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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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