The OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO is a new, extreme-macro lens designed for Micro Four Thirds cameras. It is an eerily sharp and powerful lens which can capture details that are impossible to see with the naked eye. Equipped with autofocus, a huge 2x magnification, and a long focal length of 90mm (180mm full-frame equivalent), there is no other lens quite like it for macro photography – whether for Micro Four Thirds or otherwise.
Magnification and Working Distance
One of the most important, stand-out features of the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro is the extreme 2:1 reproduction ratio. Almost all other macro lenses on the market, from OM System and otherwise, stop at 1:1 magnification at the highest. The handful of exceptions are nearly always manual focus lenses.
This means you can fill your composition with something that’s a mere 8.5 millimeters wide (about a third of an inch) on a Micro Four Thirds camera. By comparison, a more common 1:1 macro lens can only fill the frame with something roughly 17 mm / 0.67 inches wide on Micro Four Thirds. That’s a huge difference for photographing small, unusual subjects like hairs and pigment cells on tiny animals.
But arguably even more important is the long focal length of 90mm. That’s a 180mm full-frame-equivalent focal length, which makes it one of the longest macro lenses made today. This is important because it offers a huge working distance compared to most macro lenses (AKA the distance between the front of your lens and your subject).
When I was using this lens at moderate magnifications – say, 1:2 or 1:3 – I felt luxuriously distant from my subject. This made it less likely that I’d scare my subject, and most of all, it gave me a lot more flexibility with my lighting equipment. At 1:1 magnification and even 2:1, I felt I had enough space to light my subject effectively.
In particular, when shooting at 2x magnification with the OM System M.Zuiko 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO, the tip of the lens is about 6.5 cm / 2.5 inches from the subject. At 1x magnification, this distance increases to 9.5 cm / 3.7 inches.
Previously, I have been working for years with the OM System M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. At 1:1 magnification, this lens manages a working distance of 8.3 cm / 3.3 inches from the tip of the lens. Although this may sound almost as good as the new 90mm f/3.5 Macro, it’s a bit of an illusion. For lighting purposes, the 90mm lens is far easier to use with an on-camera speedlight, because the lens itself is longer. In other words, it has a much bigger “flash to subject” distance than a shorter macro lens. This offers more room for a larger diffuser, which improves the quality of my light substantially.
In short, the high magnification and large working distance of the 90mm f/3.5 Macro are two of its biggest strengths. I was able to use these features to capture images that would have been impossible with almost anything else on the market.
Handling and Build
The OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO is not a tiny macro lens, unlike some other Micro Four Thirds macro lenses. The lens measures 5.35 inches (136 mm) without the hood attached. That said, it is lighter than it looks at 453 grams / 1.0 lbs., likely due to its plastic parts.
Despite the use of plastic, I don’t doubt the lens’s durability. In particular, the weather sealing is advertised as dust-proof and splash-proof up to IP53, meaning extensive protection against dust and splashing water. It’s the same rating given to the rugged OM-1 itself. By comparison, I’ve used my M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 for years of intense conditions. It doesn’t appear to have an official IP rating, yet has held up better than any of my other lenses. The new 90mm f/3.5 should improve on it even further.
The lens is built with a metal mount. There are three switches on the side. The top is a focus limiter with three positions: Macro, 0.25-0.5m, and 0.25-infinity. Below is the image stabilization switch with On and Off positions. Below it is an L-fn button which can be customized to your needs.
The focus ring slides in and out of manual focus mode by shifting forward and backwards. Similar to other IS PRO lenses by OM System, there is no locking mechanism to prevent the ring from shifting between manual and autofocus mode. I didn’t find the ring to rotate as smooth as butter, but it was perfectly fine in operation.
Something peculiar is that the focus limiter does not only limit the autofocus range, but also the manual focus range! This is pretty unusual for focus limiters, and it wasn’t something I liked about the lens. There is also no “full” option on the focus limiter switch, so if you want to manually rack focus from infinity to 2:1 magnification, you’ll need to remember to flip the switch.
Another quirk about the focus limiting switch is that it also changes the maximum aperture. When switched to the macro position, the maximum aperture changes from f/3.5 to f/5.6. Macro lenses in general all have a narrower maximum aperture at their higher magnifications, but this is the first lens where I’ve seen it change so suddenly, rather than a gradual transition.
As for image stabilization, I kept it on most of the time, and the steadiness in the viewfinder was apparent. That said, the difference was not as noticeable as I’ve witnessed on some telephoto lenses, especially at high magnifications. This is normal for a macro lens, but I still recommend keeping IS on unless you’re shooting from a tripod. According to CIPA measurements, it offers an impressive 7 stops of stabilization.
This is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used. I was capturing details I never knew existed on animals I have photographed countless times for years. Even after cropping my images significantly, the details remained clear. In fact, the lens is sharp enough that the OM-1’s 20 megapixel resolution was the limiting factor for sharpness, rather than the glass.
Sharpness was sometimes an issue at extreme magnifications, but not due to the sharpness of the lens – instead, it was due to the depth of field. At high magnifications, depth of field is always an issue because it’s inherently narrow. You’ll need to stop down to apertures like f/8, f/11, and f/16, which have increasingly more issues with diffraction. All of this will sound familiar if you’re a macro photographer, because it’s true of every macro lens.
Interestingly, the OM System 90mm f/3.5 surprised me in remaining quite sharp even at narrower apertures. Diffraction still caused some loss in sharpness, of course, but my impression is that the only sharpness loss I saw at these apertures was from diffraction. The lens didn’t seem to contribute any additional issues of its own. You’ll see in a moment how much sharper the 90mm f/3.5 is compared to my M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 even when both were are narrow apertures of f/16 and f/14.
Here are my test shots from 1:1 magnification, plus extensive crops to show the sharpness. When you look at these crops, keep in mind that the ultra-thin depth of field makes the wider apertures “seem” blurrier than they are. In terms of sharpness, only pay attention to the in-focus regions.
It is a little hard to see, but I found the lens to be sharpest at about f/6.3. However, in order to increase depth of field at such a high magnification, I would be inclined to shoot at f/10 most of the time instead. Sharpness takes a bit of a hit past that point, but I would still have no issue using f/16 at all. Even f/22 is reasonable in a pinch.
How does this compare to the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8? Below is a comparison photo from f/14. To my eye, it looks worse than the f/22 image above! I find this performance very impressive by the 90mm f/3.5, especially considering that the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 was, before now, my sharpest lens.
All in all, I was extremely impressed by the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro in terms of sharpness. It wasn’t just in this test above – in every photo that I took with the lens, regardless of focusing distance and aperture, it was sharp from corner to corner.
With a high-magnification macro lens, it is easy to make a background disappear into a homogenous blur. The seven-bladed rounded aperture on the OM System 90mm f/3.5 ensures a smooth blur. As you can see from the sample images throughout this review, the lens has excellent bokeh.
I did notice a bit of odd contrast in some just-out-of-focus edges of my subject, like the frog’s nose in the photo above. It seems to me that this part of the subject-background transition could be a bit smoother (and you’ll see that in some of the other photos in this review, too). It’s not a major issue, but it struck me as worth noting.
The one place I feel the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO loses out to the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro is the autofocus speed. Although I give OM System kudos for making a 2:1 macro lens which autofocuses at all, it is still on the slow side. And not surprisingly, it gets worse at 1:1 macro and stronger.
On distant subjects, I actually found that the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO outperformed my old M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro in focus speed, especially in brighter conditions. However, at close focusing distances, the 60mm lens was faster – probably because it didn’t need to examine the whole range from 2:1 to wider magnifications.
In particular, here are what my autofocus speed tests showed. I tested the focusing speed of both lenses from 1x to 0.5x magnification. After 10 replications with each test, the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO grabbed focus in 5.8 seconds on average, while the 60mm f/2.8 grabbed focus in 5.2 seconds on average. (I also wonder if a newer copy of the 60mm would be even faster, since as I’ve said, mine has seen some things.)
In low light, this difference was a bit greater, too. Considering that I do a lot of macro photography at night using a flashlight, the slower autofocus of this lens is certainly a disadvantage. I guess I will just have to up my manual focusing skills or back-button autofocus techniques!
Alternatives for Micro Four Thirds
Although there are a few other macro lenses available for Micro Four Thirds shooters both from Panasonic and OM System, none of them are true competitors to the 90mm f/3.5 Macro. After all, none of them focus to 2x magnification, and the 90mm focal length is also unique. This lens is clearly the flagship macro lens for Micro Four Thirds today.
The most obvious comparison is the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro, which has a maximum magnification of 1x and has served me well for several years. Although it’s certainly not a 90mm 2x macro lens, it will get the job done for most subjects. Additionally, the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 also offers 1x magnification, although it has an even shorter working distance.
The only other lens built for Micro Four Thirds which has a 2x maximum magnification is the Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro. This lens notably lacks autofocus and image stabilization, and it has a much smaller working distance. It could work as a budget alternative, but otherwise, the OM System 90mm f/3.5 is clearly a better choice.
I was excited to work with a 2:1 macro lens optimized for Micro Four Thirds cameras, because I believe it serves as a reminder that the Micro Four Thirds format should not be slept on. Despite having limitations due to the smaller sensor size, the format has its advantages, and macro photography is one of them. You can fill the frame with tiny subjects more easily with the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO than any other camera + lens combo on the market today.
Optically, I haven’t experienced any significant weaknesses on the 90mm f/3.5 Macro. The sharpness is breathtaking, even compared to the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro that has always been my sharpest lens. Not to mention that the working distance of this lens is comfortable, and the image stabilization works as it should.
My biggest criticisms of the lens both involve focusing. First, the ergonomics of focusing with this lens are peculiar due to the unusual focus limiter options and the lack of an autofocus/manual focus locking mechanism. Second, although the lens is quick to focus on distant subjects, it’s slower than most macro lenses at close-focusing distances. This is largely due to the additional 2:1 magnification that causes the AF system to hunt a bit more extensively.
As for the price, at $1500, it’s a good value but still more expensive than the alternatives. I think it’s worth it compared to the M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8, even if you’re not using 2:1 magnification, thanks to the better working distance. But if you don’t need these benefits, you can save some money with other macro alternatives for Micro Four Thirds.
In short, the OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO is an exceptionally sharp, high-performing macro lens with great usability due to the large working distance. Once you adapt to the peculiarities of focusing with this lens, it’s hard to beat – and I’d say it’s stolen the crown as the ultimate macro lens for the Micro Four Thirds system.
Because the lens is so new, I recommend ordering it as soon as possible so you’re early in line when it ships:
Let me know in the comments section below if you have any questions about the 90mm f/3.5 Macro! I have it in front of me right now and will do my best to answer.
OM System 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
Photography Life Overall Rating