Olympus 300mm f4 Pro vs Sigma APO 300mm f4 Tele Macro

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Recently, my Olympus 50-200 SWD died and I had to consider a replacement. I thought about this a lot and decided to hunt down an Olympus 300mm f4 Pro as the replacement. I used the SWD with the EC14 a lot and wanted a lens that could do CAF and Tracking efficiently for wildlife on the move. And I reasoned I could always back up with my feet instead of a zoom ring if I was too close to my subject.

The new lens arrived today and I took it out to compare it to my much beloved Sigma APO 300mm f4 Tele Macro. It might seem unfair to compare a 20 year old lens to the amazing Olympus 300mm f4 Pro lens, and I wasn't sure what to expect. The differences are subtle and reveal the truth that 300mm prime lenses have similar characteristics regardless of the make, model, and year.

The Sigma:
- Heavier by about 250g
- Slightly shorter, even with the metabones adapter - and it fits in my backpack with the camera attached
- Slow focus. Accurate. Misses quite a few shots.
- No CAF or tracking. You have to be precise with SAF.
- Contrast is a little lower
- Sharpness at f4.5 is about equal to the Olympus at f4, they are the same at f5.6
- the barrel is made of a plastic that gets sticky. the attached lens hood is stiff to pull out.
- Cost of the lens in Canon EF Mount on eBay: $169.
- Cost of the metabones Smart T adapter on eBay: $179

The Olympus
- Lighter and easier to carry
- Longer and does not fit in my camera backpack with the EM1.2 attached
- Super fast focus. Accurate. Never misses.
- CAF and Tracking are fast, accurate, and super useful.
- Flip the focus ring and you are in manual mode and have focus peaking and magnification.
- Full weather sealing make the lens ideal in hot, cold, and wet environments
- Cost of the lens on Fredmiranda.com: $1800 in like new condition

Samples:
Some are cropped some are not. Minimal processing.
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There are differences, but they are subtle. Bokeh is about the same.

What do you think? Is the Olympus worth 5x times the cost of the Sigma to do this?

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WhidbeyLVR

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The images at forum resolution certainly look comparable. Thanks for making the comparison and posting the images for us.

One difference you did not mention was Sync IS on newer Olympus bodies with the Olympus lens. The differences I have found in stabilization between the 75-300 @300mm and the m.Z 300 f/4 pro on the same camera are substantial. Some of it may be the greater mass of the 300mm pro, but some of it is likely the better IS, as well.
 

retiredfromlife

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If I had the money I would get the Oly if I had a Oly body, otherwise the Sigma results look OK.
But I must admit as this time I am "fairly" happy with the Panasonic 100-300 for it's portability.
 

alex g

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I have to ask, Steve: what were you using to stop the passage of time when you were shooting those comparisons? Or have you perhaps acquired advanced ninja subject-hypnosis skills? :hmmm:
 
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I have to ask, Steve: what were you using to stop the passage of time when you were shooting those comparisons? Or have you perhaps acquired advanced ninja subject-hypnosis skills? :hmmm:
Ah, well, I had both lenses primed to go - no caps on them and right besides me. Turtles are quite slow. Rabbits freeze when they hear you. And Dragonflies sit motionless in the same spot for minutes at a time.

Of course I shot hundreds and it is only these few comparisons which made the cut...
 
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If I had the money I would get the Oly if I had a Oly body, otherwise the Sigma results look OK.
But I must admit as this time I am "fairly" happy with the Panasonic 100-300 for it's portability.
The Sigma was my cat's meow for the last year and I was so happy to have a sharp 300mm f4 with auto-focus that cost so little. Now she's been replaced with the Olympus who is younger, faster, slimmer, and more attractive...
 

alex g

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Ah, well, I had both lenses primed to go - no caps on them and right besides me. Turtles are quite slow. Rabbits freeze when they hear you. And Dragonflies sit motionless in the same spot for minutes at a time.

Of course I shot hundreds and it is only these few comparisons which made the cut...
Haha okay. I'll give you turtles, but I think you must have a different brand of rabbit and dragonfly where you are — those round here seem highly evolved to only give you one chance per pose. :)

Now I'm picturing you with your lenses mounted in some kind of rotary turret, like a photographic equivalent of a Maxim gun...

But a very interesting and spectacularly executed set of comparisons, many thanks for posting them. As you say, the two lenses render remarkably similar images, the Sigma having very slightly softer bokeh to my eye, but that may just be a function of the slightly lower contrast.
 
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Haha okay. I'll give you turtles, but I think you must have a different brand of rabbit and dragonfly where you are — those round here seem highly evolved to only give you one chance per pose. :)

Now I'm picturing you with your lenses mounted in some kind of rotary turret, like a photographic equivalent of a Maxim gun...

But a very interesting and spectacularly executed set of comparisons, many thanks for posting them. As you say, the two lenses render remarkably similar images, the Sigma having very slightly softer bokeh to my eye, but that may just be a function of the slightly lower contrast.
I agree. The Sigma does have softer bokeh and it is a remarkable lens given its age and cost. I won't part with it. The Olympus is more useful, but it also drains your battery fast. Will have to get another battery...
 

ac12

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I think one of the things that drives us into using older lenses is the cost of current lenses.
I use a Nikon 500mm mirror lens that cost me about $150. That is about 10% the cost of a $1400 Nikon 200-500 lens.
The biggest issue is that the mirror lens is manual focus vs the autofocus 200-500, so subject have to be stationary or SLOW moving.
With IBIS on the Olympus, I can even hand hold that 20x lens. But it is still better used on a tripod.

@SteveAdler
What kind of battery life are you getting with the 300/4?
I have the 12-100/4, and with Sync IS on, on my EM1-mk1, I get about 2-1/2 hours of continuous run time, when shooting sporting events.
 

alex g

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I agree. The Sigma does have softer bokeh and it is a remarkable lens given its age and cost. I won't part with it. The Olympus is more useful, but it also drains your battery fast. Will have to get another battery...
Yeah, the OIS in the Olympus 300/4 appears to operate continuously when it's switched on, not just when the shutter button is half-pressed, presumably to avoid any gyro spin-up delays when shooting. If you put your ear next to the lens, you can hear it whirring away. It definitely helps to turn off the camera between shots, or at least put it to sleep quickly.
 

ac12

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Yeah, the OIS in the Olympus 300/4 appears to operate continuously when it's switched on, not just when the shutter button is half-pressed, presumably to avoid any gyro spin-up delays when shooting. If you put your ear next to the lens, you can hear it whirring away. It definitely helps to turn off the camera between shots, or at least put it to sleep quickly.
Ah . . .
Yup, I put my ear on the lens and could hear something running inside.
That would explain the heavy battery drain with that lens, even not shooting.

Thanks for the lead.
 
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Ah . . .
Yup, I put my ear on the lens and could hear something running inside.
That would explain the heavy battery drain with that lens, even not shooting.

Thanks for the lead.
It would be helpful if the OIS button on the side of the lens turned off just the in-lens OIS and left IBIS running so that we could cut battery drain in excellent lighting conditions where the extra in-lens stabilization is not needed.
 

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