Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison Experience

Posted Aug. 11th, 2021 by Daniel J. Cox

Long time in the making

My Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm comparison experience is finally here. I’m grateful for everybody’s patience. Getting this out has taken longer than I expected. A big part of the holdup was a family emergency with my father. Dad went in for unexpected double bypass heart surgery just as I was getting started writing this blog and editing the YouTube video. 

Sunset from my kayak, northern Minnesota. Apple iPhone 12+ Pro

The good news is he pulled through just fine. It took a solid three months to get there. But he’s now doing well. Thank you to all who reached out with good wishes. 

Dan works on his laptop editing photos at the little cabin on John and Teresa’s place. Island Lake, Minnesota. Lumix G9 with Leica 12-60mm lens

The holdup proved to be a blessing in disguise. My mother and I stayed in a beautiful little cabin on a gorgeous northern lake. Warm and inviting, it felt like a gift from heaven so graciously provided by my sister and her husband. Not only were we close to my father, but morning and evening, I was overwhelmed by the mesmerizing calls of the common loon.

Shooting from my kayak with mist rising from the warm waters.

As a young man of only 18 years, I produced my first relatively in-depth documentary on this gorgeous bird. Growing up in the far north gave me ample subjects. But I always felt the project was incomplete. So here I was, back in lake country with all my camera gear, a kayak on the shore, and a dozen subjects calling to me day and night.

A female loon climbs onto her nest. I photographed this nesting family when I was 18 years old. Minnesota. Photographed Circa 1978, Nikon F2AS with 300mm F/2.8

A fellow photographer friend referred to my situation as the age-old lemons to lemonade problem. She was so right. In the mornings and evenings, I would take to the water for pictures. During the day, I visited with my father. The stress of such a difficult time was released by the ability to paddle a kayak. But we’re here to discuss lenses so let’s get the ball rolling with the Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm comparison experience. 

Olympus – Pricey but worth it

So first things first. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right from the get-go. At the time I started this project I had been using the Sony lens for almost a year. And since the Olympus 150-400mm and Sony 200-600mm were fairly close in optical range, I ended up thinking of them as similar. But equal they are not, especially when you consider the difference in price.

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

Sitting on the banks of the Lamar River shooting both lenses. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Lumix G9 with Leica 12-60mm lens

Since you’re reading this blog post you most likely know that the Olympus costs $7,499 and the Sony costs $1,999. That’s a huge disparity! And it’s the main reason many people will not buy the Olympus no matter how good it is. But there are substantial differences which I’ll do my best to describe. And for me, those differences justify the price. 

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

River otters playing in the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Sony A9 with the 200-600mm

Lens weight

Sony

The Sony 200-600mm is an impressive lens, especially when you consider its price. I mention in the video how much I like the feel of the zoom and focus rings. Both are incredibly smooth. Sony has done a magnificent job with its fit and finish. And again, I can’t help but express my surprise due to its affordability.

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Sony 200-600mm lens without lens hood

The weight is acceptable for it being a full-frame optic. However, while hand-holding, I was constantly reminded of how front-heavy the 200-600mm is. It’s especially noticeable with the relatively small body of the Sony A9 attached. Fitting a battery pack to the camera most likely would have helped balance the system out.

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Mother grizzly with one of her four cubs, Wyoming. Sony A9 with the 200-400mm zoom from the safety of the road

But I like the size of the Sony bodies without the grip. This issue is not abnormal until you compare it to the Olympus. All super-telephoto lenses have had a front-heavy design due to large chunks of glass upfront. That is until the Olympus arrived. 

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Trumpeter swan family on a small pond during early fall snow, Minnesota. Sony A9 with 200-600mm zoom

The Sony 200-600mm weight= 4.6 lbs (2.08 kilograms)
Sony 200-600mm with A9 body (no battery grip) = 6.1 lbs (2.7 kilograms)

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Airtanker dropping fire retardant on the Bridger Foothills forest fire near the M in the Bridger Mountains, Bozeman, Montana. Sony A9 with the 200-600mm

Olympus

Many people would not consider either of these lenses light, but compared to my long-ago Nikkor 600mm F/4 (10 lbs) they seem almost featherweight. Taking into consideration the Olympus can reach up to 1000mm at F/5.6, the size and price become much more acceptable. But all the accolades in the world can’t hide the fact that if you buy the Olympus you’re going to have to shell out an extra $5,500. Is it worth it? I believe it is due mainly to the built-in teleconverter, the size and weight for the magnification, the incredible image stabilization, and the superb optics.  This makes the Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm vastly different.

The Olympus 150-400mm weight= 4.1 lbs (1.85 kilograms)
Olympus 150-400mm with E-M1X body = 6.3 lbs (2.85 kilograms)

Olympus 150-400mm without lens hood.

Olympus 150-400mm without lens hood

Sharpness in the studio

Before my time in Minnesota, I had many opportunities for checking the sharpness of both lenses. Not just in the field but also in my studio. The studio pictures were shot using my Layman’s Lens Sharpness Test. It consists of photographing a newspaper on my studio wall and using flash to eliminate all motion. Flash is the key, since I can be certain there’s no softness due to camera or lens shake.

I use a newspaper rather than a lens target, since the newspaper provides such fine detail. And it’s easy to come by. To align the lens and target, I use a tool called LensAlign. This plastic box was originally designed to check a camera’s critical autofocus with a specific lens. I use it to make sure the target and lens are directly parallel to each other. That’s about as scientific as my test gets. I’m sure it’s not perfect by the standards of a true scientific technician, but it’s a great way for me to judge the sharpness of lenses by my own hands.

Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Sony A9, 200-600mm lens with 1.4X teleconverter at 840mm

Below is a link to the images I shot in the studio. Feel free to download them for your own personal use. For comparison, I’ve also included a frame from the Olympus 300mm F/4 as well as the Leica 100-400mm zoom from Lumix. I shot the Lumix 100-400mm with the E-M1X. You can make your own mind up as to what you see in the frames. This is a link to studio originals from both Sony and Olympus with Lumix thrown in. The combo of Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm samples are for perusal only, please do not forward them anywhere else. They are free to download but only for your own personal use. 

Since I’ve outlined my studio test system in the video I’m not going to duplicate that in print.

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

A pair of loons silhouetted against sparkling water on the lake, Minnesota. Olympus E-M1X with 150-400mm

Sharpness in the field

The images I’ve shot in the field with both lenses have been excellent. And it’s the field images I make my final judgments on. In the field, the Olympus seems to have an edge, but they both produce excellent results.

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

Bald eagle pair witting on top of a pine tree. Shot from a kayak, handheld. Olympus E-M1X and 150-400mm zoom with 1.2X teleconverter engaged. Tha’s the equivalent of 1000mm handheld.

Olympus Sync IS versus Sony Steady Shot 

I sometimes think that what looks like a slightly soft image from Sony is due to camera movement. Sony’s image stabilization known as Steady Shot just can’t compete with Olympus’s Sync IS system.

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

Sony on the left with 1.4X teleconverter at 840mm. Olympus on the right with the 1.2X teleconverter engaged which makes it 1000mm. Both images were shot on a substantial tripod. Enlarged to 100%

That’s not to say Sony’s Steady Shot IS is bad. It’s definitely as effective as what we’ve seen with traditional DSLRs from Canon and Nikon. The catch is Olympus’ Sync IS is just so superior to anything else I’ve ever used. I’ve heard Canon’s new mirrorless cameras are now competing with Olympus in image stabilization. But I’ve not had a chance to test them. In the field originals with teleconverters from both Olympus and Sony.

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

Muskrat feeding on the green stems of cattails. Shot handheld with the E-M1X and the 150-400mm lens from kayak.

Poor autofocus made me switch

A large part of my work includes action. It’s one of my passions in the realm of photography. When I was shooting Panasonic Lumix cameras my action days were behind me. Unfortunately, the Lumix system just can’t shoot flying birds. Lumix uses what they call Depth From Defocus which is a type of Contrast Detection autofocus system. Unfortunately, it simply is not capable of shooting fast-moving action. Or at least not able to provide the number of precisely focused frames I was used to. 

Olympus 150-400mm & Sony 200-600mm Comparison

Common loon or great northern diver in flight. Minnesota. E-M1X and 150-400mm zoom from kayak.

I still believe Lumix makes the best handling, well-built, camera on the market, but it’s inability to shoot action became too much and I finally had to move on. My problems with the Lumix AF lead me to where I am today, shooting both Sony and Olympus systems. 

Olympus AF dramatically improves my hit rate

My interest in staying with micro four-thirds cameras influenced my decision to give the E-M1X a try. I knew the Olympus AF system was based on the tried and true Phase Detection system. The E-M1X paired with the new 150-400mm has been gradually impressing me with its ability to shoot fast action. The video above is a series of still photos of a common loon in flight. As you can see in the video, keeping a bird dead-on in the center of the EVF is difficult.  

Bald eagle fling against a bright blue sky. Olympus E-M1X and the 150-400mm zoom

Bald eagle flyng against a bright blue sky. Olympus E-M1X and the 150-400mm zoom

I’m adamant that if I do my part–keep the bird in the viewfinder,  the camera should do its part–get the bird in focus. So far the Olympus is doing that as long as I shoot in Continuous AF-Low. The hit rate in AF-C High has not been nearly as positive. It can really crank the images out at 20FPS in AF-C High, but unfortunately the AF system just doesn’t keep up. 

This is a series of images of a common loon starting out flying straight at me.

This is a series of images of a common loon starting out flying straight at me. Out of 36 frames, all but 4 were tack sharp.

On a side note. Even though I had the camera set to the Bird AF mode I was never able to see any indication the camera had picked up a bird. Maybe the loon is bigger than it’s programmed to see. I don’t know. All I know is that there was nothing in the EVF telling me it had locked onto the bird. I also did not use AF-C + Tracking. I only used AF-C in Continuous Low. AF Points was set to All Focus Points. 

Sony AF is very, very good

As far as Sony goes, there’s little concern about how it can handle autofocus. AF was actually the main reason I decided to try Sony a couple of years ago. The Sony A9 has been almost flawless when used with the Sony 100-400mm G Master. But I’ve not had as good of results with the 200mm-600mm. I was warned by my contact at Sony that it’s a bit slower than what I may be used to. Even so, the vast number of fast-moving subjects I’ve shot have all been in focus. It’s not perfect but it’s very, very good. 

Trumpeter swan comes in for a landing on a pond in Montana. Sony A9 and 200-400mm lens.

Trumpeter swan comes in for a landing on a pond in Montana. Sony A9 and 200-400mm lens

Between the Olympus 150-400mm and the Sony 200-600mm I would rate them about equal for fast action. I actually expected better from Sony. It’s possible the A9 could use some custom AF tweaks by way of the custom menu that might bring its accuracy up. But I used the same settings with the 100-400mm and it’s was nearly 100% accurate with flying birds.  So it makes me think it’s the lens and not the camera. Even so, the hit rate with the 200-600mm is very, very good, just not exceptional. 

Large male grizzly in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Large male grizzly in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Sony A9 with 200-600mm

Conclusion

So that’s about it. One thing I’ve learned on this project is that comparing two lenses as opposed to reviewing just one is a huge chore. After seeing many slick videos of other reviews I’m concerned people may be disappointed. The video has many more detailed specifics about the two lenses. In the end, I really respect both lenses. However, when they were both within reach, it was almost always the Olympus that I grabbed. I just found myself always wanting that extra reach. The teleconverter was especially useful. Not having to add it by taking the lens off is such a fabulous feature. 

Let me know if there are questions you have I didn’t cover. Thanks for stopping by to join the conversation. 

YouTube video detailing my time with these two lenses

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There are 19 comments on this post…
  1. Ross HarrisOn Sep. 6th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Thanks for taking the time to reply Dan. Much appreciated. Your answer is definitely helpful.

  2. Tim McCulloughOn Sep. 5th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Aloha Dan,
    Really enjoyed your final comparison report. The videos were very helpful as was the studio test. Congratulations on accomplishing this project for us all to benefit from.

  3. Ross HarrisOn Aug. 31st, 2021 (2 months ago)

    The video heads shown in your article caught my attention. One appears to be a Sachtler system, and the other a kit with Really Right Stuff (RRS) legs + Benro video head. Both cameras/lenses appear to attach via RRS quick release plates (but perhaps with another plate in between?). I have an RRS kit (legs + ballhead) and want to add a video head, but the one that RRS sells is overkill for my needs. I’d appreciate any comments you can provide on your video tripod systems (i.e., do you like them), and especially whether RRS plates are compatible with Sachtler or Benro video heads. Thanks for being so generous with your time and knowledge Dan, and best wishes to your family.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 5th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Hi Ross. Sorry for the delay in getting to this question. Yes, I use both the video heads, Sachtler and Benroe, you saw in the video. Unfortunately, I can’t give you the exact model of Benroe since I’m writing this from South Africa and I don’t have the head with me. The Sachtler 0371A Tripod System with FSB 4 Fluid Head, Aluminum Legsis . And yes, the quick-release plates are all Arca Swiss design and are adapted to Manfrotto quick release plates via a RRS quick release plate adapter. I’ve never been a fan of Manfrotto plates and most tripod head companies are now making them with the Arca Swiss plates. I bought both these video heads back when some were sticking with the Manfrotto system. The key is, you want to look for the Arca Swiss plate system and if they advertise that they should all work with the same plates. The one issue I have is the RRS quick release adapter does not have the ability to be adjusted and some plates are looser than others. If I had to do it again I would look for something else. As far as the two tripods and heads I much prefer the Sachtler. Let me know if you have any further questions and thanks for stopping by.

  4. Ramachandra SrivatsaOn Aug. 28th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Daniel,
    Stunning videos, photos and wonderful comparison! Thank you!
    As a dual system shooter (Olympus and Sony), I was eagerly waiting for your review of these two lenses. I am very happy with the EM1ii/EM1X+300pro combination. When I have the luxury to carry a larger system, I use the Sony A9+200-600. Given the 150-400 is similar in size to the 200-600, I decided to get the Sony A1. It is an awesome combination!
    When a new Olympus body with 30+MP sensor comes out, I will probably get the 150-400 🙂

    regards,
    -ramu

  5. Peter YagerOn Aug. 28th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Daniel

    Just viewed you comparison of the Sony 200-600m with the Olympus 150-400mm on 4/3 Rumors. Nicely done. In the end you said that you may do a video on the new Olympus 100-400mm lens which sells for aprox. $6000 less. At $7500 the lens is out of reach for me, and many others. I have the Panasonic/Leica 100-400mm lens which I purchased a couple years ago along with the Olympus 300mm f4 which I use on my Olympus EM-1 M3 and the EM-1 M2. Could you consider doing a comparison of the 100-400 Olympus lens with the Panasonic/Leica 100-400mm lens on your EM-1X. It would also be nice to see how they compares to the Olympus 300mm f4 @ the 300mm focal length. I have yet not found any comparison video on the 3 lenses. I am considering to add the Olympus 100/400mm lens to my camera bag, since I have both the MC1.4 & MC2.0 Converters. Unfortunately the Panasonic does not offer a converter, nor combined lens & body image stabilizer in the Olympus cameras.

    Peter

  6. LucasOn Aug. 21st, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Here is some information on the Olympus 100-400 vs the Original Sigma lens:

    https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/4509689

    It turns out that they had to alter only a little bit on the lens construction…

    It is not the first time an Olympus lens is being produced by Sigma. My wonderful 75mm 1.8 lens is also made by Sigma. It is very subjective of course, but I do like lenses where the whole tube is filled with glass, and that is the case in the 75 1.8 and the PL 200 2.8 It makes me feel having bought substantial glass… 

    For a professional wildlife photographer, the weight of the 150-400 will be ok, but for a hobbyist it is far too heavy. When hiking in the Alps I sometimes leave my 200 2.8 at home because of its weight, where the 50-200 is still doable.

    Nice to hear that you liked the 100-400 mm. It got very good reviews. If the GH6 will have much better low-light capabilities, then it might be a very attractive combination of reach, weight and sharpness.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 21st, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Very interesting information regarding Sigma making Olympus lenses. I had no idea, never heard of this before. That’s part of the reason I enjoy having the blog where others can add information I’m totally aware of. Thanks for joining the conversation Lucas.

  7. MikeOn Aug. 21st, 2021 (2 months ago)

    I’m a bit confused when you say C-AF High was not so successful on the E-M1X. I’m sure you are aware that the camera doesn’t refocus between frames when in C-AF High. Or am I mis-interpreting what you said?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 21st, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Hi Mike, I went back and checked the manual and I understand your confusion. I made a mistake and confused the FPS in C-AF. You’ve explained my lack of success with C-AF High. I confused the C-AF speeds between manual and electronic shutters. Thanks for poking this out. Two brains are better than one. I’ll go back and mention my mistake one blog text.

  8. Mike GOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Thanks for the great review. I would love to hear your thoughts on how the Olympus 150-400 lens compares to the Olympus 300 and Panasonic-Leica 200. I understand your reviews take a lot of work, so just a brief impression of each would be fantastic.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Thanks for reaching out Mike. As I mentioned in my video I’m a big fan of zoom lenses. Even if the 150-400 wasn’t as sharp as the 300 F/4 or the Leica 200, I would still most likely gravitate towards it. That said I don’t see sharpness benefits in either of those two lenses. The 150-400 is just simply superb. I haven’t shot my 300mm F/4 since buying the 150-400mm. It’s almost impossible to beat a zoom for wildlife. Thanks again for joining the conversation. I always love to hear from my readers.

  9. Geoff SimpsonOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Hi Daniel

    Greetings from Andalucía. A great review from a photographer I have always admired since I first came across your work in WPOTY.

    I’m about to change system to either Olympus or Sony. I’m leaning towards Olympus from the perspective of weight, weather ceiling and the pro capture feature.

    Best regards

    Geoff

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Thanks for joining the conversation Geoff. I was unsure of where Andalucia is so I looked it up. Must be beautiful there. That’s a beautiful part of the world.

  10. MichaelOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Great article and comparison. Like it. Just one hint, the reason why you haven’t seen Bird detection on the Olympus is that this function is only available when you are using C-AF + TR. Then it is independent from the number of selected AF points. Anyhow would recommend not to use all AF fields but a cluster. The E-M1X even allows you to customize the cluster to your own needs

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Thanks Michael, I was start gin to figure. that out but happy to have somebody confirm the need for C-AF+Tracking is need for the bird setting to be activated. Thanks for stopping by to add. your insight.

  11. David MartinOn Aug. 20th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    The 150-400 may

    I haven’t thought much about the Olympus 150-400 due to huge dental expenses, but the reminder that at weighs 4.1 pounds is a reminder that my four thirds 35-100 mm f / 2.0 lens, 2005 vintage, weighs the same. Long ago, owning a 4/3 lens was the reason for buying the first E-M1, whose new autofocus system made for fast focusing. Later on, a 300 mm f/4 led to the EM-X.

    The shortage of the new lens could be due to component supplies, perhaps a super extra-low dispersion aspherical lens (super EDA) and very large EDA lenses. Olympus sponsored a technical discussion with Imaging Resource on March 4, 2021. I had suspected Olympus planned a highly usable showpiece for the Olympics and OM Digital inherited a product in high demand by its best customers.

    I appreciated the park photos. I had an outdoor job in the Bighorn Basin (up to about 10,500′) for seven years, never a bear. Hummingbirds, yes.

  12. LucasOn Aug. 19th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    What a great comparison, Daniel! I think both systems are very good, buit unfortunately the 150-400 lens is not within reach for amateurs…
    I have the really excellent 200mm 2.8 which is simply the sharpest lens I have ever used. Period. With the 1.4 TC it is still very sharp, but 280mm is still a bit short for birds and shy wildlife animals. I am now cosidering the Oly 100-400 (made by Sigma). I did borrow the PL 100-400, and that lens is quite good for its price, but I don’t like the not-so-smooth zooming ring.
    I am quite curious to see how the new GH6 will handle these lenses. Rumours say it will have PDAF, so it might turn the tables.
    As to birds in flight, Matthieu of Mirrorlessons has also done some great testing with all these camera’s and he has also proposed some custom AF setting for various camera’s. I do like his and yours websites very much, because one gets the feeling that real photographers with a passion for photography are driving these sites, and not some highly commercial enterpise that wants to sell clicks. Keep up the good work, and I am happy to hear that your dad is doing so well!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 19th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Thanks Lucas. I recently had a chance to shoot the Olympus 100-400mm and I must say I’m impressed. It’s a great option for those who don’t want to or cant spend the money on the 150-400mm. I had no idea Sigma was building that lens. Where did you hear that? Would love to know more. Thaks for stopping by to join the conversation.

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