Reviews: Olympus OM-3 and OM Zuiko 35-80/2.8

olympus om3

Here we have two of the finest achievements of Olympus. They don´t build things like these anymore. Nobody does. The OM-3 is from 1983 and was produced only in small numbers. The zoom is from 1996 and was released together with the OM-3 Ti. Whereas Leica allegedely lost money with every 35-70/2.8 they built, Olympus managed to find a perfect balance of quality, size and price with the 35-80. Although the Olympus OM line was inspired by the Leica M, some of the Olympus top lenses like the 100/2 were 10 to 20 years ahead of Leica optically.

Olympus OM-3

Appeal: The OM-3 is an incredibly attractive SLR. The silky smooth surface. The cool metal. The whole finish down to the smallest screw. I have compared it to the Nikon FM-2N side by side: The olympus is the Ferrari, the Nikon is the Lada. Take the shutter: The Nikon releases with a loud shutter and a very strong vibration. The Olympus has a wonderful sound and remains incredibly stable with the shutter momentum dampened by some engineering magic. Check those little screws, perfectly recessed in the olympus, protruding knobs in the Nikon. And so on.

Function: For me the OM-3 is the most responsive MF SLR ever. I nailed my shots better than with anything else. It must be the wonderful release which just feels perfect and probably has wireless connection to the photographer´s brain. As we used to expect from Oly - always ahead of their time.

olympus om-3

Olympus OM Zuiko 35-80/2.8

"The glow, the glow". It does have it, it is one of the all time magical lenses and one of the last OM lenses - released in 1996 together with the OM-3 Ti.

Body: Superbly built with beautifully engraved and boldly coloured numbers and symbols. I used mine for ten years without a sign of wear or deterioration. Of course if you point the lens in tele position towards the sky the weight of the barrel will turn the zoom ring back to wideangle. Otherwise, everything is perfect. Well, only eight aperture blades instead of nine like in the 100/2.

Optics: It is INCREDIBLY sharp from wide open at any focal length and any distance (right down to 0.6m). I tested for example against some legendary 100/2 lenses - none was sharper at F2.8. It has the biting macrocontrast combined with fantastic microcontrast and flawless resolution. The colours are simply reference. A Canon EF 50/1.4 looked pale both on film and digital. Most other lenses, too. Bokeh can be harsh at the wide end, but is lovely at 80mm and portrait distance.

Flaws: There are two faults with this lens: Quite a lot of flare and ghosting with the sun in the frame, and visible chromatic aberration on high contrast edges. CA at 35mm is comparable to Canon 24-105/4 at 24mm. I know CA can be corrected, but the flare was a big issue for my demanding use in cinematography.

A fine lens for those who know and care and definitely a collector´s item. I used it mainly on Canon film bodies. On Four Thirds it was good, but surpassed by the fabulous FourThirds lenses. In a brief test on the Canon 5DII it was a very good performer with better colors than the 24-105L and the 70-200/2.8L MKI.

The Zuiko Digital 14-35/2 is a worthy successor - optically even superior, but gone is the impeccable mechanics. And, no decent camera to use it with...