The Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is a high-performance telephoto lens built for the Micro Four Thirds system. This lens impressed me in every way, from sharpness to design, and its fast f/4.0 maximum aperture is good even in low light. In this review, I’ll go through my full experience with the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO and give you my recommendations if you’re considering this lens.
Handling and Build
The Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is a sturdy lens with 17 elements in 10 groups. The lens measures 8.94 inches (227 mm) long without the hood and weighs 3.24 lbs (1475 grams). The lens packs a powerful punch in a small package, with a full-frame equivalent focal length of 600mm.
An autofocus range switch is located on the side of the lens. It can be switched from 1.4-4m, 1.4m-infinity, and 4m to infinity. This helps limit any autofocus hunting behavior; I found it especially helpful when photographing subjects at close range. There is also an image stabilization switch on the side of the lens, as well as an LN-f function button.
The hood is extendable and attached to the lens, which is a design I love. I can easily fit the lens in my travel backpack with the hood retracted. With other telephoto lenses, I generally detach the hood and put it on reverse to pack in my camera bag, which is a slower design. This one only takes a second to deploy and is with you at all times.
The only handling flaw I noticed in my time with this lens involves the focus ring. The ring rotates very smoothly, but the lens easily switches from autofocus to manual-only by sliding the focus ring into the manual position.
Unfortunately, there is no lock to prevent the focus ring from sliding into manual focus position. I would frequently push the ring into the manual focus position by accident. I ended up missing some photos because of this – by the time I figured out why my autofocus wasn’t working, the opportune moment had passed! An AF/MF locking mechanism would greatly benefit this lens.
The Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is a prime lens fixed at 300mm. There are longer options available for Micro Four Thirds that reach up to 400mm. However, the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is so sharp and high performing it feels like it is over 300mm, simply because the increased sharpness allows more cropping compared to the Olympus 100-300mm f/4-5.6 that I previously used.
The 300mm focal length may not sound very long at first, until you consider the 2x crop factor and high pixel density of Micro Four Thirds – it’s a 600mm full-frame equivalent. However, keep in mind that crop factors also apply to aperture; so, using this lens is akin to using a 600mm f/8 on full-frame. I’m not complaining – that’s simply why this lens is so much smaller, lighter, and less expensive than a full-frame 600mm f/4.
The Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is admittedly an expensive lens. Does it’s performance make up for the high price tag?
The sharpness of this lens is truly a thing of beauty. Compared to other telephoto options for Micro Four Thirds I’ve used, the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO blows them out of the water in terms of sharpness.
There is a minute improvement in sharpness between f/4.0 and f/5.6 which is really only noticeable in lab-like conditions. I was able to take full advantage of the f/4.0 maximum aperture without worrying about paying a price in sharpness.
The lens was so sharp, I even found moire on birds feathers, an issue I’d never encountered before!
I’m very pleased with the bokeh this lens produces. It’s about as nice as one could desire for a Micro Four Thirds lens thanks to the rounded 9 bladed f/4.0 maximum aperture. As you can see in the photos throughout this review, out-of-focus backgrounds are smooth and not distracting, with round out-of-focus highlights.
The autofocus of the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is the fastest I’ve shot with on a Micro Four Thirds telephoto lens. Even as light becomes scarce, the lens is quick to grab focus.
On one hand, I was impressed with the autofocus on my Panasonic G-9. However, when I put the lens on my recently acquired OM-1, together they were unstoppable. The subject detection autofocus of the OM-1 with the lens’s quick autofocus made for the easiest bird photography of my life!
For good measure, I did a simple autofocus test with the OM-1 to see how long it took to focus from the minimum focusing distance to a distant wall. I did the same with the Olympus 100-400 f/5-6.3 and the Olympus 100-300 f/4-5.6. These are my results.
On average it took the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO 0.52 seconds to acquire focus. Interestingly, both the Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 and the Olympus 100-300mm (a relatively old copy, though) took 0.80 seconds on average to acquire focus. In other words, the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 is about 50% faster than my copies of these other lenses.
Use with Teleconverters
If 300mm is simply not enough reach, the Olympus MC-14 and Olympus MC-20 are both compatible with the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO. These teleconverters multiply the focal length by a factor of 1.4 and 2 respectively.
The drawback is they also affect the f-number. The maximum aperture becomes f/5.6 with the MC-14, and it’s f/8.0 with the MC-20. I found the sharpness of the lens to be good with the MC-14, but sharpness certainly took a hit with the MC-20.
Autofocus becomes slightly slower with the teleconverters, especially in challenging conditions. Again, in my tests, the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO on its own focused on the distant wall in 0.52 seconds on average. With the MC-14, that jumped to 0.72 seconds, and with the MC-20, it took 0.87 seconds on average to focus on the same wall in the same light conditions. This difference was definitely apparent when using the teleconverters in real-world situations, too. I would recommend using them only when the light is plentiful.
In the Field: Wildlife Photography
I believe the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO is an excellent telephoto lens for wildlife. Aside from the Olympus 100-400 f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO, this lens is likely the best lens for wildlife photography for Micro Four Thirds.
I found the 300mm f/4 to performed superbly in low light, a problem often encountered by wildlife photographers, because the f/4 maximum aperture is higher than you’ll usually find at 300mm for the M4/3 system. I found myself able to shoot well after sunset and still handhold my shots. At times, I was shooting at slow speeds between 1/60th and 1/100th and still catching crisp photos. The image stabilization system is definitely working hard.
The best way for me to demonstrate the stabilization is through this short video. Watch as the frame quickly stabilizes the moment I switch on the stabilization. It is important to note that this video was taken with the MC-14 teleconverter, so is shot with an equivalent focal length of 840mm. Additionally, the video was taken with the Panasonic G-9, so no synch IS is represented in the video.
I promise I held the camera at the same steadiness throughout the video! Crazy right?
Additionally, when this lens is paired with the newer Olympus bodies like the OM-1, the lens and camera work superbly together with excellent image stabilization and autofocus. The stabilization is most effective when paired with Olympus bodies, where synchronized image stabilization will give you up to 6 stops stabilization. Wildlife photography simply became much easier with a modern lens/camera combo like this.
Close Focusing Ability
As a macro and herp photographer, I am also impressed by the 1.4m minimum focusing distance on the Olympus 300mm f/4. At such a close range, this allows for an image reproduction ratio of 1:4, which is much greater than you’ll usually find on a long telephoto lens. Combined with the maximum aperture, this can create a very nice bokeh and a ‘telephoto look’ for portraits of smaller animals. And the 2x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds means you can fill the frame with very small subjects.
The Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO stands out in performance among telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds. Of course, the steep price tag also stands out. Some cheaper alternatives with similar focal lengths include the Olympus 100-400 f/5-6.3, Olympus 100-300 f/4.0-5.6, and the Panasonic 100-400f/4-6.3. Each of these options has a narrower maximum aperture and slower autofocus than the Olympus 300mm f/4.0 IS PRO, but they do have the advantage of zooming.
On the flip side, if $3000 is too cheap for you, there is an even more expensive IS PRO lens built by Olympus: the 150-400mm f/4.5 IS PRO, with built-in 1.25X teleconverter at a whopping $7500. That lens has an incredible reach while still being almost as bright as the 300mm f/4. But the high price makes it quite the specialty choice.
Pros and Cons
- Tack-sharp; about as sharp as a lens can be for Micro Four Thirds
- Excellent stabilization including Dual Sync on Olympus bodies
- Fast f/4.0 maximum aperture for the focal length
- Compact build
- High price tag of $3000
- Lens can easily be accidentally pushed into manual focus
From the quick autofocus, to gimble-like image stabilization, crisp sharpness, and wide f/4.0 aperture, nearly every aspect of this lens is excellent. I would not hesitate to recommend the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens to any Micro Four Thirds shooter in need of a telephoto lens. It is an undeniably pricy piece of equipment, but its value is reflected in its performance.
Where to Buy
If you are interesting in buying this lens, you can support Photography Life by buying it at B&H Photo!
Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating
I own this lens (used for a little less than $2k) and an em1mkiii, and I absolutely adore it. The close focus leads to so many different looks than when I shot full frame Nikon, but it also changed what I shoot. Tiny chipmunk that’s come up to me? Check. Dragonfly on a blade of grass? Check. Need to contort around some foliage for a clearer background? You can because it’s handheld.
This is a lens that I feel empowers me creatively, which I think is how I feel about micro four thirds in general, which truly surprised me.
I am not sure whether I enjoyed reading the review more, or your photography with this lens Nicholas. Both are excellent! I can’t help but chuckle when readers start the full frame versus crop sensor equivalency nonsense. It’s a distraction and unhelpful given that the point of a lens review (in my mind) is to help us appreciate the value of the lens, not sensor size.
I hope that Photography Life and you continue to offer M43 and other crop sensor lens/camera reviews.
There are several comparisons to a “Olympus 100-300 f/4-5.6” in the article but that lens doesn’t exist as far as I know. Should that be the Panasonic 100-300 f/4-5.6?
‘However, keep in mind that crop factors also apply to aperture; so, using this lens is akin to using a 600mm f/8 on full-frame.’
No, that’s not true. The aperture will be THE SAME. If you measure the exposure trough this lens wide open on any M4/3 camera, and then the same scene with any FF 300 or 600mm lens open to f/4 and mounted on any FF camera – with same ISO you’ll get the same exposure time as on Olympus. Aperture is a physical property of lens, not a sensor. F/4 lens will be always f/4, no matter how big is the sensor inside the camera you’ll mount it on: for example, if I mount my full frame 70-200/2.8 Pentax lens on K-1 II or my APS-C K-3 III – it always will be f/2.8 maximum aperture lens.
Only thing that will be changed – beside angle of view – will be DOF, which depends on lens focal length and sensor size combination. Please, clarify this as the ‘changed aperture’ is repeated too many times by too many people already.
I think it’s pretty clear what Nicholas is saying here. It’s not just the DOF that is changed, but also total light gathering capacity. In other words, if all else is equal (i.e. exactly the same subject and distance, light, etc.), a 600 f/4 lens on full-frame will gather much more light than a 300 f/4 on micro four thirds. This matters especially in the case of wildlife: in low-light scenarios, a 600 f/4 shot on full-frame will be much less noisy than a 300 f/4 shot on micro four thirds, where both shots have been equalized to the same viewing size.
Thus, it makes sense to say that a 300 f/4 on micro four thirds is like a 600 f/8 on full-frame, when you are talking about equalized viewing size in terms of both DOF and noise/total light gathering! (Not light gathering per unit area)
Of course, you are right in that the aperture is the same an exposure will be the same, but when talking about the real-world performance of the lens in terms of noise, there’s a reason why those 600 f/4 lenses are so coveted — a 300 f/4 on micro four thirds cannot replace one.
No. Nicholas clearly wrote that APERTURE is ‘changed’, and this is NOT true – a f/4 lens will be ALWAYS f/4, no matter if you mount it on M4/3, APS-C, FF or medium format camera. Aperture is about how much light the lens can allow to go through, sensor have nothing to do with. And about this ‘light gathering’ nonsense – square centimeter of a sensor behind an optical instrument will ALWAYS gather same amount of light, no matter how big the sensor is. The difference is that on 20 MPix FF sensor each photo-diode is much larger than one on 20 MPix M3/4 sensor, and this is what generating noise issue on smaller sensors, and there is physics behind that phenomenon. Of course you can in theory build a small sensor with photo-diodes same size like one in FF sensor, and then noise will be well controlled, but resolution of the sensor will be badly affected. When I am using my Pentax K-3 III I can switch for extra crop of my photos, and this is exact simulation of smaller sensor be used – the noise is at exact same level, but resolution of final image is smaller, because the photo-diodes are exactly the same in size, but less of them producing the image. That’s simplest way to prove my point in reality.
You’re right in the sense that a 300mm f/4 lens will always be 300mm f/4, regardless of the sensor behind it – but the concept of a crop factor is still useful in practical terms. Nicholas is right that it applies to both focal length and aperture. (It also applies to ISO, but with a [crop factor^2] relationship.)
In other words, if you shoot this lens on M4/3 at 300mm and f/4, then mount a 600mm f/8 on full-frame and multiply the full frame camera’s ISO by 4 (AKA crop factor^2), you will get equivalent images between the two systems – as equivalent as possible. Depth of field, diffraction, image brightness, even noise (assuming the same sensor quantum efficiency and other properties) will be the same.
What do you mean by “aperture”? It’s an ambiguous term.
Depth of field is an object space parameter; its corresponding image space parameter is depth of focus, which is irrelevant to this discussion.
So, using the same imaging scale (subject-to-viewer magnification ratio), at the same subject-to-camera distance, you need to use the same entrance pupil diameter on each system; not the same f‑number. Doing this also results in identical levels of object space blurring from diffraction; and the same number of photons per second being delivered from the lens exit pupil to the whole sensor of each camera.
The lens exit pupil projects the scene captured via the entrance pupil onto the sensor. Compared to a full-frame system, an M4/3 system uses a sensor that is half the linear size; quarter the areal size. For the same angle of view, the focal length is halved therefore the exit pupil projects the scene at half the distance onto quarter the area, making the image on the sensor four times brighter. Exactly the same principle as using a slide projector and screen. Using the same shutter speed on each system, which will give identical motion blur, the M4/3 requires quarter the ISO value. However, the captured image photon shot noise signal-to-noise ratio will be the same on each system, given similar quantum efficiency of the two sensors.
See: Equivalence Also Includes Aperture and ISO by Spencer Cox
‘What do you mean by “aperture”? It’s an ambiguous term’
NO! The article is about the lens, an optical instrument. In this context the aperture is adjustable lens opening that controls the amount of light allowed into the camera. End of story. Occam’s razor says hello. Everything else is just an attempt to mix a physical properties of devices with aesthetics feelings when these devices are used to produce an image. First are objective, the last ones – very subjective. In other words – if I calculate exposure and need f/4 lens – this lens will do the job, the calculations will match. If this lens just pretends to be f/4, but in fact it is f/8 or 12.5 – math won’t work. Objectively.
But if we start discussion about aesthetics, one may like to have exact same amount of noise and/or DOF regardless the size of sensor used – then your ideas are okay. The problem is that aesthetics is subjective and somebody else – for example me – may tolerate more noise or deeper DOF if in return can afford very telephoto-like angle of view in smaller and lighter version of lens. For me then, the equivalent of focal length will be important, but all other equivalents – absolutely not. And this is really funny part, because 99.2 percent of people who buys the smaller sensor photographic system consciously, did it to have benefit of focal length ‘extension’ via equivalent-magic, and in the same time they are perfectly fine with problems generated by ISO or aperture equivalents – otherwise this system will be very difficult to use for them…
“if I calculate exposure and need f/4 lens”
Well, calculate away. However, f/4 on 1/2.5″ sensor and f/4 on ultra large format camera won’t give just a subjective change in aesthetics; it will give a wholly objective change in the captured image. As Spencer Cox replied to you:
“but the concept of a crop factor is still useful in practical terms. Nicholas is right that it applies to both focal length and aperture. (It also applies to ISO, but with a [crop factor^2] relationship.)”
The ambiguity is down to the common confusion/conflation of physical aperture size with f-number (aperture divided by focal length).
The “adjustable lens opening that controls the amount of light” in a 600mm f/4 lens isn’t the same as in a 300mm f/4 lens. In fact, the 600mm lens with the same f-number has an opening with 4x the area.
That difference does matter, and cropping a 300mm f/4 lens to match a 600mm lens’ field of view doesn’t turn it into a 600mm f/4, not even if that “crop” is achieved by the use of a smaller sensor.
The idea that these physical properties of the lens/camera are a matter of “aesthetics” is really rather odd.
I do mainly birding and insect photography and that lens on the OM-D M1x is my standard outfit. I use it with the MC-20 and I can live with the drawbacks because for me its the ideal combination of a long reach telephoto and a long distance macro lens (my back doesn’t tolerate a lot of bending down anymore).
I can only agree with your favorable review, albeit I had the same complaints about the focus ring sliding back accidentally. Its possible to disable the action in the menu (i.e., you can still slide it, but it won’t have any effect), but in the end I just fitted a broader rubber ring in the gap to prevent it from sliding back at all. Gives the lens a nice green accent, too :-).
On the M1x, the setting is under “Sprocket->A4->MF Clutch”, which you can set to ‘Inoperative’.