Nature,  Photo Gear

Can You Use a Micro Four Thirds Camera for Bird Photography?

Bird Photography is one of my passions.  There is so much variety in birds, different species, sizes, shapes, and colors.  Also, each area of the world has their own variety of birds.  So as you travel, you get to discover and photograph the birds of each country and continent.

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Yellow-faced Grassquit – Dominican Republic

If you ask some wildlife and bird photographers, you need an expensive DSLR camera with a long expensive lens for bird photography.  So, do you an expensive DSLR and a $10,000 lens for bird photography or will a micro four thirds or other compact system camera work?

Well, it does help to have DSLR with a good autofocus system, high frames per second, and good low light capability.  A sharp 500-600mm lens can certainly make a difference.  But, this high end equipment is not absolutely necessary.

I do have a good DSLR and a Canon 500mm f/4 lens and I absolutely love them.  However, I’ve been on several trips where I could not bring my DSLR and long lens.  Instead, I took my Olympus OM-D E-M1 and a Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm (200-600mm full frame equivalent) zoom lens and I came home with some really good bird photographs.

Ashy Prinia in the Leaves

Ashy Prinia – Goa, India

My keeper ratio of photographs was not as high as with my Canon 5d Mark III and Canon 500mm f/4 lens but lets do the math.

  • Canon 5d Mark III + Canon 500mm f/4 lens = $12,600
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f/4.0 – f/5.6 = $2,000

The Canon 5d Mark III camera and Canon 500mm f/4 lens are 6 times the price.  Plus the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm Lensare much easier to transport and carry around.

Hispaniolan Woodpecker

Hispaniolan Woodpecker – Dominican Republic

I used the Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm lens for the example in this blog simply because I own it.  Olympus also makes a 75-300mm f/4.8 – 6.7 lens.  At the time of this blog, the Olympus was selling for $549 on Amazon.

There has been much online debate about whether the Panasonic 100-300mm or the Olympus 75-300mm was the better lens.  From what I can tell, they are both good lenses for bird photography.

Below are few tips when shooting birds with a micro four thirds camera

  • Shoot in Sequential High or Sequential Low shutter mode and take a lot of photos.  Like I mentioned previously, your keeper ratio will be lower so take a lot of photos.
  • I did not find the Continuous Autofocus mode to work very well for bird photography especially at longer distances or low light.  Instead, I used Single Autofocus with Sequential High (9 fps) or Sequential Low  (6 fps) Modes. 
  • It’s important to realize that both the Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds Cameras do not autofocus between shots in the fast shutter modes with continuous autofocus turned off.  Try taking your finger off the shutter every few seconds and refocusing to help ensure you get sharper images.
  • The micro four thirds cameras and higher minimum aperture lenses do much better in brighter light.  In the early morning light, I tried raising the ISO to get a higher shutter speed and the focus quality was not good.
  • With the slower lenses long lenses that are available today for Micro Four Thirds cameras, it will be more difficult to get faster shutter speeds.  Train yourself to watch the shutter speed in the viewfinder and know how to change your aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation by touch while looking through the viewfinder.

Green Bee-eater

Green Bee-eater – Hyderabad, India

On the Olympus OM-D E-M1, there are two dials and a two position lever that control the functions of the camera, making it easy to change setting while keeping your eye on the viewfinder.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Top Dials

These settings are customizable but I find that the factory settings work well for my style of photography.  Below are the factory settings of the dials.

Aperture Mode

  Lever set to position 1 Lever set to position 2
Front Dial Exposure Compensation ISO
Rear Dial Shutter Speed White Balance

Shutter Speed Mode

  Level set to position 1 Level set to position 2
Front Dial Exposure Compensation ISO
Rear Dial Shutter Speed White Balance

Overall, I am happy with the results using my Olympus OM-D E-M1 micro four thirds Camera for bird photography.  Some of it was setting my own expectations.  I am trading the low light capability, autofocus performance, and sharpness of my long lens for the size and portability of the micro four thirds system while still bringing home a good amount of keepers. 

Also for my trips to India, the carry-on restrictions on the domestic flights would have prevented me from bringing my DSLR and long lens, and I would not have captured these bird photographs from this incredible country.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Posts
15 Tips for Better Bird Photography
Testing out the Olympus 40-150mm f4.0 – 5.6 Lens at the Zoo
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is now my Go To Camera for Landscape Photography

2 Comments

Leave a Reply to Martin Belan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen + six =

error: Content is protected !!