Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 – how good is it really on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and how does it compare to other options?

Written by Gary on May 10th, 2018

In my previous post, I outlined the super telephoto lens options for Micro Four Thirds (only those with autofocus).

I have now had an opportunity to play with the newly released and very expensive Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 with its supplied 1.4x matched teleconverter to see how well it plays with the Olympus OM-D E-M Mark II (with the latest firmware update which addressed C-AF issues with this lens).

This combination is perhaps the most compact, high image quality, wide aperture super telephoto kit you can buy – and in addition, you can also shoot at an insane 18fps RAW with continuous AF with silent electronic shutter and is weathersealed making it perfect for inclement weather conditions.

In full frame camera terms, this combination gives you the telephoto reach of 400mm f/2.8 image stabilised, or 560mm f/4 image stabilised when used with the teleconverter in a very compact, easily hand holdable, walkaround kit (although in Micro Four Thirds terms this lens is not that light but far lighter than full frame options.

At 1.25kg, it is about the heaviest lens I would hand hold comfortably for any extended length of time on a camera, and the heaviest lens that is comfortably carried with a waist belt system, and it might even allow you to get your gear under the flight cabin luggage limits. It balances nicely with the E-M1 when hanging down and holding camera only with the grip, but as would be expected, it does become a bit front heavy when in shooting position.

How well does it work on the Olympus E-M1 Mark II?

Some great news here – in a word – fantastic!

AF is very fast and silent, seems to work very well in C-AF for kids running towards the camera at soccer games, even when using low burst electronic shutter mode at 18fps!

Eye detect AF works as for other lenses.

ProCapture is enabled thanks to the latest firmware upgrades of the E-M1 Mark II.

Although Sync IS / Dual IS is NOT supported, the OIS only option allows sharp hand held shots down to 1/15th second with care (1/50th with TC on), while the E-M1’s superb IBIS alone will get you handheld acceptably sharp shots down to around 1/8th – 1/5th second!

Theoretically, at this focal length, OIS may have advantage over IBIS as it can offer larger corrections as the sensor can only move so far and for telephoto lenses, the optically element has a wider range of shake correction, so I guess a lot depends on how you are holding it. There does not aoppear to be a way to set the lens OIS to panning mode (Panasonic cameras have a menu option for this but Olympus do not as the Olympus IS is now “auto-sensing”). Users of the Panasonic 100-400mm lens on the E-M1 for birds in flight (BIF) have commented that there are issues with OIS in that lens during panning and that they resort to IBIS to avoid those problems, or to turn IS off altogether given you will be using a fast shutter speed of around 1/2000th sec anyway – this may also hold true for the Panasonic 200mm lens .

The OIS functionality requires a menu setting – if you want the lens optical IS to be the one working, you need to set the E-M1’s menu option, cogwheel, C2, Lens I.S. Priority to ON as well as the lens Power OIS to ON (if this is OFF and you have the E-M1 IBIS set to IBIS-Auto, the camera’s IBIS will be working instead).

The lens focus memory button works as does the focus limiter switch – but you also have the option of the E-M1 setting a more limiting focus range in camera and also an in-camera preset focus – no other camera I am aware of allows this fantastic functionality for sports.

The Lens Function button works as with Olympus lenses – just assign a function to it from the camera menu – default is AF-ON which halts AF while you have it depressed – this is great for C-AF when something moves in front of your subject, or you wish to transiently lock focus and recompose.

For most sports however, the IS is not as important as the wide aperture as you will probably be wanting to shoot at least as fast as 1/500th second, and here, the f/2.8 or f/4 with teleconverter allows you to keep ISO down to usable levels around ISO 1600-3200.

The automatic focus stacking function is not currently possible with this lens, and, as with all Olympus MFT cameras, they ignore the aperture ring functionality which some Panasonic lenses have.

The images in this post (other than the side-by-side lens comparisons which were taken using the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 lens) have not been post-processed other than resizing for the web, and the moon and sharpness images are the only ones which have also been cropped

crop of handheld moon with TC on

Crop of moon rising behind clouds, handheld with TC and OIS on, 280mm f/4, ISO 200, 1/100th second.

book at 1/8th sec IBIS

Sitting on my couch playing with the lens at night in low light – 200mm f/2.8 hand held using E-M1’s IBIS at ISO 800 and 1/8th second shutter – now 400mm equivalent at 1/8th second hand held is rather incredible – but this performance is what we have come to expect from Olympus cameras!!!

book at 1/60th sec OIS

Sitting on my couch playing with the lens at night in low light and a bit closer to the books – 200mm f/2.8 hand held using Power OIS at ISO 3200 (no post-processing NR and camera set to LOW Noise Filter) and 1/60th second shutter

Let’s compare it without the teleconverter to other 200mm options:

Firstly, the Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with its 1.4x teleconverter:

I have grown to absolutely love the Olympus 40-150mm lens as it is so versatile, so weathersealed, has a lovely long lens hood to protect the front elements from the rain and provides great image quality and the f/2.8 aperture combined with IBIS allows low light imagery at low ISO.

I am not such a big fan of the matched Olympus 1.4x teleconverter as you do lose a bit of sharpness as well as the inevitable loss of 1 stop of light that all 1.4x teleconverters cause, thus this lens becomes a 56-210mm f/4 lens.

Let’s see how well it matches up with the far more expensive and heavier Panasonic 200mm f/2.8.

comparison

As you can see, they are both practically the same length, but the Panasonic is much heavier and has a wider diameter.

The 880g Olympus lens gives the advantage of being able to zoom out to 56mm, and has a lovely lens hood which collapses back over the lens although this design can be problematic as it is easily damaged and does make the lens more bulky, plus you can totally remove the tripod mount as I have done to reduce the weight and bulk even further, and the manual focus clutch is really handy at times. It can also focus much closer, to 0.7m, giving almost twice the close up performance. Uses a 72mm filter instead of the larger 77mm filter.

The much heavier 1.25kg Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 has the option of Power OIS, and the additional lens functions – although none of these are really needed when used with the E-M1 Mark II. It’s lens hood is also nice and large, but it slips on and you must tighten it up – I will have to see how this works for me – I hate the design on my Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens as it keeps falling off, but time will tell how this one works as it does have a different mechanism again.

The Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens:

The Olympus 50-200mm lens used to be one of my favorites on the Four Thirds dSLRs, but now I have Micro Four Thirds, the lens is a bit big, heavy, intimidating and more crucially, the AF was very slow on the cameras prior to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II – thankfully this camera brings this superb lens back to life, although C-AF capability does not match a dedicated Micro Four Thirds lens.

I mention it here because, for those on a budget who are not needing it for fast moving subjects, it may be a great option as they may be able to pick it up at a great price second hand.

comparison

comparison

And with the zoom extended to 200mm showing how long and intimidating this lens becomes, especially when you then attach the lens hood which is a reversible design with a bayonet mount.

Close focus is comparable at 1.2m, weighs 1.07kg plus you need the FT-MFT adapter, and it uses a 67mm filter.

There is also the option of using it with a ZD 1.4x TC or a ZD 2x TC to give 400mm f/7 (equates to 800mm telephoto in full frame terms).

Panasonic Leica DG 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0:

The Panasonic 50-200mm lens is a newly released and relatively expensive lens, which I have not been able to get my hands on as yet as it is not yet in the stores.

It promises to be an awesome lens but, like the Olympus, you are losing around 1 stop of aperture compared to the 200mm f/2.8 lens.

See my earlier blog post for specs of this lens compared to its competitors.

Now for a quick almost center resolution comparison:

wide open at f/4
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Olympus mZD 40-150mm+TC comparison
Olympus ZD 50-200mm comparison comparison

Now for a quick almost corner resolution comparison:

wide open at f/4
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Olympus mZD 40-150mm+TC comparison

These were all taken at the same distance with a manual flash to eradicate camera shake and AF used (apologies for not decreasing flash exposure for the wide open shots, but by keeping it constant, you do get an idea of the light transmission ability of these lenses – to me, the Olympus 40-150 with TC gives marginally less light transmission).

Clearly the Olympus mZD 40-150mm with TC, whilst giving sharp images is no match for either of the other two lenses (the 200mm blows it away in the corners even at wide open f/2.8), even when these are used wide open instead of at f/4 – compare the separation of lines at the 12 marker.

With the teleconverter compared to the Olympus 300mm:

The Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4 is an amazing lens.

When mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M Mark II you get Dual/Sync IS and sharp handheld images are possible down to around 1/8th second at 600mm full frame field of view – now that is pretty amazing!

The Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 with 1.4x TC gives 280mm f/4 which is almost the same reach, but in my testing is not quite as sharp as the Olympus lens at f/4, but it is almost there it is splitting hairs!

The Olympus is the same weight and also has a better lens hood design (as per my discussion above), a two-stage focus limiter, and the lovely MF clutch which is often very handy. The tripod mount is designed to fit an Arca Swiss mount which is very handy for some. There is the option of using it with the 1.4x TC to further extend it – I am not sure how well the Panasonic will work with a Panasonic 2x TC to nearly match this field of view (400mm vs 420mm).

The Panasonic has several advantages of its own – it can be used at 200mm, and thus it can be taken into many sports venues which will not allow the 300mm, it focuses 20cm closer, the lens itself can still be mounted to a tripod without attaching the “external” tripod mount, and it is around 2″ shorter which makes a big difference when carrying it around or transporting it mounted to the camera:

side by side

Above a side by side comparison, note the 300mm has the tripod mount removed to reduce weight and bulk, and the lens hood is retracted.

Conclusions:

If you need 400-600mm field of view in full frame terms, and you can afford the cost of this superb lens, then it should perform better than the Olympus 40-150mm  with TC, although the Olympus 40-150mm will give you more versatility with its closer focus and zoom range and be much lighter and more affordable, while the Olympus 300mm may be a better option if you really need to get as much telephoto as you can get although the Panasonic will nearly match it when used with a TC.

When used on the latest Panasonic cameras, you also gain two very important functions not currently available with Olympus lenses on these cameras – Dual/Sync IS and DFD autofocus for moving subjects, ability to set OIS to pan mode, and of course, the aperture ring will function.

This lens is a superb optical tool with extremely well controlled levels of aberrations and lovely bokeh – when you add in that it is so compact and the fast, silent, 240fps AF system along with the capabilities of the E-M1 Mark II you have one awesome kit that is hard to beat for size or price.

Oh, and if you think that the MFT sensor is too noisy at high ISO above ISO 3200 for your type of work and so you really need that 5kg $10,000 super telephoto full frame lens, then, things will be changing very soon to address that and then there will be very few reasons to carry around heavy, expensive, bulky full frame gear:

  • sensors are being developed and indeed available on the new Sony and Panasonic cameras with dual base ISO which brings much improved high ISO performance, and,
  • AI can now produce amazing image quality from a severely under-exposed image taken at base ISO – one would expect it won’t be long before this technology is incorporated into image editing software and then into cameras as part of the “auto-ISO” system – check this out: https://petapixel.com/2018/05/09/ai-is-taking-low-light-photo-quality-to-the-next-level/
 

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