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Review Olympus 300 mm f/4

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The missing piece in the puzzle of professional micro-43 lenses fits perfectly: 300 mm f/4 + 8 mm f/1.8 Fisheye + 12-40 mm f/2.8 + 40-150 mm f/2.8. 

The Olympus 300 mm f/2.8 Zuiko Digital, because of its unique construction and image quality, is a famous telephoto lens for nature, sport and telephoto-macro photography. But its price, weight, and the fact that the lens is designed for four-thirds cameras that are no longer made make this topper from 2005 a less obvious candidate for the popular micro-43 cameras of today. Since 2005, a great deal of progress has been made in making AF faster and more accurately, and you especially benefit from that with telephoto lenses.
The Olympus 300 mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko Digital, a lens that Olympus says might be the best lens that Olympus has ever built, is more compact, lighter and less expensive. This is a modern lens with a silent and fast High-speed Imager (MSC) Autofocus. The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 300 mm 1:4.0 IS PRO lens (with a field of view of 4.1 degrees: 35-mm equivalent: 600 mm) is extra well-sealed against dust and splashwater and is guaranteed to work at 10 degrees below 0 (C). All of this is packaged in a metal body and weighs—without the removable tripod collar but including the built-in lens hood—just 1270 grams. Before we compare the Olympus 300 mm f/4 with the Panasonic 100-300 mm, we will first take a look at how good this new Olympus telephoto lens is.

Compredded 3170052Olympus 300mm f/4 PRO @ OM-D E-M1 + 1.4x converter f/7.1, 1/200 sec, 100 ISO (beelduitsnede) 
High sharpness, contrast and bright colors at an extremely long focal length. Two months ago, this was still on the bucket list of the (semi-)professional photographer with a micro-43 camera. Both the recently released Panasonic 100-400 mm and the Olympus 300 mm f/4 have made it come true. 

Olympus M Zuiko 300 mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED? Solid!

LENS DEV 300 PRO black product
Olympus is a brand that actually collaborates with photographers. Example? Owners of an Arca-Swiss compatible tripod should take a good look at the tripod collar shown in the picture above: the tripod collar of the Olympus 300 mm f/4 fits without using a tripod plate. Handy! Will a tripod collar also come to market for other tripods? I hope so.  

Build and auto focus

Just like the earlier Olympus PRO lenses that we have reviewed (Olympus 8 mm Fisheye, Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8 and Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8), this Olympus lens is not only great to look at, it is also rock solid. You feel that immediately when you first pick up this lens. If you compare the Olympus 300 mm f/4 with the Panasonic 100-400 mm, then a difference of 30% on one kilo is not bad at all. That is a negligible difference for a professional photographer who is accustomed to a camera that weighs more than one and a half kilos and a lens that weighs a multiple of that. If you are not accustomed to working with a heavy camera, then it may be that photographing with the Panasonic zoom will be easier. A difference of 30% is one that you will notice.

In comparison with the plastic lens hood of the Olympus 40-150 mm, the Olympus 300 mm f/4 has an even better (less play and attaches more precisely to the lens) metal lens hood. A lens of 23 cm long (28 cm with the lens hood extended) that has a field of view of 4 degrees (equivalent to a 500 mm lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor) is a luxury. The buttons on the lens for focus limiting, AF/MF and image stabilization on/off are larger than we are accustomed to from micro-43 lenses. There is space for that on the lens body, and they can now also be operated with gloves on. If you remove the tripod collar, then you can place a ring, that is included, in its place. It looks great.

Manual focusing with the wide, ribbed metal ring is a real pleasure. Just like the other Olympus PRO lenses, this lens has a Focus clutch mechanism for switching between AF and manual focusing. With an SLR camera with a high resolution sensor, you can have trouble with front or back focus, because the focus module is not on the sensor, but elsewhere in the camera. Because a mirrorless system camera focuses on the sensor signal, you will never have trouble with front or back focus. The silent focus motor of the 300 mm f/4 makes use of fly-by-wire, so that the focus ring does not have a hard stop at the shortest or longest focal length when you manually overrule the AF motor. If you make use of the focus clutch, then you do have a hard stop at the extreme focal lengths. You are thus certain when focusing manually that you have turned too far at a given point while focusing. On our test model, the focus ring was a bit too loose for my taste, so that you could unintentionally set the camera to manual focus.

There is a special Fn button on the lens to which you can assign an extra function. I find that handy, because when photographing with a telephoto lens, you hold your hand under the lens. This button is then within reach, while not all the buttons on the camera are

Specifications
Olympus 300mm
Image Stabilization:+
lenses/ groups:17 / 10
length x diameter:227 / 93
filter size:77
Weight:1475
Lens hood:+
Compredded 3170112

Don’t think that you will come home with nothing but successful shots without practice. This—certainly in my case—does not have to do with the equipment, but the photographer. I am not accustomed to photographing with extreme telephoto lenses. It takes practice with an extremely small field of view to target the subject precisely. The AF is very fast and, like you find on many professional lenses of other brands, you can limit the focal range to 3 modes: full range, 1.4 to 4 meters, and from 4 meters to infinity. Clever use of the focus limiting makes it possible to focus even faster. Continuous AF is fast, thanks to the phase detection sensor of the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Even so, I think that the camera is a limiting factor here, and that the lens will appear to be even faster with an eventual successor of the OM-D E-M1. The Olympus EE1 Dot (more about that in a moment) increases the number of successful action shots.  

The bee's knees: Olympus' 5-Axis Sync Image Stabilization

6 stops: At the same shutter time, thanks to 5-Axis Sync image stabilization, you take a picture at 100 ISO instead of 6400 ISO without image stabilization.

From our earlier tests, we already know that the IBIS image stabilization of Olympus cameras provides an enormously stable image. The Olympus 300 mm f/4 PRO has equally unbelievably good image stabilization built in that can also work with the in-body image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 Mark II. This 5-axis synchronized IS, according to the specifications, is good for a profit of 6 EV steps. In common language: a photo that you shoot by hand with a shutter time of 1/1000 sec without image stabilization is just as sharp as a shot made with a shutter time of 1/15 sec with image stabilization.

With older cameras, you can choose between sensor and lens stabilization: for lenses with an extremely long focal length, always choose lens stabilization. For extreme telephoto lenses, the sensor in the body has to make enormous adjustments to correct for the movements that a lens makes. Olympus has therefore fitted the 300 mm f/4 with built-in image stabilization. An added advantage is that owners of a Panasonic camera also benefit from the image stabilization. With some Olympus cameras, the image stabilization in the camera works together with the image stabilization in the lens (5-axis Sync IS), as is explained in the video above. This is a recent development from which you, for example as an owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M1, only profit if you install the most recent (free) firmware on your camera. Olympus is one of the manufacturers, just like Sigma, Panasonic and Fujifilm, who provide their customers with extended service by also offering new technological innovations

Beeldstabilisatie
The practice shot below is a great illustration of the extremely effective image stabilization. On a cloudy, gray day, I saw two wild boars, and I took a picture as quickly as I could, with a shutter time of 1/13 of a second. This is not the best result from a series of shots: it is a realistic example from practice. The boars did not stand still for a second shot. If you enlarge this shot to 100%, you can see that at a shutter time of 1/13 sec, the sharpness is less than it is with a shorter shutter time. Even so, I am amazed that I can get a picture like this by hand with a telephoto lens with a field of view that is equal to the field of view of a 600 mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. Not with a shutter time of 1/800 sec (for which I would have had to change the ISO from 100 to 6400), but with a shutter time of 1/13 sec. I would not be shocked if, with a bit more time to get a stable stance and if I could have taken a few shots in a row, even a shutter time of 1/6 of a second would have produced a sharp picture. Bizarre.
Beeldstabilisatiepraktijk
Enlarged to 100% (move your mouse over the picture above), the eye of the boar is still sharp in a shot made at 300 mm 1/13 second (= 600 mm FF FOV-equivalent) thanks to the synchonized image stabiliztation. Less sharp than a shot taken from a tripod, but sharper than a shot made with a shutter time of 1/300 without image stabilization.

Fantastic close-up lens

Olympus300mmcloseup1200 kopie
With a 600 mm telephoto lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor, you have to think of about 5 meters for the shortest focus distance. That produces a magnification of about 1:7. A subject about 25 cm wide fills the frame then. The Olympus 300 mm f/4 has a shortest focus distance of about 1.4 m, at which distance a subject of about 7 cm fills the frame. Thanks to a magnification of 0.24x (0.48x converted to full-frame) you can get close-up shots of insects from a relatively great distance, without them noticing your presence, in comparison with real macro lenses, that usually have a much shorter focal distance.d 

No flare

 

The Olympus 300 mm f/4 has a new coating, Z Coating Nano, which means that there is a layer of nanoparticles applied to a number of lens elements, including the front lens. This nano coating appears to be very effective at preventing internal reflections. With previous tests, we found some purple flecks with bright backlighting situations, but when testing the 300 mm f/4, we did not see any flare or ghosts in our shots.

Sharpness

 
Compredded 2110269

To analyze the sharpness, we took test shots that stored in the camera simultaneously in RAW and jpg formats. The graph below shows the Imatest measurements of resolution (MTF50) for jpg files that are made with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (16 megapixels). The measured resolution is a bit higher than the measured resolution of the Panasonic 100-400 mm at the same focal length on a Panasonic GX8, with a 20-megapixel camera. We are now working on getting practice shots with both lenses on the same camera (OM-D E-M1), in order to determine whether we can see a difference in image quality. We also take shots with the Olympus 300 mm f/4 with the 1.4x teleconverter.
What stands out in all the files is the even sharpness from center to corner, at all apertures. For the measurement results of the RAW files, the sharpness in the center is just a bit higher than in the corners, as you would expect.
In the jpg files, the measured sharpness is higher in the corners due to sharpening, but the difference is so small that you don’t see it. From full aperture to f/11, the sharpness from center to corner is always higher than 2500 lines per image height. That is excellent.   

ResolutieOlympus300mmJPG
The MTF50 is tested in the image ratio of 4:3, but the scores in the conclusion are calculated with an image ratio of 2:3. This allows the measurement results in the Lens Comparison or in our list of test results at individual focal lengths (see 600mm) directly comparable with the measurement results of lenses on a camera with an APS-C or full-frame sensor.  

No chromatic aberration, vignetting or distortion

 
Compredded 2110378
Neither lateral (purple and green edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image) nor longitudinal (“color bokeh”) chromatic aberration are visible. With micro-43 cameras, lens errors are corrected in the camera, so you might think that this is because of in-camera correction of any lens errors. That is not the case here. It is because of a good lens design, the right glass types and careful production, or strict quality control. I can say that because for the Olympus 300 mm f/4, it also applies for uncorrected RAW files: you have no trouble from lens errors like chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting. The low chromatic aberration in uncorrected RAW files is thanks to the high-quality glass types that are used. Vignetting is not visible across the whole range: a bit more than 1/3 stop in an uncorrected RAW file at f/4 and equal to zero after stopping down 1 stop. Distortion is actually absent: less than 0.25% in an uncorrected RAW file. In part, that low distortion is thanks to the compact dimensions: distortion increases with the size of the lens. With high-end, full-frame telephoto lenses with a focal length greater than 250 mm, distortion of 1% is quite normal.  

Bokeh

bokeh

The longer the focal length of a lens and the brighter the lens, the better the bokeh becomes. If you compare the bokeh of the Olympus 300 mm f/4 with the bokeh of bright telephoto lenses (300 mm f/2.8, 500 mm f/5.6, etc.) on a camera with a full-frame sensor, then there is a clear difference. With extreme telephoto lenses on a camera with a full-frame sensor, you get a background blurred to one color at full aperture, as though the subject were placed in front of a studio background. With the Olympus 300 mm f/4, you get a beautifully blurred background, as in the example above. But it is not so blurred that the entire background has become just one color. It is a question of taste, over which the argument is endless. Some people find such a background less beautiful than a completely even background. Personally, I find it a plus that the character of the background is still visible, in a beautifully blurred bokeh, with an extreme telephoto lens.  

Must-have accessories: 1.4x converter & EE1 Dot

converterThere are two accessories that I think ought to be purchased with the purchase of the Olympus 300 mm f/4. First, the 1.4x converter, unless you already bought one with the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO. Teleconverters are a practical solution for further increasing the range of a telephoto lens without too much hassle. It only works well with lenses that are very good optically. Both the Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 and the Olympus 300 mm f/4 have the chops for it. The loss of image quality from using a teleconverter is really very small, and the AF continues to function well. We will publish a review of the Olympus 300 mm f/4 with teleconverter shortly.

EE1
Another must-have is the Olympus EE1 Dot. This is an ideal solution for every photographer with an extreme telephoto lens, regardless of brand. A Nikon or Canon photographer with an SLR camera gets just as much benefit from this accessory as a photographer with a micro-43 camera.
Problem? When photographing or filming with an extreme telephoto lens, the field of view is so small that it requires a great deal of experience to focus at just the right place. If you see a bird flying, the chance is good that when you bring your eye to the viewfinder, you will only see blue sky, and no bird. And which way should you turn if the bird is outside the frame? Right or left? Especially if you have not focused yet, it is difficult to get the subject in frame quickly with an extreme telephoto lens.
Solution? The Olympus EE1 Dot is a viewfinder with a red target in the middle; you place it in the camera’s hotshoe. With the red target, you can outline what will appear in the picture. Once you’ve done that, you no longer have to look through the viewfinder to follow a bird in flight. Thanks to the Olympus EE1 Dot, you know exactly how to get and keep a (moving) subject at a great distance in frame with an extreme telephoto lens. The only thing you have to do is to get the red dot on your subject. Ideal for photography and video. I’m going to buy one.

Conclusion Olympus 300 mm f/4 review with Olympus OM-D E-M1

290LENS DEV 300 PRO black product

Look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.

ECWYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".


300
600
8.2
7.3
9.1
9.1
9.2
ECPure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for the conversion of RAW files, then the RAW scores are equal to the jpg scores.
300
600
8.2
8.0
9.1
9.6
9.2

Pros

  • Sublime image quality: Best telephoto lens for micro-43
  • Bright
  • Fast and precise auto focus
  • Very good image stabilization
  • Light for an extreme telephoto lens (1270 grams without tripod collar)
  • Extra well-sealed against dust and splashwater; works at -10⁰
  • Special Fn button

Cons

  • Heavy for a micro-43 lens 1490 grams (including tripod collar)
  • Most expensive micro-43 lens

Superb build and image quality. Six stops of image stabilization make the Olympus 300 mm f/4 a game changer.

Cameras with a micro-43 sensor offer very high image quality, coupled with much lighter and more compact lenses. Many documentary, portrait or travel photographers are switching to a compact system camera with matching lenses because the build and image quality meet their strict quality requirements, while the weight and space savings are enormous. For nature and sport photography, the micro-43 lens selection was not competitive with the big lenses that are used by sport and nature photographers. Professional sport and nature photographers are therefore still accustomed to travelling with enormously big and heavy equipment.
The Olympus 300 mm f/4 has everything needed to change that. The build and image quality of the Olympus PRO series, including extra sealing against dust and splashwater and guaranteed function in the freezing cold, meet the strict requirements of professional photographers. The compact dimensions and the modest weight of the Olympus 300 mm f/4 on an OM-D E-M1 are properties that most sport and nature photographers could only dream about. The advantage of a larger sensor is almost entirely destroyed, thanks to the 5-axis image stabilization. For full-frame cameras, built-in image stabilization offers a profit of 3 to 4 stops. On a full-frame camera, because of image stabilization that is 2-3 stops less effective, you often get a picture at 400 to 800 ISO that is as sharp as the Olympus 300 mm f/4 + OM-D E-M1 at 100 ISO. With that, the advantage of a larger sensor, as far as sharpness and signal-to-noise ratio are concerned, disappears like snow in the sunshine.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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Comments (3)

  1. D. C. Wells

Thanks for the excellent reviews of the Oly 300 f4 and the Panny 100-400. I will be buying one or the other soon. I have the 1.4 TC and the red dot sight, so I am ready for either to run at 400mm. My dilemma is which. I am paralyzed by knowing...

Thanks for the excellent reviews of the Oly 300 f4 and the Panny 100-400. I will be buying one or the other soon. I have the 1.4 TC and the red dot sight, so I am ready for either to run at 400mm. My dilemma is which. I am paralyzed by knowing both lenses are great. The Oly has very slight resolution and speed advantages, a more convenience hood, and the function button; the Panny, the zoom convenience and a bit of weight advantage. I suspect that the zoom is the only difference I would really notice. With the price differential, Panny seems the way to go. But I am so happy with my EM5 Mark II and my 12-40mm and 40-150mm lenses (I still use my Nikon FX system for extreme wide angle and very low light work) that I find it hard to chose against the Oly 300mm. I like to hear from you and others on making that choice.

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  1. Ivo    D. C. Wells

You'll be surprised how much the difference in weight (approx. 20%) still is. And maybe you'll be even more surprised, when you'll read about the AF speed test we did (@400mm from infinity to 1.5 meters in 575 ms using the OM-D E-M1.
The...

You'll be surprised how much the difference in weight (approx. 20%) still is. And maybe you'll be even more surprised, when you'll read about the AF speed test we did (@400mm from infinity to 1.5 meters in 575 ms using the OM-D E-M1.
The Panasonic AF focuses very, very fast from infinity to 1.5 meter. In our test it was even faster than the Olympus. Given the DFD technique, you could expect this on a Panasonic body, but we tested it using an Olympus body. I expect that the Oly 300mm AF will improve a lot when the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk2 arrives.

If you like to bring the lens along with you, than the zoom, size and weight advantages are important factors in favor of the Panasonic.
The Olympus offers the highest sharpness. Even when attached to the 1.4x converter. So if you're going to use it on a tripod and you're not moving around, the Olympus would be the best choice.
In terms of built quality, the Olympus is perhaps even better (certainly the lens hood compared to the 40-150mm) than the already very high built quality of your other Olympus lenses.

Regards,

Ivo

PS If you use the Amazon links underneath our reviews, you'll support CameraStuffReview. We would really appreciate that!

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  1. Alex Milan

Hello, bravo for your site very interesting ... sorry for my bad english: -) ... I have this Olympus 300mm pro recently, I did some testing (EM1 II) but I am quite disappointed with the results: I find that many images present a front focus ......

Hello, bravo for your site very interesting ... sorry for my bad english: -) ... I have this Olympus 300mm pro recently, I did some testing (EM1 II) but I am quite disappointed with the results: I find that many images present a front focus ... Now, in your test, you say that this is not possible, what do you advise me to do?
Thank you in advance,
Alex

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