A lot of people have been waiting for this part of the review! In part 1 we looked at the 5.6 lens, in part 2 we looked at the 2.8 lens…now we pit them against each other directly. Let’s get right into this.
There is no denying the obvious. There is a major size difference between these two lenses. However, before I scare anyone off…this is relative. If you were to now put a canon 70-200 F/2.8 L IS next to these two lenses, the 2.8 lens would also look small. Similar height…but there would be a real size difference still. The 5.6 lens is tiny. Short, small diameter, and lightweight plastic make it a lens you don’t notice in your bag. The Pro lens needs a dedicated area in your bag. An EPL-8 with the 5.6 is still a small all-day carry kit that doesn’t draw attention to itself. The 2.8 lens will never be that. It is an intentional lens. As in, you will probably be intentional about carrying it, and the photography you are shooting with it.
I’m pretty sure the 5.6 could easily slip inside the 2.8.
I hate to be redundant…but if you are on the fence about this lens…you need to factor in how you honestly intend to carry your gear. Especially if you want to use the lens foot. If so…this just isn’t for you if you want a small walk around telephoto for fun images on your holiday. However…if you are willing to shoot without the lens foot, and potentially even leave the hood at home (i never recommend this…) the lens is actually some what smaller. It slips into a smaller compartment in a bag, and even vest pockets. Truth be told, the hood and the lens foot add the majority of the bulk. Even if you don’t use a lens plate like I do. I do highly recommend a lens plate for your foot. It gives a more secure hold on a tripod. Olympus even designed the 300mm Pro lens foot with this integrated in. I don’t know why they didn’t do that for the 40-150. If they released an updated lens foot I would order it immediately.
When the 5.6 is zoomed out it gets close to the length of the 2.8. Don’t even convince yourself that this makes them similar. They aren’t. Carrying the 2.8 around “naked” like this does make for a much more compact package though. The lens mount on the 5.6 is plastic and the lens is very solid on the camera mount. It doesn’t weigh anything. The 2.8 lens on the other hand needs support. I recommend the lens foot ALWAYS if you are on a tripod. I wouldn’t even make it an option. I don’t trust even the slightest flex at the camera mount when trying for optimal sharpness and image quality. The mount becomes the weakest link with so much leverage on a small body. How do I know? I’ve ripped a mount out of my camera with this lens before. It was totally my fault… and it included a very unique drop…but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Story for another day.
Let’s get past size and talk about some other differences.
Focus speed is way different. The 2.8 magically focuses instantly. The 5.6 lets you know it is focusing, and in anything that is not ideal light, it slows down a bit in my experience. I found myself feeling the focus lag compared to the 2.8. For casual photography it won’t make a difference. On my client’s dollar and critical situations where every shot counts, I cannot use the 5.6. Simple. Though I have used the 5.6 on paid shoots that were low pressure and more documentary in nature.
Weather sealing on the 2.8 is excellent. Mine has gone through weather, that’s for sure. Then again the 5.6 is so small you can just cover it with your hand.
The Pro lens has the lens button and manual clutch. I really do enjoy having these features. The 5.6 doesn’t have them, but it’s not a huge loss one way or another.
Focus distance is also an issue I kept running into. I personally like to get close to my subjects. As close as I can. The closer my minimum focus distance, the closer I will be. I hit this distance constantly. Because I was so used to the amazing close focus of the 2.8, I felt like I kept hitting a wall with the 5.6. It just doesn’t get as close. Same thing happens when I use the 45mm F/1.8 as opposed to the 12-40. 45 has a long distance. A lot of people don’t buy a long telephoto to get close in this sense. They use the “telephoto” to bring subjects closer. If you rarely shoot at minimum distance, then this is a non-issue. And realistically, both lenses focus close for their focal length. It’s just the 2.8 gets even closer. I have images below that show this.
The final big difference was aperture. 2.8 vs 5.6 is two stops. That is the difference between 1/250 and 1/1000. Or 1/250 and 1/60. Or ISO 1600 vs 6400. 2 stops of aperture is 4x the light coming in. In general situations this won’t matter too much…especially with great image stabilization. The problem was I kept hitting this wall often in dimmer light. Even mid-day in the woods when I was in deep shade. I kept having to bump up my ISO or shoot at speeds I didn’t really want because I kept running out of light. I didn’t even bother trying to use the lens at indoor events or paid shoots. Two stops makes a difference to me when I need it. Some people don’t need it. Landscape on a tripod means the 5.6 works just fine for you. I often would shoot near-macro with the 2.8 handheld and it works great. It was very difficult to do with the 5.6 lens because of the light difference.
Let’s look at image quality now. Both lenses are great. There are differences however. Do they justify the price…you can decide.
The 5.6 lens is on the left, the 2.8 lens on the right. Click to see larger images. A new tab will pop up with the full size image.
Take notice, both shots at 40mm look fine. When zoomed in however, you can see the 5.6 lens has a good amount of chromatic aberration. Does it ruin the shot…no…but it is certainly there. The 2.8 lens does not show this even at 2.8.
Notice, both images at 5.6 look quite similar. Especially when not zoomed in. Once at 100%, the fine resolving of the 5.6 lens is not quite as strong. The 2.8 is a bit crisper for sure.
At F/7.1 the lenses are close. Real close. Still there is a resolving difference. It’s just not massive though. And if the 5.6 lens honestly suits you better in terms of size, carrying, price, etc… if you can shoot stopped down you really won’t be missing much.
To me this is one of the biggest differences. The 2.8 gets a bit closer. And it makes a difference. Or at least to me it does. This is bigger to me than the quality difference. In fact, minimum focus distance is the reason I sold all my Leica gear. It eventually drove me bananas that 24″ was my closest distance with any lens.
Here is another close focus shot, but at 40mm. Notice, even bokeh is similar. The 2.8 is a bit smoother overall. Then again, you can always open up to 2.8 and have even more of it! Can’t do that with the 5.6 lens.
I bought and own both of these lenses. There are times when I know I want a long telephoto with me…but I just don’t “NEED” it and I don’t want to carry much, or I want to use a very small bag. I grab the 5.6. When I am working, the 2.8 is my only option. In fact, it is one of my most used lenses. I love it, and the quality is superb. It is my go to portrait, product, and event lens at the moment. I have made the 2.8 fit into some very interesting bags trying to keep things small and light but not wanting to compromise. I also like a fixed aperture lens. I also want immediate focus response. My preference is the 2.8 lens for sure. Is it worth the price? As a lens, yes it is…and it competes very nicely with comparable pro telephoto lens. The money is very justifiable when compared to other similar lenses. The 5.6 is a good lens. Olympus definitely makes their lenses impressive, even more the entry level ones. As a telephoto companion to the kit zoom, the 5.6 really isn’t that bad when stopped down. In fact, quality is similar in some areas. Focus speed might be an issue depending how you shoot. Slower aperture might be an issue too. Depth of field is not really a big deal to me at these focal lengths. You obviously won’t get the pro football 300mm F/2.8 separation with athlete up close look… for everything else it is fine. The focal length covers most telephoto needs nicely unless you shoot birds and wildlife primarily. If you don’t want to put the money out and want to be able to have these focal lengths when you need them, I do recommend the 5.6. Having the option is nice. If you seriously do your work in the 40-150 range and can afford the 2.8, you will certainly not be disappointment.
What are your thoughts? Do you own either of these? What’s your experience?