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Bird Photography,  Photo Gear

Review of the OM System OM-1 for Bird Photography

I’ve spent the past few months field testing the OM System OM-1 camera for Bird Photography and in this blog, I’ll share my findings and opinions on the new flagship camera from OM Digital Solutions / Olympus.

For the past several years, I’ve predominately used the Olympus OM-D E-M1X for photographing birds and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.  So, is the OM-1 a big improvement for bird photography?  Let’s find out.

During my bird photography testing, I primarily used the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens and 1.4x teleconverter with the OM-1.  This is my favorite lens combination for bird photography that I frequently used with the E-M1X.

In this blog, I’ll review the OM-1 on the following categories:

  • Frames Per Second
  • Bird Detection AF
  • Ergonomics / Usability in the Field
  • Battery Life
  • Noise / Low Light Capability
  • Size / Weight
Tree Swallow, Pro Capture SH2, C-AF+TR, Bird Detection AF
Tree Swallow, Pro Capture SH2, Bird Detection AF

Frames Per Second

The OM-1 provides a nice an upgrade in the Frames Per Second over the Olympus E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X which is good and bad for bird photographers. 

  • The Good is that you can more easily capture a bird in flight or an action sequence
  • The Bad is that if you max out the frames per second during your shooting, you will have a lot of photos to cull when you return home.

Below is a comparison of the Sequential Shooting Mode FPS between the OM-1, and E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X

OM-1 Frames Per Second

ModeFrames Per Second Options
Sequential10 fps
Silent Sequential20 fps
SH1 / ProCapSH160, 100, 120 fps
SH2 / ProCapSH225, 50 fps
ProCap5, 10, 15, 20 fps

E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X Frames Per Second

ModeFrames Per Second Options
Sequential Low8, 9, 10 fps
Sequential Low Silent8, 9, 10, 15, 18 fps
Sequential Low ProCap10, 15, 18 fps
Sequential High10 – 15 fps
Sequential High Silent15, 20, 30, 60 fps
Sequential High ProCap15, 20, 30, 60 fps

I typically don’t use the Sequential High modes for bird photography on the E-M1 Mark III and  E-M1X as the Sequential High mode does not autofocus between frames.  Likewise, I haven’t been using the SH1 mode on the OM-1 as it also does not focus in between frames.

With the OM-1, I’ve been using Silent Sequential (20 fps) mode for stationary bird photos.  For action photographs or birds in flight, I use either SH2 (50 fps) or Silent Sequential (20 fps) depending on the lighting available with the SH2 limitations.

SH2 and Pro Capture SH2 Limitations

  • Minimum shutter speed of 1/640 when max fps is set to 50
  • Minimum shutter speed of 1/320 when max fps is set to 25
  • Reduced max frames per second to 10fps when ISO > 16000

With the higher frames rates in the OM-1, I would recommend using SDXC UHS-II Cards.  With 50 fps on a UHS-I SD card, it takes a long time for the buffer to empty.  You can continue shooting while the OM-1 is writing to the card, but I find that you cannot switch shooting modes.

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Bird Detection AF
Juvenile Bald Eagle – Bird Detection AF

Bird Detection AF / Tracking

I’ve been mainly shooting the OM-1 using Bird Detection AF.  I believe the detection algorithm has been improved over the E-M1X where I mainly used Bird Detection AF when using Pro Capture. 

A nice change to the operation of Bird Detection AF on the OM-1 is that it can now be constrained to work in an AF Target Area.  I’ve had more keepers when using Bird Detect AF within the Large Rectangle Focus Area vs. All Focus Points. The exception is for Pro Capture where I use All Focus Points since the bird can take off in any direction.

The way Bird Detect AF works is that when finding a bird it will look only within the focus area.  But once it identifies and locks on a bird, it will move outside of the focus area to retain focus on the subject.

This wasn’t the case with the E-M1X where Bird Detection AF operated like it was using all focus points regardless of the selected Target Area.

Another nice feature on the OM-1 is that Subject Detection is no longer tied to tracking.  Subject Detection can be used with S-AF, C-AF, and C-AF+TR.  Subject Detection can also be assigned to a button where you can quickly turn it on/off or change the subject.  I have Subject Detection assigned to the new AF-ON button on the OM-1.

I do find that Bird Detection AF still struggles with busy backgrounds and foregrounds, shooting between branches, and low contrast scenes where the bird is a similar color / tone as its surroundings.

For these situations, you want to be able to quickly switch off Bird Detection AF by assigning Bird Detection AF to a button or using a separate custom mode if you want to save other setting changes.

Ergonomics / Usability in the Field

The OM-1 fits nicely in my hands.  I don’t have really large hands and I can easily reach all the button and controls.  The OM-1 is also very customizable.  You can program the most settings for bird photography to buttons that are easily accessed with your right thumb.

The OM-1 also balances well with the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens.

However, while wearing lightweight touch screen gloves, I had difficulty turning the dials and finding and pressing the smaller buttons on the OM-1.  This is not something that I had trouble with on the E-M1X which also has the recessed dials.  While shooting with the OM-1 in colder weather, I ended up taking my right glove off and putting a hand warmer in my pocket to try to keep my right hand warm. 

Belted Kingfisher - ISO 800, Bird Detection AF
Belted Kingfisher – ISO 800, Bird Detection AF

Battery Life

The battery life of the BLX-1 battery has been improved over the BLH-1 battery that is used in both the Olympus E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X.  However, I don’t think the improvement is as significant as has been reported.

Here are some battery usage levels for several bird photography outings that I’ve had with the OM-1.  On these photography outings, I did use the SH2 sequential shooting mode and Pro Capture quite a bit.

  • 3 hour, 45 minute photo shoot with 30 minutes travel between locations.  The OM-1 was down to 30% battery remaining.
  • 2 hour photo shoot.  The OM-1 was down to 54% battery remaining.
  • 2 hour, 15 minute photo shoot.  The OM-1 was down to 49% battery remaining.

I would definitely purchase a second BLX-1 battery for bird and wildlife photography.  The OM-1 also does not come with a battery charger since it supports in camera charging with a USB-C cable.  OM Digital Solutions does sell the BCX-1 Dual Battery Charger.  However, it is a little pricey at $149 USD.

I would have preferred that the OM-1 stayed with the BLH-1 battery used in the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III.  Since I will be traveling with the E-M1X or E-M1 Mark III as a back up body to the OM-1, it would have been nice to bring a single charger and the same type of back up battery.

Male Eastern Towhee - ISO 1250
Male Eastern Towhee – ISO 1250

Noise Performance

There has been a lot of discussion and debate around the improved noise performance of the OM System OM-1.  I took the OM-1 on a photo trip to the Eastern Shore of the United States.  Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy with rain for most of the trip.  On the positive side, I got to test the OM-1 under less than ideal lighting conditions.

Using the E-M1X, I tried to keep the ISO at 1000 or less in order to ensure good quality bird images.  With the OM-1, I was shooting keeper images at ISO 1250, 1600, and even 2000.  There was noise in the images but Topaz DeNoise did a nice job of reducing the noise in the images without losing the detail.

Size / Weight

The OM-1 is only slightly larger and heavier than the E-M1 Mark III and significantly lighter and smaller than the E-M1X.  However, the E-M1X does have the built-in battery grip and 2 batteries.

OM-1, E-M1 III, and E-M1X Size / Weight Comparison

 OM-1E-M1XE-M1 Mark III
Weight (incl. Batteries)21.13 oz / 599g35.17 oz / 997 g20.46 oz / 580 g
Size134.8 x 91.6 x 72.7mm / 5.3 x 3.60 x 2.8 in.144 x 147 x 75mm / 5.67 x 5.79 x 2.95 in.134 x 91 x 69mm / 5.28 x 3.58 x 2.72 in.

I find that I don’t miss the battery grip as long as I have a second charged battery.  The OM-1 with the Olympus 300mm f/4 and 1.4x teleconverter attached to a Black Rapid Camera Strap is easy to carry on long bird photography hikes.

Summary

So far, I am quite happy with the bird images that I have gotten with the OM System OM-1.  The frames per Second with the SH2 and ProCapSH2 modes greatly improves the ability to  capture birds in flight and bird action sequences.  The improved noise performance is also helpful under lower lighting conditions.

My biggest complaint is the difficulty with the dials and the buttons while wearing gloves.  Living in a colder climate, I shoot quite a bit in the cold temperatures.

I also appreciate the performance of the camera with a smaller weight and size than the E-M1X.  For me, the OM-1 was a nice upgrade for my bird photography.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Blog Posts
How to Use Bird Detection AF with Pro Capture on the OM System OM-1
How I Set Up the OM System OM-1 for Nature Photography
Top Improvements of the OM System (Olympus) OM-1 Menu System

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4 Comments

  • Daniel

    Informative post as usual, Martin. Very much appreciated.

    I got the OM System OM-1 a few weeks ago. Although I have the E-M1 Mark III, I find getting used to it a bit of a challenge for bird photography. So far, I am not as pleased as I anticipated with the results I am getting with, handling, focus and image quality. I do more homework and practice.

    With Bird Detect, I will try your suggestions of using the large rectangle focus area instead of the tiny one. Also, I’ll experiment with All Focus Point in Pro Capture mode, and see if that makes a difference. Lately, birds I encounter have the tendency to point right and then all of a sudden fly left or drop down like a brick.

    In Pro Capture mode SH2, Tracking and Bird Detect, after lifting briefly my finger off the shutter, when I half press the shutter again, the focus point lands in the middle of the frame, not on the bird. I have to move the camera to place the focus point right on the bird. Have you experienced that? With the E-M1 (of course without Bird Detect), the focus point always comes back to where it was.

    Thank you and happy clicking from Toronto!

    Daniel

    • Martin Belan

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for leaving the comment! At first, I also wasn’t too impressed with the images on the OM-1. For me, it was the noise pattern. I don’t know whether I got used to it or whether Lightroom & Topaz DeNoise released updates to work with the OM-1 RAW images.

      After using the camera quite a bit for birds, I am really enjoying the camera. I’m finding with the controls on the OM-1, I can change settings much faster (although there is a learning curve).

      With Bird Detection AF, Tracking, and Pro Cap, I hadn’t really noticed the focus point moving back to the center of the viewfinder. I tried it out this afternoon and it does appear to briefly return to the center. I mainly release the shutter and half press again when tracking isn’t finding the bird and I want to force it to try again, so I don’t believe this will my shooting.

      Thanks for the info. I plan on going for a bird photo walk this afternoon and will watch how this performs.

  • Daniel

    Thank you, Martin, for your reply. I hope you enjoyed your afternoon walk and managed to get a few keepers.

    These days, the weather here is not really conducing to bird walks in the woods. I’ll wait.

    I shoot in RAW too. DXO is the programme I use first before going into Photoshop.

    Since DXO does not have the module for the OM System RAW files yet, I use the OM Workspace. It does an excellent job at removing noise. Then, I save in TIFF format and carry on in DXO, Photoshop, etc.

    OM Workspace has a Sequential Image Group Display and a Focus Analyser, which help pick out quickly the best images. If you have not tried it, it might be worth giving the Workspace a look. Here I am giving you homework! Enjoy!

    • Martin Belan

      Hi Daniel,

      The afternoon photo walk was fun. I came upon quite a few Palm Warblers. I’m trying to maximize the time out in the field (in between rainy days) during the Spring Bird Migration.

      Thanks for the tips on Olympus Workspace. I’ve downloaded the new version but haven’t spent much time in it.

      Martin

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