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2 new premium quality super-telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds – Panasonic 100-400mm and Olympus 300mm f/4

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Micro Four Thirds camera users are spoilt by the rich array of wonderful lenses at their disposal – but until now there has not been any premium quality super-telephoto lens optimised for CDAF (there are Four Thirds lenses such as the superb 300mm f/2.8 which do work well with phase detect cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1), and now, at last, we have been endowed with 2 great lenses coming to a camera store near you over the next 2-3 months.

Each lens has its advantages and disadvantages which will make us all spend weeks trying to decide which will be best for our needs.

These lenses although very niche in the dSLR world given they would need tripods, have a much more versatile utility in the Micro Four Thirds world ranging from wildlife, nature macrophotography, sports action, and perhaps even for concerts when silent shooting is needed from a distance.

At only around 1kg, even long distance overnight hikers would consider carrying one of these to get those shots that full frame dSLR users would need Sherpas to carry their gear.

In addition, the amount of background perspective compression can make them useful for fashion photography and other creative uses.

The class leading image stabilisation of these camera-lens combinations with lower weight and bulk make them superior to dSLR alternatives for use where tripods are not useful such as on ships to the Antarctic, while the weathersealing and freezeproof design of the Olympus lens also comes in handy!

Common features:

  • compatible with any Micro Four Thirds camera whether Olympus or Panasonic – although having the same brand as your camera can give better functionality
  • weathersealing
  • high optical quality
  • tripod mount
  • focus limiter switch
  • close focus is around 1.3-1.4m giving very useful macro performance of around 0.48x macro in full frame terms
  • optical image stabiliser which can be combined with the camera’s sensor based image stabiliser to allow even better dual system image stabilisation (but will this work on different branded cameras?)
  • relatively large and expensive for Micro Four Thirds but smaller, lighter and less expensive than a full frame lens of similar quality and field of view
  • nano coating for reduced flare and improved contrast
  • fast, silent AF capable of face detection AF and even nearest eye detection AF, and optimised for video
  • 9 rounded aperture blades

The benefits of the Panasonic lens over the Olympus lens are:

  • its a zoom lens which means it is more versatile, particularly when subjects are coming towards you as you have 200-800mm field of view in 35mm full frame terms in an easily handholdable lens and it has a zoom position lock
  • it is considerably less expensive at $US1799 vs $US2499
  • considerably lighter at 985g vs 1270g
  • considerably shorter at 172mm vs 227mm
  • 10mm thinner at 83mm vs 93mm
  • smaller, cheaper filters at 72mm vs 77mm
  • AF will be faster on Panasonic Lumix cameras than the Olympus lens thanks to compatibility with Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology (presumably no difference on Olympus cameras though)

The benefits of the Olympus lens over the Panasonic lens are:

  • wider aperture at 300mm allowing 1EV lower ISO to be used as presumably lets in around twice as much light or 1 stop more light (600mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • ability to use the Olympus mZD MC-14 teleconverter which converts it to 420mm f/5.6 (840mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • the “highest resolution lens ever made by Olympus” which promises superb optical quality
  • focus limiter switch has 3 settings not just 2 and thus improved utility for nature macrophotography
  • perhaps better weathersealing with its 11 separate hermetic seals, and Olympus is renown for its wonderful weathersealing
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism for improved manual focus feel and rapid access
  • configurable lens function button can be used to suspend C-AF, etc
  • image stabilisation may be somewhat better, particularly as few Panasonic cameras have built-in sensor based image stabilisation and Olympus are class leaders in this technology

The Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Power OIS lens:

Panasonic lens

  • model H-RS100400
  • 200-800mm telephoto reach
  • 20 elements in 13 groups (1 aspherical ED lens, 1 UED lens, 2 ED lenses)
  • Power OIS image stabiliser with Dual IS compatibility
  • high speed digital signal exchange at 240 fps to comply with the high-speed, high-precision AF (Auto Focus) with DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology on LUMIX G cameras
  • focus limiter 5m to infinity
  • built in sliding lens hood
  • 171.5mm / 6.75in long but extends upon zooming
  • 83mm / 3.3in diameter
  • 985g / 34.74oz excl. lens hood, tripod mount
  • $US1799
  • see my wiki for more links and information

The Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens:

Olympus lens

dual IS

  • 600mm field of view (840mm with MC-14 teleconverter)
  • weathersealed with 11 separate hermetic seals
  • freezeproof
  • 5-6EV optical image stabiliser and dual IS / sync IS with certain cameras
  • “highest resolution” Olympus lens ever made
  • fast, silent AF (completely silent shooting when used in electronic shutter mode)
  • Zero and Z nano coating
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism
  • 17 elements in 10 groups
  • close focus 1.4m giving 0.48x macro in 35mm terms
  • 3 position focus limiter: 1.4-4m, 4m to infinity and full range
  • configurable lens function button
  • 77mm filter
  • 93mm x 227mm
  • 1270g (27lbs) excl. tripod mount presumably
  • compatible with Olympus mZD MC-14 1.4x teleconverter to give 420mm f/5.6 (840mm telephoto reach in full frame terms)
  • $US2499
  • see my wiki for more links and information

Handheld video shot entirely at 840mm field of view using the Olympus 300mm plus MC14 teleconverter – amazing IS indeed!


Users will have an agonising decision to make as these are two wonderful lenses but given the price, it is likely only one will make it into your kit, so you need to decide whether you go for smaller size and zoom versatility vs larger aperture, perhaps better optics and better low light capability of the Olympus.

For those who cannot afford these, all is not lost, there are a number of enthusiast quality telephoto zooms for Micro Four Thirds which are lighter, smaller and much less expensive, but you do get what you pay for here. Examples are Olympus mZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega OIS.

Compared to the new Canon EF 100-400mm pro lens:

For perspective, Canon has recently introduced a superb telephoto zoom lens, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens which could be used on a APS-C cropped sensor dSLR such as a Canon 7D to give 160-640mm OIS which places it between these lenses in capability and price with these notable features:

  • only 640mm telephoto reach (on testing it only gets to 383mm = 613mm) and this is at f/5.6 (half the light of the Olympus and much less reach than the Panasonic lens)
  • heavier at 1.64kg incl. tripod mount
  • image stabiliser is not as effective (“4EV” vs “5-6EV” for the Olympus) and not able to be used in Dual IS mode as Canon do not make sensor based IS cameras
  • weathersealing is not as good as the Olympus as only “dust and moisture sealed”
  • cumbersome bayonet style lens hood not like the sleek slide on hoods on these lenses
  • AF is not optimised for CDAF camera systems and thus not optimised for Live View, silent AF, nor video C-AF nor for face detection or eye detection AF
  • vignetting is severe while sharpness is a bit soft wide open at 400mm when tested on full frame cameras
  • similar close focus macro magnification although working distance shorter at 1m
  • less accurate AF as needs micro adjustment calibration for each camera
  • AF sensors cover less of the image frame than with mirrorless cameras
  • $US2199

Other options for Canon and Nikon dSLR users:

Canon APS-C users also have the less expensive option of the excellent 1993 designed Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens which comes in at 1.25kg although much longer, and only $US1249 but it is not fully weathersealed, and does not offer image stabilisation and thus really needs to be used at high ISO and on a tripod, and the close focus capability is substantially poorer with close focus only down to 3.5m. Furthermore it only has 8 straight diaphragm blades not 9 rounded blades. Nevertheless, this lens has been popular with birders. Most Canon users though would be better off with the Canon EF 100-400mm II lens outlined above.

Nikon DX users have the option of the new Nikon AF-S VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED lens giving 120-600mm in full frame terms but it is a touch heavier at 1.47kg w/o tripod collar, priced at $US2299 (RRP is $US2699), does not focus as close (1.75m vs 1.4m), image stabiliser not as effective at 4EV, not optimised for CDAF (see above), cheap, plasticky bayonet lens hood, and is not weathersealed.

Both Canon and Nikon cropped sensor dSLR users also have the option of the 300mm f/4 image stabilised lenses combined with a 1.4x teleconverter to give around 600mm f/5.6 telephoto reach but these lens combos weigh in at about 1.4-1.5kg and would not match the image quality nor the image stabilisation of the Olympus lens, let alone the CDAF functionality. Nikon does however have a new fresnel technology ultralight 300mm f/4 lens which is half the weight of a usual lens and comes in at 755g and $US1999, but you then need to factor in the teleconverter and potential for fresnel artefacts.

Full frame dSLR users will have to use heavy, very expensive lenses to get to this 600-800mm telephoto reach or resort to 2x teleconverters with the above 300mm f/4 lenses and try to AF with an f/8 widest aperture.

Sensor size, resolution, telephoto reach and more.

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Following my last post, many people seemed to be confused over what should be a relatively simple concept – what happens when you place a 400mm lens (in true focal length) on either a full frame 35mm dSLR vs a 2x cropped sensor such as an Olympus or Panasonic dSLR.

First, what does not change significantly or at all:

  • perspective at the same subject distance
    • if you focus on a subject at a given distance with a lens of the same focal length, then, the size of background objects will be the same in comparison to the subject size
    • HOWEVER, if because of a 2x cropped sensor which effectively magnifies your subject 2x, you choose to move away from the subject to keep the subject the same size in the viewfinder as on the full frame, then changing subject distance WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVE.
  • depth of field at same aperture and subject distance
    • actually depth of field may actually be reduced if the final image is printed to the same size from each camera and viewed at from the same distance, as DOF is dependent also on the final viewed image magnification – the greater the magnification, the more evident the out of focus areas appear as out of focus
    • HOWEVER, if because of a 2x cropped sensor which effectively magnifies your subject 2x, you choose to move away from the subject to keep the subject the same size in the viewfinder as on the full frame, then changing subject distance WILL INCREASE DEPTH OF FIELD which can be a good thing when using super telephoto reach – a big advantage for 2x cropped sensors (not so good for short focal length situations where you wish to blur the background though)
  • aperture

Now let’s look at what DOES change substantially:

  • image field of view
    • how wide a view you see in the viewfinder and in the final print is ONLY dependent on the true focal length and the sensor size (assuming that the design of the lens has an image circle which covers the sensor diagonal)
    • angle of view = 2 x arctan[(0.5 x sensor dimension)/true focal length of lens]
    • thus, for a 300mm lens, the diagonal angle of view is 8.2 degrees on a full frame and 4.1 degrees on a 2x crop sensor HENCE the term “2x crop”, of course you could use “digital zoom” in post-processing, or in some cameras, within the camera to give a 2x crop image size and thus field of view from a full frame dSLR but thus will have 1/4 of the number of pixels of the full frame image
  • subject magnification at the same subject distance – “telephoto reach”
    • the comparative size of the subject at the same distance will be twice as much in a 2x crop sensor as on a full frame because of the angle of view issues, but in the final image on screen or in print when enlarged to the same pixels per inch enlargement, the subject size is dependent also on the pixel density of the sensor
    • if using sensors with the SAME number of pixels, then subject magnification will be 2x for a 2x cropped sensor, thus giving a substantial advantage to the cropped sensor when telephoto reach is important BUT at a cost of smaller sensor photosites resulting in more image noise at higher ISO and less dynamic range (assuming the same sensor technologies)
    • if the full frame sensor had 4x the number of pixels of the 2x cropped sensor, assuming same technology, they will both have the same photosite size, same noise at high ISO and same dynamic range, and if you cropped the full frame image to half its diameter you should give the SAME subject magnification, DOF, perspective as on a 2x crop sensor, BUT what will be different is the optical resolution and aberrations as physics dictates that these will be easier to make to higher specifications on a lens with a smaller image circle (as long as you do not use such a small aperture that the laws of diffraction adversely effect resolution – smaller than f/8 on 2x crop).
    • thus even if Canon or Nikon made a 40mp full frame dSLR which would allow telephoto reach magnification of an Olympus 10mp dSLR when cropped and give the option of a full frame image with twice the angle of view, there are unlikely to be any lenses made that could deliver that optical resolution and thus the image will lack the detail of the Olympus image (assuming you are using a ZD lens and not a legacy 35mm lens) – current 35mm zoom lenses struggle to deliver 16mp optical resolution let alone 25mp or 40mp
    • perhaps a bigger question would be – can a Canon 5DMII with EF 400mm f/5.6 lens provide the same image detail at the same subject distance as a 12mp Olympus E620/E-30/E-3 with a ZD 50-200mm lens with a 2x TC?
    • in my brief experiments, a 10mp Olympus E510 with a ZD 50-200mm lens with a 2x TC EASILY gives more image detail at same subject distance as a Canon 5DMII with EF 70-200mm f/2.8IS L lens with 1.4x TC – presumably this lens combination just can’t give 21mp optical detail.
  • hand holdable shutter speed
    • traditionally, the slowest shutter speed advisable for hand held work which still provides reasonable image sharpness is dependent primarily on subject magnification which is a proxy for the amount of image movement from camera shake and thus is usually given as 1/(focal length)
    • thus, theoretically, you could use 1/400th sec when using a 400mm f/5.6 lens on a Canon 5DMII, although, as you are already pushing the limits of optical resolution when trying for a 21mp image, an even faster shutter speed would be advisable, particularly, given the weight of the lens and the likelihood of muscle fatigue causing increased tremor
    • the situation with the Olympus ZD 50-200mm when used on an image stabilised body allows much slower shutter speeds – for instance, with a 2xTC at effective 800mm reach, I usually shoot at 1/200th sec or faster – without the TC, you could shoot at 1/100th sec at 400mm reach. This allows lower ISO to be used for static subjects and helps to negate the main downside of the cropped sensors of image noise at high ISO, although for action shots requiring 1/500-1/1000th sec you may be forced into the higher ISO regions and more noise – although improving technology should address this in the near future.
  • lens size and weight
    • a lens with an image circle to fit a 2x crop sensor not only can be made to much higher optical resolution and aberration specifications for a given aperture and price point than a 35mm lens, but can be made smaller and lighter and thus more easily hand held and transported which is a major benefit when it comes to super telephotos
    • yes, you can get 800mm reach at f/8 on a full frame dSLR, but using a 400mm f/4 lens with 2x TC or a 600mm f/4 with 1.4x TC both options are MUCH bigger, heavier, harder to hold and far more expensive than a ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 Olympus lens with 2x TC – not to mention the Olympus 2x TC is perhaps the best 2x TC made

Well I hope this clarifies a few things although I am sure many will still debate aspects as always on the net.

800mm hand held telephoto reach hand held

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

OK…you have probably guessed… I am so impressed with this unique combination:

Olympus E510 + ZD 50-200mm + ZD EC20 2x teleconverter to give a relatively light (~2kg), compact, easily carried and used hand held kit that can deliver great images hand held at 1/200th sec shutter speed allowing great photos in the shade at ISO 400, f/7.

Why would you want this?

Well sometimes you just can’t get in close such as with this image of a Sumatran tiger in our zoo here in Melbourne. It was a nice cloudy day and this guy was way up back of his enclosure resting in shade some 50-100m away from me.

Now I’m not that crazy to jump the fence or throw things at him to get him to come closer, nor am I that patient to wait all day for him to move and nor do I want to cart around a 4-6kg camera kit and tripod, and lastly I don’t want to stand out from the crowd that much – I might get mugged!

So here is a cropped version (cropped to 3.8 megapixel) to emphasise the tiger – remember this is at 800mm telephoto reach so you can get a reasonable idea of how far away he was if I still had to crop it by 60%:


But when viewed at 100% crop, you can see how sharp this combo is even hand held at 1/200th sec – this just should not be possible!


see here to see the first image resized to a nice computer screen resolution.

The great thing is that even with the entry level E510, the AF worked very nicely indeed, and before you take this for granted, remember that on nearly all other brand cameras, AF will not work when the lens aperture + teleconverter combination becomes f/8 or smaller.

So even if you are happy to lug a much bigger and heavier lens around with a Canon or Nikon, you may find that you cannot use AF and you may not have image stabilisation available.

A case in point is if I bought the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 lens and used it with my EF 1.4x teleconverter on my Canon 1DMIII, the result would be 728mm telephoto reach at f/8 and according to Canon’s website, AF is not possible and of course there is no image stabiliser, and it now weighs almost 3kg and is a very conspicuous long, white lens which has a close focus of 3.5m and not 1.2m as with the Olympus combo.

So you would miss out on photo opportunities such as these flowers at the zoo (no crop, just resized):


Now I am not criticising Canon or Nikon here, as they have their own advantages, but for handholdable, super telephoto reach with macro capabilities, you can’t beat the Olympus system.

Olympus ZD 50-200mm SWD + EC-20: moon revisited

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Well I had a chance to capture a crescent moon tonight between the clouds so I thought it was worth comparing the 50-200mm with 2x teleconverter (ie. 800mm telephoto reach) with hand held vs tripod with mirror up.

These are 100% crops of original jpegs (ie. you are pixel peeping at 100% here, more than you would if you printed this), and no PS processing, no sharpening.

First, at 200mm+2xTC f/3.5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/7), 1/200th sec, ISO 400 hand held with IS ON:

moon with IS on, hand held 800mm

and, at ISO 100, 1/25thsec, f/5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/10) on tripod with mirror up (antishock = 5sec):

moon via tripod 800mm

Well, I don’t think there is a lot of difference, so using this lens combo at 800mm hand held with IS on and 1/200th sec gives pretty impressive results and such results at this telephoto reach with autofocus hand held are unlikely to be had with any other system.

Of course, with manual focus mirror lenses you could get the reach on other cropped sensors but unless they have IS in the body, you would not get away with 1/200th sec and these lenses have less contrast and resolution compared to this lens combination.

These were taken with the Olympus E510 and look even better with a bit of sharpening such as with unsharp mask in PS.

Macro with ZD 50-200mm SWD + EC-20 = 1:2 at 1.2m

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Now let’s test the macro capabilities of this combination out in the real world.

I chose as a subject, my apricot tree which is in blossom and plenty of bees buzzing around – an interesting test to see how well this goes.

BUT first, I thought I would try a less wieldy combination, my Olympus OM 200mm f/4 lens with the ZD EC-20 on the E510 with IS on, here is a 100% crop of a blossom taken at about 2.5m which is its closest focus and at 1/500th sec, unfortunately, this is about the best I could achieve.

OM 200mm f/4 crop

This shows that although the Olympus OM 200mm f/4 lens was a good lens for 35mm film, and usable with a 2x teleconverter on a full frame, and indeed usable without one on an Olympus dSLR as my other images with it show, it lacks the amazing resolution capability of the Zuiko Digital lenses which were apparently designed to give an MTF of 4-5 times better than the OM lenses.

This is why Canon & Nikon are now hitting a wall with their current lenses which were designed for 35mm film and struggling to cope with the high resolution sensors such as on the Canon 1Ds Mark III. Indeed, Nikon have started revising their lenses in readiness for their 25mp full frame.

Enough rambling, let’s see what the ZD 50-200mm with EC-20 can do at the same distance of 2.5m hand held, again a 100% pixel peeping crop:

50-200mm 100% crop

Now, we have resigned the OM 200mm to the cupboard, let’s do some more:

see the bee and blossom pics here

Now to use this lens like this at 800mm effective focal length at focus of 1.2m giving 1:1 macro (ie. width of image equates to about 36mm of subject), and having a hyperactive bee who just does not want to sit there and pose, you really need to resort to manual focus techniques.

I tried the C-AF but even the small ramblings of the bee on the blossom was making the AF go crazy and taking the shot was a bit of luck as to if it was in focus or not – the E510′s AF mechanism just wasn’t designed for such macro activity.

The S-AF works well with it being activated by the AFL lock button and not the shutter button (set wrench 1 on the E510 menu so AEL/AFL setting is M:3 and set AF mode to MF on the rear controls. This means you can quickly lock an AF in using the AEL/AFL button and know that touching the shutter won’t change your focus. You can then just sway in and out minutely until your subject is in focus then fire away. If you want the bee in flight, this is a bit harder and requires a bit of trial and error and anticipate it will fly a little off the flower and pre-focus there and wait for it to fly there and hope you have it – of course you need flash or a fast shutter for this.

Mind you this combination did get a bit heavy trying to keep focus while waiting for something to happen, but it should work well for all those flying insects which don’t like you getting very close.

Whilst I suspect I could get even sharper results with the ZD 50mm macro, the shorter working distance would have prevented capturing flighty bees and I am very happy with these initial results.

Finally, at such magnifications, you really need to reduce blur from subject and camera movement to a minimum, and better results could probably be attained by use of an off-camera flash, such as a hand held Olympus Ring Flash or a Twin flash attached to the lens.

Moonrise hand held at 800mm with ZD 50-200mm + EC-20

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

It’s getting past my bed time now, but I just noticed the moon rising about 10deg above horizon amongst thick clouds and being a keen astrophotographer, I just had to try my new toy on this target.

So here is my first quick shot, hand held rather carelessly at 800mm equivalent focal length reach with lens wide open at f/3.5 (ie. f/7 effective aperture with the 2x TC) and ISO 400 and shutter speed, wait for it… drum roll please….

yes, only 1/100th second – could I hand hold a 800mm shot at 1/100th at almost 1am and still get an OK shot?

here it is straight from camera but resized to 600 pixels wide to fit here:

ZD50-200mm moon shot

Wow, it has enough magnification to see the craters well, although with all that atmospheric interference near the horizon, we are unlikely to get much more detail until the moon rises higher in the sky.

Imagine getting a moon THAT size in the background of your landscapes – mind you your foreground subject would need to be a reasonable distance away to get anywhere near the depth of field to make out both subjects in the one frame, but hey, its impressive.

here is the crop without any PS or sharpening:

ZD50-200mm moon shot crop

Remember, the blurring is more due to atmosphere and clouds rather than lens or camera shake (well it could be a bit of camera shake seeing as I was tired and it is only 1/100th sec!).

I didn’t get a second chance to see if I could do better as heavy clouds obscured it within a minute.

That will have to wait for another day.

Correction – ZD 50-200mm SWD incompatible with Ring flash

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

In an earlier post about the wonderful Olympus ZD 50-200mm SWD lens, I wrote that it matched nicely with the Olympus Ring Flash for 1:2 macro photography at 1.2m working distance. (I have now amended this post).

BUT I had made a BIG assumption and not actually tested it out until tonight.

That assumption was that the compatibility of the Ring Flash attaching to the original ZD 50-200mm lens would extend to the new SWD version of the lens.

Alas, Olympus for some strange reason, decided to change the lens hood mount in the SWD version of this lens and thus the Ring Flash no longer mounts onto it but must be hand held in place.

This works, but is a bit unwieldy holding the camera, lens in one hand which also needs to press AF button and take photo whilst other hand holds the flash in place.

Looks like it may need some velcro to keep it in place if I can work out a suitable system, and it would be nice then to be able to use it on the 14-42mm kit lens in a similar manner too for wide angle creative portraits.

Fortunately, it seems the Macro Twin Flash still is compatible with the SWD lens.

Sorry if I have misinformed anyone but Olympus did not advertise this incompatibility either to my recollection but I did find a reference here.

Extending the E510 – 800mm reach hand held – wow!

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

I dropped into my local shop today to help me solve a little dilemma.

Will the much touted new Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter work well with my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens, or will the image suffer or the AF take too long to work, and could I use it hand held at 800mm at ISO 400 in the shade?

Well, much to my and the salesman’s surprise, when I tried it out in the store and manage to rapidly focus it with AF on a man INSIDE a passing tram and take a reasonable image (although a little blurred on zooming in) of him at 1/50th sec at 800mm hand held, I knew this was going to be one brilliant combination and couldn’t resist it – so I bought it…. just don’t tell my wife!

Firstly, what would be reasonable shutter speeds to use at 800mm reach (ie. 200mm setting on the lens)?

I discovered that although I could take reasonable images at 1/50th sec very carefully hand held at 800mm with IS on, this was pushing the capability just a bit too much and much sharper results were attainable at 1/100th sec, but to be safe I decided to opt for Shutter speed priority exposure mode (the S on the exposure dial), and use 1/200th sec all the time at ISO 400.

So there I was in the city on a cold Winter’s day in fairly heavy overcast, sitting on a bench thinking, now what can I test this unique outfit on?

My shoelaces at 800mm focal length

If you havent guessed, these are the shoelaces I was wearing on my old sports shoes taken at about the 1.2m closest focus distance hand held & rather casually hand held at that!

Given the heavy shade I was in, the camera took this at wide open aperture (f/3.5) which makes it f/7 with the 2x teleconverter and 1/200th sec, ISO 400. As you can see the depth of field is extremely shallow – but that is 1:1 macro or near enough at about 1.2m focus distance and 800mm equivalent focal length reach. This image is not a crop, just resized for the web.

So off I went for a walk, and tried a few different style shots…

see here for these photos with comments on the bottom.

This is a really fun lens, although a bit big especially with the lens hood on (so I took it off walking in the city to avoid scaring people!).

Even into the light without a lens hood, flare was well controlled, image sharp, beautiful background bokeh and this can get you shots not possible before by allowing you to get closer images or to compress perspective to the extreme.

S-AF worked very fast and C-AF worked well once AF had been attained and you kept the subject on the AF point. C-AF does take a while to do the initial lock though, especially if you have changed focus distance considerably, eg. from a close up focus to a distance focus.

I am sure this will work admirably for surfing and wildlife and relatively stationery birds (birds in flight would really need the Olympus E3 body for a better reliability at capturing them).

BUT the important take away point is that this combination provides an extremely usable, portable, relatively light kit with still very good image quality at 800mm reach even in the shade.

What other camera lens combinations could achieve this super telephoto reach at effective aperture wider than f/8 so AF still works and under 3kg?

Olympus with Olympus ZD 70-300mm lens + EC-14 1.4x teleconverter = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality.

Olympus with Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 + EC-14 = 840mm reach at f/4 but VERY expensive and big.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 300mm f/4L IS + 2x TC = 960mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens, white and Canon 2x TC’s image quality is not as good.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and no IS.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/4L IS DO+ 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/5.6 but that’s a very expensive lens with DO aberrations.

Canon 1DMIII (1.3x crop) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 728mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and body and no IS, although you can increase ISO by 1-2 stops and you get 10fps.

Nikon DX camera + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 + 1.4x TC = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

Nikon DX camera + 300mm f/4 + 2x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

On a full frame dSLR, you would need a 400mm f/4 with 2x TC or a 800mm f/5.6 and these lenses are very big, heavy, and expensive.

This is one of the advantages of the Four Thirds system – telephoto reach with portability, and again highlights that sensor image quality is not the PRIME reason to buy into a camera system.

If it were, we would all be taking 8″ x 10″ film cameras to take social shots at parties – a ridiculous notion!

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

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

I have had this lens for a couple of months now and I am extremely impressed with it.

In 35mm terms, this lens gives a telephoto reach of 100-400mm at f/2.8-3.5.


Now this image would have been even more dynamic if a 1.4x or 2x TC was used as well – next on my wish list!

Unlike my Canon gear, it gives me high optical quality zoom at wide aperture with 400mm telephoto reach in a nice relatively compact and light lens (although much bigger and heavier than many other Olympus lenses) with a nicely made lens hood which even has a nice touch of a sliding window so you can adjust a polariser filter if needed.

Of course, it is image stabilised when used on an IS camera body such as the Olympus E510/520/E3.

see my comparison of specifications of this lens with those offered for Canon and Nikon.

Despite its 1kg weight, I can carry it with only one finger on my Olympus E510 – something there is no chance I could do with on my Canon 1DMIII – which, although you wouldn’t do this routinely, points to how easy this is to carry for long periods despite its weight.

There are many things to like about this lens apart from its optical quality and telephoto reach:

it is weatherproof – this is a big issue to me as it often starts to drizzle rain on a walk and it is during these times the best photos can be had – not the time to put the camera away – it would be even better matched to the almost waterproof Olympus E3.

it has beautiful bokeh – very nice blurred background quality as a result of its circular aperture diaphragm that most Olympus ZD lenses also have, but is accentuated by the narrower depth of field of the telephoto end of this lens at wide apertures.


the background blurring capability allows the subject to be emphasised very nicely and thus it makes a fantastic portrait lens, especially at the longer focal lengths wide open.

see my comparison of background blurring capability of lenses for portraiture here.

it has a relatively short close focus of 1.2m for a lens of this class (most other full frame lenses of this reach would have a close focus more like 2.4m) which means you can use it for your portraits but perhaps just as importantly, it becomes a very nice long telephoto macro lens with a 1.2m working distance so you don’t scare critters such as dragon flies while still giving high quality 1:2 macro performance.


Flower in the shade, hand held at 200mm (400mm telephoto reach) with IS on.

I just discovered that whilst the original version of this lens can be matched very nicely with the Olympus macro flash system. Thus the Olympus ring flash bayonet mount fits on the lens hood mount of this lens perfectly and is powerful enough for the 1.2m working distance. This could be used for editorial/fashion style portraiture although be aware that at this distance you wont get nice big ring flash catchlights in the subjects eyes and if the subject is looking towards the camera, you will most likely get red eyes which will need removing later.
Be aware that the bayonet mount for the lens hood is different on the SWD version of this lens and thus you have to hand hold the ring flash in place – why did Olympus do this!!!
see compatibilities here.

and if this were not enough, the wide aperture and high quality allow you to combine this lens with either of the Olympus ZD teleconverters for surfing shots, wildlife, etc.

assuming you are using it on an IS-capable camera body, you have an image stabilised outfit with:

the 1.4x TC then gives you a 35mm equiv. telephoto reach of a 140-560mm f/3.9-4.9 lens.

the 2x TC gives you a 35mm equiv. telephoto reach of a 200-800mm f/5.6-7.0 lens – still very usable although you might be considering a tripod or monopod at the longer end.

for most people, this lens combined with the very nice Olympus ZD 12-60mm (ie. 24-120mm – or the cheaper ZD 14-54mm which covers 28-108mm) and perhaps a ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro for closer working distances and more compact outfit, maybe all they need for 95% of their purposes.

This is what makes the Four Thirds system so attractive – quality optics designed for the system, weatherproofing, circular diaphragms, built-in image stabilisation in the cameras and portability.

And hopefully soon, you will be able to use this lens via an adapter on new silent Four Thirds Micro bodies with movie capabilities (hopefully even 1200fps one day).

Finally, here are samples of some of my photos taken with this lens

I highly recommend this lens – its one most people who can afford it should strongly consider getting, in short, I love it!

If you can’t afford it or its size is an issue for backpacking or travel, then consider the lesser capable but cheaper and lighter Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 ED lens which gives a telephoto reach of 140-600mm at f/4-5.6 although at lesser image quality and the smaller aperture means it will be less capable as a portrait lens or for mating with teleconverters, but you do get an amazing reach in only a 620g lens which will suit many people.

Of course, this doesn’t mean full frame Nikon or the Canon 1DMIII are not good, they just have different strengths such as less noise at high ISO, a little more dynamic range and, currently, faster burst rates of 6-10fps.

For instance you could buy a Canon 1DMIII and use a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS lens to give you 390mm reach at f/4, and get away with 1-2 stops higher ISO, but it would be heavier and much more expensive package, and less versatile.

Feel free to add comments and a link to your photos with this lens (you may need to click on the post title to bring up the comments field).