The Panasonic Lumix S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 Macro O.I.S. is a moderately sized, moderately far-reaching and optically stabilized telephoto zoom lens for full-frame or APS-C L-mount cameras.
Aimed at wildlife, sports, aircraft and vehicle photography as well as portraiture, it helps you tightly frame more distant subjects when you can’t get up close on foot. It also offers impressive close-focusing capabilities, and so can serve double-duty for light macro use.
Available from April 2021, it carries list price of $1249.
- Focal length: 70-300mm (105-450mm with Leica T/TL/CL bodies or APS-C crop)
- Aperture range: F4.5 wide / F5.6 tele – F22
- Stabilization: Yes, Panasonic Optical Image Stabilizer
- Filter thread: 77mm
- Close focus: 0.54m (21.3″) wide / 0.74m (29.1″) tele
- Maximum magnification: 0.5x (tele)
- Diaphragm blades: 11
- Hood: Included
- Weight: 790g (1.74 lb)
- Optical construction: 17 elements in 11 groups (2 ED, 1 UED, 1 UHR)
ISO 640 | 1/1250 sec | F5.6 | 300mm | Panasonic S1R
70-300mm F4.5-5.6 lenses are fairly commonplace in the SLR world, but this is nevertheless only the second such lens to be specifically designed for use with a full-frame mirrorless camera. (The first being Sony’s FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G for the competing Sony E-mount, and Fujifilm has recently released a 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 R for its X-mount APS-C cameras.)
As such, there are no direct rivals for L-mount cameras from Panasonic or either of its L-mount Alliance partners, Leica and Sigma. The nearest L-mount equivalents would be the significantly brighter, bulkier and far more expensive Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm F2.8–4 or the moderately larger, heavier and more telephoto Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS.
Wildlife and sports shooters in particular may find the Sigma to be a more attractive option, however. Not only will it bring more distant subjects even closer, it also carries a list price that’s about $300 less than the Panasonic. The tradeoff is that it’s a little less bright, and so may push you to higher sensitivities or longer shutter speeds.
ISO 640 | 1/80 sec | F14 | 219mm | Panasonic S1R
The Panasonic S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 is just a little larger than we’d expect of a full-frame lens with its focal length and aperture ranges, but nevertheless also a bit lighter.
Its barrel diameter is identical to that of the Sony FE 70-300MM we mentioned previously, and 5mm (0.2in) smaller in diameter than the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM for Canon EF-mount DSLRs. It’s a bit longer than both, though. The Canon is about 5mm (0.2in) shorter, and the Sony is about 4.5mm shorter.
|Barrel diameter and weight are about what we’d expect for a lens of this type, but the length at 70mm is a bit longer than is typical for a 70-300mm zoom of this kind. The lens extends when zoomed.|
Restricting ourselves just to the less-direct alternatives on the L-mount, however, it’s a good bit smaller than the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS, which is a full 49.2mm (2.0 in) longer. The aforementioned Leica 90-280mm, meanwhile, is the biggest of the bunch, at a full 3.5 inches longer.
At the same time, it’s also a little less hefty than its nearest competitors. It’s 64g (2.3 oz) lighter than Sony’s E-mount equivalent and a worthwhile 260g (0.6 lb) less than Canon’s EF-mount lens, which both carry broadly similar list pricing and target customers. It’s also a full 370g (13.1 oz) lighter than the L-mount Sigma, and weighs less than half as much as the high-end Leica, which is a whopping 920g (2.0 lb) heavier.
Although its outer barrel is predominantly constructed from polycarbonate, the lens nevertheless has a very rugged build and a nice, high-quality feel. It’s certainly a notch above the quality of typical 70-300mm zooms around the $500-600 mark, but doesn’t approach the build of higher-end optics like Canon L-series or Sony G Master lenses.
Balance is very good with larger bodies like the Panasonic S1R that we used for gallery shooting around our Seattle HQ, but is still pleasant with smaller bodies like the Panasonic S5 used by the DPReview TV team in Calgary, Alberta.
|We found good balance on smaller bodies like the S5, and great with larger ones like this S1R.|
Both the zoom and focus rings are pretty light and not significantly dampened. The focus ring has the softer feel of the pair, while the zoom ring has a bit more tension. On the side of the barrel there are four switches, providing for (top to bottom) focus range limiter, focus mode, optical image stabilizer and zoom lock controls.
Since you’ll probably need the focus mode control more frequently than the rest, there’s a small bump next to it that provides a great tactile reference, helping ensure your fingertip has found the correct switch without removing your eye from the viewfinder.
|A lens hood is included in the product bundle.|
As for the optical image stabilization system, for which Panasonic claims a 5.5-stop corrective effect, we found it to be quite effective, helping both to combat blur from camera shake at lower shutter speeds, and also to stabilize the electronic viewfinder view for a smooth, steady preview. Both are important given the fairly powerful maximum telephoto on offer.
|The 77mm filter thread is larger than average, which will cost a bit more when buying filters.|
Up front, there’s a larger-than-typical 77mm filter thread, and the Panasonic 70-300mm is also comprehensively weather-sealed, with a total of seven seals providing for both dust and splash resistance. It’s also freeze resistant to -14°F (-10°C), as our heavily snowbound and deep-frozen Canadian team can attest.
|Panasonic S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 Macro OIS||Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS | C|
|Optical construction||17 elements, 11 groups||22 elements, 16 groups|
|Stabilized / mfr rating||Yes (5.5 stops)||Yes (4 stops)|
|Weather sealed||Yes||Yes, mount-gasket only|
|Minimum focus distance / max magnification||0.54 m (1.77″) / 0.50x||1.60 m (5.25″) / 0.24x|
|Diameter x Length
|84mm x 148mm (3.31″ x 5.83″)||86mm x 197.2mm (3.38″ x 7.76″)|
|Weight||790g (1.75lb)||1160g (2.56lb)|
Autofocus and focus breathing
Autofocus is provided by a very fast linear-drive AF motor which is both silent and very swift. With a full-rack AF time of about two seconds, or just 1.1 seconds with the focus range limiter active and significantly faster for the smaller adjustments typical of real-world use, it’s definitely up to the tasks of wildlife or sports shooting.
ISO 100 | 1/3200 sec | F4.8 | 87mm | Panasonic S5
The focus limiter is a pretty standard option on a telephoto zoom like this, and one that’s definitely worth having, especially because of this lens’ insanely close minimum focusing distance. It locks the focus range to a minimum of 3m (9.8 ft) when active.
That close focusing, incidentally, gives this lens a pretty decent macro ability, for a telephoto zoom. You can get physically closest to your subject at wide-angle, with a minimum focusing distance of 0.54m (1.77 ft). For the highest magnification ratio, though, switch to telephoto instead. Here, a minimum focusing distance of 0.74m (2.43 ft) is enough to garner a 1:2 (0.5x) maximum magnification.
|You can get pretty close at wide-angle (left), but moving just 20cm further from your subject and switching to telephoto (right) will get you an even better 1:2 macro. Both images at ISO 100 with Panasonic S5.|
Video shooters will be pleased to hear that as well as autofocus drive being essentially silent, focus breathing is minimal, with just a slight hint at 70mm that largely goes away as you zoom in towards the 300mm telephoto. Our only mild disappointment on the video front is that the lens uses a focus mode switch on the side of the barrel, rather than a push/pull focus clutch found on some Panasonic lenses.
Image quality for the Panasonic 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 is generally very good; bokeh is pleasing, there’s good resistance to distortion and flare, and aberrations are as well-controlled as we’d expect on a lens of this type. We did find some copy variation in terms of sharpness, however. While both copies we tested had great sharpness at wide-angle, one of the two was noticeably better at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Sample variation in telezooms is extremely common (potentially more so in early production runs), but it’s something to look out for.
At wide angle, the 70-300mm is quite sharp even when shooting at F5.6, and the plane of focus is pretty flat. Stopping down to F8 does improve detail just a little, but you’ll only notice that difference at large print sizes or when viewing 1:1.
|One of our two copies of the Panasonic 70-300mm was plenty sharp wide-open at full telephoto.
ISO 640 | 1/1250 sec | F5.6 | 300mm
Photo by Dale Baskin
That performance holds true as you zoom in to around 200mm, but beyond that point, we noticed on one of our copies that things weren’t so pleasing. We found it to be pretty soft at 300mm, while our other copy was as sharp as we would expect from a lens of this type and at this price point.
ISO 320 | 1/250 sec | F7.1 | 74mm | Panasonic S1R
We found on our less-impressive copy we could work around the softness a bit by stopping down to F8, but this isn’t the brightest lens to start off with. Having to stop down even further will push you towards longer shutter speeds or higher sensitivities, further trading away potential image quality in the process. The main takeaway? Do some quick testing if you choose this lens for yourself, and make sure you’re satisfied with your copy.
Vignetting and distortion
|There’s really not much vignetting to speak of beyond the 70mm wide-angle.
ISO 1000 | 1/400 sec | F10 | 96mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Dale Baskin
Good news here: The Panasonic 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 exhibits only minimal distortion. It also controls vignetting pretty well. It’s slightly noticeable but easily corrected at the lens’ 70mm wide-angle, and almost nonexistent by the time you reach its 300mm telephoto.
Another strength of the 70-300mm is its pleasing bokeh. That’s achieved thanks to an 11-bladed aperture, and you can expect nice, round bokeh balls not only when shooting wide open, but even if you stop down a little. Look closely and you’ll notice just a little polygonality by F8, but less than you’d expect with a more typical nine-bladed aperture. The ‘cat’s eye’ effect, which turns the balls into ellipses towards the corners, is present as you’d expect on a lens like this, but pretty well controlled.
ISO 400 | 1/400 sec | F5.6 | 144mm | Panasonic S5
There’s also no sign of onion rings in the specular highlights, which can often cause lenses’ bokeh to look busy and distracting with a noticeable pattern of concentric circles inside the bokeh balls. Really, the only slight shortcoming we noted is that there’s a noticeable soap bubble effect, where the outer periphery of the bokeh balls are a little brighter than their centers.
Flare, ghosting and sunstars
Panasonic tells us that it specifically engineered the 70-300mm to achieve better sunstars, which is interesting given that’s not typically something one expects or even looks for in a telephoto. And while they’re not amazing, they’re certainly present and look reasonably good to us.
ISO 1000 | 1/500 sec | F22 | 71mm | Panasonic S1R
With the bundled lens hood mounted, the lens has good resistance to flare. Even without it or when shooting directly into the sun, only minor ghosting appears towards the far opposite side of the frame, and it’s very well controlled. We didn’t notice any washing out from flare, and contrast remains strong.
Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration (fringing)
|ISO 100 | 1/1600 sec | F7.1 | 71mm | Panasonic S5
Photo by Chris Niccolls
Lateral chromatic aberration (LaCA), which often shows up as colored fringing along high-contrast edges near the edges of the frame, are well-controlled on the Panasonic 70-300mm; this is easy to correct in post anyway, but as you can see from the above image with no CA reduction, it’s not a problem. As we would expect for this type of lens, there’s basically no longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA), which would show up as green or magenta fringing behind and in front of the plane of focus at wider apertures.
|What we like||What we don’t|
We found a lot to like in the Panasonic Lumix S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 Macro O.I.S., but a relatively high price tag nevertheless makes it a lens where you need to manage your expectations. A list price of $1249 puts it in roughly the same league as some Canon L or Sony G glass on other mounts, but it’s not quite in the same class in terms of its build or optical performance.
ISO 500 | 1/125 sec | F4.5 | 70mm | Panasonic S1R
But that list price doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. From launch, Panasonic is offering a steep discount that brings the cost down to a more reasonable $1000, putting it roughly midway between consumer glass and higher-end offerings on other mounts. And that seems about right, as that’s where we see it fitting, both optically and physically.
It pairs beautifully with Panasonic’s L-mount bodies, and has a solid, quality feel in-hand. And it’s capable of great image quality across much of its zoom range, though we do have a slight concern about sample variation, particularly regarding sharpness at the telephoto end.
|ISO 3200 | 1/100 sec | F5.5 | 245mm | Panasonic S1R
Photo by Dale Baskin
Tell yourself that you’re paying less at retail than for high-end rivals and still getting full weather-sealing, great autofocus performance, good macro capabilities and pretty gorgeous bokeh, though, and it feels like a much better value than that list price might otherwise suggest.
But if what you care about most are value and zoom range, you might consider the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS instead. It’s a little less bright and noticeably bulkier, but it’ll also give you even more telephoto reach while still saving you just a little cash over its Panasonic rival.
DPReview TV review
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Samples shot with the Panasonic S1R
Samples shot with the Panasonic S5
Panasonic S 70-300 F4.5-5.6 Macro OIS
Category: Telephoto Lens
Ergonomics and Handling
The Panasonic S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 is a well-built telephoto zoom that autofocuses very quickly and very closely, and has solid image quality across the zoom range. It’s unremarkable maximum aperture range limits its use for low-light shooting, but for casual wildlife, landscape and sports photography in brighter conditions, it’s definitely worth a look for L-mount shooters.
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