The amazing Olympus 150-400mm lens
13th November 2020

Dream come true...

I am gonna keep this as short as I can. I've been waiting for this lens for 18 months, the whole time I have been shooting with Olympus. It's not that there is anything wrong with the existing kit, the 300mm f4 and the 100-400mm are amazing, but I am a big zoom guy. For two other camera manufacturers I was a power user of their professional zooms and I know the benefit they give to my photography. So when I unpacked the lens for the first time I was sooooo happy and was determined for the 7 days I had it that I would really give it a good test and put it through it's paces. So here's the results... despite the weather!

The Nitty Gritty

Alright some simple facts at a glance for you:

👍On the M43 system the lens is 300-800mm f4.5 all the way through (this is major)

🔭With the internal1.25x converter it gives 375mm - 1000mm f5.6

🏋️‍♀️It weighs only 1.8KG so is easily hand-holdable and balances well

☔️It's fully weather sealed - as I found out!

⚪It's white and not black, that's for heat transmission and similar to other manufacturers

✅It's compatible with external Olympus 1.4x and 2x converters

The first thing that you notice is the weight. Everything I knew told me it was gonna be heavy when I picked it up, fast aperture at f4.5 and 1000mm range with internal converter, but you know what, it wasn't at all. Yeah it's 1.8KG but for the tech, the glass, the reach and the fast aperture that's a major technical feat. Of course a lot of Olympus users are not used to lenses of this weight but remember the 300mm f4 is 1.3KG so it's not that much different, i.e. it's still in the same ball park. If it were 3KG I would be under-whelmed, but it isn't. It's just 1.8KG for a fast 1000mm zoom, perfect for hand-holding and perfect for any travel. The EM1X is just under 1KG so that is a package under 3KG total. And with such power.

Alright that's the main bits, what you are interested in is the testing so in those 7 days I had a LOT of rain and crap conditions. So I was limited but managed to get three nice and different shoots in. So have a read and enjoy the pics, there are discussions on features, position with the 100-400 and price too later on.

Remember I am a traditional professional wildlife photographer, i.e. I make my living from selling images not selling training, so to me quality and performance is paramount. If it wasn't up to the job I would simply tell Olympus to pick it up, not to bother me with it anymore and I would happily continue to shoot with the 300mm and the 100-400mm. And for benefit of truth I am not an ambassador, I am not under contract and I am not paid for this review. But I do work very closely with Olympus these days on a trust basis and do provide content, reviews and feedback that they can use. I would not do that if I did not believe 100% in the system, which I do.

BIRD DETECTION AI - All of the images on here were taken using the new Bird Detection AI Tracking firmware update that a few of us have been using. It certainly made these kind of images much easier to take! I will do a separate BLOG on this in a few days when I am allowed to talk about it.

The first location was shooting in my garden, as I have during each lockdown, here's some images from a couple of hours I spent when the rain had stopped for once...

Working with local nature is so good for our mental health right now and I have used my love of nature and photography to get me through these difficult times. I've had my issues yeah, but nature always brings me towards the light and that is what I wanna show here. Beautiful local wildlife that visits my garden and gives our family such joy.

Normally I hate "bird on a stick" compositions as I am totally rubbish at setting them up and they don't inspire me... but this year it has been so different. I've loved anything to do with nature so getting the birds to perch nicely was fun for me and a perfect way to show the power of using a zoom against a fixed lens. It's simple, the quality is the SAME, the difference is that I can set the composition how I want it. It puts me in total control, which is how I wanna be.

For this kinda shooting I am looking for a nice bokeh background, fast AF and responsiveness. The lens delivered on everything and more. The converter switch is located on the RHS of the lens and at first I really wanted it to be on the left where my free hand was as my right hand is occupied with the shutter. But then the more I shot with it the more I realised that it was in the perfect place for me on the right as I could just reach my shutter hand forward briefly to engage it, leaving my left hand for using the zoom ring. I used the converter on for most of the time and found absolutely no degradation in quality at all, zero, non, nada, zilch. Pixel pushers will no doubt analyse to 1000% zoom which is pointless, the images are razor sharp and perfect for my tough quality obsessed publication clients. 

I found the ability to use the zoom was great, the ring had just the right amount of tension to ensure no mistakes. It did the job!

Alright the second shoot was at a site for Buzzards and Red Kites, it would be a great test for the converter and AF accuracy too!

Internal 1.25x converter

The internal 1.25x converter is superb. It loses nothing in terms of sharpness or brightness so I shot most of the time with it engaged - 1000mm reach if I wanted it. I didn't even think twice about switching it on and off all the time, except when I wanted f4 or a lower reach. I'm used to internal converters and I can tell you that this one is great with no downsides at all to shooting 1000mm @ f5.6. You might wonder of 1.25x times makes any difference, well it does when it comes to portraits, throwing the background out more or just getting the image right in camera. 

Well the lens was amazing shooting here, having the zoom was fantastic and allowed me to take a great variety of images from intimate portraits to wide angles, plus action and flight too!

External 1.4x Converter?

The question was how does the lens take the external 1.4x converter? I used it here. So that's 1400mm @ f8. The IS still worked great BUT you have to realise that at 1400mm any movement you make will result in a blurred image. So ideally you need to be on a tripod or balanced very well, with a decent shutter speed and light. 

I used the Bird Tracking AF on this and it still worked perfectly getting the eye every time. Now I will not lie and tell you everyone was razor sharp, of course not, it's 1400mm and I am moving as well as the subject. But enough were sharp to enable me to pick one I would not hesitate in sending to a client. 

It's not something I would do all the time, but both internal and external converters do work together better than I have experienced before. Yes the AF is slower and conditions have to be right but it delivers at 1400mm! Just to add that it supports the 2x as well, which would give 2000mm, but you all know I rarely use this converter so didn't have the time to test it here.

In truth I would very very rarely attach the external converters but it's nice to know that it works if I need it. 

Ok that's done and dusted, final time out was to see my mate Derek the Hare. The weather forecast was good, sunny and I was looking forward to trying some backlight with the lens. I would be walking and stalking so slung the lens from my shoulder on a Black Rapid strap and used a camouflage cover to mask the white barrel. Any lens I use these days needs to be portable as I am not a great tripod user, I much prefer being free to move. The Olympus IBIS system has really helped me with that a lot and I am determined to continue shooting without constraint.

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and it rained!!! This meant that Derek sheltered in the woods so I decided to go for a nice long walk around and see what my fieldcraft could turn up. I don't think twice about having the kit out in this, it's completely weather sealed so I leave it out ready for action - it's pointless having kit inside a rucksack when you need to be able to react in an instant. And as it goes, the ability to shoot quickly paid dividends...

Now look at that Robin. It's shot at 1000mm, i.e. max zoom with internal converter enabled. Now there is a stupid and senseless rule of thumb that I hear banded about that you need to shoot at the same shutter speed as the focal length to get a sharp image. It's poppycock, pure old fashioned nonsense. Let me show you why...

What's the shutter speed I used here?



 👎Not even 1/250th. 

No I give you 1/40th second 😲. That is 1/40th second at 1000mm. Handheld. That by anyone's standards is AMAZING. It's unrivalled. Of course it's the EM1X doing the stabilisation right... well not quite it has a lot of help from the lens too but the main factor is the lens weight of 1.8KG. Simply speaking it's light enough to allow me to hand-hold it at 1/40th of a second and get the image sharp at 1000mm. Yes it's my vision that sees the image, but I need the tech to help me nail it. It's teamwork of the highest order and that is what I demand of any kit, when I need it to deliver it must deliver with no excuses.

Extra bits

Some bits I should add for completeness...

Buttons - There's a few buttons on the side of the lens, the usual AF / M and IS ON / OFF plus three range limiting settings. Also some special function buttons including a nifty "return to the place where you want to focus" setting which is great if you are concentrating on a fixed point. 

Filter - Olympus supply a 95mm filter for the front element in the box. I didn't test it as I don't use front element filters full stop. But it's there if you want it and a nice touch to supply it by them.

Converter lock - the internal converter has a lock button to prevent it being engaged during transport.

Arca-Swiss lens foot - as expected the lens foot is arca-swiss compatible so no need for any kind of extra plate, again a nice and sensible touch.

Inevitable Questions

Of course there are several obvious questions that many people will ask. Whilst it's not my job to answer them, I have several friends considering buying this lens so I will give some honest thoughts here, they are my thoughts and have nothing to do with Olympus:

Q. How does it compare to the 100-400mm you loved?

A. I still love it. I am using the 100-400mm now as Olympus took the 150-400mm back and my purchased one won't be here for a while yet. So I still trust the 100-400mm and love it. But they are different lenses. The 150-400mm has a faster aperture, a bigger range, more bokeh, more subject compression... even with the 1.25 converter engaged it has a faster aperture (f5.6) than the 100-400mm. And is the quality better? Well I am sure that there will be graphs of clock faces and the usual boring analysis that means nothing at all to most of us, in my view yes it is sharper but so saying the 100-400mm is mega sharp. If I had not ever used the 150-400mm then I would be happy forever more with the 100-400mm. It's simple really. If you can afford it then you would buy the 150-400mm as it's the perfect wildlife lens, if not you'd get the 100-400mm and be damn happy with the results. I will continue to use my 100-400mm alongside the 150-400mm, on those occasions when size is an issue, deer stalking for example. They will work together as a team, but unfortunately this means that the poor 300mm f4, which has given me such excellent service, will get very little use and I am sad for that. It's sulking right now in the corner, waiting for the opportunity to stub my toe - I am so accident prone that it's just a matter of time before it gets it's revenge!

And one last point here, be happy with whatever kit you have. Remember it's just a tool to help you enjoy your photography more, what counts the most is your vision. So be happy whatever kit you have and enjoy it.

Q. Why is it so expensive?

A. Of course a lot will be made of this and I just wanted to give an independant view. I suspected that it would be this price level due to the technology and the glass and over the past few months have been trying to reset everyone's expectations who thought it would be £3k. Of course it couldn't be, that was just false hope, it's a PRO lens with a PRO spec and that kind of tech costs money. The issue is simply that Olympus have not been bringing out different ranges of lenses, all have been priced competitively for their user base, and users are not ready for a lens of this price. In my view the 100-400mm was far too cheap for what is delivered and that is the problem, it caused false expectation! Well now you know.

But yes it's true that it's a very different price point from the other Olympus lenses these days and a major jump yes. It's the price of a Porsche that's done 70,000 miles or a dodgy Skoda, that's true. But competitive lenses, not that there are many, are the price of a Porsche that's done 15,000 miles and a brand new Skoda ( 😱). That's a lot more in case my jam-jar (cockney rhyming slang for car!!) analogy doesn't work!

But I think you have to just consider this. The 300mm f4 or a 100-400mm f6.3 are excellent yes but they are very different animals. This lens is an effective 300-800mm f4.5 with an internal converter that takes it to 1000mm f5.6. It's got a lot of extra glass to do this, both to give the amazing quality and definition and to give the amazing fast aperture of f4.5 all the way through the range. It's not just normal glass either. It's got a slick state of the art internal converter. All of these things cost a lot of extra money both in terms of R&D and production, it's a huge step up in technology. OMG, I sound like Mr Corporate and I don't mean to, I just want to give you my honest opinion of the price that's all. 

Now I am not going to list the competition, but look at the price of long telephoto zooms at other manufacturers, it's much cheaper. Not that any of them have a 375-1000mm f5.6 zoom which this effectively is. That weighs 1.8KG. And to be honest it only matters what Olympus do here as that's the system you use. 

Of course there will be discussion and that is natural. But you know what, it's best to not get involved and just concentrate on the kit that you have nailing the best pictures you can with a smile on your face. You should always be happy with what you have and make the best of it. If you can afford it then you will love it, if not then you will love your other Olympus kit. 

Q. Are you putting your money where your mouth is?

A. Yep. I ordered mine from Park Cameras within the first hour of using it, full price and no discount from anyone (new company new rules). I am not flush with money, yes it will dent my savings but I consider the advantages to my photography are worth it. 

Q. Ok so there must be some negatives?

A. Yes of course, here they are for completeness:

☕️There is no in-built heating element to work my in-the-field Cappuccino machine. 

👴I rubbed it all over my head but it hasn't restored any hair yet. 

🌻It's a rubbish plant pot. 

😱It's not voice controlled like my music system

I know I am not taking this seriously? Well it's a pointless question to be honest, there is NOTHING wrong with it as it wouldn't have been released! There is no downside apart from the obvious that's more money than most of you expected (covered above). 

Anyone who gives this lens a negative review is either against Olympus no matter what, has never seen the lens or is out of touch with what wildlife photographers actually need. 

Final Thoughts

I had the 150-400mm for just a week. I totally hated giving it back and tried everything I could to keep it! I will get mine in the first shipment, date to be advised I am told, and in the meantime I will happily use my 300mm f4 and 100-400mm. And I mean happily.

When I get the lens though it will be awesome and I am so looking forward to using it as part of my toolkit. It's got incredible range and flexibility, coupled with great image quality and light enough to lurk with. I totally love it.

I also want you to think about this lens on a much grander scale of things. Olympus / JIP have delivered a world leading lens and state of the art Bird Tracking AI as they promised and have delivered when they said they would, in 2020. When the sale was announced there was so much negativity and scare stories it was unbelievable. Back then I wrote an Olympus UK sanctioned Facebook post and website blog, calming things down and telling the truth behind it. Well we have been proved right. This amazing lens, and the new Bird tracking, show that the company is moving forward giving it's photographers what they want, and showing their commitment to us as well. Like I said at the time, things are on the up for us as Olympus photographers and we can continue to nail amazing images with new and innovative tech.

My final words on the 150-400mm. 

All the old arguments of zoom versus fixed lens are about 10 years out of date, sure there will always be photographers that want fixed focal length lenses, that's personal choice and great. Personally I will always want a long focal length zoom as the benefits it offers my photography are so much, There is no doubt in my mind that this is the perfect lens for the serious wildlife and sports photographer so hats off to Olympus / JIP for delivering what we want. They made a cracker of a lens, a game-changer for me and a statement of intent. I'm an EM1X fan and when this lens is combined with it the toolkit at my fingertips is incredible, amazing AF including the new Bird Tracking, cool tech like Pro Capture, Live ND, Focus Stack, Live Composite, and so much more. For me the 150-400mm is the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle and now I have the perfect system for my professional needs. Job done!

Facebook Live - I will be talking about the lens with the Clare's from OlympusUK and sport pro Mike Inkley on 17th November at 4pm GMT on the Olympus Facebook page. If you wanna access the Facebook live just click here. I will also be talking about it tonight on my WildBunch ClubCast as well!

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