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!
- compatible with any Micro Four Thirds camera whether Olympus or Panasonic – although having the same brand as your camera can give better functionality
- 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:
- 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
- see my wiki for more links and information
The Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens:
- 600mm field of view (840mm with MC-14 teleconverter)
- weathersealed with 11 separate hermetic seals
- 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)
- 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
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.