Olympus 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital
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Lab Test Results
October 19, 2009
by Andrew Alexander
The Olympus 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 was released in 2007, offering Olympus four-thirds users an impressive 140-600mm focal length range in a smallish (21oz) package.
The lens is designed to fit the four-thirds sensor, and won't work on older Olympus film bodies. With an adapter, it can work on micro four-thirds bodies. This lens isn't a "constant" lens, in that as you increase the focal length, the maximum aperture size decreases, though the minimum aperture remains the same. The following table reflects the changes:
These figures just correspond to the focal lengths marked on the lens; in actual usage, the widest aperture adjusts quite precisely in conjunction with the focal length setting. As you zoom in and out at the widest aperture, you can see the aperture changing in one-tenth increments.
The lens comes with a circular-styled hood, takes 58mm filters, and is available now for approximately $360.
The lens is nicely sharp, especially when used at 150mm and below, even wide open. Above that, our copy became slightly soft and uneven (it looks like our sample was slightly de-centered).
Used wide open, the lens fared well: at 70mm and ƒ/4, the average sharpness is in the 1.5 blur unit range, with very slight corner softness in the top right, around 2 blur units. Stopping down offers marginal improvements, until it reaches its maximum sharpness for 70mm at ƒ/8. It's a similar story at 100mm and 150mm - good wide open, best stopped down - though at 100mm, the lens does surprisingly well wide open at ƒ/4.1, at under 1.5 blur units, flat across the frame. There's not much improvement at 100mm when stopped down.
Above 150mm, the lens becomes slightly soft. Again, our copy shows slight de-centering with a soft spot at the lower right corner of the frame. At 200mm and ƒ/5, there is just a tiny sweet spot of sharpness in the center of the frame in the 1.5 blur unit range, and all else is 2-3 blur units; at 300mm and ƒ/5.6, it's even worse, with a valley of 2-3 blur units ranging to edges of 4-6 blur units. Stopping down at these focal lengths does go a long way to improving sharpness: at ƒ/11, 200mm produces 1.5-2 blur units, and at ƒ/16, 300mm produces roughly 3 blur units across the frame.
Performance fully stopped-down is average, though again the lens shines a bit more strongly at 100mm, where even at ƒ/22 we see 2.5 blur units across the frame. In summary, if you want a default focal length with which to use this lens, it could be 100mm.
Chromatic aberration results are quite low for this lens, at 200mm and lower. At 200mm and 300mm we note significant CA in the corners, mostly when used wide open, and improving as the lens is stopped down. But at 150mm and wider, CA is practically imperceptible.
Corner shading is not really an issue with this lens. When used wide open at any focal length, the lens produces images with corners that are a quarter-stop dark than the center. At any other setting, corner shading is negligible.
The lens is nicely optimized to produce almost distortion-free images. At 70mm distortion is essentially zero, and as the lens is zoomed in to 150mm-200mm we see some slight pincushion distortion in the corners (-0.25%), but that's about as bad as it gets.
The Olympus 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 uses an electrical focusing system, focusing the lens from infinity to closest focus in around one and a quarter seconds. We've noted this about Olympus lenses before: broad strokes happen slowly, where as small changes in focus seem to happen much more quickly. The focus motor makes very little noise when focusing, and the front element doesn't turn while focusing.
We did have some inconsistencies regarding autofocus that are worth mentioning; the lens and camera had a hard time auto-focusing on our test charts and still life scenes, requiring manual focus to get results in the right ball park. In ''real life'' scenarios the camera / lens performed just fine; the only point here is that our test scenes were more than usually challenging for this particular camera / lens combination. Your mileage may vary.
The lens isn't marketted as a macro lens, but it has comparatively good macro abilities, offering 0.5x magnification (1:2 reproduction ratio) and a minimum close-focusing distance of 96cm (3.1 feet) when using manual focus.
Build Quality and Handling
The 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 is solidly built. It still seems to be finished with a fair number of plastic parts, but at 620 grams (just over 21 ounces), there's a lot of glass and metal under the shell. The lens mount is metal, compared to the plastic of less expensive Olympus glass. The fit and finish of this lens is superb; there zoom and focus rings rotate with a velvety smoothness, and the textures have an excellent traction. The only switch on the lens enables or disables autofocus; there are no scales for depth-of-field or distance marked on the lens.
The zoom ring is one-and-a-half inches wide, composed of a hard rubber and made up of a texture of rectangluar extrusions. A turn of around 90 degrees on the zoom ring covers the entire focal range, and extends the overall length of the lens by over two inches at 300mm. The lens has just the right amount of stiffness to prevent zoom creep, but is still fairly fluid to use.
The manual focusing ring is slightly smaller, just over a half-inch in width, and it's composed of deep ribs, making it easy to distinguish from the zoom ring. The focus ring has a lot of ''turning room'' for manual focusing control, and there are no hard stops in this focus range - you can just keep turning the dial.
Unfortunately, mounted 58mm filters will rotate during focus operations, making polarizing filters just that little bit more difficult to use. The lens ships with the LH-61E lens hood, a circular-shaped, bayonet-mounted hood that adds 2 1/2 inches to the overall length of the lens. The hood reverses to mount on the lens for storage and is deeply ribbed on its interior to help prevent flare.
At the time of writing, there isn't a lot to choose from in this range, making the Olympus 70-300mm the only game in town for its price range.
Olympus 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital ~$1,000
The 50-200mm doesn't offer the same 300mm range, but it does offer a sharper image with a faster maximum aperture speed. Chromatic aberration and corner shading results are about the same, though there's a bit more distortion on the 50-200mm. The price tag is significantly higher on the 50-200mm, and the lens is much larger and heavier.
Sigma 135-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 DG APO ~$500
Sigma has configured a small selection of its lens for the four-thirds mount, and if telephoto distance is what you're after, this could be a good alternative. We haven't yet tested this lens, but if you're in the market for an effective field of view of 270-800mm, this could be worth your consideration.
Sigma 50-500mm ƒ/4-6.3 EX DG HSM APO ~$1,000
The ''Bigma'' has been a popular choice for Olympus 4/3 users, offering an effective 100-1000mm focal length. We'd be comparing apples to oranges in any attempt to compare the 70-300mm to the 50-500mm, as we tested it on another platform. But some searching around the net has found that with the image stabilization of the Olympus camera, using this lens with relatively slow shutter speeds produces very good results. The sticker price is substantially higher than the 70-300mm, but until Olympus comes out with something longer than 300mm, this is the only alternative.
For the time being, four-thirds users looking for an economical telephoto zoom are limited to this lens; third-party manufacturers haven't chosen to offer their 70-300mm designs to the four-thirds mount. That said, for the money, the Olympus 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 offers good results for sharpness, particularly under 150mm and especially at 100mm. CA, corner shading and distortion are also well-controlled, making this a very good deal for the money - provided you're not buying this lens for its performance at 300mm.
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.
Olympus 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital User Reviews
8 out of 10 points and recommended by JRenato (5 reviews)Nitidez e contrastes de boa qualidade.Motor barulhento
Embora seja barulhenta e também um pouco lenta para achar o foco, esta lente me proporciona de boas para muito boas imagens.reviewed January 13th, 2012
8 out of 10 points and recommended by dda (13 reviews)good average zoom lensbuild quality
I sold it after 4 months and went for the 50-200 non SWD - overall it's a good lens, but if you watch ebay for the 50-200, you might find one for a cheap price - go for the big one ...reviewed July 18th, 2011 (purchased for $400)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Easy (6 reviews)Build and handling are great, IQ is excellent, not too expensiveSlightly soft wide open
I am very impressed with this lens.reviewed April 3rd, 2011 (purchased for $360)
It is built like a tank.
Slightly soft wide open, so aperture needs to be controlled.
I usually use it stopped down with F7.1 and the output images are sharp.
CDAF is a bonus for M4/3 users.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by arunp (1 reviews)great value for its price; good image qualitysome focusssing issues at low light
May not be a top end lens but definetely great value for money. I have purchased this lens recently and no regrets at all so far.reviewed December 22nd, 2009
Here are just two examples of pics I have taken at focal length 300(600mm at 35mm eq)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by trentdp (26 reviews)Great for birding especially with an Oly TC 1.4A little soft at 300 mm unles shot at F11
A great lens at an affordable price especially now while the Olympus promotion is valid. I us an Oly TC 1.4 with the lens for an effective field of view of 850 mm! The SLR Gear review is right on accurate with my field experiences. Very sharp 70 to 150 stepped down one stop from wide open and very acceptable at F8 @200 mm and F11 @300 mm even with the 1.4 TC. The TC does not degrade the IQ to any noticeable degree which attests to the quality of this attachment.reviewed December 9th, 2009 (purchased for $250)
I hope SLR Gear does a review of the Oly 1.4 TC at some time as this is a superb IQ accessory for Olympus DLSR users.
Another side benefit rarely mentioned is the Macro Focus feature when in Manual Focus mode.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by entropius (3 reviews)Telephoto reach, macro, excellent value for the money, generally good IQCan't remove hood without grinding focus motor
No lens this cheap has any right to be this good.reviewed February 23rd, 2009 (purchased for $230)
It goes from a useful moderate telephoto at the wide end to awfully long at the long end, and can provide 1:1 equivalent magnification at a long working distance. Chromatic aberration is well controlled. Sharpness at the long end is acceptable at 5.6 and quite good starting at f/7 or so. Contrast is good and bokeh is reasonably neutral.
The autofocus has a tendency to hunt at the long end if it can't acquire a lock immediately, simply because there's so much range to hunt through. A focus limiter switch would have been useful. This can be gotten around by zooming out (for more DOF and more aperture, so it will get an approximate lock more easily), activating the AF to get close, then zooming in and focusing for real.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by MartinM (31 reviews)incredible focal length, image quality, build, weightaf hunts in low light conditions
I already have the double zoom kit and found this one in a second hand store. has a scratch on the lens hood. For 242 USD a truly affordable lenses.reviewed December 9th, 2008 (purchased for $242)
The focal length is incredible. 600mm !! And only 600g weight. Thats really good.
The image quality is excellent. All the way from 70 to 300mm.
I noticed that the autofous tends to hunt when used at low light. Specially starting at 200mm. From 70-200 the AF is fast and accurate.
The e520 IS does a prefect work. However, at 300mm from time to time your shot is wasted cause IS fails.
Overall, a 9. No 10 cause i believe the IQ of the 50-200 is ways better.
IF you are looking for a well suitable telephoto lens and you are aware of some weaknesses this lens has, you will be very happy.
I used the lens mainly for airplane spotting, for which it fits very well.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by OldMacJoe (2 reviews)Astonishingly good image quality for the priceThe manual AF/MF switch, probably of Sigma origin
Well, Olympus did it again - here we have a great lens at an affordable price. Due to the nature of this lens it is necessary to support the lens properly before making an exposure - never leave your tripod home!reviewed August 31st, 2008
But if you have supported the camera-lens combination as it always should be, you wil get truly great image quality. I photographed a boat plunging into the waves in a distance of around five hundred meters, and by golly, I can even count the water droplets spraying all around the boat!
A great lens.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by dccps (13 reviews)small and light for such a high telephoto rangeaperture is slower than I would like
I took this lens out when I spotted dear near one of the vistas off of I-280 southwest of San Francisco. The shots were at dusk and I was worried that handheld, they would simply not be sharp. I was wrong. With the E-3, I was getting sharp images zoomed out to 300mm (equal to 600mm) at 1/60th sec or so. This is great! The shots were sharp and the color was very good. I don't shoot telephoto nearly as much as wide angle but I think I may start shooting more with this lens. Very definitely worth the price on an E-3.reviewed March 8th, 2008 (purchased for $399)