Olympus 150-400mm versus Sony 200-600mm

Posted Dec. 31st, 2020 by Daniel J. Cox

Olympus 150-400mm versus Sony 200-600mm is starting this week. I’ve been waiting for this new Olympus lens for over a year. The development of the Olympus 150-400mm was first announced in January 2019 and my excitement has been hard to contain.

Ultimate magnification

The video above is a short introduction to the new Olympus 150-400mm zoom. I talk about how this new lens is comparable to the Sony 200-600mm. The Olympus has a bit more reach with a maximum telephoto of 800mm. And that’s without the built-in 1.2X teleconverter which gives this lens a maximum of 1000mm.

Olympus 150-400mm zoom
Olympus 150-400mm zoom

Light gathering qualities

The Olympus 150-400mm has a maximum aperture of F/4.5 across the entire 150-400mm zoom range. The Sony aperture is variable with F/5.6-6.3 with it being F/6.3 at 600mm. Add the 1.2X teleconverter to the Olympus and you get a 1000mm F/5.6. Do something similar to the Sony, add a 1.4X teleconverter, and you get 840mm at F/8. It all comes down to the Olympus having 150mm+ more magnification and a full stop more light-gathering power.

Sony 200-600mm

Stay tuned for an in-depth comparison

Over the next 10 days I’ll be shooting these two lenses side by side in remote areas here in Montana and Wyoming. I’ll be self-quarantining with just me, the animals, and my camera gear. Stay tuned for more information to come.

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There are 18 comments on this post…
  1. RayOn Mar. 10th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Hi Daniel! Long time admirer of your work!
    Have you had a chance to try the 200-600 with the a6400? That would give the 200-600 additional reach and make it a 300-900 lens.

    The other aspect is which of these would you prefer if you had to photograph birds in a wooded area – the Sony or the Olympus?

    With the Olympus, based on photos provided my early buyers, I’ve seen seeing a lot of images with the nervous Bokeh problem, and it gets exacerbated when there are twigs close to the subject – so much so that in some images this feels like a bad clone stamp effort by the photographer (when it really is a lens artifact). Is this something that you have faced with the 150-400 or even the 300f4?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 11th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Hi Ray, thanks for your kind comment in regards to my work. Greatly appreciated. Regarding the Sony A6400, I would try that camera in a heartbeat if Sony would develop normal ergonomics for that camera. The fact that it has no dial in the front for aperture or shutter usage is a dealbreaker. The one thing Sony continues to seem to do is reinvent the wheel. No pun intended. Why not take the proven form factor of the Alpha series cameras and replicate them in
      an APS- C body? Both Cannon and Nikon have followed virtually identical design on their Full Frame and APSC cameras. Why only chooses to do something completely different I just don’t understand. I love Sony‘s technology but the ergonomics of all their cameras leave me seriously wanting.

      As far as “nervous boque” you comment on, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t see anything negative about the boque on the new 150-400mm Olympus lens. I personally think it looks fabulous. But then again I have a tendency not to over analyze a lens as long as it’s producing exceptional sharpness and a quality image. My goal is for publication and print use and I personally think this lens produces both exceptionally well. Just my two cents.

      As far as which lens I would prefer when shooting birds in a woodland setting? They’re both exceptional but the Olympus provides considerably more light. It would have a lot to do with which camera body I was shooting if I was using the Sony. Since the smaller sensor Sony cameras allow you to use hire ISO is as we all know. I’ve been testing the A7R MarklV with the Sony 200- 600 and have been surprised at the relatively noisy files from this camera. They clean up beautifully with DXOPhoto Lab but I expected better from a full frame camera. I’m still doing several tests to make a decision.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and adding your voice to the conversation. I appreciate your insight.

  2. Peter SimpsonOn Mar. 1st, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Hi Daniel,

    It sounds like you’ve been able to keep hold of the 150-400 for a while, so hopefully have a good feel for their relative pros and cons. As a relatively casual observer with an EM1X/Olympus 300mm, I tend to find that my subjects are often small and far away or large and very far away 😊, so being able to resolve detail in significantly cropped images is important for me. From your experience, have you found the Sony or Olympus kit better for subjects that occupy well less than the whole of a micro four thirds sensor?

    Many thanks, Peter

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 6th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Hi Peter, part of the tests I’ve been running include using a Sony A7R MarklV in cropped sensor mode. The sensor in the Sony A7R Mark lV is 61 megapixels, but in cropped mode it’s just over 26 megapixels. That’s not that much different than the Olympus E-M1X’s sensor, 21 megapixels, I’m using the new 150-400mm with. So with that in mind I’ve been doing tests comparing the Sony camera in cropped mode with the Sony 200-600mm to the Olympus E-M1X with the 150-400mm. On the Sony the 600mm becomes 150-900mm. On the Olympus the 150-400mm becomes a 300-800mm. Add the builtin 1.2X teleconverter in the 150-400mm and the Olympus reaches 1000mm. What I’m seeing so far is that the Sony in cropped mode with the 200-600mm at the long end has much less resolution, details and sharpness than the Olympus. I din’t necessarily expect that but in short the Olympus is proving to be an exceptionally sharp lens. Stay tuned for the final report I hope to have done in 2-3 weeks. Thaks for stopping by and doing the conversation.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 1st, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Sorry Dennis. Still working on it. I want to be sure I’m fair about this whole thing.

  3. Mark WalkerOn Feb. 24th, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Dan,
    With the demise of stock photography as a reason for justifying the high cost of super telephotos, the Olympus lens has arrived too late and is destined to only be bought by well heeled photographers who want to travel light. I used to have a Panasonic GH4 and 100-300mm which was a great travel kit but terrible in low light. As I have spent a lot of time in wet tropical countries in recent years the Panasonic wasn’t up to the job and I turned to a Sony A9 and the 200-600mm which is the best combination I have ever used and it fits in my carry-on photo-backpack. As this combo has been on the market for a few years it’s now possible to buy 2nd hand which is a consideration if my kit ever gets stolen.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 24th, 2021 (2 months ago)

      Thanks for joining the conversation Mark. I agree with you that the Lumix Micro Four Thirds system in the low light of canopied forests, with the slow lenses is not optimal. I’m still confident however that the micro 4/3 system is the future. Sony is doing some wonderful things and I love my 200-600mm and A9. But we all know that everything electronic gets smaller, lighter, faster and cheaper. Unless there’s a major development in lens design, that brings the size, cost and weight of optics down, micro 4/3 will have an advantage. The only issue we currently face with micro 4/3 is the lack of a much improved sensor. Once we get something in the 30 megapixel range with high-quality low light capabilities I’ll have no issues with micro 4/3’s If that never comes than I too will most likely be moving full time to Sony. I’ve been shooting the two lenses, Olympus 150-400mm and the Sony 200-600mm side by side for almost two months now and when something is happening that I have no time to decide which lens to grab, I find myself almost always reaching for the 150-400mm. It is so sharp and the extra range is so helpful.

  4. Peter SimpsonOn Jan. 16th, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for the update, I’m looking forward to your review, it sounds as though you’ve already made up your mind on the lens though.😊

    Best wishes, Peter

  5. Peter SimpsonOn Jan. 15th, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Hi Daniel,

    I have the lens on order and am very interested in your experience with the lens, particularly the comparison to the Sony 200-600 full frame alternative. Do you have a feel for when you will be publishing your report?

    Best wishes, Peter

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 15th, 2021 (4 months ago)

      I’m not sure Peter. I have the new lens on loa from Olympus. I’m unsure how long I’ll be able to keep it. If I can keep it until the end of January I’ll most likely be able to write something up by mid February. If not I’ll most likely wait until I get my own which may be quite a bit later.

  6. Michael MacmorranOn Jan. 13th, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Daniel,

    Very excited to see you work on this field test. As an avid wildlife/nature/landscape photographer I was on the fence regarding the 150-400 from Olympus. In choosing between upgrading my E-M1 Mark II to an EM1-X and purchasing the 150-400 or expanding from MFT into FF with the Canon EOS R5 I decided to go with the Canon. The uncertain future of OM Digital had a very large influence on my decision. I just could not pull the trigger on a $7,500 lens without knowing how the back end service was going to be or really how long OM Digital was actually going to be around. I’m sure the lens is exceptional and I’m looking forward to seeing the results you produce with it.

    Cheers,
    Mike.

  7. Dennis LindenOn Jan. 7th, 2021 (4 months ago)

    The rub of a technical argument

    Some years ago, my wife and I joined the Royal Opimian Society in an effort to expand our knowledge regarding the fruits of Bacchus. With glee, we went to a couple of their wine and dine events and soaked up the dinner speaker’s monologue on the relationship between wine and food. We were downright giddy when we received an invitation to a private event exploring the wines of France. This must mean something to receive such an invitation.

    We got there to find two men in heated debate, no that would be an understatement, in personal verbal assault of each other, their parents and progeny, the size of their brains and penises.

    One apparently felt the wines of one region were superior to the other because the hills surrounding the river valleys were composed of natural rock whereas in the other region, over hundreds of years, farmers had brought rocks from the river up into the hills to serve as heat sinks to keep the grapes warm at night. The other felt that the soil of the second contained a different mineral composition, and the stones were inert. The grapes of region two were thus inferior/superior by nature to region one. It should be pointed out that I no longer remember the names of the regions being debated so vehemently that night.

    This argument went on endlessly. Frankly, it became boring. Eventually, someone opened some of the bottles and we were permitted to sample the wines. After a short field test, my conclusion was that both regions produced equally tasteful wine, perhaps due to the skill of the wine makers then? Indeed after two or three glasses of each, I could no longer tell the difference.

    The two gentlemen were, you see, geologists. They believed that rocks and dirt were the thing that made the difference between the regional products. Their deeply personal knowledge of the rocks focused their opinions, but ignored the grapes, the warmth of the sun, coolness of night, the wine makers, the yeast, the oak of the barrels and so many other factors critical to delivering the final result. And both results were just fine to my taste.

    The moral of the story is, don’t trust a geologist to help you choose your wine.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 8th, 2021 (4 months ago)

      OK Dennis. We shall see if this makes sense. Stay tuned.

  8. Mircea BlanaruOn Jan. 2nd, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Nothing warming my heart more to see how a well established photographer is satisfied with the Olympus and Panasonic gear!
    About above mathematics I don’t trust it. From what I know, a 400mm F/4.5 Olympus gear behave like a full frame 800mm with an aperture of F/4.5 and it has a depth of field like a 800mm F/9 full frame lens, continuing the math gymnastics, it also have a depth of view like a full frame 400mm F/4.5 full frame lens! Happy New Year!!!

  9. Marius Michael HintringerOn Jan. 1st, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Dear Mr. Cox,

    Been following your site for years…
    Your work has convinced us to take MFT serious, your information has always been on point and a welcome contrast to the mass hysteria online.
    This led to a lot of experience and results we otherwise would not have had…
    … including the addition of Sony FF to balance where MFT and Lumix FF sometimes lack.

    In that light there is no better source to answer the first question to MFTs (probably) last chapter:
    How much better is the 150-400…?

    Thanks for your effort and stay healthy.
    Kind regards from Austria,
    Marius M. Hintringer

  10. Tony RogersOn Jan. 1st, 2021 (4 months ago)

    Danial,
    Your paragraph above “Light Gathering Qualities” is very misleading and I would say just plain wrong.

    The “light gathering power” of a lens is dictated by the square of the entrance pupil. In the case of the Olympus, the entrance pupil diameter is 400/4.5 = 88.9mm. The Sony is 600/6.3 = 95.2mm. So the Sony gathers (95.2/88.9)^2 = 1.15 = 15% more light than the Olympus. I’m not saying that this is a significant amount but still, the Sony gathers more light.

    You could correctly say that the Olympus has 200mm less focal length and is one stop brighter but you cannot say that the Olympus has “150mm+ more magnification and a full stop more light-gathering power”. The smaller sensor only collects one quarter of the light when compared to a 35mm sensor. The rest is “cropped away” to get that extra “reach”.

    I think you are right to compare these two lenses. I agree, they are quite similar and I look forward to your results. In terms of reach, the Sony on an A9II with 1.4x TC attached and cropped to the same number of horizontal pixels as the Olympus gives a full-frame equivelent image with angle of view of 600 x 1.41 x 6000/5184 = 979mm at an f-stop of 6.3 x 1.41 x 6000/5184 = f/10.3 vs the Olympus with internal teleconverter switched on of 1000mm at f/11. Quite close really!

    However, I’m expecting the Olympus to be sharper.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 1st, 2021 (4 months ago)

      Thanks for your insight Tony. You may be right regarding all that math you shared. I have no idea to be completely honest. I’m not a math guy. My brain has a tendency to default to the right creative side. So I’ll take your word for it and/or let others confirm or refute your position. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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