I have had a chance to use Olympus´ new PRO zoom lens a couple of times before final announcement at Photokina 2014 Press Day. This lens has turned out to be a real treat. Although the lens I had was a prototype/pre-production sample, it was a stellar perfomer.
Yes, lets start with images: I made two galleries for the images I have shot with M.Zuiko 50-150 f/2.8 prototype/pre-prod lens:
I have shot roughly 10.000 frames with this lens and have not had time to really go through all of it. Those images in galleries are surely examples of the best I got but there may be more which I have not noticed.
Because the lens was a prototype/pre-production sample, Olympus has set restrictions on the size of images I can publish. Even those galleries are actually breaking the limit.
It all started with me contacting Olympus half a year ago asking if there happened to be any prototype lenses available if I happened to go to Kuhmo (bear images) during the summer. There was no answer, until a couple weeks before the lens actually arrived I got an email that there would be a 40-150mm PRO lens available, and even then the exact day of lens arriving was still unsure. I had already forgotten the whole thing and had other plans. And 150mm focal length would be on the short side for wild bears. Anyway, I made hasty arrangements and surprisingly the lens arrived a day before my flight. As a nice surprise there was included a teleconverter which was totally news for me. So, there I was with a strange new lens with my E-M1 body having no firmware support for the lens. Even better, after I got the lens I started to get new emails: while there, we need also bird in flight and landscapes and close-ups and... What the...? My leisurely "if I happened to" was turning out to become a full-fledged assignment, and a very hasty one. I had three nights in a hide and three other shooting days to do it all. But yes, that´s how those images from Finland and the gallery was made. And as I am how I am, when I had to send the lens back to Olympus Europe, I asked: By the way, I´m going to see this airshow in Switzerland, I kinda have started to like this lens, if it happens to be available...
As said, I really started to like the lens. My only expectation and hope beforehand was that it was on the same level as M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. It was. It is even better.
At first I was cautious to use teleconverter at all and was inclined to accept the old wisdom to stop down when using it. Gradually I realised I can go wide open with the lens alone and also with MC-14 attached. I can go wide open all the time or use any aperture as long as I don´t go beyond f/8. Diffraction, you know.
Optically, I really would say this lens is outstanding. There should be nothing to be worried about when production models start shipping. I did not run into any negative issues with the lens alone. With teleconverter attached I noticed that the combination is more sensitive to extremely bright object inside image than with the lens alone at same focal length when shooting wide open. On the other hand, even with MC-14 attached there was a situation where I got perfectly usable images while my friend, who is professional wildlife photographer, could not shoot at all. We were shooting the same subject beside each other against setting sun and he got just flare all over the frame with professional Nikon FF body and expensive Nikon 600mm f/4 lens.
Somebody asked me that as I have Zuiko D. 150mm f/2.0 prime lens, can this zoom lens really replace it?
I have not had time to do side by side comparison shots. M.Zuiko 40-150 PRO is small, a lot lighter and gives at f/2.8 outstandingly sharp images. It has more vignetting at 150mm and f/2.8, it is a stop slower and probably there are some situations where either lens would behave optically better. I don´t know yet. The look of their images is bit different with 40-150 PRO at 150mm maybe having better micro contrast while 150/2 would maybe show more lines in a test target. Maybe. With 1.4X teleconverters 40-150 PRO is snappier wide open. Maybe I need to explain here my word "sharp". It is about visual sharpness which is a combination of (micro) contrast and resolution. There are lenses which have lots of resolution at low contrast. That´s good for some test shooting but not necessarily for actual images. There must also be this ability to bring little nuances actually visible. 40-150 PRO has this ability, while 150/2 should have no less resolution, it gives a softer look to images to start with.
Again we must remember that the zoom I have used is a prototype/pre-prod lens, not actual production model. Anyway I am so impressed that I will buy the new lens and my 150/2 (with its teleconverter) will probably see very little use afterwards.
This is something I´m not supposed to do, but I do it anyway. Above is an image from my airshow material. It did not get into gallery. When you click on it you can see 100% crop. It is from the center of image and the light is bright etc, and still, it is shot over the hot airfield at longest focal length with MC-14 teleconverter attached and wide open. 210mm, f/4
As seen in test gallery you can go quite close to the subject with M.Zuiko 40-150mm PRO. It focuses down to 70cm (sensor to subject) distance. At that distance even a 8 by 6 cm subject fills the frame at longest focal length. Again here you can use teleconverter to shoot close-up images without any noticeable degradation in image quality.
Size and weight
I have seen some people complain that this lens is too big and against the idea of mFT. I don´t think so. There still are and will be new small bodies and lenses. This lens only shows how the system matures to cover all photographic needs.
I have used 70-200mm f/2.8 tele zooms from Canon and Nikon, Canon´s 100-400mm zoom and many many others. And of course I have used Olympus consumer grade 40-150mm and 75-300mm zooms. For me this lens feels as very nice from every point of view. It is not big nor heavy but has speed and quality. I have used it hand held (no monopod) for two 9 hour days in airshow and carried it around in the wild without feeling any fatique at all. The lens and E-M1 body with hood collapsed fit easily into a compact backpack.
The lens is 16 cm long, has 72 mm filter thread and weights 880 g with supplied tripod adapter. Without tripod adapter it is 760g. Also supplied with the lens is a collapsible lens hood.
The hood is excellently long and protects the front lens efficiently against oblique light. Because of its collapsible construction it makes the lens fatter but does not add much to weight. I have some concerns with hood staying on the lens when extended. Like said my sample was quite early one, I hope Olympus makes a firmer fitting for hood bayonet in production lenses. On the other hand, it did not drop off even once in my use.
Build quality feels to be at the level it should be for a professional lens. The lens is also dust, splash and freeze proof. In the airshow crowd somebody spilled accidentally his beer over the zoom´s lens barrel. I wiped it off and never noticed anything after that.
The matching M.Zuiko 1.4x teleconverter MC‑14 does not make the lens much longer as half of it protrudes inside the lens. This construction makes MC-14 also incompatible with other mFT lenses. I have not checked if there are some lenses which would be compatible, but that´s not the point here. The point is that M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter is optically matched to the 40-150mm PRO lens. With converter you have a 56-210mm f/4 zoom lens which seems to have practically the same optical quality as the basic lens alone. As I am a bit lazy, after noticing this I stopped taking MC-14 off the lens unless I needed more speed or wider angle. This teleconverter will be compatible with the upcoming M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO lens.
M.Zuiko 40-150mm PRO zoom has dual linear voice coil motors for focusing. Focusing is fast and silent. Here is again one uncertainty: my E-M1 had the standard firmware without any support for the new lens. I don´t know how fast and accurate it is with the just released 2.0 firmware which supports 40-150 PRO. I was generally happy with the results I got with flying birds or airplanes. Only sometimes there was some "pumping": sharp, sharp, sharp, unsharp, sharp, sharp, unsharp, sharp... The lens/camera AF combination did not lose the subject, it only missed sharpness for a frame or two every now and then and then locked it back. Not really fatal but annoying. I have to wait for being able to use a production lens with E-M1 having 2.0 firmware to be able to tell more.
(Note: I have not done any formal testing with a test target. All my comments on image quality are based on real life subjects shot with a prototype/pre-prod lens.)
- Images of bears, eagles and swamp landscapes were shot in Kuhmo, Finland. You can read more of the place here.
- Images of ospreys were shot in Kangasala, Finland. More here.