40-150mm Comparison Part 1 – F/5.6

It’s time for another comparison.  This time I want to look at the 40-150mm zoom lenses.  This focal range is a staple for many of us.  Nature, portrait, events, etc…  There are so many uses for a lens in this range and Olympus offers two very interesting options.  The first is a small companion to the kit zoom. The second is a pro version.  The difference between the two lenses on paper is vast.  Size, weight, aperture, handling, filter size, and price are all very different.  Are the images that different?  Are they really as different as the wide gap between them indicates?  And if so, is the price so justified?  I really wanted to find out for myself.  Specs and measurements can only go so far.  This will be another three part series.  First part will be my review of the 40-150, the second part will be my review of the Pro, and the third part will be a direct comparison between the two and my concluding thoughts.

Disclaimer… no one pays me to do this.  The time spent and equipment are my own.  I actually own both of these lenses and use them on a daily basis as a commercial photographer.  My review will will take that into account more than the fact that one lens is a “consumer” lens and the other is a “pro.”  So, you get a very honest, real look at the lenses.

Part One… the 40 – 150mm F/4 – F/5.6.  For the remainder of this review…The variable zoom will be know as the 5.6 and the fixed zoom will be known as the 2.8.  This just makes it easier when writing.

I have to admit something as well.  I bought the 5.6 lens when Olympus recently offered an insane deal on a refurb.  Total price was like $40 out of my pocket or something crazy.  The lens was virtually like new and checked out pretty well from my testing.  I couldn’t resist at that price.  I mean come on, any lens for that price is a deal… but a 300mm equivalent lens???  That you can put in your pocket?  Usually things like this are too good to be true.

The 5.6  is made of plastic mostly and is not much bigger than the 45mm prime.  See photo below.

Olympus 40-150

Olympus 45mm F/1.8 left, 40 – 150mm F/4 – F/5.6 right

The lens is literally not much bigger than the tiny 45mm prime.  When zoomed out it roughly doubles its length.  The plastic makes it feel very…not cheap…but a bit fragile.  Luckily the zoomed out tube feels stable and has very little play.  The lens fits nicely in hand.  The lens takes 58mm filters.  The lens mount is also plastic.  I guess you don’t need a metal mount on a lens this light weight.  The lens weight is 190g or 6.7 ounces.  Focus ring feels decent and zooming is smooth.  It is about 1/4 turn to zoom through the range.  Not bad.  The lens takes a hood, but as usual on the lower end Olympus products…no hood included.  Frankly I don’t want one either for this lens.  It’s tiny and a hood would just make it that much bigger.  Maybe if I used this lens as my only telephoto I would consider the hood.  Flare resistance was actually decent even without the hood.  Speaking of flare though, his lens certainly does not make the most pleasing sun stars.  See below.  Oh well.

Olympus 40-150mm

Sun star…kinda

This lens is a variable aperture zoom so the aperture changes as you zoom.  The wide end at 40mm is F/4 and 150mm is F/5.6.  A one stop difference is not too bad.  I preferred stopping this lens down one stop when using it.  The images tightened up a bit and edge quality improved.  I don’t like aperture changing on me when I am shooting, so I would usually just leave the lens at F/5.6 or F/7.1.  This made it a lens that needed a lot of light, or high ISO most of the time.  Only in nice sunny daylight would I be able to stay at base ISO and faster shutter speeds.  This usually wasn’t a problem.  I carried the lens with me and made some shots that are typical for just general walk around photography, vacation etc…  The lens is too slow for event work.  Being in a dim room or concert with only F/5.6 means I am in trouble.  I much prefer working at F/1.8 – F/2.8 at most.  The other notable item about this lens is the close focus distance.  It is typical to most zooms of this range… just under 3 feet.  Honestly, macro isn’t the strong point of this lens.  I will have more to say about this in part 3 of the review.

Olympus has the MCON-P01 Macro lens converter designed for this lens that cuts the focus distance in half basically.  I have not used this accessory, but if I were to only have this lens as my telephoto and close up lens, I would definitely consider adding the macro add on.  It is small enough to easily keep on hand.  I would also still be shooting at F/7.1, especially at that distance.  Just remember, F/7.1, shutter speed at 1/320, at any ISO depending on your light.  This lens wants light.  A lot of it.  You will be struggling for light if you are in the forest at the base of a tree at sunrise trying to shoot nature macro with this lens. Here are a few examples that you can expect with this lens at close working distances.  They are at 150mm and generally at F/5.6 or F/7.1.

Olympus 40-150

Close up

Olympus 40-150

Sunflower

Olympus 40-150

Insect

Olympus 40-150

Butterfly in strong light

Olympus 40-150

Heavy vignette added.

Olympus 40-150

Dragon fly

Notice the backgrounds…some of these shots had some really busy backgrounds but they are not too upsetting.  The bokeh and transitions are decent for a lens of this level.  The cleaner your background the smoother and nicer the bokeh was naturally.  I never found it unappealing though.  It was good enough.

The next thing I wanted to see was if this lens could track at all, or give even decent results in continuous autofocus.  Most of use using a telephoto in this range are either shooting things that are small, or things that we can’t get close to.  Often that means animals, sports, and the like.  I had a chance to shoot some surfing with this lens.  150mm is too short for surfing if you are on the beach, so these are cropped examples.  However, with good strong light, and the E-M1mkII… focus tracking was surprisingly decent.  The surfer is moving sideways…yes…but also moving towards me.  Just not as fast as a bird.

Olympus 40-150

Bright light helped make a decent shot

Olympus 40-150

A sequence of shots put together.  All tracked and in focus.

Olympus 40-150

Bird in flight!

For all of you “Can it shoot birds in flight!” critics… here you go.  Bird in flight.  And seagulls are fast too.  Can it keep up with birds…yeah…do it well?  No.  A lot of shots were in focus, a lot weren’t.  And it could only keep up if I had strong lighting.  Dim light and it fell apart.  However, this is probably more testament to the amazing E-M1 mkII and it’s focus ability.  The focus on the 5.6 lens is just not nearly as fast as the pro lenses.  So being able to track even seagulls was surprising to me.

Olympus 40-150

A few more birds for you.  Smooth bokeh.

olympus 40-150

Nice color though.  The rendering and color of this lens were actually nice.

Olympus 40-150

Telephoto for the street.

This is a very small and un-noticed lens if you are into street photography.  It’s just so little.

Olympus 40-150

150mm F/5.6

Olympus 40-150

150mm

Olympus 40-150

150mm

Olympus 40-150

150mm

I tried a few shots indoors.  This is not an indoor lens.  You will always be at high ISO.  Then again, 150mm indoors is tight.

Olympus 40-150

150mm at 1/30 of a second handheld.  AMAZING.  Good IBIS and lightweight helped.

Olympus 40-150

1/40th of a second at 70mm.

I have plenty more to say about this lens, but I am going to reserve it for part 3 of this review.  That is where I will really discuss where it shines most, where it struggles, and if it is worth it or not to own as a lens.  It is a fun lens though.  It is very weird to have 150mm focal length in such a small lens.  This and a small prime or kit zoom gives you quite a range in a fanny pack instead of a camera bag.  Or just pockets.

Anyways, check back shortly.  Part 2 is up next with some details on the Pro lens.  Following that we will dive into direct comparisons of the two lenses together, and a very interesting analysis of the gap between these two lenses.

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