Shootout MZ 75-300 vs MZ 300mm in a Battle Over Gorgeous

Phocal

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It was a sunny day (the last for a week) so I decided to take the 75-300 to photograph the foxes. I learned a lesson a long time ago while testing the Sigma 50-500 to make sure I have my good lens with me at all times in case something spectacular happens. So I had the other EM1 in the backpack with the 300/4 attached, I actually switched from the 150/2 to the 300/4 at the last second. I got there at 14:30 and she was out for a few minutes but went into this pipe that runs under the trail. She likes to hide in there and it was 2 hours before she poked her head out again. When she came out I sat there for about 2 minutes photographing her before I got the idea of pulling the 300/4 out of the back and shoot some comparison shots.

These images were shot 25 seconds apart and there is a bit different perspective and framing. I really wish I had framed the 75-300 differently to compare the bokeh of the branches on the left. I have learned that trying to do my in the field lens comparisons is not as easy when sitting in a few feet of snow. It makes setting the camera/s not in use a lot harder than I am use to back in the swamps without snow. This is what led to the change in perspective between the images, hopefully I get a bit better at doing this in the snow. They were both shot handheld while sitting on the ground with my elbows braced on my knees. She was eating snow (guess because the river is frozen over) and would lick the remaining snow from her face. Which enabled me to capture two very close to identical tongue out images. They are both purposely composed with her looking into the short side of the image. Yes, I know that is “against the rules” but I like to do compositions like that on occasion to give me a more varied portfolio and I like how it adds a bit of tension to the image.

My copy of the 75-300 starts getting soft at about 280mm. The image in this comparison was actually taken at 270mm, which puts it before the softness starts. I have to admit that it was by accident as I intended to shoot at 300mm. I was switching between the cameras as I sat there taking photos and the 75-300 moved to 270mm without me noticing. At least this comparison is done in the sharper range of my 75-300, which is where I tended to use it when it was my wildlife lens. Now, the photo with the 75-300 does have about a 400px crop on the long side. This was done to tighten up the composition, but also is about what it would take to get the 300mm FoV.

Both photos are processed the same using a preset I have setup for my fox photos, which includes the settings I apply to all my photos.

I will post the images then give my impression/comparison/thoughts on the two lenses.

I highly recommend clicking through to Flickr to get a much better look at the images.

EM1 w/ MZ 75-300mm f4.8-6.7, ISO 200, 1/640 @ f6.7
49625853902_2c078213ce_k.jpg
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Gorgeous 043 by Phocal Art, on Flickr

EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 IS Pro, ISO 200, 1/1250 @ f4.0
49625581166_5bfab3f68f_k.jpg
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Gorgeous 042 by Phocal Art, on Flickr

Sharpness/Resolution: There is no debate about which one is sharper and has better resolution. There are enough test sites out there that have shown over and over again that the 300/4 has more resolution than the 75-300. But how much difference does that extra resolution make in real world shooting. When you zoom in the 300/4 did capture more fine detail and does a better job distinguishing between individual hairs. For typical web display or small prints there is probably not going to be much difference that are noticeable. When printing large or zooming in on the full resolution image the 300/4 is just going to hold up a lot better and provide great detail even when viewing say a 40x30 image from a foot away (have a 40x30 hanging in my house to prove it). The 75-300 is just not going to hold up to really large prints or 100% viewing of the original.

Bokeh: This is going to be one area that the 300/4 is just going to dominate in. When looking at the focus falloff on the fox the 75-300 actually looks pretty good, there are no glaring deficiencies. The background is another story all together. The transitions from one color to the next in the background is just so much smoother with the 300/4. The 75-300 has hard lines betweens the colors where the 300/4 has a much nicer and smoother flow from color to color. While I find the detail from the 75-300 right at the line of being acceptable, the background bokeh is basically a deal killer for me. I don’t have images from the 300/4 at f6.7 but I am pretty confident in saying the bokeh difference has a lot to do with the slower aperture of the 75-300. Would love to get some head filling images with the 75-300 to see how background bokeh would look like in my images of Gorgeous on that snowy day. I am pretty sure in that situation there would be little difference in the background bokeh, but that is an unusual situation that you can’t always count on when photographing wildlife. I am working on a review post of the 75-300 and I have images where the backgrounds are acceptable and some that are right at the edge of being acceptable. So when the conditions are right and the background is just the right distance away the 75-300 can create decent bokeh (it is never as beautiful as what the 300/4 can do in the same situations), but it does struggle when the background is closer like in these images.

Depth of Field: First I want to say that I am also working on a post about DoF and telephoto lenses, hope to have that post done in the next week or so. These images were take from approximately 30 feet away with the 300/4 having a DoF of 4.2 inches and the 75-300 8.8 inches. If you look at the 300/4 photo you will see that the nose/tongue are in focus as are the eyes, the DoF extends back to just before the right ear. The right ear still retains enough detail and sharpness to not be a blurry mess and gives a good impression of being in focus. The photo also holds good detail in the fur under the chin and down a bit on the chest before starting to falloff. The 75-300 has, well just over 2x the DoF with good focus all the way down the chest. While the extra DoF does add a bit to the image I don’t think it is enough added in detail to offset the much worse background bokeh. Just like I have found that the 300/4 is sharper at f5.6 vs f4.0 the difference in background bokeh just never makes it worth stopping down.

Overall: The 300/4 shot is noticeably better to me. I use LightRoom and I put all the images from the shoot into the Quick Selection Catalog and organized it by time taken. Going through that folder I could instantly tell which lens took which photograph, the 300/4 is just noticeably better in every way. It’s also why I would have a hard time going out with just the 75-300, with my luck I would come across the most amazing thing every and be cussing the entire time that I didn’t have the 300/4 with me. That said, the 75-300 is capable of making great images when used within it’s limits and honestly is just as good as most of those 150-600mm lenses,which says a lot about the m4/3 xx-300 zooms. An update of the lens with IS would go a long way to making this a much better lens and would help with my biggest complaint of it being too light for it’s focal length. In the 75-300 review I am working on I will go into a lot more about how I feel the lens performs as well as it’s strengths/weaknesses.

I hope some find this helpful/useful. It was fun watching Gorgeous and seeing what the lowly 75-300 is capable of, which honestly surprised me to some degree.
As always, any/all comments are welcome.

Phocal

Edit - I need to add something about distance. The 75-300 is really helped in these images by being 30 feet away. If the distance was closer to 50 feet or farther the differences would be a lot different, the 75-300 just doesn't have the resolution to compete with the 300/4 when the subject fills less of the frame.
 
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I actually like the little it larger DOF in the 75-300 image. I think it helps her stand out of the busier background. I wonder what the 300 would have done stopped down to f/5.6.

Of course, they are both outstanding images.
 
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retiredfromlife

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Thanks for the writeup, very interesting.
I like the fox better from the 75-300 and the back ground from the 300. But as you say depends on how the final images will be presented.
Looking forward to your DoF article.

After looking at the difference between the two here I hope there is similar between the upcoming 150-400 & 100-400 as the later has me interested
 
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Great images and write-up as usual!
I like the image with deeper DOF. The front legs show more definition. The snow in front of gorgeous is more crisp too. I'm sure the 300/f4 if stopped down will produce an even more crisp feel for the snow. I don't mind the more busy background blur. There is enough "pop" simply because of the light shining on the golden fur, and because Gorgeous is simply stunningly beautiful! Although having said that, I do wonder "what if the background is darkened a bit in post processing."
 

Phocal

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I actually like the little it larger DOF in the 75-300 image. I think it helps her stand out of the busier background. I wonder what the 300 would have done stopped down to f/5.6.

Of course, they are both outstanding images.
The extra DoF is a nice but not at the expense of the much worse background bokeh in my opinion. At f5.6 the 300 would have had a touch more DoF (about 2 inches) but the bokeh would have been worse. I have done a lot of testing of the 300/4 at f5.6 vs f4.0 and there is a bit more DoF and it does sharpen up a noticeable amount but the background bokeh becomes worse. Maybe if I didn't have the f4.0 version to look at I would find it acceptable but having the f4.0 version available the f5.6 is never worth it.
 

Phocal

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Thanks for the writeup, very interesting.
I like the fox better from the 75-300 and the back ground from the 300. But as you say depends on how the final images will be presented.
Looking forward to your DoF article.

After looking at the difference between the two here I hope there is similar between the upcoming 150-400 & 100-400 as the later has me interested
You are welcome.
The extra DoF is nice but not worth the worse background.
I have been working on the DoF article for about 2 months now. I really want to finally get it finished and posted.

Those two lenses are going to be interesting. I am sure the 100-400 will be better than the xx-300mm lenses and knowing Olympus it will be a touch better than the Panny 100-400. But the 150-400 is an enigma. I honestly don't think it will beat the 300/4 at 300mm and I will bet they will be close at 400mm when using the EC-14 on the 300/4. This is based on my experience with the Canon 100-400 f4.0. That lens was great but never could compete with any of the primes in the same focal range, it was close but you could always tell it was just bit behind in image quality. Would love to get the 150-400 to play around with for a week but I am not in the market for that lens. If I was still shooting a lot of sports I would be all over it but as mostly a wildlife guy now it has no interest to me.
 

Phocal

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Great images and write-up as usual!
I like the image with deeper DOF. The front legs show more definition. The snow in front of gorgeous is more crisp too. I'm sure the 300/f4 if stopped down will produce an even more crisp feel for the snow. I don't mind the more busy background blur. There is enough "pop" simply because of the light shining on the golden fur, and because Gorgeous is simply stunningly beautiful! Although having said that, I do wonder "what if the background is darkened a bit in post processing."
I do admit the deeper DoF does add a bit but me personally can't stand the background. Part of that could be from my years of shooting full frame and use to blurred backgrounds. The lighting does put some pop in there to separate from the background, which does help the 75-300 shot. I have never been a fan of darkening/lightening the background. To do it correctly is a lot more work/time than I like to put into an image, it would have to be an award winning image for me to go through all that. By doing it correctly I mean masking out the entire fox, include all those individual hairs sticking out, otherwise I can notice it. Granted, it takes looking to notice that all the individual hairs are not perfectly masked out but I am about to print something at 40x30 I am going over every single mm of that image.
 

Phocal

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The pupil of the fox's eye give indication of how sharper Pro 300/4 @ wide open than the other lens .
I haven't wanted to say anything but that is exactly what does it for me. I have the advantage of being to see all the photos I took between the two lenses and the eye is a big giveaway in everyone of them. That extra resolution the 300/4 has over the 75-300 is really apparent in the eye of the fox in all my images. The 300/4 just has the ability to pull all that little detail from the eye, something the 75-300 just can't do.
 

Phocal

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I posted these images in a few groups on Facebook and based on the replys and comments I have realized one flaw in my testing. I get much closer to my subjects than most people, I would say 2-3 times closer if not a bit more. This really helps lower resolution lenses like the 75-300 when comparing them to the 300/4.

This test was done in what was probably optimal conditions for the 75-300. I was close (30 feet) enough to fill the frame with the fox and there was enough sun to allow the 75-300 to be shot at base ISO. Now the shutter speeds for the entire shoot bounced between a few at 1/1000 which is where I really want to be with that lens. But most of them were down in the 1/640 range where I really have to start paying attention to my technique with the 75-300. I also had a huge portion of the photos shot at 1/400 which is really getting into the I must pay attention to my technique to get a good keeper rate.

Once the light starts getting dimmer (closer to sunset/sunrise) the image quality from the 75-300 drops because of the corresponding rise in ISO. The 300/4 has a faster aperture but the dual IS really helps with allowing much slower shutter speeds, as long as it is still fast enough to freeze the subject.

While the great light really helped the 75-300, the close distance helped it even more. Everyone knows I like to get close to my subjects and my move to Alaska hasn't changed that. Going by the large number of images I look at every week and talking with those photographers I know that most people don't shoot from my close distances. Most people are at least 2x the distance I get, with many being more like 3x or farther away. These greater distances mean they have to crop more to fill the photo with their subject, which will really show the lack of detail the 75-300 captures at greater distances. If I had done this test from 60 feet and not 30 the difference would have even more noticeable, with the 75-300 maybe even falling into the unacceptable range.

So in some ways I feel like my comparison is very misleading. It does show what the 75-300 is capable of when in the hands of not just an experienced photographer (with great long lens technique) but also one with amazing fieldcraft who gets close enough to fill the frame with his subject. But in the hands of the typical person who is going to buy the 75-300 and photograph wildlife the image quality will go down. But I just can't get myself to test lenses from distances closer to what other people shoot from. I try, I just can't get myself to take those photographs of my subject when they are so far away. It is just not in DNA.

When talking with people about lens resolution and subject distance I always tell them to think of the resolution as graph paper. The 300/4 would have very small squares compared to the larger squares of the 75-300. The more squares you have on your subject the more detail you will capture and once you get below a certain number of squares (number is based on output of image to some extent) the detail captured is just not enough to make an engaging image. When close like in my test the 75-300 is putting enough squares on the subject to make it hard to see any noticeable difference between the images. I also feel like there is point where more squares just doesn't make a difference to the human eye, that is until you start to crop or print large (printing is where this really comes into play, especially when printing large). So as the distance increases the number of squares decreases and the image quality goes down as well. If we say the 300/4 has squares 2x as small as the 75-300 then when we double the distance the 75-300 has 1/2 as many squares on the subject while the 300/4 has as many as the 75-300 did at 30 feet. At 30 feet we had enough squares that increasing (like with using the 300/4) the number doesn't make much if any noticeable difference. Now that we have doubled the distance the 75-300 is getting into the territory of not enough squares to get enough detail but the 300/4 is still has enough to produce a good image. Hope that made sense.
 

mfturner

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Certainly your fieldcraft displays the absolute upper limit of what the consumer lens can do. Most of us will certainly be 2-3x further from the subject, especially when walking my dog. One of the peices of Canon kit that I miss was my 300 f4 L IS lens, I might hope that the Olympus 300 f4 Pro lens is a bit better. Certainly my 75-300 zoom doesn't keep up, but is still a decent consumer option. Thank you for posting these shootouts.
 
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MZ I assume is what Olympus refers to their micro four thirds lenses by.... M. Zuiko Digital Lenses (Used to be Zuiko Digital Lenses for 4/3 cameras and just plain Zuiko for film).

Back on Topic. I am very impressed by what you can get out of that 75-300mm lens. Great technique and processing!
 

RAH

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Ah, OK, that makes sense. That's good - I thought it might refer to some off-brand Ebay special. Good to see my 75-300 testing so well! :) However, I am VERY anxious to see what the new 100-400 has to offer. I hope it is at least somewhat better than the P100-400! Can't wait!
 
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Phocal

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Certainly your fieldcraft displays the absolute upper limit of what the consumer lens can do. Most of us will certainly be 2-3x further from the subject, especially when walking my dog. One of the peices of Canon kit that I miss was my 300 f4 L IS lens, I might hope that the Olympus 300 f4 Pro lens is a bit better. Certainly my 75-300 zoom doesn't keep up, but is still a decent consumer option. Thank you for posting these shootouts.
You are welcome. I enjoy doing them as well as seeing just how much performance I can squeeze out of non-pro lenses. In the right conditions the 75-300 can create amazing images, especially when filling the frame with your subject.
 

Phocal

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Ah, OK, that makes sense. That's good - I thought it might refer to some off-brand Ebay special. Good to see my 75-300 testing so well! :) However, I am VERY anxious to see what the new 100-400 has to offer. I hope it is at least somewhat better than the P100-400! Can't wait!
I am curious about the 100-400 as well. I am sure it will be a bit better than the Panny but it will also be bigger and heavier which will get everyone complaining about it.
 

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