Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko Digital

 
Lens Reviews / Olympus Lenses i Lab tested
300mm $2,499
average price
image of Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko Digital

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion

SLRgear Review
January 5, 2016
by William Brawley

Updates:
08/05/2016: Extended gallery article added

: E-M1 Mark II Shooting Experience added

Things keep getting better and better for Micro Four Thirds shooters! Olympus yet again expands their quiver of lenses and continues their push of higher-end glass, this time with a striking and amazingly compact M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm ƒ/4.0 I.S. Pro supertelephoto lens.

Joining the ranks of the other well-regarded Zuiko Pro lenses, the 300mm ƒ/4 basically fills the last remaining piece of the puzzle, so to speak, to cover the major range of focal lengths that a pro photographer might need. With the addition of this 600mm-eq. supertelephoto, the Olympus pro shooter has his or her bases covered with an 8mm fisheye and three ƒ/2.8 zooms that cover 7mm all the way to 150mm.

A premium, pro-grade supertelephoto lens that catered to the demands of wildlife, nature and sports photographers was previously something the Micro Four Thirds system lacked, and now Olympus aims to fill that gap with their new 300mm ƒ/4 Pro lens.

Compared to the competition, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is a fraction of the size and weight of the typical DSLR-format 600mm lenses, yet features many of the desired amenities: a constant, relatively bright aperture; a robust, dust- and weather-sealed build; support for a teleconverter and -- for the first time ever in an Olympus lens -- built-in image stabilization technology!

Not surprisingly, this technology, performance and build quality doesn't come cheap however, and the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro comes in at a rather pricey estimated street price $2,499.99 (U.S.) and $3,299.99 (Canada). On the other hand, compared to competing 600mm lenses for your DSLR, the Olympus is a bargain.

Sharpness
Given our experience with Olympus' previous Zuiko Pro lenses, we expected great results from this 300mm lens…but we weren't expecting them to be this good. Wide open, the lens is tack sharp across the entire frame. Looking at our blur charts, the blur characteristics are practically completely flat across the frame and extremely sharp corner-to-corner. Exceptional sharpness is maintained as you stop down, though we do see minor diffraction-related softness come into play around most around ƒ/16-ƒ/22, but it's quite minor. All said and done, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is fantastically sharp.

As with the earlier Olympus 40-150mm ƒ/2.8 Pro lens, the new 300mm is compatible with the Olympus MC-1.4x teleconverter. Though you lose a stop, the sharpness of the lens at its new ƒ/5.6 maximum aperture is still impressive. We see about a 1-blur-unit drop in overall sharpness, but images are still very crisp. Sharpness still remains even across the frame as well, and, again, minor diffraction-related softness being observed mostly around ƒ/16-ƒ/22.

Be careful with shutter shock!
For critical sharpness, reducing vibrations is a key element. For DSLRs, one of the main tips is to use mirror lock-up when available to reduce or eliminate the vibration caused by the mirror slap prior to exposure. For a mirrorless camera, which is, well, mirrorless, the shutter is open most of the time. The first curtain must close first before re-opening in order to make the exposure. This can induce subtle, yet noticeable vibrations that result in blurry images.

When testing the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro, initially using our Panasonic GX1 test camera, we observed noticeable image blurring on some of our VFA test chart images, despite using a massive Cambo studio tripod and long 10-sec self-timer. We then swapped over to an Olympus E-M1 with v4.0 firmware. In this latest software update, in addition to the previously introduced "anti-shock" shooting mode, it also offers a full "silent" mode that uses only an electronic shutter -- thus being completely vibration-free.

We tested all three primary shooting modes with the E-M1 (single-shot, anti-shock and silent modes), and found the Silent mode did indeed provide the sharpest images with the Olympus 300mm. Testing this again handheld with I.S. enabled, we also found similar results, with Silent mode producing better images when using a slower shutter speeds (1/125s for our handheld tests, for example).

Olympus 300mm Shutter Shock Tests
(300mm, f/7.1, 1/80s, I.S. Disabled)
Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro
Single-Shot (Normal) 
Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
Single-Shot (Normal)
300mm f/4 Pro
Single-Shot (Normal)
75-300mm
Single-Shot (Normal)
Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro
Anti-Shock Mode
Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
Anti-Shock Mode
300mm f/4 Pro
Anti-Shock Mode
75-300mm
Anti-Shock Mode
Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro
Silent Mode (Electronic Shutter)
Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
Silent Mode (Electronic Shutter)
300mm f/4 Pro
Silent Mode
75-300mm
Silent Mode

To back-up our findings, we re-shot a series of tripod-based tests with the 300mm ƒ/4 Pro against the older Olympus 75-300mm ƒ/4.8-6.7 II at 300mm in order to rule out any issue with the 300mm Pro lens itself. Testing both with and without IS enabled, we shot a series at 1/80s with both lenses, and we found that with either lens, using Silent shooting mode produced the sharpest images. We observed shutter-shock blurring with single-shot and anti-shock modes from both lenses.

While the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is certainly a very sharp lens, care should be taken to either use a faster shutter speed or opt for Silent mode (or Anti-Shock mode at least) if critically sharp images are desired.

Chromatic Aberration
The Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro exhibits very little chromatic aberration overall. There's slightly more the wider the aperture is, but it's an extremely minor increase. Maximum measured CA was under three hundredths of a percent of frame height, but on average, CA is nearly zero. Adding the 1.4x teleconverter does introduce slightly more chromatic aberration, however the difference is extremely minor. Comparing our lab test images, there is very little difference in CA with and without the extender, though there is a subtle "hue" of purple in the far corners.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
With a supertelephoto lens, we weren't expecting much in the way of vignetting, and this is indeed the case with the Olympus 300mm. With both the bare lens and with the 1.4x teleconverter attached, we measured little to no vignetting at all. There's a slight hint of vignetting with the bare lens at ƒ/4, but it's very minor.

Distortion
Similar to vignetting, geometric distortion is practically nonexistent on this lens. Both with and without the 1.4x teleconverter, the level of barrel distortion sits just a hair above the zero mark.

Autofocus Operation
The autofocusing performance is an interesting mix. Using the E-M1 with S-AF mode, which utilizes contrast-detect AF only, the 300mm ƒ/4 Pro can be a little slow (approximately over one second) to rack through the full range from minimum focus distance to infinity. Given the lens's impressively close minimum focusing distance (more on that in a bit), this behavior is not all that surprising. Making shorter focus adjustments is extremely quick though, and the three-way focus-limiting switch can help improve AF speed by limiting the focus range to suit your subject. On the other hand, switching the E-M1 over to C-AF mode enables Dual Fast AF with a combination of CDAF and on-sensor phase detect, making the AF performance much quicker with nearly instantaneous AF adjustments (especially with short distances).

The lens features Olympus' MSC ("Movie & Still Compatible") designation, for full-time AF in both stills and video that's also very quiet so as not to introduce focusing noise in video recordings.

For manual focusing, like Olympus' other Zuiko Pro lenses, simply snap the large focus ring back toward the camera to reveal the focus distance markings and quickly enable true, mechanically controlled manual focus. When in manual focus mode, the ring has hard stops and minimum and infinity distances, otherwise the lens will rotate freely in either direction while in the AF position.

You can also have manual focus override of AF. When using Olympus cameras, users can set the camera to "S-AF+MF," and after half-pressing the shutter and achieving AF, can turn the focus ring and make manual focus adjustments. This also works with Panasonic cameras as well, when "AF+MF" is enabled.

The lens is completely internally focusing, and during AF, the front element does not extend or rotate, making accessories such as circular polarizers easy to use with this lens.

Macro
Though the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is not designed for true macro photography, it has an impressively close minimum focusing distance. In fact, the Olympus 300mm's 1.4m minimum focus distance (approximately 1.15m from the front of the lens) far exceeds the image magnification and close-focusing capabilities of its 600mm DSLR competitors. With a 0.48x magnification factor, the Olympus 300mm is quite good at macro-style close-up photographer -- "telemacro photography," as Olympus puts it -- which far outweighs the 0.14x-0.15x magnification factor of other 600mm lenses, such as the Canon and Nikon 600mm telephoto lenses.

Adding the 1.4x teleconverter, you can further enhance the macro shooting capabilities, boosting the magnification ratio to 0.67x without affecting the close-focusing distance.

Image Stabilization
One of the more notable new features of the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is the inclusion of lens-based image stabilization, a first for an Olympus lens. Prior to this lens, Olympus offered only body-based image stabilization, either 5-axis IS on cameras like the E-M1 and E-M5 II or 3-axis with the original E-M10, for example.

Dubbed "5-axis Sync IS," the new Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro combines the efforts of the in-camera 5-axis IS of the E-M1 and E-M5 II with lens-based image stabilization -- similar to that of Sony's recent 5-axis IS system and Panasonic's Dual IS. What's unique about the Olympus system is that, according to Olympus, it offers a massive 6-stops of image stabilization correction when used with a compatible camera body! With the 5-axis Sync IS, the lens IS corrects for pitch and yaw movements, while the body-based IS handles pitch and yaw as well as roll movements.

Right now, the Version 4.0 for the E-M1's firmware and Version 2.0 for the E-M5 Mark II provide full Sync IS compatibility. However, for those with older Olympus cameras or other Micro Four Thirds cameras, the lens itself will still provide a very useful 4-stops of stabilization correction.

In our testing, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro's image stabilization using the E-M1 v4.0 was fantastic. Our lens technician Rob has quite the steady hand to begin with and, as you can see from our graph, was able to get about a 40% keeper rate of "Good" shots down to 1/60s of a second without any image stabilization. With image stabilization, however, not only was he now getting 100% keeper rates at 1/60s, he saw 100% of shots rated "Good" down to 1/15s! Going even slower, we still saw a handful of "Good"-rated shots (~30%) at a whopping 1s exposure time. At 300mm. That is incredible!

Mouse over this chart to show results with IS activated.

Why is the Image Stabilization system with the new Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro so great? According to Olympus, one of the main factors -- in addition to new I.S. algorithms -- is the hand-selected, high-performance gyro sensor inside the lens. Not only did Olympus contract specifically for high-performance gyro sensors, but also each gyro sensor undergoes performance assessments in the factory. Then, Olympus themselves hand-selects the best-performing sensors to go into each 300mm lens. In other words, only the best of the best make the cut for the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro lens. Furthermore, each time the camera is powered-on, the in-camera IS gyro sensor and the lens's counterpart are calibrated against each other.

Build Quality and Handling
Like other Zuiko Pro lenses, the build quality of the 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is excellent. Following a similar sleek black design, the all-metal construction is fully weather-sealed with protection from splashes, dust and dirt as well as freezing temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). Olympus states that there are a total of 17 separate seals throughout the lens, including a gasket around the lens mount and seals around the buttons and switches along the side. With the solid metal construction and weather sealing, the 300mm ƒ/4 Pro should be able to withstand whatever mother nature throws at it, within reason of course.

In the hand, the lens feels great with a very solid build and buttery smooth focus rings. The wide metal focus ring has a fine ribbed texture for a secure grip and is light and smooth enough to rotate with your thumb and forefinger. Like a number of Olympus lenses, the focus ring uses a clutch mechanism to engage full-time manual focus. Pulling back on the focus ring has a nice, satisfying "snap" to it and reveals the focus distance markings. Given the ring's large size and prominent position where you rest your hand, the ring can be a bit easy to accidentally engage into its manual focus position. With recent firmware updates to the E-M1 and E-M5 II, you can actually disable the MF Clutch mechanism completely (on this lens and others), should you find yourself not needing MF often, or frustratingly bumping it all the time.

If you're tired of lugging around a large DSLR-style supertelephoto lens, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is a welcome reprieve thanks not only to its lighter weight, but also to its sheer compactness. Compared to its DSLR counterparts, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro lens is astonishingly small -- it really puts the "Micro" in Micro Four Thirds when you consider what this lens offers and its focal length. For example, the Canon 600mm ƒ/4L IS II offers the same focal length in 35mm equivalence, yet weighs over twice the amount of the Olympus (8.64lbs vs. 3.25lbs). The Canon is also around 17 inches long, whereas the Olympus 300mm flies under the radar at less than 9 inches. Even with the retractable lens hood, the lens is able to pack away into rather small camera bags with ease, making it much more convenient to carry around -- one of the major benefits to the Micro Four Thirds system in the first place. The balance is great with the E-M1 and handholding this combo is very comfortable for extended shooting periods with little need to offload the heft to a tripod or monopod, as you'd typically do with a DSLR-equivalent lens.

In terms of optical construction, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro lens is comprised of a total of 17 lens elements, including 3 Super ED lenses, 3 High Refractive Index lenses, and 1 Extra-High Refractive Index lens. According to Olympus, the 3 Super ED elements help suppress color bleeding and chromatic aberration, and given our CA testing results, they certainly do their job. In addition to utilizing ZERO Coating (ZUIKO Extra-low Reflective Optical Coating) on the lens elements, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro also uses a brand-new lens coating technology called "ZERO Coating Nano," which combats ghosting and flares by minimizing reflected light.

The lens elements are designed and configured in such a way as to utilize a very small and lightweight lens grouping for focusing. Rather than having to move substantially large and heavy elements to focus, the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro uses a very small focusing lens group, which allows for faster AF performance as well as contribute to the impressive close focusing capabilities. Additionally, the moving Image Stabilized lens is also small and lightweight, further improving IS performance and allowing for smaller, more precise movements inside this relatively compact lens.

Other than the sleek black exterior, the Olympus 300mm does feature a small cluster of switches on the left side of the barrel as well as a removable tripod collar and foot. Of particular note is the design of the tripod foot itself. Olympus has gone and done something rather clever -- built-in Arca-Swiss-compatible dovetails along the base of the tripod foot. For users of one of the more versatile tripod mounting standards, no longer do you need to buy an add-on plate or replacement foot. The lens should be compatible with your Arca-Swiss tripod head straight out of the box. Handy! Of course, standard screw mounts are present in the foot, should you need to use another tripod mount. The foot and tripod ring itself is fully removable, and lens ships with a black "decorative ring" to cover-up the exposed section when not in use.

The button cluster includes a three-way slider switch for limiting focus (1.4-4m, 1.4m-infinity, and 4m-infinity) and an On/Off switch for image stabilization. There is also the standard Lens Function (L.Fn) button that's featured on all Zuiko Pro lenses. This customizable button offers up to 27 various programmable functions to set as you see fit.

Alternatives
As it stands now, for the Micro Four Thirds shooter, there's very little in the way of a direct competitor to the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro. Though less practical in a number of ways, the most apt alternative for a true 300mm (600mm-eq.) supertelephoto prime for a Micro Four Thirds camera is the older Olympus Zuiko 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens. A highly regarded piece of glass, this Four Thirds DSLR lens is reportedly extremely sharp and very well built (we've yet to test this lens). Though technically still in production nowadays, despite the quiet discontinuation of Four Thirds cameras, this lens is quite a bit more expensive than the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro at around $6,500, and it's also substantially larger and heavier. AF performance will also take a hit, as it needs a Four Thirds-to-Micro Four Thirds adapter to work on current MFT cameras. The Olympus E-M1 is currently the best option for use with adapting existing Four Thirds lenses thanks to its on-sensor phase detect AF, which does provide a nice speed boost for AF with these "older" lenses.

More practically, the Olympus 75-300mm ƒ/4.8-6.7 II is the next best option for Micro Four Thirds users looking for a lens that reaches the 600mm-eq. mark. While the 75-300mm lens is much smaller and lighter than this 'Pro' sibling, it's not nearly as sharp or as well built, with no weather-sealing and a mostly plastic construction. It also lacks the brighter, constant ƒ/4 aperture, instead narrowing to a rather dim ƒ/6.7 at 300mm. It is however much more affordable than the 300mm ƒ/4 Pro at around $450-550.

For the Panasonic arena, they also offer a compact and relatively affordable telephoto zoom lens that provides a 600mm-eq. reach. The Panasonic 100-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS LUMIX G VARIO competes closely with the Olympus 75-300mm in terms of quality, compactness and a similar range of focal lengths. At around $600, it's another more affordable option for MFT shooters, but it -- like the Olympus 75-300mm -- doesn't offer the robust featureset and quality that the professional-grade 300mm ƒ/4 Pro does.

Panasonic recently announced their longest zoom lens, the Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH POWER OIS LEICA DG VARIO-ELMAR. In fact, this is currently the longest-reaching lens for Micro Four Thirds at the time of this review. Though we have yet to review this lens, it does offer a couple of advantages over the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro. For one, its 400mm long end offers more reach with an 800mm-eq. focal length. Plus, the lens offers more inherent versatility thanks to its zoom design. Like the Olympus, the Panasonic 100-400mm offers both image stabilization and weather sealing. The aperture on this lens is variable, however, compared to the constant f/4 on the Olympus, and is not as bright at full telephoto. The Panasonic is still pricey at around $1,800, but that's considerably less expensive than the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro.

Conclusion
The Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro is one heck of a lens. Simply put. After a long time in development -- it was announced as "in-development" back at CP+ in 2014 -- the biggest, brightest supertelephoto lens of the Micro Four Thirds system is, well, not so "big" after all, physically at least. An impressive feat of engineering, the folks at Olympus have managed to shrink down a 600mm-equivalent supertelephoto lens, with a constant, relatively bright ƒ/4 aperture and image stabilization into a remarkably small, comfortable, hand-holdable, weather-sealed lens.

Like Olympus' other Zuiko Pro lenses, image quality from the 300mm ƒ/4 is thoroughly impressive on all fronts: excellent sharpness and all-around wonderful optical qualities with little to no distortion, aberrations or vignetting. What's even more impressive is the lens' stunning image stabilization. Combining lens-based and body-based I.S., the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro lets you capture handheld images down to shockingly slow shutter speeds. All this, plus impressive close-focusing capabilities, make the Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 Pro a stunning lens for the professional and advanced photographer looking for a top-notch wildlife, sports, stage performance and close-up lens no matter the weather or lighting conditions. It may be pricey, but this is one of the best lenses Olympus has made thus far.

Product Photos

Sample Photos


View real-world sample images over at our Olympus E-M1 Gallery Page (look for images with "300mm" in the filename).

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

 

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Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro + E-M1 Mark II

Spending time with our 2016 Camera of the Year

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 02/06/2017

It's now been more than a year since we were first treated by our friends at Olympus to time with a coveted sample of the 300mm f/4 Pro lens. We quickly fell in love with both the lens itself and the images we were capturing with it, but later found that the best was still yet to come. This was because even though the 300mm f/4 paired quite nicely with the Olympus E-M1, the E-M1 Mark II simply brings quite a bit more to the table as the natural partner to this incredible lens.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Product shot
Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro paired with the E-M1 Mark II
(Image courtesy E-M10 Mark II + 45mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko)

Selected as our 2016 Lens of the Year for Best Telephoto Prime, the 300mm f/4 Pro is virtually everything we could have ever dreamed of in a competent wildlife lens. As such, we couldn't resist pairing it with the E-M1 II for an additional gallery sampling. Since we'd already shot with the pair briefly in Iceland for a Field Test, and with the original E-M1 in wildlife settings for a previous article (below), I decided this time around to keep things a bit closer to home and see what this pair could achieve with more common everyday subjects.

Wandering into your own backyard

There's not much around the exterior of my house that I'd term "photogenic." It's a nice enough little place in a nice little community, but there's just nothing special I can use for "go-to" photography without walking a ways or getting in the car. But shooting this lens wide open changes all that and opens up realms of imaging possibilities not otherwise open in such a relatively boring setting with most common lenses out there. As such, I was having so much fun shooting in my own little realm that I hardly even needed to stray elsewhere. In fact, I ended up not venturing more than just a few hundred yards in any direction for these images, which was quite the diversion for me from the norm.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/1250s / f/4 / ISO 200
A tropical jungle or my front yard? This doesn't look like my front yard to me, but this little Chickadee is perched happily in our old Myrtle tree waiting for the traffic to calm down at the bird feeder down below his perch. I honestly don't even know what the background is composed of entirely... not at all sure what that orange halo is. I do know that I can't achieve this look with many of the rigs I've had the privilege of shooting with, as this combination is capable of producing otherworldly backgrounds when shot wide open.

(All images for this piece were taken handheld with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Images have been resized to fit this page as well as cropped and/or altered in post-production software, primarily to balance shadows and highlights where needed. Clicking any image with take you to a carrier page with access to the original full resolution image as delivered straight from the E-M1 II. You can also visit our Olympus 300mm f/4 Gallery for more images, EXIF data and access to available RAW files.)

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/250s / f/4 / ISO 500
A leaf by any other lens... This is another one of my favorite 300mm shots in the common, ordinary category. It's just a leaf, nothing more, but the background rendering while wide open at f/4 lends an artistic quality to the everyday that makes the lens a real treat to experiment with in otherwise mundane settings.
Local wildlife... (including the human and feline kind)

Capturing exotic wildlife is one of the most enjoyable and rare experiences I can remember as a photographer, but capturing the local variety can be an equally compelling pursuit, and even tricky at times. Local squirrels and birds aren't as tough to capture as some of the exotic species of course, especially when they're being fed, but they still don't want me too close to them. A 600mm eq. lens that I can handhold for periods of time without significant bicep damage combined with a silent electronic shutter (and choosing a camouflaged vantage point from which to shoot) certainly aid in the overall quest and help keep my presence non-threatening.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/1250s / f/4 / ISO 200
Isolation in spades. These two finch are near the same focal plane but one is nice and crisp while the other seems rather remote. The actual depth of field for this shot calculates to roughly an inch from my vantage point about 16 feet away while shooting wide open, yielding a terrific degree of subject isolation.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/1250s / f/4 / ISO 200
Quiet as a mouse. This little titmouse was the most frightened of my presence of all the local birds, and didn't want to stick around the feeder for more than a second or two. I had to hide myself well, be really patient and time my shots! Combining silent shutter with burst shooting was the ticket to getting usable images with such a skittish critter. I grew to very much trust the speed and accuracy of the autofocus with this combination, locking in and nailing focus as quickly as I could react.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/1250s / f/4 / ISO 200
[1:1 crop]
Finch Detail. This is a 1:1 crop zoomed into 100% to show sharpness and detail achievable with this combination, even when shot wide open. The thin depth of field is also on display with the rusty chain, which is only a few inches behind the finch.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/200s / f/4.5 / ISO 500
Off to the races. 600mm eq. range is certainly well beyond what's considered "proper" portrait territory, but when kids are competitively racing their Hot Wheels one does like to stay out of their way and let them be.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/250s / f/4 / ISO 800
Dinner. This cute little fellow knew that I was near, but his preoccupation with this walnut gave me ample opportunity to capture images while he chowed down. Food is a photographer's friend with the wild ones.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/500s / f/4 / ISO 1600
Cat's Eyes. Man's best friend is traditionally a dog, and I agree with that in general, but this cat is more like a dog than any cat I've ever met and let's me shoot him for a cameo in virtually every review. Looking at him during the process, I actually believe he knows and poses. (Hey... I can believe it if I want to!)
E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 = Crazy-good image stabilization

Point this rig at the moon and watch it dance around in the EVF. Now give the shutter a half-press and watch the entire cosmos come to order right before your eyes. This is the experience I had, then fired a succession of shots hoping for one good one in the bunch, but they were all good ones. No clunkers to speak of. While this was the first Olympus MFT lens to include on-board optical IS of its own, while also working in tandem with the IS on-board the E-M1 II, it's still an amazing thing to see in action. They report a 6.5 stop degree of stabilization with this combo, which our tests have more than backed in the lab, allowing you to do some unreal things with this lens without need of a tripod.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/160s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 840mm eq.
[Taken with Olympus 1.4x teleconverter]
Stabilized Sea of Tranquility. This image is cropped in a bit because I wanted to show the detail while handheld at 840mm eq. using a 1.4x teleconverter. I have average hands in the steady department - not shaky but not rock solid either, and for anything beyond about 400mm eq. range I generally rely heavily on tripods. For this image, even at a shutter speed of just 1/160s, I simply didn't need one. If you slow the shutter down to the point of needing a tripod, the moon travels too quickly to capture anyway.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/30s / f/5.6 / ISO 200
[Taken with Olympus 1.4x teleconverter]
How slow can you go? At 1/30s shutter speed you would be playing with fire at 840mm eq. range if you didn't have incredible I.S. on-board. I'd have a hard time even getting lucky at that speed, but with this combination it is within your wheelhouse to achieve should you wish to dance on the edge.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/250s / f/4 / ISO 4000
Dusky hues. I never grew tired of the almost dream-like backgrounds delivered by this combination, which made a residential hillside up the street from our house look almost like the Blue Ridge Mountains. And it's nice to know you can push a camera to ISO 4000 when needed as well, and not incur too much penalty from noise.
Conclusion

There's not much to say about this incredible lens and camera that we haven't already said in our reviews or our Camera of the Year accolades, but I felt like giving the pairing itself a closer look out in the field. Having 600mm eq. at your disposal in a package light enough to hold for extended periods and that's capable of being shot handheld even at shutter speeds slower than you'd generally be comfortable with is a very freeing experience. For me, not thinking about weight and tripods means thinking about moving to get a shot, crouching, bending, twisting... whatever. It's more fun, and it allows for more creative freedom. We get paid to test cameras and lenses for you, but I would have done this one for the experience and images alone.

Olympus E-M1 II + 300mm f/4 - Sample Image
1/400s / f/11 / ISO 200
Cover for the next Dean Koontz novel? I didn't realize until going through my whole gallery for this piece that all of the shots were from a stone's throw of my front door. I didn't completely plan it that way initially, far from it, and am always "on-the-go" as someone working daily for IR (not to mention on weekends as a Dad!). So 99% of my galleries for IR over the past 5 years are comprised mostly of images taken while out and about. Was it a coincidence this time? Or did I just enjoy what I was seeing so much in the EVF that I simply stayed put and kept firing… hmmm. I'm betting the ranch it's the latter.

 

See many more images in our Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro Gallery!

Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro Gallery

 

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Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro extended gallery

Taking a closer look at this popular sports and wildlife lens

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 08/05/2016

When our friends at Olympus first told us about the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 Pro late last year, we started counting the days until we could get our hands on one. Their Pro lens line has proven consistent and reliable for both quality and durability, dating back to the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro unveiled in 2013 alongside the E-M1. This lineage combined with the reported image stabilization system capabilities of this lens made it sound like just the ticket for enthusiast sports and wildlife photographers in the Micro Four Thirds world.

The good news was that we were able to receive an early sample in order to bring readers our full lab tests, analysis and real world images at press release time. But the bad news was that we would only be allowed a few precious days with the lens before we had to reluctantly return it. Here... and then gone that quickly!

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/2500s / f/7.1 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4

Many months and multiple requests later, they grew weary of our fervent hassling and finally sent us another coveted sample. We were excited to not only have possession of the lens once again, but to also now be able to shoot a sampling of images with the (also weather resistant) 1.4x teleconverter, which we'd yet to be able to do. And so, below is an extended set of gallery images from the South Carolina coastline, with a special section devoted to the 840mm equivalent images taken with the 1.4x teleconverter. If you'd like to jump straight to a certain section please use the links below, and for everyone else, please read on!

Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro:
BirdsSportsThe Natural WorldTeleconverted

(A special note that all images in this gallery were taken handheld, using the Olympus E-M1 with firmware v4.0. All images were shot with I.S. enabled and using the mechanical shutter, although as mentioned above, we found in testing that at slower shutter speeds it's generally advisable to use the electronic shutter. For more gallery images and access to additional EXIF data as well as access to the full resolution files, please see our Olympus E-M1 Gallery Page and look for "300mm" in the filename. Images below have been resized to fit this page, some cropped and/or altered in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights where needed. Clicking any image in this report will take you to a carrier page for access to the full resolution file.)

Olympus 300mm f/4 Review : Birds

We'll start with a rather addictive shooting subject, and that's birds. Finding and capturing exotic varieties is a very cathartic endeavor I find, and the challenge of getting close enough, and the patience required to wait out the right moments, make for a compelling adventure. The relatively small size and low weight of this rig as compared to a DSLR setup with similar capabilities, combined with the powerful on-board image stabilization mentioned above in our technical review, allow for handheld shooting in most outdoor conditions. This of course allows for a more stealthy approach to timid wildlife and a faster reaction time to sudden movement.

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/4000s / f/7.1 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/500s / f/5 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/2500s / f/8 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4

Olympus 300mm f/4 Review : Sports

The 300mm f/4's equivalent reach of 600mm allows for ample reach when shooting certain types of sports, with outdoor water sports being an obvious one. As with birds in flight, catching the right moment can often be a tricky task. I used continuous low burst speed for most of these, and alternated between S-AF and C-AF depending on the nature of the shot and the movement. These three images in particular were chosen partly due to the juxtaposition of the subject to various background elements, and the interesting subject-to-background compression offered at this focal length (also know as perspective distortion) whereby the background elements take on an unusually large or close appearance compared to what a normal focal length, or our eyes, would generally register.

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/1600s / f/6.3 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/2500s / f/4.5 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/4000s / f/5.6 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4

Olympus 300mm f/4 Review : The Natural World

Somewhat similar to the compression mentioned earlier, a lens this long can often yield much different views of common elements around us than our eyes or a normal focal length lens can provide. I grew to find it intriguing at times to hunt for shots while looking though the viewfinder before even having an idea of what I was going to shoot, as the difference in what this lens sees versus my eye is so vastly different that I often couldn't even picture certain shots until taking a look at the EVF and panning around. I'd never really done this before, as I'm used to choosing a scene or subject with my eye first, but yet again the difference in perspective is so great that when I couldn't find a shot, I'd just go hunting for one in the EVF.

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/1600s / f/4 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4

Shot near the closest focus point and wide open, this image is an example of subject-to-background isolation potential when the background elements are fairly close to the subject, in this case only about 12 feet away.


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/3200s / f/5.6 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/1600s / f/4 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4

 

Olympus 300mm f/4 Review : Teleconverted

When 600mm eq. is not quite enough focal length, the handy little 1.4x teleconverter stretches your reach out to 840mm equivalent. That focal length range is quite common these days on long zoom cameras with tiny sensors, but generally comes with a big trade-off in that the available apertures at that range are quite dim, and those sensors can't stand up to higher ISOs when needed to boost the shutter speeds without generally introducing a substantial amount of noise into the image. Of course, in the case here you do lose one stop of light due to the teleconverter and are now starting at a maximum aperture of f/5.6. However, at that focal length, there is still good potential for shallow depth of field when desired for good subject isolation.

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/2000s / f/6.3 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/4000s / f/6.3 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter


Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/800s / f/5.6 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter
[Monochrome Picture Mode]

 

Olympus 300mm f/4 Review : Wrapping it up

At the time of this writing, this lens is very hard to come by. Most online retailers such as our trusted affiliate B&H list it as either back-ordered or perhaps one or two samples trickling in here and there. The point is, if you are game to acquire one of these coveted lenses for your own shooting, best to jump on an available sample if you come across one! As for us, we're keen to try and hold onto ours for as long as we can. After all, there's no shortage of interesting subjects to be found with a good supertelephoto lens at your side.

Olympus 300mm Review - sample gallery image

1/400s / f/5.6 / ISO 200
Olympus 300mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter
[Monochrome Picture Mode]

For anyone interested in seeing more images from the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro, as well as accessing the full resolution files and extended EXIF data, please visit our Olympus E-M1 gallery page.

 

 

Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS Pro ED M.Zuiko Digital User Reviews

10.0/10 average of 1 reviews Build Quality 10.0/10 Image Quality 10.0/10
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    Tack Sharp Build like a tank Built-in Lens Hood Works extremely well with 1.4x teleconverter Light and compact Fast focus Focus distance limiters Lens foot with integrated Arca-Swiss lens plate
    Not a frigging thing

    I just returned from a trip to the High Arctic north of Svalbard. I made the same trip six years ago shooting Nikon gear (D3 and D3s, 500mm f4, 200-400mm f4, 300 f2.8). To put it simply, the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro is the best long lens I have ever used. The ONLY way anyone can write a less-than-stellar review of this lens is to be totally unfamiliar with "big" glass. (I've owned not only Nikon's, but also Canon's 600mm f4 lenses.) When attached to an Olympus OMD E-M1, the Oly Pro 300mm f4 will enable you to get absolutely spectacular images. Sure it's heavy and expensive for a Micro 4/3 lens. However, compared to the equivalent Nikon or Canon lens, this is absolutely amazing, weighing, costing, and taking up 1/3 of the weight, cost, and space. With the teleconverter designed for this and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro, you have a staggeringly good 840mm f5.6 lens. I shot this directly against the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens, and it was soooo much better (image sharpness and contrast) that I returned the PL 100-400mm for a refund. [Note: I have had two different PL 100-400mm lenses, and both had the same poor (compared to the Oly 40-150mm and 300mm Pro lenses) image quality and very, very stiff [stuck like crazy] zoom ring operations.]

    This lens is not for everyone. However, if you are a MFT photographer and shoot sports, wildlife, or anything that needs a "long reach," this is a no-brainer. With proper long-lens shooting technique, this tool will help you achieve the best photographs you've ever taken! End of story! So, stop complaining about the price and weight. You will never own a lighter or less expensive 600mm f4 lens. Or, a sharper, faster focusing one!

    A brief comment about the lens design. It is absolutely genius to have a retracting lens hood. The PL 100-400mm is virtually useless unless you use the longer one, but it is not retractable. And, if you choose to use the Oly 300mm Pro on a ball head, the lens foot is fully compatible with an Arca-Swiss mount; no need to buy a separate lens plate. Why haven't Nikon and Canon done this (sorry, Really Right Stuff, don't want to have you lose business, but at these prices, the lens foot should already have the grooves in it like Olympus has done). Plus, there is a "decorative" ring to cover the studs that protrude with you remove the tripod collar! Genius. The 300mm f4 is so light and compact, you can leave your tripod at home and hand-hold using the amazing dual IS system with an E-M1 or E-M5II. Brilliant!

    reviewed August 9th, 2016 (purchased for $2)