Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150 f4-5.6

The Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150 f4-5.6 is essentially a consumer grade telephoto zoom lens, the micro-four-thirds equivalent of those ubiquitous ~50-200mm lens that infest APS-C DSLRs. As we shall see, the Olympus 40-150 is a very good consumer grade lenses, among the best ever made. But it is a consumer grade lens, not pro lens or even a prosumer lens. You can pick up used copies for around $100, and refurbished copies for not much more.
Like all consumer grade telephoto lenses, the Olympus 40-150 tends to be sharpest at the wider portion of the lens. As the lens extends deeper into its telephoto range, it gradually loses resolution, until at the long end of the lens, it is not particularly sharp. The Olympus lens, however, does better than most, being really quite sharp, at least in the center of the image circle, between 40 and 80mm, and continuing to be fairly sharp all the way out to 125mm. The greatest loss of sharpness occurs in the last 25mm. At 150mm, the lens features adequate resolution, at least in the center; but nothing better than that. lens contrast is good with this lens, but hardly outstanding. Flare control may be a tad below average. The lens is sharper in the center than toward the edges at all focal lengths, even when stopped down.
I haven’t used the lens much wide open at the wide end of the lens, so I won’t comment on that aspect of the lens; I have used it quite frequently wide open at 150mm. Performance there is decent, but nothing more. I haven’t noticed any dramatic improvement in the lens at the long end when stopped down.
Let’s take a look at some “real world” images, starting at the wide end of the lens. One warning before continuing. These shots were not taken as part of some kind of test to prove anything. They’ve all been post-processed, including added sharpening (only a modest amount). They’re merely meant to illustrate how the lens works in the field, and what’s it’s capable of when combined with RAW PP. They don’t constitute any sort of “objective” or rigorous scientific measurebation. On the contrary, they consist merely in the absolute best that I can extract from this lens, given the extent and limitations of my ability. Your mileage may vary.
We’ll begin with a shot taken at 40mm, f7.1:

And here’s a 100% center crop:


And the 100% edge crop:



Here’s another 40mm, f7.1 image:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% edge crop:



And a third 40mm f7.1 image:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



What these examples seem to indicate is that edge to edge sharpness is fairly good, corner sharpness less good. Next, we have an example taken at 56mm, f6.3:


And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Here’s a shot at 66mm, f7.1:



Here’s the 100% crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Here’s a shot taken at 74mm, f6.3:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



And another 74mm shot, this time shot at f5.6:



And a 100% crop at the point of focus:



Although I can’t detect a dramatic difference between 74mm and 40mm, nonetheless I’m inclined to believe that the lens may be a little sharper at 75mm than at 40mm, particularly toward the edges, so that one could say that 75mm represents the lens’ “sweet spot.”

Here’s a 78mm, f7.1 shot:



And the 100% center crop:



And the 100% corner crop:



Here’s a shot taken at 85mm, f5.6:



And the 100% crop at point of focus:



Here’s a shot taken at 96mm, f7.1:



And the 100% crop at point of focus:



Another 96mm, this time shot at f6.3 shot:



And the 100% crop:



And the corner 100% crop:



I see here in these crops an indication that, as the lens is extending, resolution is being lost toward the edges. Nothing dramatic, but it’s there.

Let’s turn to a shot taken at 111mm, f5.6:



The 100% center crop:



The 100% corner crop:



Here’s a shot at 120mm, f7.1:



And the 100% crop at the point of focus:



And yet another 120mm shot, this one taken a f5.6:



100% center crop:



100% corner crop:



Now for a 150mm shot, taken at f8:



100% center crop:



100% corner crop:



Obviously landscape shots taken with a 300mm FF equivalent FOV are going suffering resolution loss merely to distance. The Olympus 40-150mm is sharper up close, particularly at the long end of the lens. As an example, consider the following 150mm shot, taken at f5.6:



And the 100% crop at point of focus:



And another 150mm shot, taken at f6.3:




And the 100% crop at point of focus:



As can be seen, very respectable performance for a consumer grade zoom lens, particularly in terms of resolution.

What’s the difference between the Olympus 40-150 and pro telephoto glass? Consider the following images, the first with the Olympus lens, the second with Pentax DA* 300 f4:





And the 100% crops at point of focus:





Superficially, the Olympus 40-150 seems to hold up rather well; but note quite of bit of sharpening and contrast needed to be applied to the image, giving it a more “digitally” feel (to coin an ugly word for an ugly thing) than the shot taken with the DA* 300. I would also note that with the DA* 300, it’s much easier to get good shots, because even if the sharpness is a hair off (which it often is at longer focal lengths), the shots still come out looking nice. With the Olympus 40-150, you have to pretty much nail the shot, with nothing going the least wrong, for things to come out well, particularly at 100% resolution.

Given the price, there’s no reason not to add the Olympus 40-150 to one’s micro-four-thirds collection. Honestly, I know of no better bargain lens out there. While it’s by no means a professional caliber lens, it’s about as good as you’re going to get in a consumer grade telephoto zoom. At its sweet spot (around 75mm), it’s really quite impressively sharp. If the lens lacks a bit when it comes to flare control or lens contrast, well, in a telephoto lens, those features are not quite as important. And if some find it a bit slow with its variable f4 to f5.6 aperture, then it must be remembered that the Olympus 40-150 f2.8, scheduled to be released in the autumn of 2014, may wind up weighing close to two pounds. In other words, it will end up being a lens way too big for most micro-four-thirds cameras. Indeed, one sort of upgrade that would be welcome within the micro-four-thirds ecosystem is a compact 40-150 f4-5.6 pro quality zoom — something like the m43 equivalent of the Canon 70-300 f4-5.6 L lens. Right now in the m43 universe there’s a sharp division between the compact zooms, which are all consumer grade variety, and the heavier, constant aperture, often f2.8 professional zooms. There’s no hard and fast rule that says a slower, variable aperture zoom lens can’t be just as good as a fast constant aperture zoom.

One thing to note before concluding: the lens under review is the first version of the M. Zuiko 40-150. However, given that the second version is supposed to be identical, optically, to the first, what I have written here should apply, more or less (beware of sample variation!) to the second version.

More shots taken with the Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150 f4 to f5.6 telephoto zoom lens, starting with a selection of images shot at 40mm:





















Here’s some shots taken at 53mm:








At 74mm:










At 85mm:





At 105mm:









At 125mm:







At 150mm:


















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