This article discusses a number of M.Zuiko 100-400 considerations that photographers can assess when deciding whether to purchase this lens or not. This is a fairly lengthy article, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee or brew a pot of tea.
Without question, the recent launch of the M.Zuiko ED 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens has generated a lot of interest and discussion among M4/3 users. As well as some negative commentary from the usual M4/3 naysayers.
To give readers a good cross section of opinion from various professional photographers and other photography sites, we published a decent listing of M.Zuiko 100-400 reviews. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read and view this material, it is a good place to start.
If you have already done some research, you may find yourself grappling with a number of M.Zuiko 100-400 considerations. Hopefully this article can help clarify things, rather than further cloud your potential purchase decision.
M4/3 Long Focal Length Options
There are a number of lenses that immediately come to mind when looking at M4/3 long focal length options that can be considered. These include: M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3, Panasonic 100-400 f/4-6.3, M.Zuiko PRO 300 f/4, M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter, M.Zuiko 75-300 f/4.8-6.7 II, and the Panasonic 100-300 f/4-5.6 II. Another option is to wait for the launch of the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 with built-in 1.25 teleconverter.
It would be prudent to match up any M.Zuiko 100-400 considerations that you may personally have, against at least some of these other options.
Current Camera Body
Sometimes we overlook our current camera body when considering the purchase of a new lens. Often there is little risk in doing so. At other times ignoring your current camera body can be problematic. When considering a relatively long and heavy lens (in M4/3 terms) like the M.Zuiko 100-400, the camera body you are planning to use with it, is an important factor.
It can be quite uncomfortable and difficult to use a very small camera body with a larger, heavier lens. Additionally, there may be specific situations where the lens mount on a camera body may not be robust enough to handle the extra weight of a large, heavier telephoto zoom lens.
If you are currently using a smaller M4/3 body and have no plans to upgrade it, then looking at lenses like the M.Zuiko 75-300 (423 grams) or the Panasonic 100-300 (520 grams) can make a lot of sense.
If you are already using a double gripped camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M1X or have an add-on grip for your current M4/3 camera body, then you likely won’t experience any issues pairing it up with the M.Zuiko 100-400.
That’s not to say that you couldn’t use cameras such as the E-M1 Mark II or Mark III without a grip with the M.Zuiko 100-400. You certainly could. If you are planning to use that lens for extended periods of time, it would probably be less tiring to do so with an add-on grip.
Size and Weight
How well you will be able to effectively use a lens like the M.Zuiko 100-400 will depend on your physical capabilities, as well as your experience level shooting with long focal length lenses.
When I owned my full frame Nikon D800 I used it with a Tamron 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 zoom. That combination weighed about 2.9 KG. In a continuous shooting situation, like photographing at an air show, I was able to handhold that gear for about 3 hours straight before I’d feel some fatigue setting in.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 paired with my E-M1X weighs about 2.1 KG without the tripod collar. I already know that I can shoot all day long without any issues when using my E-M1X with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8 (with tripod collar) and MC-20 teleconverter. That combination weighs about 100 grams less than the M.Zuiko 100-400 (without collar). So, if I decided to purchase the M.Zuiko 100-400 I would expect to be able to shoot with it all day long without any fatigue issues.
Suffice to say that it is important to consider your physical capabilities when contemplating the purchase of a longer and heavier lens like the M.Zuiko 100-400.
Flexibility in the Field
I have always preferred zoom lenses for photography, and typically only used prime lenses for client video work. Whether a lens like the M.Zuiko 100-400 is a better choice for you than the M.Zuiko 300 f/4 is really a personal decision.
Going with the 300 f/4 prime would provide better overall image quality, albeit with less flexibility in the field. From a size and weight perspective there isn’t much difference between the two lenses. The M.Zuiko 300 f/4 would likely cost about 60-70% more depending on local pricing in your area.
Choosing between the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 and the Panasonic 100-400 f/4-6.3 poses more of a conundrum for many photographers. On the wide end of the zoom the Panasonic lens is 2/3 of a stop brighter. That lens is smaller and about 135 grams lighter. Depending on the local market, there isn’t a huge difference in cost.
Folks who are already shooting with a Panasonic body may prefer staying within the brand family. Owners of Panasonic cameras may still want to consider the M.Zuiko 100-400 since this lens accepts both the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters which extend the usability of the lens considerably.
There is a trade-off of course. Using the MC-14 extends the maximum efov of the M.Zuiko to 1120 mm at f/9. The MC-20 provides an efov of 1600 mm at f/13. The Panasonic 100-400 cannot be used with teleconverters.
As an Olympus owner who already is shooting with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8, the Panasonic’s f/4 aperture on the wide end of the zoom is a complete non-issue for me. I can shoot one stop faster at f/2.8 from 100 to 150 mm of the Panasonic’s zoom range by using my M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8. Even when using the MC-20 teleconverter I’d still have a 1/3 stop advantage over the Panasonic 100-400 on the long end of the zoom, albeit with an efov of 600 mm, rather than 800 mm.
It was instructive for me to look at my usage of my 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 as it represents a good parallel in terms of my likely use of a lens like the M.Zuiko 100-400. In almost 7 years of use I cannot remember ever using that lens at its widest focal length. In fact, there were very few times that I ever used that lens at local lengths less than 240 mm (efov ~650 mm). So for me, the fact that the Panasonic lens has an aperture of f/4 at the wide end is inconsequential.
As noted in Petr Bambousek’s review, the M.Zuiko 100-400 has a distinct advantage over the Panasonic 100-400 when both lenses are used at close focusing distances. In this situation the M.Zuiko 100-400 provides noticeably more image magnification than the Panasonic zoom when used at the same close focusing distance.
At 400 mm, when close focused, the Panasonic provides the same subject magnification as the M.Zuiko 100-400 lens does at 342 mm when shot from the same close focusing distance. So, if you like to photograph dragonflies and insects at close focusing distances, the Olympus has an definite advantage. Adding a teleconverter would further increase the M.Zuiko 100-400 advantage for this type of photography.
Olympus owners have an interesting conundrum of their own when it comes to the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3. Does it make sense to buy that lens if you are already shooting with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and own the MC-20 teleconverter?
The deciding factor for many Olympus owners may come down to the importance of the additional reach of the M.Zuiko 100-400, especially when teleconverters are considered. If it is important for you to have an efov of 1120 mm at f/9, or 1600 mm at f/13, then the M.Zuiko 100-400 could be a very good purchase decision.
IPX-1 Weather Sealing
The M.Zuiko 100-400 has been tested and rated to IPX-1 weather sealing standards. Anyone who regularly photographs birds and nature subjects in inclement weather will appreciate how important this level of weather sealing is in terms of lens durability and the emotional confidence one has when in the field.
Concern about not offering Sync-IS
There seems to be at least some concern that the M.Zuiko 100-400 does not offer Sync-IS. For me this is of absolutely no concern whatsoever. If you’re like me and have been successfully shooting handheld with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8 with the MC-20 teleconverter at slower shutter speeds, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be successful shooting with the M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom with its in-lens IS turned off.
The M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 doesn’t have in-lens IS and the IBIS in my E-M1X handles camera shake easily when shooting at an efov of 600 mm when using the MC-20 teleconverter.
I appreciate that the efov of the M.Zuiko 100-400 is 200 mm longer… but keep in mind that when a teleconverter is used, IBIS is reduced by one stop in an Olympus camera body. I plan on turning off the in-lens IS with the M.Zuiko 100-400 and not even thinking about it, should I decide to buy that lens.
UPDATE: Rob Knight has done a YouTube video showing the impact of the IS on the M.Zuiko 100-400 compared to Sync-IS on the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 and the M.Zuiko PRO 300 f/4. While the in-lens IS doesn’t work quite as well as the Sync-IS, based on Rob’s field test it appears that the in-lens IS on the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 does help stabilize the lens better than the IBIS only. So, it would be recommended to use both IBIS and the in-lens IS.
Post Processing Skills
It may look odd to list post processing skills as a consideration for the M.Zuiko 100-400 lens. Given the aperture range of the lens (f/5-6.3) and the impact of using either the MC-14 (f/9) or MC-20 (f/13) teleconverters on aperture, there is a very good chance that using this lens will involve shooting at higher ISO values at least some of the time.
To get the most out of the M.Zuiko 100-400 you will need to have good post processing skills, as well as software that is very capable dealing with noise.
Should you wait for the M.Zuiko 150-400 f/4.5 TC1.25 PRO zoom?
When I first bought into the Olympus system a little over a year ago, the potential of owning the M.Zuiko 150-400 f/4.5 TC1.25 PRO zoom was part of my purchase criteria. That lens paired with an Olympus OM-D E-M1X looked to me like a killer combination for bird photography. And, it still does… especially when one considers the potential of using that combination with the soon-to-be-launched Olympus E-M1X Bird Subject Detection AI module.
Whether the M.Zuiko 150-400 PRO makes sense for a photographer comes down to a number of factors.
The first is size and weight. At this point we don’t know the exact specifications of the M.Zuiko 150-400 PRO. We can see a size comparison with the Panasonic 100-400. Given that we know the Panasonic zoom is 171 mm long, we could estimate that the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 will likely be in the 260-275 mm range.
As far as the weight of the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 zoom goes, we can assume a few things. The first is that the lens will be made of metal throughout, like other M.Zuiko PRO lenses. We can also assume a very sophisticated optical structure, along with internal zooming. Taking all of these factors into consideration, it appears logical to me that the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 TC1.25 will likely weigh in the 2 KG range… perhaps slightly more.
The image quality should be amazing. We can also assume that Sync-IS will be provided on that lens so it should be very effective to shoot handheld at long focal lengths. Given the complexity of the lens, and its very select target market, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was priced at least 35-50% more than the M.Zuiko PRO 300 mm f/4. If it was priced close to the M.Zuiko PRO 300 f/4 it would be a bargain on a relative basis.
Only you can decide if it makes sense for you to wait for the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 TC1.25. No doubt you will get somewhat better quality images than you would with the M.Zuiko 100-400. You’ll also get one additional stop of light which can make a difference when shooting in dimmer situations. And, when using the built-in 1.25X teleconverter in combination with the MC-20 teleconverter you will get additional reach… an efov of 2000 mm versus 1600 mm. And, with a 1/3 stop of light advantage at maximum efov (f/11 @ efov 2000 mm vs f/13 @ efov 1600 mm). When both lenses are used at an efov of 1600 mm, there would be a full stop advantage (f/9 to f/13) for the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 TC1.25.
The trade-off is additional size, weight and cost. For some photographers the additional weight and size may move the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 TC1.25 into monopod/tripod territory. Whether that is acceptable to you or not, is another personal decision.
Pending transfer of Olympus Imaging Division to JIP
I appreciate that some photographers have some concerns about this pending transaction and what it could mean for the future. On a personal basis I do not have any concerns. From my perspective, Olympus cameras and lenses offer photographers very unique capabilities and excellent value in the marketplace. There simply is nothing else that better meets my specific needs. From what I have been able to discern about the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 zoom lens from reviews done by professional photographers that I respect, I believe that Olympus has created another outstanding product.
How am I assessing the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3?
I’ve been bouncing back and forth assessing the relative benefits of the M.Zuiko 100-400 and the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 TC1.25. At the end of the day, my assessment scale is tipping towards the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3.
- Physical requirements. From a practical standpoint there is a huge difference between using a lens that weighs 1.12 KG handheld for extended periods of time, compared to a lens weighing 2 KG.
- Session duration time. I anticipate that I will be able to use the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 handheld for extended periods of time (i.e. continuously for 6-8 hours). I do not want to limit my shooting time to 3 hours of continuous shooting as was the case when I was using my previous D800/Tamron 150-600 combination.
- Potential monopod/tripod use. The thought of having to use a monopod or tripod because of the size/weight of a lens makes me feel ill. I don’t want to give up any degree of portability, or have to carry any more gear with me than is absolutely necessary.
- Travel considerations. It will be much easier for me to travel with the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 and still fit other pieces of kit in my mid-sized shoulder bag.
- Losing one stop of light. I can accept the trade-off of using a lighter, variable aperture lens, even if it gives me one stop less of light, i.e. f/4.5 compared to f/6.3, or f/9 compared to f/13 when used with the MC-20 teleconverter at an efov of 1600 mm.
- Image quality. As noted in Petr Bambousek’s article, while the M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 cannot be expected to deliver pro-level image quality, his assessment is that “this lens get pretty close”. I’m not a pixel peeper so Petr’s assessment on image quality… as well as work that I’ve seen from other pros who I respect… indicates the image quality that I can expect from this lens will more than meet my specific needs.
As noted in the opening paragraphs of this posting, hopefully this article has helped to clarify some M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 considerations, rather than obfuscate issues.
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