Since purchasing the Olympus MC1.4x Teleconverter to couple with the Oly 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, I’ve been curious to see if the extra reach provided me by my Panasonic 100-300mm lens is really necessary. The 100-300 is a great lens in its own right, and for the price, provides an option that no other system can boast, so needless to say, I do think highly of it. That said, the 100-300 can soften up a bit on the long end (and to stop anyone who may suggest the Oly 75-300, I still feel the Lumix is the better overall lens and optically up to snuff, so, no) the question is, do I really get much from the extra reach?
Well, come on in for my findings and decision…
Let me start by saying that this isn’t really a fair fight. The Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm lens cost me less than $600 (and often is offered with a rebate pushing it down below $500) while the combo of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and Oly MC1.4x runs about $1,850 or well over 3 times as much. Rarely do lenses that cost 3x as much actually provide 3x the quality, but I am curious to see if I can satisfy my super tele needs by letting the 100-300 go.
Right into it then. All shots included in this comparison are shot on either the GX7 or GM1 (same sensor) on a tripod with IBIS and OIS disabled, captured in Panasonic’s .RW2 RAW format and converted in Aperture v3.6. Nothing has been done to these shots outside of converting them to JPEGS for web viewing, so have a look…
I’m going to be focusing on these lenses at focal lengths starting at 100mm and longer because this is what I’m truly curious about seeing. If you’d like to see either of these lenses in their full glory, you can read my reviews on either or both via these links (they’ll open in a new window so as not to keep you from diving into this article):
First comparison: Indoor, focusing within 15 feet of the camera which will provide us a look at what these lenses are capable of under controlled and repeatable conditions. I want to see two things here, firstly, the Olympus 40-150 lens without the 1.4x tele converter versus the Panasonic 100-300mm lens at 100mm as a simple base for comparison where I’ve always felt both lenses perform well, and then to look at the extra reach added by the teleconverter versus the Panasonic lens at the longest focal lengths because this is where I’m really interested in seeing the differences. You’ll notice that the framing is slightly different. This is because when mounting the 40-150 on the tripod, I used the lens mount which added height. I did this because the weight of the lens is somewhat substantial, and I felt more comfortable not having the added stress on the camera mount. There were taken from roughly 15 feet away. Shots as listed followed by 100% crops (click on any to see larger).
40-150 w/o MC14 at 100mm wide open f/2.8:
100-300 at 100mm wide open f/4:
40-150 w/o MC14 at 100mm f/4:
100-300 at 100mm f/5.6:
40-150 w/o MC14 at 100mm f/5.6:
Now, a look at the longest focal lengths of these two lenses, showing the Olympus 40-150mm lens coupled with the MC14 1.4x Teleconverter.
40-150 w/ MC14 at 210mm wide open f/4:
100-300 at 300mm wide open f/5.6:
40-150 w/ MC14 at 210mm f/5.6:
To my eye, going through this controlled test, I can say for my use, the Olympus lens has an obvious speed advantage, by a stop on the short end, but the Panasonic lens doubles the native focal length. When looking at the Olympus lens WITH the MC14 1.4x Teleconverter, wide open it struggles a bit, just as the Panasonic lens does wide open, albeit at a stop disadvantage speed wise at the tele end. When stopped down to equal the maximum aperture of the Panasonic lens, at f/5.6, and at the longest focal length when used with the Teleconverter, the Olympus lens looks to easily out-resolve the Panasonic lens wide open as one would hope it would. The disadvantage here is that the Olympus lens is quite a bit shorter when maxed out at 210mm versus 300mm which brings me to the next comparison…
How does the Panasonic 100-300 compare when shot at 210mm wide open and at f/5.6 versus the Olympus 40-150 with the MC14 wide open and stopped down? Let’s see…
40-150 w/ MC14 at 210mm wide open f/4 100% Crop:
100-300 at 210mm wide open f/5.1 100% Crop:
40-150 w/ MC14 at 210mm f/5.6 100% Crop:
100-300 at 210mm f/5.6 100% Crop:
While the Olympus + the MC14 still looks a little sharper to my eye at 100% when both lenses are equalled in focal length, the difference isn’t that great when shot at like aperture. Still, every pixel counts if pixel peeping, right?
Now, I wanted to look at distant focus. How do each of these lenses handle resolving fine detail when they’re focused on a subject over 100 feet away? Well, let’s see.
Obviously, I’m not able to control wind, or any environmental circumstances that may play into exposure differences from shot to shot here, but contrasted against the more controlled test above, this is more true to where I feel I’d be shooting these lenses, albeit hopefully with a more exciting subject. As before, click on any shot to have a look at them as listed, and alternating with 100% crops following each shot.
40-150mm at 100mm f/5.6:
100-300mm at 100mm f/5.6:
40-150mm at 150mm f/5.6:
100-300mm at 150mm f/5.6:
40-150mm w/MC14 1.4xTC at 140mm f/5.6:
40-150mm w/MC14 1.4xTC at 210mm f/5.6:
100-300mm at 300mm f/5.6:
I’ve obviously, only showed the shots taken at f/5.6 for this comparison. The reason for this is to see the 40-150mm lens with the MC14 stopped down one stop, because wide open at f/4 it is certainly softer as seen in the first test. Secondly, this essentially handicaps the 100-300 by having it shoot wide open at its longest focal length which is also soft by looking at the original comparison. So, what happens when I crop into the image from the 40-150mm lens to equal the 300mm field of view, and resize the shot to match the pixel measurements between the two? Well, here are two, full sized images for you to peruse. Click on either to see them full sized and decide for yourself…
Olympus 40-150mm w/MC14 at 210mm f/5.6, cropped into and resized:
Panasonic 100-300mm at 300mm f/5.6:
What do you think?
If we’re to asses these lenses ability to resolve fine detail at substantial focusing distances, and want to compare what we might be giving up by cropping into an image taken at a shorter focal length to “match” an image taken at a longer focal length, then resize that image to see what we may be compromising, I’d say that we can look at this one of two ways.
First, the 100-300 does a great job to natively produce an image that is going to be as sharp, or sharper than the combination of the 40-150mm w/MC14 teleconverter which then needs to be cropped into (and in this case, resized so we’re looking at the same sized image).
Secondly, for me, I can say that the performance of the 40-150mm w/MC14 teleconverter, when cropped into, gives me enough resolution to live with if needing to match the reach of a 300mm lens by way of cropping (and again, in this case, resizing).
The Panasonic 100-300mm lens is possibly one of the best bargains on the market for super tele shooting. Like I’d mentioned in my original review, there is nowhere else, in any system, that gives you a 600mm equivalent lens with f/5.6 light gathering ability and optical image stabilization for under $600, anywhere that I’m aware of. (please spare me the “total light” arguments as we’re not talking about noise performance between formats here, but the ability to shoot with a lens that allows shutter speeds consistent with any lens at f/5.6, less optical transmission differences, and DOF of a 300mm lens at that given aperture)
On the other hand, the Olympus 40-150mm lens is by far a better built, constant f/2.8 lens, and when combined with the MC14 teleconverter, doesn’t quite get the same optical reach, but is able to shoot a stop faster, and holds up very well when cropping to match the field of view at the tele end.
If you’re in the market for a super tele lens for the micro 4/3 system, and budget isn’t as much a factor, go with the Oly 40-150mm f/2.8 lens plus MC14 teleconverter. If you can live with the slightly slower aperture, you won’t give up much optically by going with the Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 lens. The Olympus is weather sealed, but the Panasonic has OIS. The Olympus is a more general purpose lens while the Panasonic is certainly a super tele lens first and foremost, but if looking to get as much reach as the system is able to provide, until Olympus releases its 300mm f/4 Pro lens, this is as good as it gets.
To reiterate why I haven’t used the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 lens in this conversation, is because while it does give a little extra width on the short end of the focal range, it is much slower at all focal lengths compared to the Panasonic 100-300 f/4-5.6, it doesn’t include OIS, and optically the Panasonic compares favorably at like aperture across the range, so I feel the Panasonic is the better value and overall lens, especially when they are very near the same price. That said, if you like your lens to say Olympus on it, and don’t want to spring for the 40-150 + 1.4x TC, it is a good option as well.
To see the lenses used in this comparison, you can click on the links below. If you do buy through these links, I receive a small reference commission, so full disclosure 🙂 If you do choose to buy through my links, thank you very much. Every little bit helps me keep this blog going, and goes to buying gear to review and compare.
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Happy shooting and happy weekend,