Olympus M. Zuiko 14-150 f4-5.6

The Olympus M. Zuiko 14-150 f4-5.6 lens is a “superzoom,” covering a range that extends from wide angle all the way to telephoto. This is the lens with the longest range among micro-four-thirds lenses, just barely beating out Panasonic’s 14-140 (which was introduced in two versions). As is often said of superzooms, they involve “compromises.” They are, it is contended, never as good as a prime lens or a zoom with shorter focal range. But it could be contended that this view of the matter is a tad superficial. It’s based on the idea that sharpness, especially edge to edge sharpness, is the most important metric for establishing how good a lens is, followed by distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting. In other words, measurable specs are everything, particularly specs which internet review sites, run be gearheads, publish on the web. It’s gearhead metrics, rather than aesthetic judgments of photographers, that, under this view, establish how good a lens is. By gearhead metrics, superzooms are the worst type of lenses, because they perform poorest on the numerical tests that gearheads favor. I’m interested in this review in a somewhat different question—namely, how well does this Olympus superzoom perform in regards to real world use? We will look at the sharpness of the lens, because that’s what so many photographers are obsessed with. But we will look at other characteristics as well, such as: what sort of images does this lens tend to produce?

Let us begin with examining the resolution characteristics of the Olympus 14-150. My emphasis here will be on examining “real” pictures, rather than just pictures taken for no other reason than just to “test” the lens. Let us begin with a series of images taken at 14mm, all shot at f7.1:



Now the100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



A second 14mm image:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



And one more 14mm image:



The 100% center crop:



And the 100% edge crop:



What we find here is, in one sense, fairly typical of superzoom performance, particularly at the very widest end: decent resolution in the center, but rapid deterioration of resolution toward edges, with little if any real resolution in the corners. However, note the full, non-cropped images. At web resolution, they all look pretty good. They seem sharp, with plenty of contrast and good color. Note as well that the loss of resolution doesn’t necessarily have as a big an impact on all the images. In the first image of the house the lawn in the corner is not sharp. Is that a big deal? Probably not. In the second image of the chimp statue, loss of resolution in the corner seems hardly important at all. In the last image, the loss of resolution of the distant ridge of trees seems more dramatic and more important (it suggests field curvature issues, as well, in addition to resolution loss). This might not be an image you would want to print large, although it looks fine at web size and probably at small to medium print size as well. In short, loss of resolution in a superzoom toward the edges is not always as significant as it is sometimes made out to be. The most important question always is: what does the image look like to human perception. The lens must produce nice looking images, regardless of whatever other issues it may exhibit. If a lens produces images with poor contrast and uninspired color, who cares whether it’s sharp in the corners?

Let’s go on to another focal length, this time at 20mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



Next 20mm shot:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



In the first image, we’re seeing improvements in center to edge sharpness, although the edges are still not as sharp as the center. In the second image, we are losing some resolution due to distance of subject (i.e., atmospheric disturbance). Otherwise, we’re seeing some improvement over what we found at 14mm, although the very edges are a bit sharpness challenged.

Now let’s see what’s going on at 25mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Next 25mm image:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% edge crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



With the first image we’re seeing improvement in edge to edge sharpness. The center is still sharper, but now the difference is approaching insignificance. The second image is a bit more complicated. This is a “real” image in the sense that no attempt is made here to prove anything; I simply did what I would ordinarily do in such circumstances. I did not focus at that back ridge of trees or at infinity, but one-third of the way in, as one does when one is trying to get as much of the image in focus. So that back ridge of trees is not optimally sharp. Matters worsen toward the edges. Yet the corner holds up better, losing resolution only in the very far corner; suggesting field curvature issues with the edge crop of the far away trees. I regard the results at 25mm to be pretty decent — on par, in any case, with any of the micro-four-thirds variable aperture zooms you wish to throw it up against. If you desire sharper edges and corners, buy a pro caliber lens like the Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40 f2.8.

Now let’s see what’s going on at 36mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% edge crop:



Here we find that edge to edge resolution, even at distance, has improved, suggesting that field curvature issues have abated around this focal length.

Let’s take a glance at how things fare at 45mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% edge crop:



Here we seem to be getting a bit worse on the edge resolution as focal length increases, although it’s only at the far edges that it’s showing up at all, nor is it all that bad.

Let’s look at an image shot at 49mm, f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



I’m seeing slightly better results here along the edge, at least terms of loss of resolution (i.e., it doesn’t seem significantly less sharp along the edges than in the center). Comparing this with the 45mm image suggests that field curvature, which seemed under control at 36mm, are beginning to take a toll. We lose edge resolution with the flat building, but not with the curved row of trees along the river!

Now let’s examine at 70mm image, again taken at f7.1:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:




The center here is palpably sharper than the corner. But this is not surprising. Once you pass a superzooms’ sweetspot (usually between moderate wide angle and short tele), resolution begins to diminish along the edges. We’ll see more of this as we visit longer focal lengths.

Now a look at an image shot at 100mm:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



Center performance is pretty decent at 100mm, but edge resolution definitely not as good.

Next, let’s quickly take a look at what the lens is doing at 120mm. We’ll skip the entire photo and just look at the crops, starting with 100% center crop:



And the 100% edge crop:



Similar performance to what we saw at 100mm, except far edges seem worse. Can we detect a trend here? It seems as thought resolution is slowly deteriorating from around 40mm onwards toward the edges of the frame, while the center seems to be holding up fairly well. This is typical for superzoom performance.

Finally, let’s see what’s going on at 150mm, f6.3:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



Not impressive. But keep in mind, this is at a distance. If we look at a shot of something much closer, performance improves, as we see in this 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Although this is better, it’s still obvious that we’ve lost center resolution at the long end of the resolution. 150mm is not as sharp in the center at 120mm. We can get further evidence in the following two images. The first one, taken at 120mm, demonstrates that, even though resolution toward the edges may be weak at this focal length, this doesn’t make the lens useless. At longer focal lengths, there’s a greater tendency to photograph subjects in the center of the frame, making edge performance largely insignificant and unnecessary. Here’s the 120mm, f5.6 image:



And the 100% center crop:



This is pretty good performance. The lack of sharp edges is simply not important in this image. We’ve gotten a nice shot with good resolution with the Olympus superzoom. Now let’s see what happens at 150mm, f5.6:



And the 100% corner crop:



Not as good. Further evidence of worsening of center resolution between 120mm and 150mm.

What about wide open performance? I don’t shoot often wide open, but I know many do. On the few wide open shots that I do have, I don’t see much difference in performance. Here, for example, is a shot taken wide open at 14mm:





Stopping down might give you a little more resolution, especially toward the edges; but, in general, Olympus glass, even of the consumer variety, tends to perform well wide open. What you won’t get, except at the long end of the lens, is much in the way of “bokeh.” The background will only be slightly out of focus.

At longer focal lengths, separation via bokeh is possible, as the following image, taken at 150mm wide open, attests:



I’m hardly a bokeh connoisseur, but it doesn’t seem bad to me, considering it’s a superzoom. At 70mm wide open (f5.4), the lens struggles to attain a sufficient level of blur to attain decent bokeh, even when the subject is fairly close:



If you want to blur out the background, shoot the lens wide open at 150mm, and get close to your subject:







To sum up our findings thus far: in terms of resolution, the Olympus 14-150 behaves like most superzooms. It features very good center resolution through most of the lens, with the long end being the one area where center resolution suffers. Edge resolution is where the lens is weakest, particularly at the wide end (14mm - 20mm) and much of the long end (45mm - 150mm). Edge to edge performance is best in the normal through short tele ranges (20mm - 40mm).

If edge performance is important to you, this is a lens to avoid. Get a prime or a high end zoom. But if you can work around some of the edge resolution deficiencies of the lens (and edge resolution is not quite as critical as is sometimes thought, since the subject of a photograph generally resides toward the center of the frame, rather than along the edges), then the lens can deliver eminently satisfactory results. Indeed, I would go so far as to contend that, in its sweet spot (20mm to 50mm), it out performs, by a slight margin, every other Olympus variable aperture lens in the micro-four-third lineup. While it’s not necessarily sharper, the Olympus 14-150 is the most contrasty of Olympus’ consumer grade standard focal length zooms, and is capable of producing attractive images.

Can the Olympus 14-150 be an adequate replacement for any of Olympus’ 14-42 offerings and the 40-150? I would say, for the most part, yes. The Olympus 14-42 zooms (and the Olympus 12-50), will feature better resolution toward the edges of the frame at the wide end; and the Olympus 40-150 will be sharper in the center at 150mm. The Olympus 14-150 will be sharper than these other Olympus zooms in the 40mm to 50mm range. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a draw in terms of resolution. But the Olympus14-150 features better lens contrast and color rendition, leading to images that look better to human perception — as the following samples testify.

At 14mm:



At 20mm:



At 25mm:



At 34mm:



At 52mm:



At 63mm:



At 90mm:



At 100mm:



At 120mm:



At 150mm:




To conclude, a few brief technical items. I usually say very little about chromatic aberrations because I don’t regard them as important (they clean up easily in post), but since all but the latest Olympus cameras don’t offer in-camera correction of CAs and some photographs insist on shooting jpegs, I thought it worth mentioning. The Olympus 14-150, like most consumer grade zooms, suffers from CA issues. If you don’t correct them in post or can’t correct them in camera, they’re pretty bad.

In addition to this, the 14-150 suffers from serious vignetting issues at the wide and long end of the lens, even after in-camera corrections have been performed. It’s mostly a problem wide open. Consider this image of the sky, shot wide open at 14mm, with shading compensation turned on:



It’s not bad, but it does exist. By f8, it’s mostly gone:



It’s worse at the long end of the lens. Here’s a sky shot at 150mm, f5.6:



Stopping down doesn’t improve matters, as this f8 shot demonstrates:



This issue does not seem to be a problem in the middle range of the lens, as this wide open shot at 25mm shows:



I personally don’t see this as all that big a deal, but I thought it deserved a mention. It’s perhaps a bit odd that shading compensation doesn’t take care of this issue. But perhaps the vignetting of the lens is so bad, that software correction couldn’t entirely remedy the problem. Keep in mind, the Olympus 14-150 is not only a superzoom, it’s a supercompact superzoom, weighing only 280 grams while remaining only slightly larger than the Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150 f4-5.6. In photography, as in life, there are trade-offs. You want a compact super zoom that produces nice looking images, expect some imperfections to go along with it.


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