Olympus 150-400mm Zoom. Is it worth the price?

Posted Dec. 25th, 2020 by Daniel J. Cox

Editorial Note:

This blog post is not an in-depth review of the new Olympus 150-400mm zoom. It’s simply a relatively short post comparing its price to similar lenses from Nikon and Canon. There are plenty of blog posts and YouTube videos explaining all the features of this lens. This is not one of them. 

Potential to change wildlife photography

The Olympus 150-400mm zoom has the potential to revolutionize wildlife photography. That’s a strong statement, but I believe it’s true. For my entire 40+ year career as a wildlife and nature photographer, I’ve always dreamed of more powerful lenses. Optics that could get me closer to my subjects without physically closing that distance.

Olympus 150-400mm zoom
Olympus 150-400mm zoom attached to E-M1X

Being further from your subject has many benefits

  • The further you are from your subject, the less influence you will have on their actions, giving you more authentic behavior.
  • Keeping your distance eliminates almost all potential to aggravate your subject. Any negative interaction between you and the animal is always bad for the animal. Keeping yourself safe keeps your subject safe.
  • Keeping your distance inspires others to do the same. Follow the leader is especially problematic in our national parks.
Using the Olympus 150-400mm zoom can keep you further from your subject
Mama grizzly #399 in Grand Teton National Park with two of her four cubs.

The newest technology makes it possible

I’m confident the Olympus 150-400mm zoom will follow in the steps of the Olympus 300mm F/4. The Olympus 300mm F/4 is one of– if not– the sharpest lenses I’ve ever shot. Olympus’ Sync IS is also far ahead of the competition. The new Olympus 150-400mm zoom claims to offer an incredible 8 stops of image stabilization. Only Canon claims something similar with their new mirrorless system. I haven’t shot the Canon, so I’m uncertain if the claims are true.

Sync IS is amazing with the Olympus 150-400mm zoom
A dark hallway where I shot the Olympus 150-400mm at 400mm (800mm equivalent) handheld at 1/25th of a second.

But I have experienced the Olympus, and it’s impressive. When leaving my studio, after shooting the Olympus 150-400mm zoom video, I quickly shot a photo of an exit sign in the dark hallway of our building. Not sure why I did it. I just pulled the camera up and shot with no concern about shutter speed, ISO, etc. I later looked at the image and saw that I had shot it at 1/25th of a second at 800mm equivalent. Amazingly it was tack sharp.

Professional optics are expensive to produce

The main reason I produced the Olympus 150-400mm zoom video was to discuss the criticism of its high price. Many across the Internet have been whining about how expensive this lens is.

And I have to agree. It’s not cheap. But when you compare it to the similar lenses from Nikon and Canon it’s actually considerably cheaper.

Nikon 180-400mm zoom

When comparing apples to apples, the new Olympus lens is actually quite reasonable. For example, the Nikon 180-400 mm zoom is priced at $12,400. The Canon 200-400mm zoom is priced at $11,000. Both the Canon and Nikon lenses have a maximum aperture of F/4 all the way through the zoom range.

Canon 200-400mm zoom

The Olympus is 1/3 of a stop less at F/4.5 but also constant throughout the zoom range. In short, all of these lenses are very similar in their range and maximum aperture. The big difference is the Olympus offers dramatically more magnification, equivalent to 300-800mm and up to 1000mm with the built-in teleconverter.

Protective filter for the Olympus 150-400mm zoom is imperative.

Don’t forget to protect an expensive lens

Along with the Olympus 150-400mm zoom, Olympus also announced a protective filter. I’ve always used high-quality protective filters on all my lenses. I use my equipment hard, and it never stays looking new for long. But the glass is always in pristine condition since I’ve always used a protective UV or skylight filter. Olympus makes it easy to get the right size and exceptional quality glass with its own version of this filter.

You get what you pay for

The old adage “you get what you pay for” pretty much is the case for this lens. Many of the critiques I’m reading across the Internet come from folks who have never had a need for the kind of quality this lens can produce. Typically most people buy lenses of this caliber because they either need it for their business or they have the desire and wherewithal to purchase the very best. If you’ve never spent this kind of money on a lens, it’s hard to understand why it might be necessary. Either way, I’m just extremely happy Olympus has given us this opportunity.

Add Your Voice!
There are 8 comments on this post…
  1. Carol DarbyOn Jan. 2nd, 2021 (2 months ago)

    Hi Daniel, Thanks for your info on what looks like being a great lens. I am looking forward to a more detailed review from you – especially an in the field one with images.

    I am seriously considering getting this lens but it will be my most expensive purchase to date. The price isn’t the issue. My usual process when buying a new lens is to take my body and a card to the camera store and trying out the lens. I then review the images at home and make a decision. However with what looks like being a short supply of lenses and the need to pre order I won’t be able to do my usual testing and instead will be buying on all the positive reviews I have read.

    I have the M1X and currently use the Panasonic 100-400. I get great results in good light but the speed of focus and less than ideal light and it really struggles to get decent results. If the subject if far away I find that shooting at 400mm is not really any good and have to drop back to 300mm.

    Will I see a vast improvement in the focus speed, especially on birds in flight? And will low light or subjects at the far distance range be markedly better than the lens I am currently using? The price isn’t the issue but the fear of making a big purchase to realise I haven’t gained as much as I hoped is what I am most concerned about.

    Regards
    Carol
    Australia

  2. Bill SincavageOn Dec. 31st, 2020 (2 months ago)

    Happy to see you finally received this lens. I can’t wait to see what you can do with it. Probably be perfect for shooting the Bighorns next year.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 31st, 2020 (2 months ago)

      It looks positive Bill. It feels very light for its size.

  3. Dennis LindenOn Dec. 27th, 2020 (2 months ago)

    Hey Daniel,
    Long time since my last reply to a blog post here, but, it’s been 2020 to forget.
    I began reading your blog because I was interested in the Lumix cameras and I was trying to decide on a platform for the next 10 years or so. Like so many who post here, I used Olympus, Lumix, Canon, Nikon and Sony. I’ve used FF, APSc and m43 systems. My last comparison was the Sony A7R3 and 100-400 GM versus the Olympus OMD EM1 mark 2 and the 100-400. I have chosen the Olympus system for the optics, for the responsiveness of the entire chain of photography from the selection of SD cards, to the transfer speeds to the computer to the post processing, if any.

    I am going to share a linked photo with you, hope you can see it on Flickr, because my new slogan for my OMD system is “even at slow capture, the OMD is faster than Hummingbird piss!”

    Piss on you 2020

    So, Piss on 2020 and let’s make some plans for 21 and 22 …

  4. Pierre ChéronOn Dec. 27th, 2020 (2 months ago)

    Hello,

    Sorry but your comparison is not complete.

    For example the Canon 200-400mm F4 + teleconverter x1.4:
    On FF: 200-560mm F4/5.6.
    On APS-C sensor: 320-896mm F4/5.6.
    On sensor x2 (with ring): 400-1120mm F4/5.6

    I agree on the price, it’s much cheaper

  5. Steven KornreichOn Dec. 26th, 2020 (2 months ago)

    Great initial review Dan on this lens. Like the rest of us I am on the fence now with Olympus, I shot the Sony A9/A9ll for wha I do winter sports and really liked the results yet never liked the handling of the Sony A9 series just to small for me even with the battery grip, though like you have mentioned the Sony 200-600 lens is a great lens for the money and much easier to handle then the Sony 400/2.8… Because of Covid, I am not shooting that much and had decided to sell my Sony gear in favor of a used Olympus OMD-EM1X and a used Olympus 40-150/2.8,, 300/4 and the 1.4X TC and at the same time I went out and purchased the new Canon R5, and some of the RF pro zoom lenses. I tried the RF 100-500 zoom excellent lens yet the zoom through is so long to go from 100-500 I returned the lens. So far enjoying the Olympus system and also enjoying the new Canon, a truly amazing camera.. Like you have said in the past “you get what you pay for”
    So now debating on the new Olympus 150-400/4.5 zoom which i will purchase as soon as JIP makes a firm commitment to continuing RD and making new OMD cameras

  6. Rick PophamOn Dec. 26th, 2020 (2 months ago)

    I doubt I’ll be able to afford this lens, but I might be able to rent one every now and then. I look forward to seeing how it works out for you. You’ll be one of the few experienced wildlife photographers to post your experience with it.

    I took advantage of the pre holiday (and pre divestiture) sales and upgraded my Olympus bodies to an E-M1.2 and an E-M1X, both HUGE upgrades from my E-M5 class bodies. Whatever happens with m4/3, I’ll be able to use these cameras for years.

    I hope you had a great Christmas, and best to you for the New Year.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 26th, 2020 (2 months ago)

      Thanks Rick. I also purchased the E-M1Marklll due to the amazing price. I plan to keep the Olympus 40-150mm on that body and the 150-400mm on the E-M1X. Should be a great combination.

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