Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 ED M.Zuiko Digital
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Lab Test Results
August 2, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
The Olympus m.Zuiko 75-300mm ƒ/4.8-6.7 was announced in August 2010, and on store shelves the following October. The lens was designed to fit the micro four-thirds mount, and accordingly offers the user a telephoto range of focal lengths, the equivalent of 150mm to 600mm.
This lens isn't a "constant" lens, in that as you increase the focal length, the maximum aperture size decreases, though the minimum size stays the same. The following table reflects the changes in aperture as you zoom:
The lens takes 58mm filters, but does not ship with the LH-61E lens hood. The lens is available now for around $800.
The 75-300mm provides excellent results for sharpness at the nearer end of its telephoto range, with performance quickly dropping off as the lens is zoomed in past 150mm.
At 75mm to 100mm, the lens provides almost tack-sharp results, even used at its widest aperture. Stopping it down only provides marginal gains in sharpness, and it's tack-sharp all the way down to ƒ/16, where diffraction limiting has set in. Even at ƒ/22, the lens provides very good results.
At 150mm, we begin to see some of the lens' shortcomings. It's good, but not great, when used wide open at ƒ/5.6, with the top of the frame appearing softer than the rest. Stopping down to ƒ/8 returns very sharp images, almost tack-sharp, and no further gains are made as the lens is stopped down to ƒ/11. At ƒ/16 diffraction limiting has set in, as above.
At 200mm and 300mm, results for sharpness are only above average, with 200mm faring slightly better than 300mm. You have to stop down to ƒ/11 to get decent sharpness, as by ƒ/16 diffraction limiting has already begun to rob the image of clarity.
CA is controlled well at 75mm, but zoom in to any degree and it becomes slightly noticeable in the form of red and blue fringing in areas of high contrast.
Corner shading is only noticeable when the lens is used at its widest aperture, and even then, the extreme corners are only a third of a stop darker than the center. Stop down the lens slightly, and corner shading becomes negligible.
Olympus performed a little magic here, and kept distortion to a minimum. It's present, but not extreme, with the corners showing some pincushion distortion. This distortion is at its most prominent above 75mm, but even then it's only around -0.3% in the extreme corners.
The Olympus 100-300mm ƒ/4.8-6.7 m.Zuiko is very fast to autofocus, taking less than a second to go through its entire focusing range. The lens adopts the new MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) design, making it ideal for use in both still and video applications. The front element does not rotate when focusing, making life that much easier for polarizer users.
The lens isn't a dedicated macro lens, producing just 0.18x magnification. The minimum close-focusing distance is just under three feet (90 cm). Given that the lens uses the same filter size and bayonet mount as the 40-150mm m.Zuiko, I see no reason why the the Macro Lens Converter (MCON-58) would not work on this lens as well. Using this adapter reduces the minimum close-focusing range to just 24cm (around 9 inches) on certain lenses (possibly including this one, but Olympus' press information doesn't make it clear); there doesn't seem to be any information at the time of writing concerning what magnification is offered by the adapter.
Build Quality and Handling
The Olympus 75-300mm ƒ/4.8-6.7 m.Zuiko is an all-plastic lens, quite small given the design parameters of the micro four-thirds system. The lens is available in either a matte black or silver-grey finish, with a silver band by the lens mount. The plastic filter threads take 58mm filters, and the body mount is metal. There is no distance scale, depth-of-field scale or infrared index.
Our technician Rob notes that even with image stabilization, it's tricky to work with a 600mm-equivalent lens. Without an eyepiece to provide a third point of support, you've just got your extended hands to keep things somewhat steady. MacGyver might be proud of our solution, using bungee cord to attach a Hoodman H-LPP3 Loupe to the LCD screen: The Loupe is available for around $80, but you'll have to find your own bungee cord, or shell out another $20 for the Hoodman HSLRM straps and see if they'll attach to your camera body.
The zoom ring is an inch and a quarter wide, plastic with alternating raised ribs sections that run lengthwise to the lens. The ring turns about 90 degrees through its range of focal lengths, and is quite easy to turn. There is some significant lens extension as the lens is zoomed out towards the tele end, adding two inches to its overall length when zoomed out to 300mm. Zoom creep isn't a factor with this lens, and there is no lock to prevent it.
The focus ring is located at the end of the lens, an indented plastic ring that's a half-inch wide. The ring is a fly-by-wire design, controlling focus electronically, so there are no hard stops at either the infinity or close-focus ends. It's not the most friendly of manual focus designs, but the 100% magnification on the LCD really helps nail an accurate focus. Given that focus is electronically controlled, you can assign the direction of focus to be either left or right. The front element doesn't turn during focusing operations.
Our sample didn't ship with the LH-61D lens hood, which is a circular-shaped, bayonet mounted model that appears to be able to reverse onto the lens for storage. The lens hood will run you $25.
Panasonic 100-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. LUMIX G VARIO ~$550
Perhaps the most obvious alternative to the Olympus, we haven't yet tested the Panasonic 100-300mm; it's somewhat less expensive, but should mount and work properly on an Olympus micro four-thirds body.
Panasonic 45-200mm ƒ/4-5.6 MEGA O.I.S. LUMIX G VARIO ~$300
Much less expensive than the Olympus 75-300mm, the Panasonic 45-200mm isn't as sharp a lens, but it's slightly smaller, distorts less and offers better results for chromatic aberration (however, our results were found on a Panasonic G1, and could be somewhat different on an Olympus body).
Olympus 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 ED Zuiko Digital ~$300
With an adapter, the Olympus 70-300mm Zuiko should work properly on a micro four-thirds body; the resulting combination might be a bit long and heavy, however. The Olympus 70-300mm lens itself is almost as sharp as the ƒ/4.8-6.7 m.Zuiko, so unless you have an existing collection of Olympus glass you want to take advantage of on your micro four-thirds body, it's probably not worth the bother.
Olympus 40-150mm ƒ/4-5.6 ED M.Zuiko Digital ~$400
If you don't need quite as much reach, the 40-150mm is an excellent telephoto option - as sharp close up and sharper than the 100-300mm at 150mm, with better results for CA, distortion and corner shading as well, and not quite as expensive, either.
There aren't currently many choices in the ultra-telephoto category for micro four-thirds, and without having tested the Panasonic 100-300mm, it's hard to recommend the one over the other. Optically the Olympus 75-300mm does very well, but not where you'd want it to - it's super-sharp at 70mm, not at the 300mm where I suspect the grand majority of users will want to use this lens. At 300mm, it's only above average, there's noticeable chromatic aberration, and the maximum aperture of ƒ/6.7 is one of the slowest I've seen for SLR lenses (even Tamron and Sigma seem to draw the line at ƒ/6.3).
However, for the magnification it gives you, it's a truly remarkable package, weighing in at just 430 grams. So if you're not a purist who will be scrutinizing every image with a loupe, but rather a photographer who wants to get closer to the action without carrying 18 pounds of camera, this lens may very well be what you're looking for.
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 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 ED M.Zuiko Digital User Reviews
7 out of 10 points and recommended by Ocean (21 reviews)light, small, sharpf:6,7 only, not dust-proof, no hood, extreme high price, crappy plastics
optics are good - small and handy but I am not used to the extreme cheap-construction Level without lens hood and every few month I got dust between the lensesreviewed November 22nd, 2011 (purchased for $800)
Optics are good - the first half year, with a bit to much CA. With weekly practice it's getting worse.
The price is extreme high, it's just a cheap-starter Zoom.
The Panasonic 100-300 mm ist by far better.
Olympus can do much better.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by aostling (4 reviews)sharp, contrasty, and quick AFit's all good
I am an aficionado of slow telephoto lenses. They often have half the weight of the fast telephotos of the same focal length. My previous favorite was the Pentax Tele-Takumar 300mm f6.3 lens, which I use on my Olympus E-P2 in manual focus mode using an adapter. That lens weighs 790 g, including the built-in tripod collar.reviewed December 13th, 2010 (purchased for $900)
Now I have the M. Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7. It weighs a mere 428 g. It has automatic diaphragm, zoom, and autofocus. My tests show that it is at least as sharp as my classic Tele-Takumar, and so fast in operation that I now use it as my "walking around" lens.
Some may not get the best from the lens -- using it to its full potential requires a special technique. The E-P2 does a great job steadying the image at full zoom, but 600mm (equiv) really does benefit from using the camera with some additional support. The easiest solution is to use a lightweight monopod (mine is the Dolica WT 1003, which weighs 350g). This is weight worth carrying with the 75-300mm. I use the monopod in collapsed position with the end jammed into my belt. That's all the steadiness the E-P2 needs for perfectly sharp photos with this long zoom. I have also made a chestpod out of 3/4" PVC pipe, and this is even lighter.
Of course you can use a tripod, but that's not what this lens is for. It exists to be carried, ready for any subject which crops up, or for finding subjects not visible to your naked eye.
This is by far the lightest and most compact 300mm M43 lens currently on the market. I expect it will hold this distinction for quite awhile. It's the perfect safari lens, and maybe long enough for serious birding too.
My fun with it is just beginning. I'll likely never see anybody else carrying one in the National Parks of the West which I frequent (where Nikons and Canons reign). This is the lens for the cognoscenti.