Olympus 300mm lens for Birds… or for the Birds???

Since I own the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera . I thought it would be fun to try out the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens ($2499.00 retail)as a loaner from B&H. I wanted to see how it would perform (combined with the new Olympus body) for bird photography. I also borrowed the M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter.

My title “Olympus 300mm lens for Birds… or for the Birds???” is actually a question that I’ll try to answer in this post.

First of all the lens and camera feel solid, the combo is much lighter than I am use to working with. The 300mm lens- which is the equivalent of a 600mm lens on the m43rds body, weighs approx. 3.25lbs and with the 1.4ex gives me effectively an 840mm focal length that I can easily hand hold. There is something to be said for being able to hand hold your rig.

When I first stepped up from my Canon 500mm f/4 lens(weight- 8.53 lb) to the Canon 600mm f/4 II lens (weighs 8.64 lb ) everyone said that the weight difference would be insignificant and it was, but what they and I didn’t consider is the ginormous lens hood and the maneuverability of the 600mm lens for a smaller framed person to manage. I truly can only hand hold the Canon 600mm lens for short periods of time without having to rest it on something. The old Canon 500mm lens was much easier for me to manage, it felt more compact. So having the smaller sized Olympus gear makes it easier for me to manage. When you are comfortable with your gear and you can move around freely without encumbrance you will perform much better. OR at least I will and that is my reason for testing it out.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

The new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera body has performed well. As far as noise from high ISO, I felt that the newer Olympus did great. The above image shows an untouched file, I did nothing to it except size it for my website. The ISO was 1000, it looks pretty good. The noise is manageable. That was a big concern because to get fast shutter speeds, sometimes you need to bump your ISO.

Now for the real challenge. The autofocus and how well it works, the answer is that the continuous AF with tracking performs very well. Anytime you have a clean solid colored background like a blue sky, auto tracking can easily pick up anything with contrast. For a situation like this you can enable the 121 AF points that Olympus has and it would be hard to miss a subject. However, once you have a distracting background you will need to select a much smaller focus area like the 5 point or single point. I always like to use single point focus so that I can direct the focus where I want it and not let auto tracking take over and grab something that I didn’t want it to. You will need to be in Continuous AF with rapid fire. I had trouble at first because I was not use to using the rapid fire on the Olympus and it kept throwing me off. Each time I touched it and it hammered out a round I just stood there in shock. Once the initial fun of this tiny camera with a powerful punch wore off I was able to settle down and really get to work. I have to say that I was impressed with the combo and it did much better than I had expected.

Final thoughts:

For now, I will continue to use my Canon gear for birds and wildlife. I have complete faith in the gear and would not leave anything to chance when going on location. For landscape photography and night photography, I will use the Sony AR7 II, the sensor is a tank and it focuses in extremely low light conditions, the image files are gorgeous and it is a full frame sensor-I can also use the Metabones adapter and use my Canon lenses(that I already own), the menu is complicated but with everything it takes practice. For travel and macro photography I will continue to use the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera , they have a great selection of lenses and I like the Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 for it’s minimum focusing distance, versatility and sharpness-plus it’s an f/2.8.

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18 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Denise. Technology changes so fast! I’m madly in love with all my Canon equipment but, like you, am a small framed person and can’t hand hold my 600mm. Still, the images I get are worth the additional work of lugging around a tripod and dealing with the weight – as long as I can do it – for now!!

    I agree, I’ll be lugging my big gear until I no longer can, then I will consider one of the many lighter weight options. Perhaps by then there will be new ones to explore…
    thank you for sharing your thoughts,

  2. Kathy Graff says:

    I appreciate this review. Great information. I read other reviews all of the time but I’m familiar with your work, the “quality” of your work, and that makes what you say more meaningful to me. By the way, I did jump in with both feet (as you recommended) and purchased Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC a few days ago. And then purchased Adobe Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book and I’m starting to work my way through that. I’m not much of an intuitive learner so I’ll be plugging away to learn this new system. Thanks again for the review.

    Hi Kathy, yes, it is truly the only way to do it 🙂 goo luck and don’t give up-you can do it!

  3. Bill Hedges says:

    Informative and well written review Denise. I’ll stick to my Canon gear at least for next few years. Then, …. who knows! 🙂

    Thanks Bill, we are not ready yet 🙂

  4. Sue Eberhart says:

    Always good to read your thoughts on the latest equipment. Thanks.

    Thanks Sue, they are fun to work with and it did spark some new interest for me.

  5. Adit Merkine says:

    Many thanks for sharing your experience and the nice shot, Denise.
    Hugs, Adit

    Hi Adit, thank you, I probably won’t egt around to processing it as I had so many…you know how that is!

  6. Glen Fox says:

    Thank you for the update on your Olympus “experience” Denise. As an Olympus user trying to find his way, your experience and assessments are greatly appreciated. I know you will assess it carefully and thoroughly and be brutally honest. So I wait patiently!

    I think skilled post processing is going to be very important in maximizing image quality and ISO performance. I’m hoping you will share your experience with processing Olympus RAW files in due course.

    Hi Glen, not sure how much more I will be working with the 300mm lens as it goes back today 🙁 but it was fun to try it out.
    thanks, denise

  7. I rarely reply to your posts but have followed your posts for a couple of years. I am only replying to this post because of your review of the Olympus camera. I purchased the OM-D E-M1 a few years back. I loved the feel of it in my hands and physical quality of the camera. My sad realization was that the viewfinder had a chronic problem which required me to replace it (under warranty) THREE times. My guess was that when the diopter was adjusted to full strength something in the inner viewfinder splattered yellow flecks that you could see when looking through the viewfinder. Every replacement viewfinder did the same thing. Seemed to happen to other people, too. Not sure if Olympus ever resolved that problem with the Mark II. Would be nice to know. I keep my Olympus for macro purposes. I now have two Fujifilm cameras for most of my shooting.

    Hi Aurora, thank you for sharing your thoughts. As I am not a paid sponsor for Olympus and have no real insight into the company or any pull what so ever all I can say is bummer, that stinks! I never heard about that but then again I never had that camera. I did not or have not seen this with the newer model. I will keep it in my thoughts just in case I hear of others having similar problems. I think the real thing here is to find which system works best for your type of photography and hone your skills, it really isn’t so much about the tools but more about the craftsman/woman.

  8. Suzan Guest says:

    Terrific shot and I learned a lot from your review. I like macro and night/landscape shooting and am in the middle of deciding on whether to stay with Olympus and upgrade to the M2 (learning curve and glass) or switch to Fuji or … go to the FF Sony. My friends Kasandra and Sheena have raved about your workshops … so that’s in the mix too. Gotta win the lottery I guess. You’re helping me think through my choices and I’m loving the work you produce. Thanks so much!

    Hi Suzan, thank you kindly. Kassandra and Sheena are so much fun to be with! I think that whichever system you end up going with will be fine as long as it fits your style of photography.

  9. Neil Hickman says:

    Thanks for your review – very much appreciated. Weight will be an issue for me. I have also heard that the camera can “go off like a cracker” while focusing. I wonder if setting up “rear focus” would solve that? Do you also think it would take a while to determine the best settings? For example I do not know if there are 3 focus acquisition speeds like on the Canons. For BIF on my Canon I have it set to “slow” focus acquisition to prevent it jumping all over the place. (This was Artie’s advice in a guide I purchased years ago). Some who have had focus acquisition problems may not have found the equivalent Olympus setting. (Is there one?) It seems counter intuitive to set “slow” instead of “fast”.

    Hi Neil, I know that there are several choices for the frame rate. I do think that with time I could nail this down, however as I have said in previous comments, I am not sponsored by Olympus and unfortunately, I do not have the time to dedicate to this right now as it is not going to be an option (not yet) for BIF for me. If I get my hands on the 300mm lens again and I have some time to dedicate to it I will certainly keep you and everyone else up to date on my findings… but for now I will have to move on. I suggest renting the lens and camera combo before buying it. See if you have a good keeper rate and take it from there. There are loads of folks that absolutely love it for bird photography.

  10. James Saxon says:

    Thanks for the review. How were the buttons arranged on the camera? Did you find it much different than your Canon? I switched from Nikon to Canon in ’05 after being a long time Nikon user. Everything was different and I could not get comfortable so I bit the bullet and returned to Nikon. (Expensive lesson.) I have been looking at the Olympus system because as I get older the gear seems to get heavier. Just don’t want to make another expensive mistake.

    Hi James, I have been using Olympus gear for about a year now and the buttons and menu are not new to me, in fact I found the camera to be very easy to operate.
    Thanks, denise

  11. Neil Hickman says:

    Thank you for your advice Denise. The local Olympus dealer will borrow the lens and let me fill a card with his camera down at a local wetland. Can’t say fairer than that!

    Hi Nick, that sounds like a great way to get the feel of the camera and lens combo.

  12. Richard Vernick says:

    If you are a Canon shooter with a full lens complement, the Canon M5 gives you a much more cost effective solution for travel and macro than starting out with the Olympus OMD. The M5 – C dual pixel sensor is actually better than the 7DII sensor. The M Lens complement is not great, but the 18-55 and the 55 to 200 are pretty good if you do not need wide apertures and my Canon 50 mm 1.4 lens, 135 F2, and 100 mm ii F2.8 macro with adapters are still very compact. The auto focus and frame rate are not quite up to the Olympus, but are pretty good. And the Canon 70-200 ii F2.8 and 100-400 ii F5.6 work well and are not much larger or heavier than the Olympus versions – plus I already own them. Makes a great back up combination for my Canon SLRs.

    Hi Richard, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am all in for Olympus and Sony so this would not help me now but some may find this interesting.

  13. Jerry says:

    Glad to hear about your experiments. I have been trying out the the Fuji FX system. I have been happy with the results of the 100-400mm lens on an FX T10 body used on a recent trip. It would have been impossible to take a tripod, 500mm lens and misc Nikon equipment.

    As we all age and travel restrictions increase, it is great to have new alternatives.

    Hi Jerry,
    You are right with travel restrictions and age comes a need to reduce the weight of our gear. I will continue to experiment when I can.

  14. Vicki DeVico says:

    Very thoughtful and thorough review, Denise. I don’t shoot with Olympus, but do use Canon and Sony, so the analysis of when you will use those systems was very interesting. Thank you!

    Hi Vicki, glad that you found it useful, thank you for taking the time to comment 🙂

  15. This was huge for me bc I own similar Canon equipment and was very disappointed in the Olympus 300mm years ago refusing to buy it but carrying the heavy Canon gear is getting old on an aging body. Will wait for the lighter weight to catch up in quality with the Canon long lenses.

  16. Hi Denise- thank you for the post – as an Olympus EM 1 and 300mm TC user, I was really keen to hear about your thoughts.

    Hi Annette and welcome to my blog. I like the Olympus system and it has made hand holding a breeze!

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