New Leica 100-400mm Mark ll is Finally Here
The new Leica 100-400mm Mark ll is finally here, thanks to the equally new Olympus OM-1. Ok so not an “official” updated version of the old lens but a totally new version based on the unbelievably improved performance when used with the impressive OM-1. Go ahead, accuse me of clickbait. I say whatever it takes to get the word out to as many as possible.
Olympus OM-1 breathes life into what seems like a new and improved Leica 100-400mm
How did I get my hands on the new lens?
It all came together while planning my camera kit for our recent photo tour to Ireland. Many already know I have the relatively new Olympus 150-400mm zoom, the best wildlife lens ever produced in my humble opinion. And though the 150-400mm is the lightest lens in its equivalent class, it is still larger than I wanted to carry on what we call a Cultural Landscape Tour.
As I pondered my options, it occurred to me that the old Leica 100-400mm was sitting patiently on my gear shelf in the studio. Actually, it was whispering my name having been shelved since the video I released comparing the G9, E-M1X, and Sony A9 predictive AF capabilities. The old girl, that LUMIX Pro Liaison Tom Curley called the “Daniel Cox” lens at the 2015 Luminary Summit in Sarasota, Florida, wanted back in the game. Ireland was the perfect opportunity to give her another chance
I feel it important to mention I’ve been trying to get my hands on the new Olympus 100-400mm since it was released over a year ago. That would have been my first choice for a downsized kit had I had one. Alas, no such luck so the old gal from LUMIX was called up.
Leica 100-400mm for birds in light
My reason for wanting a substantial telephoto was the falconry presentation we had scheduled with Ireland’s School of Falconry at Ashford Castle. The guys and gals there are always helpful for getting the birds to fly straight to the camera when possible.
The only animal opportunities I expected in Ireland would be at the falconry exhibit. With so few potential subjects, I lost all enthusiasm for bringing the larger lens. Being forced to do something different can often be very positive. Shooting the Leica 100-400mm with the OM-1 was certainly outside the box for me, especially since the same lens with Lumix bodies never did well with action. But I put the two together, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Actually, I was floored. Below is just one sample.
I’m not going to go into all the autofocus details in this blog post. I’m working on a separate post about the OM-1 and the Leica 100-400mm combination for birds in flight. But I will say that the results were the best action images I’ve ever shot with an MFT camera. And amazingly it was done combining products from the two major players in the MFT game. The ability to combine products has always been one of the main benefits of MFT. As good as all this is, there’s one issue that needs to be fixed.
OM-1 and 100-400mm with static subjects
As I mentioned, the falconry exhibit was my main interest in taking this long telephoto to Ireland. But I had other opportunities as well. Opportunities that gave me insight in to the Static AF (AF-S) capabilities of the OM-1 when using Back Button AF.
Switching to AF-S even when using back button AF
In the early 90’s, I started using Back Button AF on my Nikons, and it’s still my preferred method for activating AF. Back Button AF is simply removing autofocus activation from the front shutter button allowing you to use the rear AF button instead. It’s most useful for locking AF on a static subject, then recomposing. But it also works well for being able to keep the camera in AF-C, allowing instantaneous predictive AF when your subject decides to fly, run or move quickly. All you have to do is push on the rear AF button, and you’re now in AF-C, the mode that follows the subject.
During my years shooting the Lumix cameras and now the Olympus, I’ve seen issues with AF accuracy when capturing static subjects using Back Button AF and AF-C. I recently spoke to Olympus about this and they quizzed me on whether I was shooting static subjects on AF-S. I said, “No,” and gave the reason I explained above.
They informed me that it was possible that AF-C accuracy may be slightly off when using the Back Button AF. It seems the camera may not stop focusing at the exact point you want when you release the AF button. If true, this explains why I see problems with AF accuracy on maybe 20% of my “Static” images. And it needs to be fixed. The reason being that one of the major benefits of shooting Back Button AF combined with AF-C is that your camera works in a way similar to AF-S but is always ready for action. It’s just not possible to switch from AF-S to AF-C as quick as an animal can move. I’m hoping they can solve this problem with a firmware update.
The fact that the Leica lens works so well with the new OM-1 has been a big surprise. And it drives home the benefit of having two different companies making lenses and cameras that work well together. Unfortunately, both Lumix and Olympus seem to have become more territorial, not wanting to share their respective technology. That hurts the consumer and in the long run Micro Four Thirds. The idea of these two companies cooperating was one of the reasons I got excited about MFT clear back in 2008. I’ve always said that neither Olympus nor Lumix will crack the Nikon/Canon nut without the benefit of sharing their ideas. The Leica zoom’s new life was most certainly not planned. But it’s a big benefit to all of us who shoot telephotos and it’s exactly what we need.