An official image from the OM System campaign, which I had the honor to contribute to.
NOTE: Article Author: Petr Bambousek, Translation by ChatGPT-4
In addition to the new camera OM-1 II another novelty announced by OM System on January 30, 2024, is the OM 150-600mm/5.0-6.3 IS lens. Lenses of this range have been on the market for non-full frame bodies for some time, but by using this lens on an m43 format, we gain a field of view of 300-1200mm! This is something that requires a bit of learning to handle, as it is different from the commonly known focal lengths. Below are my observations from testing the lens. Unfortunately, I had the lens available during a time when the weather was quite poor, animals were hiding, and opportunities were scarce. I was briefly able to use it while filming a promo video in Spain. I didn’t take it on a trip to Borneo because carrying two long lenses would cause problems with weight and luggage space, and frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy swapping them there. I didn’t go to Borneo to test new products, but to photograph its beauty.
Dimensions and weight of the OM 150-600mm. The lens is mounted with a built-in Arca-Swiss notch on a Peak Design Travel Tripod
What do I generally look for in lenses?
Testing with a camera is a bit simpler; just attach a short focal length and test the functions comfortably at home. For a 300-1200mm focal length, obviously, we don’t have a long enough apartment. Finding an objective view on a lens of this range feels a bit challenging to me subjectively, as you need plenty of objective opportunities. Whenever I have the chance, I primarily observe the build quality, ergonomics, accessibility of controls, stabilization, sharpness, and speed. It’s also important to note that I create the vast majority of my photos handheld, which significantly affects my impressions. When I was still shooting with Canon, I longed for a 200-400mm lens with a built-in TC. I had the chance to try it at a demo event, where it was mounted on a tripod, and everything looked great. When I held it in my hands, I was struck by how different it felt to operate. The TC switch on the left, easily accessible from the tripod, was practically unreachable handheld, as were the switches on the lens. Then, after a few years, I got my hands on the OM 150-400mm TC IS (referred to as Gandalf) and it was clear that this lens is unequivocally designed for handheld shooting, as everything is easily accessible without having to reach around. The new OM 150-600mm is similar in this regard. Each lens and, in principle, each system has its own purpose. During the testing of the OM novelty, I had Gandalf (OM 150-400mm) at my disposal, which I use regularly, so my observations will logically often be related to it. It’s good to take into account that Gandalf belongs to the PRO class of lenses, the new 150-600mm does not. I didn’t have the third high-range lens, OM 100-400mm, available, so I will refer to it more in memories from when I tested it. So much for the important introduction to understanding the context of my testing. So, how do I see the new OM 150-600mm?
Length of the OM 150-600mm vs Gandalf (150-400mm)
I would say – solid. I don’t really have any complaints; longer use might reveal a susceptibility to scratches, but the lens feels quite solid in hand. In terms of size, it’s quite close to Gandalf. They share easily accessible controls on the left side (reachable with the thumb) – switches for stabilization/focusing/limiter, a programmable button, and both rings (zoom and focus). Zooming on the OM 150-600mm occurs while simultaneously extending the lens. Two levels of extension stiffness can be adjusted with a switch on the right side of the lens (reachable with the other fingers). There are three stiffness options – S/T/L. S (Smooth) offers the least resistance and is used for cases where you need to frequently and quickly change the focal length. You can use both the zoom ring and the so-called “pumping” method, i.e., grabbing the lens at the front near the aperture and pulling forward and back. In this mode, be aware that the lens will extend by its own weight while walking. If you need a tighter zoom movement, there is the middle mode T (Tight). It offers a bit more resistance and keeps the lens at a specific zoom position. Finally, there is the L (Lock) mode, which locks the zoom at 150mm (it doesn’t work at other positions) and is intended for transport and moving around in the forest. Like Gandalf, the 150-600mm also has an Arca-Swiss standard notch for tripod head mounting built directly into the tripod foot, something I would mandate by some directive; no need to deal with a special plate, its slippage, and the associated frustration. The tripod foot is great in this regard. Less great is its short length, which starts to press into the palm after a while, while the longer foot on the 150-400mm pleasantly extends beyond it. This is especially noticeable when extended to full zoom, as the lens’s center of gravity shifts and the pressure in the palm becomes more noticeable. Personally, I would decree that the length of the tripod foot of long lenses should match the average size of a person’s palm with an average salary. The solution is to add a longer plate, which we just dismissed a moment ago, or to simply get used to it. The tripod thread still lacks a locking click at every 90° rotation, which is very handy on Gandalf. They do share the same system for attaching the lens hood and also have the same 95mm filter thread diameter. It should be added that the lens is sealed against water ingress according to the IPX1 standard (against dripping water – 1mm per minute, in normal operating position (test duration 10 min)). In terms of build quality and ergonomics, it’s great for its class; I would extend the tripod foot and wouldn’t mind locking clicks.
The OM 150-600 lens expanded the current range of lenses with stabilization. In this case, there is a clear improvement from the OM 100-400mm, where the stabilization is not synchronized with the body. The new lens has synchronized stabilization and it’s really noticeable when looking through the viewfinder. Stabilization not only helps maintain longer exposure times than usual but also significantly aids in maintaining precise focus when shooting handheld with such long lenses. The natural sway of the body in such a narrow field of view is absolutely significant. Not to mention that looking through a 1200mm focal length is unfamiliar to us and it takes a while to learn to find birds. Let alone keep them in the field of view when they start moving. Stabilization then plays a key role. The historical rule says that the comfortable time for maintaining sharp photos is the inverse of the focal length. So, if we take a 600mm angle of view, which corresponds to 1200mm on a full-frame, comfort should be found somewhere at times from 1/1200s and faster. Of course, this is theory, based on times when stabilization was a term from sci-fi movies. Today, some form of stabilization is almost standard and it’s good to test where your limit is with a particular lens. I found mine at 600mm (1200mm) around 1/60s. I find sharp photos in a series even around 1/30s, but maybe one in ten. Conversely, at 1/80s, it’s the vast majority. Everyone finds their limit somewhere else, it’s good to test it, for example, with the “plush toy test”, which belongs to the highest level of my empirical measurements. Especially there, I verify sharpness. From a stabilization perspective, I have no complaints; the image stops and there’s nothing to discuss.
Of all the parameters, this is key for me in a lens. And that’s when my favorite plush toy test comes into play. It’s hard to compare how the drawing approaches the standard I’m used to (Gandalf) in normal operation. I also don’t have a testing studio available, so I evaluate sharpness “by eye”. The methodology of my sophisticated and double-blind testing was as follows:
+ During testing, I took both lenses to the forest on one gloomy day.
+ I attached the plush toy to a tripod and gradually photographed the scene with both lenses at key focal lengths (150-200-300-400-500-600, etc.).
+ Each time it was with a 4s self-timer and 10 shots in a row.
+ I picked the sharpest one at each focal length and saved the series.
+ I then did the same with the TC 1.4x converter.
+ With Gandalf, I took two additional variants – with the built-in TC and a combination of the built-in TC + TC 1.4.
Whoever doesn’t pass my sophisticated plush toy test simply doesn’t make the cut
I returned home chilled like a pretzel, thinking that launching new products in spring or summer would be much more pleasant for testing. You can download the entire set of photos for your own use in the original RAW [ZIP 550 MB] and play with the photos and compare them in your favorite program. I summarize my observations: The lens is very sharp. Personally, it was a pleasant surprise for me because I saw a difference in drawing with the smaller 100-400mm and generally tolerated it considering the different class. With the new 150-600, the difference is detectable with careful examination, but not significant. In terms of sharpness, I think the new lens is absolutely great and, hand in hand with its huge zoom range, is suitable for shooting on the fly or from cover, where you appreciate the large zoom range with the ability to compose one animal differently or the flexibility when encountering various sized species.
This is how you can compare the drawing of the OM 150-600mm and OM 150-400mm (Gandalf) after downloading the file.
Now, this is a category beyond the scope of my plush toy testing and involves many influences, including the human factor. Generally speaking, I perceived the lens as very brisk without any noticeable delays in reactions. From this, I conclude that it’s fast because I didn’t consciously think “oh, Gandalf” while focusing. Once I have the opportunity, I would like to borrow the lens again under more normal conditions and test, for example, birds in flight. I had two different experiences, from which I can perhaps guess the direction, but I wouldn’t dare to draw a conclusion from them. During my stay in Spain, where I was involved in filming promo videos, I briefly had the opportunity to photograph flamingos in flight. Unfortunately, the area had completely dried up over the summer, so the dream of photographing dozens or hundreds of them kind of vanished. However, I have several series of a flamingo flying from place to place in sunny weather, and practically all the photos in the series are brilliantly sharp. You just have to choose the right wing position. At the end of October, I randomly came across a place in our country where there were about 300 white herons together. Now and then, some would fly from place to place. There was extra low cloud cover, it was raining, and the resulting series were quite varied. In some, the photos were sharp, in others, maybe not even one. I took Gandalf for comparison and the results were noticeably better. I decided to return to the place after a week and try it again, but there wasn’t a single bird on the pond. In other words: zero. I drove around the area for an hour and gave up; the herons had moved somewhere unknown. After that, I didn’t have a similar opportunity. What can be deduced from this? I’m far from concluding that the lens, in general, doesn’t focus quickly, because it worked excellently until then. But it can be inferred that the brighter the lens, the better it will perform in poor conditions. F/4.5 will be advantageous in the dark compared to f/6.3, just as f/2.8 will be better than f/4.5. Certainly, it would be possible to counter this by, for example, reducing the shooting frequency (with the new OM-1 II set to 25fps, 12.5 fps wouldn’t place such demands on the lens and it could focus more accurately), setting the limiter, playing with the sensitivity of C-AF, and so on. These were exactly the things I wanted to verify at another opportunity, which never came. I would summarize that the lens will work without problems under normal conditions, but under poor lighting conditions, you will need to help it a bit by setting the camera’s behavior. Once I verify this with further testing, I’ll add it here.
In my opinion, the new lens is very successful and, together with the improved focusing algorithms of the OM-1 II, it could become especially popular among bird photographers. A lot of people have asked me if they think they should buy it, if it will be enough for them. Well, honestly, I don’t know. But personally, based on my experience, I would decide like this:
If I own the OM 150-400mm (Gandalf)
It probably doesn’t make much sense to buy the OM 150-600 if you’re missing a longer range, use the integrated TC or, if necessary, attach an external TC 1.4x. If even that is not enough, it’s time to start looking for ways to get closer to the animals.
If I own the OM 100-400mm and am not sure about the benefits of the new 150-600mm.
If your budget allows it, I think you will feel the shift in practically everything – better stabilization, larger range, sharpness, but also a larger size and weight.
If I don’t own anything and am not sure whether to get Gandalf 150-400mm or the new OM 150-600mm.
If your budget allows it, Gandalf is the ultimate solution, which has something extra in all parameters – better sealing, better ergonomics, it’s slightly lighter, slightly sharper, slightly faster, and brighter. If Gandalf is beyond your budget and you want a long lens with high quality, then the new OM 150-600mm is the clear choice.
If you have the opportunity, I recommend trying it out personally. Go to a store or a workshop, personal experience is invaluable.
Also take a look at my impressions from using the ne OM System OM-1 II.