Monday, 3 October 2011

Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6

The Panasonic Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega O.I.S. is a long tele zoom. This kind of lens would normally be used by people who are interested in photographing birds, wildlife, spectator sports, safaris, and so on.


More mature DSLR camera systems are, generally speaking, better suited for these applications. This is due to a better continuous autofocus, which is possible with the PDAF system used in DSLR cameras. Hence, people with these interests, are probably using Canon and Nikon cameras, rather than Micro Four Thirds. However, with the introduction of the Lumix G 100-300mm, M4/3 users have a possibility to check this out.

There is an alternative lens with a similar focal range as well, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7. The Olympus lens does not feature built in image stabilization, and for that reason it is not so well suited for use on Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras.

To see how this lens is different from the smaller tele zooms (Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6, Lumix X HD PZ 45-175mm f/4-5.6) and the superzoom (Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8), take a look at this diagram:


In this picture, we have the focal length as the x-axis, and the maximum aperture as the y-axis. What we see, is that the 100-300mm lens covers longer focal lengths, of course, but also that it achieves a larger maximum aperture where it overlaps with the other lenses. So using the 100-300mm lens gives you the possibility to get a faster shutter speed, and more selective focus than the other lenses, for longer focal lengths.

Build and ergonomics

At the time of writing, the Panasonic Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega O.I.S. tele zoom lens is the largest Micro Four Thirds lens available. It is a long tele zoom, and as you can see from the comparison below, it is significantly larger that the smaller brother Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6:


And the difference is even larger when the zoom is extended to the max:


The Lumix 100-300mm lens has a filter thread diameter of 67mm. This is larger than the Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8, which measures 62mm. The diameter of the front lens element is also larger with the 100-300mm lens.

Both lenses are supplied with hoods, and I recommend using them. The pictures above show the lenses without the hoods.

The Lumix 100-300mm lens appears to have a good build quality. Just like most Panasonic lenses, it has a metal lens mount, and the rest of the construction is based on various plastic compounds. I think this is a sensible material to use for such a lens.

Gripping the front end of the lens reveals that it is slightly loose, also when the zoom is not extended. This is normal for zoom lenses.

The zoom ring is a bit stiff, especially from the middle to long end of the zoom range. This makes smooth zooming very difficult. From what I have read, the zoom ring is a bit stiff on new lenses, and becomes smoother with use. So this doesn't worry me much. The zoom ring is covered with a ribbed rubber-like cylinder, which is thick and allows for a good grip.

The lens is heavy, heavier than the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 and Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8 lenses. I am using the lens on the Panasonic GH2 camera, and find that they go well together. It is fairly easy to hold the camera and lens due to the generous grip on the camera. With smaller M4/3 cameras, I think you might find the operation more difficult. Especially with cameras like the GF2 and GF3, which do not have any significant grip.

The zoom ring is wide and has a rubbery substance which makes it well suited for holding. It is natural to hold the camera with the right hand, and hold the left hand around the zoom ring. I found that I often touched the focus ring accidentally, causing the camera to go into focus assist mode with a zoomed view. However, half pressing the shutter button brings the camera back to the ordinary view mode, so this is no problem.

Autofocus

Just like the other Panasonic zoom lenses, the autofocus is very fast and silent.

One disadvantage with the smaller brother, the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6, is that it loses focus when zooming. The Lumix G 100-300mm lens is advertised to have some technology that makes it easier to retain focus during zooming. So does it mean that the lens is parfocal, that the focus is maintained when zooming? It looks like it is more parfocal, at least.

Here is a video example which illustrates the autofocus while zooming. The clip was recorded while holding the camera without using a tripod or any support. The distance to the squirrel was about 2m, close to the minimum focus distance of 1.5m. I started with the lens in 100mm, and zoomed slowly in to 300mm. Then I zoomed back out to 100mm:



What we see here, is that the focus is not perfect while zooming. It is not until I stop zooming at 300mm that the focus is regained perfectly, and then it takes a couple of seconds. The same can be seen when zooming out.

Of course, one should normally be careful zooming while video recording, since it is very difficult to zoom smoothly. But this video shows that perfect focus while zooming cannot be expected. Again, however, it is much better than when using the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 lens.

Image stabilization

I have not done any scientific studies, but to me it appears that the OIS is more efficient than the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 lens, especially during video recording.

Here is an example video, recorded handheld at 300mm. I left autofocus on. In retrospect, it would probably have been better to focus once, and then turn AF off. You can see that the focus is cycled now and then during the video, which is a bit distracting:



Note that the helicopter rotor blades look bent in the video. This is due to the rolling shutter effect.

I'm sure that with some practice, it should be easy to make less shaky videos.

Bokeh

Bokeh is the nature of the rendering of out of focus areas. When leaving some parts of an image out of focus, the rendering of these parts is important: While the photographer usually means to point the attention towards the areas that are in focus, a distracting bokeh can fool the viewer to spend more time looking at the background. So a smooth bokeh is important in blurring the areas that are out of focus, and not causing distractions.

Here are a couple of real life examples. From Washington Square Park, 150mm, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 1/320 second exposure:


By enlarging a part of it, we can study the bokeh more closely:


Here we see that there is some ringing around the highlights. This is not ideal, as it is distracting. In this example, I would say that the bokeh is not perfect, but it is not overly bad either.

Another example, 218mm, f/5.1, ISO 320, 1/500 second exposure:


Looking more closely at the out of focus rendering, it looks pretty normal:


Flare

The lens comes with a hood, and I recommend using it. The hood gives some protection against stray light coming from outside of the image circle (at 100mm focal length), and should reduce some flare problem.

Even with the hood, the lens can be negatively affected by flare, if there is a strong light source in the image frame, or just outside.

Here is an example illustrating this. It was taken at nine o'clock in the morning from East 43rd street 7th Avenue. The sun is just behind the Chrysler Building, and causes the clouds to be very bright (100mm, f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/2000 second):


This is a difficult situation for any lens, and especially a long tele lens. However, I would say the lens handles the backlight pretty well. The contrast is probably reduced a bit, but not much. And there is no significant ghosting or other negative effects.

Let's see how it goes at 300mm (f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/4000 second):


In this case, it looks like there is more significant loss of contrast due to flare. This is not unexpected: Generally it appears that flare is a larger problem the longer the lens is.

To see how the same building looks without the flare, let's view it from the other side, without the backlight (at 100mm and 300mm):


100mm, f/4, ISO 160, 1/2500 second.


300mm, f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/1600 second.

By looking at the difference between these images, it is clear that flare causes a significant loss of contrast, especially at 300mm focal lenght. Of course, the exposure of the building wall is not entirely similar in the two situations: In the backlit photos, the building is less exposed.

Sharpness

Enlarging the images of the Chrysler Building above makes it possible to do a quick assessment of the sharpness of the lens. This is from the image at 100mm, unsharpened (click for larger version):


And at 300mm, also unsharpened (click for larger version):


In these examples, I think the sharpness appears to be quite good, especially considering that they are taken at maximum aperture.

In this test, the lens comes out very well in a comparison between five lenses at 140mm.

In this sharpness comparison at 100mm, the 100-300mm lens comes out very well.

In this comparison, I show that the Lumix G 100-300mm lens is sharper than the Lumix G 45-200mm and Lumix G HD 14-140mm lenses.

Example images

Here are a couple of example images.

From Bronx Zoo, 223mm, f/5.1, ISO 250, 1/500 second:


From Williamsburg, 258mm, f/5.4, ISO 640, 1/125 second:


Both these images could benefit from being cropped a bit, but I show them here as the were taken.

Another example. It was taken at 300mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 160:


And here is a 100% crop from the centre of the image:


Video

Here is an example video recording of an air show.

Conclusion

This lens appears to tick all the boxes: It focuses quickly, it has effective OIS, it appears to be sharp and has good bokeh. And the price is not unreasonable.

So should you buy it? If you only want one tele zoom lens, then you should rather get the smaller brother, the Lumix G 45-200mm f/4-5.6 lens. Because it is smaller, lighter, cheaper, and most importantly, because it covers a focal length range that you are more likely to need on a daily basis.

The Lumix G 100-300mm lens, on the other hand, is a very long tele lens. Even in the short range of the zoom range, it already has a very narrow field of view. So it is a lens you would bring to special events, like sports, safari, and so on. It is not a lens you would normally leave on the camera while you walk around.

If you need a long tele lens, there are not really any alternatives to this lens. It's good then, that the Lumix G 100-300mm lens gives good image quality, at a reasonable price.


8 comments:

  1. I plan to visit Bosque del Apache in New Mexico in late December to film the morning "fly out" of thousands of birds. I've never shot any wildlife photos or video, but I'm considering the 100-300mm lens for my GH2.

    The area has a special spot known as the "Flight Deck" where photographers shoot. Most photos I've seen shot from there have a minimum focal length of 600mm (35mm). I will be facing the morning sun at dawn. Since I'll most likely be shooting at the max focal length of 300mm with the lens, would it improve quality to increase the contrast setting of the cam prior to shooting?

    Thanks.

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  2. That's a difficult question to answer. I think that the "common" answer is that you could record the photos in RAW file format. That way, you can adjust the contrast and curves later on your PC, to find the best settings for each photo.

    The contrast setting applies only to images that are processed in the camera, meaning JPEG images out of the camera.

    The contrast settings also apply to the video output, since the video is processed and compressed inside the camera.

    Beyond advising you to use the RAW file format for more choices later, I would recommend that you test the equipment in advance. Get up early in the morning at home, and try to photograph or video record something at 300mm. You don't need to find any birds, you coudl simply photograph trees against the backlit sunrise.

    Try different settings, and see what gives you the best output. Be sure to view the photos and videos on a PC at home for quality judgement, and not only the camera display.

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  3. Just a minor correction, the 14-140 has a 62mm filter thread, not 67mm.

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  4. Great review. I have been trying to find ways to abandon my E620 plus 70-300. I use it for flowers (at bontanic gardens) and butterflies (in 2 nearby butterfly houses), and the "macro" capabilities are excellent. Usually I set for 150mm and it focuses at about 33" and gives an equiv. 1:2 magnification.

    I now own a GH2 and am studying this 100-300 lens. Do you have any insights into its macro capabilites. I see in the specs that it can do pretty well but perhaps that is only at full zoom of 300mm. I am curious as to how it might do in the middle of its zoom range.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thank you.

    Peter F.

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  5. The Lumix G 100-300mm tele zoom lens is not really a macro lens. In the longest setting (300mm), it has a reproduction rate of approx 1:5, which means it can take a picture of an object with a diameter of five times that of the sensor. Hence, you can photograph an object which is around 6cm x 8cm at a distance of 1.5 meters with the lens set at 300mm. This could for example be a large butterfly.

    To set the lens at a smaller focal length than 300mm for macro does not make sense. At a smaller focal length, the reproduction rate becomes less impressive.

    I guess it is good for photographing fairly large butterflies and other insects at around 1.5 meter distance, which would not disturb them too much. Unlike the dedicated Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens, which forces you to move much closer to the insect.

    I haven't tried the lens for this kind of macro use, but I don't see that it shouldn't work well.

    You could also try the cheaper Lumix G 45-200mm lens, which, at 200mm can be used to photograph equally small objects, but at a 1 meter distance.

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  6. Late to this but I used this lens on my G2 on safari in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and was very pleased with it. I also have the 45-200 but this one was far more useful.

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  7. Thanks for the detailed review. Very helpful in guiding me in my next lens purchase.

    ReplyDelete