Here I am on a flight to the Zoo Safari of Dubbo, over 800km west of Sydney, basically in a very remote place. I am flying there because I have always dreamt of being in a safari and this is the closest you can get in Australia. I needed a big zoom lens for this trip and I was able to have the Panasonic Leica 100-400m for a 2 weeks review.
That’s definitely a great start.
Table of Contents
The Zoo Safari of Dubbo is a unique place because it has been built around a huge area (surely there is enough land out there LOL). Once in, you can literally get lost.
You can be lucky to see some animals closer to you but they are mostly on the wild and a big zoom lens will definitely help, if you are planning some photography.
I usually shoot with Nikon gear. I have few lenses of which, the 70-200mm is my biggest focal length zoom. I use it mostly for cycling photography. The problem with my Nikon D600 and the 70-200mm is that, once combined, it’s an heavy package to carry around and I mean it.
I was lucky that I could review the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm. I left behind my Nikon gear and I brought instead a Panasoni GX8 with the lens to test. I had also a compact in case of a quick close up.
Why the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm is perfect for safari and wildlife photography
Let’s start saying I am not a professional safari photographer. I am instead a travel photographer with a passion of exploring the world trying to make some great photos. Few times I succeed, others I don’t
I can say straight away that if you are a pro, or planning to be, this lens is probably not for you. The main reason is that in the professional world this telephoto zoom is probably slow as it shoots with an aperture range of F4.0-6.3. This means that if you zoom at the max focal length, 400mm, the smallest aperture you can use is F6.3. Of course there is a much bigger price to pay for a pro lens, basically another category all together
Something you should know straight away is that the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm on a mirrorless GX8 camera provides an amazing 200-800mm equivalent reach.
This is quite outstanding considering it weights less than 1Kg. A similar lens for a full frame DSLR camera would weight 5 times as much and cost probably 6 times that much.
I was the all day out in the Dubbo Zoo Safari and I had to carry with me around 1.5Kg of gear. That’s quite manageable.
If I wanted to take my Nikon D600 with an 800mm zoom lens my back would have complained after half an hour as I had to carry with me almost 7kg of gear.
Moreover, all of my shooting was very hand-holdable. With 7Kg of DSLR gear you need to budget in a monopod as well.
What I am trying to say here is that there are few advantages in transporting around a mirrorless camera.
This is another important feature you need to consider when buying a telephoto lens.
As a rule of thumb, in order to capture steady, vibration free hand-hold images, you need to shoot with a shutter speed which is at least the inverse of your focal length. For example if you shoot at 100mm your shutter speed should be equal or shorter than 1/100sec
This rule works for the equivalent 35mm full frame (therefore for this lens I need to consider to shoot at least at 1/800 sec if at the max focal length)
However, there are other factors that cause this to be a rule of thumb, that’s why it is not at all infallible.
Is your body, and you hands, stable? If they are very much so you can probably deal with a longer shutter speed.
Than there is image stabilization provided by the camera, or by the lens, or by both as it is the case of the Leica 100-400m when paired with the Panasonic GX8.
The lens has a Power O.I.S. switch which allows you to activate the image stabilization system. With the GX8 you can also engage the internal sensor-shift stabilization to provide incredibly effective vibration reduction.
Ease of use
The fact that this lens weights less than a kg makes life easier when out in the field.
I was on a bus for most part of the day. Stopping here and there, down and up to make photos. I was with a group of photographer and at least we all had the same goal, photography.
I can see myself in a similar situation in Africa (I hope soon 😀 ) with a tour bus. Not everybody would have the patience to wait for a photographer to come off the bus, take out the big DSLR camera and huge lens, open the monopod etc etc (btw, that’s why it’s always a good idea to join a photography tour and not a generic one)
With this lens and the mirrorless camera, I could shoot hand-hold, no worries.
There is an important thing to remember, the lock/unlock ring which allows you to lock the zoom, so the barrel doesn’t extend. When I tried it the first time, I did not pay attention to it and I though it was quite a stiff lens. Unlocking it did help 🙂
The lens has demarcation points for the major focal length. Handy to have.
Moreover, in case you want to go manual focus, there is a AF/MF switch on the side.
The lens comes with a Tripod Collar Ring which is great as other lenses do not provide that, another $200 on top to budget in otherwise.
I was blown away by the photo quality. Optical quality is impressive (I guess Leica is always synonymous of quality) and images benefit from a higher degree of sharpness
Honestly, a perfect focused photo using a 800mm lens hand-hold is never a super easy task however once you get use to it, after few shoots and trials, you can definitely have great results.
This photo above was made at an equivalent focal length of 200mm, 1/800sec at f/5.0. On the right side you can see the 1:1 zoom in of the eye. I love the details
This other shot was a trial to see how much could I push the shutter speed. It was made at an equivalent focal length of 800mm, 1/60sec at f/6.3.
Do you remember the rule of thumb I mentioned before? Shooting hand-hold at 1/60 sec is non-sense but the result is there. Admittedly, if you zoom in 100% the photo is not 100% sharp but the softness would come out only when printing in big format, not certainly on normal size or book size.
I talked till now about safari and wildlife photography, but obviously I can see this lens just perfect for birds photography too.
The Panasonic 100-400mm in the city
I would never take an 800mm lens in the city, just too bulky.
I would never use such a focal length to snap street style photography either. My main motivation here is that street photography is about getting closer to the subject.
I wanted to try some close up of architectural photography. I was back in Melbourne and the city centre is a typical business district with very tall buildings. I wanted to isolate some details and patterns, otherwise too far away with a smaller focal length.
I was happy with some of the results. Unfortunately there were way too many cables (electrical, telecom, etc) between me and any building. Photoshop may be a solution.
I got some clear shots though of which these below are probably my favourites
It has to be said that although this lens is quite big it does not stands out as a similar one for the DSLR world.
Tips from my Zoo Safari Photography
As I previously said I am not a professional safari photographer, I am a travel photographer that loves travelling and photographing our world, this could be a beautiful sunset in Mauritius or some wildlife during my trip.
What did I learn from my Safari experience and some wildlife photography I did in the past?
- sunset and sunrise are the best time for wildlife photography. I was previously in jungles at sunrise time and gee, it’s noisy, it’s like going to the morning market. The animals wake up, they go to eat, they move in the still coolish temperature. This is when you will be more likely to spot and make photos of wildlife.
- taking photos of animals is like taking photos of toddlers playing football. They move in an unpredictable way. When you do sport photography you will more likely succeed if you know the sport. With wildlife is the same, knowing the animal helps as you can predict next move, however it’s not as easy as with adults, that is why I compare them to toddlers, you never know what to expect next, which is a great fun 😀
- take a spare battery and memory card as you will be likely to shoot a lot. Don’t be happy to make a single photo. Don’t spend time checking your back camera monitor every time. You may miss the moment when you do that.
- if the animal is moving, set the camera focus in continuous mode (AF-C). See more info here on focusing.
- close up are fantastic but a bit of context helps as well. Add some landscape to your photography
- increase the ISO to have a shorter shutter speed. Try to follow the rule of thumb we talked about. It would always be fantastic to have ISO 100-200 in the camera setting, however sometime we need to go higher otherwise we may risk to have photos not sharp. It’s better to have a sharp image with some ISO noise that a blurred photo
I liked my time at the zoo safari shooting with the Panasonic 100-400mm. Honestly, I loved the fact that I had light equipment with me. I was able to make some fantastic shots and keep my back without any stress pain. And I did not have to carry a monopod with me.
I would have no doubt to suggest this lens if you plan any safari or you are passionate about wildlife or birds photography. It will work as well for some sport photography when you are too far away from the subject.
Would I buy it?
If I have a safari in Africa and I can’t get this lens from Panasonic for a second review (LOL, just joking here), yes, I would probably buy it. It’s not everyday that I am on a Safari and being frustrated because I don’t have a a great range zoom would annoy me big time.
It would be also a great lens for generic wildlife and birds photography.
I would not take it to the city, unless you are on top of a building or a great vantage point. But it was a good fun to give a try 🙂