I’ve had the new Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 (B&H | Amazon) for a few days now, and I finally was able to take it out and photograph some wildlife. I took the lens, paired with my E-M1X, to Blandford Nature Center, where I knew I’d see at least a few animals.
While a lot of photographers will think this is a great birding lens, it’s a great, affordable choice for anyone photographing any type of wildlife.
One of my favorite Olympus lenses is the 300mm f/4 PRO. The sharpness and compression combines to create some really stellar image quality, whether you’re photographing landscape details or alligators in Costa Rica.
With the 100-400mm, Olympus took the footprint of the 300mm and put its optics into a telephoto zoom body, providing a versatile reach to photographers. While it’ll undoubtedly be compared to the Lumix 100-400mm, the Olympus version certainly holds its own and is very similar.
The lens feels great and well-balanced in the hands, on both my E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III cameras. The zoom ring was a little slow in my opinion, but nothing you can’t get used to. The fact that the lens protrudes as much as it does when zoomed in might look a little strange to the everyday observer, but it doesn’t take long to get used to.
- Aperture: f/5 – f/22
- Minimum focus distance: 4.27 feet / 1.3 meters
- Optical design: 21 elements / 15 groups
- Diaphragm blades: 9, rounded
- Image stabilization: Yes
- Filter size: 72mm
- Dimensions: 3.4 x 8.1 inches
- Weight: 2.46 pounds
During my time using the Olympus 100-400mm, I was pretty impressed with what it could do. Focusing was pretty fast and, for the most part, spot on. It was able to keep up with burst shooting (as long as I could follow my subject’s movements). Images were crisp and of great quality.
If you’re in the great outdoors with some decent light, the lens should have no problem hitting your targets. I photographed a couple of goats and other animals, and even as they moved around it focused very well, to the point where I thought I was photographing with a much more premium lens.
Focusing was a bit slower when there wasn’t as much light or contrast available, as shown below with these shots of a falcon and owl in their cages. It would often lock on the cages behind them for focus, instead of the birds. My hit rate in this scenario wasn’t quite as high as I had hoped for.
Still, I was able to get some decent shots. Though, due to its f/5 maximum aperture, I had to really boost my ISO in those darker areas.
In terms of things like bokeh, I was pleasantly surprised. I talked earlier about the compression look you get with the 300mm f/4 PRO, and the 100-400mm rivals that look. For a micro four-thirds lens, it really looks quite artistic and blurs the background nicely, even at higher apertures.
Problems with focus and recompose?
One thing I did see was a potential issue using the center focus point to focus and recompose. I tried this experiment several times, at different apertures and focal lengths. When zoomed out completely to 100mm, it seemed to lose focus just ever so slightly while recomposing.
You’ll see what I mean in the photos below, where I focused on the front blackberry. The photo on the left is with the blackberry right in the center of the frame, with focus tack sharp. The photo on the right is once I recomposed the image. You’ll see that the focus didn’t follow that blackberry. Both of these were taken at 100mm at f/5.
I tried this with a few different focal lengths (which bumped up the aperture), and while it was still prevalent, it wasn’t as obvious an issue. Still, it’s something to keep in mind if you rely on focus and recompose like I do.
This is something I’ll be testing further in the coming weeks. Olympus has had issues with focus and recompose with past lenses, and they’ve fixed them relatively quickly via a firmware update. Here’s to hoping they do the same here.
For me, it’s kind of a toss-up with this lens. The image quality is really nice, and it’s great to have a lens with the amount of reach that it has. If you’re a wildlife or bird photographer, it’s definitely something to consider.
But it falls a bit short for me when it comes to autofocus — primarily with the focus and recompose method. I might sound a bit old school saying that, but seeing a little softness in the photos when doing this is a bit disappointing. If they can fix that issue, this lens is a winner. And I think Billy would agree.