Olympus boosts its pro lens range with a new 300mm f/4 super-telephoto

Olympus 300mm f/4

Olympus will always face an uphill struggle in the world of enthusiast/professional photography because its interchangeable lens camera systems are built around the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) sensor, which is roughly half the size of the more common APS-C format, itself around half the size of the full frame cameras the pros prefer.

But continued sensor development means MFT cameras like the OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 II can produce DSLR-rivalling image quality, especially at lower ISO settings. And the smaller sensor format brings big advantages for telephoto lens design.

It means that Olympus's new 300mm f/4 telephoto is actually equivalent to a 600mm lens on a full frame camera, so this is a properly fast, long lens ideal for sports and wildlife photography, and one that neatly rounds off Olympus's pro lens line-up.

Olympus 300mm f/4

The Olympus 300mm f/4 might look a monster, but it's actually a fraction of the size and weight of an equivalent 600mm lens on a full frame camera.

That's not all. The smaller sensor format means the lenses themselves are smaller, so this one is a lot more compact than a regular 300mm f/4 designed for DSLRs. In fact it weighs in at just 1270g, whereas to get the same magnification and aperture on a full frame Nikon (for example) you'd need the Nikkor 600mm (5060g).

This is one of Olympus's big arguments for its MFT camera system – it's not just the camera bodies which are lighter and more compact, but the lenses too. The more lenses you have to pack, the further you have to travel and the longer you have to stand around holding and shooting with them, the more you appreciate any kind of weight saving.

Steady, now

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm 1:4.0 IS Pro (to give it its full name) is designed for Olympus's higher-end OM-D cameras, the E-M1 and E-M5 II. These have built-in 5-axis image stabilization, but Olympus says the new lens has 'state of the art' IS which co-ordinates an in-lens stabilization unit with the in-body stabilization to provide a 6 step improvement – that means you should be able to use shutter speeds 6 steps slower than normal without camera shake. Most makers claim only 4 or 4.5 steps.

Image stabilization is especially important in super-telephoto lenses, and the Olympus system stabilizes both the captured image and the image in the viewfinder, making it easier to keep fast-moving subjects centered in the frame.

Olympus 300mm f/4

The new lens is dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-proof.

The new lens also has an extremely short minimum focus distance for a lens of this type of just 1.4m, offering a 0.48x magnification ratio – that's half way to a true 1:1 macro capability. The lens is also dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-proof to reflect the kinds of conditions professional telephoto lenses need to be able to work in.

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm 1:4.0 IS Pro will be available from Spring 2016 priced at £2199.99/US$2499.99, though you can pre-order right now.

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Rod Lawton is Head of Testing for Future Publishing’s photography magazines, including Digital Camera, N-Photo, PhotoPlus, Professional Photography, Photography Week and Practical Photoshop.