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Review: Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 (Micro Four Thirds)

by Chris Gampat on 08/26/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 100-300mm product photos (5 of 5)ISO 8001-320 sec at f - 2.8

When we first got the Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 in for review, we had very high hopes. This is the lens that I really wish I had when I was a paparazzi and just out of college. It has an equivalent field of view of 200-600mm and also has image stabilization built into it to compensate for camera shake.

And trust us, you’ll need it.

Pros and Cons

Pros

- Sharp image quality at the shorter end

- Fairly compact size

- Very quiet to focus

- Image stabilization is wondrous

Cons

- Soft at the longer end

- We found that we still needed to use a monopod in real life use, and that the OIS doesn’t compensate for camera shake

Gear Used

We used the Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 on the Olympus OMD EM5, Panasonic GH3 and with the MeFOTO Walkabout monopod.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing

Performance
Focal Length 100 – 300 mm
Comparable Four Thirds and Micro 4/3 Focal Length: 200 – 600 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4 – 5.6
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Micro Four Thirds
Format Compatibility Micro Four Thirds
Angle of View 12° – 4.1°
Minimum Focus Distance 4.92′ (1.50 m)
Magnification 0.21x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:4.76
Groups/Elements 12/17
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread 67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.89 x 4.96″ (7.34 x 12.60 cm)
Weight 1.14 lb (520 g)

Ergonomics

This section was taken from our first impressions post

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 100-300mm product photos (2 of 5)ISO 8001-240 sec at f - 2.8

The Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 is a fairly large lens considering the size of most Micro Four Thirds camera bodies. However, for the focal lengths that it incorporates we’re not sure that many people could really complain about it. Additionally, when the lens hood isn’t reversed (or completely off) the lens looks even larger than what it really is.

The lens’s construction comprises of mostly plastic, with the exception of the mount being constructed of metal.

With this said though, we’re a bit baffled as to why this lens doesn’t ship with a tripod collar of some sort.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 100-300mm product photos (3 of 5)ISO 8001-75 sec at f - 2.8

Making up most of the ergonomics is the one big ass zoom ring smack dab in the middle of the lens. The zoom indicators clearly mark off just how far out you’re zooming. Then there is the focusing ring towards the front for when you choose to manually focus–but we haven’t really done that very much yet.

Behind all of this is the switch for Mega OIS–which should really be turned off if you’ve got Olympus’s IS enabled so that the two systems don’t conflict with one another. But to be truthful, we found the OIS in this lens to be more efficient than Olympus’s 5 axis system.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 100-300mm product photos (4 of 5)ISO 8001-160 sec at f - 2.8

When the lens is zoomed in all the way, it extends out quite a bit–nearly almost as long as the lens body when zoomed out. But when you consider that you’ve got the equivalent of a 600mm field of view, that problem really goes away.

Build Quality

The Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 lens feels pretty darn solid, but we’ve felt lenses that feel even more solid. When you grab onto it, that big, beefy zooming ring takes up most of the lens body. It feels very nice to the touch but some areas don’t feel as rugged. Most folks won’t have any issues with the build quality though.

We took it out during a rainfall and it had no issues with the precipitation, but the lens isn’t billed as being weather sealed.

Ease of Use

Point, shoot, and enjoy. Well, that’s sort of how it goes. This lens is designed for sports, spying on your neighbors (not really), wildlife and other more adventurous uses. For the best use, you might want to set your camera to AF tracking mode and also have a focusing point pre-selected beforehand.

If you’re using the lens on the OMD EM5, the lens’s image stabilization is better than on the OMD EM5′s. Be sure that you don’t turn both on at the same time and instead work with the OIS. Additionally, we also recommend using a monopod for the best and most stable results.

Autofocus

We used this camera on the OMD EM5–which we feel has some seriously speedy focusing. When it came to straight focusing on a subject, it worked out fine. But as we all know, subjects sometimes tend to move throughout a frame. To keep up with them, we set the camera to AF Tracking mode. Tracking wasn’t the fastest that we’ve seen on either the OMD EM5 or the GH3.

Image Quality

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was working with this lens, I was consistently getting sharper images at the shorter end than I was at the longer end. Originally, I thought that it was because I wasn’t being sturdy enough. So then I started working with both a monopod and a tripod. The quality at the 300mm end of the lens continued to not be as great. Then I talked to editors at other publications about their experiences, and they had the same issues.

And that’s how I knew that I wasn’t going crazy. Instead, it might just make you weep a tiny bit. You’ll need to rely on software for sure.

Combine the sharpness with the slow AF Tracking and you may have quite a bit of a problem though. In a situation like this, some sort of focus peaking might be the best solution or aide.

But granted that the sharpness isn’t the best at the longer end, there are other features of the lens that make it really worthwhile. For example, the color rendition from this lens is the best I’ve seen from any Micro Four Thirds optic ever–it even puts my Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 to shame. Whatever Panasonic did in this department needs to be praised.

Additionally, you’ll see some great bokeh as well. For the most part though, it is useless to stop it down at all because Micro Four Thirds sensors start suffering from diffraction at f4 and f5.6 anyway.

Color Rendering

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We absolutely love the way that colors are rendered with this lens–especially with the Olympus OMD EM5. We enjoyed color rendering with this camera more than we did with the GH3 in the similar vivid settings. In particular: reds, greens and skin tones were rendered very pleasingly.

Color Fringing

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Any color fringing that we saw was extremely hard to spot and you really need to look for it. That means that you’ll need to go in, pixel peep, and perhaps even hook your computer up to a television until your eyes bleed.

In all honesty, don’t bother looking or worry about it.

Sharpness

At the shorter end of this lens (100mm) the sharpness is really excellent. At f5.6 the sharpness tops off. In theory, one could stop this lens down to f5.6 and have a constant aperture lens while working, but then they would have to still worry about the longer end of the lens. At 300mm it isn’t so sharp.

Bokeh

This lens’s bokeh is a cross between hazy and creamy. Perhaps we could be spoiled by some of Olympus’s fast prime lenses, but for what this lens does, one can still enjoy the bokeh if they are at the right distance.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Panasonic’s 100-300mm f4-5.6 lens is a compact and relatively affordable solution to the Micro Four Thirds user that needs a super telephoto zoom lens. And when used correctly it does a good job. This lens exhibits second to none color rendition, great Optical Image Stabilization,  and some fair build quality. The lens is very sharp at the short end but gets softer as you zoom out–which is a major disappointment.

But in the end though, we have to say that the usability experience and overall performance is still quite good. Though we would prefer to stick with prime lenses, go for this zoom if you need to.

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