Review by Mark and Leslie Degner
Imagine a 600mm f/4, professional quality, super telephoto lens that’s weather sealed, small and light enough to be handheld, and costs less than $3,300. Well it’s true, the new Olympus M.Zuiko ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens has all of these great features, plus many more. Its 300mm focal length is equivalent to a 600mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, making it a very versatile lens for outdoor photographers, especially for those who photograph wildlife and sports. It’s the latest in Olympus’ Pro line of Micro Four-Thirds (m4/3) camera lenses.
Like most m4/3 lenses, the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro lens is very compact and lightweight (227 mm long and weighs 1475 g with tripod collar), which is roughly half the length and less than half the weight of an equivalent full-frame 600mm f/4 DSLR lens, like the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens (448 mm and 3920 g) and costs about $13,000 less – that isn’t a typo. The build quality of the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro is excellent; it has a rugged metal body and is well sealed against moisture and dust, which when matched with one of the weatherproof Olympus OM-D camera bodies, means that outdoor photographers don’t have to worry about using it in adverse conditions.
Optically, the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens consists of a total of 17 elements in 10 groups, with 3 Super ED lenses, 3 HR lenses and 1 E-HR lens. Olympus has stated that it “offers the highest resolution in company history.” While we can’t verify that claim, we were extremely impressed with its sharpness and what we can say is that based on our testing, its edge-to-edge sharpness is excellent at its maximum aperture of f4 and remains that way when stopped down through to ƒ16. Between ƒ16 to ƒ22 the sharpness drops down slightly due to diffraction. When you add the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 1.4X Teleconverter MC-14 ($449.99) the focal length of the lens increases to 420mm (840mm equivalent), and while you lose one stop of light the image quality remains superb. Like the lens, the MC-1.4 teleconverter is rugged and weather sealed against dust and water, making it a great addition to increase the versatility of the 300mm f/4 Pro lens. Because of the high-quality lens elements used it shows almost no chromatic aberration, has great colour rendition and contrast and essentially no distortion. The nine-blade circular aperture diaphragm produces a pleasing bokeh.
Auto focus and manual focus with the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens are smooth and quick. The focus ring is a decent size, allowing for easy use and the internal focusing design of the lens means that there’s no change in the lens’ overall length. In addition, the front element doesn’t rotate, which makes it easy to use filters. Because of the relatively small diameter of its front element it takes 77mm filters, which is a nice feature, especially when compared to equivalent full-frame 600mm lenses where you have to use special drop-in filters.
Two-axis image stabilization is built into the lens, which works extremely well with the five-axis in-body image stabilization found in the newer Olympus OM-D camera bodies, allowing for sharp handheld images at slow shutter speeds. The Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens comes with a sturdy, removable tripod collar and its foot has a built in Arca-Swiss-style tripod mount. This is a great feature and we wish more lens manufacturers incorporated that into their tripod collars. It also comes with a built-in sliding lens hood that slides back over the lens for easy storage.
Another wonderful feature the Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens, and one that we are really excited about, is its close focus ability. For a 600mm equivalent lens it has a very close focusing distance of 1.4 m, especially when compared to other full-frame 600mm lenses that have close focusing distances of 4.5-5 m, which gives it a magnification of 0.24X. Although not a macro lens, its close focusing distance makes it a wonderful lens for doing close-up photography and photographing small songbirds. Adding the MC-14 1.4X teleconverter increases the magnification to 0.48x while still maintaining the same minimum focus distance.
In our opinion, the ruggedly-built Olympus M.Zuiko ED 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens is an excellent super telephoto lens that delivers outstanding image quality at an extremely reasonable price, especially when compared to other equivalent 600mm f/4 lenses. This is a lens that we can highly recommend.