If it walks like a duck…
Yesterday evening I spent some time exploring the limits of the Olympus OM-D E-M5/Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 combo…
All of these images were created at focal lengths between 200mm and 260mm(400mm-520mm equivalent). Shutter speeds ranged from 1/250 to 1/320, just barely fast enough – though not every single time – to freeze any subject movement. ISO was 1600. Noise is pretty well controlled in these images. Just a tiny bit of noise control was used in Adobe Lightroom, mostly removing chroma noise. Subjectively speaking, I’d say the E-M5 performs quite well at ISO 1600, and is comparable to the best APS-C cameras. In fact, I’d say that these images display slightly lower noise and better retention of fine detail than the excellent Nikon D7000 at ISO 1600.
The E-M5’s 5-axis stabilization system worked well, though understandably not as well as it does with shorter focal lengths. The ability to consistently and rather easily create sharp images handheld at focal lengths over 400mm and 1/250 a second shutter speeds is impressive.
The E-M5’s autofocus system also performed well, though it occasionally locked on to brighter, high contrast objects behind the subject. The solution is to minimize the size of the focus box, to exclude anything but the subject itself. As I understand it, the new Olympus Pen cameras allow the user to permanently change the size of the focus box, whereas in the E-M5, the focus box reverts to it’s normal size when the camera is powered down. Hopefully Olympus can add this new feature to the E-M5 at some point via a firmware upgrade.
The Panasonic 100-300mm is quite sharp up to about 260mm, even wide open. There’s a tiny bit of softening in the corners, but nothing to worry about. In fact, this is somewhat preferable for a long telephoto lens. Beyond 260mm the lens softens a bit, especially wide open. However, the results are still more than respectable, and quite good for a budget telephoto lens. Beyond 260mm, stopping down a bit helps raise the center sharpness.
As good as the Panasonic 100-300mm is, the m4/3 system really needs a fast telephoto. At Photokina, Panasonic announced their intention to release a 150mm f/2.8 prime(300mm equivalent), and it can’t arrive a moment too soon. That will be an extremely useful lens. With any luck, either Panasonic or Olympus will also release a 1.4x teleconverter. Equally welcome would be a 300mm f/4, though my guess is that such a lens won’t appear until Olympus and Panasonic improve continuous autofocus performance. Again, the sooner the better.