Eastern Gray Squirrel
Photo Gear,  Wildlife

Should you Switch to the Olympus OM-D and 300mm f/4 lens for Bird and Wildlife Photography?

I love to photograph birds and wildlife.  I’ve captured some really good images using my Canon 5d Mark III with the Canon 500mm f/4 and Canon 100-400mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 lenses.

I’ve also owned Olympus gear for years and I really like it for landscapes, travel, macro, and street photography.  With the Olympus gear, I just didn’t get the results that I liked for my bird and wildlife images. 

That has recently changed with the introduction of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and OM-D E-M1 Mark III paired with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens.  Excellent bird and wildlife photography has now become a reality for Micro Four Thirds camera owners.

I purchased the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens this year and have been testing it all summer.  In this blog, I’ll be reporting the results of testing the 300mm f/4 with both the OM-D E-M1X and the OM-D E-M1 III cameras. I’ll also cover the Pros and Cons that I found using the Olympus system for photographing birds and wildlife.  I’ll also reveal if I’m ready to fully switch from Canon to Olympus for Bird and Wildlife Photography.

Topaz Labs

I put the Olympus gear thru its paces by testing it in different lighting conditions photographing birds, birds in flights, local wildlife, and insects (butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies).

Overall, I was really impressed with the images I got from both the OM-D E-M1X and OM-D E-M1 III paired with the Olympus 300mm f/4 and 1.4x Teleconverter.

When you take the 300mm f/4 x the 2x crop factor of the micro four thirds camera x the 1.4x teleconverter, that’s 840mm that can easily be handheld.  One day I hiked over 6 miles with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 III, 1.4x teleconverter, and 300mm f/4.  I certainly couldn’t do that with my Canon 500 f/4.

Bunny in the Grass
E-M1 III, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ISO 640, 1/1000 Sec, f/5.6

I was also really impressed by the image quality even with the 1.4x teleconverter attached. In lower lighting conditions when using higher ISOs, I do have to give the edge to my full frame Canon 5d Mark III.  However, I did get some good images in lower light.  There are also some really good noise reduction programs out there that can fix the higher noise levels in post processing – like Topaz DeNoise AI.

I was also really impressed with capturing birds in flight with the Olympus combination.  I did not use the tracking mode as I heard this still was not up to par with Canon, but I got quite a few keepers just using Continuous Autofocus and the 3 x 3 square autofocus area.

Below are a list of Pros/Cons I encountered using the Olympus 300mm f/4 with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and OM-D E-M1 Mark III.

Pros

Weight

The weight of the OM-D E-M1 III, 300mm f/4, and 1.4x Teleconverter is about 4.46 pounds / 2.02 kg.  In comparison, my Canon 5d Mark iii, 500mm f/4, and 1.4x Teleconverter is about 11.975 pounds / 5.43 kg.  This is a huge difference when you are out for a nature photography hike and that doesn’t include the tripod needed for the long Canon lens.

Size

Not only is the OM-D E-M1 III and 300mm f/4 lightweight, they are also compact.  The Olympus 300mm f/4 is only 8.9 inches long making it easier to fit into carry on luggage during air travel or in a backpack for a long hike.

Image Stabilization

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X or E-M1 III paired with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens give 7.5 stops of image stabilization combined.  This amount of image stabilization comes in handy while shooting at 840mm handheld.

House Finch In Flight
E-M1X, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ProCapture Low, ISO 500, 1/2000 Sec, f/5.6

ProCapture Mode

In Olympus ProCapture mode, the camera starts to record frames when the shutter button is half pressed.  It will continue to loop through recording a number of pre shutter frames the shutter button is pressed.  Once the shutter button is pressed, the camera will write the frames to the SD card.

This is terrific technology to capture birds during take off.  You will need to ensure you have a high shutter speed to freeze the bird’s wings.  You may also want to stop down a bit and don’t shoot wide open to ensure you get the entire bird in focus.

The House Finch in the photograph above this section was taken with Olympus ProCapture Low Mode.

Continuous Low FPS

Olympus Continuous Low Mode can shoot up to 10 frames per second (fps) with autofocusing between each frame using the mechanical shutter.  I don’t use Continuous High Mode (15 frames per second) because it does not autofocus between frames. 

This is faster than my Canon 5d Mark iii (6 fps) and equivalent to the Canon 7d Mark ii.

Image Quality in Good Light

I have been impressed with the image quality of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 III shooting with the Olympus 300mm f/4 while shooting good light.  While overcast days can cause all cameras to have noisy images, the images from the smaller micro four thirds sensor seem to have more noise.  However, at ISO 800 and below I’ve been consistently getting terrific images.

Cons

Higher Noise Levels with High ISO

Like I mentioned above, the Micro Four Thirds sensor is noisier than my full frame camera at higher ISOs.  Where this affects me the most is when I go out at sunrise for bird and wildlife photography.

I have taken some good bird and wildlife images at ISO 1000 and above. Topaz DeNoise AI does a great job cleaning up these images.  I generally run the entire image (no masking) through DeNoise AI and then selectively sharpen areas of the bird or animal.

The Killdeer below this section was taken just before the sun rose above the trees at ISO 1000. The noise was cleaned up using Topaz DeNoise AI.

Killdeer in the Marsh - Just Before Sunrise
E-M1X, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ISO 1000, 1/160 Sec, f/6.3

Bokeh not as Creamy

I also noticed that the bokeh is not as creamy with the Olympus set up than my full frame camera.  This can be readily seen in the great blue heron photo below.  This is not a deal breaker and doesn’t happen with all images.

Perched Great Blue Heron
E-M1 III, 300mm f/4, 1.4x TC, ISO 500, 1/400 Sec, f/6.3

Summary

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed photographing birds and wildlife with the Olympus OM-D and Olympus 300mm f/4 over the summer. It’s a lot of fun going on nature hikes and handholding at 840mm with the Olympus gear.

I’ve also shot quite a few photographs that I’m really happy with.  In fact, I haven’t used my Canon gear for birds and wildlife photography all summer.

So, am I ready to sell my Canon bird and wildlife gear?  Not quite yet.  I live in the Midwest region of the USA and we get a lot of gray, cloudy days in the winter.  I have several good winter bird photography locations and I want to see how the Olympus gear performs for birds in flight under these conditions before I sell my Canon gear.

Written by Martin Belan

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