Panasonic 100-400mm Leica G: The longest-zooming lens in the MFT world hits the real world


posted Sunday, April 3, 2016 at 7:17 AM EDT


Wake up with IR! Heres today's cup of Caffeine Priority...

Technology in the digital realm drives in many directions. Enthusiast photographers crave ever higher image quality, but also tend to be drawn towards convenience and mobility, which translates into smaller and lighter products being developed. And of course, there's also the element of price that comes into most of our consideration as well.

Zoom lenses on cameras with medium to large sized sensors have traditionally been large, heavy and expensive, and therefore out of reach for most of us. But that's slowly changing, and the Panasonic 100-400mm Leica G is definitely a part of the ongoing transformation. This lens offers an impressive 100-400mm zoom range, making this the first lens of any kind in the Micro Four Thirds world to reach out to an 800mm eq. focal length.

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH POWER O.I.S. lens as shown on the GX8

The engineers at Panasonic pulled off this feat while still keeping the lens relatively small, light and inexpensive as compared to similar lenses in the DSLR world, and also included Optical Image Stabilization. This is compatible with their new Dual I.S. technology, thereby increasing the operational effectiveness by combining both lens and in-body stabilization. And, the lens is also weather resistant with a gapless construction, among other notable features like a useful rotating tripod collar for portrait orientation without moving the tripod head.

A nifty 90° rotating tripod collar moves to portrait orientation as needed quickly and easily.

There has to be a catch somewhere, doesn't there?

Well, the short answer is yes, somewhat, with the biggest catch being that at that whopping 800mm eq. range the maximum aperture drops to a fairly dim f/6.3. You can see below in the image of the squirrel that the little guy is in direct sunlight, and yet I still needed to boost the ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to keep his speedy little hands from blurring. If the engineers had designed the unit to have a constant f/4 aperture, the lens would have needed to be significantly larger, and likely a lot pricier, thereby minimizing the "micro" element to Micro Four Thirds and taking this model out of the hands of most of us.

[Notes: All images were shot with the Panasonic GX8. Images have been cropped, resized to fit this page and slightly adjusted in post, primarily to balance shadows and highlights when needed. Clicking any image will take you to a carrier page, where you'll have access to the full resolution image as delivered straight from the GX8, in addition to EXIF data. RAW files are also available to download in our Panasonic GX8 Gallery page.]

1/640s / f/6.3 / -1.0 EV / ISO 1000 / 728mm eq.

[Note to self: Hire this guy to be our full-time model....
his little hands move faster than Formula One race cars.]

When you need to lighten up

The drawback of a dim aperture when zoomed in is allayed a good deal by the reasonably bright f/4 aperture acheivable at the 200mm eq. range. Below are examples at 200mm eq. f/4, 264mm eq. f/4.4 and 390mm eq. f/5 to show what's possible with this lens when not zoomed to long-telephoto-land.

1/640s / f/4 / -1.0 EV / ISO 500 / 200mm eq.

1/500s / f/4.4 / -0.7 EV / ISO 320 / 264mm eq.

1/200s / f/5 / -1.0 EV / ISO 320 / 390mm eq.

Leaving the tripod behind

I shot everything in this batch handheld, as I wanted to really push the limits to see how well the I.S. would hold up in the real world. I have fairly steady hands, though not rock-solid like our senior lens technician Rob Murray, so my results are likely in the middle ground for average hand-shake. I found the I.S. to be remarkably effective though, and have a shot at 1/80s below that's handheld at 448mm eq. It was dusk, so at ISO 3200 there is a trace of noise, but without I.S. it's unlikely I could have achieved this shot handheld without cranking the ISO much higher and incurring a bit too much noise.

1/80s / f/5.2 / -0.3 EV / ISO 3200 / 448mm eq.

(Ceviche... anyone?)

"Yeah, you can handhold it...but is it sharp?"

Our test lab made me surrender the lens so that it could make its rounds through lab testing, and we'll have you our official results on how well the lens performs across both the zoom and aperture ranges shortly. In the meantime below is one of the better examples of sharpness I was able to achieve, and again this is handheld so will be interesting to see the sharpness results from the test lab once they're available.

1/1000s / f/6.3 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 312mm eq.

[1:1 crop from above image]

A special note about autofocus performance and firmware

When I first began shooting with this combination I encountered somewhat odd and erratic AF performance. At times, objects squarely in the AF box appeared in focus in the EVF, yet after firing the shutter would then appear slightly off. As I usually do when I encounter an issue, I ran to Rob Murray in our test lab and he fairly quickly surmised that our GX8 sample had not yet received the latest firmware upgrade. Once he performed the upgrade to firmware v2.1, the lens began to operate as expected, and given the zoom range it's actually quite a fast AF performer. (Thanks, Rob!)

And speaking of AF, one additional feature not yet mentioned on the Panasonic 100-400mm G is a handy AF limiter. When you're photographing distant objects, anything beyond 5 meters, engaging the limiter increases AF efficiency and speed, preventing the lens from having to hunt through the entire zoom range. (Just remember to re-engage the "Full" range when shooting obejcts closer than 5 meters.)

1/800s / f/5.7 / -1.3 EV / ISO 400 / 600mm eq.

And then some...

Here are a few more examples from this combination, at varying zoom ranges and apertures. This lens is certainly versatile when the light is available. For lower light situations it gets a bit dim as you zoom, but again that's just the nature of keeping it small and light. It otherwise feels like a feat of modern engineering, and packs quite a lot of firepower considering its stealthy size.

1/640s / f/5.1 / -0.7 EV / ISO 250 / 426mm eq.

1/640s / f/6.3 / -0.7 EV / ISO 320 / 636mm eq.

1/800s / f/6.3 / -0.7 EV / ISO 640 / 800mm eq.

1/500s / f/5 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 390mm eq.

1/500s / f/4.5 / -0.3 EV / ISO 800 / 200mm eq.

1/400s / f/5.6 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 200mm eq.

See more images with the Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 here:
(look for "100-400" in the filename)

• Panasonic GX8 Gallery •

And for links to pre-order this lens from one of our trusted affiliates,
please see our:

• Panasonic 100-400mm Overview •

1/640s / f/4 / -1.0 EV / ISO 500 / 200mm eq.


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[Need a refill? ...Indulge Yourself!]


Caffeine Priority is a new series of short photo-tidbits to ease you into your day, and give us a chance to share a bit more of what life’s like here at IR. We're more like a group of friends testing and talking about cameras and lenses than the buttoned-down, big-corporation world that some of our photo-friends at other companies work in; hopefully these little snippets will share some of that. So... grab another coffee and join in the conversation with us down below!

1/500s / f/4.5 / -0.3 EV / ISO 800 / 200mm eq.
1/400s / f/5.6 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 200mm eq.

1/400s / f/5.6 / -1.0 EV / ISO 200 / 200mm eq.
1/800s / f/5.7 / -1.3 EV / ISO 400 / 600mm eq.