Over the last couple of days I posted a lot of photos that I took in late May and June. In ways these posts, and a couple of others (like this one) from mid-May, were all leading up to this quick review of my new lens, an Olympus 100-400 5.0-6.3. Just as a reminder, here are the last few posts:
(All photos on this page were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II and the new 100-400 lens except photo of lenses uses Olympus 12-40 2.8)
A super quick background – I started with the original Olympus four-thirds camera, the E1, and the excellent 50-200 2.8-3.5 lens. I later picked up a 1.4 converter to get up to 280mm to compete with the 300s. This was my favorite lens of all time.
When I started micro four-thirds with the EM-5 some seven years later (2012), that beautiful lens didn’t work quite right, so I picked up a micro four-thirds tele-zoom, the 75-300 4.8-6.7. The lens was OK, but not great.
Five years later I picked up my current camera, the E-M1 mark II. I continued to use that same lens, even though the “flaws” were more apparent on the new camera. There were just no better options, at least in a price range I could afford.
And then there was a new option, the 100-400 5.0-6.3. Still expensive, but I saved for a year (yes, I do that) and here it is!
A quick bit about my photography. Maybe 60 to 76% of my telephoto photos are taken from a kayak. I carry my camera even when the water is rough. I took a lot of nature photography, but have experimented with others.
The first big difference in the lens that caught my attention was that the new one is “splash-resistant”. Olympus’ weather-proofing is perhaps the best in the business, or at least they guarantee it to a higher level. The old lens was not weather=proofed at all. As I said, I use it in the kayak when the water is rough.
There is that added 100mm. I was surprised at how much that actually added – I didn’t expect such a big difference. I got some good photos that I would have considered out of range before. Taking photos of the moon gave me a great idea of how much more (this was one of the first photos I took with the new lens)
Here is an actual pixel view of that photo.
The lens is slightly brighter, but nothing to write home about. Still, every little bit helps when photographing flying birds.
The new lens does pretty well with macro-photography. There is a quick switch to make it easy to move from distant photography to macro.
There is another switch to go to manual focus. A good example is the following catbird photo. First, it would have been out of range for the 300. The auto-focus kept focusing in on the twigs that are in front of the bird. I did a quick switch to manual and got this photo that would have been impossible with the other lens.
Oh, and this squirrel had to be manual focus:
The lens also has built in image stabilization. This is needed at 400mm on micro four-thirds (equivalent to an 800 mm on a full frame!) the camera itself has good image stabilization, and the two can either work together very well, but sometimes “fight”. Still, when I was using the camera properly, I was easily able to get great handheld photos from a moving kayak of flying birds that were very sharp to the pixel level.
On the negative side, the lens is large, heavy and awkward. I experimented with it and finally found a good way to carry it while walking and a more convenient way for kayaking. The problem is, as I used my “new way” of carrying it, I had been accidentally adjusting aperture, slowly increasing the f-number/decreasing the size. Most of the osprey photos were taken at f18. That is small (size) and dark! First, the images aren’t quite as sharp at 6.5. And then I was getting more motion blur than expected. I cranked up the ISO and did some at 1600, which lessens the quality (noisier and and not as sharp). I finally found the issue and will now look for it.
Final outcome – I am very happy with the lens. There is something about the way a photo looks with a better lens. the old 50-200 had it in spades, and the 200-400 does much better than the 75-300 for this esthetic quality. I was also surprised at how good the photos look at the pixel level. One of the hawk photos I posted a couple of days ago was actually up-sized more than double (the photo was 400 pixels wide, I changed to 1000) and yet it looks as clear as photos that I downsized (not this photo – but this is at 100%, no up-sizing or downsizing)
Because of all of the issues I had, most self-created, I couldn’t do a true review. I did a few side by side photos with the two telephoto lenses, but not scientific. All of this is just feel. But I do feel that this lens is much better in all ways. Being splash-proof is a big relief. The extra length helps, as does that little extra brightness. But most of all I like the photos better.