6.5mm
- Closest focusing distance .224m
- Maximum image magnification: 2.0x (Micro Four Thirds) / 4.0x (35mm format)
- Image Stabilizer : VCM, up to n7 EV steps (5-axis sync_, up to 6 EV Steps (Lens IS)
- Pro features: Dust, splash and freezeproof: available according to IP53 (Applies when used with OM system (Olympus) splashproof body)
- Filter diameter: 62mm
- Length: 136mm
- Diameter 69.8 mm
- Weight: 453 g (without lens cap, lens rear cap, and lens hood)