Friday, June 26, 2015

A Transformative Lens?

An anti-coup protestor in Bangkok. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 150mm (effectively 300mm on full frame), ISO200, f2.8 @ 1/800 of a second

There was a discussion about the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro Zoom on one of the photography web sites I visit. The person who started the discussion asked if the 12-40 is a "transformative" lens. 

I don't think it is. It is an excellent lens, a class leading lens in all ways, but not transformative. It was not the first of its type (the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 was released years ago) and similar lenses have long been popular on full frame bodies. The Canon 24-70 f2.8 and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 zooms have been mainstays in professional photographers' kits for years. 

MORE AFTER THE JUMP...


A Bangkok cityscape. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom and matched 1.4X teleconverter, 210mm. (Effectively a 420mm on full frame). ISO200, f4 @ 1/1000 of a second

What I think is a transformative lens is Olympus' excellent 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 

First what I don't like about the 40-150. 

It's big. By Micro 4:3 standards it's huge. It's about the same size as the Canon 70-200 f4 L series zoom. The Oly lens is 79mm X 160mm and weighs in at 880 grams*. The Canon is 76mm X 173mm and tips the scales at 760 grams. 

That's it. 
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom and matched 1.4X teleconverter, 210mm. (Effectively a 420mm on full frame). ISO200, f4 @ 1/640 of a second
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom and matched 1.4X teleconverter, 115mm. (Effectively a 230mm on full frame). ISO200, f4 @ 1/640 of a second

So what makes the 40-150 special? First off is the performance. This is a great lens. I think it may be the best zoom lens I've ever owned. It's stunningly sharp, very well corrected for optical aberrations and focuses near instantly (on the E-M5 Mark II). 

The lens features Olympus' excellent weather proof construction. Rain showers, snow or dust don't bother it.

Then there's the flexibility the lens offers. It's the equivalent of a 80-300mm f2.8 in full frame terms. Think about that. An 80-300mm f2.8 zoom in a package the size of a 70-200mm f4. No other lens on the market can even come close to that. Throw in the tiny 1.4X teleconverter and you have a 420mm f4 lens in your bag.

Couple this lens with the silent shutter on the E-M5 Mark II and you have the absolute killer combination for certain sports, like golf. (In full disclosure, I'm not sure the autofocus on the E-M5 Mark II is up to many sports, but it should be great for golf.) 

During the procession for the city pillar shrine in Mahachai, I was able to stay on shore and still make frame filling photos of people on the boats. I could photograph people praying in the temple from a distance, which is a little less intrusive. During anti-coup protests in Bangkok, I was able to make frame filling portraits of protest leaders from the back of the media pack (top photo). 
Praying in Mahachai. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 142mm (Effectively a 284mm on full frame). ISO1600, f2.8 @ 1/250 of a second

This lens easily fills the role of two workhorse lenses in photographers' kits. It replaces the ubiquitous 70-200mm f2.8 and a 300mm f2.8. Combined weight of those two lenses (on the Canon side) is 3.85 kilos (~8.5 pounds**). The Olympus lens weighs in at 880 grams (1.9 pounds) or less than 1/4 the weight of the Canon lenses. All of a sudden the Olympus lens doesn't seem like quite the behemoth. 

It gets better though. Combined price of these two Canon lenses is $8,200. The 70-200 is $2,100 and the 300mm f2.8 is $6,100. The Olympus lens cost $1,500. So not only is it comparatively lightweight, it's also comparatively cheap. Weight and price are relative, and while the 40-150 is neither tiny nor cheap, it's remarkably small and affordable compared to the full frame competition. 
Thai police at an anti-coup protest. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 150mm (effectively 300mm on full frame), ISO250, f2.8 @ 1/250 of a second

Despite all this 40-150 is not a lens I carry every day. There are a couple of reasons for that. 

The principal one is the size. Again, by M4:3 standards this is a big lens. 

The other reason I don't carry it every day is that I work almost exclusively with prime lenses.

Olympus' Micro 4:3 primes are beautiful little lenses. The longest lens I typically need is the 75mm f1.8, which equals a 150mm. Sort of an odd focal length falling between 135mm and 200mm, more common lenses in full frame terms, but I like it. The 75mm f1.8 is another outstanding lens, equal to Canon's legendary 135mm f2 L lens.   

In some ways I don't consider the 40-150mm f2.8 a zoom at all. Instead I use it as a 300mm f2.8 lens that I can zoom out from if it's a little too tight. 
People praying on the street in Mahachai during the procession for the city pillar shrine. Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom. 150mm (effectively 300mm on full frame), ISO200, f2.8 @ 1/800 of a second

The 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Zoom enables me to make pictures I wouldn't have been able to make with full frame gear. Because it's relatively small I can carry it during protest marches or on assignments when I would not normally carry a 300mm. That, to me, is transformative. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

* For an interesting discussion of size vs system and limits of design take a look at Thom Hogan's blog
** Weights and prices are taken from the BH Photo website. You may not get the same prices from local vendors.