Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6R lens review

If you were to ask me what ‘sort’ of photographer I am, I would probably say a landscape photographer first and foremost, with wedding photographer on the side. I don’t tend to shoot a lot of subjects that require a telephoto lens in the way that a bird or wildlife photographer would.

What I do shoot occasionally though, is sports. And in particular motorcycle street racing – with a little bit of kids’ sports activities thrown in for good measure. I love capturing street racing (see my last post), so a telephoto lens is a must-have for those few times that I really need it.

I can’t justify spending thousands of dollars on a lens that I’m only going to us a few times year. This usually means that I end up spending the least amount of money I can get away with on a telephoto lens for any system I own. Enter the Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6 R.

Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6 in two flavors
This is the cheapo kit lens that comes bundled with many of the ‘consumer’ grade Olympus cameras like the Pens, so you can’t really expect much performance or quality wise. It retails here in New Zealand at just over $400NZ new, but I got mine as an ex-demo unit (from a camera retail store) for $250NZ with full warranty.

It’s an all-plastic construction, although the lenses are glass, with one ED and one HR element to help with lens corrections. Despite this, there is still a small amount of purple fringing that can occur wide open in high contrast areas, but this is a fairly easy fix with software. The lens also features an MSC focusing mechanism (Movies & Still Compatible), which means it’s very quiet when focusing. Finally, it weighs just 6.7oz (189 grams), making it an incredibly easy zoom to carry around all day – especially considering it has the same reach as a traditional 80-300mm lens on a film camera!

U15s West Coast Soccer Rep. Olympus 40-150mm
I had used the lens a couple of times to take photos of my son playing soccer. This isn’t a particularly fast-moving sport, so the autofocus motor in the lens kept up reasonably well with the action. It’s not the fastest focusing lens out there, but neither is it horrible. Adequate would be an appropriate adjective.

Recently, however, I had a chance to put the image quality of this lens to the real test, using it exclusively to shoot motorcycle street racing. I didn’t stress the autofocus capabilities of the lens though, deciding instead to focus manually on a specific point and shoot as the action moved into that zone (again, see my last post).

In previous years I have used Canon gear and have been lucky enough to borrow some ‘L’ glass. Last year I shot with the Canon 400mm f5.6L, and in previous years I have used the Canon 70-200mm f4L. So the Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6 was up against some pretty prestigious ‘pro’ quality glass. Not a very fair fight you would say.

Greymouth Street Racing, 2015. Olympus 40-150mm @ f5.6
And you’d be wrong J Long story short, I was blown away with the sharpness and quality of the images I got from this tiny, cheap, plastic, consumer lens. The images it produces are way better than they have any right to be, and astoundingly stand up to the Canon pro glass I’ve used in the past. At a quarter of the price and a tenth of the weight!

Manual focus with the lens was smooth and accurate, helped by the magnification and focus-peaking function of the Olympus O-MD E-M5 Mk2. As soon as you start turning the front focusing ring and the camera is set to manual focus, the image in the viewfinder is magnified x10 and white lines appear around anything that is in focus. A quick tap on the shutter button and you are back to full screen again in the viewfinder and the camera is manually focused. Couldn’t be easier.

'121'. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII and Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6. At 150mm, f5.6 @ 1/4000th
Almost all the images I took were at the 150mm limit, wide open at f5.6 – so probably not the most ‘optimal’ setting for sharpness. And yet these are probably the sharpest files I’ve ever got from the street racing – against the Canon 400 f5.6L and 70-200 f4L! Some of that ‘may’ be due to the larger depth of field you get from micro four thirds (where f5.6 is effectively f11 in terms of depth of field). Although having said that, after reviewing the images, there is still a relatively narrow area of in-focus to out-of-focus images. When the focus was ‘in’, as it often was, the images were tack sharp. A very impressive performance for such a cheap consumer-grade lens.

'Droid'. OM-D E-M5 MkII and Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6. 150mm at f5.6 @1/2000th
On a bright and sunny day, with high contrast subjects, the ED and HR elements were proving their worth. The camera itself will correct some of the lenses flaws, but even so, the jpegs straight out of camera were clean and sharp under harsh conditions.

Would I like to shoot with the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 pro lens instead? Of course. Would it have made a huge difference to the images? Maybe. Did I get some fantastic images out of the 40-150mm f4-5.6? Absolutely. In fact, I’m thrilled with the shots I was able to get from the day shooting motor sport exclusively with the OM-D E-M5 MkII and 40-150mm f4-5.6. No monopod required. No back-breaking gear to carry around all day. Just great images.

Street Racing Action. OM-D E-M5 MkII and Olympus 40-150mm
For the price, you really can’t go wrong if you need a telephoto lens for occasional use.

4 out of 5 stars.