OM System 150-400mm Field Test
Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear

Exploring the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5: A Hands-On Field Experience

I’ve had the once hard to get OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 Pro Lens for 5 months now.  In addition to local trips, I got the chance to really put the lens to the test at 2 National Wildlife Refuges (Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware and Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico).  I took thousands of photographs with this lens and the OM-1 to test out its features and performance.  I tested the sharpness, versatility, and how the weight of the lens impacted the usability.

I also wanted to see how easy it was to travel with this larger and heavier OM System lens.  I also discuss the pros/cons of buying a Lens Coat to protect this expensive lens.

Field Test Impressions of the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 Pro Lens

Sharpness

I found the lens to be really sharp.  The number of bird photography “in focus keepers” was  comparable to the Olympus 300mm f/4.  The 300mm f/4 is one of the sharpest long focal length lenses that I’ve ever shot, and the 150-400mm lens is right up there with the 300mm.

The lens also focused quickly with the OM-1 and Bird Detection AF enabling me to get a good percentage of keepers for birds in flight as well.  I was also happy with shooting with the OM-1 and 150-400mm f/4.5 in low light conditions while photographing the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese before sunrise at Bosque Del Apache.  I shot at really high ISOs like 25600.  Some of the bird photographs were taken as silhouettes in the pre sunrise colors, but the camera was able to autofocus and freeze the wings of the flying birds.

A Trio of Northern Shovelers Coming in for a Landing
Northern Shovelers Coming in for a Landing. ISO 800, 500mm (1000mm), f/5.6, 1/5000 second

Versatility

I really love my Olympus 300mm f/4 lens.  In fact, I still have it.  The one drawback with the 300mm is that it wasn’t a zoom which caused me to miss some shots when the birds & wildlife were too close.  I used an Olympus 100-400mm on a second body for closer shots when photographing birds and wildlife from a car.  The OM System 150-400mm solve that problem with a long zoom lens that is a sharp as the 300mm f/4.

The built in 1.25x teleconverter is also really handy, giving the lens a really large effective focal length of 300-1000mm.  You do loose 2/3 stops of light with the widest aperture going from f/4.5 to f/5.6 with the teleconverter enabled.  I found under low light conditions that I tended to switch off the teleconverter to get the faster f/4.5 aperture.  The 800mm effective focal length is still plenty of reach for many bird photography shots.  The Teleconverter Locking Switch is a handy feature that prevents to from accidently turning the teleconverter on or off.

A Trio of Snow Geese Coming in for a Landing
Snow Geese Coming in for a Landing. 280mm (560mm) @ f/5.6, ISO 1600, 1/3200 second

Handling

The OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 is only .89 pounds heavier than the Olympus 300mm f/4 (4.14 vs. 3.25 lbs).  In the field, I really didn’t notice the difference from shooting the 300mm f/4 lens except when holding the lens in the shooting position for an extended period of time, like shooting sandhill cranes feeding and flying at Bosque Del Apache for several hours.  It is still incredibly light for a lens capable of 1000mm @ f/5.6.

I shot handheld with the lens 100% of the time.  I usually use a Black Rapid Camera Strap attached to the tripod collar to more easily carry the lens when hiking, and to give my arms a break during long shooting sessions.

The 8 stops of image stabilization with Sync IS using the 150-400mm and the OM-1 worked extremely well.  In Bosque Del Apache, the Snow Geese fly just before or at sunrise, so I spent quite a bit of time shooting at high ISOs in low light conditions. 

For example:  The duck silhouette image below was taken handheld at 800mm, ISO 25600, f/4.5, 1/100 of a second.

Duck Silhouette
Duck Silhouette

Traveling with the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 Lens

I’ve taken two trips with this lens; one by car and one by plane.  I bought a new Pelican Vault v525 case to travel with the 150-400mm lens.  My old Pelican Air 1535 case uses TrekPak dividers from Pelican.  I would have needed to buy additional TrekPak dividers (which are not cheap) and cut them for the 150-400mm lens to fit. The Pelican Vault uses traditional photography backpack dividers which can more easily be reconfigured for the bigger lens.

The 150-400mm lens fit into the Pelican Vault with plenty of room for 2 camera bodies, extra lenses, a backup drive and filters.  The Pelican Vault fit into the overhead lengthwise with the wheels loaded first in both the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320. 

In the field, I could fit the 150-400mm lens attached to an OM-1 in my Wright Gears Vintage Camera Backpack which also fits under the seat in most larger planes.  Overall, I found the OM System 150-400mm lens easy to travel with and carry in the field, much easier than when I had the Canon EF 500mm f/4 lens. 

Lens Coat Plastic cover over the 150-400mm lens switches
Lens Coat Plastic cover over the 150-400mm lens switches

Lens Coat or no Lens Coat?

Even though, the 150-400mm lens has IP53 Weatherproofing, I purchased a Lens Coat for the lens.  With the amount of traveling that I do, I wanted to protect this $7,500 lens from the dents and scratches like I have gotten on my Olympus 300mm f/4 lens.

I really like the padding that the Lens Coat gives the lens; it appears to give the protection that I was looking for.  However, the Lens Coat can impact the ease of turning on both the focus ring and zoom ring on the lens.  I found myself frequently adjusting those sections of the Lens Coat so they didn’t impede turning those rings. 

I do and don’t like the clear plastic cover of the Lens Coat that covers the switches on the lens.  With my Olympus 300mm f/4 lens, I frequently accidentally turned off the image stabilization especially when carry the lens with my Black Rapid Strap.  This plastic cover prevents accidently turning the Image Stabilization switch to the off position.  However, the plastic cover also makes it harder to access the switches when you want to quickly change settings.

The jury is still out on whether I’ll continue to use the Lens Coat.  So far, it seems to work ok without impacting the function of the lens too much.

Overall Thoughts on the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 Lens

As you can tell from my field test findings above, I really like the OM System 150-400mm f/4.5 Pro Lens; It is pricey @ $7,500 USD, but I don’t regret the purchase.  The size, weight, sharpness, large focal ranch coupled with the computational photography features in the OM-1 like Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF make this a terrific bird and wildlife lens.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Blog Posts
Field Test Results of the Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0 – 6.3 Telephoto Lens for Bird and Wildlife Photography
Which OM System / Olympus 40-150mm Lens Should You Buy?
OM System 150-400mm Unboxing and First Impressions

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8 Comments

  • CARBONMAN

    Glad you’re finding the lens meets your expectations! I have used a silicone rubber wristband around the lens and covering the Image Stabilization on/off slider to prevent turning it off. That issue, not having a bayonet mount for the hood and the annoying fabric lens cap are the sum total of my gripes about the lens. All other aspects of shooting and image quality are excellent.

  • Juan Guerrero

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your feedback on this fantastic piece of equipment, just one question about flying with the pelikan case, how do you convince the crew to have it as cabin baggage? Because nowadays, the problem is not the size but the maximum weight per piece of luggage (7Kg, about 15 pounds). And looking at this case I see that the case alone is more than 11 pounds…

    I’m preparing a trip to Borneo and my major logistical issue is this one, even flying in business, you can get only two pieces of 7Kg each.

    The solution I’ve found for the time being is to use the lightest backpack I have found with a minimum decent protection (vanguard Veo select 49) weighting 1,2kg without the extra strap and allowing all critical elements in 7kg. But the level of protection is not comparable so I’m still concerned about it…

    Thanks for any advice! Have a good New Year

    • Martin Belan

      Hi Juan,

      I didn’t run into the carry on weight limitations. In the US, the airlines typically don’t weigh the carry on bags. I have run into that before in my travels to India. Thanks for sharing your approach for weight limits for carry ons!

      Martin

  • RedShamrock

    Appreciate all parts of the post, specifically how you have carried it around. I have yet to do any significant field work; however as a small, but mighty, finding a suitable bag is a challenge. I’ll take a look at both mentioned. Thank you!

  • Eric

    A recommendation regarding the lens coat bits on the lens. I removed the slices that covered the focus ring and the zoom ring. Both of those sections are black and ribbed so I find it easier to both locate them and turn them with the other sections of the lens coat in place.

    I’m debating whether or not to cut out the plastic covering over the buttons as I find the plastic prevents me from using those buttons.

    received my 150-400mm with the early batch and thoroughly love the compact robustness of it and the entire OM system. When others are struggling with their large 600mm f4 lenses or even variations of the 200-600 and worrying about rain and tripods I secretly chuckle to myself and continue shooting the scene handheld regardless of how wet or frozen I feel. 🙂

  • Mike Freeman

    Hi Martin,
    Yet another clear and concise gear review. It is refreshing that you don’t get bogged down in the ‘micro’ details, but rather discuss the usability and quality outcomes of the lens.
    Always look forward to your commentary.
    Cheers
    Mike Freeman

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