Monday, April 20, 2015

Firmware Update Breathes New Life Into The Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 Zoom Lens

Firmware updates are a good thing.  They fix issues in camera or lens operation and sometimes they bring with them better performance or upgrades that give you functionality that you didn't have before.

Not too long ago, the Olympus OMD EM1 received firmware 3.0.  This firmware was to enhance the AF performance on the camera.  They touted the enhancements for the C-AF.  They should also tout the overall AF performance.
Olympus OMD EM5 - 1/640, f/6.7, ISO 200 @ 300mm
One of the things I love most about the Micro Four Thirds camera is the ability to get more reach from a smaller kit with great quality.  By greater reach, we are talking about the field of view being narrower for any given focal length when we are comparing it to the fields of view of a film or digital camera of the 135 persuasion.  Something like a Nikon D700 or Df as an example of a 135.

I had need for a lens with some longer reach, and saw some reviews about the Olympus 75-300mm and the Panasonic 100-300mm lenses.  After much review, I decided on getting the Olympus.  In field of view terms, this lens is a 150-600mm.  Add on top of that the ability with an OMD body to use the built in 2x digital teleconverter and you could have an effective 1200mm field of view.

All this goodness for around $500 used.
Olympus OMD EM5 - 1/500, F/8, ISO 200 @ 208mm
Image quality on the lens is outstanding for the price, especially under the 250mm focal length.  Even out to 300mm, it is still doing very well....but you can start seeing where the compromises needed to be made for this zoom lens.

Another slight hiccup at times was the AF lock at longer focal length, specifically beyond 200mm.  It tended to hunt a lot and could at times mis-focus.  Given the nature of the lens - it needs good light because of the slow aperture range and the mis-focusing I used it rarely.

Olympus OMD EM1 - 1/8000, f/7.1, ISO 3200 @ 3200
You know how erratic chickens are and I wanted to show another example of high ISO images with the EM1
I decided to bring it out the other day as I was heading over to some local parks and thought I'd give it a go again.  I paired it with the Olympus OMD EM5.  Then it all came back to me why I used it rarely.  It was having issues focusing again.  I'm trying to get some birds on a bird feeder at between 250 and 300mm lengths and it would mis-focus a ton.  It got to the point that I started just focusing on the rim of the feeder box and waited for birds to fly into frame.  Lighting conditions were favorable.  I was shooting in bright sunlight, around 1-2pm, no shade, plenty of contrasty subjects.

Olympus OMD EM1 - 1/2500, f/6, ISO 640 @ 187mm
Going home, I was a little disappointed.  I was getting some old lenses together to trade in for the Olympus 12-40/2.8 and thought that I might sell the 75-300 and save up for the upcoming Olympus 300/4 prime lens.

It dawned on me that I had not tried to use the 75-300 on the EM1 with the new firmware update.  I was planning on going to a local historical farm to shoot anyway, so I brought the 75-300 with me.  This was do or die time for the zoom!!

Olympus OMD EM1 - 1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 800 @ 300mm
All I can say is that I am glad I gave it a second chance.  Talk about a night and day difference.  There was no hesitation, I think I might have missed focus 2 times and I'm pretty sure it was my fault.  The lighting conditions were almost identical to the day I shot it with the EM5.  I was able to lock onto birds sitting on a fence rail jumping around and spinning about and fire away.  New life indeed!!!!!

While I can see me getting the Oly 300/4 if I need to consistently shoot at that field of view a lot more, this zoom will do just fine for the time being.

Olympus OMD EM1 - 1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 1000 @ 300mm
Some extra tips for the 75-300 shooter:
  • If you are like me and normally shoot in aperture priority mode, think about switching up to shutter priority mode for those times when you are using the 75-300.  I let the aperture ride where it needs and set the ISO to auto.  I've got no problems using the EM1 all the way up to ISO 6400
  • If you are not happy with the performance on the EM5, check it out on the EM1 and the new EM5 Mk II before giving up on it.


  1. Years ago I gave up on Olympus E-M5. But I just bought a brand new Olympus E-M1 after saw many goos images online. I'm really glad I found and read your review on this Olympus 75-300 (is it 75-300 II ?). Thanks very much.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading the article. So glad that it provided you with some good information.

    2. And yes, this is the Mark II version of this lens.