Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 300mm f4.5

This is the thirteenth of a series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap(ish) but fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. The series ends with the monster Zuiko 300mm f4.5, on loan from Pete and Jayne who might be happy that so much bulk has been temporarily removed from their house. I’ve lugged this thing around for a week or two, trying to get six decent shots to test its qualities but it’s a tough challenge, mounted on a tripod or hand-held.

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Horton Tower from the North – it’s on the horizon a mile away from where this was taken. Quite good contrast and sharpness.

With an effective cropped focal length of 480mm it’s well into specialist lens territory, and the tiny angle of view and huge magnification make it’s use difficult at best.  Supporting the bulk of the lens with the left arm when shooting hand-held made the muscles ache after a few minutes – photography and weight lifting at the same time – a novel experience!

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The bokeh is a bit ‘busy’ but not too bad at all.

Just aligning the lens with a small distant subject is in itself a bit of a knack. The best way is to line up the top of the lens looking down the outside of the barrel, them move the eye to the viewfinder. I imagine it’s the way old cannons (not Canons) were aimed.

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Telephoto perspective compression is extreme – as is the shallowness of depth of field at all distances.

Apertures run from f4.5 to f32, the minimum focus distance is 3.5 metres and the filter size is a standard 72mm screw in type.

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After a plenty of practice, the trick is to find something fine and contrasty to focus on, in this case the telephone wires. If you need to make sure do some focus bracketing!

The attached tripod mount addresses a definite requirement for camera stability, and suggests that the Olympus designers thought the weight might put unacceptable strain on all metal OM bodies. Even on a day with light winds, using ‘focus magnify’ on the 60D’s LCD, the image jittered around –  and it’s a fairly heavy tripod.

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The attached tripod mount at the base of the lens. The knob is to loosen it so it can be rotated for portrait/landscape – or any other – orientation.

The lens itself is probably the best made lens I’ve seen – solid, precise all metal with a wide focus ring – generally gorgeous. It’s far removed from the tiny ‘jewel like’ Zuikos everyone’s familiar with.

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Even the bulky 60D is made to look insignificant – this lens is a giant. With the built-in lens hood extended it only gets worse. The Fotodiox adaptor used wasn’t relied upon to support the lens unaided, but I’m sure it would have coped.

Just a few test shots this time. It’s difficult to find a suitable subject at this focal length – you need to be a long way from it. This tower seemed like the best bet.

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This is Horton Tower from the South and a but further away. The frame to the right is darker due to a very out of focus tree – nothing to do with a lens fault.

But lurking in most shots with backlit subjects is a bit of a horror – really bad chromatic aberration. It’s most obvious at f4.5 but it never really leaves images taken at any aperture. It also appears around the out of focus areas as red/green edges to the highlights.

Sometimes it’s purple.

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This is the top left of the tower. Not good.

And sometimes it’s red. I had the Zuiko 180mm f2.8 years ago and it suffered from the same problem. Maybe it’s inevitable at these focal lengths and fast apertures.

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This is an enlargement from the centre of the frame.

So,  is this lens worth the £300 they go for second-hand?

Unfortunately – no.

Unless you’re the sort of photographer who doesn’t mind its drawbacks of chromatic aberration, very difficult manual focussing and epic weight and bulk. At f4.5 it’s only just faster than the f5.6 at 300mm of an AF zoom, which is a fraction of the weight and performs just as well – better in fact for CA.

It’s a beautifully made thing though, and I can see why collectors buy them. For practical photographic purposes though it’s pretty bad. In this case at least, a very high quality lens with an extreme focal length which was good enough for film just doesn’t cut it for digital. It really makes me admire the skill of 35mm photographers using MF lenses like this to capture fast-moving sports images.

Still, it’s been great fun – if slightly frustrating – to have a play around with. If I’m honest though I’m glad this test is over!

Thanks for looking and hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

To see how this – and virtually every other known Zuiko lens known to man – performs on four thirds and micro four thirds sensors have a look here – an excellent series of tests at biofos.com!

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