The Long And The Short Of It

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II mounted on an OMD EM-10.

 

The Olympus m.Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 mk ii (which shall now on referred to as the 75-300) is an updated version of their original super telephoto zoom for the micro four thirds format.Yes I said super telephoto zoom because that is what it is as it is equivalent to a 150-600mm lens in 35mm sensor terms.

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II mounted on an OMD EM-10.

 

The Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II compared with Canon EF 75-300 f4.5-5.6 IS for comparison. The Olympus gives an equivalent focal length of 150-600mm.

Keeping up with the m4/3s promise of smaller cameras and lenses this lens does not disappoint. It fits comfortably in the hand is quite a bit smaller than my Canon 75-300mm f3.5-5.6 IS which only covers half the focal range when mounted on my EOS5d. There are rumours on the various forums that the lens is designed and built by Sigma, but there is no evidence of that fact when looking at it. The 75-300 is largely constructed from engineering plastic and has a metal mount. There is no weather sealing. The lens extends while zoom, roughly doubling its length, there is no lens creep which is nice. While not heavy it feels reassuringly dense in the hand and not at all cheap and wobbly like some budget zoom lenses.The filter diameter is 58mm which it shares with the 40-150mm f4-5.6 and means that filters won’t be too pricey. Optically the lens has 18 elements in 13 groups, two of which are ED glass and one is Super ED (extra low dispersion). These exotic elements are there to minimise chromatic aberration throughout the zoom range. They certainly do the job for when I open up images shot with the 75-300 in Lightroom they are remarkably free of CA. The lenses elements are coated with Olympus propriety ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) coatings and I’ve found the lens to be quite resistant to backlit flare, however flare can be induced by bright light sources just outside of the frame so I would heartily recommend the use of a lens hood. Unfortunately Olympus does not include one in the box.

 

Cracticus tibicen hypoleuca is a subspecies of white backed magpie found on Tasmania, King and Flinders Islands.

 

A pink and grey galah at our bird table.

 

Performance wise the 75-300 is remarkably good for a lens of this price and zoom range. The AF is quick and precise when shooting stills on both my EM-10 and EP-5, and quite a lot slower when shooting video. Optically the lens is very sharp up until the 200mm mark and then it does soften slightly, but this is not at all unusual with zoom lenses, which is unfortunate because this lens will be bought more for its uses at 300mm than 75mm. There is not a lot of love for this lens on the internet forums where it is harshly criticised for it performance at the long end, but from my experience with it it’s not as bad as people make out. I wonder whether camera shake is a contributing factor here. While Olympus bodies have In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) there is a limit to what it can achieve and we have to remember that this is the equivalent of a super telephoto 600mm lens in full frame terms and not many people would expect to handhold one of those and get tack sharp results. When using the lens on a tripod and monopod it certainly delivers the goods. When handholding I would certainly recommend not using a shutter speed of lower than 1/300th sec even when using IBIS.

 

Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania.

 

Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania.

Downsides of the 75-300. Well the slow maximum aperture will be a drawback for many, and I’ve read many threads where people have stated they would have preferred a constant f4. This all very well but lens design is a compromise and such a lens would be very large and heavy and cost considerably more. Personally I don’t mind using higher ISOs to keep the shutter speeds up as I’m happy to clean up my images with Niksoft’s Denoise. Another downside is when shooting video – this is not really a lens for run and gun style shooting, it is much to long to effectively control shooting handheld. Even on a tripod the lens showed up the failings of my fluid head for when panning there was quite a pronounced shudder when using it at its longest end.

Overall I feel that the few drawbacks are outweighed by the positives and I like this lens a lot. It is a very good lens when one considers the price. In Oz a full frame equivalent will cost at least double. I would recommend the 75-300 to anyone who was prepared to accept the trade offs involved i.e compact size and affordability versus the slow maximum aperture and the slight softening of the image at the long end. At the time of writing this there is only one other alternative, the Panasonic Lumix G.Vario 100-300mm f4-5.6 OS, which is at the same price point and has a similar performance. I would only consider the Panasonic over the Olympus if I was shooting on a Panasonic camera which has no IBIS. Both Olympus and Panasonic are introducing higher performance lenses at the 300mm focal length at some time in the near future, but I think we’ll find they are considerably bigger and more expensive.

 

Two black faced cormorants, a little black cormorant, and a little pied cormorant hang out while a silver gull watches on. Lewisham, Tasmania.

 

Frida giving me a cheeky grin while waiting for me to catch up.

So if you fancy doing a bit of sport or wildlife photography then I would thoroughly recommend this lens to all Olympus users.

Moody Monochrome

Much is written about “Tasmanian Gothic” – a dark soberness that has its roots in the landscape and the colonial history. Personally I’m not a fan as I feel it colours much of modern-day Tasmania and restricts progress. But, there is no doubt that the weather and the landscape do particularly suit black and white or monochrome photography.

Beached
Wooden tender beached at Pirates Bay, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF20mm f/2.8 USM lens. Exposure: 1/30 s at f/16.0 ISO 100

When I worked with film I loved the whole process for black and white photography. Picking a film and developer combination, then choosing a paper and then finally whether to tone the image or not. The whole process was magical and working in the darkroom, whether it was a commandeered bathroom or a purpose-built one was like a going back to the womb to create something wonderful. Admittedly an awful lot of the time I seemed to turn out a lot of dross, but it was an enjoyable process. To misquote  Kilgore’s eulogy in the Coppola classic film Apocalypse Now “I love the smell of fixer in the morning,”.

Kite Surfing #3
Kite surfing off Park Beach in Tasmania. Olympus E-M10 and OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1600 s at f/6.3 ISO 200.

I would love to work with black and white film again – but living with a rainwater tank for our supply and with a septic tank for waste water management means that I cannot develop film at home and there are no labs in Tasmania that develop the film. So for now it is the digital option, which is not as magical and mystical as the darkroom, is in its own way just as satisfying. No longer following the Zone System laid down by St Ansel, I now expose to the right (ETTR) to get the maximum amount of tonal information in my RAW file and then process in Lightroom. The final black and white conversion is done in NikSoft’s Silver Efx Pro 2, which is always done the same way and mimics what I used to get with Ilford Delta 400 developed in Rodinol and then printed on Ilford FB Warmtone Multigrade paper. My Canon Pixma Pro9000 does a fantastic job of monochrome printing on Harman Gloss Baryta Warmtone. I’ve done two exhibitions using this combination and been delighted with the results.

Murdunna Moorings
Yachts moored on King George Bay Murdunna, Tasmania. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. Exposure: 1/640 s at f/11.0 ISO 800.

Thankfully working digitally means that we can work in both colour and black and white at once, just making the decision of which way to go at the time of processing. It is a great time to be a photographer.

As always clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.