OLYMPUS ZUIKO 200MM F4 AUTO-T TELEPHOTO LENS
Published September 30, 2017
|SPECIFICATIONS||F. ZUIKO 200MM F5||ZUIKO 200MM F4|
|Production History||1970s||Late 1970s-1980s|
|Lens Composition||6 Elements / 5 Groups||5 Elements / 4 Groups|
|Minimum Focus||2.5 Meters||2.5 Meters|
|Aperture Blades||8, Straight||8, Straight|
|Weight||380 grams||516 grams|
|Length When Mounted||105.6mm||128.5mm|
|1.4x Teleconverter||Olympus 1.4X-A||Olympus 1.4X-A|
|2.0x Teleconverter||Olympus 2X-A||Olympus 2X-A|
This is a somewhat unconventional review because most of the pictures were taken with digital Leica M's. Since the release of the live-view capable Leica M Typ 240, I have been
searching obsessed with finding the "ideal" 200mm lens for the Leica M's, and this search has included -
The Leica 180mm F3.4 Telyt-R APO would seem the obvious choice with its reputation for resolution and lack of chromatic aberrations. Unfortunately, its weight is incorrectly reported as ~600 grams in several books, and this error has been perpetuated on the web. The lens actually weighs ~780 grams, plus an adapter. As evidenced by the list of lenses, this has been a long, wandering journey.
To use a 200mm prime on the Leica M, the lens needs to have a manual aperture and manual focus, so that limits candidate pool. By the late 1980's auto-focus was becoming increasingly common, so the "newer" lenses with the fancy-schmancy multi-coated optics, aspherical elements, low dispersion elements, fluorite elements, etc. came in the form of auto-focus lenses. Even today's modern options are somewhat limited because manufacturers tend to cover 200mm via zooms and forego developing a dedicated primes.
LEICA M MONOCHROM
Using a 200mm lens on the Leica M Typ 240 generation is a challenging proposition. Focus is via Live View or the EVF-2. The Leica EVF-2 is a lowly 1.4 MP with a slow 30 FPS refresh rate. There is no way to move around the focus magnification either, so focus magnification only shows the dead center of the frame. Then there is the shutter lag... the shutter shock... I gave up trying to use 200mm lenses a couple years ago, but the nevertheless the itch persisted.
Fast forward a couple years to the Leica M Monochrom Typ 246. As things turned out, I mostly use the Monochrom for landscapes and often with a red filter. Using colored filters shifts focus, so using the EVF (or Live View) to focus is mandatory. Thus, shooting landscapes has evolved into mostly a tripod + EVF exercise. Under these circumstances, using a 200mm is a bit more "do-able" versus shooting handheld, thus the 200mm quest rebooted.
Finding a good 200mm lens is not complicated if 2-pounds is okay. For example, the Leica 180mm F2.8 Elmarit-R (E67) is quite sharp, but large and nose heavy. Other lenses proved hyper-sensitive to veiling and flaring, for example the Contax 180mm F2.8 Sonnar was a problem child. Nighttime images can be challenging because any light just outside the edge of the frame, or right at the edge is likely to cause some type of flare (regardless of which 200mm lens used). To be fair, this is par for most lenses on the digital Leica M's (and not unique to 200mm primes).
As the 200mm search continued, shutter shock showed itself. To mitigate the risk of blurry images, I try to keep shutters speeds at 1/360 or faster. Almost all the pictures are via a tripod and 2-second timer / delay. Wind can be issue, more so on the night shots with long exposures. I use 2 and 3-series Gitzo carbon fiber tripods with high quality ballheads, and wind is an issue regardless of which tripod set-up is used. These challenges led to checking sharpness after each capture. I use the Leica EVF-2 like a loupe and inspect the subject, edges, corners. etc. It is not an ideal solution, but it is the best I can do (in the field) given the M-240 generation's limited Live View.
Of all the 200mm lenses I have tried, if outright sharpness is the goal, the Leica 180mm F3.4 Telyt-R APO delivers. The Leica 180mm F2 Summicron-R APO served up wonderful bokeh, but it is of a behemoth lens. Also, its near field sharpness (10-15 feet) was pretty disappointing at F2. The Olympus 200mm's proved good performers, probably amongst Top-5 (give or take). Their standout feature is their compact size, especially the original F5 version. Frankly, for a $50-100 USD price tag it is pretty hard to complain about the Olympus 200mm's. The F4 is better optically, but the F5 is clearly smaller in every dimension.
The earlier Olympus F. Zuiko 200mm F5 variant is reasonably sharp at ~F8. At F11 diffraction begins to settle in. The subsequent F4 version is a bit sharper at F8 and F11. Shooting through a red filter easily robs the lenses 1-stop's worth of sharpness, so the images need some extra sharpening and clarity in post to recoup the sharpness. The F4's multi-coatings do a better job of holding highlights. Bokeh is surprisingly smooth with both versions. F4/F5 is not going to bring alot of blur, but the blur it does bring is pleasing with no double edged / nervous renderings. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled.
The Olympus Zuiko 200mm F4 has proven fairly easy to focus. For example, the Voigtländer 180mm F4 Lanthar APO SL's focus ring travel for focusing at distances or near infinity is very small amount of rotation. It takes me awhile to focus the Voigtländer. Whereas with the Olympus I can be "sloppy". Most of my shots are F8 or F11, so depth of field should cover up any focus errors in most cases. This has proven true (more or less) with the Olympus. Whereas the Voigtländer seems very finicky.
The big-boy lenses, like the Leica 180mm F2.8 Elmarit-R APO, Mamiya 645M 200mm F2.8 APO, Leica 180mm F3.4 Telyt-R APO and Leica 180mm F2.8 Elmarit-R II (Non-APO) are clearly in a different class when it comes to sharpness and contrast. And the Leica 180mm F2 Summicron-R APO is a 6 pound beast that in no way should be mentioned in this comparison. To that point, what sets apart the Olympus 200mm's is their size. If thinking from a wholistic point of view and trying to strike a reasonable balance between performance and size and price, then the Olympus 200mm's are the clear winners.
So, if wanting to put a small'ish 200mm prime in your camera bag for an occasional use with your Leica M Typ 240 or M10, the Olympus Zuiko 200mm F4 Auto-T is a good choice. Being a gear snob, I lust for "more". And that means accepting a 2+ pound lens. Also, I really like the Leica R-Adapter M with its tripod foot. With the adapter's tripod foot carrying the weight, the Leica M body and lens essentially counterbalance each other. This set-up seems to reduce shutter shock a bit. But what I like more is - focusing is easier because the set-up is more stable and the magnified EVF view does not bounce around as much.
Given the dodgy ergonomics of using a 200mm lens on a Leica M body, spending alot of money a 200mm prime does not make much sense (in my opinion). The Olympus 200mm wins the "value" prize by a large margin - it is a $50-100 lens and adapters are as cheap as $20-30 on Ebay. The Olympus is a small, easy to use lens. If wanting to move up a level in optical performance, the Leica 180mm F2.8 Elmarit-R II (E67 filter) is my recommendation. It is bigger. It is heavier. But it is not too expensive, starting ~$600 USD for one in good condition. I have a number of more expensive 200mm's, but they are an exercise in diminishing returns.
The intent of this review is NOT to prove how great the Olympus Zuiko 200mm F4 Auto-T is (or is not). The goal here is just too demonstrate that it is a compact 200mm that can be used on the Leica M Typ 240/246 cameras (and M10) and produce acceptable imagery.