All in one lenses, "superzooms" are very useful. In 35mm / full-frame terms the 28-200mm gradually became superseded by the 28-300mm (14-150mm for m4/3) offering a dramatic zoom range from wide-angle to telephoto. By reputation these lenses are somewhat of a compromise and in practice that generally turns out to be true. One exception is the Panasonic Leica 14-150mm Vario Elmar that I have talked about at length here. However that is a somewhat heavy and bulky lens and there are times when something lighter and compact would be more useful.
Having been impressed by the diminutive Olympus 9-18mm zoom, I decided to try their 14-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom. I bought it in an E-PL1 kit, as it works out cheaper that way. I was intending to sell the E-PL1 on, but may now keep it, but thats another story.
Yesterday the grim dull wet weather finally relented and I was able to get out and try it.
In terms of size, weight and handling this is a 10/10. Its easily the smallest and lightest lens I've ever used that covers this zoom range. I used it fitted to an Olympus E-P2 and it was a delight to use. There's no "zoom creep" and the zooming ring itself has a nice feel. AF speed is OK, not the fastest I've used, and indeed not much faster than the Vario-Elmar + adapter, but I didn't encounter many problems apart from a few mis-focuses, and occasional "hunting" back and forth. However this is not uncommon and it usually takes a while to get familiar with how a lens reacts.
The construction, like many m4/3 lenses, seems somewhat on the flimsy side, but I obviously can't comment yet on its long-term durability. However if you're considering one I would recommend that you treat it with care as there's no way you could ever describe it as "heavy-duty"
It is quite long and thin, and especially when extended out to 300mm.
First off let me say that this is a good lens in terms of image quality. Not great, but by no means the worst I've ever used. Its sharper than the 14-42mm Olympus kit lens but not as crisp as the 14-150 Vario Elmar, which I would have expected.
Bokeh is actually quite pleasant for a zoom lens. There's a bit of CA and fringing at the wide end but no worse than I would have expected. Its at its worst at the 300mm end, which again is not unusual in lenses of this range. The wide-angle end is pretty good, there's some barrel distortion, but again nothing untypical of the lens type.
As can be seen from the image below it handles flare pretty well.
All of this may seem to be a bit of a "Its OK, nothing great nothing terrible, pretty average" type of review, and indeed that is the case. However, thats not necessarily a bad thing. Because of the lenses size and construction, it would have been understandable if this had resulted in some optical compromises. It is substantially lighter and smaller than the Panasonic 14-140mm and produces results that are very similar.
Dpreview in their review of the lens at:-
concluded by saying:-
"Overall then the 14-150mm is superzoom that delivers a perfectly competent results in a small light package. Its image quality may not please the most critical of photographers, but unless you regularly examine your images at 100% or make large prints (A4 or bigger) its flaws are unlikely to be hugely apparent. In combination with a Pen-series camera it makes a highly flexible general-purpose package with image quality to match an SLR but without the associated bulk. So while it's perhaps not a lens for the purist photographer, for many others it will make a very agreeable travel companion indeed."
I think thats a little unfair. I'm a pretty critical photographer when it comes to lens performance, and I would have no reservations about using it for any of my work. Is it capable of producing the quality required for a front cover for a magazine? Well yes it is, providing you don't want to crop the image heavily.
To say its a useful lens is somewhat of an understatement. Its a very useful lens. Because of its relatively slow apertures you need good light to be able to use low ISO settings, if you are working hand-held, as my experiences in an arboretum yesterday proved. But this is hardly news to anyone who has ever used a superzoom before. Its no 14-150mm Vario-Elmar but if I'd never used that lens I would rate the Olympus quite highly. As mentioned before I find it very similar to the Panasonic 14-140mm in terms of image quality. There's obviously no image stabilisation in the lens, and the Panasonic does perform remarkably well in that regard. Incidentally the Olympus has near-silent focusing which makes it useful for video.
Its great virtues are its size and weight and if I'm about to set out on a long and / or gruelling walk then its going to be my lens of choice. For less strenuous excursions I would choose the Vario-Elmar because it is the better lens, but the Olympus is a satisfactory alternative.
I would make one negative point, in that, if bought on its own, £500 is a bit steep. Buying it as part of a kit it cost me around £400, even less if I sell the E-PL1. Thats probably a bit more like it. £350-400 would be what I consider a fair price.
Words - D
Images - D & A