This is a hands-on comparison (with sample photos) of the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6 R lens from Olympus, both made for the Micro Four Thirds system. I also talk about the original 40-150mm f4-5.6 MFT lens, which is now discontinued, and about the Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f3.5-4.5 lens made for the Four Thirds system. This comparison was made for those of you who are thinking of getting one of them or upgrading to the Pro lens and would like to find out more details.
The E-M1X, the E-M1 Mark III and the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens were on loan from Olympus Romania.
This is a hands-on comparison (with sample photos) of the 25mm f1.2 Pro lens and the 25mm f1.8 lens from Olympus, both made for the Micro Four Thirds system. It was made for those of you who are thinking of getting one of them or upgrading to the Pro lens and would like to find out more details.
The E-M1 Mark III and the 25mm f1.2 lens were on loan from Olympus Romania.
We had one of the few snowfalls of this winter come down on our town (Medias, RO) today, starting at about 4 pm. By 6 pm or so, it had begun to settle on the ground, which is when I took a walk through the town’s old center to capture some photographs.
A cold front is projected to move in, so we’ll have negative (Celsius) temperatures (both highs and lows) for the next several days, which I hope means that the snow will stick around.
That incoming cold front meant that the air was quite chilly, unusually so for a snowfall, and the tips of my fingers did not thank me for not wearing gloves.
It was quite peaceful in the town, with very few people walking around. We are certainly living through strange times…
On the bright side, I am using a beast of a camera these days: it’s an Olympus E-M1X, their top of the line, their “swan song”, which they put out before selling their camera division to Japan Industrial Partners. I have it on loan for a couple of weeks, along with a remarkable lens, the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.2 Pro. That’s the combo I used for these images, and what a combo! Even wide open at f1.2 it’s incredibly sharp, and it focuses so quickly, even in very low light. It is a joy to use and it is a testament, in more ways than one, to the kind of work Olympus could put out when they were still making cameras.
I thought it’d be interesting to share with you what I’ve done since then. What camera and lenses did I buy and why? Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense. My gear page is a clear list of what I’m using these days. I thought I’d also take you into my photo catalog, so you can see exactly what cameras and lenses I’ve been using.
That partial list of cameras you see above is only part of the picture. There are over 92 cameras and scanners listed in my catalog, but that screenshot is important because you can see that most of the action is happening with Olympus cameras: there’s the E-3, E-330, E-500, E-510, E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-P5, and the E-PL1.
When we look at lists of the cameras used in each of the years since 2018, the picture becomes even clearer.
When you look at 2020, you’ll see a new camera: an Olympus PEN-F. I bought it this year, less than a month ago, and it is now my main camera. Not that it should come as a surprise, because you can clearly see that PEN cameras have been my main cameras during these past couple of years.
My new secondary camera is the Olympus E-3, a flagship camera launched in 2007. That’s right, it’s a 13-year old camera, but it’s so good! It’s designed so well, and it feels so comfortable to hold and use. The images are wonderful as well: clear, sharp, colorful. It’s also splashproof and dustproof. I couldn’t ask for more.
I used to worry about megapixels, but not anymore. I have no complaints about the 10 megapixel images from the E-3, and the 20 megapixel images from the PEN-F are a wonderful luxury. When I need a lot of resolution, I can always stick my PEN-F on a tripod, put it in High Res mode and get 80 megapixel images!
If you’re still worrying about resolution, please realize that 10 megapixel images are more than plenty for A4 prints (that’s roughly 8×10 prints). Even 8 megapixel images print just fine on A4 sheets, which is more than the size you’d need for a book of photographs. As for online uses, even a 2 megapixel image will do great. You don’t need a lot of megapixels! The extra resolution is nice, but it complicates storage and processing needs and it’s simply too much for most uses.
Back in 2018, when I wrote my article, I may have concluded that the best full-frame camera was the Sony A7RIII, but I also concluded in the video guide, that the best camera for me is the camera that fits my needs best. And when I sat down to think about the cameras I’d enjoyed using and taking with me (that’s the important part, the willingness to carry the camera along so I can take photos with it), I had to conclude that I enjoyed using Olympus cameras, and that I really liked the PEN line of cameras.
Using the PEN E-P2 back in 2010 was a photographic revelation. It was a new way of taking photos for me. It was such a joy to hold that camera, to frame an image in the viewfinder and to press the shutter button. The images were so good for such a tiny camera. To this day I regret not switching over right there and then, but I was so invested in Canon gear at the time.
So the natural thing for me to do, once I admitted this to myself, was to begin purchasing PEN cameras and MFT lenses. I had a couple of concerns as detailed below, so I proceeded slowly:
One way I love using my cameras is to shoot wide-open, to get proper separation between my subject and the background, and this was a concern as I began purchasing Micro Four Thirds gear: would I be able to get a shallow depth of field from cameras known for their high depth of field? The answer turned out to be a resounding yes, and it was the 45mm f1.8 lens that made me go “wow”.
Here is one sample photograph.
Another way I love using my cameras is in low light, particularly at dusk. With previous Olympus cameras that I’d reviewed, I knew I couldn’t go above ISO 800. I wanted to see if things improved with the newer PEN cameras. When I reviewed the PEN E-P2 in 2010, I went to ISO 1600 and 3200 and the results were usable, but not ideal. I also knew I hadn’t really tested the E-P2 fairly, because the widest lens I’d used on it was f3.5 at its max (it was the kit 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens), while for my other cameras, I had f1.4 lenses which obviously helped them gather much more light and perform much better in low light. Also, what had improved a lot over the years was the ability of software like Lightroom and Olympus Workspace (formerly known as Olympus Viewer) to apply good noise reduction to high-ISO images.
Incidentally, even with the aid of f1.4 lenses, I was thoroughly disappointed with the high-ISO performance of my Canon 7D over the years, to the point where I took to reusing my old Canon 5D in low light, so I wouldn’t end up muttering curses under my breath when I developed the images.
So once I bought the E-P2 in 2018, I took photos with it in low light once again, this time with proper wide-open lenses like the 17mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8 and I was thoroughly surprised at how well the camera performed. Here are a couple of samples.
These were developed in Adobe Lightroom, but I will say this: Olympus Workspace is much, much better at reducing noise in high-ISO images from Olympus cameras than Lightroom. If you’re disappointed with how your final images look after you put them through Lightroom, put those same images through Olympus Workspace and you’ll be surprised at the results. I know I was! Granted, it is slower to work with and it doesn’t offer all of the file management, presets and collections options that make it so convenient to use Lightroom, but it has no competition when it comes to getting the best image quality from your developed photos.
Seeing how well the E-P2 performed with proper lenses, I went ahead and purchased the E-P3 and the E-P5. I was also lucky to find an E-P1 in very good condition, so I bought that as well.
As I used them, I saw that things got better with each model, from the E-P1 to the E-P2, from E-P2 to the E-P3, and from the E-P3 to the E-P5, in terms of high-ISO noise management and many other things, to the point where photos taken in dim indoor lighting turn out like this:
I have absolutely no complaints about images like these, so naturally my concerns about the performance of Olympus cameras in low light went up in smoke, so to speak.
Once these two concerns — shallow depth of field and low light performance — were nullified, I could truly begin to use my PEN cameras as my primary cameras, and I began purchasing more lenses. I now have nine MFT lenses and two converters (macro and ultra-wide), covering a focal range of 9-300mm (equivalent to 18-600mm in 35mm format), so my needs are pretty well met. More importantly, I’ve proven to myself that I can use PEN cameras professionally, and that I can use Olympus cameras full-time for my photographic needs, which is what I’ve done since 2018.
I have had a soft spot for Olympus cameras for some time. My first proper digital camera was the Olympus C3000Z, which I used from 2004-2007.
The C770UZ was next, and I used it from 2005-2010.
I then got the PEN E-PL1, which I used from 2012-2018 as my primary travel camera and as my backup camera at home. I got it from Costco as a kit with the 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses, and loved taking it along on trips, because it was so tiny and light and with those two lenses, I was covering a focal range of 14-150mm (equivalent to 28-300mm in 35mm terms).
From 2018 onward, I’ve used my various PEN cameras as my primary cameras, with my PEN E-P5 racking up the most shots at over 65K. Now of course the PEN-F is my primary camera and I’m very happy. When I sit at my desk, I keep it there in front of me and I admire its design as I work on my various projects. I love it!
So there you have it! I hope this was helpful in some way. Thanks for reading!
I had read that daytime live composite shots were possible on the PEN-F, in addition to the nighttime shots (which let you capture star trails), so I tried it out today. Because the minimum shutter speed for each frame is 0.5 seconds and the smallest aperture is f8, I needed to use an ND filter to compensate for the abundant daylight, but thankfully the one I had did the trick. Since there are no stars out in the daytime, what you can capture are cloud movements, and what you get are some pretty amazing photos, the sort of which I wasn’t able to capture before. You’ll be able to appreciate the difference once you look at a normal photo of the sky and clouds (see below). The same sky captured with Live Composite looks amazing! I’ve also included photos of a couple of our cats, a few spring flowers and the waning moon. Enjoy!
The theme for these photographs is day and night — more precisely, the night that followed that day, which was a beautiful spring day by the way, as you’ll see here. That night I tried capturing star trails for the first time. My PEN-F has a feature called Live Composite, which takes a series of short exposures and stacks them together in the camera, combining only the areas that contain changes in light and displaying the progress as it goes. This means that once you get it going, you can let it capture the star trails by itself, checking in every once in a while to see its progress on the display, which will also show you the histogram. This information updates with each new image, allowing you to get exactly the amount of exposure and star trails you like. It’s a very cool feature, which Olympus launched on their top cameras four years ago. Since I just bought my PEN-F, I only got to use it now, and it’s so cool!
Wait, didn’t I just post about my E-3? Yes, I did. This is about a different camera that I bought recently, the E-330, which was part of the same EVOLT series of digital cameras — which was itself part of the Four Thirds System (the precursor of the Micro Four Thirds System). The E-330 was launched at the start of 2006, so it pre-dates the E-3 by almost two years. I found this one in almost new condition with a really low shutter count (only around 2000 exposures) and the 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, at a really good price. I’d wanted to at least see the E-330 up close and use it ever since I reviewed the E-500, but I couldn’t get a hold of it back then. Fast forward to fourteen years later and now I have it.
The E-330 is such an interesting camera. It was the first interchangeable-lens-type AF digital SLR in the world to offer full-time subject framing via a rear-mounted LCD monitor. That’s right — the ubiquitous tilt-screen or articulating screen that’s a normal feature of mirrorless cameras nowadays was first offered on the Olympus E-330. Also a first was Live View, or what you might now call a live through-the-lens (TTL) display of your subject, so you could either use the viewfinder or the screen. I know you’re used to this kind of thing now, but back in 2006, this was amazing new technology.
There were two modes for Live View. In Mode A, you’d close a flap over the viewfinder and the camera would then focus on the subject matter by itself when you pressed the shutter button, and in Mode B, you could focus manually using the live display and a 10x macro view that allowed you to dial in the focus perfectly.
The E-330 also featured another Olympus innovation, SSWF (a dust reduction system) that had been introduced in 2003 with the E1 and then perfected with the E-500 and E-300. Having used the E1, E-500 and the E-510 and E-410 back in 2007, I can tell you this dust reduction system worked flawlessly. I never had to remove dust spots from the photos taken with Olympus cameras, while I was always forced to remove them from photos taken with other cameras. Also, this camera had dual card slots (CF and xD) and keep in mind this was not a top of the line DSLR, which is where you’d typically find this feature. Also, (bonus!) it uses the same batteries (BLM-1) as my E-3.
Another interesting feature of the E-330 was (and still is) MF (Manual Focus) Bracketing. This was in addition to WB, AE and FL Bracketing. MF Bracketing would let you select from options for 5-frame or 7-frame series with 1-step or 2-step focus shifting, and the camera would then take that series of frames, automatically moving the focus point bit by bit. This would allow you to do focus stacking in post production, or simply to select the frame that you felt had the best focus point. Nowadays Olympus cameras such as the OM-D series will not only do MF Bracketing, but also do in-camera focus stacking, combining those frames into a single image with better overall focus. This is great for macro photography, where the focus (or the depth of field) can get quite thin, to the point where it’s impossible to get the whole subject (insect, flower) in focus without focus stacking. This next image is an example of this feature.
The E-330 also has a pleasing and different design. Even though it’s a DSLR with an optical prism, it has no prism bump on top. It was just so different from other DSLRs of the time. It was this cute little camera with rounded edges and this unusual top. It’s a wonderful thing to behold and to hold in your hand. Yes, it has its limitations, but it’s so well-made and for its time, it worked brilliantly well. I also love that it has a remote control receiver that works with a universal Olympus remote (the RM-1), which allows me to control the camera wirelessly even in Bulb mode. I really enjoyed using it during the last week or so that I’ve had it, and I’ll look forward to using it again and again in the future.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos in the gallery enclosed here, they were taken with the E-330.
I bought an Olympus E-3 a couple of days ago. Its full name is the EVOLT E-3, and it was Olympus’ flagship DSLR back in 2007. It was announced on October 17, 2007 and it became available on November 23 of that same year. I realize it’s now 2020, thirteen years later, but I found it online in really good condition, with a low shutter count (only 8000 or so exposures) and at a good price. Other than a small crack in the lower left-hand corner of the LCD, this camera is in great shape and it’s a real joy to use.
I was present at the camera’s launch party in NYC on October 16, 2007. You can see my write-up of the event, with photos and video, in this post. I would have loved to purchase the camera at the time, but I was invested in Canon gear at the time. The E-3 was a great camera for its time, quite ahead of the competition in many ways. The supersonic dust reduction function that’s so common on all of the interchangeable-lens cameras nowadays was then only present on Olympus cameras, because they came up with it. The swiveling LCD, also ubiquitous nowadays, was a novelty only present on this camera and on an older model, the EVOLT E-330 DSLR. The in-body image stabilization, a big selling point on so many expensive cameras nowadays, was yet another feature that Olympus invented and was only present on their latest cameras such as their new flagship and other models launched that year. The E-3 was a dustproof and splashproof camera, and at least two of the lenses also launched with it, the Zuiko 12-60mm SWD f2.8-4 and the Zuiko 50-200mm SWD f2.8-3.5, were also dustproof and splashproof. This was incredible at the time. All these features and capabilities seem normal now, but they were extraordinary back then.
Here is a gallery of photographs of the camera. Please forgive the dust specks. These are real world photographs of equipment that’s actively in use. It’s not a photo shoot. I didn’t airbrush it. I didn’t clean all its nooks and crannies. I simply placed it on a piece of furniture and took these photos.
One of the big concerns with Olympus cameras at that time (around 2007) was their performance in low light (at high ISO settings). Typically there was quite a bit of noise at 800 ISO and above, but not so on the E-3, where low-light performance was much better than that of less expensive cameras such as the E-510, which had been launched earlier that year. The E-3 was a flagship camera after all. As a matter of fact, when I look at low-light photos taken with the E-3 now, they’re just as good as the “gold standard” of the day, the Canon 5D, and this is remarkable given that the E-3 could only gather half the light with its Four Thirds sensor size. Since 2007, the noise reduction capabilities of software such as Lightroom have also improved by leaps and bounds, to the point where high-noise photos from the past can look quite good when developed within the software. I admit that I also like a bit of noise. Sometimes I like a lot of noise (up to a point). It adds character to an image. Granularity, that organic quality of film that’s missing from crisp, clean and clear digital images taken at 100-200 ISO, tends to make a photograph more endearing.
When I began to use the camera in earnest, I looked for the mode dial out of habit. There wasn’t one where I’d typically find it. Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this at the camera’s launch event and surprisingly enough, I hadn’t noticed it in press photos of the camera either. Now I began to panic a bit. Where was the damned thing? Did it break off? After all, this was a second-hand camera. Where was it?!
It wasn’t to be found, because there isn’t one. I had to look up the user manual on the Olympus Japan website in order to find out that indeed, it didn’t break off and there isn’t one. You switch the mode by pressing the Mode button on the left-hand top side of the camera and by rotating the dial on the back of the camera. Once you do it, it becomes second-nature and you begin to wonder why other cameras have to have specific mode dials. After all, how often do you switch the mode? Really, how often? My cameras typically stay on Aperture priority virtually all of the time. I switch to Shutter priority when I have to capture high-speed images or when I want to force motion blur, but that’s seldom, and when I do night photography, I stick it in Manual mode, but really, the camera stays in Aperture mode most of the time.
I thought I’d do something now that I couldn’t do at the time of the E-3’s launch, which is to sit the camera side by side with my 5D and see how the two stack up. Which one’s taller? Which one’s wider? How do the grips compare? How do the various buttons compare? I was surprised to find out that the E-3 is just a bit taller than the 5D, and that the 5D is quite a bit wider, about 2 cm wider. You don’t feel this until you take the cameras in your hand. The E-3 sits a little better in the hand while you can feel the 5D’s center of gravity pulling it to the left a bit. I also like the E-3’s many buttons, which make it easier to get to certain features that are otherwise buried in the menus. And that’s another thing: the E-3 is packed with features compared to the 5D. The 5D’s design is simple and curved, while the E-3’s is angled, full of corners and turns and also some curves — like this lovely curve on the left hand side, near the lens release button.
The E-3 may have a more complicated design, but I like it. I liked this camera from the get-go, and I’m glad I could buy it now, almost thirteen years after it was made.
Having just compared the looks of two of the leading cameras of their day, I will also say this: comparing the features of various cameras in an effort to see which one’s better is useless. Yes, I mean that! It’s useless because in the end, what really matters are these two things:
Do you like that camera? If yes, buy it.
Can you take the photos that you want to take with that camera? If yes, buy it.
Worrying about this and that feature and why it is or it isn’t present on a particular model is a waste of time. Watching camera comparisons and reading reviews ad nauseam is useless. You need to know what you want from a camera, come up with a list of “finalists”, and then you need to go and hold those cameras in your hand and see how they fit you, see how easily you can access the functions that matter to you. Get the one that you like best. That’s it. I know this is a bit of a rant, and it’s as much addressed to me as it is to you, because in spite of knowing these things, I still tend to obsess over some features sometimes.
I got the E-3 with the 40-150mm f3.5-4.5 lens, which was at the time a premium version of the regular (kit) 40-150mm lens, whose aperture range was f4-5.6. This is a wonderful lens. And now that I have a Four Thirds camera, I will likely get other Four Thirds lenses, such as a wide zoom, a large aperture prime, perhaps a macro, a 35-100mm f2.0 SWD zoom, I’ll see…
I’ve been taking quite a few photos with the E-3 since I bought it, and I’ve been carrying everywhere with me. As I say elsewhere on this site and on other sites, I always have a camera with me. I seldom rely on my phone to take photos that I care about, simply because taking photos with a mobile phone is a constant disappointment to me when it comes to the quality of the images. In order to get proper keepsakes, you need a real camera, and the E-3 is a real camera. It’s a flagship camera and it feels like a flagship; it’s solidly made and it has withstood the test of time beautifully. Everything still works on it: all the buttons, all the switches, all the features — and the images I get with it are wonderful. I also love the mechanical sound of the shutter on it. The shutter sound is after all the most prominent sort of feedback one gets from the camera when they use it, and I want my cameras to sound good to my ears. The E-3 definitely sounds good. I’m so glad I had the chance to buy this camera after all these years!
I’ll leave you with a few of the images I’ve taken with it. Enjoy!
Summer doesn’t officially start until the solstice on June 21, so even though it feels very much like summer outside, we can still call it spring. Here is a gallery of photographs taken recently in our garden (on the 9th) with my PEN E-P2 and the 12-50mm lens, which does double duty as a macro when you need it. I’m so glad I bought this camera. It came out in 2010 and even now, in 2018, I can’t call it outdated when I can take photographs like these with it. Look at the colors, at the details, at the clarity and the bokeh. It’s so good 😍. I know I shouldn’t praise my own photos and I’m not, I just really like this camera. I love all my PEN cameras, they’re awesome little beasts.