Shootout Olympus 300mm Lens Shootout - A Real World Comparison of Three Olympus Lenses

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300/4 Wide-Open at 35 Feet by Phocal Art, on Flickr

I arrived at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas in a good mood despite my pack weighing in at just over 48 pounds. Pulling the F-stop Ajna from the back of the Jeep and throwing it over my shoulders I couldn’t help but think if all this work was really worth it. Just about every photographer who does an article comparing two or more lenses photograph some stationary subject like a target or brick wall. I have always felt those types of test do nothing to illustrate how the lenses operate in a real world shooting environment. For that reason I have always conducted my lens comparisons in the field photographing the subjects I would normally use the lenses for.

Sure I could just use a photographic target and show you this lens will resolve x number of lines per millimeter while this lens will resolve x + x. Don’t get me wrong, that is great for figuring out what lenses is better and being a serious gear geek I enjoy that information. But what does that difference really mean in a photograph of a bird? Will I notice a difference in actual use between this $3,000 professional level lens and this $1000 consumer lens? Is that difference worth the extra cost?

These are the types of questions that shooting a target or brick wall cannot answer and is why I conduct my comparisons like I do.

For todays outing I had the following gear in my pack:
  • Olympus OMD EM1 /w grip (EM1)
  • Olympus OMD EM1 (EM1)
  • OLympus MZ 300mm f4.0 IS Pro (Micro Tuna)
  • Olympus MZ 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II (75-300)
  • OLympus ZD 50-200 f2.8-3.5 SWD (SWD)
  • Olympus ZD 150mm f2.0 (Little Tuna)
  • Olympus MC-14
  • Olympus EC-14
  • Olympus EC-20
  • Godox V860iiO
  • Godox X1T-O
  • 3D printed skimmer pod w/ ballhead
  • 3 liters of water
I have seen a lot of µ4/3 photographers in forums and social media complaining about the weight of newer professional level gear from Olympus. Some even claiming that it’s gotten to where µ4/3 camera/lens are approaching full frame size. Those comments always make me laugh because it is so easy to prove wrong. I could go through and prove it right here by looking up weights and comparing a similar load out of full frame gear, but I have more important things to do like provide you with this information. I will say as a previous full frame/APSC shooter that there is no way I could fit a similar load out into a 40L bag, let alone carry it while covering just over 8 miles. This and the amazing weather-sealing of Olympus is why I switched systems after 25 years with Canon.

Anyway, let’s continue with the comparison.

It was really foggy driving in, so everything was covered wet with dew when I arrived. This comparison was to include the Olympus ZD 150 ƒ2.0 (Little Tuna), but while switching from the Olympus ZD 50-200 ƒ2.3-3.5 SWD (SWD) to the Little Tuna I dropped the Tuna. Which resulted in it getting wet on both ends and never un-fogging while I had my subject in front of me. I actually had problems with all the lenses fogging up because of having to lay them in the extremely wet grass. There were a few times I had to remove the lens hood and wait for the lens to un-fog before taking any photos because they wouldn’t un-fog with the hood on. I thought about removing the hoods completely but needed them on the lens to keep the front element from getting wet while laying in the grass.

Another problem with my preferred way of doing lens comparisons is actually getting all the gear into position to photograph my subject. I am one of those rare photographers who doesn’t like to crop, so getting close and filling the frame with my subject is the only alternative. In normal photography outings this is never really a problem because I typically drop my pack and sneak/crawl into range with just my camera and lens. When you have four lenses and two cameras that you want to photograph something with the difficulty of getting into position is compounded. Normally I have this small tarp in my pack that is used when the ground is wet or muddy or full of bird poop. Today I was concerned with the weight of my pack, so I left out everything that was not essential and one of those things was my tarp. I spent the entire day cursing myself for leaving it behind.

I had tried to crawl towards three different birds while dragging the pack behind me. The thought was it would give me a place to layout my cameras and lenses while photographing the bird. Problem was the pack caused a bit too much commotion, which spooked my chosen subjects before I could get close enough for even one photograph. I changed my tactics when coming upon this Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias). This time I crawled towards the bird while carrying two cameras with lenses attached. I am really good at judging distance and talk extensively about it in my article on depth of field (DoF). Today I was just a little off in my prediction and ended up at 41 feet away vs the planned 50 foot distance. After getting into position with the two cameras I laid them on the grass being careful to not get the front lens elements wet before slowly crawling back to grab the other two lenses. It took me about 45 minutes to get into position with all the lenses because I was being extra cautious to not spook another subject (something I hate doing).

Continue reading to find out the results here

Phocal
 
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ijm5012

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Thanks Ronnie. Bummer about the 150/2, but such is life.

The results are about what I expected. The 300/4 PRO was incredible. The 50-200 SWD is an unbelievable bargain. The 70-300 II is a very good, lightweight option when compared to variable aperture xx-400 lenses on APS-C or XX-600 lenses on FF.

I will say that the 300/4 PRO did a noticeably better job regarding bokeh. Looking at the tall grass in the background, the two zoom lenses have definitive edges on the grass, creating "nervous" bokeh. The 300/4 PRO meanwhile did a very nice job of softening the edges of the grass, making for a softer background.
 
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I agree with your assessment. The OOF areas from the consumer zoom are not as nice, especially compared to the 300. But that is understandable when you consider the aperture. To my eyes the color between the cheap zoom and the 300 seem very close, and much more pleasing than the 50-200. Although, I bet the 50-200 was a little more true to life, I prefer the warmer rendering of the newer lenses.

As for being "usable" - Any of those shots would be winners for me. That has more to do with your skill than any gear. I think a slight bit more processing (highlight adjustment, micro contrast adjustment, etc) on the cheap zoom would result in excellent photos.

As always, your skill is the best asset. You are also proof that awesome nature photography does not need a large sensor.
 

StephenB

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What a tremendous post @Phocal

I bought a 75-300 II for just a couple of hundred pounds, it was a good buy for that, but trying to handhold it steady is very difficult for an oldie like me, I had no trouble holding my ex Canon 70-200 2.8 and 7D which weighed a ton. It's no surprise the Pro lens came out on top, at 6x the price of the budget lens it had to; a great detailed read, thanks for that.
 

DynaSport

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Thank you for taking the time and effort to do this. I really love my 50-200 and use it almost exclusively with the EC-14. But as much as I like the lens I am under no illusions that it is as good as the 300. Your test just puts proof to what I thought, although my copy is the non-SWD, I have heard their IQ is similar between SWD and non-SWD.
 
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To me this test proves most of all that its the photographer not the gear, all the images are great in their own right. Having said that, I could tell which photos were taken with the 300 without looking at the description, definitely a great lens - as it should be considering the price.
 
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Thanks Ronnie. Bummer about the 150/2, but such is life.

The results are about what I expected. The 300/4 PRO was incredible. The 50-200 SWD is an unbelievable bargain. The 70-300 II is a very good, lightweight option when compared to variable aperture xx-400 lenses on APS-C or XX-600 lenses on FF.

I will say that the 300/4 PRO did a noticeably better job regarding bokeh. Looking at the tall grass in the background, the two zoom lenses have definitive edges on the grass, creating "nervous" bokeh. The 300/4 PRO meanwhile did a very nice job of softening the edges of the grass, making for a softer background.

Thanks and I agree about the 300 Pro. I think the 75-300 is at least as good as the Sigma 150-600mm C and the 50-200 is probably about the same as the S model (probably pretty close to the 100-400 up to 283mm). The Pro is in the same league as the 600/4 in my opinion, maybe even a bit above honestly.

Olympus really needs to release a 75-300mk3 similar to the Panny 100-300mk2. Dual IS would solve a lot of my issues with the 75-300 and would make it a great lens for Olympus shooters. I have a good friend from the Navy looking to upgrade from an all in one super zoom and right now I am going to steer him to a Panny with DFD and the 100-300. He is on a budget but will suggest moving up to the 100-400. Then again I may just swing him to a used EM1 with the 50-200 SWD and both TC’s and tell him to just wait for the mk3 version of the 75-300. He shoots from a kayak a lot, so the 75-300 is out both from weather sealing and it’s tough shooting due to weight.
 
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I agree with your assessment. The OOF areas from the consumer zoom are not as nice, especially compared to the 300. But that is understandable when you consider the aperture. To my eyes the color between the cheap zoom and the 300 seem very close, and much more pleasing than the 50-200. Although, I bet the 50-200 was a little more true to life, I prefer the warmer rendering of the newer lenses.

As for being "usable" - Any of those shots would be winners for me. That has more to do with your skill than any gear. I think a slight bit more processing (highlight adjustment, micro contrast adjustment, etc) on the cheap zoom would result in excellent photos.

As always, your skill is the best asset. You are also proof that awesome nature photography does not need a large sensor.

I agree about the color between the 300 and 75-300.

Thanks. I could probably improve the images some but I wanted to keep everything similar, so only used my preset. Typically I will use the preset and about 1/2 the time do nothing else, sometimes I will tweak it a bit if something is off and I probably could improve the 75-300 shots some.

Thank you and I left that largess sensor world and couldn’t be happier. So much easier to carry around my current setup and for the first time can easily hold my gear over the side of the kayak for water level framing.
 
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What a tremendous post @Phocal

I bought a 75-300 II for just a couple of hundred pounds, it was a good buy for that, but trying to handhold it steady is very difficult for an oldie like me, I had no trouble holding my ex Canon 70-200 2.8 and 7D which weighed a ton. It's no surprise the Pro lens came out on top, at 6x the price of the budget lens it had to; a great detailed read, thanks for that.

Thank you.

The lens really is on the light side to make steady shots easy, a little wieght can really be helpful. The 70-200 2.8 is really the perfect size and weight for it’s focal range. But the 75-300 is easily as good as the Sigma C and so much cheaper.
 
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Thank you for taking the time and effort to do this. I really love my 50-200 and use it almost exclusively with the EC-14. But as much as I like the lens I am under no illusions that it is as good as the 300. Your test just puts proof to what I thought, although my copy is the non-SWD, I have heard their IQ is similar between SWD and non-SWD.

You are welcome. Honestly, the 50-200 is beyond the good enough point and is an amazing value. I love mine and never plan on getting rid of it. The SWD and non-SWD are suppose to have identical IQ, so you are good to go. I will be posting a comparison of the 300/4 w/ MC-14 to the 50-200 w/ EC-20 in a macro situation (photographed a Bullfrog). Not to give anything away but I was very impressed with the 50-200.
 
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To me this test proves most of all that its the photographer not the gear, all the images are great in their own right. Having said that, I could tell which photos were taken with the 300 without looking at the description, definitely a great lens - as it should be considering the price.

Thank you, appreciate the comment. The 300 is definetly noticable between the lenses, it really is in a class all it’s own.
 
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Thanks for efforts. I have SWD and have always loved the sharpness,though it is a bit clunky. I have the 300mm f4 and have almost always used it on the Panny G-9 lately. I don't see that I give up anything. I did use it on the EM-10 iii and had some disappointments,though the Jpegs were good. I don't think the AF is good on this camera. I did update the firmware today.
 

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