Hands-on with the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro (and 1.4x TC): A pro quality lens without the ‘pro’ bulk


posted Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 5:10 PM EDT

UPDATE: The full, in-depth Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Pro lens review is now complete over on SLRgear!

Following up on their stellar 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, the newest member of the "Zuiko Pro" family is the telephoto sibling to the 12-40mm: the 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Pro. Technically, it was unveiled all the way back at the launch of the E-M1 as an "in-development" project, however the 40-150 f/2.8 was officially announced as a bona fide product last month just prior to Photokina.

This telephoto zoom lens is the latest move in Olympus's drive to sway professional photographers away from their big, bulky DSLRs and into the more compact yet still high-performance OM-D family. The new 40-150mm lens offers a versatile 80-300mm-equivalent focal length with a constant f/2.8 aperture and a rugged build with comprehensive weather sealing -- all the big features that professionals and high-end enthusiast photographers demand from their lenses -- but at a fraction of the size and weight of the typical 70-200mm f/2.8 DSLR lenses.

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 170mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 100
Image has not been retouched/edited. Click image for full size (or RAW).

Our review copy of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 arrived last week, and while we don't typically post separate handling and gallery stories ahead of our full SLRgear lens review, this new lens is just too hot not to share some gallery photos and a quick hands-on report.

Also announced alongside the 40-150mm lens was the first Micro Four Thirds teleconverter, the MC-1.4x, which, as the model name suggests, boosts the 40-150 lens by 1.4 times to a 56-210mm, though you loose an f-stop down to f/4. Now, instead of a 300mm-equivalent lens at max tele, you have a 420mm-equivalent telephoto lens at f/4 at a fraction of the size and weight compared to a DSLR counterpart. We also have this TC on-hand for review, and I was able to try it out as well this past weekend.

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 154mm, f/6.3, 1/400s, ISO 125
Image has not been retouched/edited. Click image for full size (or RAW).

Paired with an Olympus E-M1, our lens technician Rob Murray and I took the lens and teleconverter out to gather some sample photos, including some wildlife shots as well as a big local airshow. The 80-300mm-equivalent focal length, plus the addition of a 1.4x TC makes this lens quite a powerful and flexible, shoot-almost-anything lens. From portraits with nice, out of focus backgrounds, to sports and even wildlife and aircraft, the lens is able to "reach" all of these subjects, for the most part.

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 210mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 100
Image HAS been retouched/edited. Click image for original (or RAW).

On the handling side, the build quality of the 40-150 f/2.8, like the 12-40mm Pro, is excellent, with a very solid feel and buttery smooth zoom and focus rings. As I mentioned earlier, the Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 lens is refreshingly lightweight compared to its DSLR counterparts. Having personally lugged around a 70-200mm f/2.8 for my Canon DSLRs for a number of years, the Olympus 40-150 is a nice change not only for weight, but also for sheer compactness. Even with the clever retractable lens hood, the lens is able to pack away into small camera bags with ease, making it much more convenient to carry around. The balance is great with the E-M1 and hand-holding this combo is very comfortable for extended shooting periods.

The tiny 1.4x teleconverter is also super-compact, and takes up hardly any space in your camera bag when not in use. And attached to the lens, the 1.4x TC adds barely any additional length, and the lens remains comfortably balanced attached to a camera. I'm definitely considering the MC-1.4x a must-have accessory for 40-150mm owners. (According to Olympus, the 1.4x TC will also be compatible with the upcoming 300mm f/4 Pro lens, which will magnify that 600mm-equivalent lens all the way out to 840mm in 35mm terms!)

Performance-wise, from my assessment with a variety of sample images, the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 is sharp. Very sharp. Even with MC-1.4x teleconverter attached, I don't see any appreciable decrease in image quality as you typically would with other teleconverters, at least based on the images I shot.

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 210mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 160
Image has not been retouched/edited. Click image for full size (or RAW).
100% Crop from the image above. No sharpening has been applied in post-processing.

Autofocus performance was excellent, for the most part. On larger subjects, the E-M1 and the 40-150mm lens had no trouble locking onto subjects very quickly. However, at the airshow, there were often bright and overcast skies combined with small, fast-moving aircraft. This made for a challenging shooting scenario. The E-M1, even with its phase-detect hybrid AF system, struggled at times to track subjects up in the air using Continuous AF+tracking, and if the focus point moved off the aircraft, the camera would attempt to re-focus by racking focus. This often caused the image to get widely out of focus, and I easily lost track of the aircraft in the EVF. And with fast-flying aircraft, this meant either missed shots or out-of-focused ones. On the other hand, if I managed to keep the focus point near the subject, both single-shot AF and C-AF+Tracking would do a great job of locking focus. Shooting something like an airshow, however, is still an area where a DSLR with true phase-detect AF and an optical viewfinder is king, I'm afraid.

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 210mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 100
Image HAS been retouched/edited. Click image for original (or RAW).

All in all, I'm very impressed with the new Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens. Images are tack sharp and the build quality is outstanding. The 80-300mm-equivalent focal length range is tremendously useful and the fact that it's a fixed f/2.8 lens makes great not only lower light shooting but also for increased subject isolation (and I found the bokeh on this lens to be very nice, as well). Furthermore, the addition of a tiny teleconverter that doesn't appear to impact image quality makes this lens all the more useful for an even wider variety of subject matter.

The f/2.8 aperture allows for nice subject isolation and creates pleasing bokeh.
E-M1: 150mm, f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 200
Image has not been retouched/edited. Click image for full size (or RAW).

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Pro and the MC-1.4x are currently available for pre-order for $1,499 and $349, respectively. Olympus's own online store indicates that both items will begin shipping in mid-November. Pre-order from one of our trusted affiliates: Amazon (lens, teleconverter), Adorama (lens, teleconverter), and B&H (lens, teleconverter) -- Purchasing this lens, or any other product from these retailers, helps support the site!

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko Pro is currently undergoing testing our lab right now, so stay tuned for our in-depth review complete with test results, sample images and our final conclusion! 

In the meantime, head over to the Olympus E-M1 Gallery Page, for more sample images, including RAWs and JPEGs! (Just be sure to click on images with "-40_150Pro" at the end of the file name.)

E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 210mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 200
Image HAS been retouched/edited. Click image for original (or RAW).
E-M1 (with MC-1.4x teleconverter): 210mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 100
Image has not been retouched/edited. Click image for full size (or RAW).
E-M1: 150mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 200
Image HAS been retouched/edited. Click image for original (or RAW).