Review Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO

The Olympus ED 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO appeared shortly after Photokina 2014 and offers a field of view that corresponds with that of an 80-300 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. That is a very broadly usable telephoto lens zoom range, especially with the high, constant brightness of f/2.8.
This micro-43 lens is designed for demanding professionals, who waited for it impatiently. I know several professional photographers who do their work with a micro-43 camera and a wide-angle or standard lens. Solidly built, optically high-quality lenses like the Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8 Pro, Panasonic Nocticron 42.5 mm f/1.2 or the Olympus 12 mm f/2 are their favorite workhorses.

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But until now, these professionals have not considered a micro-43 telephoto zoom, despite the—optically outstanding performing—Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8, as an alternative for the professional 70-200 mm f/2.8 zoom lenses on a camera with a full-frame sensor. Will that change with the introduction of the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 Pro?
The list price of 1,399 euros makes it clear that the bar is high. Olympus also promises fantastic optical quality in a super-solid and yet light, splashwater-tight, extra-well-sealed against dust, compact housing, which continues functioning in extreme cold. As far as cold is concerned, we’ll take Olympus’s word for it until proven wrong. If we put a lens and camera in the freezer, the temperature is currently so high in the Netherlands that condensation would form on the front lens when we took it out again. Perhaps there’s a reader with a freezer larger than 20 meters in length available for our use? Otherwise, we’ll have to wait for a hard winter. Fortunately, we were able to review the image quality:

Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO

 A100028Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro @ 150mm f/2.8, 1/320 sec, 500 ISO

Construction: “Dust-, splash- & freeze-proof”

The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8, built of metal, deserves the title, “built like a tank.”

The Olympus ED 40-150 has a constant f/2.8 aperture and a constant length of just 16 cm. As fitting to a professional lens, it’s dust- and splashwater-tight. In addition, Olympus guarantees operation to -20 degrees Celsius. With professional 70-200 mm zooms from Canon and Nikon, we always write that they’re built like a tank, to indicate how indestructibly solidly these lenses are built. The Olympus 40-150 mm PRO is also built like a tank, and at 760 grams is a heavy-weight among the micro-43 lenses: the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 weighs half as much.
For many professional photographers, 760 grams will be a pleasant surprise: a professional 70-200 mm f/2.8 zoom for an SLR has a smaller zoom range and weighs twice as much as the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8. And the less-bright Canon 70-300 mm L f/4-5.6 offers the same field of view, but weighs 3 ounces more. 

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Auto focus The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 Pro has a unique, dual-PCM AF system that consists of two separate AF systems, each with its own group of AF lenses. We primarily tested this lens in the single-AF mode. In combination with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the AF speed is comparable to that of an SLR camera. In the continuous-AF mode, the Olympus M 40-150 mm was remarkably faster and quieter than the Olympus 50-200 mm SWD Four-Thirds zoom lens.

Manual focusing can occur in three different ways. If you set the camera to manual focus, then you set manual electronic focus. You can also set the camera to AF with manual override, analogous to the professional USM I/SWM and the like. A third option is through sliding the SNAP-focus focusing ring forward. This is the setting with the nicest resistance during manual focusing, a distance scale and hard stops at infinity and 70 cm.

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Close-up photography

Another surprise that Olympus has in store for the professional is the shortest settable distance of this telephoto zoom. For a traditional 70-200 mm f/2.8 zoom lens the minimum distance that can be focused on is usually more than a meter; a meter and a half is not unusual. The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 can be focused across the entire zoom range to 70 centimeters, which increases the universal applicability. If you head out with this lens, then you can make a close-up of a flower or a leaf with dewdrops without changing lenses. When you want to play with focal depth and bokeh, then this is your chance. groenblaadje

Vignetting

Vignetting is low at all focal distances. At full aperture, there’s a half stop of vignetting, which you might be able to recognize in a shot with a clear blue sky. At all other focal distances, vignetting is completely absent. That is much less for professionals accustomed to their 70-200 mm f/2.8 zooms on an SLR with full-frame camera. Here, the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 scores clearly better than the more compact Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8.

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Olympus40150The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 is delivered including an unusually beautiful lens hood—not shown here, but more about that later—a lens-bag and a removable tripod collar.

Distortion

Practically all zoom lenses have, without software correction, distortion that runs from barrel-shaped at the shortest focal distance to pincushion-shaped at the longest focal distance. That’s also true for the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8, as we see with Imatest in uncorrected RAW files.
Ever-more manufacturers are choosing—following Olympus and Panasonic—to correct lens errors such as distortion in jpg and RAW files. It’s a successful strategy: RAW files that you open with Lightroom or Photoshop show—just like jpg files directly from the camera—no sign of visible distortion across the whole zoom range.

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Unique lens hood prevents flare

A lens hood will be used to prevent internal reflections, which are caused by bright light sources located just outside the frame, and in order to protect the front lens if you don’t use any filters.
With professional zoom lenses, a large lens hood will almost always be included, which you can attach to the lens turned around during transport. Many photographers with a 70-200 mm f/2.8 and an SLR camera find the removal and placing of a lens hood to be such a hassle that, in practice, they leave the lens hood at home.

Lenshood

The best lens hood is one that you actually use. Olympus has come up with a unique design that I hadn’t run into before. You turn a ring on the lens hood (with an arrow indicator) to the left, after which you can fold the lens hood out before use—or in after use. This design is so user friendly that you actually take along and use the lens hood.
The lens hood is made of plastic, and that’s understandable due to weight considerations. Even so, I can imagine that a part of the target audience—satisfied as they are with the high-quality metal lens hoods of the Olympus 12 mm f/2 SE or the Olympus 75 mm f/1.8—would also like a metal lens hood for this lens, which is built like a tank.

All the lens elements of the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 Pro is equipped with Zero coating, to prevent flare and ghosts. In general, that works very well. Only in the practice shots where we photographed directly into the sun, as in the practice shot shown here, did we find flaring and purple ghosts in a few cases. directtegenlicht

Sharpness Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8

Practice shots and Imatest measurement results are also perfect in terms of sharpness.

The sharpness of the Olympus 40-100 mm f/2.8 is phenomenal at all focal distances. At full aperture, you already have the highest possible center sharpness, which the sharpness in the corners almost doesn’t lag behind. Stopping down is not needed, as far as sharpness is concerned. Only when you want more focal depth will you choose a smaller aperture.

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In order to compare MTF50 results for this lens with MTF values for lenses tested on cameras with an APS-C or full frame sensor, we set the micro-43 test camera to a 2: 3 ratio. In other words: we tested this lens with a resolution of 14 megapixels (2:3 ratio) instead of 16 megapixels (4:3 ratio). Using the native 4:3 aspect ratio will yield slightly higher MTF values.

If you compare the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 in our list of test results by focal distance with all the other micro-43 lenses, then this zoom wins at 135 mm, 200 mm and 300 mm (converted to full frame) over everything we’ve reviewed until now. At 85 mm (small-field equivalent), the PanaLeica 42.5 f/1.2 wins and the Olympus 75 mm f/1.8 scores a bit higher. The differences are very small. Examine the practice shots from the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 review by Robin Wong for various practice shots, or click on the image below for a compressed but otherwise unedited jpg file directly from the camera. The RAW file, in which I tempered the highlights a bit, I like even better. I can well understand the professional photographer who chooses a good lens like this Olympus, doesn’t bother with post-editing and sends the in-camera jpg shots directly to the client. The faster you work, the greater the news value of a photo, and the image quality of the in-camera jpg shots closely approaches the level of edited shots. A few years ago, that was unthinkable.

gierClick on this image for a compressed (in connection with the bandwidth) image at actual size
Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 in-camera jpg @ 150 mm f/2.8, 1/1250 sec, 200 ISO

Obviously, we were interested to see how the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 holds its own in comparison with the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8. We could not find any real differences in terms of sharpness for the practice shots from both lenses. In the Imatest measurements, the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 scores a bit higher than the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8.

Image stabilization

The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 does not have built-in image stabilization, because that’s already in all Olympus cameras. That’s a point of attention for photographers with a Panasonic camera. We reviewed the image stabilization at a focal distance of 100 mm. It surprised us yet again how efficient the in-body image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is. From our Imatest measurements, it appears that the shots made with image stabilization at a shutter time of 1/6 sec were just as sharp as shots without image stabilization made with a shutter time of 1/200 sec. As long as the subject doesn’t move, a reporter with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 + 40-150 mm f/2.8, thanks to the built-in image stabilization, actually profits by 4 stops. Fantastic. IStest

Chromatic aberration

Blue and red edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners are simply absent.

With RAW files that you open with Photoshop, SilkyPix and Lightroom, there’s no sign at all of lateral chromatic aberration—just like the jpg files from the camera. Longitudinal chromatic aberration as well, which you can only find with bright lenses, is practically absent. In the feathers of the vulture, with a magnification up to 100%, there’s no trace of color bokeh—green edges at contrast transitions behind the focus point—visible. This exceptionally good optical performance is the result of a good lens design, in which various high-quality glass types (HD, super ED and EDA) are applied.

Customization with a Fn button on the lens

Just as with the Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8, the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 is also equipped with a programmable function-button (L-Fn), with which you can choose pre-selected camera settings with “1 press of the button.” Most amateur photographers will probably not make much use of this, because Olympus OM-D cameras already have multiple Fn buttons. But professional photographers will appreciate a third programmable function button as a supplement to the two function buttons on the OM-D E-M1. You can thus set this button (Custom Menu B/Button Function/L Fn), for example, to fix the focal distance, to control the focal depth or to reset the AF point to the home position, to name just a few of the options. Fn-button
lfn2 LFn

Bokeh

1600iso150mm2p8Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 Pro @ 150 mm f/2.8, 1/200 sec, 1600 ISO
Otters move a great deal, but even at a focal distance of 300 mm (converted to full-frame), they present no problem for the lightning-fast AF of the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

The Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 delivers a beautiful bokeh, in which the limited focal depth of a bright telephoto lens helps to isolate the subject from the background. On the right, you see a 100% partial enlargement of a shot made with our bokeh test set-up. There is a small amount of onion-ring bokeh, caused by the achromatic lens element, recognizable.
Click on the image below for a comparison of the bokeh of the Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 with the bokeh of the Olympus 35-100 mm f/2.8, in which both lenses were set to f/2.8 and f/8. The cat’s eye bokeh betrays the Panasonic 35-100 mm at f/2.8. At f/8, you see that the Panasonic has 7 aperture blades, and the Olympus, 9.

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M.Zuiko Digital 1.4x Telephoto converter MC-14

Together with the Olympus 40-150 mm PRO, a 1.4x telephoto converter was also released, which we are now reviewing in combination with the Olympus 40-150 mm PRO. This 1.4x converter is specially designed for use in combination with the 40-150 mm f/2.8 and the 300 mm f/4, which is expected next year. From the picture, you can see why this converter is not for use as a universal telephoto converter: the front-most element of the converter sticks out. Our first experiences with this converter are very positive. We’ll come back to that later.

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Conclusion Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO with OM-D E-M1

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Look in our list of reviewed lenses or in our list of reviewed micro-43 lenses to compare the performance of this lens with that of other lenses.

ECWYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you save the files in the camera as jpg, including all in-camera lens corrections (distortion, chromatic aberration). This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: “What you see is what you get”.

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ECPure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera as a RAW file. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for converting RAW files, then the RAW scores for chromatic aberration and distortion are the same as the jpg scores. {insertgrid ID = 309}

Pros

  • Unparalleled, professional construction quality: dust-, splash- & freeze-proof
  • Fantastically good, professional image quality
  • Fast AF, terrific manual focusing
  • Unique, practical lens hood design
  • Fn button for extra camera preset

Cons

  • Relatively big and heavy for a micro-43
  • Professional price class

More professionals will switch to micro-43 due to this lens.

A micro-43 lens 16 cm in length, 700 grams and with a list price of 1.399 euros is not for everyone. Fortunately, the store price is a few hundred euros lower, because we enthusiastically recommend this lens to every demanding prosumer or professional with a micro-43 camera. The construction and image quality of the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 are absolutely top class. The combination of an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Panasonic GH4 with an Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8 PRO + 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO is a compact, high-quality tool that weighs a couple of kilos less than a traditional 24-70 f/2.8 + 70-200 mm f/2.8 and a professional SLR, which the image quality comes surprisingly close.

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