Olympus 60mm Macro Lens for Travel Photography

You may be wondering what possessed me to consider an Olympus 60mm Macro for travel photography (a broad description for anything touristy). After all, general street or walkabout photography is normally conducted with a wide to tele zoom or a prime lens giving us something like a 35mm equivalent field of view. Well, different focal lengths will of course give us different perspectives and exploring those perspectives can be interesting.

I’d been hankering after the Olympus 60mm Macro for some time and was itching to try it. Having said that, I’m a portrait photographer, not a macro photographer. It’s worth pointing out this lens is in fact widely regarded as a beautiful portrait optic as well as doing double duty for close-up work. For this reason it includes a handy focus limiter switch which allows you to optimise focus performance for the distances you’re working in.

I took the lens out with me today to one of my favourite locations – the Amberley Heritage Museum which is just a few miles from where I live. I absolutely love this place, I find it fascinating and also wonderfully relaxing and soothing. It occupies a large and beautiful site at the foot of the South Downs and a couple of walks around the various museums and exhibits will ensure you’ll get plenty of exercise as well as learning a great deal about our industrial history. There are shooting opportunities which cover landscape, architecture, nature, and still life.

For an outing like this I would normally have something like a 14-42 kit zoom on one of my Micro 4/3 cameras. Or perhaps the excellent 17mm f1.8. (If you’re unfamiliar with Micro 4/3 the sensor factor means you need to double that focal length to give you a 35mm equivalent range). The macro lens I was using today is a 60 mm Micro 4/3 lens giving an effective 35mm (or full frame) equivalent of 120 mm. I decided to shoot for the entire afternoon with this one lens, which forced me out of my comfort zone.

It must be said that lenses have their own characters. Most often you’ll see only one characteristic discussed on photography forums – and that is sharpness. This appears to be the one single attribute with which many (I would guess newer) photographers value. For me, as a portrait photographer, sharpness is rarely at the top of my list. That’s because I photograph quite a lot of women and perhaps children as well. I think they benefit from the slightly diffuse characters of some of my favourite portrait lenses. For landscape or wildlife photography sharpness becomes more critical.

The Olympus 60mm Macro is phenomenally sharp. In fact it may be one of the sharpest lenses in my Micro 4/3 inventory. Other lens characteristics include colour rendition, contrast, vignetting, chromatic aberration and so forth. I found CA to be minimal with this particular optic, contrast to be about average and colour temperature slightly warm. I’m really looking forward to properly testing its close-up properties.

We know that a number of factors make up the compositional equation, such as crucial placement of the main subject and secondary elements, the use of selective focus, how we use colour in each picture, and our viewpoint. I’ve always believed in keeping my compositions as simple as possible because this can often result in photographs with the most impact or (conversely) interest. I had some help from some furry friends today – the gorgeous dog is Henry and the black cat is Brunel – he was rescued a couple of years ago and has settled in very well at the museum – with no shortage of attention from visitors. Unfortunately Brunel’s favourite areas tend to be within the quite dark railway carriage hanger which forces me into highish ISO values (about 4000 as I recall) whenever I try to photograph him.

Many of the indoor areas at the museum are also quite dark, and I haven’t applied any noise reduction to these photographs bar around 15 Luminance in Lightroom. There are also plenty of gorgeous Robins around the site – given that the various areas are populated with the volunteers and restoration experts. These little birds don’t lack for company or food, and they all appear to be hand feeders. If you do get a chance to visit the museum try taking some small pieces of cheese in a bag in your pocket – you’ll soon have some new buddies.