A bloke I know has just got into photography and has bought an Olympus OMD EM1 with the 12-50 kit lens. By his own admission he knows very little about photography and hasn’t settled into any specific genre. He now wants some more lenses, specifically the so-called Olympus Holy Trinity of f2.8 zooms – the 7-14mm f/2.8, the 12-40mm F2.8 and the 40-150mm F2.8. Nice lenses and in Australia you expect to pay around $4000 for them, and that is the problem. He is pretty convinced that he “needs” these lenses to be a good photographer and has read countless gear oriented forums about them. The major hurdles are that he can’t afford them, and he doesn’t know what to do with them. All he knows is that he wants to post the shots on a photo sharing web site and maybe make the occasional 10×15 cm print. Pushed hard he said that if he were to only have the one it would be the 40-150, but the reality is that he can’t afford even that on its own. I suggested he look at the 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R which can be picked up for around $200 AUD, sometimes less if a white box special. The look on his face gave the impression that he thought I was stark raving bonkers. He then went onto to site all the usual internet complaints about the lens – its cheap and nasty, slow maximum aperture, unpleasant bokeh, plastic body and lens mount, soft at the longest end. My answer was that the f2.8 model costs around 8 times more than the cheaper one and I doubted whether he would see 8 times difference in terms of optical quality.
I don’t own or have access to the 40-150 f2.8, but I do own the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R and I then decided to test it against a comparable lens from another manufacturer that costs nearly $3000 AUD. The pictures were processed exactly the same way in Lightroom and because the non m4/3 camera had a different aspect ration its image was cropped and sized to same as that from my Pen EP-5. I’m not saying which is which, that’s for you to decide. All I will say is that the 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R comes out of the test quite well.
All this reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a work colleague Steve. We were chewing the fat one boring night shift and he let on that he had been a full on Hi Fi tragic and had spent an absolute fortune on buying the ultimate set up. I nearly choked when he told how much he spent on speaker cables. I thought that photographers were gear obsessives. Anyway after a while of swapping components in and out and reading lots of technical papers he had the realisation that he was forking out literally thousands of dollars to gain frequencies that only dogs and bats could hear. After that epiphany he settled on the equipment that he had and used it for what it was designed for – listening to music. It’s the same here, you could spend thousands on a lens and most people would not be able to tell the difference. Therein lies the problem for my acquaintance. He is new to the hobby and has been led to believe that to be any good he has to go out and spend a bucket load of whonga on buying the best lenses. He doesn’t have the cash and so he will probably give photography away as he will feel he can’t afford it. My advice was to buy the cheaper alternative and really use it. Push the lens as hard as you can in a variety of situations and then see is you like the focal range, and if that lens prevents you from getting any pictures. If after a year or so you feel that the lens is a must have and that you absolutely need the extra performance and can use it then buy the expensive version. Just to finish I’ll post a picture taken with a camera that internet forums love to hate – the Canon EOS 550d. Its plastic, has a slow frame rate, a poor sensor with little dynamic range, dog slow auto focus, and a minuscule buffer.