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Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Review

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Review - John Riley reviews the 100-400mm lens for Micro Four Thirds, a compact telephoto zoom lens that gives a 200-800mm equivalent!

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH
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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Lumix 100 400mm Front Oblique

The range of the Micro-Four-Thirds system is extended even further by this new Leica DG lens from Panasonic. With a 35mm-equivalent range of 200-800mm in a very compact design, there is huge potential for sport, bird and other wildlife photography. It will be interesting to find out if such a powerful lens is actually easy to manage and if the image quality matches up to the exciting potential.

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Handling and Features

Lumix 100 400mm Extension Tripod Foot

Considering the size an 800mm lens would be for a 35mm-format camera, this 100-400mm is positively diminutive. It balances very well with the Panasonic Lumix GX8 body provided for this review, which makes the combination very simple to wield and use. There is a potential danger in this as there is no reduction in the care needed to bring the best out of such a long lens and we need to remember that camera shake is the ever present issue. Fortunately, the Power I.O.S. (optical image stabilisation) seems highly effective. This opens up areas previously the purview of huge, expensive professional lenses.

The other lens controls consist of the usual AF/MF switch and a focus limiter that restricts the AF range to between 5m and infinity. This will help speed up the AF for more distant subjects, as does the silent 240fps AF drive. This silent AF operation optimises the lens for 4K video shooting. AF certainly does lock on swiftly and seems highly accurate. Focusing is down to a very close 1.3m, which gives a magnification of 0.25x (1:4), or 0.5x (1:2) in 35mm terms.

The lens takes 72mm filters, has internal focusing, nine diaphragm blades and weighs a fairly modest 985g. It is labelled as being Weather Resistant, which is almost becoming a requirement for lenses that will be used extensively in the field.

 

Lumix 100 400mm Landscape Position

There are a few operational details that show the degree of thought that has gone into the design. There is a rotating lock for the zoom action, to either prevent creep or to lock the lens onto a particular focal length. There is a knurled knob on the lens that allows the camera and lens to rotate between landscape and portrait orientations, whilst the lens controls remain in the same place and fully accessible. What a great idea. There is also an extension foot for the tripod mount on the lens, making more hand space for the zoom ring when the lens is mounted on a tripod. Finally, a small but effective slide out lens hood helps to reduce any flare.

Lumix 100 400mm Portrait Position

Lens construction is 20 elements in 13 groups, including two ED (extra low dispersion), one UED (ultra-extra low dispersion) and one Aspherical ED element. The lens body is reassuringly solid and needs to be to keep this complex array of glass in alignment.

Lumix 100 400mm Rear Oblique

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Performance

Theory tells us that a “perfect lens” would be at its sharpest wide open, with diffraction limiting performance as we stop down. This may not be a perfect lens in the literal sense, but its behaviour is rather like that when we look at sharpness. At all focal lengths, wide open is the sharpest aperture and this becomes limited by diffraction as we stop down.

At 100mm, the centre starts off at excellent levels that approach outstanding, maintaining this at one stop down and with the edges almost matching. Excellent at f/8, still very good at f/11 and dropping to fair levels at f/22.

At 200mm, wide open results are outstanding at the centre and almost matched one stop down. This excellent performance extends to f/8, after which sharpness slowly drops until f/22 is just fairly good. The edges follow the same pattern, albeit at a slightly lower level.

At 300mm, wide open the lens shows excellent sharpness at the centre, which is maintained down to f/8. F/11 and f/16 are still very good, but f/22 results are only fair. At the edges, excellent sharpness is seen at f/5.6 and f/8, dropping to very good at f/11, good at f/16 and fair at f/22. The pattern of wide open excellence is the same as at the shorter focal lengths.

At 400mm sharpness is not quite so high, but overall remains very good, slowly reducing as we move from full aperture, showing a similar pattern to the shorter focal lengths. In summary, the lens has an excellent level of sharpness that is best at open aperture and one stop down. This is actually very useful, as images of distant subjects will often benefit from out of focus backgrounds (limited depth of field) and the fastest shutter speeds will help avoid subject movement.

MTF@100mm
MTF@100mm
 
MTF@200mm
MTF@200mm
 
MTF@300mm
MTF@300mm
 

MTF@400mm
MTF@400mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. 

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. 

For this review, the lens was tested on a Panasonic Lumix GX8 using Imatest.

 

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is also well under control. The edges are slightly less well controlled than the centre, but still very good indeed. At 100mm centre CA is hovering below one third of a pixel, with the edges up to one pixel. A similar picture is seen at 200mm and 300mm and slightly less so at 400mm. In use, CA was not evident in the images.

CA@100mm
CA@100mm
 
CA@200mm
CA@200mm
 
CA@300mm
CA@300mm
 

CA@400mm
CA@400mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Panasonic Lumix GX8 using Imatest.

 

Bokeh is almost always going to be subdued and pleasant in very long lenses and in this case the nine bladed diaphragm assists the optical design to deliver beautiful out of focus areas.

All of this would be in vain if camera shake takes the edge off sharpness, as it is normally bound to do. Even on a tripod, the image wavers about at 400mm and for the best results the self timer, set to 10 seconds, gives enough time for vibrations to settle. Without a tripod and switching on the OIS system, amazingly slow shutter speeds can be used. The image stabilises in the viewfinder very smartly and we can get away with perhaps 4 stops or more, depending on the individual photographer. At 400mm (800mm at 35mm-equivalent) normally at least 1/800 sec would be needed, but using IOS, 1/60 sec is possible. Of course, this does not help with subject movement.

I anticipated that a very compact design might mean a higher level of distortion, but actually the lens has as near to zero distortion as it's possible to get. Imatest measures very, very small amounts of barrel distortion, -0.00544% at 100mm, -0.0141% at 200mm, -0.00652% at 300mm, and -0.0174% at 400mm. A superb result.

Finally, resistance to flare is also excellent. It is almost impossible to introduce image artifacts from internal reflections. The worst we see is a drop in contrast if the sun is just out of frame. Flare is not a problem in most situations.


Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Sample Photos

Value For Money

The Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Aspherical lens is priced at £1349, certainly not an insignificant amount. However, it now offers the longest focal length for MFT format along with a really excellent overall performance. The nearest MFT competitors are actually 300mm lenses, such as the Olympus 300mm f/4 recently reviewed, but that lens is actually more expensive at £2199.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR AF-S is a possible close match for Nikon users at £1179. For Canon there is the EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM at £8598. Pentax users would look to the HD Pentax-D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 as the nearest match at £1599.

Against this backdrop, it would seem the Panasonic lens is pretty unique in its class and reasonably priced for MFT users. It is still a large investment though, and a lens with fairly clear cut specialist applications.

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Verdict

Sometimes there are few choices in certain niches. This Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm lens fits its purpose very well indeed, at a price which, although high, is reasonable in its class. If we want a high quality optic for sports, birding, wildlife, photo-journalism and other long range applications then this is it. The close focusing that brings closer subjects into range is a bonus.

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Pros

Excellent sharpness
Fast and silent AF
Highly effective Power OIS
Very well controlled CA
Close focusing
Great handling
Compact design
Rotating lens collar
Weather Resistance
Close focusing

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Cons

Demanding of good technique

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

The Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens delivers very impressive performance and the longest lens for MFT format.

 

 

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH Specifications

ManufacturerPanasonic
General
Lens Mounts
  • Panasonic Micro Four Thirds
  • Olympus Micro Four Thirds
Lens
Focal Length100mm - 400mm
Angle of View3.1 - 12
Max Aperturef/4 - f/6.3
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size72mm
StabilisedYes
35mm equivalent200mm - 800mm
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus130cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements20
Groups13
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight985g
Height171.5mm

View Full Product Details

N.B. Test carried out with a pre-production version of the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH. lens which is representative of final image quality.

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Comments


Adey_Baker 3 16 United Kingdom
29 Feb 2016 7:01PM
What are the figures for 300mm? I think quite a few people will be interested in how this lens and the Olympus compare at that focal length and how the 400mm F6.3 fares against the 300mm + 1.4x (420mm F5.6).

The 100mm and 200mm figures are really good, but nobody will be paying 1349 for these focal lengths, primarily

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1 Mar 2016 9:12AM
Agree with the comments above, info on 300mm would be very appropriate

As regards the Canon Comparison thorough, wouldn't the EF 100-400mm Mark 2 be more appropriate than the f4 supertele(price) zoom

I await the first pictures of swallows and swifts in flight with this system
1 Mar 2016 1:52PM
I'll run the lens through the test procedure at 300mm as soon as I can schedule it, which I hope will be helpful.
Adey_Baker 3 16 United Kingdom
1 Mar 2016 4:33PM
Cheers, John, that would be very helpful (any chance of running the Olympus on the same 20Mp camera or has that lens gone back?Smile)
1 Mar 2016 4:51PM
Sadly they rarely cross over, so that can't be done Adey. The Olympus is already winging its way back.
dannyr 7 46 United Kingdom
1 Mar 2016 7:01PM
The image quality of the Olympus 300 may well be better at 300mm (Looking forward to seeing some comparisons) but the flexibility and price of this lens for me make it a far more attractive purchase.

Interesting to see sale figures in 6 months time for them both.

The other nice thing is there will hopefully be loads of cheap old 75-300 & 100-300 appearing on eBay as people upgrade so i can finally get a tele zoom Tongue
ChrisV Plus
10 1.6k 26 United Kingdom
4 Mar 2016 11:30AM
The Olympus is a faster lens and iirc, it's the only lens Olympus has ever made with built in IS to work in conjunction with its superb IBIS [and I suppose that implies a concession that lens based systems are more effective at very long ranges]. I'd be very surprised if the Olympus didn't outclass the Panasonic @300mm for sharpness even wide open, where it will give an additional 1 1/3 stops of extra light.

I think these are very different lenses aimed at different markets. The Olympus is a very specialist optic aimed squarely at pros who can afford the money to eke out the very last drop of performance. The Panasonic is still very good, more flexible and aimed at a more general/serious consumer audience. I guess if you make a living at these sort of ranges, or have money to burn, you might have both - one for your EM1 - and the other for your GH4/GX8...
Adey_Baker 3 16 United Kingdom
4 Mar 2016 2:27PM
There are quite a few non-professional bird photographers out there with big white 'L' lenses costing more than the Olympus, so I don't think they're necessarily aimed at totally different markets. They're just different ways of getting a better 'serious' long lens than the current 300mm zooms.

Browsing around various websites over the last few months, it seems that Olympus was sending 300mm lenses out to all and sundry to try out - yet hardly any of the recipients were chiefly wildlife photographers. So they're going to need plenty of enthusiastic amateurs to buy them if they're going to make a profit. Of course, the price may fall after a while, which will help, though judging by the relative prices that they're asking for these two lenses in for instance the USA, then the UK price for the Zuiko ought to be 200 or 300 cheaper anyway (unless Panasonic have seriously under-priced their lens!)
7 Mar 2016 11:30AM
The review is now updated with the 300mm results.
Adey_Baker 3 16 United Kingdom
7 Mar 2016 2:14PM
Many thanks, John. Good figures for this lens at 300mm then.
aftertherain 12 4.2k 2 United Kingdom
10 Mar 2017 9:48PM
I bought this lens to use on the Panasonic G80, mainly for small bird photography.
It was hopeless, I thought it must be me so I persevered, changing settings and focusing options.
It might be good for focusing on an Elephant but a small bird, even with the focus point at it's smallest, forget it.
The focus bounces all over the place, and maybe one in twenty actually hits what you want.
I was using it in my garden hide but out in the field, I just couldn't trust it to capture that once in a lifetime shot so at a huge loss it's off to MPB.
aftertherain 12 4.2k 2 United Kingdom
11 Mar 2017 11:06AM
Having thought about the comment above I realised I have done this lens a disservice. It was the camera it was paired with the G80 that was at fault.
The lens itself is operated by the camera and by me, both were found to be lacking.
I did try using the camera lens combo in manual mode and it did help but small birds are much too quick.

I did buy the camera and lenses specifically for wildlife but the G80 has become a firm favourite of mine as a small (ish) carry round for landscapes and macro shots so all was not lost.

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