Going All Micro Four Thirds on Wildlife

//Going All Micro Four Thirds on Wildlife

Going All Micro Four Thirds on Wildlife

Update – November 1, 2016:

I get many emails and comments related to this post — from people interested in micro four thirds (m43) and mirrorless cameras as a wildlife format. I’ve been shooting with Olympus m43 gear exclusively now for three years and plan to update my impressions before the end of the year. In the interim, the gear I’m now using is the OMD E-M1, with my original E-M5 as a backup body. I’m looking forward to the new E-M1 Mark II with improved AF, just released . It’s definitely on my wish list. The lenses I’ve used in the intervening years for wildlife photography are:  Zuiko 50-200mm; Lumix 100-300mm; m.zuiko 40-150mm; and just this month, the brand new m.zuiko 300mm.

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A local camera salesperson — who, for the purposes of anonymity, shall be named Malacoda — advised me that I will never get a decent wildlife shot with a micro four thirds camera (m43). In fact, according to Malacoda, the only way I will ever get a respectable photograph of a sitting or flying bird will be through the grace of a Canon EOS-1D X and a seven-thousand-dollar 400mm f2.8 lens. I’m definitely not going to get that shot with a “flimsy” Nikon D7100, let alone with the “poser” Nikon D600 or D800. Olympus four thirds? What? Are you kidding? Those are toy cameras. And if I’m dumb enough to buy a puny micro four thirds, mirrorless camera, I might as well lob myself off the Golden Gate Bridge because my self worth will not hold up under the derision I’ll face in the field, wearing just a necklace of a camera.

I didn’t see the point in telling Malacoda that I already own a micro four thirds camera … and that for four years, I photographed wildlife with its technological predecessor and a $300 lens. His mind was set on the legitimacy of Canon full-frame-or-nothing. And my wallet left the store a little thicker for his obstinance.

As a smallish woman with smallish camera gear, I’m pretty jaded to the unsolicited reactions I get, on and off the field. Men with monster lenses often take me under their wing, teaching me a thing or two about the grown-up world of photography. Malacoda just copped to that usual stereotype. I know I could be all indignant about the patronizing advice, but the truth is, I thrive in the role of the underestimated.  Speak softly and carry a small camera is what I believe Theodore Roosevelt would say today.

And that’s what I’m going to do from this point forward: carry a small camera. (I can’t promise the “speak softly” part.) I’m storing away my four thirds gear in exchange for micro four thirds all the way. I’m shaving off a few pounds of body weight and viewing my universe through an electronic viewfinder.

There aren’t a lot of people raving, without reservation, about micro four thirds cameras in wildlife photography — and that’s part of the reason I’m mentioning the gear at all. My experience disputes the negativity of cynics like Malacoda. I’m excited to push the limits of this format to see what I can do with a purse-sized package.

There are some shortcomings and trade offs. For example, so far, there’s no high-end wildlife prime lens or even a pro-level zoom lens for m43. The existing tele lenses, like my Panasonic 100-300mm, have weaknesses requiring work arounds — especially for fast-moving subjects like birds in flight. But, for me, traveling light and always on foot, I’ve found myself shooting the bulk of my images this past year with the Olympus E-M5, a micro four thirds setup. More often than not, I’ve left my DSLR at home. And in that time, the micro four thirds format convinced me of its potential, and proved its benefits to my lifestyle and to my back and neck muscles. The new Olympus body coming out this month (the E-M1) promises compatibility with my better wildlife lens which could seal the deal for me in perpetuity.

These photos show the size of my E-M5 + Lumix 100-300mm as compared to a Kaufman field guide — and also my hand:

Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Lumix 100-300mm lens

Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Lumix 100-300mm lens

Micro432

Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Lumix 100-300mm lens

Consider me, for the next year, unencumbered but still carrying my big stick of a photographic experiment … in the form of this little camera … with a creative view to its achievements and possibilities.

 

Some wildlife photos from the past year, shot with the E-M5 + Lumix 100-300mm:

By | 2017-12-09T01:03:25+00:00 October 1st, 2013|@ITBlog, Art-Ness, Blog, Featured, Photography|49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Mia McPherson October 2, 2013 at 4:08 am

    Ingrid,

    In Florida I had more than a few photographers look down their noses at my Nikon D200 with my Nikkor 80-400mm attached, as if it wasn’t real gear. The truth is; for the locations I photographed most often in, was that I could get closer to the birds and cause them less disturbance by carrying lighter gear and not having to set up a noisy tripod. In my opinion you are doing exactly what you want to do with the gear you decide to use.

    As for camera sales people that only focus on one brand and sneer down their noses at others, well I would just go out the door.

    I am glad to see you back, I have missed your photos and your witty posts.

    • ingrid October 3, 2013 at 12:13 am

      Thanks, Mia, for the kind words. And yes, I know you can relate to the gear exclusiveness that sometimes exists. With the forthcoming E-M1 able to focus my old lenses (I hope, I’ve read) — I decided I’d put all of my pixels into the m43 basket and see how it goes. I’ve been happy with the E-M5 with the exception of its performance with my 50-200mm wildlife lens. When the E-M1 was announced, I thought long and hard about how heavy I wanted to go with my camera load, and I realized that for my purposes, portability was at the top of the list. So, if I can get some great images while reducing the size of my pack, that will be the perfect combination for me. I will see how it goes …

    • Seamus Warren September 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      Hello, Are the gallery images re-sampled? I am viewing the images on an iPad Mini with Retina display and they are looking a bit soft.

      My favourite image though, is a deliberately soft abstract image of a flock of birds in flight.

      Many for sharing your thoughts and images.

      • Seamus Warren September 27, 2014 at 4:51 pm

        Sorry, I was unable to edit my original post as I should have written “some” of the images appear a little soft. The image of the bees comes to mind.

        • ingrid September 27, 2014 at 5:38 pm

          Hi, Seamus, thanks very much for pointing that out. The images are sharp on my display but I’ll check later with an iPad to see if I can replicate what you describe. This is a relatively new child theme for my blog, and it’s supposed to be responsive and device friendly. I’ll see what’s going on and report back. They shouldn’t have looked that way when you viewed them. Cheers, Ingrid

        • ingrid October 19, 2014 at 3:18 am

          It took me a while to finally get back to you on this — revamping the blog a bit. But I think what you were experiencing, Seamus, was simply the size of those images. They were small (750-850 pixels) and when i expanded them on the iPad, they did indeed appear soft. At 100 percent, in their smaller sizes, they looked fine. I used to upload larger, more detailed image to click out to, but haven’t been doing that lately.

  2. Denise October 2, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Whatever you’re using, it’s working beautifully—your photos are stunning. After all, it’s not the equipment, it’s how you use it!

    • ingrid October 3, 2013 at 12:19 am

      Thank you, Denise. It’s so true that all the gear can’t replace fundamental skills. There was a great blog post that addressed the subject of “gear doesn’t matter … except when it does.” (I think it may have been this piece at PetaPixel: http://petapixel.com/2012/04/24/gear-doesnt-matter-except-when-it-does/). When I moved from a true budget telephoto to the next step up in glass, it would have been disingenuous to say it didn’t make a difference. It was a huge difference. And I know that if I did go full-frame with a high-end pro lens, it would be a lot easier to get sharp birds-in-flight shots, especially as compared to the gear I’ve used for years. I think life in general comes down to trade offs, and at this point, I’m willing to trade off size for some of the compromises I’ll make with smaller sensors and lenses. I’ll see how I feel about it after this year. 🙂

  3. PSYL October 2, 2013 at 8:40 am

    As an Olympus E-620 user, I can say that there are several benefits to using 4/3 for wildlife photography: 2x crop factor, in-body stabilizer, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive lenses for my needs (macro, telephoto, and landscape). Those are the reasons why I chose E-620 as my first DSLR.

    Although I feel a bit betrayed when Olympus decide to abandon 4/3 and come out with E-M1, because now I need an adapter for my 4/3 lenses. I am now thinking about switching to another system (either m4/3 or a more popular system like Nikon) because they cost pretty much the same with a new body and telephoto lens to start. May I ask how E-M5 and 100-300 compare with your old E-3 and 70-300 (in terms of focusing speed at flying birds)? Thanks.

    Terribly sorry to hear what happened to your cat. RIP.

    • ingrid October 3, 2013 at 12:40 am

      Hi, PSYL … and thank you for the kind sentiments about Jackie.

      I was/am in the exact same boat, toying with the same choices. I know we all waited for a successor in the E line, to no avail, and quite a few shooters left Olympus as a result. When the E-M5 came out, my husband and I bought it, thinking it would work with our 4/3 lenses. It’s fine with everything but my most used 4/3 lens which is the 50-200mm, phase-detect. On the E-M5, I use the 50-200mm with manual focus exclusively, a real challenge when capturing moving wildlife. I was very close to jumping over to Nikon before the E-M1 announcement came about. (The reviews look good in terms of it focusing with phase-detect lenses like the 50-200mm.)

      Comparing the E-M5 +100-300 with the E-3 + 70-300mm, the E-M5 combination is better for me. Both combos struggle with small birds or birds in the distance. But the AF is faster and the IQ is better and sharper, in my experience, with the 100-300mm. With larger birds like herons, I have no troubles, and the sharpness of the shots exceeds what I got with the 70-300mm. When presented with smaller species, I have to pre-focus and flutter the shutter in order to get the image, and I do miss a lot more than the photogs standing next to me with high-end glass. But my keeper ratio is higher with the 100-300mm than the 70-300mm (much as I loved that lens) and I can also crank up the shutter speed more easily since the higher ISO performance on the E-M5 is very good. I’m looking forward to testing the E-M1 with the faster 50-200mm. The lens will add just a bit more bulk, but I’m anxious to see how it performs.

      (btw, I have not tested the comparable m.zuiko 75-300mm lens, but I know some people find it better than the Lumix 100-300mm.)

  4. M. Firpi October 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Ingrid, I’m with you all the way. Although I still use 1.6x crop factor bodies (the smaller Canon T5i and 60D), they have both flared up my carpal tunnel syndrome. How? Well, even these smaller crop factor bodies are still capable of squeezing my median nerve at the thenar eminence, the group of muscles at the base of the thumb. When I hold my camera bodies, the camera body at the thenar eminence literally chokes my median nerve. I have to wear a thumb support splint to immobilize my thumb so it doesn’t take anymore punishment. My wrist is also prone to acute tendinitis at the base of the thumb.

    Apart from this, I think taking care of our bodies comes first. The physical body houses our soul. The micro fourth thirds system is designed to protect our hands, neck and shoulders. Your images are also testimony of the high quality this system is capable of yielding, and that equipment is simply a bridge of communication with the world; just as vocabulary or words are; it’s simply a palette we use to communicate information and artistic expression. I’d love to continue hearing about your new Olympus model!

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      Maria, does the carpal tunnel prevent you from doing as much photography as you’d like? I had the beginnings of repetitive stress in my wrists when I worked at a law firm, typing deposition transcripts all day. I know the pain can be beyond debilitating. I hope you are managing it okay with the splint, but I know it can’t be ideal. Take good care of yourself because the world needs imagery and stories the likes of yours!

      I’ll write a post as soon as I get a chance to shoot with the E-M1. I am so excited I can barely contain myself. But I’m committed to that thing known as work … before I can get out and play. 🙂

      • M. Firpi November 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm

        The carpal tunnel condition is not directly linked to repetitive stress (or cumulative trauma disorders) in jobs that require constant use of the hand although it sure can instigate it. It also has to do with other factors such as heredity, individual size of the carpal tunnel, obesity, diabetes, and night time habits (assuming awkward wrist postures while sleeping). Since it’s inflammation, as soon as you let it rest, with splints or just not using the hand for fine motor tasks, it eventually subsides. I have already modified all my gear and no longer use the huge 100-400mm lens at all. It’s great you got this post out because the E-M1 got a gold seal award from DP Review (it’s still not for sale though), so I’m eager to hear what you have to say when you get it. I also found out you can sell old gear to B&H Photo, at half the price or less of the original cost, but at least I can get rid of gear I no longer use.

  5. Larry Jordan October 4, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I think that’s exactly what Theodore Roosevelt would say Ingrid 😉 And, as for Malacoda, I’m glad you left him in the dust! Your images are so amazing with the E-M5 I would be afraid to see what you could do with a “real” camera. The truth be told, your pros are so good, you don’t even need to be the exceptional photographer you are to make those men with monster lenses learn a thing or two about a thing or two!!

    Kudos to your veterinarian for their generosity and their ability to realize the importance of your special relationship with Jackie. Thank you Ingrid for sharing your innermost feelings with us.

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Larry, as I wrote below, I’m so remiss in responding to these very nice comments. A belated thank you, too! Yep, I think Teddy probably would have amended his words for our technological and social-networking era. You are very generous with your compliments … and I think, like all photographers and other artists, I am too aware of my own weaknesses. So, I’m grateful for the words. I think the idea of never being fully resolved with ones abilities does force improvement and growth.

      (It was thoughtful of my vet to do that. It made such a difference when I opened that letter.)

  6. Bea Elliott October 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    It’s obvious. Your work speaks for itself. Malacoda is totally misinformed as to what your equipment and your talent can and does do — Consistently and beautifully!

    I’m happy that your girl Jackie is memorialized in such a way as to help others going through such a painful loss… Those resources are a life-line I hope neither you nor any of your gentle readers ever need call upon.

    Glad to see you back – Shining through it all. <3

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Bea, you are very kind with those words. I’ve enjoyed the discussion that ensued here on the topic of gear and its tradeoffs … kind of a geeky indulgence. And thank you, so belatedly here, for your thoughts about Jackie. It’s been a tough road since she passed away. Let’s just say nights are pretty sleepless still, but I accept it as part of that long road back to wholeness, the one we all travel in one form or another.

  7. Glenn Nevill October 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    A large sensor is only important if you are going to print a large and I mean really large print. For anything smaller any of the cameras you mention will work and do a great job. Speed of autofocus and accuracy of focus are more important, sharpness of the lens equally important. Sensor quality, noise and color accuracy can be found in all formats.

    Getting the shot is the most important. If the gear weighs too much or is too large to handle, then you don’t get the shot.
    Shoot with the gear you love, and photograph what you love and the images will be fantastic. If I could afford two systems, the second would be an Olympus setup just like yours.

    Cheers!

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Glenn, your comment, “if the gear weighs too much or is too large to handle, then you don’t get the shot.” I’m with you on that. And yes … ideally … two systems.Choosing one or the other item in any field always comes with pros and cons. On sensor size, I’ve run into this limitation with my E-3. I had one particular situation for a commercial project where I simply could not print at the size and quality needed from that old 10.1mp sensor and the lens I was using at the time. On AF, I always knew the Oly gear I had didn’t match the AF of Canon or Nikon. I’m not sure now how the new bodies like the E-M1 compare. I think the AF of the E-M5 is great — and I’d actually like to compare, to see how the capabilities of micro four thirds stand to other current AF systems.

  8. John Raymond October 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Ingrid, as others have stated well, you are obviously producing beautiful work with your equipment as you are the maestro
    and are working fluently with your subjects and tools in hand. Great work as always from you. My friend Buzz who has played professional guitar for 30 years always laughs when it comes to equipment talk about which guitar/amps does what. He states you could hand Jimi Hendrix anything and it would sound like..Jimi Hendrix (gotta confess though, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson’s 5 neck guitar is pretty cool though on a geek level).

    The camera guy..sounds like Glazer’s rhetoric, is pushing the company line. Money. Ignorance. New York store attitude a few thousand miles to the left and worth a good snicker the two and only times I will ever go in there.

    So many options now with photography! A fun time for all. Free film ala digital has changed the whole package. It’s like free gas. Who would have thought that 20 years ago?
    I find myself not using autofocus lenses and like the legacy glass and metal lenses that can be adapter to the Olympus 4/3.
    Old school is something I cannot escape yet. We have chatted abit before about camera/lens combos and I am now back to an Olympus E-520 and a Tokina 300/f5.6 metal/glass lens with fungus that fits in my hand about as well as your 100-300 does. Takes fine photos. Works fine for my needs right now as I use the shots for reference for drawing etc.. and not wall hangers.

    Lens size depends on your location too I suppose. Where I live, it is an area of large and open expanses and most subjects are 50 to many 100’s of yards away so a big lens is needed and/or a camera with great resolution. An older 600/5.6 ED manual Nikon on a mono pod and a new Olympus M4/3 might be the ticket in my future. Your 100-300mm lens would be a great action/flight lens for the total package.

    With the crazy increasing ISO quality and sure to increase megapixel upside, I am sure we will soon enough be using 50mm lenses on 100 megapixel cameras and not ever see a 600/4 ever again : )

    My biggest wish was Olympus would have made a 400/5.6 ED lens-be it back in the OM days of the 70’s and 80’s, to now. Pentax made a very compact Silver metal ED af FA 400mm f5.6-check it out. THAT is the lens Olympus should make, IMHO.

    Keep up the great work!

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      John, I’m so sorry it took me this long to reply to your comment. As you know, I went into a bit of a no man’s land for the past couple of months. How are you doing?

      I love your analogy about Jimi Hendrix. I realize specialized gear of all kinds can make a difference in the right hands, but it certainly won’t bestow talent on someone who doesn’t already have it. 😉 It’s too late to test Buzz’s hypothesis on Jimi, but have you seen Ayron Jones play by any chance? He’s a Seattle-born guitarist and we saw him live in a local lounge, by accident (didn’t know he’d be there), just a few years ago. We were blown away by his Hendrix-style. I think he just recorded his first album with Sir Mix-a-Lot producing. http://www.ajandtheway.com

      Anyway, beyond the digression … yes … like free gas! It feels that way, doesn’t it? I can say with near certainty that considering the huge learning curve I’ve had in wildlife photography, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the same with my old film SLR. It’s been a ton of images shot at no cost.

      On the E-520, I always liked the way it handled better than my E-3. I thought the AF was more accurate. What types of shots are you taking for reference? My mom does the same thing with her little Panasonic FZ18 … mostly drawing and painting references. I love seeing photography through that viewpoint as well. You’re certainly framing things differently when you’re using it as that type of tool.

      With respect to the distance, yes, I know that’s where large, beautiful sensors can really help, too. What’s the going rate on a lens like the Nikon 600/5.6 you mention? I’ll take a look at the Pentax. Tagging what Jouko said below about Olympus, micro four thirds and prime lenses, I wonder what will happen for wildlife photographers in terms of native glass.

  9. Jouko October 30, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Ingrid,

    Good to come across a fellow Bay Area wildlife photographer using the (micro) four-thirds system. I’m a Four Thirds shooter myself and I’ve been eyeing the development of micro-four thirds to see whether the switch to a more portable system would be worth it, without compromising image quality and shooting possibilities. I think with the introduction of the E-M1 I’m finally ready to add a micro four-thirds body to my gear. At first, I’ll have to use my regular four thirds 50-200 SWD, which should perform ok on the Em-1, but still won’t be able to do what other systems can achieve with continuous autofocus. So I’m looking to get my hand on either the Olympus or Panasonic telephoto zoom down the line and your write up and sample shots are great examples of the possibilities.

    To me, the system, with its renewed in-body image stabilization, weather sealing and fast AF capabilities and of course the 2x crop factor seems like the perfect system for wildlife on paper. What worries me a bit still is that Olympus doesn’t seem to want to market and support these benefits for sports and wildlife photography with a complete telephoto lens lineup and seems to focus on more popular uses first. (Rumors of an Olympus telephoto prime being in the making have surfaced, but yeah, rumors are just that…).

    So while your local camera salesman, like most camera salesmen, appears to be a bit stuck in a mindset that made perfect sense just a few years ago, he still has a point. And, to be honest, some of your shots (and mine too!) still show these shortcomings in a sense that they’re great, but not the best you could have gotten out of the situation with a different camera. To achieve certain perfect shots, you gotta break the bank. But if you’re happy achieving 85% of shots without breaking the bank, there’s no need to ever take advice from that guy, and who knows, sticking with the system may just lead to perfection a few years down the line and then you have a head-start on everybody else.

    • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks for the great comment, Jouko — and the cogent points. I’ll touch on the E-M1 at the end, but I’ll start from your point about good-versus-best photos … keeping in mind that I think your shots are beautiful!

      I agree that shooting with the lenses I’ve owned cannot been a match for a full-frame Canikon with top-of-the-line lens. In fact, until I got my Oly 50-200mm lens last year, I couldn’t match even a mid-range wildlife lens in quality. (Referencing a link in the comments above, the gear doesn’t matter — except when it matters.) It did make me hone my skills to overcome the shortcomings of the gear, for which I’m grateful.

      Initially, I aspired to go full-frame at some point, as many do when they see the capabilities. But over time, and also after spending so many hours in the field with my four-thirds gear and also with other photographers who own full-frame systems, I realized that expenditures notwithstanding, I’m a very mobile shooter. Portability and ergonomics creeped to the top of the wish list. You know the adage that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” I decided it was time to reframe my dreams based on that principle. And that’s how I dipped into the micro four thirds world. You wrote, “if you’re happy achieving 85% of shots without breaking the bank …” — that’s pretty much the resolution I came to. I also like to shoot a variety of subjects and in almost every other type of photography, I think mu43 excels, as the technology exists now, today. It’s just the lack of, as you point out, the serious wildlife primes for these cameras which hampers the endeavors.

      That’s where, I think (and hope) the E-M1, for me, will eliminate most of what Ive personally seen as trade-offs in the mu43 system — i.e. not being able to use my favorite Zuiko lens. I know that’s one of the main reasons Olympus designed this camera … for people like me, with 4/3 lenses. I won’t get a chance to shoot with the E-M1 for a few days (aaaack, self control, what a concept), but I did connect my 50-200mm to the E-M1 out of the box and it focused like a champ. The EVF seems nice, too.

      I compared the 50-200mm to the focusing speed of the Panasonic 100-300mm, and the native lens is a bit quicker. But, the E-M1 focused the 50-200mm as good as or better than my E-3. I would err on the side of “better” since I always had AF shortcomings with my dear friend, the E-3. How has your experience been with the E-5’s AF? I’ve heard it was a significant improvement over the E-3.

      If the E-M1 meets those expectations reasonably well, then my hope is that it will also accommodate the 300mm f2.8 prime for anyone who’s in that Olympus 4/3 limbo.

      Have you been reading much about the new full-frame, mirrorless bodies from Sony? I know lens selection is always cited as a factor there, too. But the specs I’ve seen are intriguing.

      • Jouko October 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm

        I have the same hopes about the E-M1 when it comes to having full access to my existing lenses again. I’m looking forward to learning your experiences combined with the 50-200mm SWF. On my E-5 it performs superfast in pretty much all conditions, and I hardly notice a difference in focussing speed when using either of the two Zuiko teleconverters. I never use C-AF still, as I get better results just speed clicking the shutter in regular AF and I don’t expect that to be any different using the regular FT lenses with the E-M1. I went straight from an E-510 to my E-5, and needless to say, that was a huge improvement on all fronts. I can’t say much about performance compared to the E-3 because I never owned one.

        My plan of action is to get the E-M1 either way as soon as I’ve saved up enough, and then try my existing lenses and rent the 300mm f2.8 to see if that’s something worth saving up for if MFT telephoto primes don’t ever show up.

        Another option may be to figure out if I can improve my MF skills combining the E-M1’s focus peaking function with legacy MF telephoto glass (I have to read up on that, I’m not even sure if that’s possible). But that still won’t help me with birds in flight, of course.

        Yeah, I’ve read about the mirrorless FF bodies from Sony. I’m not too intrigued at the moment, simply because considering more options don’t make the decision making process any easier, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for wildlife shots made with that system.

        • ingrid October 30, 2013 at 8:14 pm

          Jouko, I just saw your raccoon photos and also the porpoising sea lions on your FB photography page. Are most or all of your images shot with the E-5 + 50-200mm? Do you ever use a teleconverter in the field? I’ve had trouble with the EC20 + 50-200mm in terms of image sharpness, but I’ll see how it performs on the new body.

          Renting the 300mm is a good idea. I’m not sure if Glazer’s here in Seattle rents Oly lenses, I need to check. Have you had a chance to compare the 300mm with the 90-250mm? (I haven’t.)

          • Jouko October 31, 2013 at 12:17 am

            Nope, I haven’t tried the 300mm or the 90-250 at all. But I’ve heard many people complain about the focussing accuracy of the 90-250, so I’ve dismissed that one as a worthy option. Yes, I use both teleconverters in the field, it takes a little practice and especially the EC-20 definitely requires some good light, but eventually I got the hang of it and some of the shots I’m most happy with were shot with the TCs, although I get very similar results with just the 50-200 and some cropping.

            For some reason I’ve never been able to get sharp results when I use the teleconverters with IS switched off or on on a tripod, so I learned to just use my 50-200, both teleconverters and the E5 handheld combined with a lot of time and patience when I’m out and about. Also, I bring a yoga mat to lay down in the mud and get my low angle shots. I get some strange looks in the parks, but it’s worth it 🙂

            Borrowlenses.com rents out Oly lenses (Though their regular FT collection is getting smaller quickly), and I think they serve a lot of areas on the West Coast.

            • ingrid November 1, 2013 at 11:09 pm

              Jouko, interesting about the teleconverters and tripod. I’ll have to experiment a bit more with that concept. When you shoot without a TC, do you have IS on or OFF on the tripod? I haven’t noticed much difference, frankly. The only time IS gets in the way for me is with birds in flight. I turn it off. Even IS2 doesn’t seem to work well for me, maybe because I’m not panning as evenly as I think I am.

              The yoga mat is a great idea. I have a waterproof picnic blanket in the car but it’s a bit cumbersome because it’s big — and I tend not to bring it out. Your idea will work better.

              • ingrid November 1, 2013 at 11:24 pm

                p.s. I forgot to mention that a significant hindrance to IQ in the Northwest is the quality of light. Going back home a few months ago and shooting near Bodega Head, I simply couldn’t believe how I used to take that vivid light for granted.

                • Maria F. November 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

                  Ingrid, I saw you last blog entry, I’d like to know which macro lens are you using, the Ziuko 60mm? Also, which lens for the wider perspectives? Considering the crop factor, I would tend to favor the 9-18mm Wide-Angle Ziuko Zoom Lens, but I know also there’s a Lumix contender for this one also. Which one do you use?
                  Another question is whether the Lumix lenses work well with image stabilization of the Olympus body (I heard you had to turn the IS of the camera off in order for them to work with their own IS).

                  • Maria F. November 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm

                    The Lumix wide angle zoom is the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 ASPH. Do you have that one?

                    • ingrid November 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm

                      My small staple of micro four thirds lenses is: Lumix 100-300mm; m.zuiko 12-50mm; Lumix 20mm. I also have the Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 which now works beautifully with the E-M1. I’m missing the very wide end — and my wish-list tele is the Zuiko 300mm f/2.8. I sometimes use the EC14 (1.4x teleconverter with the 50-200mm — when there’s enough light and I need the reach). My bigger wish is an unlimited budget for beautiful, bright glass. 🙂

                  • ingrid November 25, 2013 at 8:18 pm

                    Maria, believe it or not, I have no dedicated macro lens! I’d like to have one, but at the same time, I’m pretty lame about changing lenses in the field. I prefer to have two cameras. So, I’ve been shooting closeups with my long lenses (the Zuiko 50-200mm or the Lumix 100-300mm) … or using the macro feature on the point-and-shoot Pany LX7. For wider zoom in micro four thirds, I have the m.zuiko 12-50 because we got the E-M5 as a kit with that lens — and it has a decent macro. Sometimes I’ll attach the Raynox 150 closeup lens to another lens for macros.

                    I haven’t read enough on the brand new m.zuiko 12-40mm — just came out. But the specs are nice.

                    Now that I’ve committed myself to the E-M1 — I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest in more lenses — I’ll be looking into some of the other glass over the next year. I’d like to get a super-wide lens, as you mention.

                    The Lumix 100-300mm works perfectly with Olympus IBIS (image stabilization). I choose to turn off the IS in the lens and use the Oly in-body IS because it’s so good. I haven’t done it the other way around, I should test it.

  10. Brian November 23, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Hi Ingrid Apart from the superior quality of your images and the fact I am male with hands like shovels our approach to wildlife photography is almost identical. I use an Olympus E -M5 with the m.zuiko 75-300mm lens. I would like an E-M1 with the option to use the 300mm f2.8. Have you had a chance to use your E- M1? Does it perform as well as expected?
    I have not had much success with the electronic teleconverter but this may be a product of poor light and skill. I did hope the E-M1 combined with a brighter lens would help.

    • ingrid November 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Hi, Brian —

      First, I know you’re selling yourself way too short. (Okay, I did laugh at the “hands like shovels” reference.) btw, I always wished I had male hands for piano keys and chord stretches on the guitar.

      Second, how do you like the 75-300mm? I went with the 100-300mm pretty much for price reasons alone. I’ve never photographed with the m.zuiko. I’d love to know more about your experience, especially with situations like birds in flight, AF, etc.

      On the topic of the TC, I’ve also had difficulties. I shot quite a few images last year with the 50-200mm + EC14 and when I look back at some of them, my technique with the EC was definitely lacking. In others IQ was great, so I’m thinking it’s a combination of camera steadiness, technique and light. On darker days, even with the 50-200mm where you can afford one stop in light, I probably shouldn’t even bother with the EC. I didn’t have an EC until last year so it was one grand experiment. I’m going to put more work into it this year to see if it’s me or the EC. Ideally, I’d love that 300/f2.8

      I just yesterday got to use my E-M1 in earnest. It was the first chance I’ve had in great light, no rain. I took the E-M1 out with the 50-200mm and I was very pleased with the performance. The 50-200mm has a bit of a racking issue no matter what (not nearly what my old Zuiko 70-300mm had), but the AF seemed quicker and more precise than with my E-3. AF was spot on, something I couldn’t always say with the E-3, despite two major repairs.

      I love the focus peaking feature with manual focus. It would be tough living without after using it for just a day. Have you used it before? It makes the manual focus so much more certain.

      The combination of a bright lens with the E-M1’s new EVF was wonderful to have yesterday. The viewfinder is improved over the E-M5 and is sharp and clear. Of course, I don’t have the same reservations about the EVF as some do. I think it’s because the first wildlife photography I ever did was with the Panasonic FZ50 which was an EVF of much lesser quality compared to today’s technology.

      The camera itself is a pure joy to use. It feels good in my hand — the added grip (contrasted with the E-M5) helps considerably, especially with balance of the larger lens. Once I had my settings configured, it was simple to use and I really love the softness of the shutter sound. The birds didn’t even notice it.

      The image stabilization is great. I brought my tripod, too, but shot handheld most of the time with good results. I’m not sure if it’s better than the E-M5 because I rarely have issues with the IBIS with that body. The ISO performance, seems to me, to be almost identical to the E-M5 but I’d really have to do a side by side test and pixel peep to see the differences. I have been very happy with the quality of images at higher ISOs on the E-M5.

      One difference in the IBIS is that the humming sound which accompanies it turns off when you release the shutter. So, on the one hand, the IBIS sound is slightly more pronounced on my E-M1 than my E-M5 (I never noticed as much as others did on the E-M5) it’s a transient sound and the camera goes quiet once the image is shot.

      Let me know if you have specific questions. This is one image I shot handheld yesterday, of a female Wood Duck. It’s cropped from 4608×3456 to 1456×1040 — because she was so far away. But it gives you an idea of the IQ, cropped significantly. I processed my usual parameters in Lightroom and Nik — sharpness, a tiny bit of NR (barely), a bit of exposure adjustment and contrast.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/11004609876/

  11. Maria F. November 30, 2013 at 5:13 am

    I’ve seen videos already on how the AF points work in the E-M1; they are squares but they light up in green, whereas Canon now has them popping up in black but with no lights. I’ve also been reading on the different performance with the AF according to different lenses. The ‘new’ lenses, like the 12-40mm PRO kit lens have better AF, while the older ‘Four Third Lenses’ have a different performance. Does it mean the AF is just going to be slower with these lenses? Can you or anyone shed some light on this?

    • ingrid December 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Maria, I’m glad you saw the video because I’m sure the visual was better than a description. As far as the 4/3 lenses, I’m using the 50-200mm with the E-M1. The 50-200mm hunts just a little (in general, it always has), but the performance, for me, on the E-M1 is much better than what I had with my old E-3. It’s quite a bit snappier. It is worlds away from the E-M5. I resorted to manual focus only with the E-M5 + 50-200mm.

      I wish you lived close so you could test mine out. Compared to what you’re using, I’m not sure how you would find the AF speed. I need to go shoot with a Nikon and Canon system in the same range. so I have a better frame of reference. I’d also like to test the E-M1 with the Zuiko 4/3 300mm f/2.8.

      The only time I have issues with this combo is if the bird is tiny in the frame or small in the frame with a busy background. It might not lock on the first time. I’ve been shooting exclusively in single-point AF mode (haven’t tested the continuous AF yet). I’ve read that I should be using a different focus mode on the E-M1 also. On the next sunny day here, I’ll test it all out. I was telling Ron that I’m so used to not having a good continuous AF (AI Servo) that I’m still shooting without it. I’ll also check it out with my 1.4x teleconverter + 50-200mm. Here’s a thread I came upon, discussion the focus mode and focusing speed using the 50-200mm: http://forum.fourthirdsphoto.com/discussion/75561-e-m1-e-3-focus-50-200-150mmf2-amendment.html

      When I use AF with the Lumix 100-300mm (micro four thirds) it seems incrementally faster, but not enough to bother me. I have to stress, though, that I worked my way up from *very* slow gear (Panasonic FZ50 at the very start) so what I view as great performance enhancements might not feel that way to someone who’s accustomed to other equipment parameters. Highly subjective in my case.

      • Maria F. December 1, 2013 at 8:07 pm

        I almost never used AI Servo AF when I shot flying birds, I always used the single center AF and got good results. Primarily because I also shot the larger birds (pelicans, herons, egrets), and they are easier because of their slower gliding movements with their larger wings. Smaller birds were a no-no for me, unless they were simply perching. I still shoot birds, but on rare occasions. The feeling I get is that to get the most out of the E-M1 you’re going to have to get the newer lenses, because of the phase detect AF in this camera apparently is new and requires them to work well. Same thing happened with Canon; they used contrast detect AF for quite some time; and now with the 70D they are also bringing a new phase detect AF system. I’m down to one camera only and that is the Rebel. I sold the 60D because it wasn’t weather sealed and was quite heavy. Thanks for the link, I will read-on.

  12. Carol December 9, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Ingrid,
    I am ready to ditch my heavy Nikon DSLR for the Oly E-M1. I have similar taste and composition style as you. If you were starting over with lenses, which 2 or 3 would you start with to match up with the E-M1? Don’t think I will be getting the 300mm, F2.8 @ $7000 though. I have really enjoyed reading these posts…I have learned a lot. Thanks, Carol

  13. Coley Satcher February 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    This past spring I made over a thousand exposures of grizzly and black bears in the Yukon using a Panasonic G2 with a 25+ year old Canon 300mm f5.6 Fd lens and a bush hawk shoulder stock. Had I been using the massive Nikon 500mm f4P and DSLR I used to drag around, I would never have got most of those shots. The m4/3 has also proven ideal for my macro photography as well. I recommend choosing from the plethora of available legacy lens for long and macro work while using the excellent native m4/3 lenses for everything else. In fact, I got rid of my DSLRs altogether. IF I feel the need for a larger sensor, I’ll drag a 4×5 out and dust it off….

    • ingrid October 19, 2014 at 3:27 am

      Coley, I’m so sorry I neglected to reply to this. I’ve had a sporadic relationship with my blog this year due to many obligations, but I’m settling back into the routine and just noticed that I overlooked a reply on this note. If you happen to get a notification or come back this way, thanks very much for those suggestions. And, if you happen to come back, I’d love to see some of those grizzly and black bear images … still my dream to see and photograph bears.

  14. Anupam June 27, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Hi,

    I live in India, where they do not sell micro Four Thirds systems, and yet I took the trouble to build a m4/3 system for wildlife photography. I am someone who likes traveling widely in the wilderness, and cannot imagine carrying a heavy, large system around, not to mention being restricted to one manufacturer. So far, I have photographed all sorts of wildlife from tiny insects to tigers and whales, so you’re right about the capability of m4/3 systems.

    That said, I am an amateur photographer and need some advice. I am looking for a fast lens. For photographing animals in low light, for instance. Or for fast action shots – birds taking off, tigers fighting, deer in flight, etc. I cannot test lenses out before purchasing them because I buy them online. I am considering the Sigma 60mm f2.8 and the Rokinon 85mm f1.4. The difference between the two is that the Rokinon has manual focus. Is manual focusing advisable for wildlife? If I do so, should I also purchase a digital viewfinder (to assist in sharper focusing)? Or should I compromise on the zoom and clarity a bit and go for the 60mm f2.8 lens? Is there another lens you know that has a focal length of over 50mm and allows for such wide aperture? By the way, I have zoom lenses too, but enjoy getting close to animals.

    • ingrid July 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Hello, and sorry for the late reply on your comment. The wildlife lens issue is one of the limiting factors now with micro four thirds. There are a few options available, but no high-end wildlife lenses yet build specifically for micro four thirds. A friend told me about a proposed wildlife telephoto coming out for micro four thirds early next year. In the interim, there is the Panasonic 100-300mm and the Olympus 75-300mm. I have the Panasonic, not the Olympus. The image quality is lovely if you can some proximity to your subject. But birds in flight are definitely a challenge, it’s not that fast a lens. And shooting a subject in the distance, very small in the frame, will most likely not render a sharp image when cropped.

      I often use my Olympus Zuiko four thirds (not micro four thirds) 50-200mm lens. It’s my most frequently-used lens. But, the reach at 200mm leaves something to be desired for animals that are farther away. The Olympus 300mm f2.8 is a beautiful wildlife lens but it’s heavy and expensive. It needs an adapter just as my 50-200mm does. I sometimes use a 1.4x telecoverter with the 50-200mm but I can lose elements of light, speed and sharpness, depending on the circumstances.

      In terms of the lenses you’re looking at, unless you are photographing in areas where you are safely and/or ethically close to animals, the reach just wouldn’t be enough for most closeup wildlife shots. Even at 200mm, I find the focal distance lacking many times, depending on where I’m shooting. That’s definitely a consideration.

      As far as manual focusing, it’s challenging. Of course, there are plenty of photographers who honed their craft for years with manual focus, and we now have the luxury of fast AF systems. I’ve done some manual focusing with wildlife shots. It is absolutely possible to get good shots, but you really have to perfect your personal technique to get reliable images. AF is such a nice feature after you’ve been working with MF for a while.

  15. Ian Johnson September 1, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    This is great! Enjoyed the read. I have been shooting wildlife exclusively with m 4/3 since the Em5 came out. I enjoy it for ALL of the reasons you’ve listed here, and for several other including its impressive video capability (especially hand-held stability) and ability adapt literally any lens to the body. I shoot a variety of lenses from a mid-60s screw mount to a Nikon Tokina 11-16. In fact, I only shoot one native M 4/3 lens and that’s my 100-300 Lumix. I agree with the proximity to the subject, but have great luck and ability to crop by shooting from a tripod. I’m also able to stop birds (even fast ones like this puffin (http://ianajohnson.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/p6280121.jpg)). I’m an avid birder and consider my photos to be my ‘list’. That means I need some good ones! Here’s a gallery of some of them : http://ianajohnson.com/just-for-the-birds-photography/ .

    Anyway, thanks again for the post! I cannot wait for them to continue to develop m 4/3!

    • ingrid September 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Hi, Ian … thanks so much for the comment and for sharing your photographic work. I did a quick perusal of your site, but am looking forward to a more in-depth exploration later this week. Your points about video are great. I am still dabbling with video, understanding my limitations as a videographer. But, I agree about the stability of shooting handheld. Another person recently wrote to me about her use of older lenses with her E-M1, and I haven’t yet gone there. I’ve toyed with the idea because of the amazing prices you can get on some. I’m sure you’ve heard about the “pro” wildlife lens OIympus plans in the first quarter of next year? A friend told me about it and I read additional info at 43rumors.com.

      Since this post, my husband and I invested in the E-M1 because of its ability to handle my 50-200mm with good AF. I so love this lens — but the reach isn’t there and I lose some sharpness with my teleconverter. These are obviously the tradeoffs we mu43 users have adapted to, something one wouldn’t have to consider with the big two. But I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for the power of the smaller parcel. It suits my mobile lifestyle well.

  16. Sue Frary September 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Ingrid, I belatedly ran across your posts and photos and thank you. Beautiful both. I am a small, going on elderly, woman with a passionate interest in photographing birds. Tried with my Nikon rig – D7100 and 18-300mm lens – with varying results. Decided to downsize to the micro four thirds EM-1 on the strength of the 75-300 lens review and posts like yours. Am thrilled with tack sharp results at 300mm handheld hanging half out the car window at my local wildlife refuge. We have big herons, egrets all year and various hawks and smaller birds migrating — never mind being dissed by Canon and Nikon guys, I am sold on the EM-1. My kit is light and handy and I am never going back to lugging sluggy gear around.

    • ingrid October 19, 2014 at 3:22 am

      Hi, Sue, and thanks so much for the comment. It’s great for me to hear stories like this, too, because I’m still deciding on what I like best and least about the system I’ve been putting together. I haven’t used the 75-300mm and am looking to borrow one soon, just so that I can compare with the Lumix I have (100-300mm). I’ve been using my Zuiko 50-200mm a lot — from my old E-3 four-thirds camera, and it’s pretty snappy on the E-M1. You may have heard that Olympus is coming out with a 300mm f4 m.zuiko wildlife lens sometime in the early part of 2015. It’s a pro lens and I don’t know what the price point will be, but I read about it at 43rumors.com, a while back.

  17. John A C Steel October 16, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Like Sue above, I have only just across your article. I cannot agree with you more on what you have said about the micro four thirds (M4/3) system. Currently, I live in Zambia where I use the camera (Olympus EP3 with either an Olympus M Zuiko 14-42mm or the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200mm) – both for work (agricultural and rural development) and pleasure (wildlife safaris – often walking)

    This is my first foray in the M4/3 system. I was looking for a camera that is very portable so that I would carry it with me all day regardless of the terrain either on foot or in a car. I must say that I have been blown away by the portability and the quality of photos – even in ridiculously low light levels when I barely see an animal or bird, or in the heat of the day.

    As you say Ingrid, I hear many disparaging comments from others until they see the photos. Then there is silence, or comments like “that would be a good addition while walking”!! Anyway, I am still learning on how to get the best out of this camera and might upgrade to a more advance camera in the future, but I will definitely stay with M4/3 system because of its quality and portability

    • ingrid October 19, 2014 at 3:30 am

      John, thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience. I admit, there’s a certain joy I get from the element of surprise — of knowing that no one expects much from a little camera, especially with wildlife images, then having the technology within these small bodies to execute some beautiful shots. I mentioned in a comment above, you may know, that Olympus is coming out with what they’re calling the pro 300mm f4 lens sometime in early 2015. I hope the price point is somewhere significantly below the Zuiko 300mm f2.8. I’m anxious to see the sample shots once they start trickling into reviews and blogs. Like you, I remain open to additional options. I took a long look at the Sony full-frame line which intrigues me as well, because of their innovative approach and smaller size. At the same time, my back, neck and shoulders appreciate the fact that I’m not lugging too much of a load on a regular basis. I’m getting spoiled with lightweight gear.

  18. Rajesh Radhakrishnan January 1, 2015 at 4:58 am

    Hi there,
    I’ve been a fellow Oly fan for a long time now and like you felt very bitter when they decided to kill off the 4/3 line. My first Oly was the E3, around which I built my gear. I too get funny looks from the folks who lug their Canons & Nikons but when they see the final outcome on the laptop screen they withhold their looks of derision. Of course, they never, ever appreciate the colours that spring from photos taken with the Zuiko Lenses! When the E-M5 was announced it was like a kick on the solar plexus. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with all that 4/3 glassware I had accumulated over the years.

    I put my money on the E-M5 after a lot of deliberation but the MMF-3 adaptor wasn’t really working very well even with the Zuiko 300mm f2.8. That lens had been permanently mated to my E3 and an E620 with the 50-200 f2.8-3.5 SWD was my back up on so many wildlife trips. (See my blog). I’m not growing younger and having to handhold the E3 + 300mm f2.8 was getting more difficult in the field.

    Now I have picked up the E-M1 in a rare moment of rashness. All because one of the online shopping sites was giving it away at 33% below the rates others were still selling it at. I haven’t been able to do a full wildlife trip after my recent acquisition but I have one lined up three weeks from now. Meanwhile, I’ve replaced the E3 with the E-M1 on my 300mm f2.8. The few long range shots I have taken seem to be much better that what I could achieve with the E-M5. It focuses and locks faster definitely. I guess the PDAF & CDAF working in tandem is finally doing the trick on the E-M1!

    Now I’m a very relieved person. I can hang on to my Zuiko glassware and add the M.Zuiko pieces to it. Will keep you posted on my experience once I get back.

    Regards,

    Rajesh

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