When I first heard about a 35mm focal length macro lens my mouth began to water.
The $229 price tag was an immediate inducement, as were the compactness and
lightweight of this glass. What threw me, though, was the focal length. Because
this was in the new Four Thirds System for an Olympus digital SLR (the EVOLT
E-300 was used for this test), focal length doubled to 70mm. A 70mm f/3.5 macro
lens is a tad slow, compared with that trusty old 90mm f/2 I had used on my
Olympus OM-1 film SLR. Yes, you could opt for the current Zuiko 50mm f/2 macro,
but that lens only focuses to half life size--and costs twice as much.
The new lens focuses all the way to life size without extension tubes--a
decided advantage in macro work.
As the barrel on the 35mm macro lens extends, the reproduction ratios
(magnification) become visible.
From the outset, I anticipated I'd need flash to augment the lens'
capabilities. Macro lenses are never speed demons to begin with, but usually
they top out at f/2.8. Here we have a maximum aperture of f/3.5. And close-ups
deliver even less light for focusing. With the Olympus E-300, the only way to
bring a focusing lamp into the picture is to use the built-in flash, or an accessory
flash. Due to parallax error (from a lighting standpoint), the built-in flash
and any shoe-mounted flash is not practical for macro. The Olympus ring flash
and twin flash heads are the best route, with each providing a set of continuous
lamps that aid immeasurably when focusing in low light, making either an ideal
companion for this lens.
(Top): Photographed with the 35mm macro at half life size by a desk
lamp, this commemorative stamp shows excellent detail throughout.
Then I took this 35mm macro (above) to the limit for a life-size
section of the stamp. I couldn't find any fault with the image.
(ISO 400; exposure/half life size: f/16 at 1/13 sec; life size:
f/16 at 1/2 sec.)
The Tabletop Macro Experience
There are many macro subjects to explore with such a lens. In fact, to better
acquaint myself with this optic, I began with two small tabletop subjects: a
commemorative postage stamp (at half life size and life size) and a commemorative
pin (at half life size), each presenting its own set of challenges. I began
with the stamp.
Working indoors does not provide a lot of light for close-ups, so I brought
out my OTT-LITE desk lamp. Even though this lamp is touted as a daylight fluorescent,
I found it necessary to use a custom white balance setting. The camera was mounted
to a Benbo tripod--specifically the cantilevered centerpost for maneuverability.
Even though the effective focal length is 70mm, shooting life size doesn't
afford much breathing room. Lacking a remote, I used the self-timer at 12 seconds.
The results? I couldn't be more pleased. I could easily read detail corner
to corner and edge to edge, without any discernible loss in quality across the
I had to limit reproduction on the pin to half life size when adding flash.
The adapter ring required for macro flash extends outward considerably beyond
where the lens barrel itself extends. When you add the ring flash, or especially
the twin flash heads to the front at magnifications greater than half life size,
space is so tight that it becomes practically unworkable in a tabletop situation.
Even at half life size, the flash head gets squished into the black velvet backdrop,
which was bunched up beneath the pin. Photographing flowers would prove less
of a problem.
Close-Ups Of Flowers
When shooting flowers and plants I knew I'd be switching back and forth
between available light and flash, and between ring flash and twin flash, so
I kept the flash adapter ring on the lens. This had the unhappy effect of hiding
the reproduction ratios inscribed on the lens barrel. And when focusing manually
with this lens, there is no noticeable resistance as you rotate the focusing
ring to life size. So, not only are you missing a visual indication of the magnification
data, but you also don't have any tactile feedback from the lens, which
Besides its obvious advantages, flash allowed me to block out extraneous light
and focus primarily on the flower. Otherwise, with a lot of ambient light pouring
in around the subject, chances are you'll also capture extraneous details.
The fun began in comparing results between the ring flash and twin flash. While
it varied with the flower, the twin flash did more to sculpt the subject, in
part because you can adjust the lighting ratio between the two heads. What's
more, each head can be independently positioned around the lens axis at varying
angles. The downside is that you have to be watchful which end is up or you
may find shadows running the wrong way. Bromeliads and other waxy-leaved plants
do best with the twin flash, because the heads can be positioned so as not to
produce glaring hot spots.
The circular tube configuration of a ring flash makes it faster to change orientation
from horizontal to vertical, letting you respond to the situation with immediacy.
Subjects such as mosses, tiny flowers, and especially lichens would be best
served by the Olympus ring flash, but I've successfully photographed larger
flowers and plants with it. (Select ring flash systems from other manufacturers
split the tube, allowing you to ratio the light for better modeling. I wish
Olympus had taken this route as well.)
I also took the 35mm macro out to photograph shop displays and small critters
at the zoo. One thing I immediately learned when pressing the lens against the
glass was not to press the lens against the glass. Because the lens barrel protrudes
in a pronounced fashion as magnification increases, the lens needs its space.
It's not unusual--many lenses share this feature. I would have preferred
internal focusing as a quick and easy remedy. Funny thing: that annoying flash
adapter ring solved the problem, since it allowed me to hold the lens flush
up against the glass without worrying about lens barrel movements.