Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality

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Now that ACR has preliminary support for E-M1 raw files – amongst a whole load of other cameras – in ACR 8.2 (available here for Mac and Windows), I’ve gone through and reprocessed a few to assess the RAW quality of the E-M1’s sensor; I expect to have more thoughts on this in the longer term after I have a chance to put the camera through a greater variety of scenarios. Sadly, my loaner went back yesterday, so further updates after this one will have to wait until my own cameras arrive in October.

The full updated review is here. MT

Photoessay: Vignettes from a Sudanese wedding

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Recently, I was a guest at a rather interesting (and crazy) wedding celebration – a close Sudanese family friend’s daughter. Needless to say, I brought a camera – the OM-D and 45/1.8 – but to use strictly in an unofficial capacity. If you get the impression that the feel was very much 1001 Arabian Nights, that’s because it’s not too far off the mark. Enjoy! MT

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Photoessay: Chinatown cinematics, and using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on the OM-D

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Though visiting Chinatown in the USA is somewhat ironic for a person from Asia (we do have Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur too; it’s just not that different from the rest of town); I did find it to be quite photographically rich – especially with San Francisco’s inclined streets. Between the Cantonese and interesting side alleys, it felt a lot more like Hong Kong than anywhere else – which is perhaps a consequence of the origin of the immigrants. More than that though, something about the atmosphere was rather conducive to the cinematic style, though it could also be because both times I arrived at the end of the day as the sun was setting and pouring down the east-west streets in a gloriously saturated manner. I sent my workshop students off to explore style with a few different assignments, mounted the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH on my OM-D via an adaptor and set off to grab a few frames from a movie.

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Photoessay: Postcards from San Francisco, part one

Had the chance to process some of my files from the first few days in San Francisco – in the first six days on the ground, I shot over 3,500 images…let’s just say that it’s an extremely photographically rich city; or perhaps it’s the allure of the unfamiliar and the new (the last time I was in the USA was on a family holiday before the time I was interested in photography). I do know that my keeper rate on the first day was nearly zero, but I put that down to jetlag. I tend to find there’s an ideal point between cultural oversaturation and being jaded with a city – and that tends to be the most productive period for me photographically. It typically happens after four to five days; I’ve learned to go with the flow and not worry too much about not producing anything in the early days simply because the stream-of-consciousness type ‘seeing’ will come, and with it, an enormous task in the curation…more to come once I get a chance to edit and process.

This set was shot with the Olympus OM-D, ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8 and Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (via a M-M43 adaptor). Enjoy! MT

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Photoessay: Street photography with the OM-D and ZD 60/2.8 macro

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From outside looking in

All images in this series shot with the Olympus OM-D and ZD 60/2.8 macro.

There’s nothing that says you can’t use macro lenses for non-macro purposes; the old myth of the optics being poorer at longer distances is just that: a myth. In fact, macro lenses tend to perform better than most standard lenses even at long distances because they are so well corrected in the first place. There are two drawbacks: firstly, the apertures tend to be slower, which isn’t so good for achieving subject separation and is solely a physical property of the focal length and aperture combination of the lens; secondly, the focus throw tends to be shorter.

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Not wanting to be part of the crowd

This is a both good and bad – good because if an autofocus lens, the focusing elements don’t have to move as far since the lens must also be able to provide sufficient effective extension to focus at macro distances, bad because it means that if you have a manual focus lens – like the ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar I use – you have very, very little travel between mid distances – say 2-3m or so – and infinity, which can make precise focusing very difficult. For manual focus lenses, using the camera’s built-in rangefinder/ focus confirmation dot simply isn’t precise enough as the dot stays lit for some not inconsiderable displacement of the focusing barrel*. For autofocus lenses, the camera/ lens combination may not have the ability to consistently move the elements by the precise displacements required for very small changes in focusing distance – this is especially apparent with older screwdriver-focused lenses like the Nikon 60/2.8 D. Newer coreless motor lenses (AFS, EFS, M4/3 lenses etc) generally don’t have problems as there is very little backlash in the focusing system.

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The writing’s on the wall

*Do this simple test to see what I mean: shoot the same subject, at the same distance, with the cameras on a tripod and your desired test lens attached. Using the viewdfinder or EVF, try to focus the lens/ camera manually from both infinity and near limit, stopping just once the focus confirm indicator lights. Do this with the aperture wide open, otherwise other focus errors like backfocusing or mirror misalignment can’t be identified and compensated for. Shoot the same frame again, focusing with live view to use as a comparison image. What you’ll probably see – is that neither image using focus confirm is as sharp as the live view image. This effect is even worse for telephotos, because of the depth of field characteristics of the focal length. The shorter the focus throw, the worse this problem becomes.

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Potential focusing issues notwithstanding, so long as you have enough light for a sufficiently high shutter speed to avoid camera shake, the results are generally excellent. Specifically in the case of the ZD60, (my full review at macro distances is here) I’m pleased to report that the lens’ already excellent optical properties do not change at all at longer distances. In fact, the one niggling flaw I saw at close range is mostly gone – I’m not seeing any bright edges to out of focus highlights. Both foreground and background bokeh is smooth and non-distracting. Subjects fall nicely in planes and are separated in a manner that has plenty of 3D pop; this is characteristic of a lens with excellent microcontrast.

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Focusing is not an issue at all, and is just as fast as the ZD 45/1.8 providing you have the 4-way limiter switch in the right position. The one minor issue I did find was that the lens with hood is not exactly inconspicuous (and nowhere as compact as the 45), being nearly 15cm long with everything in place. Relatively small by DSLR standards, but probably not exactly what M4/3 users have in mind.. Personally, I find this combination of interest not because I’d take it out on dedicated street photography/ travel expeditions, but because I frequently carry the OM-D system either as a backup camera (or as a primary for assignments that don’t require the D800E’s resolution) – and the ability for a lens to do double-duty means one less thing to carry, break, fail or potentially lose. It’s always nice to have options. MT

The Olympus OM-D, 60/2.8 Macro and 45/1.8 are available through Amazon by clicking on their respective links.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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A pick-me-up before the pick up

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Hiding from the dishes

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Guardedly relaxed

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I’m on the way

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Hop to rainbow row

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A surprisingly good soup

Quick review: The Olympus 15/8 Body Cap Lens

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At left: body cap. At right: Lens. Not much difference.

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Lens mounted on the E-LM5.

Disclaimer: if you came here looking for optical perfection, you should probably stop reading now.

On the other hand, if you came here because you were curious about this little pancake, then read on. I admit that although I’m usually squarely in the former category, for some odd reason, the 15/8 got me intrigued – I suppose it was the size, or the fact that it suits the whole ‘fun’ ethos of the smaller PEN cameras. I think it’s the photojournalist in me that very much likes the idea of having the camera ready to go at all times, even if it’s in storage; the Olympus BCL-15 lets you do just that. It’s effectively the same depth as the supplied standard body cap (maybe a millimetre or two thicker, but nobody’s counting) – making the smaller bodies like the E-PL5 and E-PM1 very pocketable indeed. The lens was launched together with a number of other items at Photokina 2012 – notably the E-PL5, E-PM1 Pens, 60/2.8 Macro and the wireless SD card system.

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The mosque by the sea. E-PL5, 15/8

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100% crops.

It isn’t anything special in terms of construction: the lens has just three elements (supposedly glass), all-plastic construction, and a clever little lever that both doubles as a shutter to protect the front element, as well as a focusing lever; on the subject of focusing, you can get as close as 30cm to your subject. The lever is light and doesn’t really stay in place if bumped, but then again, precision isn’t that important in a lens that both has an extremely great depth of field – being a 15mm f8 and all – and optics that aren’t exactly highly-corrected. In fact, it’s a wonder that it isn’t just fix-focused.

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Book spirals. E-PL5, 15/8

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100% crops.

Needless to say, there’s no electronic communication of any sort between camera and lens, so EXIF data is not recorded, and since there’s only one aperture, you’ve effectively got a point and shoot. Curiously though, it appears Olympus has put a small baffle between two of the elements to only use the central portion of the lens in a bid to keep image quality reasonably high; I suspect that if one could somehow separate the elements and remove this, you’d find the lens to be closer to f4 or thereabouts – at the expense of optical quality and depth of field, of course. It might be something I’d be willing to try as a rainy day project…

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Staircase. E-PL5, 15/8

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100% crops.

So how does it perform optically? Well, it’s surprisingly sharp in the center, even though the 16MP M4/3 sensors are already hitting diffraction limits at f5.6 and smaller; the lens might well be a bit sharper if it was a stop faster due to this. The edges and corners are another story – let’s just say they’re not very sharp anywhere, and rather smeary in places. No doubt this is due to the limited optical correction possible with just three non-aspherical elements. (That said, this lens reminds me of the MS-Optical Perar Triplet 35/3.5 and 28/4 lenses for the Leica M mount; I wonder how they perform optically.) So long as you keep your subjects in the central third or so of the the frame, and take a little time to ensure focus is just about at the right distance, optical results are better than expected.

Although you might think that some of the crops are soft because of the focus distance, let me assure you that at f8 and a 15mm real focal length, the depth of field is more than sufficient to cover where I placed the focal point – and that was verified with live view magnificaiton for the purposes of this test; in real life, I don’t think I’d bother.

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Minaret. E-PL5, 15/8

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100% crops.

Simple lens designs like this one tend to have very high contrast and transmission because there aren’t a lot of surfaces and air-glass interfaces inside the lens to lose light at; the 15/8 renders with very high macrocontrast indeed; microcontrast is much less impressive, though (and has a lot to do with resolving power – you weren’t surprised about that result, were you?). Color is saturated, brilliant and actually quite pleasing.

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Sunset. E-PL5, 15/8

I can see photographers buying this for several reasons – as a fun walk around lens; as an impulse buy when you go to the camera shop with itchy fingers but perhaps not enough money or not finding anything that really catches your eye; the blogging crowd will probably find it fun and conveniently compact. I actually used it a lot while reviewing the E-PL5 (which all of these images were shot on) simply because it made the camera very pocketable and immediately responsive – not having AF and all – and being very close to my preferred 28mm focal length, an interesting street photography option (at least in good light; f8 means that you’re hitting ISO 3200 even in the shade, and forget about using it indoors).

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Amusement park dusk. E-PL5, 15/8

Conclusion: At just US$60, it’s a no-brainer recommendation for anybody who owns a M4/3 camera, especially if you’ve got a older or spare one lying around. Mine now lives on my E-PM1 Pen Mini, which has seen little use since the OM-D and Sony RX100 entered the stable. put this on, stick the camera in your pocket, and go for a walk. You’ll be glad you did. MT

The Olympus BCL-15mm f8 Body Cap lens is available here from B&H or Amazon.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Abandoned, I. E-PL5, 15/8

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Abandoned, I. E-PL5, 15/8

The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite review: a mini-OM-D

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I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of the original Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini (full review here); it brought big-camera speed and image quality to a very compact package. However, the OM-D clearly demonstrated that the image quality potential of Micro Four Thirds could be taken quite a bit further without entailing any compromises. After enjoying a period of exclusivity to that body, the same sensor and imaging processor has now made its way into Olympus’ lower end offerings – the E-PL5 Pen Lite and E-PM2 Pen Mini, both recently announced at Photokina. I was given the opportunity to try out a final production E-PL5 recently by Olympus Malaysia.

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Removable grip.

The two cameras retain their original differentiation – a tilting screen and a few buttons. But the E-PL5’s screen now pivots through 170 degrees for self-portrait narcissists (I can’t personally imagine ever using this feature, though tilting it up for waist-level shooting is great for stealthy capture or a better angle without having to bend over). Both also gain the same capacitative touch screen capability of the E-P3 and OM-D, which I’m find increasingly useful and missing on my Nikons. Sadly though, the LCD on the two smaller cameras remains as a 3″, 16:9 aspect ratio unit, which is great for video but leaves a lot of unused real estate in the form of black bars when you’re shooting in the native 4:3 aspect ratio of the sensor. Useable area is probably closer to 2.5″.

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Bookstore abstract. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Aside from the 15MP sensor of the OM-D, the E-PL5 also gains a few additional art filters, and compatibility with Olympus’ new OI.Share SD card and app for smartphones and tablets (currently, Apple iOS and Android are supported). There are also interchangeable grips – similar to the E-P3. There are also some minor cosmetic changes that give the camera a slightly blockier, more textured appearance. Personally, I prefer the smooth look of the older cameras. Sadly, Olympus still hasn’t moved the strap lugs – they still dig into your hands in the normal shooting position. I can’t help but feel a narrow loop would be a much better solution for a camera of this size, as well as being silent during video recording.

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It’s grown in size a little, but it’s still roughly in the same ballpark as the original (and Pen Mini, in background.)

In use, the camera is snappy and responsive for all normal operations; AF speed remains excellent, if perhaps fractionally faster than the last generation. (I’m comparing it with my Pen Mini, since I don’t have an E-PL3 handy – they share the same innards anyway.) The menu system is redesigned and now looks very similar to the OM-D, complete with most of the custom functions and extensive customizability that is unusual for a camera in this class, which has become one of Olympus’ hallmarks. It also gains 8fps shooting, though without AF, of course. I use it as a single-shot camera, or at most in bursts of two or three shots to gain some added stability.

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Closed for the weekend. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

On the subject of stability, the in-body sensor-shift stailization system is improved over the last generation; I actually turned it off on my Pen Mini because it tended to give odd double images under some conditions. I left it on on the E-PL5, but it’s worth noting that it still isn’t as effective as the 5-axis gyro system in the OM-D.

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Pirates can still be found in some parts of Malacca. E-PL5, 45/1.8

One of the things I missed from the OM-D was the configurable single-button magnify option that allowed one-touch enlargement of either live view or the playback image to your desired ratio at the focus point (10x is actual pixels) – until I discovered that you could just double-tap the screen to achieve the same result. Needless to say, score one for the touch screen. You can of course also use it to select the focus point and release the shutter; speaking of focus points, you can now select a smaller point size by default, which the camera remembers when turned off – something I sorely miss on the OM-D as the large boxes often aren’t precise enough. A good number of the other buttons are user-configurable, too.

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Sunset over the straits. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Something I had trouble getting used to was the feel of the shutter button. Since it’s probably the single most important control on the camera, the way it feels is actually quite critical in how you feel towards shooting it; in this respect, the pro Nikons and Canons get it right – a soft but distinct half-press, and no clicky transition but a firm increase in resistance to release. There’s enough travel between positions to avoid accidental releases, but not so much to induce lag. The OM-D feels pretty good, too. Other cameras get it wrong – the Sony RX100’s shutter release is far too soft; I’m always accidentally firing off a frame when I meant only to focus. The digital Leica Ms are far too notchy and difficult to press smoothly; it’s as though there’s something rough inside the button’s housing or something; perhaps to do with the three positions. Shame, since the mechanical Ms were fantastic. Unfortunately, the E-PL5 just falls on the wrong side of soft – it isn’t so much the pressure required, but the near-zero difference in travel between half and full press that feels off. And to make things worse, even though the travel is short, the pressure required is very firm – making it difficult to hold the camera steady when releasing. Lack of an eye-level finder only compounds this.

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Determination in the face of choices. E-PL5, 45/1.8

I don’t’ have a lot to say about image quality – if you’ve used the OM-D, you can safely skip this section. The files look exactly the same, and deliver the same amount of flexibility in postprocessing. Colors are typical Olympus – slightly warm, reasonably saturated, and biased towards delivery of very pleasing skin tones. Dynamic range is around 11-12 stops from a carefully processed raw file at base ISO, which also remains at 200. The tonal range tends to be somewhat midtone and shadow biased; the relatively small pixel pitch of the sensor makes itself known in the highlights; expose with care because there isn’t a whole load of recoverable headroom – perhaps a stop at most. Fortunately, there is a live shadow and highlight clipping display option, which allows for precise exposure adjustment at the time of capture. Noise is minimal to ISO 800, and I feel the camera is useable up to ISO 3200, or ISO 5000 under certain lighting conditions.

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Just your average chaotic street scene. E-PL5, 45/1.8

At this point it’s worth talking a bit about the Olympus Viewer software – I’ve never had to use it before since ACR always supported the files of cameras I’d purchased. This time, I use the built in raw converter to make a relatively low-contrast TIFF with accurate white balance and exposure, which I’d then take into Photoshop. The native environment is very familiar – it looks a lot like Bridge, from which you can develop and save your files in…you guessed it, something that looks a lot like ACR – or at least an early version of it, without the huge number of options the current version has.

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Late afternoon. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Previews are fast, and general responsiveness and usability was good. This is easily amongst the better own-brand pieces of software out there. (Nikon, I’m looking at you. For shame.) In fact, the only critical things I can find missing are shadow/ highlight recovery sliders and a gradient tool. I’m not so happy with the output, though – the files seem to have a decidedly magenta cast to them which is both difficult to remove, and renders color not as accurately as the JPEGs – especially skin tones, which I find my Olympus cameras generally excel at even via ACR.

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Harley after the rain. E-PL5, 45/1.8

Battery life is excellent; I estimate around 500-600 shots with moderate LCD use and power-off between shots. It uses the same battery as the E-PL3 and E-PM1, too, which is nice if you’ve got a few spares already lying around. Note that there are two models of battery and charger, some of which are compatible and some of which aren’t – the light gray model is the latest version of both.

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Where Elmo does his shopping. E-PL5, 45/1.8

Throughout the review period, I kept asking myself who this camera was aimed at; the DSLR user/ enthusiast/ amateur looking for a second, more compact body, or the compact upgrader? I personally think it fits the latter better, much like the original Pen Mini. Although it’s compatible with the various accessories that connect to the accessory port under the hotshoe (including an EVF) – the lack of a built-in viewfinder means that if youre going to keep the camera compact, you’re restricted to arms-length style shooting. The huge number of art filters – also useable in movie mode at the expense of reduced frame rate – and in-camera processing options offers a relatively simple (if slightly lacking in control) method for the amateur user to achieve their desired look without resorting to Photoshop. I personally don’t use any of these, but I do know plenty of friends and family who might. What I did really enjoy was using it with the new 15/8 body cap lens as a hyperfocal snapshot camera; in this configuration it’s lag-free, and lets you focus solely on timing and composition. It’s also just about pocketable.

Ultimately, success at this end of the market will depend heavily on the camera’s price point. The rich feature set and overall refinement in operation make me curious to see what will succeed the E-P3; now if only they’d make one with a built-in EVF like the NEX-6…

The Olympus E-PL5 PEN Lite is available here from B&H and Amazon.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Where are my customers? E-PL5, 45/1.8

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Somewhere in here is a human being. E-PL5, 45/1.8

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Abstract Kuala Lumpur skyline. E-PL5, 15/8 body cap

Macro shootout on Micro Four Thirds: four lenses, one winner

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Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s review of the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 60mm f2.8 Macro; aimed at answering two questions: what is the best macro lens for Micro Four Thirds, and just how much better are the system-specific lens designs? Firstly, a bit of background logic. I’ve selected lenses around the same focal length range – 50mm+/- – in mounts that can easily be adapted to fit M4/3; this pretty much means native lenses and Nikon; Canon and Sony do not have mechanical aperture control, and thus no way of stopping down; besides, Zeiss makes the same lens in multiple mounts. I haven’t used conventional lenses with extension tubes* as these are not real macro lenses; their optics have not been designed with optimization for close range performance in mind. Exotic optics and things that aren’t easily available such as the Coastal Optics 60/4 APO-UV-VIS-IR were also excluded for obvious reasons.

*With one exception, explained later

This left us with four practical contenders: the Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit (PL45), the Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar, the Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and of course the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 60/2.8 Macro (ZD60). Some are going to cry foul at not having the older Zuiko Digital 50/2 Macro present, but there’s a good reason for that – I didn’t have one handy, and the newer lens has a much higher MTF. Basically, we have here the best short focal length macros available for the respective systems – I might have missed one, but the test would be meaningless unless repeated with all lenses at the same time.

These tests would be useless without consistent methodology – so a quick note on that is necessary to provide some background context to the tests. The camera used was an Olympus OM-D, the highest resolution camera available for Micro Four Thirds, and with a pixel pitch equivalent to a 64MP full-frame sensor; this was shot RAW, converted in ACR with identical settings and zero sharpening. I used a Manfrotto 468MGRCO Hydrostat head and Gitzo GT 5562 GTS legs with no center column; this combination is rock-solid and rated to far higher loads than I can even physically carry. To completely rule out camera shake, the test subjects were illuminated with flash – in this case, a pair of Olympus FL-600Rs, triggered wirelessly using the supplied flash for the OM-D. The lens was defocused serveral times for each shot and the best image selected.

Focusing was performed with either AF and checked with 10x live view, or manually with 10x live view, at the intended point of comparison. A G-compatible adaptor was used to mount the Nikon and Zeiss lenses; the aperture on the 60mm was set to the same approximate size (as viewed from the front, object side) as the Zeiss when stopped down. The magnification of each scene was matched between the different lenses by moving the tripod.

The test scenes were artificial constructs to investigate specific properties: resolution at center, border and corner wide open; bokeh, longitudinal and lateral chromatic aberrations and distortion. The lenses were tested in the range they would be typically used – moderately close distances down to the 1:1-1:2 magnification range. All use floating elements, and infinity performance is excellent across the board – it isn’t difficult to design a normal lens that performs well at infinity.

With regards to the commentary, please go off what I say and not what you see: even though these are low-compression jpegs of screen shots of 100% crops, there will inevitably be some differences in color and resolution compared to the actual files which I’ve viewed on a calibrated monitor, at full resolution. Clicking on the ‘full resolution’ links takes you to the original screen shot file.

1. Center resolution at mid distance, f2.8

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Full frame

ZD60 comparison center mid distance
Click here for the full resolution 100% screen crop.

Wide open, the ZD60 has both the best resolution and microcontrast here, taking the crown from the PL45 by a hair; there seems to be just a tiny bit of CA or bleed on the edge of the lettering of the PL45 that’s robbing the lens of crispness. You can also see that the lens doesn’t seem to be resolving on as fine a level as the ZD60  – note the fiber in the right hand center edge black portion. Neither the Nikon nor the Zeiss are anywhere near in the running here; both have internal veiling flare that clearly lower contrast and resolution, especially in the texture of the label. The Zeiss is a bit better than the Nikon, but then again it should be; it’s the only lens in this group that’s been stopped down by a stop. The legacy lenses are a little disappointing but not entirely surprising; even on the larger pixel pitch D800E they require some stopping down to reach optimum resolution.

2. Bokeh and longitudinal CA, f2.8

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Full resolution. From the previous frame. A set of keys was lit directly with another flash to provide a bright, contrasty and reflective background subject.

Bokeh is pretty good in all of these, but not perfect in any of them. If I had to choose one, I’d say my vote is betweens the Nikon and the Olympus; the Nikon appears the smoothest of the bunch, but also suffers from significant longitudinal chromatic aberration. The Olympus has almost no longitudinal CA, but it does have some texture in the OOF highlight area, as well as a bright edge to the same area. The PL45 is clearly the worst of the bunch, with uneven highlights, bright edges, and longitudinal CA to top things off; it seems that it might also be prone to double imaging with certain out of focus subjects. The Zeiss falls somewhere in the middle for smoothness, but has the worst longitudinal CA. Remember that the relative merits of bokeh are very subjective – what might be to my taste may not be to yours. CA, however, is CA, and can require significant postprocessing work to fix if present in the OOF areas.

3. Corner resolution at approx. 1:3 magnification, f2.8

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Full frame

ZD60 comparison corner
Full resolution

As with the initial center crop, it’s a very close race between the PL45 and the ZD60; both appear to have contrast, but the ZD60 has slightly higher resolving power and microcontrast. I see a small amount of CA on the PL45 image too; the top edge of the white line has a slight green fringe. The Nikon lags behind both for resolution, and has some visible CA; note the top edge of the white line. The Zeiss is the worst here – there’s visible CA, a tiny bit of coma, low contrast, some flare, and markedly lower resolution than the others. It also has the warmest rendition of the lot (WB was manually set to the same Kelvin temperature for all images).

4. Center resolution at 1:2 magnification, f2.8

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Full frame

ZD60 comparison center 1-2mag
Full resolution

Things haven’t changed much in the center and at closer distances; the two legacy lenses are closer in resolving power to the native M4/3 lenses, but both still lack microcontrast. In overall resolution, there’s little to choose between the Nikon and Zeiss, the PL45 is only a bit better. It’s actually surprising how much crisper the ZD60 appears here.

5. Border resolution at 1:1.2 magnification and distortion, f5.6

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Full frame; a 20mm extension tube was required for the Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 MP to achieve this magnification as it’s normally limited to 1:2.

ZD60 comparison edge 1-1
Full resolution

A more practical application – for me, at any rate. None of the lenses had any noticeably distortion, so I didn’t bother to include full crops from them. For all intents and purposes, it’s a non-issue. The focus point of this image was the center pinion of the second hand of the watch (the round thing), not the 60 text. Note that the hand is very dark blue, and the left-edge blue highlight is the color of the hand. The color fringing visible on the high contrast edge of the steel pinion itself, on the other hand, is chromatic aberration. On stopping down a little, the Zeiss has caught up with the PL45 and ZD60 in both resolution and microcontrast; there’s very, very little to choose between the three. The PL45 appears to have the most contrast overall, followed by the Zeiss; the ZD60 still seems to be resolving slightly more than the other two (note micro-machining marks in the highlights of the silver guilloche pattern) but with lower contrast; perhaps its coatings cannot deal with the reflections from the silvered pattern as well as the Zeiss T* or Leica coatings. The Nikon is clearly struggling to deliver the same macro- and microcontrast, though resolution appears to be only a hair behind the other three. I think the PL45 looks the best here, with the Zeiss and Olympus tied for second, but it is very, very close indeed.


Given that you’ll have to shoot all of these lenses at relatively large apertures (for a macro lens) to avoid diffraction, wide open performance and close to it are both very important. Although both the Zeiss and Nikon are relatively modern designs, it’s clear that the legacy mount lenses simply don’t do as well as the dedicated designs, which isn’t surprising. As a practical option, although image quality is more than acceptable – we are very much into the realm of pixel peeping here – the dedicated M4/3 lenses are simply much easier to use thanks to autofocus; it’s nearly impossible to nail critical manual focus wide open and handheld, though quite doable on a tripod. If resolution is your priority, then your choice should be either the ZD60 or PL45; however, if it’s bokeh, you might want to think about an adaptor. Bottom line: if you have these lenses around, and work in a controlled environment, you could quite happily make do with an adaptor.

All of these lenses are capable of producing stellar images technically; the artistic content is of course very much down to the photographer. I don’t think it’s difficult to pick a winner here; although the PL45 and ZD60 are both excellent lenses, the ZD60 simply has far fewer optical shortcomings than the PL45, and a transparency about it that makes it look as though the other lenses have a veil or film or something pulled over them. I own all of these lenses, and have extensive experience with them. The Nikon has been my mainstay lens for watch photography since its release several years ago; the Zeiss I use for food, and the PL45 has increasingly been my lens for both product and food shoots because of the extended depth of field available with an 45mm real focal length and the M4/3 system. I’ve generally avoided shooting wide open with the Nikon and Zeiss at close distances, though. However, this test (and the preceding review of the Olympus ZD60) is seriously making me reconsider the position of the former two lenses; the Olympus is so much better on M4/3 than the other two even on the Nikons, let alone adapted to M4/3.

I think you don’t need me to tell which lens is the clear winner here…MT

The various lenses tested are available here from Amazon: Olympus ZD 60/2.8 Macro, Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit, Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Review: The Olympus ZD 60mm f2.8 Macro and FL-600R wireless flash system

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Although ‘development announced’ (i.e. officially leaked) several months ago together with the 75/1.8, Olympus’ newest macro lens – the M.Zuiko Digital 60mm f2.8 (hereafter known as the ZD60) was formerly announced at Photokina 2012, and should be available sometime in October 2012 at a price of around RM2,000. It’s also only the second macro lens available natively with a Micro Four Thirds mount (and autofocus), the other one being the Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit, which I reviewed earlier here. Being an OM-D shooter, and heavily product-photography oriented, I was invited by Olympus Malaysia to review the ZD60 together with the new PEN Lite E-PL5 (review coming in the next week or so). The macro work I do almost always involves flash, so I had them loan me a set of their most recent flashes – the FL-600R. This review will therefore be approached from the point of view I’m most familiar with: photographing watches with speedlights, in a pretty much identical manner to how I do it with my main Nikon system. There will be comparative notes throughout, and no pictures of flowers, cats, eyes, coins, trinkets or other typical macro subjects. Let us begin.

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All images in this review were shot with an Olympus OM-D and FL-600R wireless flashes; the images are all from the ZD60, except the images of the ZD60, which were shot with the PL 45/2.8.

Let’s talk about the lens first: it offers 1:1 reproduction ratio at a minimum distance of 19cm from the sensor plane, which translates into a healthy 7-8cm of working distance at maximum magnification. This is great news for people who want tight frame coverage; by comparison, if I try to get the same subject coverage (i.e. 2:1 on full frame) with my D800E and Nikon 60 macro, I’m down to around 4 of working distance, which makes even lighting control much more difficult. The optical design has 13 elements in 10 groups, with one ED element, two HR elements and one E-HR element (I presume these are different types of optical glass).

Optical design and MTF chart. From Olympus Malaysia

Three of the groups float and perform focusing functions. This is not a simple optical design! There are traces of a double-Gauss base design in there, but it looks as though heavy modifications and extra elements were added to optimize resolution and close range performance. By comparison, the excellent Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro – which has been my mainstay lens up til now – has one less element and one less group.

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Size-wise, it’s similar to the 12-50 kit lens for the OM-D; build quality is definitely better, but still plastic and nowhere near as nice as the 12/2 and 75/1.8 lenses. The plastic used is matte, feels reasonably robust, but curiously has visible moulding lines in several places – I’ve not noticed this on any of the polycarbonate-shelled Nikon or Canon lenses before, but it may be because those tend to have a spatter-finish paint that hides the seams better. It’s also weather sealed, with ‘SPLASH PROOF’ in big letters on the bottom of the lens barrel. The lens is made in China.

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Omega Speedmaster 9300.

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100% crop of the above.

Two small points of interest on the ergonomics of the lens itself – firstly, although the (optional, shame on you, Olympus) hood is a bayonet fit, it telescopes in and out; neat, but I found it annoying after a while as if you support the lens by the hood and put too much pressure on it, the hood will easily shift or start to collapse back in. Second is the little rotary knob to control the focus range, accompanied by a pointer scale showing the subject distance and corresponding magnification level. The switch has several settings – full range, 0.4m to infinity, 0.19m to 0.4m, and a sprung detent to take the lens to 1:1. It sounds clunky but is actually very practical in use – selecting the right range keeps focusing fast and positive, and the 1:1 position is very helpful in traversing the focusing range when you don’t have a full-time mechanically coupled focusing ring. Overall, ergonomics are excellent.

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100% crop of the above.

Once in a while, (though increasingly frequently with today’s computer-designed optics) you come across a lens that is truly outstanding – the last two that come to mind were the Olympus ZD 75/1.8 and Leica 50/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH. I’ve used a number of competent, but imperfect, lenses in the meantime, none of which were that memorable for their optics. Fortunately, the ZD60 is another one of those lenses that falls into the ‘truly outstanding’ category – I’ve tried hard under many varied test conditions to find fault with the optics, and come up with an extremely short list. If you want the short answer, you can skip the next few paragraphs: this lens offers excellent optical performance at every aperture and focus distance.

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The lens has an even more impressive MTF chart than its highly-regarded predecessor, the ZD 50/2 macro for Four Thirds; granted, both designs only have to cover the small Four Thirds frame, and they used a lot of elements to do it, but still: it clearly outresolves the OM-D’s sensor, even wide open. On my copy, I simply didn’t see any improvement in stopping down – you get increased depth of field, and sharpness stays constant (i.e. outstanding) at every part of the frame. There’s diffraction beyond f8, and that’s about it. The plane of focus is also flat, as far as I can make out, and there’s almost zero distortion present. Let’s just say that the ZD60’s resolving power is not going to be the reason for any soft images. Like most of the extremely sharp lenses, the ZD60 also has very high microcontrast – these characteristics are related because high resolving power is required to differentiate between subtle tonal differences in the subject. In fact, it’s amongst the best lenses I’ve ever seen; deserving of the superlative classification (for lenses, at any rate) – of transparent.

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For reference, the screws on the right are about 1.5mm across.

Although overall resolution would support a much higher-density sensor, it wouldn’t be practical in use: on the OM-D’s 16MP sensor, you already have minor diffraction from f8, and visible diffraction at f11 and up (even though the lens can stop down to f22, I really wouldn’t recommend it; you might as well use a pinhole at that point). I suppose it would have been nice if it had tilt control too, but I think given the target market for Micro Four Thirds, that option might be a long time coming. I believe Novoflex has a T/S bellows system, which might be worthy of investigation at some point in the future.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Latitude.

As for the other optical qualities of the lens – bokeh, chromatic aberration, color rendition and transmission – there are very few flaws. The only one I could find was some slight texture in the bokeh, and even then only in a couple of frames with circular out of focus highlights at a certain brightness level – one of the signatures of a moulded hybrid aspherical element somewhere in the construction. To keep things in perspective, even the Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro exhibits this trait, and more obviously. Aside from that, bokeh is smooth and pleasant, with very minimal bright edges on defocused highlights. Chromatic aberration was nonexistent laterally, and more commendably, almost completely absent longitudinally, too, even wide open. I have not seen this level of CA performance in any macro lens I’ve used to date, even the Leica 120/2.5 APO-Summarit-S. Color rendition is neutral and pleasingly saturated, and taken in tandem actually quite reminiscent of the Zeiss lenses. Olympus uses their new ZERO coating on the lens, which keeps transmission high – I would estimate the lens to be around T3.0.

The ZD60 uses Olympus’ MSC system, which has the elements moving linearly on a rail; it’s not as fast as the 12/2 or 45/1.8, but with the limiter in the 0.4m-infinity position, it’s similar in speed to the 75/1.8, and definitely faster than the Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8.

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FL-600R compared to the Nikon SB900. One would fit in your pocket; pocket the other and you’d probably be arrested on a public indecency charge.

Next up, we have the FL-600R flash; it has a guide number of 50m at ISO 200, or 36m at ISO 100, running off four AA batteries, with a wide panel and zoom head covering from 16 to 85mm. Full-power cycle time is claimed to be 2.0s with NiMH batteries; it didn’t feel any slower than my Nikon SB900s or SB700s, which I find to be pretty fast. In addition to the usual TTL and manual modes, the flash can also act as both wireless commander and slave using Olympus RC system. It’s also got a bright single LED in the base portion – ostensibly for video use, but I actually found it to be a useful modelling light for macro work, making focusing and composition quite a bit easier. If only it was in the head itself and even brighter…

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In use, the flashes are fairly simple to operate, though the very low number of external controls means that a lot of button presses are required, and you have to remember what does what – I much prefer the softkey and physical switches approach of the SB900 and SB700. That said, the units are physically much smaller than even the SB700 and SB600, and positively dwarfed by the SB900 – this leaves very little real estate on the back for the LCD and controls.

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Overall, I found TTL flash exposure to be mostly good; wireless TTL on the other hand, was a bit hit and miss. There were certain situations – specifically when one flash was firing at the background, and the other at the subject – where the subject exposure was a bit inconsistent. Not much of an issue, I just dialled in manual power. The limited external controls and display space also mean that adjusting settings for remote flashes with the FL-600R as master isn’t so easy, and requires far more button presses than I would like. Fortunately, even with the FL-600R on the hotshoe, the camera itself can be used to set the remotes; the hot shoe contacts then transmit the data to the flash. Coupled with the OM-D’s touchscreen, it’s a fast and easy experience – in this respect, better than the Nikon system. And you can control all three groups of flashes from the camera, regardless of which flash is attached to the hotshoe – which is one more than the Nikon system. There are also three available channels so other users’ flashes aren’t triggered by yours and vice-versa if there are a few of you. I can see this being useful if you shoot Nikon or Canon, but to be honest, I’ve never encountered an Olympus flash shooter…

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The only major issue I have with the wireless flash system is triggering – the sensor on the flash unit itself seems to be very small, aimed forwards and somewhat recessed – this makes no sense whatsoever, seeing as the flash is likely to be facing the subject, which means that the sensor will be away from the camera. Even the Nikons – with side and front mounted sensors – still have problems picking up the optical trigger signal at times. With the FL-600Rs in orientations where the sensor wasn’t almost facing the camera directly, triggering was somewhat hit and miss, especially with the small flash supplied with the OM-D. Use of one of the FL-600R units as a master improved this somewhat, but camera companies really need to start making flashes with multiple optical sensors, or better yet, built in radio triggers for both camera and flash. I know some of you might suggest external radio triggers, but has anybody tried looking for a TTL PocketWizard for Olympus lately? It just doesn’t exist.

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To date, when using the OM-D for macro work, I’ve either been using my large LED panels (and hence continuous lighting) or the SU-4 optical slave mode on my SB900s and the supplied small flash set to 1/64 power, which works well, but lacks the convenience of being able to set the power output from the flashes either via TTL metering or directly from the camera, let alone both. This can be inconvenient at the best of times – worse still if your flashes aren’t easily accessible. I’ve wanted to try the Olympus wireless flashes for some time now; my thoughts are that so long as you can spare one unit to use as a master trigger, they’re a viable alternative to the Nikon system; the problem is that I’d have to buy another five flashes to get the same flexibility as I have now, which seems somewhat silly.

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That said, the Olympus system – and Micro Four Thirds – for macro work has a lot going for it; firstly, a truly outstanding lens which is almost completely CA-free; flashes that aren’t that expensive, and very, very small – like the rest of the system. I could fit an equivalent system to what I use now in a bag half the size. Although on the face of things, the Nikon system has a huge resolution advantage – you lose something in diffraction (despite the D800E not having an AA filter), and the OM-D files are clean enough to upsize well to 25MP or so. The difference is much less than you might think. I think I’d have a very difficult time deciding what to buy if I was starting over again with the same objectives. As it is, I won’t be returning the ZD60 to Olympus; it’s unquestionably earned a place in my arsenal, edging out the 45/2.8 (it’s also nice that I no longer have a focal length overlap with the faster 45/1.8). As far as I’m concerned, this is the new reference lens for Micro Four Thirds. It’s that good. MT

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 60/2.8 Macro is available here from B&H and Amazon.

The FL600R flash is also available here from B&H and Amazon.

Come back again tomorrow for part two: a four way shootout between the M.Zuiko Digital 60/2.8 macro, Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar and Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro!


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Parting shot – another 100% crop.

Review: The Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 Lumix G Vario for Micro Four Thirds

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Micro Four Thirds users have a lot of consumer-grade choices when it comes to telephoto lenses. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of any serious lenses – fast aperture, fast focusing, or even prime. Thanks to the 2x crop factor, this is one of the places where M43 actually offers a substantial advantage over larger formats. It’s just a shame that there aren’t any telephoto lenses of serious optical quality to make the most of this. Wildlife photographers and sports shooters still favor DX crop bodies when there’s enough light – the increased pixel density and extra 1.5x reach can’t be ignored. I was still birding during Nikon’s transition to FX with the D3; I remember being frustrated at the quality of the sensor, but the lack of reach. There are some species that simply will not allow you to approach close – I frequently used a 500mm with 1.4x TC on a DX body, for a total of 1,050mm f5.6 equivalent. To reach 1,000mm on FX, you’d be a stop down in brightness and having to deal with the associated optical quality limitations of a 2x teleconverter.

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Collapsed at 100mm.

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Fully extended. This is not a short or discrete lens, and I haven’t even added the hood yet.

The current crop of M4/3 lenses stops at 300mm. This gets you to 600mm equivalent; the Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 (150-600mm equivalent) and Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 (200-600mm equivalent) are your only two options. (A 300/4 or 400/5.6 with Olympus’ MSC-grade fast AF would be wonderful, but sadly not to be – at least not yet). The Olympus is the more compact of the two (and by all reports, slightly sharper too), but also quite a bit more expensive than the Panasonic – US$899 vs US$599-699 or so. The bigger issue is that you’re down half a stop on the Panasonic; with complex multi-element zooms, this difference in physical aperture translates into more when it comes to light transmission. The Panasonic is probably closer to T7-T8; the Olympus may well be at T9-11. More worrying is that with both lenses you’re going to be right up against the diffractions limits of the higher density M4/3 sensors, such as the OM-D and GX1, even when shooting wide open. To be useable at 300mm, this lens has to perform optically – we’ll address this later.

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Untitled. OM-D, 100-300

The 100-300 is a moderately-sized lens, weighing in at about 500g and similar in heft to consumer DSLR 70-300 lenses. Despite only having to cover the M4/3 image circle, it isn’t any smaller; size advantages are more apparent in wideangle lenses due to the short back focus distance of mirrorless cameras not requiring a rear telephoto group*. The lens has a 67mm front thread, metal rear mount and front plastic bayonet hood; this is included with the lens. (Olympus, I’m looking at you: not including lens hoods is just penny pinching.) The zoom ring is a broad, rubber affair that should be easy to operate, but is actually very difficult to set precisely in practice because of friction between the plastic surfaces inside the lens; it tends to bind and move in jumps. There is an ample focus ring up front, narrower than the zoom ring and distinguishable by touch, but it runs fly-by-wire and obviously has no hard stops at either end of the range. With telephoto lenses, it’s nice to have the ability to place the focus range by feel, or at least kick it over in either direction closer to the subject distance to avoid hunting – especially important with the CDAF systems used in mirrorless cameras. Overall, build quality is acceptable at this price point, but nothing to write home about. The plastics feel a little brittle and thin, I’m generally fairly careful when handling this lens.

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Caught in the act. OM-D, 100-300

*The rear telephoto group on a lens is used to straighten out the image-forming rays so they fall perpendicular to the sensor, and extend the image plane further than the natural distance associated with the focal length – in order to clear SLR mirrors. This distance is proportional to the focal length of the lens. Rangefinders and mirrorless cameras can use symmetric retrofocal lenses whose rear elements can be positioned very close to the sensor, making the lenses physically much smaller. Lenses with a focal length longer than the flange distance do not require the rear telephoto group to project the image plane out to clear the mirror, which is what removes the size advantage between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for lenses over 50mm or so.

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Reminds me of Gibraltar for some reason. OM-D, 100-300

However, by far the biggest gotcha of the whole setup is that the lens is physically large and not well balanced at all, especially on the smaller M4/3 bodies; even the OM-D requires a grip for optimal handling. Given this, the omission of a tripod collar is unforgiveable; you simply can’t mount it on the body’s tripod socket because it not only places a large amount of stress on the mount, but it’s also impossible to frame precisely especially at 300mm, because the image frame droops perceptibly through the viewfinder. This means you’ve got to shoot it handheld; here, the relatively light weight of the whole system works against you, because there isn’t enough mass to damp the vibration. And forget about using it at arms’ length without an EVF. The good news though is that the OM-D’s EVF and IBIS system are excellent, and allow you to brace the entire setup against your forehead. Being a Panasonic optic, the lens has moving-element OIS built in; and it’s pretty effective, too. Although it’s very difficult to scientifically test, I feel that perhaps the IBIS in the OM-D is very slightly more effective than OIS built into the lens – but it could go either way, really. Both systems allow consistent critically-sharp-at-100% handheld shots at 1/100s and 300mm, which is about 2.5 stops. You could probably push it a stop further, but then your hit rate will fall considerably.

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Painterly. OM-D, 100-300

Let’s talk a bit about optical performance. The lens is a 17/12 design with one ED lens and several aspherical elements; no fancy coatings, but a decent specification that should yield decent optical results. Like most of these consumer telephoto designs, performance is surprisingly good below 200mm; 200-300mm is so-so, with weakest performance at 300mm. Stopping down by one stop below 200mm improves clarity a hair, but anything more starts to reduce resolving power due to diffraction. At 300mm, f8 is slightly better than f5.6 because there’s less chromatic aberration and improved contrast, however, the resolution gains are once again offset by diffraction losses. There isn’t any point in going beyond f11, even though the minimum possible aperture is f22.

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Surprisingly decent bokeh. OM-D, 100-300

The lens never gives you the impression of clarity or transparency as the best lenses do; there’s always a layer of something between you and the image, which can be somewhat ameliorated through good postprocesing. No amount of postprocessing can put back the missing microcontrast, however. Part of the problem is there’s chromatic aberration visible at all focal lengths; this causes the image to separate out slightly, reducing resolving power. It’s especially obvious in the corners and at high contrast edges at the 300mm end of the zoom range; a good 2-3 pixels’ worth at times. There is some vignetting, but it’s very, very minor and easily correctable. Finally, bokeh is surprisingly smooth, though large out-of-focus highlights have the telltale texture that signifies the use of moulded hybrid glass-plastic aspherical elements.

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Lily pads. OM-D, 100-300

All of this said, the 100-300 is still a cut above most of the consumer-grade offerings; I haven’t used the Olympus 75-300, though. I certainly don’t think the Nikon 70-300VR had this level of resolution – on the lower pixel density D700 and D7000 bodies, the 70-300VR’s resolution above 200mm left much to be desired.

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Contemplation. OM-D, 100-300

So what’s the 100-300 useful for? To be honest, I bought it out of curiosity and the lack of a telephoto solution for any of my other systems. It’s actually a pretty good option for reach in a pinch, especially when you’re not sure you’re going to need it – and don’t want to carry around a large 300, 400 or 500mm supertelephoto. The combination of lens and OM-D doesn’t occupy much space in the bag at all. Aside from slightly reduced optical quality and a slower aperture, the biggest limitation is continuous AF performance. It’s already a problem for the M4/3 system since all focus systems are contrast detect; it’s even worse with the 100-300 because the focus motor itself is slow, the required amount of physical movement of the lens elements between the infinity and the 1.5m near limit is large, and the lens is one of the earlier generation of designs that doesn’t have the benefit of the technology used in Panasonic’s current lenses. It isn’t slow per se, but it definitely isn’t up to the latest Olympus primes in speed. Note that I’ve had a couple of experiences where the camera/lens confirmed focus, but it turned out that things weren’t quite perfect. Very shallow critical depth of field (especially at closer distances) is nothing new with telephotos, but it’s not easy to tell without magnification exactly which small bit of the frame is in critical focus with current EVF/ LCD technology.

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Crowded. OM-D, 100-300

Given those limitations, I think its strength is probably in situations where you need reach or perspective but your subject isn’t moving much, if at all; some forms of wildlife, landscapes and perhaps even architecture or abstracts; I tried using it for street work, but it just felt far too conspicuous. It’s also surprisingly difficult to frame a 600mm FOV shot when there are a lot of people about – the foreground takes forever to clear, and by the time it does, your primary subject has probably moved on. That said, I used it without issue at a recent concert I was covering – in that case, it’s all about timing and making sure that your subject hasn’t moved out of the depth of field of the lens, which is actually a bit more than you’d expect. It’s also worth noting that whilst AF is fast and positive up to about 200mm, beyond that if the new subject is far outside the previous subject distance, or contrast is only moderate, you’re going to see situations where the combination hunts and sometimes even fails to find focus.

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Smoke break. OM-D, 100-300

I think the best litmus test for any lens is the question of ‘given a chance, would you buy it again?’ I didn’t pay very much for mine on the secondary market – mint, boxed, pretty much as new ran all of $400 – so yes, I definitely would. It’s not a staple lens for me, but it is fun, does offer something that none of my other lenses can, and the optics are good enough. Overall – recommended, but with caveats. MT

The Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 is available here from B&H and Amazon.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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On the lookout. OM-D, 100-300