A smaller, lighter, more affordable update to the Olympus 75-300mm zoom lens, which features professional-grade multi-coating and a re-styled exterior.

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The physical differences between the new M.ZUIKO ED 75-300mm 1:4.8-6.7 II lens and the original  M.ZUIKO ED 75-300mm 1:4.8-6.7  are small but the performance of the new lens has been improved with proprietary ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflection Optical Coating) lens coatings to reduce ghosting and flare. The new lens has also been re-styled to match the body of the OM-D E-M5, while remaining   a good match for PEN series cameras.  

One millimetre slimmer but marginally longer and only seven grams lighter than its predecessor, the new lens has the same optical design with 18 elements in 13 groups. Exotic elements include  one Super ED lens, two ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses to minimise chromatic aberrations and three HR (High Refractive index) lenses to improve light transmission.

The MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) autofocus drive mechanism is also unchanged, with a rear focusing screw drive supporting a motorised zoom mechanism that is smooth, fast and very quiet.   Perhaps the best feature of this lens for many potential buyers is its price tag, which is roughly 30% lower than the previous 75-300mm lens.

Who’s it For?
The long zoom range (150-600mm in 35mm format) makes this lens ideal for photographing wildlife, although it also provides a useful working distance for portraiture, particularly head shots. The working distance is also quite good for close-ups as the lens can focus down to 1.5 metres at the 300mm focal length for close-ups  of subjects such as insects, birds and flowers. However, it doesn’t offer macro capabilities.

The long focal length, smooth zooming and fast autofocusing also make this lens well suited to shooting sports and action and it’s not too heavy to carry around. Improved flare resistance, contrast and clarity will also enhance its value for landscape photographers who want to capture distant scenic views.

Quiet and fast autofocusing as well as support for autofocusing while movies are being recorded make it well-suited for video applications, where its ability to bring distant subjects close can allow dramatic close-ups of action and wildlife. However, these features would only be relevant for owners of Olympus cameras which have stabilisation built-in. (Panasonic camera owners have a stabilised lenses available from Panasonic.)

Build and Ergonomics
We found little to complain about in the original lens and its successor is just as attractive. Although not dust- and moisture-resistant, it’s a comfortable match for the E-M5 camera body we used for this review.

It’s difficult to determine what this lens is made from but its solid, chromed steel mounting plate suggests a metal base with barrels made from high-quality matte black plastic. The overall finish is similar to the previous lens, with the same compromises to minimise overall weight.

Like its predecessor, the new lens isn’t stabilised since all Olympus bodies come with stabilisation systems built in. There’s no distance scale, no zoom lock and no external switch for auto/manual focus selection.

The inner barrel extends by approximately 48 mm as you zoom from 75mm to 300mm. It also rotates through roughly 40 degrees, without changing the position of the front element significantly. Problems with fitting angle-critical attachments like polarisers and graduated filters should be negligible. Tight assembly eliminates zoom creep.

The focusing and zoom rings haven’t changed and both turn smoothly. As the lens is zoomed, the maximum aperture becomes smaller, as shown in the table below.

It takes the same lens hood (LH-61E) as the previous lens, which can be purchased for around $25. We recommend buying it.Between the zoom ring and the camera body is a grip ring with ridges at either side of the lens to make it easier to mount and unmount the lens. This lens is supplied with front and rear caps plus a printed ‘instruction manual’ (which isn’t particularly informative).

Performance
 We found a slight improvement in overall performance in our Imatest tests, which were based upon JPEG files captured with the lens on the OM-D E-M5 camera body. Resolution was generally slightly higher than our tests on the previous lens recorded and our results were more consistent at the three focal length settings we were able to test.   Lack of space in our testing set-up restricted our tests to the 75mm, 100mm and 150mm focal lengths.

Measured resolution exceeded expectations for the E-M5’s sensor at the 75mm and 100mm focal lengths and came close to expectations at 150mm for apertures between f/5 and f/8. The highest resolution was measured at f/6.3 with the 75mm focal length.

Edge softening was slightly greater than we found with the previous lens but remained low for a lens of this type. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible at all focal lengths we tested, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results, below. The red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.
 
Vignetting was only just visible at the widest aperture settings. Stopping down only one f-stop made it disappear. Distortion was effectively negligible.

The review lens was slightly less flare prone in backlit situations than the previous lens, although  it was still relatively easy to force the lens to flare when a bright light source was just outside the frame. Strongly backlit subjects were handled slightly better if the light source was prevented from shining directly into the lens. However, we still feel this lens should be supplied with a lens hood.

The minimum focus of 90 cm at the 75mm focal length (and more than one metre with longer settings) restricts the use of this lens for close-up work, although it’s usable for larger subjects. Bokeh was acceptable for the rather small maximum apertures available.

Autofocusing was faster than we found with the previous lens, which was no slouch on the E-M5 body. We also found a slight improvement in focusing in dim lighting as well as when tracking moving subjects.

Despite slower focusing in the movie mode, we feel there have been some improvements overall. Video clips recorded with this lens on the E-M5 body were relatively free of operational noises from the camera.

In summary

Good for:
 – Sports and wildlife photography and movie recording.
 – Candid and street photography when there’s plenty of room to move about it.
 – Portraiture with shorter focal lengths.
 – Close-ups of subjects that are relatively large.

Not so good for:
 – Macro photography.
 – Panasonic cameras which lack in-camera stabilisation.

Rating

Build

8.5

Handling

8.5

Image quality

8.8

Versatility

8.5

OVERALL

9.0

RRP:  AU$599; US$549.99

SPECS

  • Picture angle: 16 degrees to 4 degrees one minute
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Lens construction: 18 elements in 13 groups; includes one Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion),   two ED and three HR (High Refractive index) elements
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
  • Focus drive: Inner focus with screw drive mechanism
  • Stabilisation: No (stabilisation is built into Olympus camera bodies)
  • Minimum focus: 90 cm
  • Maximum magnification: 0.18x (Micro Four Thirds)
  • Filter size:   58 mm
  • Dimensions (Diameter x L): 69 x116.5 mm
  • Weight:  423 grams (without hood and cap)

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