Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Day at Fraser's Hill with M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II on Olympus OM-D E-M10

About a week ago I have posted on my Facebook Page asking if there was interest of people here seeing me shooting with Olympus long lenses such as M.Zuiko 75-300mm or 40-150mm, on either E-M10 or E-M1. The most popular vote went to the rarely mentioned M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II on Olympus OM-D E-M10 body. I brought this combo and went with a group of photography crazy people of PSPJ (Photographic Society of Petaling Jaya) to Fraser's Hill which is about 2 hours drive away from KL to Pahang. It was a full day outing with a few photography activities lined up including birding, insect macro and portrait shooting. 

Initially I was super tempted to bring along the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro for insect macro shooting, since I have not done any for a long time, as well as that super awesome M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 for model portrait shooting. Disciplining myself and staying true to my own promise of just sticking to one lens, I managed to do everything for the whole trip with just the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. 





ABOUT THE M.ZUIKO 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II

This is the budget friendly super telephoto zoom lens offering from Olympus, covering considerably long range of far zoom of 75mm all the way to 300mm (which is equivalent to 600mm on 35mm format). It is not exactly a popular need for most hobbyists or camera users to use such a long zoom lens, the use for everyday photographer is rather limited. The biggest advantage this lens is the super small and light-weight construction, and I bet this is the smallest 600mm lens equivalent for interchangeable camera system (DSLR or Mirrorless). At the same time, the fact that the maximum aperture opening of the lens is variable from F4.8 to F6.7 makes this lens a rather less popular choice. Most people would be happy with the shorter M.Zuiko 40-150mm F4-5.6 lens, or even the obvious, more attractive alternative, Panasonic 100-300mm F4-5.6 lens, which has wider F5.6 opening at 300mm. 

I think at the end of the day, it all comes down to how well the lens performs, in terms of autofocus, handling as well as the final image quality that it delivers. Will the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II do well? That is the question I intend to answer in this blog entry. No I am NOT going to do a blog review, I do not have sufficient time to do so. This blog will be a discussion and sharing of my experience using the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 for one full day of shooting. 


Before we move on, please take note that I have NEVER done birding or attempting bird photography in any form before. The birds I have taken at Bird Park at KL previously were merely zoo-type photography. This is my first attempt at bird photography, so I do not expect high quality bird images from this outing. This is more like a learning outing, and it is important for me to expose myself to different genres of photography. 

Let's start with the MOST obvious question, how does the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens perform at the longest zoom, 300mm?

1/80sec, F6.7, ISO1000, 300mm
Chestnut-Capped Laughingthrush

1/60sec, F6.7, ISO640, 300mm
Silver Eared Mesia

1/80sec, F6.7, ISO640
Long Tailed Sibia

1/640sec, F6.7, ISO200, 300mm

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1/80sec, F6.7, ISO800, 300mm

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1/60sec, F6.7, ISO400, 300mm

1/80sec, F6.7, ISO640, 300mm

1/80sec, F6.7, ISO640, 300mm

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1/400sec, F6.7, ISO400, 275mm


PERFORMANCE AT 300mm 

The main reason why anyone would buy this lens, is for the far reach of 300mm. 

The M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II performed unexpectedly well at the furthest zoom of 300mm. I was impressed with the amount of fine detail being captured, even zooming in to the birds at 100% magnification, I can see the well defined feathers. I do not expect this lens to be as sharp as the PRO grade M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 lens, but being a budget-conscious lens, this 75-300mm II lens is seriously no slouch at all. Hand-holding at 1/60sec or faster shutter speed, with the aid of the 3-Axis Image Stabilization on the OM-D E-M10, I can get away with high hit rate of sharp images. 

Initially I anticipated soft images shooting wide open at F6.7, and thought I needed to stop down a little further, say F8 to acquire sufficiently sharp images. I was wrong. Shooting wide open was completely fine, and as the images do get better being stopped down a little, I was perfectly happy with what I have achieved with the lens at widest open of F6.7 at longest 300mm. Speaking based on my limited experience strictly, with my brief encounters with similar range lenses from other competitions, I have NOT seen anything as sharp as this. Not even the older Zuiko Digital 70-300mm F4-5.6 (DSLR Four Thirds lens). In order to match the sharpness achieved at F6.7 of this M.Zuiko 75-300mm II, the older Four Thirds 70-300mm lens will need to be stopped down at least to F8. 


HANDLING WITH SMALLER CAMERA, EG OM-D E-M10

One big concern while using this lens would be the handling, how balanced it is with smaller cameras, since the lens itself is not exactly that small. Using this M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II on E-M1 would not be an issue at all, with the beefier hand grip on the E-M1.

I attached the External Camera Grip, ECG-1 designed specifically for the E-M10, and I highly recommend whoever using E-M10 to get this, if you want to use larger, longer and heavier lenses, such as M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 or this M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. That grip provided much needed counter-weight to balance the heft of the lens.

Using the M.Zuiko 75-300mm II lens on E-M10 with the ECG-1 grip, handling was very good. I did not strain my wrist, and the lens was easy to hold, despite the full plastic construction on the outside. Surprisingly the lens is lighter than it looks, despite the rather large size for a Micro Four Thirds lens. I was comfortable hand-holding the lens, and was able to steady my shots even at critically slow shutter speeds.


1/100sec, F6.2, ISO2500, 208mm

1/400sec, F6.7, ISO320, 300mm

1/125sec, F8, ISO200, 187mm

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1/125sec, F6.3, ISO200, 228mm

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1/500sec, F6.7, ISO200, 300mm

1/200sec, F6.7, ISO1600, 300mm. Fill in flash used. 

1/100sec, F4.8, ISO200

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HOW ABOUT THE SHARPNESS AT OTHER FOCAL LENGTHS?

Yes, we have talked about the lens being sharp at full zoom 300mm. Normally, for such a telephoto zoom lens, it will be the softest at the longest focal length. That fact still remains true for this M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7, the lens is indeed sharp from the shorter zoom range, 75mm to 200mm. The sharpness did drop a little toward the longer focal length beyond 200mm but as I have shown earlier was still more than sharp enough for most application. 

Now sharpness is one thing, but there is something about the way this lens renders contrast, it is similar to the more expensive 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens, though I must admit the PRO lens is noticeably better. The look of the images reminds me of what I have accomplished with the PRO lens, and that itself is another wonderful surprise which I did not expect. 

CLOSE UP PERFORMANCE. MACRO?

I made a mistake in assuming this lens has a macro capability built in, much like the Four Thirds DSLR counterpart, Zuiko Digital 70-300mm F4-5.6, which could do a 0.5x magnification. The magnification for the M,.Zuiko 75-300mm II is at 0.38x, which is nothing to write home about. 

The lens is capable at shooting very sharp close up images, and the closest focusing distance is at 0.9m when shooting at 75mm, and 1.5m when zoomed in to 300mm. While you cannot get large magnification (do not expect good images with smaller insects), but I could get away with very decent close up at 75mm focal length, as seen in my lego images  above. The starting aperture of F4.8 widest when shooting at 75mm is already very sharp, and not much difference in sharpness is observed when stopping down to F5.6. The sharpness is of course better at F8, but I would not hesiatate to shoot wide open at 75mm, just as I would do so at the longest 300mm. Also take note that the lego image is at the largest magnification the lens is capable of. 

I do wish the lens can do better close up shooting. Why could Olympus not maintain the 0.5x magnification ratio? That could have been a great feature to have, negating the need for a dedicated macro lens if extreme macro is not something you do often. Seeing how sharp the M.Zuiko 75-300mm II lens is, I am sure it could have been a versatile macro lens!

CHROMATIC ABERRATION, FLARE CONTROL

I did not encounter any, but I suspect this has much to do with the in-camera processing and correction, thanks to the superb Olympus Truepic 7 engine. I have also pointed the lens (without any hood attached) directly against strong source of light, and did not observe any flare. Generally flare is a huge problem for wide angle lenses, not so much an issue for long lenses. Even if you do not have a hood, it is not going to be something to worry about. 


1/4sec, F16, ISO200, 75mm. hand-held

1/3200sec, F22, ISO200, 156mm

1/400sec, F5.3, ISO250, 117mm

1/400sec, F5.5, ISO250, 140mm

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1/100sec, F5.0, ISO250, 85mm

1/80sec, F5, ISO200, 85mm

1/125sec, F4.8, ISO250, 75mm

AUTOFOCUS

Focusing, like any modern M.Zuiko lenses on OM-D, is super fast. Even all the way at 300mm longest zoom, I had no issue locking my focus almost instantaneously, and focusing was dead on accurate. 

BOKEH

Any long lens has good ability to render shallow depth of field, and the bokeh of M.Zuiko 75-300mm II is smooth and creamy. I do not find the bokeh to be distracting even stopping down to F8 (I do not stop further than that most of the time). Even at 75mm, shooting at F4.8 which is not considered a very bright aperture, the rendering of out of focus area is pleasing and beautiful, much like the rambutan shot above. 

ABILITY TO SHOOT WITH IMAGE STABILIZATION

Olympus has been the fore-runner when it comes to Image Stabilization of camera systems. I personally have not tested, and do not know how good the new Dual IS by Panasonic GX8 is, but as for now, even the 3-Axis Image Stabilization from OM-D E-M10 works effectively against shake. I can get away with super slow shutter, such as 1/4sec for the waterfall shot as shown above, and that is more than 5 stops of stabilization. Try shooting at 150mm with whatever lens on your DSLR, with or without Image Stabilization, see if you can do 1/4sec handheld! 

The 3-Axis Image Stabilization helped me greatly when I was shooting the birds hand-held. Most of the birds were hiding underneath dark shade, and I needed to boost the ISO to 800 to achieve at least 1/60sec to 1/80sec. I was shooting at full zoom 300mm (600mm equivalent in 35mm format) with 1/60sec, that is a comfortable 3 stops stabilization. That allowed me to avoid using ISO1600-3200, which would impair the image quality on the whole. 

I am also expecting the E-M5 Mark II and E-M1 to be able to stabilize the lens even better, with the 5-Axis IS. 

Ultimately, I think the superior Olympus image stabilization system is a compelling reason why the OM-D system works. Once you have experienced how powerful the IS system can be, and how it has improved your hand-held photography, there is no turning back. 

9mm F8 Fisheye Body Cap lens used for this shot. Distortion corrected
Special thanks to Edwin Ng and team for organizing such a wonderful and enjoyable event. It was a group of over 40 people, mostly driving all the way from KL. PSPJ is an awesome photography community, you can find me there! 

M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II has exceeded my expectations on what the lens can deliver. It performs well in terms of autofocus and handling, and delivers detail rich images even at the longest 300mm zoom. The lens is generally very sharp throughout all focal lengths, and can be used without hesitation at the widest aperture without stopping down. Handling is good, while hand-holding the lens is not an issue with the amazing Image Stabilization system in Olympus OM-D cameras. Above all, the lens is not expensive, yet small and light. 

I have also recently tested and written about the M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II lens, and I rate this M.Zuiko 75-300mm II lens sharper (noticeably, but not by a huge margin) overall. 

However, I am not entirely happy with the small aperture widest opening of F4.8-6.7, and I honestly wish it was wider, at least F5.6 on the longest 300mm. I was also hoping that the lens can at least do a close up magnification of 0.5x, like the predecessor Four Thirds 70-300mm F4-5.6. These are my only two complains on this lens. Otherwise, it is difficult to find fault, and the image quality is as good as what a standard telephoto zoom (non high grade or PRO level) can be. 


I know some of you beautiful people do have the M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II. Do you agree with my findings? Share your thoughts and experience, to add on to what I have written here. 

Additional notes:
1) It was my first time to Fraser's Hill. I love the place to bits! It is photography paradise for nature lovers and chasers. 
2) It was not easy shooting with a mere low-level lens, when everyone else around you use much larger and more expensive lenses (we are talking about those 300mm, 400mm or 600mm F2.8 bazookas from Canon and Nikon), or at least 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. 
3) I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE M.ZUIKO 300MM F4 PRO LENS COME ON!!!!!!!!


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31 comments :

  1. Clear bird feather detail. The other photos were sharp enough, well toned and coloured. Bokeh was nice. Bravo

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    1. Thanks Ananda. That lens is good!

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  2. Great pictures Robin. Sad that I missed it. I can't wait for the 300mm f4 too :-)

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  3. I was also skeptical of this lens' performance when told about it, but now I am quite convinced of its prowess. I will be using it again on safaris this year.

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    1. You should give it a go! Though in terms of sharpness and overall quality it is nowhere close to the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

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    2. Terrific "user report". I have used this lens successfully for people, landscape and grand kid daylight sports : > ) No doubt the soon to be 300mm f:4 will be a
      great addition to the pro line-up of m4/3's lenses. Maybe one day I can add bird photography to the list. I wish that the 75-300 II had been weather proofed like
      the 14-150 II is now.

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    3. Thanks for the kind words. I think not adding weather-sealing is fine, if they did, I am sure the lens will cost significantly higher.

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  4. I have this lens and use it all the time. I like it for scenery shots when I can't get close. I also take it to baseball games and get great action shots of the players at home plate, in spite of sitting some distance away. We do a zoo shoot regularly and a shoot with a raptor rescue organization also. I use this lens to get close-ups of the animals when I can't get close to them. Your pictures reflect my experiences. I think you got some wonderful photos!

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    1. Thanks Kathleen for sharing and wow, you do have a lot of use for that 75-300mm II lens! I am sure the money is well spent and you have many amazing keepers

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  5. I bought this lens just as you announced that you'd like to take out one of the two tele zooms. Olympus emailed me about their summer special here in Europe, which is offering cash back on a few lenses. So I took advantage of it. It is still running until the end of August and if anyone bought it in the last two months (give or take) it is still possible to apply for the cash back until end of September. This lens has a street price of €420 and you'll get €125 back.

    Anyway, I'm amazed buy the bird pictures taken at 300mm! I didn't have much opportunity to properly test my copy. And so far my results at 300mm were mixed. First of all I should say that weapons grade lenses like the 45, 75 and 12-40mm really spoil and bias me, but this isn't a pro lens and all in all it takes good quality pictures. Up into the low 200mm range it is really good, given enough light.

    At 300mm I found it difficult to judge the quality because what I am interested in are distance shots. Shooting hand held is a challenge because I don't know how effective the IS is under those cirumstances. Using a tripod in a slight breeze the camera swayed a little and I could see that on the display while zoomed out and looking at landscape about 1-2km away. And the day being hot there were probably atmospheric distortions which would explain the wiggly lines. Hence it is not easy to say if the lens is soft or if it is the fault of environmental influences.

    Today I was biking at noon time in really intense sun light. Perfect for this lens. And finally I took some shots that were satisfying for me. It is not a 75/1.8 but considering that I was shooting a 600mm equivalent, hand held, I'm quite impressed by what can be done. And at 75, 100, 200 and 220mm it gave me some really nice images as well, of course. Robin, if you'd like to see a few of those shots I can forward them. They are not nearly as impressive as your bird shots, however.

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    1. Hi Jochen,

      We shall always remember that prime lenses would be superior in terms of overall image quality and sharpness, and Olympus PRO lenses are dangerously close to what prime lenses an do. Setting that expectation aside, being a budget friendly super zoom lens, the 75-300mm II is doing quite well. You are right to tame down those expectations.

      Glad that you have purchased the lens and I am sure you will make many wonderful images with it!

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  6. Very impressive. You showed that this lens performs much better than I expected. Great shots, especially at 300mm wide open. Surprising sharp at the limit. Thanks!

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    1. It surprised me as well! Thank goodness I did not have to stop down the aperture further.

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  7. Hello there!!! I am impressed by your photos, as always. But in my country I can buy this lens with around 600 $ including a discount, so it is hard to tell this is a budget lens. Perhaps Olympus and Panasonic should concentrate on really cheap lenses instead to repeat the mistake with the 4/3 System. A Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 for other mounts costs in Romania and worldwide around 200-250$....

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    1. Hi Mircea,
      But you are not putting forth a fair comparison. A Sigma 70-300mm lens on an APS-C DSLR will give you a maximum of 450mm equivalent focal length, in comparison to full 600mm reach. 450mm vs 600mm is a huge difference, believe me.

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    2. The reason I mentoned budget friendly, is in comparison to PRO lenses which would obviously cost about 2-3 times more.

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  9. Hi Robin,
    You got some great bird shots!

    I think that was a fair summing up of this lens and its features and short-comings. I am always bemoaning the lack of a macro mode since I am a bug shooter but have steered toward birds far more of late. I can't resist some macro shots if I see something which I usually do and am frustrated as my old Tamron zoom of same focal lengths had that capability and this just can't do what I have come to expect. I tend to take my 60mm macro often now but it would be great for a quick shot here and there to have macro on the 75-300.
    Would have definitely liked a wider aperture at the 300 end as you pointed out too Robin.
    I generally only afford budget zooms such as this but would be very tempted to lash out for a 300mm f/4 pro lens! Thanks for another interesting post! :)

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Kim. I would think that most people would only afford the budget friendly version as well! While the 300mm F4 would undoubtedly be a great lens, I don't see myself being able to fork that much cash to get one! So you are not alone. And it is comforting to know that even the lower priced lenses from M.Zuiko line up can deliver as well!

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  10. Hi Robin,

    Are you sure you didn't glue those birds down? :) For someone who hasn't done much birding, you've got some excellent "in the wild" shots. My own experience is that the birds decide to fly away just before I take the shot. Those are gorgeous birds. I'm glad they posed so nicely for you, so that we can all enjoy them.

    For me, this lens is one of the main reasons I went with the Olympus Micro Four-Thirds system. I use it often with my EM-5 MkII; I'm very pleased with the results. You just can't get a 600mm equivalent system elsewhere with this low weight and high quality.

    One of the other main reasons I went w/Olympus is your blog. You take such excellent photos, and I appreciate your views on photography. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Philb,

      No no, no animals were harmed while the photos were taken, LOL. Nonetheless Fraser's hill is a known spot for bird shooters, as well as nature/wildlife lovers.
      Thanks so much for the visits/support here and I appreciate your kind words. Do go out and shoot more beautiful photographs!

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  11. Great shots! You've established your eye as a avian photographer too. Can't recall if you've mated the 40-150 with 1.4x teleconverter--I would be interested in your views about this combo; particularly in comparison with the 74-300. Again, wonderful images all-around.

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    1. Hi Dan,
      Oh no no, I was merely getting my feet wet. Those shots were nothing special compared to what the others could do (with more experienced and of course super expensive bazookas). I do not think I would have the time to do any comparison, it is just too taxing (bringing two cameras or keep changing lens, with tripod, etc). I'd rather just go out and have fun shooting! Do understand that I only do all this during my spare time in the weekends. Free time is hard to come by these days.

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  12. Great blog post again. I'm surprised how good you got these pictures. You are a great photographer Robin!!. I am very pleased with my lens, but it seems that it does not match my 40-150mm f2.8 when it comes to contrast. I think that 75-300mm lens still bang for the bucks. Small and lightweight with high reach.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words opas. Surely the 75-300mm will not come close to 40-150mm F2.8 in terms of image quality. But for what it is, I think it is a great performer!

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  13. Hi Robin! I want to ask you for the IS configuration, specially when you have attached telephoto lens. There are different modes for the IS, what of them do you use? Thank you

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  14. great pictures, however I'm curious. I see that the shutter speed on the bird pictures were relatively slow for those focal lengths. Did you use a tripod or monopod for those pictures? Or were they all handheld? I have the E-M5II and the image stabilization is great. But I don't think I can ever get such sharp image with handheld, at that shutter speed.

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  15. I have the Zuiko Digital 70-300mm F4-5.6 with an adapter for micro 4/3. It's a good lens, but I miss some shots because of focusing issues. Do you think the new lens is a worthwhile upgrade or would I be better off keeping the lens I have? It is likely that I'll get the 300 when it comes out, so the zoom is more of a portable walkout lens for me.

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  16. I have this lens and love it. It is always in my camera bag. I can carry this lens for a whole day of shooting without any issues, as it is very light and compact.
    It's also great for moon shots. You should try it. I use it with both an OM-D E-M5 and a Pen E-PM2. The 5-axis IBIS on the OM-D is more than sufficient to allow for hand-held photos with no support whatsoever even at 300mm. With the Pen E-PM2 and its 2-axis IBIS, this task is a bit more challenging, but I still can take sharp photos at 300mm, hand-holding, if I use some kind of support under my arms (a wall, a bench, etc).
    I wonder how can people justify buying the new Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4.0-6.3, when you have such quality lens at 1/5th of the price. Unless you need the 400mm and the weathersealing, I can't understand paying a premium price for a variable aperture lens, when you have options such as the M.Zuiko 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II.

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  17. Hi, Robin, thank you for writing this review. I am an EM-10 user and I feel hard to pick between Panasonic 100-300mm and this O 75-300 ii. If price difference is not a concern, is P 100-300 better than 75-300 ii on EM-10, in terms of auto focus speed, image stabilization (use lens IS for P lens and 3-axis camera IS for O lens), and wide open sharpness at 300mm?

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