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m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

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  • m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

    Below is an attempt to compare the m.Zuiko 300mmF/4 PRO and the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F/4 - F/6.3. The comparison is based on practical use in the field, photographing mostly birds alongside the occasional mammal and larger insects.

    When using the lenses they were paired with the following:
    • m.Zuiko 300mmF/4 PRO: 3.5 years use with the E-M1 M1 (25% of all photos) and 2.5 years use with E-M1 M2 (75% of photos). Tens of thousands of photos taken.
    • Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm: Panasonic G9 (75% of shots) and E-M1 M1 (25% of shots). A few thousand photos taken. (If you wonder why these combinations were used, the reason is that the Panasonic camera was acquired later than the lens.)


    Physical
    Both are compact packages with the Olympus bigger, being a brighter lens.
    The Panasonic weighs less than 1 kg, the Olympus almost 1,3 kg.
    The Panasonic is 172 mm (zoom retracted) and the Olympus is 227 mm.
    Diameter is 83 mm for the Panasonic and 93 mm for the Olympus.
    Filter thread is 77mm for the Olympus and 71mm for the Panasonic (in case you use filters this will push the costs, I never use filters).
    Both lenses feel solid and well built, metal parts are used mostly.

    Lens hood
    The Olympus has a smartly designed retractable lens hood that extends/retracts in a second.
    The Panasonic has a not so smart solution with a tiny retractable part and then a larger hood that is stored reversed when lens is in storage or transport and has to be fitted and secured with a screw for field use. I don't get it, why two parts, making the worst of two worlds?

    Tripod collar
    The Olympus comes with a detachable collar that allows 360 degrees rotation, in practice only 180 is necessary.
    The Panasonic has a different design with a non-detachable collar that allows 90 degrees rotation and a detachable "foot". Semi-clever as only half of the rotation range is supported, so in 50% of the cases, you will not be able to rotate the camera to get a perfectly level horizon. Not the end of the world as you probably will not shoot long exposure landscapes or night photos with this lens but still...

    Controls
    The m.Zuiko has five controls:
    • Focus limiter in three steps (near, far and full range with the breakpoint being 2.4 meters). If you use the full range then the focus range can be delimited using the camera menu. If you use any of the near or far ranges then the focus range is not reading that setting. Once you get used to how it works it is actually quite smart however it takes some time to get used to it and it will lead to missed shots as you forget to turn the switch to the far range.
    • Image stabilizer on/off (overrides the settings in the camera)
    • L/Fn customizable button
    • AF clutch
    • Focus ring, smooth as silk.


    The Panasonic has five controls as well
    • Focus limiter in two steps (far and full range with the breakpoint being 5 meters)
    • Image stabilizer on/off (overrides the settings in the camera)
    • Focus ring, smooth as silk.
    • Zoom ring. This ring is a bit too stiff for my liking, in the range from ~200 to 400. It's not directly bad but not great either. I have read complaints about this, which seems to vary a lot between instances of the lens.
    • Zoom lock


    Image stabilizer
    Both lenses have an image stabilizer that works in concert with the camera stabilizer, provided the cameras and bodies are the same make. Otherwise, you will need to tell the camera which to use; the camera or the lens. The added benefit of using dual IS is something like two F stops, for a total of 5,5 stops (claimed by Olympus) or 6 stops (claimed by Panasonic). In practice, it is probably a bit less, perhaps 4 or 5 stops "only". Anyway, this allows you to take sharp handheld shots at long shutter speeds I would say sharp shots at 1/50s is achievable although perhaps not recommended.

    Closest distance/magnification

    Both lenses allow taking pictures at close distance; 1.4 meters for the m.Zuiko and 1.3 meters for the Panasonic. In practical terms, this means a maximum magnification of 0,24 for the m.Zuiko and 0,25 for the Panasonic which allows nice close-up photos of flora or larger insects, for instance, a medium-sized butterfly will fill half the frame.

    Focusing speed
    Both lenses focus very fast. I haven't measured but have the feeling that the m.Zuiko is a tad faster; it could also be the effect of the camera AF?

    Optical performance
    The m.Zuiko delivers excellent results, period. It supports both the MC-14 and the recently introduced MC-20. IQ degradation with the MC-14 is hardly noticeable. I have too little experience to assess the IQ degradation caused by the MC-20, however first field tests show that focusing performance is not impaired and there seems to be very little CA with the MC-20. You lose some contrast, though.

    The Panasonic gives very good results up to a certain reach, then the sharpness drops. I would say the sharpness starts beyond 300 mm and at 400 mm the images taken exhibit some "mushiness". Stopping down helps but at the expense of speed and busier foreground and background. Remember, the maximum aperture at 400mm is not more than F/6.3. Panasonic does have a teleconverter, however, this lens does not support it.
    I have so far not seen any issues with CA when using that lens.

    Handling
    Both lenses are light enough to allow day-long use without the need for any support.
    Apart from the comment on the stiff zoom ring, the Panasonic has placed the image stabilizer switch so that it can easily be turned off by accident during a photo session; it does not take much force to action it. The same comment is valid for the Olympus lens, to a lesser degree but still it happens to me quite often. Luckily it takes a bit more force to activate the switch compared to the Panasonic. Maybe it's the way I hold and operate the setup?

    Weather sealing
    Both lenses are weather and dust sealed. I can confirm the Olympus sealing is great based on my own experience as I do not hesitate to use my outfit regardless of weather, but cannot comment on the Panasonic as the lens is not mine and I don't want to expose it to any unnecessary risks.

    Price tagUseability and summarizing
    When summarizing I am biased in the sense that I am demanding since over time and with gained experience I have come to the point where I no longer accept photos that are not sharp, poor detail rendering or are out of focus and simply them. You may have other standards than me so my conclusion and recommendation may not be right for you.

    The Olympus lens is just perfect for bird photography if you want a portable setup that you can bring virtually anywhere with you. For wildlife and sports, its impressive reach and narrow angle of view can be too much though, the 40-150 mm PRO may be a better choice but then we get out of scope for this direct comparison. The kind of photo I do on the subjects I usually come around means that I typically will use the Olympus lens without teleconverter during half or two-thirds of the time, and the rest will be split about equally between the TCs. I usually shoot wide open except when taking close-ups or birds in flight where stopping down a bit increases the chance of getting more of the subject in acceptable focus.

    The Panasonic lens is probably a better choice if you are targeting not only birds but also wildlife and sports, as the zoom has obvious benefits. For sharp results I would use the Panasonic at something like 300mm maximum and be hesitant to zoom in fully as stopping down is recommended to work around the shortcomings, unless the negative effect of the smaller aperture can be disregarded from.

    If the priority is birds then the Olympus is a better choice, ideally using an Olympus camera to benefit from the dual IS.

    If you are looking for a more versatile lens and birds are not the first priority then the Panasonic 100-400 is probably right for you, ideally used with a Panasonic camera to benefit from the dual IS.

    If birds are of no interest then perhaps you should look at the m.Zuiko 40-150 F/2.8 PRO instead (which supports both the MC-14 and MC-20) or the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm F2.8-4.0 ASPH Power OIS, which has image stabilizer and supports the 1.4x TC and has received excellent feedback. This is however out of scope for this discussion and I don't have access to that lens so I cannot make any comments.

    Cheers
    Tord

    My Gallery on 500px

  • #2

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    • #3
      Re: m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

      Another very interesting appraisal .. and using the PL 100-400 as my main birding lens does make sense ... I will I think restrict my range on the lens to ensure sharper shots .. and this also pushes into the fact that I actually prefer my 50-200 SWD with EC14tc and even on its own at 200mm it seems more open crop able

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      • #4
        Re: m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

        Thank you for a very interesting and comprehensive assessment of the two lenses. I have both and your experience chimes with mine. Blackfox's comments on the 50-200SWD are worth noting and buying one second-hand will be cheaper than the 50-200 Panasonic.
        David

        EM1ii, EM10ii

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        • #5
          Re: m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

          Originally posted by Melaka View Post
          Thank you for a very interesting and comprehensive assessment of the two lenses. I have both and your experience chimes with mine. Blackfox's comments on the 50-200SWD are worth noting and buying one second-hand will be cheaper than the 50-200 Panasonic.

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          • #6
            Re: m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

            I'll be interested to hear how the Samyang macro performs. My only remaining FT lens is the Sigma 135/2.8 macro for which I also have the TC14.
            David

            EM1ii, EM10ii

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            • #7
              Re: m.Zuiko 300 F/4 compared to Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3

              Nicely done Tord excellent review. Maybe reviewing is a new career direction for you.
              http://www.flickr.com/photos/flip_photo_flickr/

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