For a week of crane watching I rented the Olympus 300mm f/2.8 lens. It was an intense week of learning how to use this special purpose tool and I want to share a bit so anyone wanting to work with a long telephoto will have an idea of what to anticipate.
Let’s get the physical details out of the way. Yes, this is a big, heavy, long lens if all you carry around is a kit zoom.
Weight: 7.25 lbs.
Length: around 16 inches with hood attached.
Diameter: 5 inches – need a big tube to collect f/2.8 worth of light!
Angle of view: 4.2 degrees – not for panoramics!
Closest focus distance: 8 feet.
Depth of field at f/11 at minimum focus distance: Very Little – about 3/4”.
Olympus’ 2x crop factor means this is like putting a 600mm, f/2.8 lens on my camera. I rarely tried to hand-hold. Most of my images were made by resting the lens on the partially raised window of my car or setting it firmly on a tripod. Image stabilization (in-camera for Olympus) was on all the time.
My first two days resulting in very few acceptable pictures. By wanting to see just how far away I could reach out and touch something I learned that even the slightest wiggle is magnified many times. By reaching out I mean signs at a mile distant or wildlife at over 100 yards. Even on a tripod I got poor sharpness unless the object was pretty close – within 50 feet.
The company renting me the lens has a good article posted on its use, something I got around to reading at the end of the second day…. Seems a good rule of thumb for minimizing motion blur is to set a shutter speed at least 1/focal length of the lens – the implied focal length (600mm here). The article lobbied somewhat hard for 1/2x focal length just to make sure. This along with all the other admonitions about tripod use, protect from the wind, use remote shutter release, etc.
The third day I put a lot of that advice into practice. I put the camera on shutter priority and tried to keep it above 1/1000 sec, preferably on 1/1600 sec. – goodbye depth of field with an aperture of f/4 or lower. I worked harder to get close to the cranes although I never managed to move far inside their comfort zone of around 150 feet. My remote release was on camera whenever I was using the tripod. Slowly I started getting better images.
Toward the end of my week rental I started photographing subjects that were really close – inside 20 feet – to fill the frame. Now I really started to see the power of this lens as details were rendered very sharp, needing little digital processing afterward.
Filling the frame with wildlife over 150 yards away apparently requires a small telescope, or at least a lens longer than Olympus makes. From my experience here I’m guessing trying to get sharp images would be even more frustrating, but with time I don’t doubt you could learn the tricks of the trade.
And time is the issue. My rental was for a week, during which I probably progressed 10-15% on the learning curve for this equipment and only got about 100 useful pictures out of 3000 taken. Owning it is a significant investment – around $7000 – and only makes sense to me if I’m pursuing distant wildlife or sports action full time and getting revenue from it. Fortunately, renting it is relatively painless and I’ll definitely do that again in the future.