Last fall, I acquired a beat up old camera bag from my dad. Unpacking it, I found a largely complete Olympus OM 10 kit: 28, 50, 75-150 lenses; flash; manual adapter; filters; brackets and cables to take the flash off camera. It’s almost as if someone went into a Penny’s or Sears’s in about 1980 and got talked into way more than they ever needed.
Back in 2012, when I first picked up the D7000, and on Ken Rockwell’s recommendation,* I acquired a 75-150 Series E. I dropped the camera on it shortly after, creating the one-and-only Zomb-E, and later acquired another copy.
Having tested (minimally, as is my standard) the 28mm f/3.5 G-Zuiko and the 50mm f/1.8 F. Zuiko, I decided it was finally time to see how the 75-150mm f/4 Zuiko fares when pitted against the vaunted Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 E-Series.
tl;dr: it’s horses for courses, as they say, though the Nikon is 1/3 stop wider and focuses nearly a meter closer…
I started the test way back in February 2021, during the Polar Vortex event, and only finished it in late March.
The Cameras: the Nikon FG and the Olympus OM10, both relevantly similar, small, light, aperture priority or full manual (the Oly requires an adapter to add manual control), very well built consumer cameras.
The Film: Ferrania P30 (2017 Alpha release in the FG, 2019 production version in the Oly), exposed at EI50, stand developed in Rodinal, and I believe the roll from the Olympus was on top in the tank.**
You’ll notice images from the Nikon are somewhat lighter, maybe a stop or two over the Olympus. I suspect this comes down to differences between the Alpha and Production versions of P30, and, perhaps, the exposure programs in the two cameras. While I prefer the Nikon, and find it more true to what I remember, for purposes of this post, it doesn’t really matter: we’re looking at characteristics and abilities of the lenses themselves, not so much the exposure programs of the cameras or P30 variants.
I strove to match the framing, zoom level, and aperture between shots. I wasn’t always successful, and a better reviewer might set up a tripod and swap cameras while keeping relative position the same.
So. The Olympus 75-150 Zuiko has a constant f/4 aperture, focuses as close as 1.7m (~5.5 ft.), employs separate rings for focus and zoom, and apparently has a built in lens shade (though I neither noticed nor missed it).
The Nikon 75-150mm E Series has a constant f/3.5 aperture, focuses down to 1m (3.2′), and employs a single ring for focus and zoom, with a push/pull design.
Overall, they’re very very similar: the Olympus may be a touch narrower, maybe, and feels a bit less friendly, slicker, sharper, pointy-er, though that probably comes down to my long familiarity with the Nikon version. I also had a bit of trouble finding the zoom ring on the Oly, and in going back and forth between the two zoom methods. With more practice, it wouldn’t matter either way.
Shooting them side by side, and with my predilections for close-focus, wide aperture silliness, well, I didn’t notice until the very end of the roll so much, but the Nikon’s 1/3 stop and 2′ of closer reach is a winner, for me anyway.
Here they both are at closest focus distance, and widest aperture.
And of course, at distance they’re virtually indistinguishable.
Given the two (slightly, but how slightly? I have no idea) film stocks (Ferrania P30 alpha and P30 production) and two different manufacturer’s exposure programs, the overall results from the lenses are quite different, and a better test would use precisely the same film stock, from the same production run, and then develop separately, both in the top position of the 2 reel tank, and probably in fresh C-41.
But hindsight being 20:20, and all, maybe this test was good enough?
And, really, it mostly comes down to mount: Nikon shooters can enjoy and revel in the wonderful 75-150 E Series; Olympus shooters can get a good deal on a useful-enough, very competent short tele-zoom.
**a better test would’ve maybe developed the rolls separately to try to eliminate any other variables, and I’ve never seen anything like this in all my time semi-standing with Rodinal, so I doubt it mattered any at all.