The Olympus 300mm f/4 ED is a hefty lens, with the potential audience being the more professional end of the spectrum. Built for the Micro Four Thirds format and being a high-quality prime, should mean exceptional quality. Something that you would use for shooting wildlife, sports or action.
There was obviously a lot of buzz around this lens when it was first introduced back in 2016. Much potential, so let’s dig into what the lens has to offer and see if it actually is a cut above the rest.
First off, lots of specifications. Being optimized for the Micro Four Thirds format means the equivalent focal length is 600mm. Off the bat, this means lots of potential for those long action shots. An aperture range of f/4-f/22 with a nine-blade diaphragm should provide a nice compressed view with a quality background blur if you still need it. The total weight of the lens coming in at a heavyweight 1270g.
Inside the lens are 17 elements arranged in ten groups, three of these being super ED elements, one E-HR (Extra-High Refractive index) element, and three HR (High-Refractive index) elements. Clearly, lots of glass in this lens, which goes with the territory if you want fine optics at this level. Following the high-quality status, the lens is also marked as ‘splashproof’ which means it should keep out the majority of dust and the occasional light rain.
As for the build of the lens, it has a solid metal construction, with a bunch of switches for various operations. The first is an autofocus range slide switch with the choices of 1.4–4 m, 1.4–infinity and 4m–infinity, an on/off switch for the stabilization system, and an L-Fn function button which can be programmed by the camera. The front element also employs a 77mm filter thread. There’s also an attachable tripod adapter that can be easily taken on and off.
The manual focus ring has a reasonable 40mm width and employs Olympus’s manual focus clutch system. This for some will take a little getting used to as a pull towards the lens mount means the lens flicks into manual focus mode and shows a distance scale. Something to be aware of if the lens accidentally goes into manual mode.
Ultimately this is a rock-solid, high-quality lens, built for the rigors of constant use. So, let’s see how the lens performs in the real world.
Olympus 300mm f/4 ED in Use
As for overall resolution, by f/5.6 the Olympus hits its zenith of sharpness and the overall output feels on the level of other top-quality primes. There is a small difference between the center and edge sharpness, but the results are minimal. In other words, this is a very sharp lens in operation going through the aperture ranges.
Moving onto the field of chromatic aberration, happy to say that between the most useful apertures of f/4 to f/8, the effects are minimal. The effect can be seen on high contrast areas when the lens is completely wide open, but stopping down eliminates things very nicely. The same goes for lens distortion, which with such a long lens is usually minimal anyway. Basically, these levels are low across the board.
As for bokeh or background blur, the nine-blade diaphragm does a lot of the heavy lifting for producing nicely rounded highlights and with such a long focal length, the background can be easily turned into a nice creamy backdrop. Once you get a subject into close focus, there’s no sign of the onion effect, thus very pleasing.
Vignetting is also kept extremely low and even when wide open at f/4, it’s only just visible. By f/8 vignetting is as low as it can get. The same for ghosting and flaring, which the lens hood does a lot to cut down on.
The image stabilization system works extremely well with almost five stops of leeway. It’s a simple functioning system to the outside world, with a simple on-off switch and essentially allows shutter speeds to get down to as low as 1/15 of a second. That’s pretty impressive for such a long focal length. A definite plus point for Olympus. The other benefit here is that if you have the OM-D E-M1 or the E-M Mark II, you can push these levels even further.
The autofocus system is also extremely fast and efficient. There was only the odd time where it skipped a beat, mainly in the lowest light conditions, but in general, the lens hits the point of focus the majority of the time. On the whole, this lens produces excellent quality images and considering the long focal length, it’s actually quite a compact package compared to other lenses. A very efficient performer.
How Does It Compare?
If you want to go down the zoom route, then there’s the option of the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7. In reality, this works out to be a focal length of 150-600mm, just with a smaller aperture range. It’s a lighter weight and more compact alternative and has a lot going for it, but it just can’t keep up with the same optical quality as the Olympus 300mm f/4 ED.
|Olympus 300mm f/4 ED||Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7|
|Elements||13 elements/ 11 groups||18 elements/ 13 groups|
In the real world, there’s a lot to like about the Olympus 300mm f/4 ED. It’s fast to focus and when you hit the mark, it can produce some outstandingly sharp images.
Anomalies in the lens, such as distortion, are very minimal and it’s really only things like flaring, which creeps into the lens once in a while. The stabilization system works extremely well and lets you choose very low shutter speeds, even when handheld.
This lens is obviously a heavy unit and it’s not cheap, but like any top-end lens, you’re not thinking about how much you initially spent when you’re producing top-quality images. In other words, a very recommended lens.