My favorite Micro 4/3 Telephoto zoom: Panasonic 100-300mm F4-5.6 By Michael Ma

My favorite Micro 4/3 Telephoto zoom: Panasonic 100-300mm F4-5.6

By Michael Ma

Hi Steve &  Brandon!

I’ve been following your site for a long time and have submitted photos once or twice. Congratulations on your continued success.

Your reviews on mirrorless cameras and especially on M4/3 cameras have played a big part in convincing me to try the system. Because of their small sensors, I think M4/3 cameras have a real advantage over other formats in telephoto (2x crop factor). However there are not many lenses to choose from: only the Olympus 75-300 and the Panasonic 100-300mm are native m4/3 lenses.

I chose the Panasonic because of price and weight. This lens has received mixed reviews. Some don’t like it because it doesn’t have a tripod collar; some don’t like it because it’s a little soft wide open; some don’t like it because it’s made mainly from plastic. For those reasons, this lens can be had for a bargain. I also like the fact it is bigger and heavier than the Olympus lens so I can hold it more steadily. All the shots here are handheld.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got the lens last weekend and immediately took it out for a spin. And I LOVED it! I used it on an EM1 demo body I borrowed and took it to the New York central park zoo. It was an overcast day and some of these shots were taken indoors in the bird sanctuary. So the light was not ideal.

 Bird 1

This Macaw was dangling on the branch and eyeballing this strange man with a long lens pointed at him. I was separated from the bird by a thick glass, from 10 feet away. The camera was able to focus very quickly on the bird’s eye, at 250mm and F6. ISO 800, 1/80s. The stabilization worked wonders and I was able to get a crisp shot. This lens rendered colors extraordinarily well. I didn’t need to crank up the contrast in post processing.

bird 2

This Red Crossbill was busy fixing its nest when I zoomed in from about 30 feet away, at 300mm zoom (600mm equivalent). ISO 800 and shutter was 1/160 (F5.6? I forgot). Still indoor lighting. This is already a 100% crop of the shot and as you can see, with just a touch of sharpening, it is sharp enough for most presentations. The lens retained very nice contrast and again accurate colors.

bird 3

Now heading outside, still at maximum zoom of 300mm, I caught this sparrow picking up some grass and flying onto a branch. Very sharp indeed. The lens was able to delineated the feather patterns very well and even at F5.6, this length gave great subject isolation and very shallow DOF.

monkey

I was standing among about 20 people when I took this shot. A monkey was picking fleas off his buddy. He looked up and I snapped the shot. At 300mm the lens was still sharp enough to make out each individual hair on his body, and the bokeh was smooth. There was another photographer in the crowd with me with a full frame Canon 1D and a 400mm F5.6 lens on a tripod. His setup knocked people around in the crowded space and he told me he still wasn’t able to reach close enough to fill the frame without his teleconverter. I was very glad that I used the much more compact, and in this case, more capable m4/3 system.

Lastly, I had to run up the hill to get a glimpse at the snow leopard. If you’ve been to the Central Park zoo you’d know that the shelter is very dark and a thick (often dirty) glass separated the tourists from the leopard. The animal was very shy that day and hung far from the display area behind a tree. Again, at maximum zoom I was able to quickly focus on his face when he peaked up and take this shot.

Leopard

The Panasonic 100-300 quickly became one of my favorite lenses. It is a revelation to have such a handy setup being able to reach to 600mm when I need it. It is easy to carry, has fast focus, renders vivid colors in moderate to good light. The softness at the longest reach is easily corrected with a bit of sharpening. Between getting a slightly softer shot and not getting a shot at all? I’ll take getting the shot every time. In the right condition it is far more versatile than a system 5x of its cost.

Oh, by the way. Did I mention I took my six and four year old girls along with me that day? Imagine taking care of them AND carrying a 20lp full frame system and a tripod? Forget about it.

You can see full res photos of these shots at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/maxiaofei131/sets/72157644367311562/

Best,

Michael Ma

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20 Comments

  1. I recently purchased the Olympus 75-300 ii.
    I looked at Panasonic and reasons for not purchasing.
    1. I found oly balanced better on E-M5 and tripod.
    2, Cost of Oly in Australia $A 500 vs Pan $670.
    As regards image quality I was guided by reviews etc but these have been contradictory.
    My feeling was there is probably not a lot of difference.
    I have only taken test shots, at 200mm and 800ISO I have got good clear shots with plenty of feather detail in birds.

  2. I was considering this lens, then the salesman at a local camera store alluded to a new super zoom coming out this month. Something like a 50 to 300 for $1500. I’m not finding that announcement anywhere, are you?

  3. hi Michael, really love all your shots here, they’re awesome. I have the Gx7 and looking to get a lens so I can bring the camera on a Safari and I think you’ve convinced me here the 100-300mm is the right one! Can i ask, did you shoot these pics in raw or jpeg? what do you use to post process, they’re just so amazing!!!!

  4. It sadly is the best available.It’s amazing the Lumix GH is on generation 4 and still nothing to let me leave my 50-500mm Sigma and Canon 7D at home. I wouldn’t mind the plastic if it was smooth turning. I wish Sigma would make a 40-400mm, all us old bird photographers with more money than arm muscle would jump on it. Their 35-100 f2.8 is a wonderful light package for a lens that is equivalent to a 70-200mm f2.8 ships anchor.

    I bought a GH1 and GH3 thinking a good telephoto would soon come. I’ll jump brands to whoever puts out a great 4/3 telephoto first. I certainly will not buy another GH unless a great tele becomes available.

  5. Beautiful pictures Michael! The longest lens that I have is the Panasonic 35-100 and I’m always wondering what longer lens I should buy, and this one seems about as good as we can get in native m4/3, so I might end up buying it!

  6. I am loving the Panny 100-300 on my E-M1 too. All the mixed reviews that said the 100-300 is soft at the long end is incorrect for my copy of this remarkable lens.

    What I did notice though is the AF at the most tele end, sometimes can be slightly less accurate when the subject is far away. This slight mis focus can be misread as lens softness. What I usually do is AF first then manual focus over ride to fine tune focus.

  7. Great to see a tele-photo micro 4/3 post on STEVEHUFFPHOTO. The pictures are sharp and precise. Nice bokeh as well.

    Both the Oly and Panasonic are such value for money and the question is which one to buy when you have an OMD. Obviously the Panasonic cameras have no choice as the Oly lens has no stabilisation in the lens.

    I read some very negative reviews on the Olympus 75-300mm highlighting its average optical quality, slow focus, missed images, softness, and of course the slow aperture speed. Not everyone had this opinion but so strong were the words I borrowed the lens for a week to find out for myself bird watching, sports and low light. That experience is below

    http://theshutterjournal.com/2014/03/18/sport-waves-birds-and-fun-with-the-olympus-m-zuiko-digital-ed-75-300mm-f4-8-6-7-i/

    Great images Michael.

    • I agree the Olympus 75-300 is a cracker as well. I ended up going for that one as a) it is much cheaper than the Panasonic, b) it has 75mm which helped where I couldn’t step backward. I’ve only had my 75-300 for 1 week and took it out last Sunday. I’ve got a bit more to learn, but slow focus is most definitely not an issue. It was very quick, and the slow aperture whilst on paper not good, in reality it is great and has superb subject separation.

      Here is my experience at a Steve Backshall event http://www.oooia.com/steve-backshall-deadly-aerial-assassins/

  8. Nice shots. I also really like this 100-300 lens. It is a birding lens you don’t mind carrying and the images are very good and sharp on the E-M5 and E-M1. It also works well for people shots but I prefer to work close (28 or 35 equiv.) most of the time. Thanks for posting.

  9. I’m surprised at your comment about price… it seems to me that the new Oly 75-300 is cheaper than the Pana. Comments?

    • I bought mine used. There are reviews sayig the Olympus 75-300 ii is sharper than the pana, so they are usually more costly. I think you are looking at a version 1

  10. Maybe I missed it but, which stabilization did you end up using…the lens or the in-body?

  11. Great shots Michael! Love that first one; the eye, that vivid yellow. Interesting shot!

    Wholeheartedly agree about the portability and convenience of the long reach M43 system as well – I have the OM-D EM-5 and the Oly 75-300. Amazed that you can carry something the size and weight of a coke can and shoot wildlife handheld! I revelation indeed.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • I like to shoot IndyCars with my 5dm3 and 70-200, but I wish I had more reach than 200mm. I’m starting to get interested in m4/3 because of this.

      • If you mean IndyCars, as in ‘fast moving race cars,’ I don’t know if M4/3 is the system of choice. Even the phase detect AF in the E-M1 shouldn’t be near as fast as those in FF DSLR’s.
        On the other hand you will have more reach with the right lens, travel lighter and move around more easily. Another advantage of M4/3 is that you have more DOF at the same aperture, which may come in handy shooting race cars.

        I should really try it before you buy it.
        Maybe the upcoming 40-150 f/2.8 PRO (80-300mm eq.) with EM-1 would be the best M4/3 setup in your case. I guess the PRO lens will focus faster than the ‘cheaper’ 3.5-5.6 lenses.

        As I said, try before you buy.

        • Spot-on reply – on the other hand, albeit as slower, CAF has the unique advantage of negating the most common issue of PDAF, all the shots will be spot on without misfocusing…

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