Saturday, 2 January 2016

Long lenses coming

I a few days time, two more long lenses will be announced. On January 5-6th, Oympus and Panasonic will launch their new premium telephoto lenses:


These are ultra long tele lenses, and not something you would buy unplanned, and bring along casually. Rather, people who buy lenses like this usually need them for specific applications, for example photographing sports or wildlife. They are not suited for casual snapshots.

With these lenses coming, it can be interesting to take a look at some other long lenses for comparison.

Most long lenses are, well, long. With the common construction, a telephoto lens needs to be physically long. However, some lenses avoid this, by using various tricks. Below are two 300mm lenses:



The Nikon lens, at 150mm (6 inches) long, sure looks like a long lens. However, by using a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens it achieves the 300mm focal length with a 30% shorter physical length than its predecessor lens. Canon also use the same trick, but calls their lenses "Diffractive Optics" (DO).

The Tokina lens, on the other hand, is not long at all. This is because of the Reflex construction, which relies on reflections from mirror surfaces, rather than refractions inside glass elements, which is the norm.

So why aren't all tele lenses mirror reflex lenses? They have serious shortcomings, for example an appalling contrast when there are strong light sources. Read more about this in my review.

Also, the Tokina lens is manual focus only. The focus ring is really nice: Well dampened, and it has a very long travel range, making fine tuning of the focus easy.

But can you manually focus a tele lens without a tripod anyway? Modern cameras have various tricks to help you, like magnified view or focus peaking. I tested the lens on the Lumix GH4 and Olympus E-M5 II to see how it went:



The Lumix GH4 has focus peaking, however, it never really kicks in when using the Tokina reflex lens. Also, with the very long reach, it is hard to hold the camera stably enough to focus. The magnified view does help, though.

The Olympus E-M5 II has in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which operates when you half press the shutter. However, half pressing the shutter also messes up the focus peaking and magnified view. The focus peaking does help to find the right focus, though, and you can see in the video that it does toggle on and off when I have the shutter half pressed.

Even if this is a manual lens, it does have electrical contacts. These transfer the focal length (so you don't need to set it manually), and they report to the camera when you operate the focus ring, so that it can give you the focus aids automatically.

But the bottom line is that to focus this lens manually in a reliable way, a tripod is needed. With the focus peaking and IBIS, the Olympus E-M5 II was the best camera here, though.


Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO


Unusually for Olympus, this lens is expected to have optical image stabilization (IS). Olympus typically relies on in-body image stabilization only (IBIS).

I would guess that they add image stabilization to make the lens more usable for Panasonic camera users, and also because IBIS may have shortcomings with so long lenses.


It is natural to compare this lens with the other 300mm f/4 lens discussed above, the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF VR. Of course, the Olympus lens can only be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras, where it becomes equivalent to 600mm.

The Nikon lens, on the other hand, can be used on fullframe FX cameras, where it is, naturally, 300mm. On crop DX DSLRs, it corresponds to 450mm, and finally, you can use it on Nikon 1 one inch sensor CX cameras, where it becomes equivalent to 810mm. Read more about using this lens as an ultra long 810mm tele lens here.

Also in the table below, you'll find the older Olympus 300mm f/2.8 Four Thirds tele lens. This can be used with an adapter on Micro Four Thirds cameras. Note, however, that the Olympus E-M1 is the only M4/3 camera to autofocus this lens reliably, as it is, at the time of writing, the only M4/3 camera to use Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) technology.

LensOlympus 300mm f/4 IS PRONikon 300mm f/4E PF VROlympus 300mm f/2.8 Four Thirds
PriceEUR2600/US$2500US$2000US$7000
Equivalent focal length600mm450mm (on DX), 810mm (on CX)600mm
Minimum focus distance1.4m1.4m2.4m
Length227mm148mm281mm
Diameter93mm89mm129mm
Filter thread77mm77mmNA
Weight1478g755g3290g
Optical image stabilizationYesYesNo

Looking at this comparison, the Olympus lens does look quite large, heavy, and expensive, compared with the similarly specified Nikon lens.

Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Power OIS



The upcoming Lumix lens has a maximum equivalent reach of 800mm. This makes it natural to compare with the Nikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, which corresponds to 190-810mm on the Nikon 1 system. It is seen below together with the previous longest Lumix lens, the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6:



The Lumix G 100-300mm is not a bad lens, but somewhat uninspiring, perhaps, in the long end. See my review here.

The Nikon lens, on the other hand, is very good. It is currently the best choice for those who want a compact, ultra long lens, in my opinion. Read about my experience here.

LensLeica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Power OISNikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6
PriceUS$1800US$1000US$500
Equivalent focal length200-800mm190-810mm200-600mm
Minimum focus distance1.3m1.0m1.5m
Length172mm108mm126mm
Diameter83mm73mm74mm
Filter thread72mm62mm67mm
Weight985g560g520g
Optical image stabilizationYesYesYes


Again, just like with the new Olympus lens, Panasonic's lens does look quite large, heavy and expensive, compared with the competition.

One quite good news about the Lumix/Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 is that the maximum aperture remains quite large through the focal length. Here is a comparison of the three lenses above:


This tells us that the Lumix/Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 OIS has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at 300mm (600mm equivalent), which is better than I had expected. Most ultra long lenses like this close down quite fast as you zoom in, like the Nikon lens above.

Conclusion


I think these lenses will be popular among people who are already fans of the Micro Four Thirds system. However, with the specifications and prices, I have a hard time seeing that they can bring a lot of new people into the system.

Micro Four Thirds has never been the first choice for wildlife and sports photographers, and for good reasons: While the autofocus has become very fast for non-moving subjects, it is nowhere near the performance expected by professionals for continuously moving subjects.

With no M4/3 cameras using PDAF technology with M4/3 sensors, I don't think this is going to change yet. The CDAF technology is still not good enough, even if Panasonic is developing their "Depth From Defocus" (DFD) image processing.

Professionals and enthusiasts go with what they know works, and for sports and wildlife, Micro Four Thirds does not so much have a proven track record.

Panasonic is introducing a technology to scan through a range and capture images at different focus distances ("Post Focus"). This may help for some static subjects, but for sports, it doesn't help at all.

You will get a lot more "bang for the buck" by going for Nikon or Canon here, rather than the new Micro Four Thirds lenses.

I think these lenses can allow Micro Four Thirds to get a presence in a new market segment, but probably at a rather high initial development cost.

Micro Four Thirds is a very good system for ultra wide angle and fisheye lenses. See this comparison, for example. But for ultra long lenses, I think it is not the best system today.

6 comments:

  1. > With no M4/3 cameras using PDAF technology with M4/3 sensors, I don't think this is going to change yet.

    Umm.. the E-M1 does use PDAF, even with some M4/3 lenses, as long as you use C-AF.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a friend who shoots birds and he uses APSC Canons and that would have to be my choice too if I were doing wildlife and/or sports. But the new Oly and Pany lenses certainly look like they could change the equation when the focusing gets as good as Canon's. I shot a 600D (which is an ASPC Canon) before I went M4/3 and even though my new EM-10 mark 2 seems quicker than my original EM-5 neither come close to the now quite dated autofocus on the 600D. I would have evaluate EM-1's very carefully before putting out the extra money for the body to pair it with with either of these two new lenses. Fortunately I am saved by the limitations of a modest pension and a lack of interest from such expensive indulgences. To indulge my infrequent urges for telephotos the focus peaking on the EM-10 Mark 2 makes 600mm equivalent focal lengths quite focusable off a monopod if the ISO is allowed to go to 800-1600.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As long as you use a tripod or monopod, and focus on an object which is not moving, I would say that you don't need the best in terms of focus speed. Where the higher end Canon and Nikon DSLR equipment really excel, is when you are photographing fast moving objects with a long lens.

      But as you say, quality long lenses are very expensive. Being happy using older equipment on a tripod or monopod is certainly the best, financially, and it can be very rewarding too.

      Delete
  3. Yes, my interest in telephotos was stimulated when a friend gave me an 80-200 Soligor in Pentax mount and I discovered it was quite controllable handheld but not really long enough to pull abstract patterns out of land or cityscape. Nor is it particularly sharp and goes for about $15-$20 on eBay. So I picked up a 100-300 Tokina in Nikon mount for $150 which is sharper but requires the monopod, but allows me to explore the kinds of effects that interest me at a bargain price. Perhaps i will move onto other lenses..or not, but the focus peaking and the Oly in body stabilization make the experience very controllable and enjoyable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it should be interesting to compare E-M1 + 300mm f4 vs GX8 + Metabones Canon EF to MFT Smart Adapter + Canon 300mm f/4. Let's start...

    Price comparison:

    Lens $ 1349.00
    Adapter $ 399.00
    Total $ 1748.00

    Oly lens $ 2500.00

    WINNER: Canon + Adapter

    * In addition to the Adapter you can buy Metabones Canon EF SpeedBooster without spending more than $2500 and obtaining a more versatile solution with a 210mm f2.8 (0,71x).

    Weight comparison:

    Lens g 1190.00
    Adapter g 160.00
    Total g 1350.00

    Oly Lens g 1270.00

    WINNER: Olympus (-80g)

    * Not a huge difference here

    Dimension comparison:

    Canon + Adapter
    Max. diameter 90 mm
    Length 246 mm (221+25)
    Filter 77 mm

    Olympus
    Max. diameter 93 mm
    Length 227 mm
    Filter 77 mm

    WINNER: Olympus (-19mm in Length) Canon (-3mm in diameter)

    * No clear winner here, differences are negligible

    Autofocus comparison: ?
    Resolution comparison: ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Olympus lens is probably easier to use than the Canon lens on adapter: Somewhat faster focus, and hybrid IS/IBIS.

      But I think the Olympus lens will appeal mostly to people who are already fans of Micro Four Thirds only.

      Delete