My Search for the Perfect Micro 4/3 Zoom . . .

Published August 17, 2012

has no limits. I mentioned not too long ago that when considering mirrorless cameras, I made my judgements largely based on native lenses.

I do enjoy slapping an M-mount lens in front of my mirrorless camera once in a while, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t consider putting a large legacy zoom on an adapter mounted to a tiny camera a particularly useful endeavor.

I took a fair amount of email and forum criticism for that, from being called a weak old man (no argument from me) to being told I just hadn’t tried this or that favorite lens or else I wouldn’t talk that way.

One guy went so far as to say he owned over 50 lenses, and if I had his experience I wouldn’t limit myself. Now a more mature person than me would just laugh and move along. But age and maturity do not always arrive at the same time.

So I stomped into the back and asked the techs to give me the best possible zoom lens that could be shot on an adapter with my Olympus OM-D.

I was going to give this a fair trial. So here we go: The Red 18-85 T/2.9 PL zoom on my OM-D. Sharpest zoom with wide aperture, I said. That’s what they gave me.


Is it breathtakingly sharp? Yep, I believe so.

I say believe so because while I’m capable of handholding a 300mm f/2.8 for hours and a 500 f/4 for a shot or two, at 26-inches long and 9.9 pounds I was able to take, oh about three shots before I had to take some Motrin.

It vignettes a bit, but this extreme corner at T2.9 rivals any lens we’ve got for sharpness. This and a picture of the back of someone’s head were the two shots I took before I decided I should go do some testing.

Not that I couldn’t hold it longer if I really wanted to. More like I didn’t want to spend the afternoon at the minor med getting my shoulder X-rayed.

So did I learn anything today?

Yeah, I learned I was correct in saying I wanted to shoot native mount, AF lenses on my mirrorless cameras.

My Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 may only have half the range of the Big Red Zoom. But at 1/10th the cost and 1/15th the weight, with autofocus to boot, I’ll be content with it for now. Unless I can figure out a way to put a tripod mount on that Red Zoom.

Roger Cicala

August 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • i cracked off laughing (for obvious reason of course) when i read the part you wrote: “One guy went so far as to say he owned over 50 lenses, and if I had his experience I wouldn’t limit myself”

    And it reminds me of this guy who complaining about the AF assist lamp position on the OM-D. As the way he handheld the lens block the beam. And he goes on saying hes a photographer with 40 years experience and holding a lens by grabbing on top of the barrel provide more stability and easier handling.

    Then i saw your photo on the blog, now, imagine that guy holding this lens like that. Well, what do i know, maybe he’s as big and and strong as Arnold so it could be possible.

    Anyway, i read one of your article, and immediately hooked since I agree with everything you have to say. So I’ve been reading every single article on this blog of yours. Simply amazing. Thanks so much for sharing Roger. Keep up the good work please.


  • Roger Cicala

    HI Bart,

    I think it must be a cost thing, or perhaps they think photographers wouldn’t want such large shades. They’re certainly effective!

  • Bart

    Hi Roger,

    I apologize for going off topic so abruptly, but you are the most knowledgeable guy around so I have to ask: Do you know of a reason why most lens manufacturers won’t ever use these black shades you see on the RED-lens? Would it not minimalize the amount of light that goes into the camera that falls not on the sensor, and therefore reduce unwanted reflections and glare?

  • Lee

    I once saw a photo of an NEX-5 mounted to one of Leica’s new Summilux-C cine primes.

    The Summilux-C was smaller than this 18-85, but also much more expensive, so it’s a matter of opinion whether that or this was crazier!

    But both are awesome 😀

  • James

    Geesh that lens needs it’s own tripod/monopod mount. I envy you for holding it so long.

  • Roger Cicala

    I sort of put the test away when I compared the 75-300 and 100-300 to a Canon 100-400 on a 5D3. Probably not a fair technical test, but I thought it practical. The bottom line was at 400mm (the longest effective distance I can test in the lab, equivalent is a 200mm setting on the m4/3 lenses), the Canon was clearly better, which surprised me a bit. So I took them home and shot on a tripod. The Canon on a 5DIII at 400mm and uprezzed 50% still resolved more detail easily than either of the m4/3 lenses at 300 (600 equivalent).

    I know it’s not the camera, because a Leica 135mm on the OM-D totally outclassed the excellent Canon 300 f/4 IS on the 5D III. But all of this confusion got me reevaluating my testing at long distances, whether it was accurate and meaningful, and I set it aside to do some larger sample sizes and decide if I could develop a better method. Then, as so often happens to me, I got off on a contrast – phase detection comparison, then a mirrorless editorial piece, and I’ve got a big study on third-party lenses and peripheral illumination on Canon cameras to write up this week. So I haven’t gotten back to the telephoto thing yet.


  • Ok, thanks. Roger, have you compared these zooms to 70-300 SLR zooms, i mean the better ones? Will the results be much worse than those? For instance, Nikon 70-300 VR vs. Panny 100-300…just to get a general idea…

  • Roger Cicala

    I did test the mirrorless telephotos. I was so disappointed in the results that I decided to make sure I tested several copies of every lens, and with our stock being so low in summer I’ve taken far too long to do it. I apologize. But all I can say right now is longer than the Olympus 75mm I’m tending to shoot non-native on an adapter.


  • Hi Roger,
    Have been eagerly awaiting your promised write-up on mirror less tele photo zooms 🙂

  • Roger, as always, you are Da Man. Slap a monopod onto that baby and take it to your local zoo…if there’s one place where there are always attempts at sly sideways glances between photographers doing the “mine’s bigger than yours” thing it’s there and this would be hysterical!

  • Roger Cicala

    It’s a Tag Huer Aquaracer. My wife got it for me because she said the Timexes I always wore looked tiny with my big fat hands. This one does no look tiny 🙂

  • Kai


    Please get older, but please don’t grow up!

    +1 on the chrono 😉 From the looks, I would guess either a TAG Heuer or a Tissot.

  • Budi

    Roger: is collecting watches another hobby of yours? Nice chrono. 😉
    Pic doesn’t have enough resolution for me to read the brand. 🙂

  • Walter

    How does this lens compare to the 14-35 or 35-100 f/2 lenses, I wonder? Native mount (sort of), and by reputation witheringly sharp.

  • Simon

    Just curious … which company is the OEM of the RED lenses?

  • The restraint involved in not going mono a mono on lens counts with said owner of 50 lenses v. what you have access to in that back room is the real mark of maturity here. The “mine’s bigger than yours by a factor of 100” would be oh so tempting to say.

  • John

    Hose clamps are your friend.

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