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Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm F/4.0-5.6 OIS Lens Field Review

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by Amin Sabet, Jun 12, 2011.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    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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    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. sphexx

    sphexx Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 19, 2010
    Harrogate, Yorkshire
    "although the minimum focus distance of 100mm ..." is about 4 inches, so I guess a typo here?
    Ah ... "Minimum Focal Length" of 100mm, as OSidPhoto writes below, is obviously what was meant.
  3. JohnMetsn

    JohnMetsn Mu-43 Veteran

    Love those sample pictures of yours. The perfect detail and soft bokeh. But it's a bit on expensive side for me comparing to 45-200 @~$200... Still these lens are on my list for sure :smile: Thanks for review!!
    • Like Like x 1
  4. OSidPhoto

    OSidPhoto New to Mu-43

    Feb 27, 2010
    Karachi, Pakistan
    Amin, I think you are referring to the "Minimum Focal Length" and not the "minimum focus distance" when you mentioned.....
    "....although the minimum focus distance of 100mm ..."
  5. greerd

    greerd Mu-43 Regular

    Thanks for the review and the effort put into it. Mine is my default lens, on the G1 unless something else is needed.

    One question though is has Olympus stopped production of the 70-300 :43: ?
    • Like Like x 1
  6. OSidPhoto

    OSidPhoto New to Mu-43

    Feb 27, 2010
    Karachi, Pakistan
    Thanks for the review, Amin. You have covered the basic points fairly well. The photos do demonstrate a significant level of captured detail and color contrast.

    A while back, at the time of the launch of this lens, I was deeply inclined towards purchasing this lens. However, I was torn between the price tag of this lens and the benefit of the additional 100mm offered by this lens compared to the Lumix 45-200.

    Having read different reviews, I was wondering if the 100mm additional focal length was truly worth the significant additional cost. Also, it appears that the weaker side of this lens in terms of its resolution, sharpness and overall quality is between the 200mm to 300mm length. Quite frankly, is someone is buying this lens, it would primarily be for the farther end of the lens rather then its 100-200mm lengths. In view of this, and the reviews, I decided not to go for it considering it to be an investment on the expensive side weighing against the returns one would get from it. I may be wrong, but this is how I evaluated this lens.

    My primary objective behind considering this lens was to use it as a silent Auto Focus lens for video at times, but more so for birding where AF quite often is the differentiating factor whether you get "that" specific shot or not. However a slow or hunting AF at the longer end means one would possibly still miss "That" specific shot, bringing it at par with a manual focus lens of this focal length and beyond, with perhaps a comparable or better image quality.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Like Like x 1
  7. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Amin, thanks for the review. I generally agree with your points. I haven't done any real wildlife photography with it, but I've done some sports action shots with it and, paired with the GH2, it performed about as well as I could ever want or imagine from an m43 setup (which, as others have pointed out, are capable but far from the best available for action shots).

    One thing you didn't touch on, and perhaps didn't experience, is that if you're focussed on a subject at a fair distance at or near the long end of the lens, and the background is some distance beyond the subject, the character of the bokeh on that background can be very granular and angular and funky - not smooth or creamy. Not having done a lot of shooting with loooong lenses, I don't know if this is unique to this lens or if that's the way bokeh will look under those specific circumstances, but its something to be aware of if you do a lot of this kind of shooting. BTW, the bokeh is just fine when the OOF background is not as distant from the subject - its only when there's a long distance from you TO the subject and a long distance from the subject to the OOF background. Here are a couple of obvious examples of what I'm talking about:


    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/5454713744/" title="Long Lens Street (1) by ramboorider1, on Flickr"> View attachment 167053 "1024" height="774" alt="Long Lens Street (1)"></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/5457424568/" title="Tele street (1) by ramboorider1, on Flickr"> View attachment 167054 "1024" height="774" alt="Tele street (1)"></a>
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  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Ah, thanks - writing at 2am :doh:.
  9. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Good review, thanks for taking the time Amin.

    It's going to make me break out my ancient 300mm again ...
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Ray, I've seen that kind of effect with this lens and also with the 70-300 for regular 4/3 and the Canon 100-400L. I'm guessing that it may be due to heat/atmospheric effects with superteles, because I can't think of another reason why sometimes the bokeh has that look while other times it does not.
  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Hi Omer, I think this lens is analogous to the 45-200 in that neither lens is at it's best at the far telephoto end. However, the 100-300 seems sharper to me in the 200-250mm range than the 45-200 does at 200mm. For example, see the crop I posted from the 228mm sample.
  12. MP Burke

    MP Burke Mu-43 Rookie

    Jul 3, 2010
    I'm impressed by the pictures. This lens costs a lot more than the 45-200, but my interpretation of the graphs on the Diwa labs website is that the 100-300 is better at the long focal lengths.
    I have agonised over whether to buy either lens, because one of my main hobbies during the summer is photography of dragonflies and damselflies. The long lens becomes useful when the larger dragonflies perch several metres away, as well as enabling photography of birds.
    For a 600 mm f5.6 equivalent, I think the price is acceptable (ca. £460). The quibble I have with both the Panasonic tele-zoom lenses is that they seem to give better performance at the shorter end of their zoom range, whereas for good close ups (i.e. dragonflies) you would need to be at the longer end of the range.
    I think it is highly unlikely we are going to see lenses for micro four thirds equivalent to the range of high quality multi-thousand £ telephotos made for Canon and Nikon. However, I think the range would be enhanced by a couple of high quality telephotos and a good 1.4X convertor. A good quality 300mm f4 need not be excessively large and expensive, and if it had O.I.S and good performance at f4, would still provide an advantage over the 100-300 zoom.
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  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Most of the MFT lenses of a certain focal length/aperture are similar in size/weight/price as a lens of the same focal length and aperture for other systems, so I think a 300mm f/4 lens would be a good bit larger and heavier than the 100-300 zoom. What about a 300mm f/5.6 prime? That could be a reasonable size (still bigger than the unextended zoom though), and if it had extremely high performance from wide open, it would be a useful lens for the system.
  14. MP Burke

    MP Burke Mu-43 Rookie

    Jul 3, 2010
    Pentax made a 300 mm f4 lens in the 1980s that was 132mm in length and weighed 850g. (Less than one third of the weight of the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 300mm f2.8) This is what I was thinking of when I was talking about a 300mm f4 lens not being excessively large. It would be bigger and probably more expensive than the 100-300 zoom, but considerably less expensive than a 300mm f2.8. I don't think there is much chance of them making a 300mm prime that has the same aperture as the zoom.
  15. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I had been thinking about the Canon 400mm f/5.6 and 100-400/3.5-5.6 zoom. The prime is no faster than the zoom, but it's very sharp, easily handholdable, and a great value.
  16. Narnian

    Narnian Nobody in particular ...

    Aug 6, 2010
    Richmond, VA
    Richard Elliott
    I am seriously thinking about the 100-300 zoom. It looks like a great critter lens. I have the 45-200 and like it a lot but that extra reach and sharpness would be handy. I also have a 300/4.5 Nikkor and Pentax 300/6.3 it would replace. The IS should more than make up for the larger aperture on the Nikkor.
  17. Gillymaru

    Gillymaru Mu-43 Veteran

    Thanks for the review Amin this is a lens I have considered for a while. I had the 4/3 version of Olympus' 70-300 and had many fine photos from it.
    Is the Panasonic image quality similar or superior to the 4/3 Olympus? I would be interested to hear from anyone who can share thoughts on these 2 lenses.
  18. jlake1234

    jlake1234 Mu-43 Rookie

    Jun 11, 2011
    Hi Amin

    Thanks for the review. I bought a G2 a few months back and purchased the 100-300 pretty much automatically. :) 
    When it's in the right situation (lots of light & not too far from subject), it is verrry nice.
    The bokeh can be grainy or smooth-ish, as you and others have noted, but either way is not subtle!

    I tried locking focus on birds & planes in flight - I'm not as experienced as you - but it was hit and miss. The focus by 'wire' (i.e. not geared or whatever) is unfortunate for a lens in this price range. It's too easy to focus past either extreme in the range.

    However, all in all, I'm not sorry to have purchased this lens.

    Question: did you find it a bit heavy for hand-held and how much did the OIS really compensate?

  19. John Bourne

    John Bourne Mu-43 Rookie

    Jan 30, 2011
    Much lighter

    Quote "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)."

    "Some may argue" and they would be right - absolutely 100% right. The Panasonic 100-300 is actually where the size & weight advantage of m43 is at its greatest. The 20mm f1.7 might be half the weight of a DSLR 'normal' prime but since both are pretty light anyway its no big deal. The 100-300 weighs just 520g. My Nikon 70-300VR weighs 745g. Thats 43% heavier. Its not a little bit heavier - its a lot heavier. The Nikon gives me a cropped FOV equivalent to 450mm though. To match the same 'reach' as the Panasonic 100-300mm I would need the Nikon 80-400mm. That weighs in a 1.3Kg - 2.5 time heavier, and no image stabilisation. The Canon 100-400IS weighs 1.38Kg.
    The Nikon 70-300 doesn't work all that well with teleconverters. The Nikons 300mm end is not its sharpest focal length to begin with. Thats not to mention losing an additional stop (f8 @ 300mm) and the extra weight it adds.

    Rant over. Other than that the review was very good. The 100-300/GH2 is a nice light combination and yields very nice results, as long as you're subject isn't too active.

    • Like Like x 1
  20. blue

    blue Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 1, 2010
    How much pp in your shots ?

    I have had this lens since it came out and it practically lives on my G1.

    But... I am not getting results anywhere near as clear as yours. Is it the GH2, RAW shooting with pp, better light ?

    Maybe that to get any sort of speed I am nearly always at f5.6 and high ISO, which is not so good on the G1 ? Focus misses a lot on G1 as well.

    All,that said however, I do recommend the lens and maybe will see a difference if I take the plunge with the G3.
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