Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2 Lens Review – Maitani’s Smallest Zuiko

Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2 Lens Review – Maitani’s Smallest Zuiko

2800 1575 Dustin Vaughn-Luma

I’ve spent the past few months shooting a rare and interesting lens from Olympus’ glory days, the Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2 in OM mount. This lens combines many of the things that photo geeks (past and present) value – high image quality, compactness, attention to detail. But what makes this lens special and worth writing about, is where it came from and just how good it is.

If you’re a camera fan in any capacity, you should appreciate Yoshihisa Maitani’s impact on the camera industry of the 20th century. The man was a visionary who helped define the camera world we live in today, and we spent about two-thousand words chronicling his life’s work in an article earlier this year. If you’re not sure about Maitani, our retrospective is a great place to start.

His truly innovative design of the diminutive Olympus OM-1 redefined what a 35mm SLR could be, and his extremely pocketable and inexpensive Olympus XA was a total reimagining of the old-fashioned rangefinder camera. Legendary engineering, innovation, and cult-like status have helped Maitani’s creations survive to this day as tools for the modern film photographer. And while many of his camera designs defined Olympus’ presence in the market for more than forty years, the true beauty and magic of the Olympus brand is found in their Zuiko line of lenses.

During Maitani’s time as head designer of Olympus, he had more than a few side projects. The one that I’ve always been most fascinated with was his pursuit to design the smallest and most optically stellar standard lens the consumer market had ever seen. Ever cognizant of his lifelong design philosophy that “the lens is the soul of the camera,” he and his team set out to create a lens that would perfectly compliment the OM’s compact size and exceptional performance.

The result was the legendary Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2; Maitani’s jewel of the OM line. If you’re an Olympus OM fan, chances are good that you’ve looked in its direction more than once. I’ve lusted after the lens for some time, but given its rarity, the collector’s market has lifted prices to uncomfortable heights. When I found one earlier this year for just shy of $400 (in mint condition, no less), I jumped on it.

But what is it, and where did it come from?

A History of the 40mm F/2 Zuiko

In the early 1980s, traditional SLR camera sales began to decline as more advanced electronic SLRs, point and shoots, and the like began to whet consumers’ appetites. In order to ensure buyers remained interested in their OM line, Maitani made a push to develop ever smaller and better lenses. The smallest and best, was the Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2.

Designed to fit his exacting standards and personal photographic taste, after years of effort the smallest Zuiko became a reality in 1984. Sadly, the market didn’t respond well and production on the lens is rumored to be limited to just 10,000 units. It was discontinued in 1994.

Originally prototyped as a 50mm pancake lens, Maitani and team found that they could reduce its size even further by widening its field of view to 40mm, and so they did. With a true picture angle of 56 degrees and at a dainty 140g weight, his team succeeded in creating something truly special.

Boasting six elements in six groups, its multicoated glass matched the best of what could then be found in all Zuiko lenses. In fact, all lenses marked with only the word “Zuiko” on the front feature the best-of-the-times optical multicoating. These are the last of the OM line, they’re the most robust, and they have the best coatings of any Zuiko lens.

Shooting the Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2

If you’ve used any of the more common OM mount Zuikos, particularly the stellar 50mm F/1.8, then the Zuiko 40mm F/2 will feel familiar. Its compact profile is slightly smaller than the far more common 50mm F/1.8, making it the smallest Zuiko ever produced. It is, however, not the lightest. That title belongs to the 20mm F/3.5.

I can imagine that Maitani needed to make a few compromises with this lens when he told engineers how small and fast he intended it to be. Its compact footprint and maximum F/2 aperture forced the team to rethink their formula. Though many Olympus Zuiko lenses have a forward-placed aperture ring, this lens takes it even further. Its aperture ring is literally on the nose. This makes adjustment of the lens’ aperture feel quite unusual, as it’s almost as if we’re spinning a filter thread or even the nameplate of a traditional lens. It does take some getting used to.

Shooters might find comfort, however, knowing that adding a filter or lens hood to the lens makes controlling aperture a bit easier given the additional material to grab onto. With that said, it does worry me ever so slightly when I’m screwing accessories on or off the lens due to the additional forces placed on the aperture ring at F/2 (screwing on) or at F/16 (removing).

The lens barrel itself contains all the familiar etchings and markings of any other Zuiko. The focusing ring is small but effective thanks to its unbelievably well-designed rubberized knobs. It has the ability to close focus up to 0.3 meters (~10 inches), which is nearing macro lens capability, and means that out of all the Zuikos I own, its focusing versatility is unmatched.

Image Quality and Rendering

Zuiko glass has a unique signature, lens to lens. The 40mm F/2 is no exception. In fact, it’s similar to the character found in the 40mm F/1.7 on the Olympus RD, but with multicoated glass to protect from flaring and with an even more refined sharpness (particularly at the corners when opened up).

Stopped down from F/4 onward, it starts to bite and can produce images that are wonderfully sharp. My results appear to be predictably close to my Zuiko 50mm F/1.4, but I think the 40mm F/2 falls just a bit short. Opening it up to F/2.8 and beyond gives it a completely different personality, and when opened all the way up in low light with a high speed film, I’ve experienced wonderfully dreamy results. That isn’t to say it’s any different from other Zuikos of this vintage, but more a testament to the unique signature that this glass brings.

[Shots in the samples gallery below were made by Dustin Vaughn-Luma with the new Kodak Ektachrome and Kodak Portra]

I’ve heard that flare can be an issue with this lens, however my copy seems to hold flare off quite well. I’m typically not the type of shooter to worry about flaring in the first place, but rather embrace it as it arises. On the other hand, given it’s very short focus throw between six feet and infinity, I have had difficulty focusing it when bright light sources are interfering. The split rangefinder circle on my OM-1 and OM-2 are just not ideal with this lens, so I often look to clarity outside of the circle for focus. Not a huge deal, but it probably won’t be my go-to for portrait work.

Finding one in excellent condition can prove challenging and might take patience. Additionally, vintage camera equipment appears to still be on the rise, so finding one for under $600 isn’t all that common. Less expensive examples are out there, so I encourage would-be buyers to stay diligent if this lens is on the bucket list.

[Shots in the samples gallery below were made with Ilford HP5 Plus, the new Kodak Ektachrome, and expired Kodak Portra 400 VC]

The Takeaway

While the Olympus Zuiko 40mm F/2 isn’t perfect, it is a good lens. I don’t think it’s a better performer than some of Olympus’ less expensive and more plentiful offerings, but in my opinion, it is the one Zuiko that looks and feels the most appropriate for the many OM bodies.

Compact, versatile, and relatively sharp; Maitani’s personal vision for a standard focal length pancake was realized to its fullest. It’s just a shame that such a small run was ever produced; this rarity has left collectors and shooters with an over-inflated price to pay.

While pancake lenses aren’t ideal for every photographer, this one checks all the boxes for me. It feels as much at home on the street as it does in the studio, and it has a certain charm to boot. If I was forced to own only one Zuiko, this would be it. Small, fun, optically stellar, and born from the mind of a true genius, I encourage any Olympus fan to hunt one down for their bag. That is, of course, if you don’t mind paying a bit extra.

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Dustin Vaughn-Luma

An experience designer, freelance photographer, and competitive cyclist living in San Jose, California with his wife, three sons, and neurotic bernese mountain dog. The majority of his personal work is shot on 35mm and 120 film, and is developed and scanned at home.

All stories by:Dustin Vaughn-Luma
  • With most standard Zuikos smaller than their peers from other brands, this lens is kinda disappointing – not ‘pancake’ enough. And sadly the optical performance isn’t exactly stellar either. One can get by with 50, 28 or 35 mm lens if they want a small package.

  • I can’t find any way to justify paying the crazy prices asked for this lens. The 50mm/1.8 is almost as small, faster, has better ergos and optics, is dirt cheap, and if you take a couple steps back gives you the same perspective.

  • Hi Dustin,

    Nice read… Thanks.

    The 40mm is closer to our normal visual range than 50mm, and it is quite weird how the early Leitz cameras have set the 50 as the standard, even though as Malcolm Taylor will tell you, should you be on the phone to him, that the original UR Leica that he rebuilt for the Leitz company was in fact a 40mm lens.

    I briefly looked at acquiring an OM1 and this 40mm, but when I saw the prices, I decided to just keep my already expensive Leica M4/40mm Summicron arrangement. Although it is not the only “standard” lens I have for this camera, it gets more than its fair share of use, simply because it is so light and squat, the M4 becomes almost pocketable!

    I am on the look out for a nice fixed lens fully manual compact camera now, and I will be aiming for one with a 40. I sold my XA, it was no longer light tight.

    • Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for the nice words. I’m a big fan of 40mm. Always have been. It works well for me. I’m not sure the price makes this Zuiko a practical buy in any way, but it sure is a fun lens to use. My son shoots on an OM1n, and he’s probably going to end up with it one day.

      As for your current setup, I’m not sure you can get much better than that. The 40 summicron is hands down my favorite 40 ever. Cherish it.

      All the best!

      • The Leica M 40mm f2 Summicron was contracted to Minolta to be manufactured because of their high “Quality Control” practices. Leica lost big on the M5 camera body because it was too big compared to the smaller “M” bodies. They contracted Minolta to build 90mm f4 and the CL camera body in the late 1970’s. Leica also allowed Minolta to build the same rangefinder body and lenses but with their Minolta brand-name. Minolta went further and built their own rangefinder 28mm F2.8 lens that would fit both Leica and Minolta rangefinder camera bodies. The difference between Leica and Minolta 90mm f4 lens was the coating that Minolta add it to their lens after their contract was over with Leica. The coating was supposedly to add a little more contrast and flare resistance on Minolta CLE version of their lenses. I have shot both Leica and Minolta versions of the 90mm and 40mm lenses. My conclusion lead me to get the newer later Minolta version because of the newer coatings,way cheaper pricing and the same build quality!!!

  • I owned an Olympus om4t in high school. I had only two lenses for it. A Olympus 28mm 3.5 and this lens here the 40mm f2! it was a fantastic lens but I did not appreciate the camera at the time and traded it to a friend for a Nikon fe2 and a 28 2.8 ais. My friend dropped the camera with the 28mm lens into a creek and ruined it. I don’t know what happened to the 40mm lens though I guess he sold it. One day I would like to get this set up again.

  • Takumar 40mm 2.8 has this lens beat as far as affordable 40mm with good ergonomics goes. The Zuiko is just too small, too dainty with its teensy weensy aperture ring. It’s a nice bit of Zuiko history and a talking point amongst collectors (yawn..) but a nice every day shooting lens it ain’t.

    • Couldn’t disagree with you more, pal; but to each their own, I suppose. Given my freakishly dainty fingers and an obsession for Zuikos, it’s a winner in my world.

  • Really like this lens. The framing and rendering is better than the 50 1.8 or 35 f2.0, which I also have. The lens is plenty sharp, but has a very pleasing smoothness to its rendition — not clinical like alot of modern lenses. I use a metal lens hood on the lens, which makes changing apertures easy. To avoid stressing the aperture ring while mounting or unmounting the lens hood or filters, you just set the aperture at 5.6 or 8, hold the aperture ring firmly and unscrew the hood or filter. Same procedure when mounting a lens hood or filter.

  • Nice review, a great portrait of your son. Zuiko lenses are just fantastic, this one seems like no exception. I wonder how this lens would compare on a shootout with a lens on the complete opposite side of the price spectrum, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 40mm f2, this lens can be had for ~$40 or so. This lens was sold as a entry level lens commonly paired with their more price conscious, although still capable XG line of bodies. The Rokkor-X 40mm is said to be only single coated, but from what reviews mention is a very high quality glass.

  • I came across this review as I recently stumbled on one of these lenses for a not-exactly-small but much cheaper than average price, and thought it would be a go for the small size when combined with my OM-4Ti.

    It’s quality has surprised me, given the mixed reviews. No it’s not going to replace an Otus – it’s a bit soft, glow at f/2 but even there it’s got a nice rendering and by f/4, at middling distances, it can live with the monster resolution of my Eos 5Ds. Perhaps part of the reason for the mixed reviews is that the 40 doesn’t quite match the signature look I’ve seen from most OM-System Zuiko glass I’ve tried; They tend to have higher contrast and slightly harsher colour transitions than some of my other manual focus gear. The 40 appears to have a slightly lower contrast rendering and an overall smoothness in colour which maybe masks it’s actual sharpness level. Whatever, I like it!

  • I have one from what must be from the later production runs (#102176) which I bought slightly used in the very late 80’s together with a second hand OM-4, after letting my then teenage son take over my OM-1n. When I in 2003 switched to digital with the E-1 (and later to OM-D E-M10 and E-M10 II), my OM-4 was tucked away together with this lens and my 85 F/2, soon becoming more or less forgotten. However, some year ago I got my OM-1n back from my son who had taken good and loving care of it. This revived my interest in film photography since OM-1 always was my favorite among cameras I have owned.

    Now to the point here: I have only quite recently realized that I actually own a pretty rare Zuiko lens, not the least thanks to this article. In my opinion, the 40 F/2 is a perfect match to the 85 F/2 (unless one has the trinity 28 or 35, 50 and 85), and I will definitely keep it no matter what tempting offers I might get. The main reason is that it is such a nice alternative to a 28/35 and 50 mm combo, fast enough to handle most situations. So thank you very much for this most interesting article which really opened my eyes. And not only for this article — the whole site is a wonderful resource! / Greetings from Sweden

    • Regarding my serial number: I obviously misinterpreted 102176 (…”must be from the later production runs”) since it’s six digits and only 10.000 units were made. Mine is more likely from the earlier runs: #2176 (the initial 10 in the number signifying something else). Please enlighten me here!

      • You cannot count on Olympus serial numbers as having any special meaning. They jump around and start and stop at arbitrary places.

        What you need to look for is the four-character “date code” that has a hand-stamped quality to it. The first two characters of the date code give you the year and month of manufacture, the last two characters identify the manufacturing facility.

        The first character is the year, and starts with a “1” for 1971, incrementing to 9, then continuing with “A” for 1980, etc. The second character is the month, with a “1” for January, through “9” for September, then “A”, “B”, “C”, for October, November, and December. (Some early lenses used “X”, “Y”, and “Z” for the latter months.)

        The last two characters identify the factory (copied from my SQL decoding algorithm):
        • when ‘AZ’ then ‘Olympus Optoelectronics Co., Ltd. Aizu Corporation Factory, Fukushima’
        • when ‘IO’ then ‘Olympus Optical Industry Co., Ltd. Ina Business Site, Nagano’
        • when ‘NI’ then ‘not made by Olympus’
        • when ‘S’ then ‘Sakaki Olympus Co, Ltd., Nagano’ (early lens only had a one character factory code)
        • when ‘SA’ then ‘Sakaki Olympus Co, Ltd., Nagano’
        • when ‘SK’ then ‘Shirakawa Olympus Co., Ltd., Gifu’
        • when ‘TN’ then ‘Olympus Optical Industry Co., Ltd. Tatsuno Business Site, Hyogo’

        The date code is generally stamped on the black area surrounding the rear element, but on some very early Zuikos, it can be hidden beneath the focus ring.

        To my knowledge, all the 40/2 lenses were stamped on the rear, not under the rubber. I recall one discussion about the date code indicating that Olympus didn’t actually build these, but farmed them out, as they all had date codes ending in “NI”! Sorry I don’t have the details.

        I once owned SN 101521, bought in 1998 for $300, sold a few years later for $500. Wish I’d kept it — it’s tripled in price since then! I found it too tiny for my stubby fingers, and preferred the extra stop that the 50/1.4 I bought in 1977 gave me.

  • Alle Eure Angaben über die 40mm – Brennweite sind korrekt und ich kann alles bestätigen.
    Man kann nur mit dieser Brennweite alleine eine Fototour oder einen Urlaub bestreiten.
    Ich persönlich benutze aber ein Konica Hexanon 40mm f1.8 auf einer Konica Autoreflex T.
    Herrliche Kombination !
    Fantastisches Objektiv !

  • Are these really selling for over $2k now? That’s nuts!

  • I was also surprised to see the prices for this lens.

    Back in the late seventies I was alternating between a 50mm and a 35mm for my OM-1. That kind of worked, except I did not like that I needed to think about which one to use. Then I got the 40mm and it solved everything, it has never again come off my OM-1 and the second I bought was for my OM4Ti. That has also never come off. I did not like to operate the aperture ring on the front, too small for me. So I installed a metal Pentax step up ring 49 – 52, if I am correct. That makes operating the aperture ring totally easy. Both these lenses have that ring since at least 25 years now.

    I print up to 50x60cm prints (20x24in.) from this small lens and that’s all okay. I was never interested in the smallness of this lens and as a matter of fact it isn’t that small as a Pentax Pancake or some others.

  • Nice photo’s! I’m fond of using 40mm lenses, they offer quite a bit wider view compared to the standard 50mm although the difference with 35mm is offcourse very small. Also like the Zuiko f2.0 line of lenses and play around with a 24mm f2, 35mm f2 and 90mm f2. However don’t have the Zuiko 40mm f2 and never going to get it I’m afraid, unless it’s being sold by someone who has no idea…

    To imagine that you in fact can get all 3 of above mentioned lenses (24, 35, 90mm) together for less then the price of 1 Zuiko 40mm f2 nowadays is crazy isn’t it? That’s why I have the Olympus 35LC (42mm f1.8), Rollei 35S (40mm f2.8) and Yashica 35GX (40mm f1.7) for using the 40mm perspective. All having really great lenses. If you already own a Zuiko 40mm f2 consider yourself to be lucky 🙂 but there are plenty of alternatives for those who don’t.

  • Was Maitani responsible for the Olympus Zuiko Auto-W 21mm f/3.5 and f/2 lenses as well?

    • Was Maitani responsible for the Olympus Zuiko Auto-W 21mm f/3.5 and f/2 lenses as well?

      Not to besmirch his influence, but keep in mind that, as lead designer, Maitani oversaw the development of all lenses and cameras while he was with Olympus, although it’s said that he personally designed many of the earlier models.

      BTW: it appears that the 21mm ƒ/2 — the first ever ƒ/2 lens so wide — is now selling for $3,700 to $6,000 on eBay! Although not at photo shows; I was shooting for $3,000 for mine at the recent PSPCS Seattle-area swap meet. I had one offer of $2,000, which I declined.

  • I’m very late to this show but this is worth a read on the subject: https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2021/01/olympus-madness-.html
    All that glisters is not gold!

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Dustin Vaughn-Luma

An experience designer, freelance photographer, and competitive cyclist living in San Jose, California with his wife, three sons, and neurotic bernese mountain dog. The majority of his personal work is shot on 35mm and 120 film, and is developed and scanned at home.

All stories by:Dustin Vaughn-Luma