The new Olympus 40-150mm 2.8 Pro zoom lens

On Wednesday the 29th of October I met up with the Olympus photographers at the Imagespace gallery in Broadgate, London. The task, to make some pictures with and gather our own impressions of, the new professional zoom lens for the micro four thirds system.

The latest addition to the MFT stable is their most ambitious to date. With a slew of fast primes featuring high quality optics released in recent years and following on from last year’s launch of the highly regarded 12-40mm 2.8 pro lens, Olympus have now enhanced their system significantly with the new 40-150mm 2.8 pro zoom.

Way back when, in the dark days of rucksacks and osteopaths, I used Canon DSLR’s. The long zoom of choice for the budding travel/portrait photographer was the 70-200 f2.8 IS lens, a large, heavy (1.47 kg), white device which left those around you with no doubt as to either your intent or your lofty ‘pro’ status. Being more of a low-key kind of guy, I opted for the smaller, lighter, non stabilised f4 variant. But with a smaller maximum aperture and no stabilisation, I was regularly aware of its limitations, especially in lower light. So for me, the new Olympus lens is a very welcome addition to my kit (or it will be when I get one!) Having now had 2 or 3 hours to play around with one and actually take some pictures with it, my head is literally buzzing with superlatives.

For the past few years since moving to mirrorless cameras, I have worked with mostly shorter lenses, becoming a big user of the standard prime lens. The longest focal length I’ve used generally over this period is the 75mm (150mm eqv) so you’d be forgiven for thinking that short focal lengths are what my style of photography is all about. But it’s not. Its just that I really haven’t had the option to use professional quality telephoto zoom lenses on a micro four thirds body before now. Yes there are a number of consumer grade options available and I’ve tried most, but I’ve passed on these because first and foremost, I’m obsessive about optical quality. That’s why I used expensive Leica M glass on my MFT bodies for a time early on as I waited for the native MFT lens range to develop. The truth is, I’m a big fan of longer zoom lenses. A long zoom is possibly the most useful lens in the bag of any travel photographer. I love compressed perspectives and finding the perfect crop in a vast landscape, making a selection that matches my idea of aesthetic beauty and creates an impact that would be lost with a wider view. I even used to carry a Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on travel assignments, but at 1.25 kg and over 10 inches long (without the 3” hood), it usually stayed in the boot of my car. Now, using the tiny 1.4x teleconverter which matches up with this new Olympus lens, I can shoot stabilised, 420mm images at f4 using a tool that I can carry all day long!

The new 40-150mm offers the equivalent focal length in 35mm terms of an 80mm - 300mm. All using a maximum aperture of f2.8. That’s 50% more reach than my old DSLR zoom and a stop faster. Its smaller than all pro grade DSLR 70-200mm f2.8 zooms and considerably lighter at almost half the weight of the Nikon equivalent. On the day of our test, it rained down from gloomy skies, the light was dire! The cameras and lenses were weatherproof but we were not. To find some shelter we all headed over to Spitalfields market which offered a good selection of subjects and backdrops to shoot with our model for the day, Anna Zeller. Here are my initial impressions.

The lens focuses extremely fast. The bokeh is delicious, as pleasing to my eye as any Olympus lens I’ve used to date. It displays a contrast and sharpness I would guess is up there with the amazing Olympus 75mm prime lens. It focuses very close at around 20 inches, which at 150mm makes it a very versatile lens. Its super smooth to operate, even smoother than the 12-40 pro lens from last year, with a real luxury ‘damped’ feel to the zoom ring. The lens hood is the best design I’ve seen to date on any lens. It retracts and extends with a quick twist and a very positive snap. All in all, this lens feels like a well made professional tool and with all of the exotic glass elements and fancy new VCM motors inside, my guess is it probably is!

In practical use, when teamed up with the in body stabilisation found in the OMD EM1, this lens offers the sort of usability and performance that shows what a jolly good idea it was for Olympus to go down the micro four thirds design route in the first place. That decision has led directly to innovations and products which are increasingly making traditional DSLR’s look like dinosaurs. The mirrorless movement they started is now the fastest growing segment in photographic sales worldwide and a bandwagon being jumped upon by every manufacturer and their pet goat! During our test, we entered a dimly lit builders yard and I took a few shots at 150mm (300mm eqv) at 1/13 of a second, handheld……..and they were SHARP…!

Apparently in some dusty old book, someone once scribbled, “Thou shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour”, well if my neighbour owned an Olympus 40-150mm 2.8 Pro zoom lens, there would be some serious coveting going on.

Some favourite shots I made over the 2 hours all using this new lens….

45mm, f2.8 at 1/50s ISO 1600

60mm, f2.8 at 1/80s ISO 1600

52mm, f2.8 at 1/80 ISO 1600

150mm, f2.8 at 1/250s ISO 1600

40mm, f2.8 at 1/320s ISO 1600

67mm, f2.8 at 1/125s ISO 1600

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