Panasonic Leica 100-400 stabilisation and sharpness

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C Sean Senior Member • Posts: 2,634
Panasonic Leica 100-400 stabilisation and sharpness
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Back in 2016 saw the release of Panasonic much needed 100-400 for it M43 platform. It was Panasonic second attempt of a pro telephoto zoom after the successful 35-100mm 2.8, however very quickly people were noticing problems with the new lens.

There were two main complaints, the first was about the stiffness of the zoom mechanics and the second was regarding sharpness. The Panasonic 100-400 has many characteristics of it cheaper alternative the 100-300. The images from the lenses look similar and the sharpness between the two lenses were also similar. So one can speculate the 100-400 was an evolution of the 100-300 rather than something brand new that would rival the excellent Canon 100-400.

In 2018 saw a new attempt by Panasonic when it comes to pro telephoto lenses. The first was the 200mm 2.8 and the second was the 50-200mm 2.8-4. Both lenses have the Leica badge and I noticed the 50-200 gives a different and most of the time better look than the 100-400.

After my brief introduction to the Panasonic 100-400, I will get onto my main point. There been speculation the 100-400 dual stabilisation was causing soft images and would require a tripod. I noticed with my trips to Africa if the subject were too far away from me it would produce soft images. I put this down to air and heat interference but I felt it was strange. It was odd images start becoming soft after a certain distance and we’re not talking long distance here. However, with this idea the stabilisation is causing soft images and Olympus 100-400 apparently better at making sharper images at the long end, I felt it was a good time to do my own test.

Near where I live are a few nature reserves I weren’t aware of and as a result didn’t visit them. It’s only in this Covid 19 situation I learned about their existence and as a result I’m spending my free time there brushing up on my rusty camera skills.

One of these places I visited has a bird hide. However since I still own the Gh4 I felt I give the camera a go and see if dual stabilisation was the cause of the soft images at 400mm and some distance away. However, since it was cloudy I felt the test would be flawed and I needed a higher shutter speed. It should also be noted it was my time at the nature reserve and I spent my time there walking around exploring the lake rather than staying in the bird hide.

When I returned to the nature reserve I focused on my Gh5 and left the Gh4 at home. I focused on the bird hide and allowed the lens to rest on the bird hide support and turned off dual stabilisation. The results were the same as my shots in Africa. If the subjects were too far away it would create soft images. However, the subjects weren’t filling up the frame and I probably need a 5d, 500mm F4 and a 2x teleconverter to get a more reasonable shot.

One would argue I need to shoot subjects closer and that is true. However, I would also argue a lion or an elephant are bigger than a goose. So while a goose is too far away to make a good shot, a lion or elephant in the same spot isn’t. The results would be soft images.

The only way to continue the test is to purchase a wildlife tripod, see what that does and then take one step further and manual focus instead of relying on autofocus. I think this is taking one step too far. If this works, it means I need to bring a sturdy tripod with me on safari and set it up the tripod inside the vehicle. I know for a fact now a monopod won’t solve the focusing problem and I would probably need to spend thousands extra to go on a photographic safari instead if the tripod works.

In my conclusion I believe there is a flaw in the focusing mechanics and it restricts getting sharp images at a medium distance. For bird photographers this isn’t a huge deal since you need to be closer to the subject for it take up a big portion of the frame. For sport and larger safari this could be a problem.

With the news of Panasonic thinking about introducing new telephoto lenses. One could speculate of either bringing new stuff out or replacing already existing lenses. In the past I made it clear the 100-400 would be fantastic if it had the same IQ as the 50-200. Combined that with longer focusing, you would end up having a nice lens. Would I buy it, probably not. If there a new telephoto prime then maybe but I hate the idea of replacing lenses I already own.

Panasonic GH5 Panasonic Leica 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 ASPH Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
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