Olympus 100-400 Evaluation Criteria
Bird Photography,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear,  Wildlife

Field Test Results of the Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0 – 6.3 Telephoto Lens for Bird and Wildlife Photography

Olympus released the 100-400 f/5.0-6.3 lens in August 2020.  Not including the Olympus 75-300mm lens, this is the most reasonably priced of the long telephoto bird and wildlife lenses in the Olympus lens line up.

Olympus Long Telephoto Bird and Wildlife Lenses

LensPro / Non-ProMSRPComments
Olympus 300mm f/4Pro$2,899.99Own it – Terrific Bird and Wildlife lens
Olympus 150-400 f/4.5Pro$7,499.99Expensive and hard to find
Olympus 100-400 f/5 – 6.3Non-Pro lens with pro weather sealing$1,499.99Read on
Olympus ED 75-300 f/4.8-6.7Non-Pro lens.  Not weather sealed.$549.99Do not own.  Slow aperture when zoomed in.   Not compatible with teleconverters.

I took a long time to write this review as I wanted to really put this lens to the test using different Olympus cameras, teleconverters, and in different lighting conditions.  I tested this lens on multiple photography outings for wildlife and bird photography on state and federal lands, not on a quick trip to the zoo. 

I tested the Olympus 100-400mm lens with both the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X. I also did not use a tripod with the lens as I think one of the advantages of Micro Four Thirds is the ability to handhold long lenses for bird and wildlife photography.

In this blog, I’ve evaluated the Olympus 100-400mm lens using the following categories:

  • Image Quality / Sharpness
  • Image Stabilization
  • Shooting in Low Light Conditions
  • Lens Weight
  • Focal Length Range
  • Teleconverter Use
  • Weather Proofing
  • Price
Tundra Swan - Olympus 100-400, (No TC), ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/3200
Tundra Swan – Olympus 100-400, (No TC), ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/3200

Image Quality / Sharpness

In testing the Olympus 100-400mm, I found the images to be really sharp under medium to bright lighting conditions.  Under lower lighting conditions, I found the images to be a little soft.  This could be due to a number of reasons (high ISO, small max aperture, image stabilization) that are further discussed below.

I did not find this lens to be as sharp as the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens which is probably not a fair comparison.  I find the 300mm f/4 to be the sharpest long telephoto lens that I have used and I have photographed with the Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6 and the Canon 500mm f/4.

Image Stabilization

The 100-400mm lens does not have the Olympus 5 Axis Sync IS like the 300mm f/4 and other Olympus Pro lenses.  This means that the 100-400 will get 3 steps of Image Stabilization from the lens vs. the 7 steps of Image Stabilization on 5 Axis using the 300mm f/4 and compatible camera body.

This is not a big deal in brighter lighting conditions, but will have an effect on the sharpness of your images in lower lighting conditions when shooting at slower shutter speeds. 

Topaz Labs

Shooting in Low Light Conditions

I shoot birds and wildlife a lot in lower lighting conditions.  I like to go out on nature photography shoots early in the morning at or before sunrise as the birds / wildlife are more active and there are less people out in the parks.

I find that the Olympus 100-400mm lens is not ideal for these conditions.  This due to the smaller maximum aperture at long focal lengths and the reduced Image Stabilization.  This doesn’t mean this isn’t a good lens, just that it’s not the best under these conditions.

For lower lighting conditions, you will need to raise the ISO for faster shutter speeds which could impact the overall image quality.  Topaz Labs does has two software plug-ins (DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI) that can help remove the noise and sharpen these images.

Red-tailed Hawk - Olympus 100-400 (No TC), f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO 500
Red-tailed Hawk – Olympus 100-400 (No TC), f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO 500

Lens Weight

Weight is an important factor for bird and wildlife photography where you can be hiking long distances or holding the camera for long periods of time.  The Olympus 100-400mm f/5 – 6.3 is the lightest of all the Olympus long telephoto lenses except the Olympus 75-300 which has a shorter focal length and isn’t weather sealed.

Weight Comparison of Olympus Bird and Wildlife Lenses

LensGramsPounds
Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.31,1252.5
Olympus 300mm f/41,4753.25
Olympus 150-400mm f/4.51,8754.133
Olympus 75-300 f/4.8-6.7*423.93

*Doesn’t include a Tripod Mount in Weight

I also thought it would be interesting to compare the weight of the 100-400mm lenses from other manufacturers to the Olympus 100-400mm lens.

Weight Comparison of 100-400mm Lenses Across Manufacturers

LensGramsPounds
Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.31,1252.5
Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM1,6403.62
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VS S1,5703.46
Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VS S1,4353.16
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS1,3953.08
Sigma 100-400 f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM (Canon EF Mount)*1,1602.56
Panasonic Leica DG Vario 100-400 f/4-6.3*9852.17

 * Doesn’t include Tripod Mount in Weight

The Olympus 100-400 is the lightest of the bunch except for the Sigma and Panasonic which don’t include a tripod mount in their weights. The Olympus 100-400 lens weighs 1,120g / 2.47 pounds without the tripod mount so it is still a little heavier than the Panasonic. 

Focal Length Range

I love the focal length range of this lens with a 200mm-800mm effective focal length with a Micro Four Thirds camera body.  After shooting with the Olympus 300mm f/4 for quite a while, it is nice not to have to try and back up for larger birds and wildlife. 

This zoom lens is also handy for birds in flight photography when birds are flying at you.  With a zoom lens it is also easier to locate birds in flight by zooming out, finding the bird, and then zooming back in on the subject.

Northern Shoveler Drake - Olympus 100-400 + 2.0x TC, ISO 800, f/13, 1/640 second
Northern Shoveler Drake – Olympus 100-400 + 2.0x TC, ISO 800, f/13, 1/640 second

Teleconverter Use

The Olympus 100-400mm lens is fully compatible with both the Olympus 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters.

Unlike with the 300mm f/4, I did notice a difference in sharpness when using the 1.4x teleconverter.  I did get some good quality, sharp images with both the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters on the 100-400mm lens.  However, you do need to practice good long lens stability techniques when hand holding the lens at these longer focal lengths.

When zooming in with the Olympus 100-400mm lens combined with a teleconverter, you will be shooting with small apertures.  See the table below.  I found that the teleconverters are best used in good lighting conditions in order to get faster shutter speeds needed for birds and wildlife.

It is really fun photographing birds at 1,600mm using the 100-400mm lens and the 2.0x teleconverter.  

Olympus 100-400mm Lens Focal Length / Aperture Comparison

 Focal LengthEquivalent Focal LengthEquivalent Focal Length + 1.4x TCEquivalent Focal Length + 2.0 TC
Focal Length Range100mm – 400mm200mm – 800mm280mm – 1,120mm400mm – 1,600mm
Max (Widest Aperture)f/5.0 – f/6.3f/5.0 – f/6.3f/7.1 – f/9.0f/10 – f/13

Weather Proofing

Even though the Olympus 100-400 is not a pro lens, it does have the IPX1 rated weather proofing which is the same as Olympus Pro Lenses.  Weather proofing is essential for Bird and Wildlife Photography if you are going to shoot in adverse conditions.  I shot with the Olympus 100-400mm lens in light rain and snow and the lens had no problems.

Price

The MSRP of the Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 lens is $1,499 USD.  At first, I thought this lens was priced a bit high until I researched the prices of similar lenses from other manufacturers.

The Olympus 100-400 MSRP about $300 USD cheaper than the Panasonic 100-400.  It is much cheaper than Sony, Canon, and Nikon lenses which are priced over $2,000.

If you are interested in this lens, keep an eye on the Olympus / OM Digital Reconditioned Gear Website. Also sign up for their emails, as they will periodically have sales and send coupon codes. I picked up a reconditioned 100-400 lens from this website for $1,199 after a fall discount coupon.

Mallard Duck Pair - Olympus 100-400mm (No TCP), ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/400 second
Mallard Duck Pair – Olympus 100-400mm (No TCP), ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/400 second

Field Test Summary for the Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0 – 6.3 Lens

Overall, I found the Olympus 100-400 f/5.0-6.3 lens to be a really good bird and wildlife photography lens. It is lightweight, weather proof, and has an ideal focal length for birds and wildlife. 

The biggest drawback I found on the lens was shooting in lower lighting conditions due to the small maximum aperture when the lens is fully zoomed in, and less effective image stabilization than other pro lenses.

How do I Plan on using the Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0 – 6.3 Lens?

Since I already have the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens, how do I plan to use the 100-400?

  • Local Nature Walks.  A lot of times, I’ll take quick photo walks in the local parks for bird photography.  With its size and zoom range, it makes a great lens to take on these hikes.  I’ll throw the 1.4x teleconverter in my pocket just in case I need extra reach.
  • Zoo Photography.  The zoom range make the 100-400 a great lens for zoo photography.
  • The 100-400 makes a great zoom lens for a second camera for birds in flight photography for birds flying at you.  I use the Black Rapid Double Camera Harness with 2 cameras for photographing birds in flight events like the Sandhill Crane migration.
  • There are also many federal and state lands where you can drive thru in your car.  The Olympus 100-400 makes a great second car lens for parks where you can photograph wildlife from in or near your car.   The zoom range makes it ideal for larger birds and wildlife or to get long shots with the 2X teleconverter.
  • On vacations with minimal packing space or airline carry on restrictions.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Blog Posts
Should you Switch to the Olympus OM-D and 300mm f/4 lens for Bird and Wildlife Photography?
Photographing Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park with Olympus Micro Four Thirds Gear
Top Olympus OM-D Tips and Settings for Bird and Wildlife Photographers

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One Comment

  • Zeljko

    Great article Martin. It is pleasure to read your reviews about Oly gear and lenses. I bought last year 75-300mm because of price and versatility of that lens (just 0.423 kg) but I notice the same points for this lens that you mentioned here for 100-400. It is “sunny” lens and need bright condition for shoting same as 100-400 because of aperture f4.8-6.7. But in that price range it was and it is hard to find telephoto lens like that. I was wandering is it clever to buy and 100-400 mm because I can get more rich with longer focal lenght and because it is water sealed lens, but on the other side both lens is similar – they are not ideal for low light conditions. Market in our country is so shallow and I could not sell 75-300mm, practically new lens, for decent money. Is it worth to trade this lenses, I could afford it but that is no question, because I dont want one more lens on my shelf to collect dust, especially that I am not pro photographer. Maybe the answer is hidden in this previous sentence but I like to hear your opinion. Keep going with your great posts. Cheers!

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