Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS Review

While the company is in the process of being sold to JIP, Olympus has not slowed down in product releases. Today Olympus launched 3 products: super telephoto zoom lensM.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS and two new cameras OM-D E-M10 Mark IV and Mark IIIs. I have had sample/review units of the 100-400mm lens and E-M10 Mark IV for about 2 weeks now, and let’s start with the 100-400mm lens review!
I have also made a video version of Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS Review here:
 
Special thanks to Van Ligutom for helping out with the behind the scenes footage, appreciate it much buddy!
DISCLAIMERS
I am an Olympus Visionary, a brand ambassador for Olympus Malaysia. The Olympus 100-400mm lens was on loan and will be returned to Olympus Malaysia after reviewing purposes. This is a non-technical review, I shall not go deep into analysis, charts, graphs, or any technical comparison. I am sharing my experience as a professional photographer using the Olympus 100-400mm lens. 
PRODUCT OVERVIEW
Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens is a super telephoto zoom lens, and currently has the longest reach of all Olympus Micro Four Thirds lens collection at full 400mm end. This is a non-PRO lens, a more affordable alternative to the coming M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 IS PRO lens, which Olympus mentioned will be released in this coming winter. Here are the specification highlights of the Olympus 100-400mm lens:
– Fully weather-sealed with IPX1 rating
– Superb optical design with 21 elements in 15 groups design
– Built in Image Stabilization
– Compatible with Olympus teleconverters: MC-14 and MC-20 (1.4x and 2.0x conversion respectively)
– Comes with remove-able metal tripod collar and plastic lens hood
– Weight 1.12kg
For full product specifications, please visit the official product page here (click). 
LOOK, FEEL & BUILD QUALITY
The Olympus 100-400mm has a design that looks very similar to a PRO lens such as 40-150mm PRO or 300mm F4 PRO. However, once you hold the lens in hand, you will immediately tell this is different from a true PRO lens – it is not made of full metal construction. The Olympus 100-400mm is made of part plastic and part metal. Nevertheless, the build is robust, there are no creaky parts, and the lens does not feel wobbly, it feels dense and solid in hand. The build quality is impressive for one of Olympus’ largest lenses, and definitely a huge step up from other non-PRO lenses at the moment. You can also tell it is better built than 75-300mm or 12-200mm lenses. Being a lens that weighs significantly more than camera bodies from Micro Four Thirds (1.12kg), the lens does come with a remove-able tripod collar, which is made of full metal. There is also a plastic lens hood, some may complain about the hood being plastic, but I find this to be a prudent decision from Olympus – the plastic hood is made to be sacrificed in case the lens falls down hard onto a hard ground, protecting the glass inside the lens and the camera body from damage due to impact. 

Olympus 100-400mm is not a small lens, best paired with larger bodies, eg E-M1 series

Olympus 100-400mm does come with a lens hood and tripod collar

The tripod collar is remove-able

Lens hood that comes with the 100-400mm is made of plastic

There is a LOCK switch on the lens to prevent the lens from creeping out when not in use. 

There are a number of switches on the lens: Focus Limiter settings, AF-MF switch, and IS on-off switch. 

While the lens is not small, it is still perfectly hand-holdable 

CONTROLS ON LENS
On the lens itself, there are 4 switches for different controls: 1) LOCK to prevent the lens from creeping out when not in use 2) Focus limiter settings to boost AF speed and minimize hunting 3) AF-MF switch 4) Image Stabilization ON-OFF switch. Unfortunately, there is no customizable lens function button like the ones typically found on the PRO lenses. 
HANDLING
I used the Olympus 100-400mm on OM-D E-M1 Mark III, without the HLD-9 battery grip. I have also removed the tripod collar to save some weight, and I did not use the lens hood at all in this particular test to see if there are weird haze, glare, or flare issues with the lens, especially shooting outdoor with a lot of stray lights, or shooting directly against the light. Handling was generally quite comfortable, I have no issues shooting with the Olympus 100-400mm + E-M1 Mark III combo for long duration. I was at the National Zoo shooting continuously for more than 4 hours, and I did not feel any strain on any body parts. I did shift the weight of the lens over to my left hand and use my right hand to gently stabilize the camera and press the shutter button lightly. Everyone has different hand-holding techniques, it becomes more critical when you are handling a super long lens such as the Olympus 100-400mm telephoto lens, and not everyone will be able to successfully hand-hold with no issues. 

IMAGE STABILIZATION
This is the first non-PRO lens from Olympus that includes image stabilization, and rightfully so considering the super telephoto reach of 400mm at the far end. However, it is very important to note that there is no 5-Axis Sync IS, which is a powerful form of hybrid Image Stabilization found from using 300mm F4 PRO and 12-100mm F4 PRO on higher end OM-D bodies (eg E-M1 series). The 5-Axis Sync IS fully utilizes and combines all image stabilization capabilities from camera and lens, resulting in improved stabilization overall. That is not the case for the Olympus 100-400mm lens. Olympus claims the 100-400mm lens has built in 2 Axis IS (for pitch and yaw axis stabilization) and when paired with selected Olympus camera models (I have no information on which specific camera models at this moment other than E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II, E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III), you get additional rolling axis stabilization from the body. Technically, you have 3-Axis IS with compatible Olympus camera bodies, and they claimed the stabilization effectiveness is up to 3 EV steps compensation. That simply means, you can confidently shoot at 1/100 second hand-held (1/800 to 1/400 to 1/200 to 1/100) with the stabilization aid. 
In real practise, I have hand-held fully steady shots down to 1/40 second, and can confidently shoot at 1/80 second. Olympus also mentioned that the 3-Axis IS from the lens is more effective than the OM-D in body 5-Axis IS, since we are dealing with super telephoto focal lengths here. 
All images were shot with Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III. Images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro. 
ƒ/6.11/80236mmISO800
Crop from previous image
ƒ/6.31/160400mmISO1000
Crop from previous image
ƒ/6.31/125400mmISO800

ƒ/5.91/125200mmISO500

ƒ/51/125100mmISO800

ƒ/6.31/200300mmISO1000

ƒ/6.31/80300mmISO200
IMAGE QUALITY
Olympus warned me to tone down my expectations from the 100-400mm lens, since it is not a PRO lens. The lens has 21 elements in 15 groups lens construction, and they include 4 ED elements, 2 Super HR elements and 2 HR elements, which is quite extensive. From my shoot at the zoo, I came home with images that are consistently sharp and full of details. I was generally very impressed by the image quality that the Olympus 100-400mm delivers. 
The images have excellent sharpness, resolving high amount of details and good contrast. The 100-400mm lens is sharp throughout the zoom range from 100mm all the way to 400mm, and the sharpness is consistent from edge to edge and corner to corner. The images were already very sharp shooting at wide open apertures without the need to stop down, and that is very important considering the widest apretures were not that bright to begin with: F5-6.3. I find the lens to render very good and neutral colors. The bokeh quality is not the best from Olympus lenses, but it is also not easy to design such a long lens, and the bokeh is also far from being bad. They are not the smoothest I have seen from Olympus, but they could be a lot worse too. 
There is virtually no distortion noticed in the images, I’d expect some pincushion distortion especially for such a long lens, but straight lines remained perfectly straight. I am not sure how much software correction comes in play. I also did not notice any corner softness, vignetting, and if there were any, they were minimal and definitely negligible. I did observe small traces of chromatic aberration especially shooting at very high contrast area, but the color fringing was so minor and they can be easily corrected. In most cases, more than 95% of the shots, I could not even see any chromatic aberration and I suspect this could be corrected by software as well. Flare resistance is very good, I did not notice any, even shooting against the light, or with the light at an angle, and I did not even have the lens hood attached. I did not notice any weird effects such as light hazing or any other issues. 
While this was clearly not a PRO lens, you can still tell that PRO lenses such as 40-150mm PRO and 300mm F4 PRO can produce superior images than the 100-400mm lens, with better overall clarity, higher level of sharpness and contrast, the 100-400mm itself is no slouch. It is a great performer, definitely a huge leap from what the 75-300mm lens or 12-200mm lens can do. It sits  very comfortable above other Olympus non-PRO tele zoom lenses, yet falls just slightly short of what a true PRO lens can do. 
ƒ/5.61/100138mmISO800

ƒ/6.31/60400mmISO800

ƒ/6.31/200400mmISO200
ƒ/6.31/320100mmISO200
Distortion is well controlled

ƒ/51/1250100mmISO200
An example of good flare and ghosting control of the lens. 

ƒ/51/640100mmISO200
Minimal traces of chromatic aberration (color fringing), even in high contrast situations. 

ƒ/6.11/1000236mmISO200

ƒ/6.31/800400mmISO200
AUTOFOCUS
I don’t normally shoot with C-AF, so I cannot comment on the continuous AF performance. Please don’t expect me to shoot birds in flight. It is not something that I shoot. 
The S-AF performance was very good, as expected from any Olympus lenses at the moment. the AF locks on very quickly and accurately and I find no issue shooting with the 100-400mm lens. 
ADVANTAGE OF 100-400MM ZOOM
The zoom presents a very interesting advantage over, say a 300mm F4 PRO lens. Being a zoom lens, it offers flexibility when it comes to composition. When shooting birds or wildlife, which clearly is what this 100-400mm lens is targeted towards, the photographer may not have the freedom to move around, either to step in closer or move backwards. Sometimes you are stuck in one position, and the zoom helps in getting a variety of composition, either to fit the entire body, or more parts of the animals within the frame. You can also zoom all the way in to 400mm, and if you need more reach there are teleconverters that you can add on. The fact that the image quality is consistent throughout the entire focal zoom range, and you can shoot at wide open aperture with no issue, this is a very versatile lens to have around. 
CHALLENGES WHILE SHOOTING
I must admit, it was NOT easy shooting with the Olympus 100-400mm lens, especially at the 400mm tele end. When shooting with super long lens, it gets very sensitive, even a tiny bit of movement can shake the entire image. The micro movements are amplified multiple fold in magnitude, and can be disastrous. A lot of people will find it a challenge shooting at such long end, it takes patience, skills and practise to get consistently sharp results. I don’t shoot with long lenses often, I only use 40-150mm PRO lens in events, live concerts, or weddings, and even so I don’t shoot with 40-150mm all the time, and not at 150mm that frequently. Suddenly shooting at 400mm was quite jarring to me, and I admit it was quite a big challenge, pushing myself to get perfectly sharp images. 
I tried to aim to have at least 1/100 second shutter speed, and at times that is not possible unless I bump up the ISO numbers. You will see that I often had to resort to ISO800 or above for my images, even shooting under good light, since the animals are usually under shade. Things could get a lot worse if it was an overcast day. It is not about the noise when using high ISO, any camera, as you move up the ISO numbers, you lose pixel integrity. Overall, not only you lose sharpness, you also get less clarity and tonality in your images when high ISO is being used. Ideally we want to stay at ISO200-400, especially when using Micro Four Thirds system, and I find that not possible with the 100-400mm lens. Also, 1/100 second, and pushing to 1/80 second was good enough, but then there was the animal movement, they rarely stay still. 
If you plan to get the 100-400mm lens, and if you are not used to handling long lenses, it will take you some time to get used to the lens, and I hope you have the patience. If you are an experienced bird/wildlife shooter and you use crazy long telephoto lenses a lot, then the 100-400mm lens should not be an issue. 
ƒ/6.11/250261mmISO200

ƒ/5.91/60186mmISO200

ƒ/6.21/250285mmISO200

ƒ/81/80400mmISO200

ƒ/6.31/100400mmISO400

ƒ/6.31/800400mmISO640

ƒ/51/250100mmISO400

ƒ/61/100227mmISO200

ƒ/6.31/200400mmISO200
Crop from previous image
COMPATIBILITY WITH MC-20 & MC-14
Olympus 100-400mm lens is fully compatible with the currently available teleconverters options from Olympus, the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter and MC-20 2.0x teleconverter. This pushes the shooting envelope of the 100-400mm lens, with the MC-20 teleconverter you get a maximum reach of 1600mm (in 35mm format equivalent) which is truly impressive. I have not tested the Olympus 100-400mm lens with the teleconverters, and I will be exploring the performance of these combinations in my coming blog article, and hopefully a video too. This is not the end of Olympus 100-400mm review. 
CONCLUSIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
On the whole, the Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS exceeded my expectations. The lens delivers beautiful images with remarkable sharpness, resolving plenty of fine details and good contrast throughout the entire zoom range. Furthermore, the lens has excellent technical lens flaw control. Although this lens may not be a PRO lens, it is fully weather-sealed with an official rating of IPX1. The build quality surpasses what the current non-PRO lenses offer, and with built in image stabilization inside the lens, the Olympus 100-400mm is perfectly usable hand-held delivering high hit rates. Adding the ability to add even more reach with full teleconverters (MC-14 and MC-20), you get a lot of value from the Olympus 100-400mm lens. 
Is there anything I do not like about the 100-400mm lens? At the asking price point and considering what this lens offers – versatility to shoot at flexible focal lengths, delivering fantastic image quality, any complains would be nitpicking. Perhaps, the variable aperture was not the easiest to work with, dealing with supertelephoto long reach. I admit shooting at F6.3 at the longest end often requires bumping up the ISO numbers. Ideally the lens would have been much better if the longest end has the brighter aperture of F5.6. I fully understand that will also increase the size and weight of the lens, so at this point, Olympus’ offering of the 100-400mm is a good compromise and balance between size, performance and price. 
If you are not a professional photographer and you don’t want to spend a fortune on a PRO grade lens (the coming M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 IS PRO), then this 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens is the more affordable and practical alternative that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Birders and wildlife photographers, rejoice!
Please follow me on my social media: Facebook PageInstagram and Youtube
Please support me and keep this site alive by purchasing from my affiliate link at B&H. 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

SUBSCRIBE
NEWSLETTERS
Signup for our newsletter and read our articles from your inbox!