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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS Review

John Riley reviews the new Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS telephoto zoom lens for Micro Four Thirds. Find out how this weather-sealed long telephoto zoom performs.

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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS Review: Olympus 100 400mm Front Oblique View At 100mm

Olympus users will I'm sure be delighted to see a substantial and significant new lens arriving that will enhance and expand the current range of optics. MFT format has compactness at its core, and Olympus have taken the opportunity to produce a long-range zoom with a limited aperture that is relatively light and compact. A 100-400mm lens with a “35mm equivalent” field of view of 200-800mm has to be an attractive proposition for wildlife and sports photographers in particular, especially when it is as compact as this new lens is. Let's have a close look, using the 20mp Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera body.


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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 IS Handling and Features

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS Review: Olympus 100 400mm Front Oblique View At 400mm

Olympus make tidy looking lenses and they make them very well, this one being no exception. The quality of finish is excellent throughout. A generously sized bayonet fit lens hood is provided and it clips firmly into place. There is no tendency for it to loosen in use. The lens is weather-sealed and is dust, splash and freezeproof. The 100-400mm focal length range equates to an angle of view similar to a 200-800mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, an incredible range to have in a lens so small that weighs in at a relatively modest 1120g. Although we can expect more depth of field than with a full-frame camera for a given aperture, there is plenty of opportunity for out of focus backgrounds with such a long lens. The extra DOF is probably a benefit rather than a drawback.

First up is the electronic manual focus ring, which is smooth as silk as we might expect. Manual focus can be employed whilst in AF mode and various options can be chosen from the camera menu. Focusing is down to 1.3m at all focal lengths, giving a maximum magnification of 0.29x, which is incredibly useful. The lens also supports focus stacking with appropriate camera bodies.

The wide zoom ring has an excellent grip and focal lengths of 100mm, 150mm, 200mm, 300mm and 400mm are clearly marked. Behind this, there are several switches. The focus limiter gives choices of 1.3-6m, 1.3m to infinity and 6m to infinity. In any event, the focus is blisteringly fast and locks on immediately every time. There is an AF/MF switch, plus the on/off switch for the built-in Image Stabilisation. Olympus claims a 3 stop advantage and this is easily achievable, quite a boon at the longer lengths especially. On the other side of the lens barrel there is a lock switch that can hold the zoom at 100mm for transport. This may be needed as the lens barrel extends when zooming, although not when focusing.

Closest to the camera body, we find a well made, solid tripod foot on a rotating ring. This is useful for turning the lens/camera for vertical shots whilst on a tripod. The foot is ARCA Swiss compatible.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS Review: Olympus 100 400mm With Hood On Olympus Em1 MkIII

Optical construction is 21 elements in 15 groups, including 2 HR (High Refractive Index), 2 Super HR and 4 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) elements. The Olympus ZERO coating technology is applied and the diaphragm comprises 9 curved blades to enhance bokeh, the smoothness of the out of focus areas in an image.

If the reach of the lens is not enough, then there are two compatible teleconverters, the M.Zuiko Digital 1.4x TC MC14 and the M.Zuiko Digital 2x TC MC20. These extend the “35mm equivalent” reach to 1120mm and 1600mm respectively, at a loss of 1 or 2 stops of light.

Using the lens is really an absolute doddle, it handles beautifully, focuses virtually instantly and allows amazing close-ups of wildlife. It does, of course, require high shutter speeds where at all possible, not only to handle camera shake, despite the mitigation of the highly effective IS system, but of course to minimise subject movement. Most wildlife does not stand still to be photographed. Increasing the ISO is also a real option with today's cameras. Whatever method is chosen, a sharp image that shows noise will always be better than a noise-free blur.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 IS Review: Olympus 100 400mm Rear Oblique View At 100mm

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6 Aug 2020 4:50PM
The resolution charts look pretty disappointing at all focal lengths except 100mm. What's going on?
6 Aug 2020 6:56PM

Quote:Measuring sharpness with test charts for such a long lens has many challenges as the studio space is not long enough, so some measurements have to be moved outside. This means we are always at the mercy of air quality and the hot, hazy weather (at the time of testing) will likely reduce the figures somewhat. It does however still provide a guide that can be confirmed by actual shooting in the real world.

In the real world the sharpness was fine, as we can see from the sample shots.
ChrisV 16 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
9 Aug 2020 9:45PM
It seems strange to publish charts which don’t give an accurate indication of sharpness. It begs the question why present them at all if the data they’re presenting is at best misleading? What’s the point?
9 Aug 2020 10:06PM
It's a fair enough question Chris, and one that I debated before deciding to present the charts as they were. Firstly, many reviews simply don't try to produce MTF charts for very long lenses, basically because the distances invloved are so large. But I like to produce them if I can, and it was unfortunate that in the time slot I had the air was quite hazy from the heat, making the process extremely difficult and reducing the figures where any distance was involved outdoors.
However, they do represent what was possible under such conditions and also show that the sharpness holds up very well across the aperture range and also holds up as we zoom in to the longer focal lengths. So there is some information to be gleaned from this.
Obviously it was a decision that had to be made one way or another, and if I err I would always err on the side of at least presenting the information and then being able to discuss it.
BlakeR 2
10 Aug 2020 4:53PM
I notice that your review of the PL 100-400mm (Feb 2016) rates that lens about the same as the Oly 100-400mm (4.5 stars overall). But the sharpness of the PL measures considerably better than the Oly over most of the zoom range - e.g. PL centre sharpness of 2500 LW/PH at 300mm f/8 compared to the Oly measured at about 1900 LW/PH at 300mm f/8. Do you think the atmospheric conditions encountered during testing account for the sharpness difference. That is - would you say that these two lenses are equally as sharp in real world conditions across the zoom range?
10 Aug 2020 7:10PM
In the real world I've processed a large number of images from the new Olympus lens and it's beautifully sharp. The testing conditions were indeed less than ideal, as mentioned in the review and above. Also, different cameras will have an effect so there are no absolutes. Once the images are processed through Photoshop I doubt that there are any siginificant real world differences.
Of course, lenses are about more than just the bald figures and we also have to consider these other sharacteristics - the sum total of the corrections chosen and how they give a lens a particular "look". I like this new lens very much indeed and have been delighted with the finished results. You can find a fair number of them on my EPZ Portfolio (johnriley1uk).
lemmy 16 2.9k United Kingdom
25 Aug 2020 7:31PM
Sharpness has become such a fetish now that we can pixel peep with such ease. I can't think of any digital era lens that I've used - and it must be hundreds now - that hasn't been sharp enough. The reality of this lens, compared to the Panasonic equivalent, is that both are sharp enough that it's not a factor in buying them.

The buying decision should be more on size, weight, price, ease of use, maximum aperture. The shot below of a cyclist in London is on a Panasonic 100-400mm, 400mm @f/6.3. Take a look at those atmospherics - any lens with a horizontal FoV of less than 3° would do the job just as well.

I know everyone talks about wild life for long lenses but for me the perspective effect is the reason to have one. They just conjure pictures out of everyday scenes like this.

12 Feb 2023 3:22AM
I've got both the Oly 100-400 and the PL 100-400. I had higher hopes for the Oly with the possibility of a 1.4x TC, however I have found it far too soft compared with the PL lens, and pointless with the 1.4TC attached. Sad The good news is the PL lens plays very well with the OM1.

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