Sunrise from Homer Spit
Bird Photography,  Landscapes,  National Parks,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear,  Wildlife

Putting the OM System OM-1 to the Test on a Photography Trip to Alaska

I went on a 6-day photography trip to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula using the OM System OM-1 as my primary camera.  The trip included a mixture of landscape, bird, and wildlife photography. There were a couple challenging photography situations including 2 boats trips to photograph marine mammals and birds and, a bush plane flight with equipment weight limits to photograph Brown Bears.

The smaller Micro Four Thirds gear was great on the trip as I needed to store / carry all my gear in a backpack as we travelled from location to location across the Kenai Peninsula.  Below was my Olympus / OM System kit for the Alaska Kenai Peninsula trip.

OM System / Olympus Kit for Alaska

I found that this kit covered the focal length range that I needed for landscapes, birds, and wildlife, and could still be carried in a single backpack. 

How did the OM-1 Perform on an Alaskan Photography Trip?

Below are some of the photography scenarios / opportunities that I encountered on the trip and my thoughts on how the OM-1 performed.  I’ve also included photographs taken in these circumstances.  At the end of the blog, I’ll give my overall thoughts on the performance of the OM-1.

Horned Puffin Take Off
Horned Puffin Take Off

Bird Detection AF in a Boat

We went on 2 boat photography cruises on the trip (1 – ½ day, 1 – full day).  It is not easy to photograph birds and animals from a boat when the waves kick up.  Birds Detection Autofocus worked great photographing from a boat under these conditions.  Once Bird Detection AF locked on the subject it stayed with the subject while the boat rocked.  However, Dog and Cat AF didn’t work as well on Marine Mammals.  More on that in the next section.

Sea Otter, Kachimac Bay, Alaska
Sea Otter, Kachimac Bay, Alaska

Subject Detection for Wildlife

For the record, OM System does not have a Wildlife AF mode.  Although, several YouTubers have reported how well Dog and Cat AF worked on other animals.  My experience was that Dog and Cat AF worked pretty well on Brown Bears.  However, I found it did not work very well on marine mammals.  This could be because of their elongated shapes (Sea Otters, Humpback Whales) and proximity to the water.

I ended up using C-AF without tracking or subject detection for marine mammals.  I used custom modes to store the different settings for photographing birds and mammals.

A Note on Photographing in C-AF Mode

I had mixed results shooting in C-AF mode without tracking or subject detection.  Some of the images were soft and seemed to focus in front of or behind the subject.  It could be user error, but some of the subjects were close and filled much of the frame. 

OM System did release a firmware update (1.2) with improvements to C-AF.  I’m looking forward to trying the upgrade out.

Cove of the Spires, Kenai Fjords National Park
Cove of the Spires, Kenai Fjords National Park

Handheld Exposure Bracketing in a Boat at Kenai Fjords

It was dark and cloudy when we arrived at the iconic Cove of the Spires in Kenai Fjords National Park.  With the image stabilization in the OM-1 (also in the E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X), I was able to get a 5 image exposure bracketing sequence handheld while in a rocking boat.  I processed the bracketed images in Adobe Lightroom Classic and the images aligned fine producing the above image.

I also shot a handheld mountain sunrise exposure bracket sequence from my room just before we left the hotel one morning.

This was one place where the OM-1 shined compared to other cameras on the trip.

Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska

Bush Plane Flight and Hiking at Katmai National Park for Brown Bears

There was a 10 pound equipment weight limit for the Bush Plane flight for Brown Bear photography at Katmai National Park.  This included the backpack, photo gear, water, and Lunch.  Taking all the Olympus / OM System gear in my kit would have weighed 9.48 pounds. 

I did pair down my kit for the Brown Bear photography trip to make room for lunch and water in the backpack.  I took the OM-1, 300mm f/4, 40-150mm f/2.8, 12-100 f/4, and 2 – 1.4x teleconverters.  This was far more gear than others were able to take.  The focal length range of the gear came in handy due to the difference in distance of the different Brown Bears.  One bear came within 20 yards of us.  The Olympus 12-100 f/4 was also great for taking photographs of the mountains during the bush plane flight.

It also turned out to be a good decision to reduce the amount of gear (and weight) as we did quite a bit of hiking in waders including crossing 2 rivers.

Homer Alaska Sunrise - HDR Pano
Homer Alaska Sunrise – HDR Pano

Exposure Bracketing Panorama Sunrise at Homer, Alaska

This is not a feature that is exclusive to OM System / Olympus, but I did create an over 500mb panoramic image using my OM-1.  The sequence included a total of 30 images (6 exposure bracketed images of 5 exposures each).  I did use a tripod for this sequence as it was before sunrise and there were quite a few images that needed to be aligned.

These panorama / HDR sequences can be easily processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic.  I first processed each Exposure Bracketing Sequence using the HDR function and then stitched the HDRs together using the Panorama Feature.  I did not try the combined HDR Panorama feature in Lightroom.  The HDR and Panorama features in Lightroom are located in the Photo Merge menu.  The Photo Merge menu can be accessed by the Photo menu or by right clicking with the images selected.

Fly Fishing for Salmon - Live ND 16
Fly Fishing for Salmon – Live ND 16

Live ND for Salmon Fisherman

This photo didn’t turn out great.  It was taken in a high contrast, bright part of the day.  It does demonstrate how Live ND can be used handheld to smooth water in landscape photographs.  I used Live ND 16 for the image. It’s a fun feature to have on the camera to use in the right circumstances.

Trumpeter Swan in the Lily Pads
Trumpeter Swan in the Lily Pads

High ISO Wildlife

It is often overcast and cloudy in Alaska causing you to shoot at higher ISOs to keep the shutter speeds high.  I was able to normally shoot at ISO 800 / 1,000, but I did need to push the ISO higher (up to ISO 2500) during the trip.  The above photograph of the Trumpeter Swan was taken at ISO 1600.

I found that for the most part the images came out fairly sharp and Topaz DeNoise was able to remove the noise and sharpen the images.  For some of images, I did additional selective sharpening on parts of the image.

Overall Impression of the OM System OM-1 during my Alaska Photography Trip

Overall, I was happy with the OM-1’s performance during the trip.  It was able to handle the wide variety or birds, wildlife, and landscape photography opportunities.  I didn’t feel that I lost much in low light situations compared to the full frame cameras on the trip.

In several cases, I was able to get the shot where the other cameras on the trip did not.  For example, getting tack sharp puffin images using Bird Detection AF on a boat, and handheld exposure bracketing at the Cove of the Spires in Kenai Fjords National Park.

I still marvel at the amount of gear that I can fit in my backpack, and in my Pelican Case during air travel compared to when I used to shoot full frame.

Written by Martin Belan

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