Zuiko Digital 40-150 mm F/3.5-4.5

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

This is a review and user report of the "economy" tele zoom for Olympus E-System cameras (and other models following the Four Thirds standard), the 40-150 mm Zuiko Digital, written as a co-operative effort of yours humbly and John Foster of England.

Note: as of 2007, this lens is no longer made, replaced by the 40-150 mm F/4.0-5.6.

Some time ago John Foster, my British friend and a fellow photography enthusiast and an old Olympus hand, sent me a few image samples shot with his E-1 fitted with the new Zuiko Digital 40-150 mm zoom.

Wow, said I after the fist, casual look — and then I spent an evening scrutinizing the samples in detail, as the results looked respectable: better than I would have expected from a zoom lens selling at $280.

Wow, said I again after that. Then I asked John to write a quick user report for wrotniak.net, and as soon as the lans was in stock at U.S. retailers, I bought one myself.


(Photo by John Foster)

This article consists of John's observations merged with my own remarks and additions; the sample images were shot by John (E-1) and myself (E-300, E-1) as noted. The juxtaposition of John's British English with my American flavor of that language, while sometimes amusing, is unintentional.

General

John: The announcement of the second Four Thirds digital SLR camera from Olympus, the E-300, was accompanied by the availability of two new "budget" lenses for the E-system, the 14-45mm bundled E-300 "standard" lens, and the 40-150mm compact telephoto. Many onlookers saw this as a positive move from Olympus which in the past been criticized for producing high quality but high cost lenses. These "budget" offerings make the E-system more affordable and attractive to the amateur market, imperative if Olympus is to be competitive.

Andrzej: I'm using the "standard" 14-45 mm zoom included with the E-300, and while I am generally happy with its performance (visibly better than that of the Canon Digital Rebel bundled zoom, for sure), it clearly is not one of the "premium" Four Thirds lenses, like the other (more expensive) Zuiko Digital offerings.

John: Of the lenses in the E-system prior to this announcement the least expensive is the ZD 50mm Macro at £369.00 ($500 in the U.S.); fast telephoto primes require a second mortgage and the acclaimed ZD 50-200 zoom is £739 ($1000). While the strategy of offering an inexpensive zoom lens is welcome, can Olympus actually deliver?

With these thoughts in mind I purchased the new ZD 40-150mm 3.5-4.5 lens for my E-1. The purchase was tinged with some apprehension as I have designs on the faster, heavier and more expensive ZD 50-200 zoom. I rationalized my decision — if the ZD 40-150 doesn't deliver I'll ask for a credit towards the ZD 50-200.

Specifications

  • Focal Length: 40-150 mm (equivalent to 80-300 mm lens on a 35-mm film camera; image angle from about 80 to 30 degrees).
  • Maximum Aperture: F/3.5 at 40 mm, decreasing to F/4.5 at 150 mm.
  • Minimum Aperture: F/22 at all focal lengths.
  • Optical Design: 13 elements in 10 groups.
  • Coating: Some surfaces multi-coated, some single-coated.
  • Focusing Range: From 1.5 m (4.9 feet) to infinity.
  • Weight: 425 g (15 oz) excluding hood and caps.
  • Hood: Included, bayonet-mounted.
  • Filter Mount: 58 mm thread.
  • Compatibility: EC-14 teleconverter (manual focus) and EX-25 extension tube,
  • Dust/Drip Proofing: None.

Andrzej: The lens front section slides out on zooming and rotates on focusing. This kind of design is less expensive than internal zooming/focusing, as, for example, on the standard lens in the E-10/E-20, and it is often applied in low-cost (which does not mean cheap) lenses.

The only practical difference is that if you are using a polarizing filter, you may have to readjust the filter angle after autofocus is achieved. This is not a big deal, however, as the angle difference between, say, three meters and infinity is quite small, and can be neglected for practical purposes.

The filter thread of 58 mm is the same as in the 14-45 mm zoom of the E-300, which allows you to share filters between both lenses. The E-1 users (with 67-mm thread of the standard 14-54 mm zoom) may be not so happy having to invest into yet another thread diameter.

Box contents

Lens, hood, front and end caps.

John: Included are also two sets of instructions: one for the lens and one on how to attach the hood (!), plus the standard two year warranty card. There’s no lens pouch, I suppose this reflects the ‘budget’ status, which is a pity. (Note: Olympus Corporation is now Olympus Imaging).

Note: at the time of writing there is a minor firmware upgrade available from the Olympus on-line sites.

Andrzej: As expected for this focal length range, the hood is round (not tulip-shaped), and quite deep; quite efficient in increasing image contrast by removal of scattered light. Its fit is also a bit more precise than the fit of the hood included with the 14-45 mm lens (this may be just the particular ones I've tried).

First impression

John: Lightweight and compact, slightly lighter than the ZD 14-54mm "standard" zoom of the E-1; perhaps a little too light for good handling? Finish is excellent though not the same as its more expensive siblings.

Cost cutting is evidenced by no dust/drip proofing and no focus distance ring or read-out window. Other points such as no raised grip sections on the mounting grip ring and non-embossed nomenclature badges are purely aesthetic.

The 40-150mm is made in Japan, a pleasant surprise; I was convinced this lens would be outsourced. This is a nicely made and well-specified general purpose lens with a very usable spread that’s not at all shabby in the brightness stakes. I admit to being very pleasantly surprised. And no, I wouldn't describe it as "budget".

However, will it deliver the goods?

Andrzej: I agree with John: the make and finish are definitely not cheap (no comparisons here, to avoid flaming by loyal users of The Other Brands). The bayonet is made of metal (probably steel), the zoom ring is silky smooth and precise, and there is no wobbling anywhere. (Actually, the budget 14-45 mm lens, made in China, is equally well made so I wouldn't ascribe the good impression to the country of origin.)

OM Zuiko comparison

John: No OMZ zoom offered the same spread as this ZD lens. It beautifully covers the medium telephoto lengths of 85, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm (35-mm equivalent). It might be two stops slower than the OMZ 85mm/2.0 at the short end but at the long end its equivalent 300mm/ 4.5 matches the OMZ 300mm/4.5 prime mounted on an OM-series camera. And, bear in mind, the OMZ 300mm was priced at £900 in 1996. Against that backdrop this lens is a steal — providing it can deliver.

In the field

John: On a typically changeable UK day I set off to test it out. My concerns about weight soon disappeared. On the E-1 it feels fine; on the E-300 it must feel better, the E-300 being lighter by design. The zoom mechanism is silky smooth.

Andrzej: Indeed, having tried the lens on both the E-1 and E-300 I have to admit that it is better balanced on the latter.

John: The autofocus is, in normal use, good, but not super fast; tends towards a more exaggerated (than the 14-54) two-step routine when switching from close focus to infinity at any focal length if target is not crisp. Like in other ZD lenses, the AF hunts if subject is not well defined and it seems slow on a moving target.

The manual focus is well integrated — if you wish to use it; it enjoys the "accelerated" focus by wire feature of other ZD lenses.

Andrzej: Generally, I don't like the "fly by wire" approach to manual focusing; for me it lacks the positive, instant feedback of a mechanical focusing mechanism. Just to check that, I've tried a number of old Exakta lenses, ranging from 75 to 300 mm in focal length, on my E-300, and yes, I find mechanical focusing easier and more precise.

This is not really a complaint: in most situations I found autofocus with the ZD 40-150 lens on an E-300 precise and fast (although somewhat slower than with the 14-45 mm); combined with the red focus point signal in the camera finder (I'm missing that in the E-1!), it provides for me better results than manual focus. This may raise some voices of disagreement, but let me say it straight: I consider manual focus in the ZD lenses a feature of tertiary importance.

The lens exhibits a small amount of barrel distortion at 40 mm, disappearing at mid-range focal lengths, and turning into a slight pincushion at 150 mm. As expected for a tele zoom, the distortion is moderate, not objectionable at all.

Distortion of the ZD 40-150 mm lens (shot with an E-300): picture at the left was shot at F=40 mm, at the right — at 150 mm.

At the wide end (40 mm), a small degree of vignetting is visible at wider apertures (see the 40 mm sample at the end); I can easily live with it.

Samples

Andrzej: John's original sample shots were taken under rather gloomy weather condition (this is what they call in England "a typically changeable day", a remark for my American readers); the camera had to be set to ISO 400. This is why I've decided not to show them here, substituting my samples instead. These were shot in suburban Maryland and in Lodz, Poland, with use of my E-300, and an E-1, kindly loaned by a fellow Olympus user from that country, Jerzy Wojewoda.

As a reminder: on the left I'm showing full frames, reduced and re-sharpened, with a sample area marked as a red box. On the right I'm showing the marked sample in 1:1 pixel size, without any manipulation except of being cropped and re-saved at low JPEG compression.

Note that on most monitors the 1:1 samples will look significantly less sharp than on a relatively large print; if you are using a 90 dpi display, the vertical sample size corresponds to

  • E-300: 34 mm (1.33")
  • E-1: 43 mm (1.69")

of a 30×40 cm (12×16") print, and those prints are usually viewed from a distance of about one meter (three feet).

All this said, let us have a look. First, my regular license plate shots.

E-300, F=40 mm, ISO 200, program exposure at F/8 and 1/400 s; sharpness at -2, contrast at -1, saturation at +1, auto WB, handheld.
E-300, F=150 mm, ISO 200, exposure at F/9 and 1/800 s (botched, my fault!); other settings as above.

Putting aside my error in exposure setting in the second image, and the resulting lower contrast, it seems that the lens is sharper at 40 mm than at 150 mm

Now, some snapshots in my office's parking lot; early afternoon.

E-300, F=40 mm, ISO 200, exposure at F/8 and 1/400 s; other settings as above.
E-300, F=150 mm, ISO 200, exposure at F/8 and 1/640 s; other settings as above; shot from the same vantage point.
E-300, F=150 mm, ISO 200, exposure at F/8 and 1/500 s; other settings as above.

The 150 mm focal length (equivalent to 300 mm in on a 35-mm film camera) is still quite handholdable, even in available light. Here is an indoors shot of my co-worker, using the light from a window. As we remember, the ISO 800 setting in the E-300 is still usable, if not spectacular.

E-300, F=150 mm, ISO 800, exposure at F/4.5 and 1/60 s; other settings as above.

The next samples were shot in Lodz, Poland; a view from an apartment's balcony on an overcast day. First, a sample from an E-300, with the lens zoomed all the way out.

E-300, F=150 mm, ISO 200, exposure at F/4.5 and 1/200 s; other settings as above.

Well, if the other samples did not convince you, this one should.

Samples from the E-1

Now the same scene, shot with the E-1, starting at the same focal length as above, and then zooming out.

Note that the E-300, with 60% more pixels and therefore 26% more linear resolution than E-1, makes somewhat greater demands on lenses; the 1:1 sample below shows less magnification and covers a larger fragment of the full frame. A sample from the same lens will usually look sharper on the E-1 — and it needs to, as the image will need 26% more magnification for the same print size.

E-1, F=150 mm, ISO 200, aperture priority at F/4.5 and 1/250 s; sharpness, contrast and saturation at default.
E-1, F=100 mm, ISO 200, aperture priority at F/4.5 and 1/320 s; sharpness, contrast and saturation at default.
E-1, F=68 mm, ISO 200, aperture priority at F/4.5 and 1/320 s; sharpness, contrast and saturation at default.
E-1, F=50 mm, ISO 200, aperture priority at F/4.5 and 1/320 s; sharpness, contrast and saturation at default.
E-1, F=40 mm, ISO 200, aperture priority at F/4.5 and 1/320 s; sharpness, contrast and saturation at default.

Conclusions

John: No doubt about it, the 40-150 ZD delivers. Impressive! I recommend it for the right reasons, not just the price.

Gripes: No dust/drip proofing, no lens pouch.

Andrzej: That's right; this lens is a winner. Great performance and good build quality at a budget price. Useful focal length range and a respectable maximum aperture at the long end make it a "must" for any E-300 or E-1 user — unless you're willing to shell out $1000 for the 50-200 ZD lens (which I haven't used yet).

My only real complaint is that the front section rotates while focusing, but this is important only if you are using a polarizer or a graduated filter.

If you are using manual focusing, you will also find the (electronic) focus ring action not precise enough for critical applications. Purely mechanical coupling would be better — but this is common to all ZD lenses, take it or leave it.

A follow-up

Andrzej: I didn't bring my lens back from the Polish trip: Jerzy wouldn't let go of it, and I had to buy myself another one in the States.

More samples from the lens can be found in my E-500 sample page.


My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

Olympus® is a registered trademark of Olympus Corporation.
This page is not sponsored or endorsed by Olympus (or anyone else) and presents solely the views of the author.

Home: wrotniak.net | Search this site | Change font size

Photo Tidbits | The Gallery


Posted 2005/04/19; last updated 2009/02/10 Copyright © 2005-2009 by John Foster and J. Andrzej Wrotniak