Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro Review

September 1, 2016 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro is a professional weather-sealed telephoto lens for the Micro Four Thirds system. Offering a 35mm equivalent focal range of 600mm, the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro offers a maximum aperture of f/4, fast and quiet auto focusing and an optical formula comprising 17 elements arranged in 10 groups, including three Super ED lenses that eliminate peripheral chromatic aberration, three High Refractive index lenses and one Extra-High Refractive index lens. The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro features integrated optical stabilization for up to 4 EV steps of compensation, which can be boosted to 6 EV steps of compensation in conjunction with the 5-Axis IS system in the OM-D E-M1 or OM-D E-M5 Mark II cameras. Other highlights include Z Coating Nano to reduce ghosting and flare, a manual focus clutch mechanism, built-in lens hood, focus limiter switch and a customisable L-Fn button. In the UK the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens retails for £2199.99, and in the US it costs $2499.

Ease of Use

The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro is a weather sealed lens with a dedicated Micro Four Thirds mount. Note however that in order to take full advantage of the weatherproofing, you will need to mount it on a similarly sealed body, like the flagship OM-D E-M1 that we tested it with.

Tipping the scales at 1270 grams and measuring 227mm in length and 92.5mm in diameter, the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro is clearly a substantial lens, but given the 600mm effective focal length, that's perhaps no surprise. When the integrated lens hood is extended, it measures 280mms in length.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens attached to an Olympus OM-D E-M1

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens attached to an Olympus OM-D E-M1

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens attached to an Olympus OM-D E-M1

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens alongside the Olympus OM-D E-M1

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 used for this test is a great match for the lens, offering good balance, fast auto-focus, and full environmental seals, although we'd also fit the battery grip for extended hand-held use. The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens itself is very well built, fully living up to the PRO designation that Olympus have given it.

In terms of features, the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens has quite a lot to offer. For starters, it has a so-called L-Fn button, which by default allows users to temporarily suspend continuous auto-focus when something suddenly comes between the lens and your intended subject. This is mostly useful when shooting a movie clip with C-AF enabled, but the feature can also be used when photographing action. This button can also be customised for quick access to one of the 27 assignable functions.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProFront of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProRear of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro is the first ever Olympus lens to offer built-in image stabilisation, dubbed "5-Axis Sync IS mechanism", which actually works in conjunction with the 5-Axis IS system in the OM-D E-M1 or OM-D E-M5 Mark II cameras to offer an impressive 6 EV steps of compensation. If you use this lens with a Micro Four Thirds camera body that doesn't have the 5-Axis IS system, it still offers up to 4 EV steps of compensation.

There is a focus limiter switch with three different settings - 1.4-4m, 1.4m-infinity, and 4m-infinity. On the base is a tripod collar that is Arca-type compatible and which has a removable base plate for quick release. In addition, the tripod collar can be replaced with the supplied "decoration ring" for a cleaner look and feel.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProSide of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProSide of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProFront of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProRear of the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens

The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens features a 77mm filter thread which does not rotate on focus, great news for anyone intending to use a polariser or ND grads on the lens.

The lens comes with a standard Micro Four Thirds mount that is, as you'd expect, made of metal, with a rubber seal around the mount. Communication between lens and camera body is provided through eleven electrical contacts.

The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens is compatible with the MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter to provide a 420mm focal length, equivalent to 840mm in the 35mm format.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens in-hand

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProThe Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens with the integrated lens hood extended

Focal Range

The diagonal angle of view is 4.1°, i.e. the same as that of a 600mm lens in a 35mm system.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProField of view at 300mm

Focusing

With the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens attached to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 body, focusing is extremely quick in most situations. The camera-lens combo is capable of locking focus on a subject almost instantly, even when alternating between close and faraway subjects. In extreme low-light situations you may experience a little focus hunting at the long end, but the constant f/4 maximum aperture nearly always allows enough light to pass through to the sensor.

Manual focusing is done in a traditional fashion, with the generously sized focus ring mechanically coupled to the moving lens elements, complete with hard stops at either end. The lens also usefully features a distance scale, which is cleverly revealed by pulling back the Manual Focus Collar to instantly engage manual focusing. Like zooming, focusing is fully internal and the filter thread does not rotate on focus.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or green fringes along contrasty edges, are only really noticeable by their almost complete absence from our test images.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro

Light Fall-off

There is only a minimum of light fall-off in the corners at f/4, which you will probably not even notice in your real-world photos, and distortion is commendably kept well under control too.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProVignetting at 300mm

Macro

For such a long telephoto lens, the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro is actually a pretty good macro performer, offering a minimum focusing distance of 1.4cm and a maximum magnification of 0.24x. The following example demonstrates how close you can get to your subject, in this case a Compact Flash memory card. As you can see, you can actually fill quite a lot of the frame.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS ProClose-up performance

Bokeh

Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. In the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro, Olympus employed a nine circular-bladed diaphragm, which produces some very nice bokeh, at least in our opinion. However, recognising that bokeh evaluation is subjective, we have provided a few examples for your perusal.

Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro
   
Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.