Olympus Lens Shootout, Consumer Zoom vs Professional Prime
The Olympus 75-300mm ƒ4.8-6.7 II takes on the Olympus 300mm ƒ4.0 IS Pro
When I started experimenting with Olympus cameras in 2014 the first telephoto lens I purchased was the Olympus MZ 75-300mm ƒ4.8-6.7 II (75-300). I only used it for a few months before deciding to dive a little deeper into Olympus and picked up a better telephoto lens. That was the beginning of the end as I slowly made a full switch to Olympus from Canon. Since putting the 75-300 to the side 7 years ago I have only used it once, when doing this Olympus 300mm Lens Comparison. I do recommend taking a look at that comparison as well, has a lot of useful information.
Since doing the above comparison I have moved to Alaska and found a very cooperative Red Fox (Vulpes Vulpes) living along a local cycling/walking path. Over the course of a few months I had captured a large number of amazing images of her using my professional level lenses. While photographing Gorgeous (my nickname for her) one day I was thinking about photographing her with my 75-300 just to see how well it would perform but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Since today was a clear sunny day I decided it was time to try and put the 75-300 on one of my Olympus OMD EM1’s (EM1) and threw it into the my pack. My normal wildlife photography setup is the Olympus MZ 300mm ƒ4.0 IS Pro (300/4) and Olympus ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 (150/2), which I personally believe is the best two lens combination I have ever used. Since I was bringing the 75-300 the decision was made to leave one of the other two lenses at home. The idea of doing a lens comparison never entered my mind because she never sits still very long. This makes taking photos with two different lenses from the same spot/distance almost impossible, which is a key component of how I do my comparisons. My initial thought was bring the 150/2 since I would have 300mm of reach if needed from the 75-300. At the last minute I swapped the 150/2 for the 300/4, honestly don’t remember what prompted me to make that switch but glad I did.
I arrived at 14:30 and it only took me a couple of minutes to locate her. I was able to capture a few images before she decided to head into her pipe of hiding. Her pipe of hiding is actually a drainage pipe that runs under the trail that she uses from time to time, especially when someone comes by with a dog. When she goes into the pipe she can be there for a few minutes to several hours, so it was time to get comfortable and wait. There is a large tree with a clear view of the pipe about 30 feet away that makes the perfect spot to capture images as she emerges. I was sitting about 15 feet off the trail and was there for 2 hours before she came out looking well rested. During my wait there were about 20 people who came down the trail and not one of them noticed me. It really does amaze me how unobservant most people are when in nature.
I was photographing her for about two minutes before realizing how content she was sitting there eating snow. So I decided to pull my other EM1 with the 300/4 out of my pack and take some photographs for a lens comparison. Since I wasn’t planning on doing a lens comparison my backpack wasn’t right next to me with the other camera/lens ready to go. This lead to a slight different perspective between the two images which were taken 25 seconds apart. I do wish the 75-300 image was framed a bit differently to compare the bokeh of the branches on the left in the 300/4 photo. Normally I do much better job of matching the perspectives but after moving to the backpack I was worried any more movement would spook her and didn’t want to risk it. The photos were taken from a sitting position with my elbows supported by my knees, a nice stable position for capturing sharp images without a tripod. She was eating snow and would lick the snow off her face, which enabled me to capture two very close to identical tongue out images. I purposely composed the photos with her looking into the short side of the image, which breaks the “rules of composition”. I like breaking “the rules” on occasion to make a more varied portfolio and change the mood of an image.
The photo from the 75-300 was accidentally taken at 270mm vs 300mm. While switching between cameras I bumped the zoom ring and didn’t notice I wasn’t at max zoom for the photographs. My copy of the 75-300 starts getting soft at about 280mm, so this image was taken from where I typically use the lens. The softness at the end of the zoom range is typical for most zooms and while not a fault of the lens it is something you should be aware of when using a zoom. The 300/4 has no crop while the 75-300 does have a slight crop to make Gorgeous the same size in both photographs.
I processed both images using a preset I developed for my fox images which is based off of my standard wildlife preset in Lightroom.
Enough talk, let’s take a look at the comparison photographs.
I highly recommend clicking through to Flickr to get a much better look at the full resolution images.
There is no debate about which one is sharper and has better resolution. There are enough test sites out there that have shown over and over again that the 300/4 has more resolution than the 75-300. But how much difference does that extra resolution make in real world shooting. When you zoom in the 300/4 did capture more fine detail (really noticeable in the eyes) and does a better job distinguishing between individual hairs. For typical web display or small prints there is probably not going to be much in the way of noticeable differences. When printing large or zooming in on the full resolution image the 300/4 is just going to hold up a lot better. It will provide greater detail that will hold up even when viewing say a 40x30 image from a foot away (have a 40x30 hanging in my house to prove it). The 75-300 is just not going to hold up to really large prints like the 300/4 does.
This is another area that the 300/4 is just going to dominate in. In the 75-300 photo the focus falloff on the fox looks pretty good, there are no glaring deficiencies. The background is another story all together. The transitions from one color to the next in the background is just so much smoother with the 300/4. The 75-300 has hard lines between the colors where the 300/4 has a much nicer and smoother flow from color to color. While I find the detail from the 75-300 right at the line of being acceptable, the background bokeh just isn’t as pleasing. This is one of the advantages and why wildlife photographs prefer fast lenses like the 300/4. I am working on a review of the 75-300 and have images where the backgrounds are acceptable. When the conditions are right and the background is far enough away the 75-300 can create decent bokeh (it is never as beautiful as what the 300/4 can do in the same situations), but it does struggle when the background is closer like in these images.
Depth of Field (DoF):
These images were taken from approximately 30 feet away with the 300/4 having a DoF of 4.2 inches and the 75-300 8.8 inches. If you look at the 300/4 photo you will see that the nose/tongue are in focus as are the eyes and the DoF extends back to just before the right ear. The right ear still retains enough detail and sharpness to not be a blurry mess and gives a good impression of being in focus. The photo also holds good detail in the fur under the chin and down a bit on the chest before starting to falloff. The 75-300 has just over 2x the DoF with good focus all the way down the chest. While the extra DoF does add a bit to the image I don’t think there is enough added detail to offset the busier background bokeh. The 300/4 is sharper when stopped-down to ƒ5.6 but I don’t find the additional sharpness worth the change in bokeh most of the time. There are times like in my Gentle Reminder story where I did need to stop-down for more DoF to create a compelling image. For a better understanding of DoF when using telephoto lenses I recommend reading my story about the DoF misconceptions and telephoto lenses.
The 300/4 shot is noticeably better to me. I use LightRoom and put all the images from the shoot into the Quick Selection Catalog and organized it by time taken. Going through that folder I could instantly tell which lens took which photograph, the 300/4 is just noticeably better in every way. The 75-300 is capable of making great images when used within it’s limits and honestly is just as good as those 150-600mm lenses from Sigma and Tamron at half the cost and a quarter the weight. An update of the lens with IS would go a long way to making this a much better lens and would help with my biggest complaint of it being too light for it’s focal length. It would also get me to sell my current 75-300 and buy the updated version.
Final Thoughts on the 75-300:
I know many will look at these images and wonder why they should spend the additional money on the 300/4 since the images are pretty close in quality. One thing to keep in mind is that this comparison was done in the absolute best conditions for the 75-300. In my Olympus 300mm Lens Shootout I took images at different distances and the loss of detail going from 35 feet to 41 feet is noticeable. The 75-300 just doesn’t have the resolution for shooting from long distances and cropping. In this comparison I was shooting from a short distance to the subject which greatly helped the lens capture a lot detail. There was also plenty of light so the photos were taken at base ISO with a shutter speed high enough to get handheld photos while also freezing action. Because of the smaller aperture of the 75-300, it is lens that performs best in good light. If you are shooting in less than perfect light (which is pretty typical when it comes to wildlife photography) you will have to raise the ISO, which increases noise and decreases detail captured. With less resolution than the 300/4, the 75-300 will not handle increased ISO as well and will quickly lose ground as the ISO goes up. So this really was the ideal setting for the 75-300. One other big advantage to the 300/4 is the amazing weather-sealing of Olympus. I shoot a lot in the rain as well as from a kayak and weather-sealing is something I rely on.
I have thought about selling the 75-300 many times over the last 7 years. I have kept it around because it would be handy when weight is a concern, like multi-day backpacking/bikepacking trips. Until moving to Alaska I really haven’t used or carried the lens with me, except to do lens comparisons. But I have been doing a lot more backpacking/bikepacking trips and this comparison persuaded me to keep the lens for those purposes. The 300/4 is just a tad on the heavy side to carry on multi-day backpacking trips, especially when they are at elevation. I also carry the lens on my daily bike rides because here in Anchorage you never know what you will come across while riding the local trails through town. These fox images were taken on one such trail.
I hope some find this helpful/useful. It was fun watching Gorgeous and seeing what the lowly 75-300 is capable of, which honestly surprised me to some degree.
I have uploaded full resolution images from the article to this Flickr album so you can view them in greater detail.
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