New Extreme Zoom Lens Surprises - Looking Glass Owner Tries the M.Zuiko 100-400mm

Jen, owner of Looking Glass, has been shooting with the Olympus OM-D system for years. When she discovered that Olympus was coming out with a 100-400mm lens for the system, she was intrigued as it would be very useful for her when photographing nature. Olympus was kind enough to loan her the lens prior to its announcement, and she loved it. She captured everything from Titmouse birds and her dogs to new flowering plants and the bees that pollinate them. And as the title of this post states. she was pleasantly surprised at the "doors" this new lens opened to her in capturing these subjects.

The 100-400mm lens will be available in September (learn more about it here). Below, Jen answers some questions about her experience and results with the lens, as well as shares a few images from that day.

LGP: Let’s start with the basics: Who will love this lens most and why should they consider it?

Jen: Nature photographers should be very excited about this lens. So should folks who love capturing detail shots. Not only was I able to get closer to the many birds I photograph in my yard, I was also really surprised at the amount of macro-type work I was able to accomplish. I loved that I could get so close to my subjects while not necessarily needing to be too close. As an example for macro, when photographing bees in detail, it sure seemed a lot safer that I could be standing three feet away from them as opposed to right over them. I think I tricked them into thinking I was minding my own business, when all along they were my muse and subject.

LGP: When using the lens’ minimum and maximum focal lengths, how did your resulting images turn out?

Jen: I lean toward using the maximum focal length, when considering the subject matter I use this type of lens for (i.e., birds and wildlife). From what I can see in my test of the lens, using the maximum focal length did not impact the sharpness of my resulting image. Nor did my images show any distortion along the edges, etc. And the bokeh! See for yourself in the image of the Ginkgo tree leaves.

LGP: Did you try a teleconverter? Which one and why?

Jen: I sure did! And now, I've been converted by a teleconverter. Until this test, I had not really considered using a teleconverter. That has now definitely changed. I chose to use the MC-14 1.4X teleconverter. The 1.4x ups the 400mm focal length to 560mm, which is a whopping 35mm equivalent of a 1,120mm focal length. This is super helpful for me, as a lot of the subjects I want to focus on are small - whether an insect or a bird high in a tree, taking off into flight. The additional 1.4x allows me to get in real tight with my subject, capturing all those little details I love, whether it’s a bird’s wing or pollen on a busily working bee. And for those of you out there wondering, the teleconverter did not have an impact on the resulting images I captured with it. It is important to note that with the teleconverter, the maximum aperture of the lens is changed. I couldn’t open it as wide with the teleconverter. For example, at 400mm, the lens has max aperture of f/6.3. With the teleconverter, I believe it was f/9.

LGP: How was hand-held shooting?

Jen: Let's start with feel. For me, the feel of the lens’ weight is comparable to using the 300m PRO f/4. It's easy to hold and hand shoot with, but I did experience fatigue when holding the lens up waiting for a bird to take flight. While the lens is small and lightweight for what it is, it still definitely has some heft to it. And relative to comparable lenses from other manufacturers, the difference in size and weight is significantly less.

Also important, the image stabilization is solid! To be honest, it needed to be. Shooting at a focal length over 1,100mm (35mm equivalent), the camera/lens has to lock on the subject with a much smaller aperture than I would like (specifically, f/9). At f/9, the shutter speed needs to slow to let in more light. And we all know that slow shutter speeds can emphasize camera shake when hand-held. But no worries - the stabilization accounted for and eliminated any camera shake issues!

When I needed high shutter speeds for photographing movement (bees and birds), I boosted the ISO. Good thing the Olympus OM-D system handles this really well, and my images still came out super sharp.

LGP: How about overall lens speed?

Jen: At times, I did catch the lens seeking focus. However, this is not unusual for a lens like this, but figured I should mention it. If this would be a problem for you, the 300mm PRO f/4 (a more substantial investment than the 100-400mm) helps alleviate the issue, but does not deliver the versatility of the 100-400mm’s focal length range. I also tried the lens in highly shaded areas and it performed great. As I mentioned before, I was really impressed with how physically close I could get to my subject and still have sharp focus. 

LGP: Do you have any final thoughts for interested readers?

Jen: I’ve never been a shooter of 100-400mm lenses, as I’ve always leaned toward primes in most of my shooting. When I tested this side by side with my 300mm f/4, and then went through all my shots on my computer, my mind was blown. Not only did I have more ‘keepers’ with the 100-400, but the lens produced that creamy bokeh (a signature of Olympus M.Zuiko) with a beautiful short depth of field and tack sharp focal plane at the extreme ends of the range. This lens is a winner for anyone needing longer focal lengths with zoom versatility. And, apparently, adding a teleconverter to extend what your long lenses are capable of is also a beautiful thing that I never knew I needed until I tried it :)

Jon Freel
11 Aug 2020
thanks for your thoughts. have you had experience with the pl 100-400mm . if so, how would you compare the oly to the pl?
08 Aug 2020
David Tabb
Thanks Jen. I find your user comments much more useful than the Olympus Ambassadors on usability. The trade off between the 300mm and this lens is a keeper as well as your views on the weight. I’ll have to try it out on my EM 5-3 to feel it feels too heavy.
Leave a comment