Special Glass Is Expensive, But It’s Worth It

Posted Sep. 23rd, 2021 by Daniel J. Cox

A recent blog post by the folks over at Petapixel inspired me to write my own take on how special glass is expensive, but I believe is worth it. I’m writing this having just finished a month in the wilds of South Africa and having shot over 13,000 images, most of them with the very expensive Olympus 150-400mm zoom lens.

Special glass is expensive but it's worth it
Thanks to Natural Exposures Explorer Ranier Martins for these photos of me shooting the 150-400mm in South Africa. Photo © Rainer Martens

Many who follow this blog know I recently produced a video titled: In the field comparing Olympus 150-400mm zoom with Sony 200-600mm. After shooting both lenses for nearly a year I decided to downsize my camera bag on my recent trip to South Africa.

Special glass is expensive but it's worth it
Photo © Rainer Martens

In doing so I left the Sony at home. This gave me the ability to really see some of what are mostly advantages of the Olympus system. In other words, I’m still not done comparing these two lenses/systems.

Special glass is expensive but it's worth it
This is part of the image below enlarged to 100%. Shot with the E-M1X and the 150-400mm with the 1.2X teleconverter engaged making it equivalent 1000mm F/5.6
Special glass is expensive but it's worth it
Southern yellow-billed hornbill feeding on bugs on the grass of our lodge, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Shot with the E-M1X and the 150-400mm with the 1.2X teleconverter engaged making it equivalent 1000mm F/5.6

Specialized glass makes all the difference

The Petapixel blog post talks about the technology many camera makers are using to produce really, really sharp lenses. That technology all revolves around aspherical lenses that fix aberrations and improve sharpness.

The video I’ve linked to above is produced by Canon, but all the manufacturers are producing similar optics. The catch is the kind and number of special lens elements are directly related to price.

Olympus using new glass I had never heard of

The Olympus lens has high-end glass I had never heard of such as HR and EDA lenses. In other words the more special elements there are, the more expensive the lens will cost. Below is a visual showing the many different kinds of specialized glass the Olympus lens employs. Thank you to Imaging Resource for this visual.

Sony using Aspherical and ED elements

Sony too is using Aspherical and ED elements in their 200-600mm, glass that at one time was considered as good as it gets. But Olympus found a way to add even more resolving power with their extra sophisticated glass elements.

Final thoughts

After shooting this past month exclusively with the Olympus 150-400mm, I can tell you that I came away feeling this lens is a game-changer for the work I produce. In short, special glass is expensive, but it’s worth it. Especially when it comes to birds. The resolving power this lens has for the fine feather details is absolutely astonishing. Combine that with the extra reach of the 1.2X teleconverter, along with the staggering 7.5 stops of image stabilization and you get a lens that has no equal at this point.

I can tell you that Sony is no slouch in the very sharp images it produces. But… the Olympus just has a substantial edge when it comes to image resolution and details. Now, all we need is a new Olympus body with a new Micro Four Thirds sensor and even better AF capabilities.

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  1. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    JayOn Sep. 23rd, 2021 (1 month ago)

    Dan, I have been following your wonderful journey comparing the Oly beast of a wildlife lens and the sony system. I agree with you that when the playing field gets a little level with AF from the new stacked mft sensor, shooting with olympus will have significant weight/ reach advantages compared to any other larger format sensor. In fact, I am still very happy with my omd em1 MII for all genres except fast action wildlife / birds in flight. I am curious, if you are still reaching for 300mm f/4 After getting the 150-400? Thanks again for all the information, reviews and education.
    Best,
    Jay

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