A little while ago (great photographs with awfully bad lenses), I rambled on about how I didn’t care that much about how good certain lenses were supposed to be. I still don’t. But, just for a bit of fun, I decided to see how much difference there really is between different versions of a particular lens. In this case, the Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4.

Those who know about such things (I read it on the internet, so it must be true), claim that there are several versions of this lens. There are certainly at least two variations – signifed by the different colour of the tip (or nose) of each lens. The earlier version has a silver colour, the later version is black. In addition, the later versions have a multi coated lens, whereas the earlier versions are single coated. So far so good. There are also apparently a few more variations on this lens, depending on the serial numbers, but I’m not going to go deeply into that here. The silver tipped lens I’ve used here has a serial number of under 1 million, the black tipped one is over 1 million, but under 1.1 million (which some claim is the ‘best’ version).

Anyway, the easiest way for me to test these was to use an adapter and stick the lenses onto my Sony A7 and place it on a tripod. Obviously, these have both been manually focussed, so we can’t put too much emphasis on the scientific nature of this test. But I did take a couple of sets of photos and the results were similar.

First off, I shot both lenses at ƒ1.4. These images have had a basic curve applied to them, in Photoshop.

Image of camera, box of film and test chart

Older ‘silver tipped’ Zuiko 50mm, shot at ƒ1.4.

Image of camera, box of film and test chart

More recent, black tipped Zuiko 50mm, shot at ƒ1.4.

What seems clear to me, about the above images (apart from the vignetting), is that the later black tipped Zuiko is sharper across the image. Even at f8 (below) this is quite obvious. Below, is a 100% crop at ƒ8.

closeup

The image on the left was taken with the older Zuiko 50mm. The one on the right, with the newer version.

All fascinating stuff and perhaps worth knowing. Although we probably ought to make allowances for possible sample variation, between lenses – perhaps my copy of the earlier version is from a bad batch and my copy of the later version is from a very good batch? Also, the very age of the older lens may have rendered it not as clean and sharp as it once was. Who knows? Also, I wonder how much needs to be allowed for the fact that I am running these tests via a modern digital sensor, rather than film?

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, I wouldn’t base any buying decisions on this. Interesting though.