Well we’re well and truly in summer now here in York. The mercury has hit 42℃ (107℉), the wheat crop is in and the water level in the River Avon is steadily dropping. This time of year brings the western corellas (Cacatua pastinator) in huge numbers. They migrate here to fatten up on the spilled wheat around the CBH grain handling facility and because of the water in the river. Being seed eaters they need quite large quantities of water to help digest their food. The corellas take up residence in the large gum trees that line
the banks of the river and that means lots of them can be found in the Pioneer Avon Park. Unfortunately for the corellas this all roughly coincides with Australia Day and this is a problem at the park because the town chooses to celebrate Australia Day there, lots of awards are handed out and of course lots of speeches are made. Corellas are noisy – very noisy especially in their hundreds and they can easily drown out a PA system. One year our shire CEO had his wonderful speech (well he thought it was wonderful we the citizens of York thought otherwise) drowned out by raucous squawking and it made him more than a little cross to say the least. To prevent such a thing happening the next year he arranged for the birds to be culled just a few days before Australia Day. This is why York wakes up to the sound of gunfire in the days leading up to Australia Day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So if you fancy doing a bit of sport or wildlife photography then I would thoroughly recommend this lens to all Olympus users.