Kit zoom with a lot of extra reach

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bluevellet Veteran Member • Posts: 4,004
Kit zoom with a lot of extra reach
4

Pros:

  • useful 10.7x zoom range
  • small for the zoom range
  • weather-sealed
  • good IQ, especially at the wider end
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • slow aperture limits you to daylight shooting
  • widest end not 12mm
  • IQ gets weaker at the long end
  • minimal focusing distance could be better
  • some zoom creep

This is a long-term review of the Olympus M. Zuiko 14-150mm f4-5.6 mark II lens, a small, yet important update to one of the oldest m43 lenses. The old lens had the same useful focal range and variable aperture, but the update adds cosmetic changes, some extra glass coatings and most importantly weather-sealing making it a good yet the cheapest travel option for m43 camera users.

At 285 grams, the 14-150 is on the lighter side. But it fits better on mid-range, camera bodies (EM5 mark II pictured in bottom) and bigger bodies. Simply put, small m43 bodies like GM series and Pen cameras (both pictured above the EM5 Mark II) are even lighter so the lens feels front heavy attached to them. Imbalance issues aside, the lens is still perfectly operational regardless of the m43 camera body you use.

As implied, this is not a product that pretends to be "pro" or aims at some other high standard. Consider it low end from the get-go. The exterior is solid yet with very plasticky construction, though the mount is fortunately metal. At its widest zoom range, the lens measures around 10cm but it doubles in length when fully zoomed in. The overall package is still conveniently light and balances well with mid range camera bodies like the EM-5 line from Olympus or the G series from Panasonic.

14mm (28mm as a FF equivalent) is this lens at its widest, fairly standard for kit zooms, enough for some street, landscapes and architecture though still a bit tight in my humble opinion. But where the 14-150mm is likely to interest buyers is that it goes well beyond the long end of typical kit zooms, going all the way to 150mm (300mm in FF terms). This is mid telephoto territory. Can be used for faraway vistas, some wildlife but not quite enough for serious birding. This broad zoom range coupled with relative small size and certified weather-sealing make it quite a versatile travel zoom.

The long end of the zoom (150mm) is not quite enough to catch birds hiding in trees. Often just out of reach.

That sounds good but is there a catch? Well, something's got to give as with most kit zooms, aperture is modest. It starts at f/4 at its widest zoom range drops all the way to f/5.6 at the long end. This is not too bad, but it limits you more to broad daylight shooting. This is especially true if you zoom a lot where you need a higher shutter speed and if lighting isn't too good then the only option left for proper exposure is to raise the ISO sensitivity. This might not be such an issue with the very latest m43 camera like the OM-1 (released in 2022), but older generations of m43 cameras, like those from a decade ago, have a much lower high ISO ceiling and image quality falls apart well before you reach it (ISO 1600 was my personal limit with my old E-PL1/E-P3).

Many photographers obsess over subject separation. In other words, they don't want flat, smartphone-like pictures but would rather have photos with more depth. It's one of the reasons people still buy (interchangeable lens) cameras these days. But modest apertures on lenses make that harder to achieve. On paper, this can be an issue with the 14-150, but the lens has an ace up its sleeve that helps mitigate that weakness: it can zoom in a lot farther than the usual kit zoom, where subject separation is a lot easier to achieve. Shooting at 100mm or 150mm is not necessarily convenient for all situations but when used properly, the effect is quite decent.

If you lure the little birdies closer to you, you will be more likely to get the shot

In good light, the 14-150 is pretty snappy and silent with AF. It works well with entry-level and mid range camera bodies. But it wasn't designed for an era of 25+fps shooting like some more high-end m43 cameras can do. The lens can still cope, but it is a bit slower to correct itself so you will end up with more out-of-focus shots in such extreme scenarios.

Another constraint with focus is when you do it manually. You have a dedicated focus ring on the lens, but unlike some of the more high-end lenses for m43, it's just focus-by-wire. Delayed response, imprecise. I don't like it. I just avoid using it, preferring instead to retry autofocus or use the touch AF feature of most m43 cameras.

Shooting at 14mm at the maximum aperture of F4 doesn't isolate your subjects much.

And of course, the thing people care most about lenses is image quality. Here the 14-150 delivers colorful and contrasty images and certainly good at a glance. But if you pixel peep a bit, they are not as sharp as some of the best lenses on the system. This is something that gets more obvious if you use the image stacking feature ("high-res mode"). And here, we were talking about 14-40mm range. If you start to really exploit the zoom, especially mid-range, things will get a lot softer. Not unusable, but still noticeable. If you shoot portraits, that softness might actually be welcomed. But if you care about crisp details like with landscapes, this might be an issue. Sharpness can be improved upon by stopping down the lens and sharpening can be done in post as well, but only so much.

Fortunately, shooting HD and 4K video is less affected by such concern over sharpness. Although I do not own a Panasonic GH6, I am guessing shooting 5.7k video might be less forgiving as it is closer to the native still photo resolution.

It's a lot easier to isolate your subjects at 150mm. Even at the maximal aperture of F/5.6.

To be honest, I don't use this lens all that much and that is in large part because I have options. If I want reach, I use the 75-300mm, especially to catch feathery/furry critters hiding in trees. If I know I will be doing general photography, then I can fall back on the classic 12-40 f2.8 Pro zoom lens, a faster, sharper and more advanced lens. And if lighting is an issue then there are always bright primes for the job. And yet when it comes to travel, you are likely more limited with what you can carry and explore areas where you don't know exactly what to expect then I think the 14-150 hits the spot, mostly. A bit of a swiss army knife for most (daylight) situations.

So, for anyone in a market for a travel zoom, just buy the 14-150? If you are on a budget, I would say yes. But there are other options to consider.

The most obvious alternative is a similarly old travel zoom by Panasonic, the 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6. I have never tried it myself, but aside from the obvious slightly less maximum zoom (140mm), the lens has the reputation of being sharper than the Olympus 14-150mm but on average the lens tends to be a bit more expensive too. This lens also went through 1 revision so if you want the best one, get the last one (the one with weather resistance and labelled "II"). One other noteworthy feature is optical image stabilisation which can be combined with in-body stabilisation, granted it is with a Panasonic camera body (with IBIS).

The lens gets softest midway through the zoom range. Not ideal for sharp pictures, but rather flattering for portraits.

Next up Olympus trying to one-up itself with another travel with even greater range, the 12-200mm f/3.5-6.3. Never tried that one either, but it comes with more bulk and a bigger price tag. Basically no free lunch.

And finally comes the option for those who want quality and feature galore: the Olympus M Zuiko 12-100 F4 Pro. You sacrifice at the long end (100mm instead 150mm), but gain at the wide end (12mm instead of 14mm). But otherwise, you get better IQ, constant aperture, better built, optical stabilisation, focus clutch, function button. It's the best, but it's priced accordingly.

 bluevellet's gear list:bluevellet's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 Nikon Z6 OM-1 Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro Nikon Z 40mm F2 +18 more
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm F4-5.6 II
Lens • Micro Four Thirds • V316020BU000
Announced: Feb 5, 2015
bluevellet's score
4.0
Average community score
4.2
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