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Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4-6.3: Making it all possible...

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take an adventure that was a life long dream. I packed my trusty F-Stop Kenti pack full of my Olympus micro four thirds (M4/3) gear, and after 15 hours in the air, landed in South Africa. After 3 days in the beautiful mother city of Africa, Cape Town - and believe me, Cape Town was not incredible in owns right - it was time for Safari!

An adult giraffe overlooks the plains in Limpopo Province, SA, as Wildebeest graze in the distance.

And on Safari, one piece my my kit shined above all others...the Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4-6.3. Now don't get me wrong, without the truly magical Olympus O-MD E-M1 ii, I would not have had the incredible speed and brilliant focus the E-M1 delivers at my fingertips. But without the Panasonic Leica 100-400, I would have missed incredible opportunities to capture the animals that surrounded me with such creativity.

In the past, I have shot with both super telephoto zooms and primes in multiple mounts. Past lenses with reach beyond 300mm have included:

  • Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM

  • Sigma 170-500mm F5-6.3 APO

  • Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO Telemacro

Comparatively, the new 100-400 is in an entirely different league. Packing a 200-800mm equivalent lens in a 2.17 lb package, under 6.75" in length, one may wonder if this lens is too good to be true...

Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4.5-5.6, and Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 mounted ot Olympus O-MD E-M1 ii (inset)

Well after several weeks in hand, I assure you it is not. In fact, it is quite the opposite as this lens not only has excellent optics, but the incredibly compact, weather sealed form factor leave it with little competition on the market today....especially at its price point. Coming in at $1800, the price tag is not modest, but it falls roughly in the middle of the pack when comparing to similar lenses in alternative mounts:

  • Pentax HD PENTAX D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 DC AW ($2500)

  • Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR ($1900)

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports ($1800)

  • Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4-6.3 ($1800)

  • Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 ($1300)

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary ($1000) - not weather sealed

However, from a form factor standpoint this lens excels:

  • Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4-6.3 (6.75") (2.17)

  • Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR (8.29") (3.03 lbs)

  • Pentax HD PENTAX D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 DC AW (9.51") (4.41 lbs)

  • Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 (10.24") (4.42 lbs)

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary (10.2") (4.3 lbs) - not weather sealed

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports (11.4") (6.3 lbs)

and when it comes to reach it performs quite well

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports (240mm - 960mm)

  • Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 (240mm - 960mm)

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary (240mm - 960mm) - not weather sealed

  • Panasonic Leica 100-400 f/4-6.3 (200mm - 800mm)

  • Pentax HD PENTAX D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 DC AW (225mm - 675mm)

  • Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR (152mm - 609mm)

Prior to departure for Africa, I spent several hours over a two month span getting to know not only this lens, but the O-MD E-M1ii as well, as I had owned both for a meager 2 1/2 months. Now admittedly I have been passionate about photography for many years, but to understand the way in which a new system works so as to be able to adapt to rapidly changing lighting or dynamic subjects, 2 1/2 months...10 hardly any time at all. Practice makes perfect...

An Osprey scans the waters below as a cormorant passes in the distance at Jordan Lake.

Soaring high, an Osprey circles for its prey in the waters below.

So confident had I come to feel that the Panasonic Leica 100-400 was ready for prime time after a mere 10 weeks, that I rolled the dice and opted to take only one body when assembling my Safari Photography Kit. Typically, most would recommend taking two bodies for several reasons:

  1. Flexibility

  2. Versatility

  3. Speed

  4. Quality

  5. Failure

Simply put, the 100-400 offered flexibility and versatility second to none, while only (potentially) compromising in Speed and Quality to a unnoticeable degree compare to a prime lens. I was more than happy to trade the rapid focal length change offered by this high end telephoto zoom, for a two body, two lens solution.

Examining one photo below taken at 400mm, full size as compared to 100% crops from the center and the edge of the frame you can see that the lens holds up well throughout the frame:

While on Safari, I used the lens extensively throughout its entire range (see captions of images below). The majority of use was evenly split between 250-300mm and 350-400mm, with less use (but still a significant number) coming in between 100-200mm. As a zoom lens, the PanLeica 100-400 allowed for quickly changes to focal length and permitted capturing the same scene in multiple perspectives:

Male bull elephant ready to impose his will on any who trespass (195mm)

Adjacent young male elephant peacefully grazing (365mm)

Shooting with full manual control, only minor adjustments in shutter speed or aperture were required when changing perspective on a particular scene. Alternatively, using a two lens solution would have required more drastic changes in camera settings in many instances, as the second body would be set for the previous conditions, and it would introduce a time delay when switching bodies. Switching lenses on one body was also kept to a minimum due to dusty conditions, but most of all due to not wanting to stop pointing the camera at the beautiful animals in front of the lens.

With the excellent zoom range, subjects of variable size and distances were also equally handled with ease.

The dramatic stare of an adult Zebra (400mm)

A wary Jackal hides among the grass (400mm)

Perched, a pair of Orange Billed Hornbills enjoy an afternoon snack (400mm)

A young male lion makes his presence known (264mm)

During the 3 days of safari, only at one time did I reach for the Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 as the PanLeica 100-400 was not wide enough, and I did not once find myself wanting for even more reach as I have with other super telephoto lenses I have owned in the past. And, critical to working at such a long distance, the image stabilization of this lens was crucial to it being so versatile.

The in-body image stabilization of the E-M1 ii is renowned for it's capability, but it is also generally accepted that for long lenses in-lens image stabilization (OIS) is superior. The OIS of the Panasonic Leica downright unnerving. With a half press of the shutter - all motion ceases to exist. The first time you experience this degree of stabilization with such a long lens, it may just make you blink. As a result, this lens is hand-holdable even at 400mm given reasonable light, adequate aperture and moderate ISO sensitivity. My monopod and tripod collected dust, and so far was needing physical stabilization from my mind, I actually inadvertently left my camera bean bag at home in a drawer.

After nearly 200 photos over the course of 3 days on Safari, I have come to know this lens very well. There is always more to learn, and new conditions to adjust to, but I do not hesitate to highly recommend this lens to anyone serious about wildlife photography. The lens is an incredible piece of kit, and the design by Panasonic and Leica leaves little to be desired.

The small built in hood of the lens does not appear to be utilized as a stand alone lens hood due the the size. However, the attached hood that mates to the sliding integrated hood works quite well and is really rather easy to install. Additionally, the AF/MF switch, focus limiter and OIS controls on the lens barrel are all well placed and easily accessible.

Yes it could be faster

- but then also longer and heavier.

Yes the zoom ring could be called a little stiff

- but I much prefer this to make zoom range changes a conscious decision.

Yes the OIS of the lens in IBIS of the O-MD E-M1 ii could work in tandem

- but the lens is hand-holdable, and more often than not subject motion is dictating shutter speed.

You may still find yourself debating between this lens or a comparable prime such as the Olympus 300mm f/4. After all, I did the same for quite some time. While the 300mm is quite an incredible piece of glass, the 100-400 holds its own and offers a flexibility and versatility no prime lens can while keeping nearly $700 in your pocket. $700 that can be used towards an incredible companion travel lens such as the Panasonic Leica 12-60 f/2.8-4 or the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Thus - in the cool autumn air of South Africa - began my love affair with the Panasonic Leica 100-400. This incredible lens has taken my wildlife photography to a truly higher level.

A female White Rhino leads her one month old calf to graze (173mm)

For the full series of photographs, please see the South Africa Journeys Collection.

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