The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS lens
is currently one of two super telephoto lens produced specifically for the Micro Four Thirds system, the other being the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 M.Zuiko Lens
On a Micro 4/3 camera, the Panasonic lens gives the same angle of view as a 200-600mm lens on a 35mm format camera, providing an opportunity to get the reach sought after by wildlife photographers without the kind of bulk commonly associated with DSLR lenses for the same application.
Of note, the Panasonic 100-300mm lens is only 15% and 30% lighter than the current Canon and Nikon 70-300mm lenses respectively. Some may argue that these aren't the proper lenses for comparison since they don't provide the same angle of view. To get the same narrow angle of view with one of those lenses on APS-C, one would have to use a 1.4X teleconverter and in the process lose autofocus. However, I think it's worth pointing out that for a given actual focal length range, the Micro 4/3 lens isn't all that much lighter (or smaller).
Here's how it looks on my GH2:
Compared to other Panasonic Micro 4/3 lenses:
For a matched angle of view on APS-C, one has to pull out the bigger guns. Here's how the Canon 100-400mm lens (160-640mm "equivalent" angle of view) looks next to the Panasonic lens:
Angle of view doesn't necessarily translate into "reach" though. The reason Micro 4/3 cameras have the potential for greater "reach" than APS-C and 35mm format cameras for a given focal length is that the Micro 4/3 cameras tend to have higher pixel density. If a lens is sharp enough to outresolve the smaller pixels, this can translate into greater detail in the resulting capture. Canon wildlife photographers have long leveraged the greater pixel density offered by Canon APS-C cameras over Canon 35mm cameras for this exact purpose. A bit later in the review, we'll see how well the Panasonic lens is able to keep up with the GH2 sensor.
Brief observations from use
- Build quality is very good for a plastic lens.
- The zoom ring is smooth throughout the course of travel.
- Lens extends to nearly double length upon zooming to 300mm.
- Optical image stabilization seems effective
- Autofocus is silent and reasonably quick (tested on Panasonic GH2)
- Focus-by-wire manual focus ring is smooth and works well (automatically brings up magnified view)
- No color fringing was evident using my usual workflow (RAW files processed in Lightroom 3).
- At full telephoto, lens magnification is approximately 1:5 (0.2X)
Autofocus was accurate and locked well on static objects at all focal lengths. When attempting to lock on seagulls in flight, I had considerable difficulty at 300mm and greater success at the shorter end of the zoom range.
A focus limiter switch like the one on the Canon 100-400mm lens would have been very useful in preventing the lens from racking through the close focus range when attempting to lock on distant birds. I did manage to lock a couple of times with the zoom at 300mm. Keep in mind that these are both heavy crops:
I didn't do any scientific testing for this review. All the images shown were taken handheld with image stabilization engaged. Keep in mind that handshake blur, misfocus, and high ISO noise may have affected the results shown. I've tried to present a variety of image samples to give a sense of the lens sharpness and rendering.
At the wide end of its range, the Panasonic 100-300mm lens
is an impressive performer.
Perhaps a touch of handshake on this one, but the level of detail is still very respectable:
At the middle range (~200mm), performance remains very good. Two samples:
Of course what most of you will want to know if how this lens performs at 300mm, so I'll show the most samples at that setting:
Without shooting charts, it seemed to me that the best performance at 300mm was ~ f/7-8. Here's a young rabbit who cooperated for testing:
Lots of detail-obscuring noise here at ISO 2500 and probably some handshake blur as well, but you can still see some nice detail:
I had a blast using the Panasonic 100-300mm
. I don't have a great deal of experience or skill with wildlife photography, but this is a lens that made it really fun to get out and try my hand with some of the local birds and small animals.
It's a big lens compared to others in our system, but very easy to take along when compared to any APS-C or 35mm system autofocus lens with a similar angle of view. Compared to the Olympus M. Zuiko 75-300mm lens
, the Panasonic is about 21% heavier, 35% less expensive (based on B&H pricing at the time of this writing), 1/2 stop faster, and relies on in-lens stabilization as opposed to body image stabilization.
The Panasonic lens performance overall exceeded my expectations, delivering sharp, contrasty images with pleasing out-of-focus blur rendition throughout the zoom range. Results were a bit less impressive at 300mm than at other focal lengths, although my technique may well have played a role, and rigorous testing from sites like SLR Gear and Photozone will eventually help to clarify the lens' potential. I do think there is room in our system for a critically sharp 300mm f/4 stabilized prime lens at roughly twice the size, weight, and cost of the Panasonic zoom.
The one disappointment I had with this lens was that it was hard to lock focus on birds in flight at the 300mm setting. Although my technique isn't the best, I have enough experience with other lenses and systems to know that, to a degree, this is a limitation of this particular camera-lens combination. Again, I think a focus limiter switch would have been helpful.
The Panasonic 100-300mm is a great lens for any Micro 4/3 user looking to get some great shots at the zoo, on safari, or with any sort of local critters. Despite its autofocus limitations, I found this lens to be capable of good results for outdoor sports photography when light was plentiful. I also found it to be a great lens for photographing my kids, although the minimum focal length of 100mm meant that they could only be photographed at a significant distance, even for head and shoulders portraits.
In summary, the Panasonic 100-300mm is an excellent addition to our Micro 4/3 system and a great value (currently $521 at B&H Photo
). Highly recommended.
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