I am very suspicious of cheap zooms. Some like the Nikon AF-P 70-300 are unusually good. Others like many 18-55 kit lenses are usually lacking. In today’s review, I’ll talk about one such zoom: the Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6. It’s not a stellar lens but it’s so cheap and light that it’s hardly a problem to have one in my camera bag. But is it worth it, or is it a dud?
A Kit Lens?
The 40-150mm is essentially a “kit lens”. Of course some kit lenses are great and not cheap at all, but this sure isn’t one of them. And such kit lenses don’t have a great reputation. For example, 18-55mm kit lenses are often not sharp anywhere, even in their centers.
However, after some serious use, I’ve found the 40-150mm decently sharp in the center, and capable of pretty good shots.
The Olympus 40-150 f/4-5.6 is made out of mostly plastic and feels really cheap. It’s also not weather-sealed and thus it’s not a durable lens. Since it’s so light, it probably won’t have problems but it certainly doesn’t feel sturdy and I would be hesitant to use it in rough conditions.
It has a zoom ring that works reasonably well and it’s not hard to zoom it in and out. The throw is fairly short so it doesn’t take much to bring it to its maximum.
It autofocuses with an ultrasonic motor. You can hear it a little but it’s fairly quiet, which makes it decent for video. The autofocus of this lens is decently fast on the G9 but not spectacular. It seems to wobble a bit in focus. I’m not sure if this is due to the depth-from-defocus technology on the G9 or if the lens contributes to that. If you let the G9 do autofocus in video with focus pulling, it’s pretty smooth. It seems to know that it should focus slowly and doesn’t wobble when reaching the new focus point.
The manual focus ring isn’t great but it works. The Venus Laowa 50mm f/2.8 has a much better manual focus ring.
(you may have to refresh this page to get the comparison shots loaded)
So what about the sharpness of this lens? Luckily we have our friend William Lyon Mackenzie King, the 10th prime minister of Canada to help us out. I’ll start by comparing the Olympus with the Venus Laowa 50mm f/2.8X macro, both at 50mm.
What does King’s image tell us? Well, center sharpness is pretty good, but the edges suffer, and the corners are worse. Let’s check out the comparison at the center:
I actually have a hard time telling these two apart. The Olympus is pretty sharp in the center and that definitely reflects my real-world experience. To me it looks like the Laowa is a touch sharper, but that may have also been due to the Laowa being slightly longer in its true focal length. At any rate, they are close. What about the left edge?
Here’s where the Olympus falls apart. What’s strange is that the Olympus is actually good until the very edge, and the transition from good to bad is abrupt. Unfortunately, this is also noticeable in practice sometimes.
For example, if you’re taking the kind of landscape with a lot of texture and everything is in focus, like a rough mountain with dark rocks, then this definitely has the potential to be frustrating. I’m also not talking about pixel-peeping here: even on low resolution monitors or phones, it can be noticeable.
There’s a similar but worse story for the corners:
The corners are pretty bad, no question about it. Of course, when shooting portraits or other things where the subject isn’t too close to the edges, you’ll never notice.
I could repeat this test at other focal lengths and apertures but you can actually get a better idea by reading ePhotoZine’s Review. The reason why I will just refer to them is because I don’t have an ultra-sharp lens that reaches 70mm or 150mm to test it against. (I am not affiliated with them in any way.)
In fact, their review provides us with a very useful piece of information! Their testing indicates that at 70mm or longer, the edge performance improves dramatically. Here is an example near the top left corner that shows this at 108mm:
Although it’s not as good as the center, it’s still pretty amazing for a corner. It’s certainly true that not all lenses perform well in the corners even when zooming in! So if you need sharpness throughout the frame, you might as wells start at around 70mm if you can get a composition you like! Moreover, ePhotoZine also showed that the performance doesn’t drop off too much at 150mm.
If you need this focal length and want something small and light on your wallet, I recommend the Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6. It’s biggest weakness is its edges and corners in the 40-60mm range. It is surprisingly sharp for such a cheap lens, especially in the center.
It gives a decent amount of reach, but it’s too short for most wildlife, being about the same as a 200mm lens on a high-density full-frame camera or APS-C camera like the D500 in terms of pixels on your subject. And you will definitely need to crop if you’re trying to shoot wildlife with this lens.
Instead, this lens would be good for landscapes, people, larger animals, and some plants. It is not well-suited to smaller flowers or insect, even large ones like dragonflies, since it’s minimum focus distance isn’t that great.
While it has its problems, if you can get this used for under $100 it’s hard not to have it. On the other hand, if you want a faster maximum aperture but the same range, the OM SYSTEM ED 40-150mm f/4 PRO might be a better choice, especially if you want to use the 40-60mm range a lot for landscape work.