The Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO, M4/3’s Secret Weapon?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Frank Smith, Olympus E-M1 with M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO lens.

The new Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 is the largest, heaviest and most expensive M4/3 lens to date and this is causing some to say that this lens goes against everything that the M4/3 system stands for. I disagree with that. Yes this lens is big and heavy and expensive and it is certainly not for everyone. But you have to discuss this lens in context. This lens is a wildlife photographer’s dream come true. It has the equivalent field of view of a 600mm f/4 on a full-frame camera yet it is about 1/4th the size, weight and price of those lenses. Additionally, this is one case where the increased depth-of-field of M4/3 is a bonus because using such long focal lengths at large apertures gives you razor thin DOF and makes getting sharp shots more of a challenge.

But read this interview with Frank T. Smith (with some stunning pictures like the one above). As he says, the magic of this lens and the M4/3 system is that it enables you to make shots you would never get otherwise. On his trip through the jungles of Panama and Costa Rica with National Geographic, his fellow photographers were so impressed with his kit that they requested a presentation at the end of the trip.

Canon 600mm F4
Canon 600mm F4

Bottom line is that if you’re going to go hiking through dense jungle, you’re most likely not going to lug-around that huge 600mm lens and tripod. If you do, then you’re not going to venture off-trail much at all, and if you do, then when you see something like a Scarlet Macaw, by the time you setup your camera/lens/tripod, you will almost certainly have lost the shot. But most likely is that you would leave your 600mm behind and only use your 70-200mm zoom, which would severely limit your telephoto reach.

Olympus-300mm f4
Olympus 300mm f4 (600mm Equivalent)

Contrast that with the far smaller and lighter Olympus 300mm f/4 which you can easily carry on a shoulder strap and have ready at any moment as it is similar in size and weight to a 70-200 f/2.8 pro zoom. This gives you a kit that can be easily hand-held and thanks to Olympus’ amazing 5-axis image stabilization and the lens’ sharpness you can use it wide-open at unheard of shutter speeds. This type of lens allows you to make shots you can only dream of with your average full-frame kit. That’s assuming you can even afford that 600mm f/4 in the first place as it costs 5x what the Olympus 300mm lens costs. With the Olympus you can also add the 1.4x converter which shows no perceptible loss of sharpness and gives you a hand-holdable 840mm f/5.6. Unheard of reach at that price and size, and all that in a portable and hand-holdable package!

So look at Smith’s pictures in the article and think about the implications of such a small kit for wildlife photographers. Think about using this lens in the jungle vs a 600mm. Viewed in this context, the M.Zuiko 300mm f/2.8 is completely in keeping with the MFT values of small size and lightweight. Everything is relative!

Check the reviews of the amazing Olympus M.Zuiko 300 f/4 IS PRO:

EDIT 30/6/2016: Lenstip just reviewed this lens and they are positively drooling.