If you’re a Micro Four Thirds user and you’re in the market for a long telephoto wildlife lens, then look no further than the Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 from Panasonic.
The worthy winner of ‘Best specialist CSC lens’ at the recent Gear of the Year Awards 2016, this optic offers an extremely impressive equivalent focal length of 800mm. This is an incredible range for a lens of this size and price, and it allows the user to fill the frame with the subject without having to physically move closer or make a heavy crop.
The lens is specifically designed for Panasonic’s Lumix G CSC range, but is also fully compatible with any Olympus CSC, as they use the same Micro Four Thirds mount. Weighing in at just 985g, it’s much lighter than 800mm DSLR lenses, which tend to weigh between 4kg and 5kg, and require a tripod or monopod at all times. The 100-400mm though, despite having a tripod collar, is easy to handhold. This is aided by built-in image stabilisation that reduces camera shake at slower shutter speeds.
At 171.5mm in length, its physical length is shorter than its DSLR equivalents as well, making it perfect for throwing into a regular camera bag. That said, the zoom mechanism isn’t internal, so the lens does extend at longer focal lengths. If required, there’s an option to lock the zoom ring, avoiding zoom creep and offering more accurate control over focal length. The two-way tripod collar means the camera can be rotated between landscape and portrait orientations quickly and smoothly when mounted on a tripod.
Internally, the design comprises 20 elements in 13 groups, and includes aspherical and extra-low dispersion glass to reduce the risk of chromatic aberration in high-contrast scenes. These elements also help to keep overall size and weight down.
The lens has a variable maximum aperture of f/4-6.3, which means that when shooting wide open and fully zoomed out it lets in less than half the light as when fully zoomed in. This means a slightly slower shutter speed, which could result in having to bump up the ISO in darker conditions.
Thanks to the addition of Panasonic’s 240fps AF motor, autofocus is lightning fast, which is perfect for capturing fast-moving sports or wildlife subjects. AF is also extremely quiet and discreet, which can be a massive bonus for wildlife fans.
The 100-400mm clearly has a pro-quality build, with a consistent and smooth resistance on the zoom and focus rings. It’s also splashproof and dustproof, so is built for use in any weather. We tested it in heavy rain and had no issues at all.
Boasting an 800mm equivalent focal length in a body weighing under a kilo is remarkable, and image quality, focusing speed and build quality are all first class. Recommended.
This review was first published in the October 2016 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.