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 (CLICK).  
Special thanks to Van Ligutom for helping out with the behind the scenes footage, appreciate it much buddy!

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. 

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). 

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 

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. 

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. 

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. 


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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. 




Distortion is well controlled

An example of good flare and ghosting control of the lens. 

Minimal traces of chromatic aberration (color fringing), even in high contrast situations. 



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. 

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. 

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. 










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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. 

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!

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  1. Thanks Robin, I was expecting IS sync with Oly bodies which gonna be advantage over Pana 100+400. Any opinion compare to Pana Leica 100-400, in terms of size and image quality? Thank you. Tayzar

    1. Technically for selected Olympus cameras, you still get 3-Axis IS, and is an advantage since rolling axis is quite critical too and can be easily stabilized on body.
      The Olympus lens has more extensive optical construction (25 elements in 15 groups, Panasonic has something like 20 elements), and Olympus lens takes in teleconverters that allow even more reach. So yeah, I'd take the Olympus.

    2. Once again, thank you, Robin. Long time follower of your blog. My current combo is em5 mark3 with Pana 100-400 and I've to off camera IBIS and use lens OS as many suggested, though I've never tested myself.

    3. No worries, feel free to experiment and see what works. I have not tried the Panasonic 100-400mm extensively myself to make useful comments.

  2. Hi Robin excellent review as ever. I have been waiting for this lens for years and years and while it was being conceived bought the Panasonic 100-400. The Pano lens is a very good lens second only to the 300mm pro of Olympus. I had hoped once this lens came out that I would buy it but it lacks the sync IS as you pointed out and not only that but also Switch 2 for vertical panning stabilisation. As you mentioned it does look in some way like a Pro lens but of course isn't. Your findings on sharpness wide open is great news as with the Pano you always need to stop down a stop for good sharpness but at an equivalent of 800mm in full frame you need to stop down to get some depth of field or only the eye/nose of the object will be in focus, so mixed feelings on this lens...Regards.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Philip. Do check out the gallery with full resolution and see if the sharpness is already good enough, and compare with your memory from using the Panasonic lens. I can't say which is better unless I have both lenses and have done plenty of tests to verify.

  3. This is really exciting! The only downside for me migrating back to Olympus recently was losing a bit of zoom range (I was using a Nikon D7000 with the Tamron 18-400 and upgraded to the E-M1 Mark III with the Olympus 12-200 - I gained some wide, which is great, but lost a bit of tele range). This will be a great second lens for my new kit (and I'll be able to afford it, unlike that beautiful 15-400 Pro that will probably cost as much as a nice car)!
    I'm also seeing that this seems to have pretty good macro performance as well due to the short minimum focal range. Can you comment on the macro performance compared to the classic 60mm Macro? I've really been getting into more macro lately so I'm wondering if I'll still want the 60mm (or the not yet revealed pro macro coming up) as well as this in my kit.

    Thanks for all the great content!

    1. 150-400 Pro* (haha 15-400 would be amazing..and huge...and probably cost twice as much or more)

    2. I don't think it is possible to comment or compare the macro shooting between the 100-400mm and 60mm macro. 60mm macro is a lot easier to use, when you use the 100-400mm, shooting at the furthest end 400mm.... even a tiny bit of movement can throw the entire insect out of frame.

    3. Thanks for the input!
      I'll keep the macro on my wishlist then. :)

  4. I am confused about the IS. Why offer 2-axis OIS, and 3-axis combined with camera body? Are Olympus implying that the 5-axis IBIS of the later bodies doesn't work well @ long FLs?

    Any idea how the two options compare?


    When I first got a Leica 100-400, I did some casual comparisons of lens OIS vs. E-M5 II body IBIS. As far as I could tell, they were equal @ 400 mm. I also have some spectacular examples of OLY IBIS with the 75-300 @ 300 mm on E-M5 II at very low shutter speeds. Here's 300 mm @ 1/20 sec. http://www.moosemystic.net/Gallery/tech/E-M5II_IBIS/Robin.htm

    With the latest Oly bodies, why not just turn the lens IS off, and use body IBIS? Does mounting the lens make that not possible?


    1. No IBIS works as well with long lenses as it does with shorter lenses. That's the point of adding OIS in longer lenses.

    2. The fact that your Olympus E-M5 Mark II built in body IS can do as well as the Panasonic 100-400mm len's IS shows how poor the lens IS is in Panasonic, or how good the Olympus 5-Axis IS really is.
      Olympus claimed that the lens IS is still superior especially for longer telephoto end. It makes sense because the movement happens at the longer end of the lens, and there is only so much the body, which is so far away from the lens and where the shake is happening, can do. Lens IS makes more sense for super long lenses.

  5. Robin,

    1. Since you have used the 40-150 PRO with a teleconverter how does this compare subjectively over the overlapping focal lengths for IQ and autofocus?
    2. How does the aperture value change form 5-6.3 over the zoom range?

    Best regards,
    Robin Mark D'Rozario

    1. As I mentioned, I will explore the use of 100-400mm lens with teleconverters in another blog article. I can't discuss everything all at once! Working hard to get the article and content ready! They are coming along.

    2. I think the question was about comparing 100-400 without TC against the effective range of 40-150 with TC

  6. Ouaou! The moon photo is amazing. How can be possible to be the moon so big in your photo. With 150mm (300mm equivalent) the moon is so tiny.

    1. Depending on different locations and time of the year you are shooting, the moon may be closer of further away, appearing in different sizes! So keep shooting when you can, you may get bigger moon next month!

  7. Thanks Robin. Curious for a more nuanced comparison to the 75-300mm, which is the other long non-PRO lens in the Only lineup. I have the 75-300, which is very useable despite it's shortcomings. If this one is a step above, does that mean it has 2x the sharpness if the 75-300? Especially at the long end? Would love to see some side by side shots at 300mm...

  8. I bought the lens a week ago. Until that moment I used the Pana 100-300. I must say, that the new Oly is not easy to use at 400 mm. Yesterday, with wonderful weather I tried to make photo's of birds and other things between 15 and 100 m. But that was a disapointment. Not one image was sharp. When I use the lens close by at 100 - 300 mm the results are rather good. I use the OMD 1 M2. Can you give some information of the ideal settings on the camera when using 400 mm? Hans from Holland.