Since shooting on the M43 format, I’ve had my share of various bodies and especially lenses in my hands. A lot of people ask me for help when choosing their best equipment and of course we get to cover a number of different topics. For the most part, it’s a major struggle between what people want, what they really need, and what they can afford. As a result, I decided to write something for each piece of equipment I had on my m43 in the scope of short practical observations. I scored all lenses on a scale of 1-10 in terms of processing, equipment and sharpness. I must admit that the quality of each lens that I had the opportunity to test or use for a long time is at a very high level and I can easily imagine having each of them as part of my gear. The uniform reviews allow you now to read a detailed evaluation for each lens reflecting exclusively my personal opinion. Each evaluation is based on actual in-the-field use and may therefore differ from, for example, lab tests available on the Internet. The page is divided into four logical segments – numerical rating | practical observations | sample of published photos from a given lens | FAQ, where you can find my brief responses to questions I received.
OVERALL EVALUATIONFantasctic shrapness
Panasonic Leica 200mm/2.8 O.I.S. is the newest lens in my gear that has had the luck of being with me to the tropics yet. At the same time, it’s a lens that – together with M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS – is in my opinion one of the best m43 compatible lenses for wildlife. This will soon be followed by the highly anticipated M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 IS, that will not only fall into a totally different price category but will have different dimensions. The construction is almost flawless with a very steady, comfortable hand-grip. However, it has a few minor design details that make photographing with it a bit bitter. Personally, I am not a fan of shiny lens surfaces for wildlife photography. Nevermind the glare, but every now and then the lens leans against something, often you have to bash through thorns and bushes, all in all I’d highly recommend using some surface protection against scratches and abrasions. The sun hood has a mechanism that is used for large SLR lenses – the hood is attached and tightened with a screw. Why not! It’s a proven model, however I’d personally probably welcome a slightly larger tightening screw, which is really tiny at the moment. However, the simplest solution would be a simple screw-threaded mount. Similar to the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm/ 4.5 – 6.3 O.I.S. it is unusual (for me) for the stabilisation mechanism in the lens to “rattle” a bit giving the impression of a loose optical element inside. It has no effect on its performance or overall operation, it’s just an uneasy feeling that I’m not used to in the Olympus IS lenses. I feel also ambivalent about the tripod foot mount. I absolutely applaud the possibility to simply un/screw the tripod foot without having to detach the lens from the body. This should perhaps be mandatory for all telephoto lenses, as it makes handling a lot easier. Likewise, when you want to reduce volume, it’s a matter of seconds. What I’m not too keen on is the design of the foot itself. Not only does it lack an Arca-Swiss plate like the Olympus 300mm (solved by a Joby narrow plate). Plus, it couldn’t have been designed by anyone who takes handheld photos. The sharp edges of the tripod foot make this part of the lens in my palm so unpleasant that after a long shoot, I feel like throwing it in the bushes. However, all the above-mentioned minor flaws can be completely overlooked, because otherwise the lens is absolutely at the vanguard of the bestest possible. It’s a lens with one of the best sharpness I’ve ever seen (and by that I mean historically including FF). The lens has comparable specs to a 400mm lens on the FF and the bokeh is close to 5.6. When I had a Canon, I used the 400mm/ 5.6, which is quite similar. In addition to its perfect sharpness, I really enjoy the stabilisation and the 2.8 brightness, which transmits more light than the classic 400/ 5.6. In theory, it only synchronizes with Panasonic bodies and not with Olympus bodies (at least on paper). However, this is completely irrelevant, because the resulting times that I manage hand-held are around 1/ 5s! And in practice, I don’t really care if this is achieved with a synchronized or unsynchronized stabilisation. After some time of trials and errors, I left the lens’ stabilisation on. It probably doesn’t affect the resulting times, but when the stabilisation on the lens is turned off, it is activated only after the shutter button is pressed halfway (and turns itself off again when idle). Without active shooting (such as during composition), the shutter-release button must be pressed halfway continuously to stabilise the image in the viewfinder. As soon as you turn the stabilisation on even on the lens, the stabilisation mechanism continuously runs and the image is still without movement at all times. Theoretically, it may be affecting the battery charge, which I have no way to measure; but it’s so minimal that I don’t even notice it. I also really psyched about the minimum focusing distance of 1.15 m, which is great for certain shy species such as dragonflies, butterflies or photos of plants. To sum up, Panasonic Leica 200mm/ 2.8 O.I.S. is an utterly uncompromising lens that not only delivers above average images but also comes with a 1.4x Teleconverter as standard.
MY PANASONIC 200MM/2.8 SAMPLE GALLERY
Q: Why did you choose Panasonic Leica 200mm/ 2.8 instead of M.Zuiko 300mm/ 4 IS PRO?
A: Personally, I think that from the point of view of performance, these are both identical lenses. In short, they are both the best you can get for wildlife photography on M43. The choice to get one or the other or both should be based primarily on what you photograph and how. During my three years of photographing with the 300mm/ 4, I often found myself in situations where those recalculated 600mm were simply too much. The frame seemed more filled with the animal than what I would’ve liked. At the same time, I also came across times when the 840mm was not enough even after using the converter. Since I prefer photos where I have more room to play with composition than “just” to record what is very far away, I opted for a path with a shorter focus point. When I can travel to the tropics again, I will enjoy it to the fullest.
Q: What is better for wildlife – Panasonic Leica 200mm/ 2.8 or M.Zuiko 300mm/ 4 IS PRO? What should I buy?
A: I think you should always choose your equipment based on what you want & can take pictures off. In my opinion they are both equally great in performance, although each has a different angle of view. I currently use more the 400 instead of the 600mm, which can easily change again over time depending on the available/ planned motifs. For me, an absolutely ideal lens for wildlife would be 250mm/ 2.8 IS (i.e. 500mm focus, bokeh around 5.6 and brightness of 2.8). That could be a perfect solution for my style of photography.
Q: Isn’t it practically the same as a 40-150mm/ 2.8? After all, it’s only a 50mm difference.
A: In short – it’s not the same. Mathematically, it may be a mere 50mm difference, but the angle of view is + 100mm. In addition, the 150mm (300mm) lens has a slightly different output than can be achieved with a 150mm (300mm) prime lens, especially at shorter distances. Let me put it this way – if you take photos for a long time with a 300mm and then you get a 400mm, it will feel different. Likewise, if you then switch to 500mm and so on. Every lens has something to offer and in reality they are not the same.
Q: In my opinion, you can achieve the same results when using a TC 1.4x on 40-150mm/ 2.8 (200mm vs 210mm).
A: Again, this is a theoretical calculation on paper, but my first-hand experience says something else. First of all, the resulting aperture F/4 will cause, in addition to slowing down the exposure, worse background rendering with bokeh more like F/8 instead of 5.6 and that’s significant. In addition, when the lighting conditions are poor, you are presented with all the typical imperfections of using a converter – the accuracy and speed of focusing will deteriorate, so will the sharpness (the need to choose a higher ISO won’t help this issue either). Personally, I don’t think that a permanent use of TC is the solution. It’s great for an occasional use, but otherwise it’s just a sign that the lens I’d really like to use is not in my backpack.
Q: Is it possible to attach Olympus TC 1.4x/ 2x to the lens?
A: Although it seems crazy to me, Olympus converters are actually not compatible with this lens. The same is true the other way around.
Q: How does the TC 2x (800m lens) sharpness compare to the M.Zuiko 100-400mm / 5-6.3 (also 800mm)?
A: I have the TC Panasonic 2x on loan and it’s not that bad. Compared to the TC 1.4x, the loss of the sharpness is fairly noticeable and I’d say it’s closer (if not the same) to M.Zuiko 100-400. As I said before, the use of TC and especially TC 2x brings with it, loss of sharpness, plus in not so ideal conditions also the loss of speed and accuracy of focusing. In cases when the use of 800mm focal length is required, I’d say the 100-400 or 300mm + TC 1.4x is a better choice.
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