Now I am reviewing a lens that's rather special and I mean it in a big way. Yes, I am not a macro photographer in anyway but every photographer should have one in his/her bag no matter the type of photography he or she enjoys. I am a documentary and portrait photographer and anything 'macro' doesn't really seem to fit the bill. In fact, I had a macro lens for my Canon system and, you probably guess that it's one of the least used lenses in my collection. But I kept it, for years.
So why did I buy yet another macro lens? Well, first, there's a real good reason behind it. I do occasionally like to shoot close up photos of wedding rings and details during weddings. However, due to the lack of any image stablisation in my Canon EF 100mm 2.8 USM, taking such close up shots becomes a chore. Even with the latest image stablised 'L' version, you will still be advised not to take hand held close ups unless you have no other options. That's all changed when I adopted the Olympus OM-D M4/3 system for my wedding work. For the past three years, I've kept only two lenses for the Olympus, the 12mm wide angle (you can see the review HERE) and the 25mm standard (review is HERE). I have not tried or own anything else. But with the truly amazing 5-axis in body stablisation, I thought to myself that why not give the Olympus macro lens a try and perhaps it can replace my Canon. And it did just that.
Why this lens
Most photographers will presume that when a lens has a "macro" designation, it's a specialist lens. Well, it is and because of its close focusing capability, it's aimed for those who want to do just that, photographing bugs, flowers up close! However, it can also mean 'flexibility'. Yes, it can do more than a normal lens with the same focal length. I used my old Canon 100mm as a portrait lens most of the time or a simple tele during my travels.
Yet, at weddings, I usually use a macro lens to photograph details. You may also think that modern CSC or mirrorless systems already has a pretty close focusing limit and why do I need a special macro lens to get close for details? Well, you won't get close enough if you want that ring shots. I love photographing rings however. Using any DSLR macro lens is always a chore, even with stablisation. It's fine if you are using it as a tele and those 2-3 stops stablisation perhaps it's good enough but the 'real' close ups, you will still need to use the third leg.
But Olympus' 5 axis stabilisation is just jaw-droopingly awesome, allowing me to do macro close up without a tripod in most cases. This has added my freedom in roaming around a wedding venue without lugging a big tripod.
There've been debates about the superiority of stablisation between in-body or optical system. But Olympus' 5-axis system is perhaps the most effecient and effective that I've ever tried and used. As it's an in-body system, it means that it works with EVERY lens!!! But what surprised me is just how good it is for handheld macro shots, at least in decent light. So it's a perfect lens for my wedding details photographs.
Furthermore, being a macro lens means that it has superior resolving power. This lens IS SHARP! I am not joking, easily beat my other two highly praised primes for my OM-D!
For the price, the Olympus 60mm macro is surprisingly well made. Ok, apart from the metal mount, it's plastic fantastic. If you are used to full sized DSLR macro lens like the Canon or Nikon 100mm, you will be in for a shock just how tiny and light this lens is. Olympus is weather and freeze proof, the same level as the OM-D EM-1 Mark II and EM-5 Mark II. So it's a lens to be carried to the jungle and desert and not to worry about moisture or sand.
Well this lens is absolutely joy to use. Mainly because it's small and light. Unlike my DSLR equivalent setup, this can be a one-hand operation. Autofocus is relatively fast but not as fast as other Olympus prime. This perhaps is due to the lens' long gearing for macro photography. Yet focusing is absolute silent. There are three focus range settings. First is for 1:1 macro, second is 0.19-0.4m, third is 0.19m-infinty and finally 0.4-infinity. Each limiter is useful to limit the lens elements movement during focusing. Unless I am doing close up, I usually leave it at 0.4-infinity to shorten focus hunt time during those low contrast scene or subject.
Talking about focus hunt. On an EM-5 II, due to the lack of PDAF, any lenses will struggle in low contrast focusing. It will hunt for a while before it finally find something, and often miss the focusing point. Hence the limiter helps. But many macro photographers would use manual focus to get the precise focus point anyway.
I also tested continuous focusing using this lens and the result is encouraging if not spectacular so long you reduce the continuous shooting mode to low instead of high. I do think any speedier tele lens in Olympus line up will beat this lens hands down. But it does work, probably half the time.
Ok, this will probably the shortest section of the entire review because I can only say one thing - This lens has GREAT image quality. Super super super.... super sharp! Great bokeh with ultra high micro contrast. It's almost rivalling any Leica lenses that I've used. When I use this lens for some close up getting ready shots at weddings, it almost exaggerates every pores and facial hair from the bride's face! This is just insane! I do guess that being a macro lens, it needs to resolve details at microscopic level and the Olly 60mm really shows just how capable it is.
So there you go, I have virtually nothing against this lens apart from not being a full frame lens and made from plastic. However, for the price, there is simply nothing out there that can beat this lens. It's just a classic and a must have for any Olympus users (oh yes, despite being a micro 4/3 lens, it's best used in Olly system as it has the in body stabilisation. Unless you have a Panasonic MTF body, you really don't want to use it on any Panny cameras unless you want to use it with a tripod.
Anyway, really, I LOVE THIS LENS! Period.
Superb sharpness throughout the entire aperture range
Even sharpness across the frame
Virtually no optical distortion
Ultra high micro contrast
Smooth buttery bokeh
Made from plastic
No lens hood included (though the optional retractable hood is just worth buying)
A little slow to focus comparing to other Olly primes
umm... can't think of any (for now)