Like Olympus, Panasonic is working hard to get its Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras accepted amongst serious photographers and professionals, and with this new super-telephoto zoom it's taken a big step forward.
The optical design reflects its intended market, and the lens has been given the Leica seal of approval and a Leica badge.
On an MFT camera, this 100-400mm lens equates to a 200-800mm zoom, so it's perfect for long-range sports, bird watching and wildlife photography in general. In fact, this is the longest focal length yet for a Micro Four Thirds camera – though if you use the new Olympus 300mm f/4 with its optional 1.4x teleconverter, that's slightly longer again.
Like the new Olympus lens, the Panasonic 100-400mm zoom also has very good close-up capability, offering 0.5x magnification at close range.
Small but tough
The smaller sensor format of Micro Four Thirds cameras compared to APS-C or full-frame cameras means the lenses are correspondingly smaller too, and this really pays dividends with super-telephotos. The Panasonic 100-400mm is much smaller and lighter than equivalent DSLR lenses, which could be particularly useful if you do a lot of travelling.
It uses 'gapless' construction to provide weather sealing against dust and rain, and it has an innovative two-part tripod collar that lets you quickly rotate the lens through 90 degrees for portrait or landscape orientation, but keeps the focus limiter, power, O.I.S., and manual focus switches in the same place.
The focus system itself, claims Panasonic, is quiet enough not to be heard while filming, and 4K video is a big part of Panasonic's strategy – especially its 4K Photo function, which effectively lets you grab 8MP stills at 30fps in bursts which are as long as you like (the maximum duration is minutes, in other words, not just a few seconds).
The new 100-400mm also incorporates Panasonic's Power Optical Image Stabilisation (O.I.S.), which can work in combination with in-body stabilization systems (in the Panasonic GX8, for example), and a foldaway lens hood to control flare in bright light.
The Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 ASPH is available for pre-order, costing £1,349/US$1,798.