A very unusual combination between new and old – between modern and classic – between light and heavy.
The 300mm f/2.8 lens was released in 2003 and is actually made for 4/3 sensors and therefore needs the MMF-3 adapter to be fitted onto the E-M1. And without the grip, actually, even with it attached, the E-M1 looks a little small on the end of this amazing lens.
This lens not being a micro 4/3 sensor lens also means that I don’t have access to all focus points (only the middle 37) – still largely enough to focus though.
Obviously the lens feels a little out of balance with the E-M1 attached and I pretty much attached my monopod to the lens the moment I got it. Once it’s attached to the monopod it’s pretty well balanced.
As you might know, I shoot surf and specifically got this lens to shoot the Rip Curl Pro World Surf League (WSL) competition at Bells Beach in Victoria – Australia over the Easter period. The waves at Bells Beach break a long way from shore and I knew that my current longest lens combination (the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 + x/1.4 Tele Converter) resulting in 210mm (or 420mm full frame equivalent) was not going to be sufficient to get a detailed shot of the professional surfers at work. So I decided to give the Zuiko 300mm f/2.8 ED a go.
Combined with the MMF-3 adapter it can be fitted onto the Olympus E-M1 and effectively becomes a 600mm f/2.8 lens – which at about 3.3Kg is still a pretty impressive and light setup! All the photos below are shot with this lens.
From what I have read about this lens in combination with older 4/3 camera bodies it’s incredibly sharp (even wide open at f/2.8) – however in combination with the MMF-3 adapter I believe a little bit of that sharpness get’s lost as the sensor is moved further away from the lens – resulting in ever so slightly ‘soft’ images at f/2.8 with the MMF-3 and E-M1. I choose to mostly shoot this lens at f/4 or f/5.6 resulting in impeccable sharpness all around the image but still making my subject stand out from the background.
Even though this lens isn’t built for the modern micro 4/3rds cameras they really work well together and I was surprised to see functions like focus peaking working perfectly.
To not drag this review out I have summarised my thoughts and experiences into 3 sections ending with a conclusion. It’s a personal opinion and as I shoot surf 90% of the time I can only review this lens for the field I use it in. But I can imagine this can be applied for any photography style that includes fast moving action.
200% crop in on the previous photo. click on the images to see larger previews.
Effectively having a 600mm f/2.8 lens at the end of my E-M1 is the main positive factor of this lens. It’s also a very solid and robust lens and it’s not shy of being used in extreme environments.
It’s a top quality lens with absolutely amazing fast focus (and refocus!) and it really works well on the E-M1.
This lens is one of the best tele photo lenses (if not the best) Zuiko / Olympus makes. It’s incredibly sharp and what I found great about this lens was that all the cool, new technology features on the E-M1 work perfectly with this lens. Mostly I would use peaking and x2 digital magnification for when I manually focus.
The Not So Good
Because this lens is so quick and precise at refocussing it tends to refocus a little too fast when focus tracking is used on the E-M1. This takes a little getting used to and with a little technique practise this can be avoided most of the time.
Also this being a lens that isn’t made for micro 4/3 sensors means that you have only 37 of the 81 focus points on the E-M1 available (see photo below). I didn’t find this disturbing as I mostly shoot fast moving objects (surf and waves) and framing usually means focussing in the middle. However, the tracking ‘square’ you see when using AF Tracking mode does go past the 37 inner points and just turns from green to red once it leaves the focus point area – indicating that the camera is still tracking the object/subject but can’t refocus. As soon as the tracking point moves back to the area the focus points cover the camera will refocus.
You will need an adapter (MMF-3 adapter) to fit this lens onto the E-M1. The adapter is basically just a ‘step down’ ring with a few contacts so the camera can ‘talk’ to the lens.
1/2500sec, f/5.6, ISO200
It’s heavy. I mean – really heavy. (3.3Kg).
I wasn’t comfortable shooting free hand for longer than 2-3 minutes before I really wanted to rest it down somewhere. Now – remember that this lens becomes a 600mm on the E-M1 and at that focal length I recommend using at least a monopod or even better a sturdy tripod.
This lens is expensive. You are looking at about $6000-8000 and I believe it’s not very easy to find either.
1/2000sec, f/6.3, ISO200
1/2500sec, f/5.0, ISO200
Personally I have to admit that I really love this combination. For as long as there is no micro 4/3 300mm lens available** this is probably the best way to go if you need the extra range on your E-M1. The camera and lens really work well together and produce amazing images.
But if I look at the numbers and think logically about this? No. This lens is the opposite reason for owning an E-M1 and the benefit of smaller, lighter and more modern lenses (and camera body).
Because of the size of micro 4/3 sensors the camera is actually only using about 1/2 of the glass in this lens – amazing glass that comes at a price that doesn’t justify such an expensive and sharp lens for such a small sensor.
As pointed out by Falvio and Ray in the comments below, the E-M1 does make full use of the lens – my bad.
For the time being this lens is the best thing you can add to your E-M1 if you need the range – but I know that in future I will be using the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO – which is built for the micro 4/3 sensor and comes with the HUGE benefit of being only a fraction of the weight and size of the Zuiko 300mm f/2.8 ED lens. And I will happily sacrifice the stop of light between f/2.8 and f/4 for this. I also know (from previous M.Zuiko PRO lenses) that I can expect a sharper image at f/4 on the micro 4/3 lens than the f/2.8 on the f/2.8 4/3 lens.
** I am fully aware that there are actually 300mm lenses for micro 3/4 camera bodies out there – but they are no where near as sharp as any of the PRO lenses I use and I have to admit that I don’t want to sacrifice image quality when it comes to lenses – because I know from experience that good glass does make a difference!
If you are interested in seeing more photos taken with this lens please head over to my full photo story on the Rip Curl Pro 2015.
1/2000sec, f/5.0, ISO200
1/2000sec, f/6.3, ISO200
1/1250sec, f/9, ISO200 (monopod)
1/250sec, f/10, ISO200 (tripod)
If you have any questions, comments or feeback please feel free to ask in the comment section below and/or subscribe to my email newsletter for monthly updates on my photography, reviews and stories.
If you’re interested in the gear I use these articles might interest you too:
Olympus E-M1 vs Canon 1D Mark IV
A mirrorless surfphotographer’s packlist
M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 + x1.4 Tele Converter Review
Olympus PT-EP11 Underwater Housing Review
I would like to thank Olympus Australia for their amazing, ongoing support.
If you have any other questions or enquires please feel free to contact me through Contact form
The 4/3 300mm lens is, perhaps with the exception of the 150mm f2, the best lens ever made by Olympus (in the digital age at least). Regarding your comment about the focusing precision, you can adjust the focussing by going into the Menu/gears/K/AF focus adj. and adjust focus through a series of tests so that it is precise when wide open (the lens focus adjustment data can be saved). I use the 90-250mm f2.8 (another great lens) and the focus adjustment ability is well worth doing (much easier for a prime than a zoom).
BTW, your work is excellent, a Canadian friend of mine would be envious.
Thanks for the kind words and advice! I will definitely look into this and make sure the next time I will use this lens I will get the most out of it!
Wonderful pictures, really love them. I am really perplexed about two of your statements:
1 – “however in combination with the MMF-3 adapter I believe a little bit of that sharpness get’s lost as the sensor is moved further away from the lens”
That shouldn’t be the case: the sensor in in exactly the same position as the one in the 4/3 DSLRs! Maybe, as Ray suggested, you need to fine-tune ever so slightly the focus for the lens?
2 – “Because of the size of micro 4/3 sensors the camera is actually only using about 1/2 of the glass in this lens – amazing glass that comes at a price that doesn’t justify such an expensive and sharp lens for such a small sensor”
Why would you say that? 4/3 DSLRs have exactly the same sized sensor! The lens, and the amount of glass inside, are tailored exactly for the micro4/3 sensor size!
Anyway, thanks for your review and for n interesting blog!
I guess my little knowledge of the old 4/3rds system – or better the lack of knowledge shines through. You are absolutely right: The 4/3 sensor is the same size as the micro 4/3 sensor. So yes, the E-M1 does make full use of the Zuiko lens’s glass. My bad.
But is the price justified for us on the E-M1? I’m not sure… we will see how the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 lens will compare to this lens and then if the price is in proportion. But I have a feeling it will put the 300mm f/2.8 way out of perspective for use on the E-M1. But only time will tell.
I am absolutely with you there: the new 300mm F4 will negate any need for the older 4/3 lens for most people.
If the optical standard of the PRO series so far is mantained in the new lens, only the people needing that extra stop at any cost will still think about the lens you just reviewed…but will it be worth it with its drawbacks on the micro4/3 system and its price? I don’t think so…
Can’t agree here. For shooting moving subjects (sports, especially), the older 4/3 lenses are superior to the new native m4/3 lenses because they use the camera’s phase detection AF capabilities. I owned the m4/3 Olympus 40-150 f2.8; it could not track soccer players in motion at all. The older 4/3 50-200 f2.8-3.5 on the other hand does a pretty respectable job. Until contrast detection becomes reliable to subject tracking and continuous autofocus, I’ll stick with the older lenses.
I now found and read this. Rather interesting. I already have this lens and used it for some birdhunting. Maybe you would like to see some results. I did not know the loss of focuspoints, nor that focusadjustment is available on an Oly. I will do that later. Ny an Olympus-rep., I have had confirmation that the autofocus-performance between the weathersealed MMF3, and the not sealed MMF2 and MMF1 is the same thing. I have long before Micro-4/3 was existing been using 4/3-DSLR’s and can also tell, that I sense no dif. in the performance of autofocus using 4/3-lenses on my EM-1 Mark II, versus when used on my E-5, which is 4/3. At some point I intend to use this lens on my EM-1 Mark II with also my 4/3-teleconverter EC-20, doubling the range and lower the aperture to f.5.6, and see how things will go. I am like yourself, also selftought and have been doing my amateur-photography for over 13 years now. You are wellcome to respond any time. I recommend watching the promotional video for the E-3, released on october 2007. It is available on YT.
Best of regards
just as Ray and Flavio have said, I see only a very slight increase in sharpness when stopping down my ZD 300/2.8. If anything I would say that I find the slight increase in contrast and colour saturation more notable when stopping down. I find my lens incredibly sharp even wide open on my EM-1.
The newer m4/3 lenses are very good without a doubt, but I suspect that we will never see the likes of the SHG 4/3 lenses in a m4/3 format. There’s a reason that these lenses are still so expensive and that’s because so much effort was put into making them as optically excellent as Olympus could possibly achieve. These lenses are akin to the best Leica lenses on the market. I own four of them and will hold on to them as long as there’s a camera that will take them.
I’m curious to know what is your setup for continuous focus tracking with the E-M1, because I’m not successful as you with birds or car in movement. Could you share you setup, it could be helpful.
Great shots. I have this combo as well and really appreciate it.
Please tell me you are running firmware 3.0, if not, download it immediately. Caf improves a lot.
Yes I’m running the latest firmware on my E-M1
You wrote only about the C-AF+Trk (Or I read only about that). Do not use the Tracking function, as the improved focusing isn’t available for that.
The firmware 3.0 only adds improved (PDAF only, not Hybrid focusing PDAF+CDAF) focusing when using C-AF + H mode. So not S-AF, not C-AF+TRK but just the C-AF. And then you need to be in H burst mode (High Burst mode) and not in L mode (Low Burst Mode). Only then the improved PDAF only focusing is used.
But I have as well the sad news to you AFAIK, the firmware 3.0 improved PDAF C-AF works only with native m4/3 mount lenses, not with 4/3 mount lenses via adapter. (That what Olympus manual says.).
Oh and as others have mentioned already, but it isn’t still clear to many. The Olympus and Kodak “4/3″ (FourThirds) is the sensor size, a old 4/3” size sensor (aka 4/3 format, as well known from film era as “110 format”). But the 4/3 was as well name of the mount. So you had 4/3″ sensor and 4/3 mount. Then afterwards Olympus improved the mount with the Panasonic and they came up the “m4/3″ (MicroFourThirds) mount, but using still same 4/3” sensor. The “m4/3” only means the mount system, not the sensor itself. It is clearly easy to see the problem how people categorize things. As the “4/3 format” is not same as “m4/3 cameras”, while “m4/3 cameras” use same “4/3 format”, because the mount is different.
So it is easy just to remember, 4/3 system was for DSLR and m4/3 system is for DSLM.
Thanks for the good article and photos.
Only sad thing what I find from that 300mm f/2.8 is the price and that it isn’t a zoom. Olympus really needs something to step between 40-150mm PRO and 400mm like 150-400mm and it should be f/2.8 for optimal use. Or at least f/4 but that would be too slow already to attract users to m4/3 system like f/2.8 would do. For 150-400mm f/2.8 I would be ready to pay 6000-8000 dollars easily, as long it is compatible with their teleconverter.
“From what I have read about this lens in combination with older 4/3 camera bodies it’s incredibly sharp (even wide open at f/2.8) – however in combination with the MMF-3 adapter I believe a little bit of that sharpness get’s lost as the sensor is moved further away from the lens – resulting in ever so slightly ‘soft’ images at f/2.8 with the MMF-3 and E-M1.”
With the MMF-3 adapter, the sensor will be exact at the designed optimal distance from the sensor, just as when mounted on a native 4/3 DSLR.
Hence sharpness will not be affected, so any loss must stem from other factors coming into play somewhere…
Myself I use the native 90-250/2.8 on the E-M1, even w/ the EC-14 teleconverter attached, and I see no sharpness difference from the E-5 (apart from increased Mp).
Interesting article btw! 🙂
ddid a google search for 300 mm m43 lenses and got here… im writing a reply concerning the reach benefits for m43 vs apsc or ff… i comment daily at digital photography review where my name is cosinaphile
as others have said your work is excellent …
cheers from nyc
Equivalent focal length and aperture of 300mm f/2.8 lens on 4/3 sensor is 600mm f/5.6, not f/2.8 as you wrote.