Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lumix 100-300mm vs Nikon 70-300mm

When Nikon launched their Nikon 1 mirrorless format, it was hard to understand why anyone should buy into it. The cameras were pricey, relatively large for a 1'' sensor, and did not have a good ergonomics.

With the launch of the Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, I think the format finally makes sense. This is the only 800mm equivalent lens which is truly portable and which can be handheld. It is a very good birders lens.

In my review of the Nikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, I was testing it with the Nikon 1 J1 camera, with a 10MP sensor. Since this time, I have acquired the Nikon 1 V3, which is a more suitable camera for a long lens, with the extra hand grip, and the EVF. The V3 also has 80% higher resolution, at 18MP.

With the V3 camera, I have re-run the sharpness tests. For the rest of the lens review, see my previous article.

I'm not sure if the image quality is better with the 18MP sensor in the Nikon 1 V3 camera. But the resolution is higher, which should make it better for an evaluation of the sharpness.

For a point of reference, I have compared the images from the 70-300mm lens with the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 on the Lumix GH4.

Both cameras with lenses are pictured below:

As you can see, the Nikon system is much smaller, and should be easier to bring along for trekking.

Both lenses are quite long tele zooms. They are usable for, e.g., spectator sports, wildlife, and birds. My original review was written from the point of view of using the lenses for taking pictures of birds, and I will continue along that line here.

At 300mm

When taking pictures of birds, reach is very important. Often, you will find yourself using the lens at the longest zoom setting. That is why I have compared them at 300mm, their maximum extension.

Keep in mind that with the smaller sensor of the Nikon 1 system, the Nikon lens at 300mm corresponds to an equivalent focal length of 810mm, while the Lumix lens at 300mm corresponds to 600mm equivalent focal length. Hence, the Nikon lens gives you a longer reach, a higher magnification. You may view that as unfair to the Lumix lens in the comparison, but I still think the tests makes some sense, from a bird photography point of view.

Here are two pairs of images taken at 300mm with both lenses. All the pictures were taken using a tripod, at the camera's base ISO. I used a 10s shutter delay to avoid camera shake, and I also used the electronic shutter to avoid shutter shock.

Nikon 70-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6Lumix G 100-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6
Nikon 70-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6Lumix G 100-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6

In the first pair of pictures, the focus was set on the blue sign. Here are 100% crops from the sign to better evaluate the image quality:

In this example, I think both lenses are doing a respectable job. The Nikon lens is perhaps the most sharp already wide open at f/5.6, while the Lumix lens can be seen to yield slightly sharped images as it is stopped down.

And from the second pair of images, I set the focus on the window frames. Here are 100% crops from the left part:

In this second example, I think we see the same pattern: Both lenses perform well, and the Lumix lens can be seen to improve a bit when stopping down.

At 200mm equivalent

In the short end of the zoom scales, the Nikon lens corresponds to 190mm, and the Lumix lens corresponds to 200mm equivalent. These are quite similar, which makes the comparison more fair. Here is a pair of example images:

Nikon 70-300mm @ 70mm f/4.5Lumix G 100-300mm @ 100mm f/4

And here are 100% crops from the lower left corner (click for a larger view):

In the short end of the zoom range, it appears that the Lumix lens had the upper hand. It is very sharp already at f/4, while the Nikon lens appears a tad bit more dull. Still, the Nikon lens is probably quite adequate for most uses.

Real life comparison

Here are two pictures of a pigeon, both taken at the same distance, at 300mm:

Nikon 70-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/400sLumix G 100-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/640s

And 100% crops from the image:

Again, I think the Nikon lens has the best sharpness. It is of course a bit unfair to compare them at different magnification, though.

Example pictures

These are JPEG images straight from the Nikon 1 V3 camera.

Compared with other long tele zoom lenses, the Nikon can focus quite close. This small bird was photographed at a distance of about 2m, too close for, e.g., the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3. The exposure parameters were 300mm, f/7.1, 1/100s, ISO 400:

The 100% crop shows an amazing level of details:

This was taken at 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/60s:

I think the picture shows that the Nikon 70-300mm has a very nice bokeh.

This 100% crop illustrates that the picture is not completely sharp. After all, it was taken at 1/60s, much too slow for a long lens like this, and even too slow to stop the bird's movement:

Here is a picture taken at 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/250s:

A 100% crop shows that it is sharp enough. Here, the problem was getting close enough to the bird.

One of the big advantages of the Nikon 1 V3 is the very quick autofocus, even for moving subjects. In this example, I was panning the camera, while following the path of the seagull. I used the AF-C focus mode, with the sensor spot focus mode, set 10FPS, and took a lot of pictures while panning.

I used ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/500s. In retrospect, I should probably have set the ISO even higher, to get a shutter speed of around 1/1000s, to stop the movement of the bird better:

This 100% crop shows that the bird is in fact in focus, quite impressive:

I tried to capture birds in flight with the Lumix camera/lens as well, but was not able to do so. I am sure it is possible, but it probably takes more effort, due to the relatively poorer autofocus for moving subjects.

Read more about photographing birds in flight (BIF) with the Nikon lens here.

The Nikon CX 70-300mm has an impressively short minimum focus range of about 1 meter. The enables macro images of insects from a comfortable distance. Here is an example, taken at 300mm, f/8, ISO 800, 1/400s:

And a 100% crop from the image:


The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 still performs very well on the higher resolution body Nikon 1 V3. I found that the sharpness was very good at 300mm, but not as good at the short end, 70mm. That is unusual, but not really a problem, since we would often use these types of lenses in the long end.

With the very capable PDAF system, and high frame rates, it is fairly easy to capture birds in flight with the Nikon setup. It is a very compact birders lens/camera.

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