Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Lens Review

Source of reviewed lens: Lens Rentals

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What is It?

The 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital is one of what Olympus refers to as their “pro” m4/3 lenses. Beyond the obvious main specification—which would be 80-300mm (equivalent) with a “fast” aperture—the lens has other features that are found in Olympus’ “Pro” lineup, including a Splash Proof designation.

Despite it’s heavy duty build quality, the lens is a reasonably svelte size, at just over 6” long (160mm, lens hood retracted). Weight is just under two pounds (32 ounces, or 880g). Filter size is 72mm, and an optional MC-14 1.4x teleconverter is available for the lens. The apertures are formed by a 9-blade rounded diaphragm; the fast aperture, rounded blades, and 300mm equivalent focal length predicts decent bokeh in the out of focus areas.

But let’s take a quick look around at some of the more unique features of the lens.

First up is the LH-76 lens hood. The hoodcan be removed, but it’s also set up so that a slight twist of the locking ring the opposite direction of unlock allows you to collapse the hood directly back onto the lens, reducing it’s carry size. Very convenient.

As you’d expect there’s a rotating tripod collar, and that collar can be removed if you’re going to handhold the lens. Unlike some tripod collars (I’m looking at you, Nikon), the foot extension is about as solid as they come; I couldn’t detect any flex in it, and considering the light overall weight of a setup you’d be using with it in place, I can’t imagine that the tripod collar itself would be a source of vibration or ringing of other vibrations.

The 40-150mm has one L-Fn button that is programmable on the Olympus camera bodies. The zoom positions are marked at 40, 50, 70, 100, and 150mm, and the zoom rotation is less than a quarter turn from minimum to maximum.

Close focus is a very close 2.3 feet (0.7m), which gives it a reasonable 1:5 maximum magnification. Panasonic body owners need to know that this lens does not have image stabilization; it relies on the camera body to stabilize shots.

The lens costs US$1499, and is made in Japan.


How’s it Handle?

I have to say that the 40-150mm f/2.8 is a real joy to handle on an E-M1 body. It’s a little big for the far smaller E-M10 body, which will make you think you’re holding all lens and no camera. But on the E-M1 the lens is very comfortable and a near perfect match for a moderately long telephoto zoom. Balance is near perfect on the E-M1 body, and also on the E-M5 body with at least the half grip installed.

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The L-Fn button is pretty much where your thumb will find when you’re cradling the lens in your left hand. You can program the button to AF Stop, AEL/AFL, video record, Preview, White balance, AF Area Select, AF Area Home, MF, Raw, Test Picture, any Myset, exposure compensation, Live Guide, Digital Tele-Converter, Keystone Compensation, Magnify, HDR, BKT, ISO, WB, Multi Function, Peaking, and Off. In other words, a wide range of choices. Conspicuously missing is AF-On.

The two rings on the lens are quite refined and smooth on the sample I tested. The zoom lens is nearer the camera body and the wider of the two. The focus ring is relatively narrow, but easy enough to find and distinguish from the zoom ring.

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That focus ring has a trick up its sleeve: pull it back towards the camera body and you leave autofocus and enter manual focus, complete with a marked focus indicator. The markings are sparse however, with only 3, 5, 10 feet and 0.7, 1, and 2 meters indicated besides infinity. Also, no DOF scale is shown. In manual focus mode, the focus ring turns about one quarter turn from near to far. As with all ED glass, the lens focuses beyond infinity to allow for temperature changes.

Another nice touch: the lens does not change length while zooming, nor do the front focus rings twist while zooming or focusing. The lens is 6.3” long (plus hood) regardless of what you’re doing. Be aware that the front element is right at the literal front of the lens when the hood is removed. This is a lens you definitely want the hood mounted on.

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As I noted above, that lens hood is about as good as it gets. Take the (very brief) amount of time needed to orient yourself to how it works and you’ll be sliding it back over the lens or taking it off the lens with aplomb. Don’t take the time to do that, and you’ll probably accidentally take the hood off instead of sliding it. Again, collapse is a slight twist of the ring on the hood the opposite direction of what starts hood removal.

Likewise, the tripod collar takes a slight bit of study (if you want to remove it). But it’s a pretty standard slotted design, so if you’re coming from recent big lenses from other makers, you’re likely to know the drill already. Basically, the collar only comes off in one orientation, otherwise it just turns to a new position.

Overall, I can’t find anything to really dislike about the handling of this lens. Yeah, a few more focus markings and a few additional focus related choices of what to program in the L.Fn button would be nice. Still, I can’t imagine a lens that would handle much better than this one.


How’s it Perform?

Focus: yes, it’s pretty darned fast. It may even be a little faster at some things than my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8. When I first saw the close focus distance and lack of a focus limiting switch, I was prepared to be disappointed moving from extremely close to extremely far subjects. Nope. No disappointment at all. Yes, going that extreme does take a bit longer than moving from a more central focus position to an extreme, but frankly, not enough longer for me to care. The lens is as “snappy” to focus as anything I’ve put on my E-M1.

Following focus is a slightly different story. This is still a really good lens in terms of C-AF use, but there I did often see some hunting that slowed the “snap” down to a “slurp.” (I can just see that last line getting translated into Japanese by someone ;~). My keeper rate went down with continuous focus from what I want out of a camera, but it also it wasn't terrible. It seems to keep up better with predictable motion than random motion, as you’d expect from contrast detect focus (yes, the E-M1 does mostly contrast detect focus with this lens; the E-M1 does full-time phase detect focus only with the older adapted 4/3 lenses; for m4/3 lenses it appears that the camera does initial phase detect to determine direction to focus, but actual focus is mostly contrast detect). With the always challenging birds in flight, if the lens lost the bird, it lost the bird; I rarely got focus back fast enough to snap more in focus frames.

Let me put things a different way: in terms of telephoto focus performance, the 40-150mm is right up there with anything else you could put on the Olympus bodies. So even if it isn’t quite DSLR-level performance in some situations—and in static situations it can be better than DSLR-level performance—it’s state-of-the-art for m4/3.

I have to say something about close focus. If you were to tell me that I would be taking butterfly shots with this lens, I would have questioned your sanity. But you know what? At the first butterfly sanctuary I was at in Costa Rica this lens performed quite admirably. I was surprised that I wasn’t just bouncing over to a dedicated macro lens. I got some quite nice shots with the 40-150mm, even on some of the smaller butterflies. No, it’s not a macro lens. But 300mm (equivalent) at 28” (0.7m) is a pretty strong close focus setting. It meant that I didn’t have to pull the 40-150mm off the camera nearly as much as subjects got smaller and closer. Indeed, it was only when I was getting extremely close to small subjects that I even wanted a macro lens. In essence, that’s what a good zoom lens should do: stay on the camera as much as possible. You use zooms for some convenience, and anything that lens does to keep you from having to switch to another lens is more convenience.

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Sharpness: This is the real strength of the lens. And I mean strength. Some have written that it performs like a prime, and I’m not sure I’d quibble with that. Center-to-edge differential is actually pretty low on the lens I was using, as the corners were very nearly as sharp as the center. One thing I did notice is that the peak of center sharpness was very slightly off center, but that’s a fairly common problem to see these days.

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Handheld from boat at 150mm, f/3.5. Even sharpness across the frame.


Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to matter what focal length I chose. 40mm, 70mm, 150mm, they were all excellent corner to corner, and right from f/2.8 (no real need to stop down unless you need DOF). And I mean excellent, as in about the best you can obtain from the 16mp E-M1 sensor. If you nail focus, you have acuity. Excellent acuity. Indeed, in the Imatest charts it basically boiled down to this: The lens performed great wide open and didn’t really change much until I started hitting diffraction limits, at which point I could clearly see the diffraction impacts. That’s pretty much as good as it gets in terms of sharpness.

Other attributes: The Olympus cameras perform distortion and aberration corrections in JPEGs, and some raw converters do, as well, so it’s getting a little more difficult to talk about such issues for a lens than it used to. If you’re shooting JPEGs, I’d say don’t worry about either. Olympus’ correction doesn’t take out all chromatic aberration in the extreme corners, but it takes out enough that most people would just ignore what does get produced.

In absolute raw files with no correction, chromatic aberration was clearly apparent at 40mm, much less so at 150mm, which is sort of the opposite of what you’d usually expect. I’d say that raw files need some level of CA correction, though, so make sure you either have software that does so on conversion, or know how to create a lens profile that does.

On the other hand, vignetting and linear distortion are just minimal, period. Minimal as in generally “ignorable.” I found the vignetting so low (perhaps a third of a stop at all focal lengths in the corners) that I had to retest and look at the results several times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Vignetting is totally ignorable by f/4.

Likewise linear distortion is low.

I didn’t have a lot of time to test bokeh with this lens in all the ways I usually do. I didn’t find any particular issues with the out of focus areas, but they also weren’t anything that would get me excited about the bokeh characteristics. The close up hummingbird photos I shot had a very nice, mostly creamy out of focus background. Nothing distracting. But I didn’t shoot much out of focus highlights in the background, so I can’t really speak to whether the lens shows any clear onion rings on bokeh. Here’s one example that shows pretty decent bokeh with no severe problems (do note the slight onion highlight at the edge of of out of focus rings, though):

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Final Words

You should have the impression that I like this lens. I do. I like it an awful lot. Enough so that I’m going to sell my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and get this one. As I noted above, if a lens tends to stay on your camera more, it’s more convenient, and that extra 50mm and good close focus distance mean that the Olympus was staying on my camera more than the Panasonic.

Before everyone goes out and sells their Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8, I should note that the Panasonic lens is significantly smaller and lighter. There are purposes that it serves quite well. The Panasonic is two-thirds the length, and less than half the weight of the Olympus 40-150mm. Even more important for Panasonic m4/3 bodyowners is that the 35-100mm has optical image stabilization built in. So not everyone should switch as I will be. Moreover, the Panasonic is an optically excellent lens, too, so every m4/3 user needing a fast telephoto zoom should consider it.

Still, Olympus has a real winner with the 40-150mm f/2.8. A very usable focal range, excellent optics, a really nice build with no real flaws in handling, and focus performance at Olympus’ state of the art means that this should become a classic m4/3 lens. Once Olympus has completed their initial Pro line (7-14mm f/2.8?, 12-40mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, 300mm f/4), an E-M1 owner should be able to go from 14mm to 600mm equivalent in a four lens set that delivers one heck of a lot of performance in reasonably small packages.

I can heartily recommend this lens to anyone needing these focal lengths. Well done, Olympus.
Highly Recommended

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