Lean, Clean and Bluesy is a phrase that chimed with me the moment I saw it on Credence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory album. It described Creedence’s stripped down music to a ‘T’ but I found myself applying it to many things in my life including photography. I want lean in a picture, no more in it than necessary. Clean, it should look thoughtfully, even neatly composed. Bluesy? Simple in form but able to convey deep feelings.
I also apply it to my ideal camera outfit. Minimal, efficient, versatile, easy to use. And that’s the reason the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 zoom has been in my mind so much lately. It is exactly the type of Micro Four Thirds lens I’ve tried to avoid because, like the superb Panasonic 42.5mmf/1.2 Nocticron, it is simply too big. And big is the reason I got rid of my DSLRs. I use both Panasonic and Olympus cameras and lenses and have no deep feelings about either, certainly no brand loyalty. Any brand loyalty I have comes about because I’ve invested in a system and it would be expensive and inconvenient to change. But the 40-150 f/2.8 is compelling. And then along came the Olympus EM-5 Mk 2.
Here are my thoughts. My main working outfit consists of Panasonic GH4, GX7 backup, 7-14 f/4, 12-35 f/2.8, 35-100 f/2.8, 100-300 f/4-5.6 and a 300mm f4 IF manual focus Nikkor used with a Metabones Speed Booster to give me a 400mm (ish) f/3.2. There’s nothing redundant there but the there is one glaring weakness in the overall line-up. The long end. The Metabones and 300mm Nikkor give a neat, sharp and fast 420mm but it is manual focus. The 100-300mm zoom is good but focusing is relatively slow and at the 200mm mark it is quite slow at f/5. It’s also not so sharp at 300mm, though I have little use personally for 300mm anyway.
Looking at my long end (quiet at the back!), I have three lenses to cover the 35-400 range that i need. The wonderful f/2.8 35-100, the Nikkor 300mm with Metabones and the 100-300mm. Now consider the alternative. The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 has a 1.4x converter available. Yes, you lose a stop in speed, making the combo a half stop slower than the Nikkor 300mm/ Metabones combo but you gain autofocus and autoexposure. And sharpness at least as good, if not better. In other words, one largish lens and converter replaces 3 lenses and a converter. I said it was compelling.
So, two camera bodies, 7-14 f/4, 12-35 f/2.8 and 40-150 f/2.8 plus converter. Lean, for sure. Clean, certainly. Bluesy? Yes….except. Spot the problem. No stabilization just where you need it most – with the long lenses. True, the Panasonic GX7 does have in body stabilization but it’s vestigial compared to the in lens facility which Panasonic themselves recommend over in body using their lenses on the GX7. The answer to this problem can only be to use Olympus bodies with their amazing sensor based stabilization. But then you have to accept rudimentary video capabilities, swivel only monitors and no silent shutter mode.
Or rather, you did have to. Olympus has now stepped in with the EM-5 Mk 2 and added all those things. All it lacks is 4k video but I’m not a video specialist and 4k is of no great interest to me since I publish all my stuff on YouTube and have no video ambitions beyond FHD and 50mbps.
So, thinking it through, if you take the weight of the lenses into account rather than just the size, what do we have? The Nikkor 300, Metabones, 100-300 zoom and 35-100 f2/8 have a total weight of 2,600 grams or 5.7lbs. The Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 plus converter weigh in at 930 grams, a third of the weight and is two items instead of four. Like, I said, a compelling argument and a measure of how fast these things move in Micro Four Thirds.
What stands out to me is how Panasonic Panasonic have neglected long lens users – and let’s face it, there aren’t many serious photographers who don’t need a 300/400mm in their bag. Olympus’s big f2/8 zoom feels great on the GH4 but a lens of this focal length really does need stabilization.
The 40-150 plus converter has been bit of a game changer for me. Olympus EM-1 and EM-5 Mk2 plus 7-14 Panasonic, Olympus 12-40 f/2.8, 40-150 f/2.8 and converter give an astonish focal range from ultra-wide to long tele in 3 lenses all stabilized. Plus my video needs are met.
Here it all is in my Lowepro sling bag. And there, inset is the weight of my outfit with accessories and including the bag itself – 3.8kg. For comparison, 2 Canon EOS -1D bodies and one standard f2.8 zoom weigh more. I’m not comparing them other than weight but when I’m out on my bike it is amazing that I can carry such a comprehensive and above all high quality outfit without a murmur of protest from my back.
A disturbingly high number of my professional acquaintances suffer from back problems due to long-term hauling of heavy gear. I was lucky enough never to have a serious back problem but all respect to Mr MFT for helping me keep it that way. And strangely, as a result of using one of the heaviest lenses in the system!
Lean, clean and most definitely bluesy!