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: