Olympus M Zuiko 40-150 f2.8 PRO
4/3 SWD 50-200?
My view after 6 days covering two different sport disciplines.
WHY ANOTHER REVIEW?
There are many dozens of reviews to be found elsewhere on this lens.
A simple internet search will call up enough web pages and video links to keep you bored for weeks.
Likewise, volumes have been written about its specifications.
In all that noise, however, I struggled to find one review that was written, or recorded, by someone who actually uses the Olympus OM-D system professionally to shoot sports. And specifically, anyone who had transitioned from the SWD 50-200 to the 40-150 PRO and their reasons for doing so.
Most reviews only had opinions after a few dozen shots at an ice-rink (with the wrong AF-C settings by the look of it...) or at a public baseball field. In most cases they only, it seems to me, served to confirm most reviewer's pre-conceived ideas.
I say this is because I have used the 43 system professionally for more than 12 years. I have also owned and used the Zuiko Digital 50-200 f2.8-3.5 SWD lens for half a decade.
I have not found reviews from someone with similar experience of the system and previous Olympus tele-zooms.
Most reviews appear to be flawed in one way or another either by the lack of experience of the reviewer with the OM-D (or even the E-system) when used to earn an income. Others are simply videos or reports where the lens is stuck on a camera (and in some cases the E-M10 !) and the lens's suitability for use by a 'professional' is then appraised.
Granted, most other people shooting sport for reward are still using the usual suspects with large, chunky looking grey or black torpedoes on the end of bulkier - and to the detriment of competitive horse riders, golfers and tennis professionals - much noisier cameras, so I suppose that makes me an anomaly.
Therefore, most (but not all) reviews on the Olympus 40-150 PRO lens appear to be by folk who are shop sales assistants, bloggers, photographers who use other equipment or career YouTube "Check this cool new product I've got to play with!" opinionistas.
Thanks to them for at least getting the word out and the specifications right - most of the time.
I have used my 43 SWD 50-200 lens with the E-3, E-5, E-M5 and E-M1 on shoots as diverse as air-to-air, air-to-ground, ground-to-air, water sport, football, cricket, rugby, golf, tennis, portraiture, weddings, studio, fashion, motorsport, industrial, news corporate and nature assignments.
In all cases it's results have been consistently sharp, distortion-free and it has yielded crisp colours. Many editors and publishers have simply assumed the images were shot on fast primes on legacy 35mm sized sensor cameras. They have published the results without quibble - and yes, even on billboards.
In fact, the work it delivers has assured me of some pretty important gigs - among others as the official photographer of the South African Touch Association, the governing body of touch rugby in South Africa.
After covering the senior SATA championships earlier in 2017, I was asked to do the junior tournament a month or so ago. Following that, I am now due to go to the Touch World Cup tournament in 2018.
I had thought the SATA tournament an ideal opportunity to see if the newer OM-D E-M1 mark II could offer any real benefits over the brace of E-M1's I already run.
As the game of Touch is, possibly, the fastest ball sport you can get, with players constantly moving at high speed while jinking to the left and right to avoid being touched, the latest tournament offered an ideal testing ground which would show up differences (and improvements) in the E-M1 Mark II focus system versus the E-M1.
The E-M1, with the correct tweaking (see my previous article on this) is up to the task - once you get your eye and timing right. So the mark II should have had no issues at all.
Olympus South Africa made arrangements for me to use an E-M1 mark II and, attached to this, was the 40-150mm constant f=2.8 aperture PRO zoom specifically developed for m43.
The camera we shall leave for another time due to some issues linked to it having just come back from another try-out in less than loved condition. So, here we will look at how the 40-150 PRO performed on the originator of the E-M1 line.
As we had seven fields to cover concurrently, I and my assistants spread the kit out.
I used, on the first day, my E-M1 bodies with the 50-200 SWD and 14-54 ZD lenses while the assistant used the 40-150 PRO.
This would, I thought, give a good indication of how it performed on her camera which is an OM-D E-M5. Furthermore, she was doing the minor fields and had only shot touch for about 2 hours prior to this assignment. I was working on the assumption that her results, if great, in the early part of the day, would be due to a combination of the lens and camera's abilities more than her own.
As things progressed (as she is a quick study) - and if the 40-150 PRO really was a super add-on to the system - she should show many improvements in hit rate and keepers versus her earlier work with just a mZuiko 40-150 4.5/5.6 R lens shooting this tricky sport.
On the second day, another assistant used my second E-M1 with 40-150 PRO and I used the 50-200 SWD on the second E-M1 for half the day and we exchanged lenses and cameras at lunch time.
This gave me an immediate sense of the differences between the lenses with four and a half hours of use for each combination on a back-to back basis.
On the third day I used the 40-150 PRO exclusively while the assistant used the 50-200 SWD.
Two days later I shot the SA National Dressage Championships for three days - exclusively with the 40-150 PRO.
Thus I used the 40-150mm PRO for four 12 hour days (three of them back-to-back) and exposed more than five thousand images with it.
So, what are my thoughts?
The 50-200 SWD needs the MMF-3 43 to m43 adapter to fit the OM-D line. This adds some length and a few grammes of mass to an already solid bit of kit. That said, however, the 400mm f5.6 I used to lug about with my film-era Nikon F5 is three times this mass and twice the length - as well as about 50% fatter into the bargain.
So, in reality, for the performance one gets, the Olympus lenses are a lot smaller than any equivalent angle of view in other, larger sensor systems.
Stripped of hoods and MMF-3 adapter (in cas eof 50-200 SWD) there's not much in it size-wise but new PRO lens is slimmer in girth.
There she goes. Assistant all kitted out with her E-M5, battery grip and the 40-150 PRO. Contrast this to what you would carry in a legacy 35mm sized sensor camera with a 300mm 2.8. No contest.
The 40-150 is, obviously, noticeably shorter in length than the SWD when mounted as it does not need the added length of the MMF-3. Further, it does not extend in length when zoomed.
Surprisingly, when you compare the actual mass of the two lenses "ready to shoot" with lens hoods, tripod mount and MMF-3 adapter, there is a difference of 292 grammes in favour of the 40-150.
That difference, when carrying the camera around and coupled to the overall slimmer proportions of the 40-150 seems far greater. When carted about for an entire day, this difference becomes relatively more important as the hours pass. My full day spent with the 40-150 PRO was much less tiring than the previous days.
So, for portability and comfort in use for extended periods, the 40-150 beats the 50-200 SWD, It is a noticeable difference. However, either lens kicks any equivalent speed and reach lens from larger sensor systems out the park on portability so either will be a welcome change from larger, legacy equipment.
Lugging a larger sensor system about the place seems so pointless and silly these days.
Why you need weather sealing. Horses and their riders do not seem to mind the odd shower. So aside from rain, you get mist when the African sun comes out after the downpour. Both the 50-200 SWD and the 40-150 PRO are weather sealed. Good job.
The resistance of the zoom ring to movement on the 50-200 is quite marked compared to the 40-150 PRO. There is no way you get any zoom creep on the SWD lens!
The PRO lens remains the same size regardless of settings in use as all focus and zooming action is accomplished internally.
This offers, I think, an advantage over the SWD in two ways.
Firstly, as the barrel of the older lens moves in and out, it effectively changes the lens length as you change focal range, This, of itself is not an issue as the change in balance of the lens and camera ensemble is not affected too much, however, the 40-150 is noticeably more comfortable in the hands for extended periods.
There is another aspect to this extension of the lens tube.
As you normally tend to be zoomed to longer lengths when shooting sports, particles of dust and debris settle on the barrel when shooting - and you would be surprised to see how much fine dust is kicked-up by players on a grassy football park or by horses in a dressage arena!
When you retract the SWD lens, this dust jams-up against the rubber sealing ring just where the lens retracts into the casing You should, I feel, make a habit of wiping the barrel clean before retracting the lens. Even though the equipment is designed for use in harsh environments, taking care of it should be the bare minimum to expect if your cameras and lenses are the tools of your trade and especially if the lens has been sprinkled by rain drops.
If you do not do this, eventually the constant forcing of dust - and when wet, mud - up against the seal will make the lens bind and, if the lens is not used regularly and the seal dries-out, you might tear the seal altogether and lose the environmental sealing properties.
So, another win to the new 40-150 PRO as it should need less TLC over the time you own the lens and maintain its weather sealing without much fuss or attention.
The zoom ring of the SWD is wide and has large, square rubber bumps on it. After a day or so of 8 hour per day use these tend to make the beginnings of a blister on my left thumb.
The 40-150PRO, on the other hand, has a silky smooth zoom action - very light to the touch but not so light as to be easily bumped-off the range you set.
With subjects moving from one side of the arena to the other as well as up and down its length, the zoom ring gets a workout when shooting dressage.
The finely milled metal pattern on the zoom ring did not cause any discomfort to me. In fact, it was so comforting my thumb never raised a second's worth of complaint while I was zooming the lens on day 3!
In my experience, finely milled metal zoom ring on new PRO 40-150 is more comfortable in extended use. Another plus point is there is no rubber grip to come loose or perish.
The PRO lens has a pull-push focus clutch that permits a quick change between manual or auto focus. When doing the video interviews after the tournament prize-giving, this was a godsend as I could quickly pull focus between the interviewer and the person being interviewed.
It's a great feature but, if ever you find yourself racking your brains as to why the darn camera will not focus and you try everything in the menu or Super Control Panel, have a look at the clutch.
Yes...you are not alone in overlooking this little gremlin that can catch you out. Ask most new 12-40mm PRO lens owners. However, if this is a constant issue for your work, you can deactivate the clutch option in the camera menu.
For sports, this is brilliant. I set it to stop and start AF which left the finger, usually associated with back-button AF on legacy systems, free to change exposure curves using the FN1 button.
For other assignments you can allocate metering options, one touch white balance or any of several other functions to the button.
I think it is pure genius to have a programmable button on the lens.
Good enough reason to buy into the m43 Olympus system right there.
Your needs and view on this, however, may vary. It is not a deal breaker for me when choosing between the PRO and the SWD but it is darn useful when it is there.
OK. Must hand it to the designers on this one. The hood on the PRO lens has a clever slip-lock system that lets you store the hood in a retracted position.
However, as we discovered when the test lens arrived, it is not advisable to ship or carry the lens with this in place if handling of the equipment containers is likely to be rough.
The slip-lock collar is made of plastic and if the lens is subjected to a large sideways force while in the retracted position, a split can be caused in the mechanism collar and then there are brass shims and spring clips all over the place....in addition to a wobbly lens hood that flops about as did the one on the test unit when it arrived.
We managed to re-assemble the hood and had it working reasonably well for the test period but this did highlight a factor of which owners should be aware as, when we reported it to the agents, we were informed that they have had a number of these hoods do the same thing.
On the SWD, the hood is a conventional bayonet clip-on/clip-off affair and is easily reversed for storage although it is a lot wider than the PRO hood. Mind you, there are no inner slip collars or shims to get split or lost and, not surprisingly, mine has not offered any issue in the years of its use to date.
Sometimes simpler is just better.
Mine's bigger than yours! SWD lens hood is a wider, longer item than newer PRO lens's clever slip-lock hood.
Both lenses are supplied with a solidly made tripod collar. I leave this in place as an extra support when shooting action by hand. A locking ring lets you swing the foot to one side to make handling easier.
The collar/foot assembly on both units is the same and offers identical functionality.
Both lenses use ED and other high performance glass elements in profusion, Both have excellent scores for sharpness and great optical performance in numerous tests.
However, Olympus say they have improved on the sharpness of the PRO lens vs the older SWD unit. This is to be expected given the 8 years of added optical and manufacturing experience between the two designs.
When you look at images as usual there is very little to choose between the two.
However, in images shot against the light or in high contrast situations, the newer lens shows better flare control and punchier colours. This is, no doubt, due to the ZERO coating on the latest PRO line of lenses from Olympus. So it is visibly better in those extreme conditions.
The 40-150 is sharp. To see a full pixel-width version of this image click on the thumbnail shown here. And this was shot at ISO400!
All that said, however, I have had numerous A3 coffee-table wedding albums printed up by traditional chemical processes and the center-fold images have been, in many cases, long shots of the couple in a dramatic landscape taken with the SWD. The sharpness of the images has been astounding.
Nevertheless, when measured critically, the 40-150 PRO is, in my subjective opinion, fractionally better. You do need to look closely for the differences though and most folk would be hard pressed to tell the differences.
Suffice to say both are more than sharp enough but if you are a pixel-peeping forum potato who needs that last few percent of sharpness, then just go for the PRO lens and be done with it.
FOCUS SPEED AND SOUND
Surprisingly, given the number of years between the two designs, there is not much between the two lenses when it comes to locking on.
However, if you lose track of your subject, the 40-150 PRO is faster at re-acquiring focus than the SWD. It's only a fraction of a second in most cases but it is - especially in a closely contested game of touch - a noticeable fraction. And those fractions add-up.
Gotcha! Moving at top-speed diagonally towards the camera with contrasty side-lighting. Easy pickings for the OM-D system and 40-150 PRO lens.
The 40-150 PRO is so fast it seems almost intuitive. While tracking action through the viewfinder I never noticed it working. Things I had under the AF target were always sharp and the main subject was correctly picked-out.
The SWD lens can sometimes whizz through the focus range if the camera has lost focus. Part of the reason why the camera can (and does) lose focus on the E-M1, is that the SWD lens, being a 4/3 lens, is driven entirely by the PDAF (Phase Detect Auto Focus) points on the E-M1 sensor. There are only 36 of them and their coverage on the original incarnation of the camera is limited to the central area of the frame. So, if you do not have your subject within the confines of the PDAF sensor array, the lens cannot be instructed where to focus.
I would expect this problem not to occur on an E-M1 Mark II as it has a wider array of PD-AF points.
The 40-150 PRO, on the other hand, natively uses the entire range of focus points throughout the frame available on the E-M1 and works mainly on contrast detection (if on S-AF) and a mix of contrast and phase detection (if on C-AF). This has the benefit of giving you a wider field in the viewfinder where the subject can be tracked and it has more data for the computer inside the camera to use when making focus calculations.
This image was a "grab shot" with the 50-200 SWD. The camera was swung around to pick up the action and the shutter pressed. Focus speed is more than fast enough.
However...when the lights go down and floodlights are used, the SWD was consistently better in my estimation at picking up focus when set to S-AF on the camera. In C-AF there was little difference. This is worth noting if you are a theater or wedding photographer thinking of replacing your SWD with the PRO. Fastest lock-on results on the E-M1 in low light will be obtained on C-AF when the combination of CD and PD AF is activated using the 40-150 PRO.
Both lenses are super quiet and focus without disturbing noises, So you can use either for video without concerns about the focus action being picked-up on the audio.
When it comes to C-AF burst rate with focus priority activated, the E-M1 and 40-150 PRO combination beats the E-M1 with SWD pretty thoroughly. You can hear the difference in frame rate when shooting on continuous high or low.
Why set the camera to focus priority? This means the shutter will not fire unless the camera is in focus. Why sift through dozens of fuzzy shots you are not going to use anyway?
So it is obviously here where the dual voice coil motor system on the PRO lens is faster at driving the lens to focus between frames than the SWD.
Granted, on some timed test bursts the PRO only yielded another 2 to 3 frames per second but then it could be those frames that catch just the right moment as a player dives over the touch line or a soccer team goalie's fingers are bent backwards by the ball - or the bails start breaking in cricket.
I fail to understand why reviewers on websites and YouTube will constantly (almost without fail) comment on the ability of a lens to track or hold focus on a moving subject.
This has nothing to do with the lens at all! It is purely a function of the camera's auto-focus detection and drive system and it is not built into the lens.
Making comments about the tracking ability of a lens as if it is a feature of the optic itself is, therefore, totally nuts and is one of several things that can make me hit the unsubscribe option on the feed of any reviewer that makes such comments.
Tracking accuracy - on any camera system - is dependent upon five things: The amount of light illuminating the subject, the focus system in use, the focus target area used, the focus mode you select and your experience and ability.
On most modern cameras it can also be dependent on the settings you apply to the auto-focus "stickiness" in the menu system.
Set correctly the E-M1 sticks to your subject like glue, even when crossing distracting background details or if subject is obscured.
All that said, therefore, the two lenses performed equally well in tracking my fast moving subjects as I was the one aiming the camera and I was using the same camera body type with identical settings for tracking and lock-on in both cases.
However, the dual voice coil AF motor on the 40-150 drove the AF faster and this yielded a higher frame per second rate.
A sequence from the E-M5. Click on thumbnail for larger view.
There was no noticeable difference in power consumption between the two lenses with both yielding more than 400 shots per battery and that with the AF-C running all the time.
On this note, I do not review images on camera much - if at all - nor did I use WiFi for file transfer on those days. All power settings on the camera are rigged for mimimum power consumption as well.
I noticed during the time I used it that the 40-150 PRO lens closes down the iris when the camera is powered-down with the power switch.
None of my other lenses do this but I have checked with colleagues using the 25mm 1.2 and they report the same thing (One only after he checked at my prompting).
I assume this is some sort of preventative protection for the sensor on this wide aperture lens line.
So, other than on the earlier 70-300 and 40-150 lenses from 4/3 days, a stopped down aperture on the 40-150 PRO with the camera switched-off is not a fault - it's normal. (Unless. of course, it does not pop open when you put the power back on...)
If you are new to m43 and you own any iteration of the E-M10, E-M5 an E-M1 (original) or the E-M1 mkII and you need a telephoto lens that is fast, sharp, lightweight, weather sealed and replaces any 200 or 300mm on a system using a larger sensor, and:
You shoot action often
You shoot floodlit sports
You do wedding portraits on long lenses
You need a long, fast lens that is easy to carry around
200 mm reach (on a legacy 35mm sensor) was enough and 300mm will be plenty...
...then there is no question about it: Buy the 40-150 f=2.8 PRO.
You cannot get an equivalent reach or speed for less than 3x the price from any other manufacturer on a larger sensor system. Even legacy 35mm sized sensor format 300mm f5.6 lenses will be around R10 000 (ZAR) more. (Roughly 900 to 1000 US$ costlier.)
In addition, few other lenses in any system will beat this lens for sharpness and accuracy of image results.
The 40-150mm is faster, quieter (just), lighter and handles much more comfortably for longer periods than the SWD.
If you have an E-M10 or an E-M5 then this is the only option for you. On the E-M5 or 10 the 50-200 SWD is at sea and hunts about like mad as the contrast detect system (there is no phase detection on those camera bodies) tries to bring it to focus. In good light on relatively static subjects it's fast enough for most but when things get trickier you will get frustrated.
The 40-150 PRO is simply in another league when used on those cameras and an M-Zuiko is what you need for best performance on those bodies.
From my own experience, trying to use the ZD lenses via an MMF3 for action work on these cameras is a waste of time and effort. The combinations can be made to work well enough if you really have no option but you will need patience and lots of practice.
However, if you already own an E-M1 or E-M1 Mark II and you cannot afford the new 40-150 PRO - or you need just that bit more than the 300mm reach of the 40-150 - then consider the 4/3 Zuiko Digital 50-200 f=2.8/3.5 SWD as an option.
Take note, however, there were two versions of the 4/3 50-200. The original is slower than the SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive or Ultrasonic focus motor in other language) version and it is the SWD version you should be looking for if considering it as an option.
You can pick up a mint 50-200 SWD with MMF-3 on E-bay from around $700 US (between R9 500 to R10 500 ZAR).
At the same maximum focal length as the 40-150 f-2.8 the SWD yields a widest aperture of f=3.2 which is less than 2/3 of a stop less light than the PRO. However, you can go to a full 50% MORE reach (400mm equivalent) at f=3.5 for just a little bit more mass.
And if you already own the E-M1 and SWD as I do and use the long lens occasionally?
Take a new-gear-itis pill and relax. You will not gain much by selling up and changing.
In fact you will lose 50% of the reach you had and only gain a negligible increase in aperture and focus speed.
However, if you spend up to 8 hours per day on your feet while handling the camera and lens regularly (as in 2-3 times per week) and 300mm reach is good enough (and for most situations save cricket and birds it is) and you need those extra few frames per second using focus priority the PRO lens may offer with its slightly faster AF motor, then the 40-150 PRO makes a very convincing argument for itself.
I hope Mother Christmas is feeling very generous so that she can put a 40-150 PRO under the tree for me.
I will not complain at all.
However, if she does not, I won't lose any sleep about carrying on with the SWD. It's one heck of a lens and now, looking at the second hand prices, a massive bargain!