This article shares my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS hands-on review, and features a wide selection of images captured with this lens. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, this is not a gear review website. I only do reviews of camera equipment that I actually own and use.
So, this M.Zuiko 100-400 review is based on first-hand experiences as an owner of this particular zoom lens. Since receiving it in late November, I’ve been out in the field regularly, capturing thousands of photographs, in a range of conditions.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens is an important addition to the M.Zuiko family of lenses. Providing an equivalent field-of-view of 200-800 mm, this lens fills a gap between the M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom (efov 150-600 mm) and the M.Zuiko PRO 300 mm f/4 IS prime (efov 600 mm).
Comparatively lightweight at 1.12 KG (~2.47 lbs.) without the tripod collar, the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm will appeal to a wide range of photographers. With a suggested list price of $2,200 Cdn this is not an inexpensive lens, but does offer photographers excellent value given its capabilities.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom is weathersealed to IPX1 standards and is compatible with both the M.Zuiko MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters. This increases the efov to 280-1120 mm @ f/7-9 and 400-1600 mm at f/10-13 respectively.
It has a minimum focusing distance of 1.3 metres (~4.27 feet). This minimum focusing distance is consistent throughout the zoom range and is not affected by the use of teleconverters. When coupled with the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter this zoom lens is capable of achieving equivalent image magnification of 1.15X when fully extended.
I won’t be covering all of the specifications in this M.Zuiko 100-400 review as this technical information is readily available. It should be noted that the M.Zuiko 100-400 features a complex optical design which includes 4 ED lenses, 2 super HR lenses and 2 HR lenses. These are contained in its overall design of 21 elements in 15 groups, and which also includes ZERO Coating. Resulting image quality is excellent.
The combination of its comparatively light weight, IPX1 weather-sealing, compatibility with teleconverters, image quality, and short minimum focusing distance make the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom an incredibly versatile photographic tool.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS feels solid in hand. While the zoom ring operates very smoothly, it is noticeably stiffer than those found on M.Zuiko PRO zoom lenses like the 40-150 mm f/2.8.
This isn’t a personal gripe, but simply an observation. The manual focusing ring is silky smooth. The removable and reversible lens hood does its assigned job, and would be reasonably affordable to replace should the need arise.
All switches operate with self-assured clicks and feel well constructed. Overall the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS feels solid and very well engineered, as I have come to expect of the other M.Zuiko lenses in our kit. Very little appears to separate this lens from ones designated as M.Zuiko PRO offerings, other than having a variable aperture and non-IS-Sync image stabilization.
Handling & Ergonomics
The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 handles very well and feels perfectly balanced on my E-M1X body. Owners of other camera bodies may want to use them with an add-on grip.
There are three switches on the left-hand side of the lens barrel. From top to bottom on the lens barrel they control the 3 position AF Limiter, AF/ MF selector, and In-Lens IS. All are easily accessed with the left thumb of a photographer and are spaced sufficiently apart for easy identification and use.
The 3-position AF Limiter switch has 1.3 to 6 metre, 1.3 metre to infinity, and 6 metre to infinity options. I strongly recommend using the AF Limiter switch as appropriate. It makes a noticeable difference in how quickly the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom acquires focus, and avoids focus hunting.
Other than doing some simple tests, I haven’t had the need to switch from Auto Focus (AF) into Manual Focus (MF). The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm acquires focus fast and reliably in a range of lighting conditions.
While a long telephoto lens weighing in at 1.12 KG (~2.47 lbs.) may seem heavy, it is 0.7 to 1.2 KG lighter (~1.5 to 2.6 lbs.) than full frame lenses of a similar nature.
When I used to shoot with full frame camera gear my birding kit weighed about 2.95 KG (~6.5 lbs.). I could shoot handheld continuously for about 3 hours before arm fatigue would be noticeable.
By comparison my E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm weighs about 2.1 KG (~4.6 lbs.) without the tripod collar, and 2.3 KG (~5 lbs.) with it attached. This weight reduction is significant and has allowed me to shoot continuously with my E-M1X and M.Zuiko 100-400 mm combination for 6-7 hours without any signs of fatigue.
Using the tripod collar without a tripod.
The lens mount on my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS has a little bit of rotational movement when the focal length is adjusted. Olympus Technical Support officially advised me that this slight movement is normal and will not affect the operation of the lens.
I originally removed the tripod collar from my lens as I always shoot handheld and had no apparent reason to leave the tripod collar attached to the barrel of the lens.
After receiving the information from Olympus Technical Support I decided to attach the tripod collar to see if I could use it to reduce or eliminate the rotational torque on the lens mount. In the long term I feel this is probably better to help reduce potential wear and tear on the camera mount.
In the photograph above you can see how I now hold my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm lens with two fingers hooked onto the tripod foot. This stabilizes the lens quite well and allows the zoom ring, or manual focusing ring to be used without causing rotational torque at the lens mount. I loosen my grip on my E-M1X body slightly when adjusting the focal length. This allows the rotational torque to be absorbed by the tripod collar and the lens barrel.
While using this approach I discovered another advantage in using the tripod collar in this manner. Rather than having to use two partial wrist twists to move the focal length of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm lens from 100 mm to 400 mm, I can now use one, downward pull of my thumb against the zoom adjustment ring to fully extend the lens. A single thumb push upwards shortens the focal length. These moves are possible because the tripod foot is anchoring the lens in the palm of my hand. The low profile of the tripod foot makes the thumb adjustments possible.
This increases the speed at which I can adjust the focal length of the lens, and allows me to frame my compositions much quicker. Using this technique is especially helpful when using teleconverters with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. It allows a photographer to start with the zoom lens in a collapsed, or partially collapsed, position. This makes it much easier to find an incoming bird-in-flight in the viewfinder, then very quickly zoom in on the subject bird with a single downward thumb movement.
I have large hands so folks with a smaller finger spread may not be able to get a full extension/retraction with the same type of thumb movement that I’m using.
The auto-focusing of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS is very fast and accurate, even under lower light conditions. Using teleconverters doesn’t seem to have any significant effect on auto focusing performance. I was able to capture the image above with the subject bird only 2.8 metres away, and using an efov of 1004 mm.
The recent firmware upgrade with my E-M1X has added Bird Detection AI to my auto-focusing arsenal. I absolutely love this new technology and it is my default setting for perched birds and those on the ground, or in the water.
I have also been experimenting with it for birds-in-flight and have had some good, initial results using it. I published an earlier article illustrating how it performed with a gull flying directly at my E-M1X. Here is one image and a 100% crop from that article.
Learning any new technology takes some time, but I am very encouraged by the early results that I’ve been able to achieve. I have been using my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI as my default setting for birds-in-flight, and anticipate that I will become more proficient with it as I gain more experience.
I’ve also been doing some experiments that would fall under the category of “I wonder if this will work?” The image of the moon below is one such recent experiment. Completely on a whim I went out one night with my E-M1X fitted with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5.-6.3 IS along with the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter.
I don’t have any practical experience photographing the moon, but thought I’d give it a whirl. But, not just any photo of the moon. I decided to try capturing a Handheld Hi Res image. Atmospheric conditions were not the best as there was a faint haze present. My E-M1X was able to process a Handheld Hi Res image. I’ll have to do some research about proper handheld technique for moon photography! And then try some additional images on a crystal clear night.
I’ve found that the image quality of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5.-6.3 to be excellent and more than sufficient for my specific needs. I regularly shoot this lens wide open when fully extended, even when using M.Zuiko teleconverters. Here are a few sample images at various lens settings…
In-Lens Image Stabilization
Some folks in photography chat rooms seem to make a big deal that the In-Lens IS is not Sync-IS with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS. I suppose some people will always find something about which to whine. I view this In-Lens IS subject as a non-issue. It simply is what it is. The only thing that is important to me if whether I can use the lens at slow enough shutter speeds to meet my needs. I don’t really care how the lens is able to do that for me.
The photograph above was captured handheld at 1/10th of a second at a focal length of 400 mm (800 mm efov). My auto-focus point was placed on the tip of the berry. I’ve found that shooting handheld at 1/10th of a second with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 fully extended is the slowest shutter speed that I am comfortable using. Beyond that my likelihood of getting an in-focus image drops off quickly.
The 3 stops of In-Lens IS claimed in corporate advertising is a realistic expectation based on my use of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. Assuming good technique most folks should be able to use this lens fully extended at 1/125th of a second, and perhaps a bit slower. Personally, I’m quite comfortable using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm fully extended at 1/30th to 1/40th of a second.
At a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS fully extended, I’ve been able to get good results when using Handheld Hi Res mode.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming spring and summer seasons so I can try using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm to photograph butterflies, various insects, and flowers
I find it interesting that there isn’t very much noticeable difference in image stabilization performance when using my E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. Unless I am shooting at quite slow shutter speeds, the E-M1X’s IBIS handles things just as well as the In-Lens IS. When shooting at a typical shutter speed of 1/50 or faster, I usually have the In-Lens IS turned off. I do use the In-Lens IS at slower shutter speeds. The In-Lens IS can be a bit jittery at first. I’ve found that one or two rapid half-taps on the shutter release settles it down quickly.
I suggest that people experiment with their camera to determine whether they should use the IBIS in their camera on the In-Lens IS. This could vary by shutter speed, and with the use of teleconverters.
Use with Teleconverters
One of the biggest advantages of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 is that it is compatible with the M.Zuiko MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters. I have been using these teleconverters on a very regular basis. If I have enough light, you can bet that one of them will be attached to my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm.
I’ve been experimenting photographing birds-in-flight using both the MC-14 and MC-20 and have been pleased with the results I’ve been able to achieve thus far. It takes quite a bit of practice to get even modestly proficient in terms of eye/hand coordination.
I love the challenge of using teleconverters with M.Zuiko 100-400 mm as they significantly expand what is possible with bird photography.
Getting in tight with subject birds has always been my preferred approach. The MC-14 is much easier to use and this is the teleconverter that is most often affixed to my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. Here are a few additional sample images…
Use with Flash
I was intrigued to find out if I could use my Olympus FL-700WR flash with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom. Often telephoto zoom lenses are too long physically to be used effectively with flash units. Shadows from the end of the lens can appear in flash images rendering them useless.
I decided to do some simple tests in my backyard. After removing the lens hood, and attaching my MC-14 teleconverter I captured some simple test images just to see what would happen. As you can see from my test images, even shooting at subjects that were only 3.5 to 4.9 metres (11.5 to 16 feet) away were not an issue at all.
This further increases the functionality of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom. Often when photographing small birds in forested areas light can be a challenge. Being able to use fill-in flash helps to compensate for the aperture range of this lens in some situations.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens is a superb piece of photographic equipment. It provides great functionality in a relatively small, lightweight and reasonably affordable package. The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm offers a unique combination of size, weight, equivalent field-of-view, IPX1 weathersealing, a short minimum focusing distance, compatibility with teleconverters, and flash use.
For owners of M4/3 cameras, especially OM-D models, it is an enticing zoom lens. When I first bought into the Olympus camera system my telephoto lens interest was focused on the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 zoom. What I discovered was that the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm was a much better fit for my needs.
If there is such a thing as ‘birding heaven’ for my specific needs… I think I have found it. The combination of the E-M1X, M.Zuiko 100-400 mm, MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters, and incredible technology like Pro Capture and Bird Detection AI… just does the job in spades for me! There’s not much else to say…
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted where appropriate.
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