When I received my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS PRO Super Telephoto Lens (and an MC-14 Teleconverter) as a prize for winning the 2020 Bird Photographer of the Year Best Portfolio, I was over the moon. Finally, I had my hands on a mirrorless and I was going to work it hard!

Having been used to using a full frame DSLR with an f/4 600mm lens, the first thing I noticed was the size and weight. So small. So Light. Can it really do the job?

The answer without question is a definite yes, as you can see from the images in this post. 

So which features did I like best?

I don’t do set-ups with birds on sticks, so it’s good to have a system that is easy to carry around, has incredible stabilisation and fast auto-focus for that sudden bird in flight shot, like the flying Pied Oystercatcher image. For this image, I also used all focus points activated and it quickly acquired focus because the background was otherwise clear.

It’s those little moments, often unseen by the eye, that I most like to photograph, so the OM-D E-M1 Mark III frame rate of up to 18fps was perfect. I was able to capture a variety of wing positions as the egrets preen or hunt for fish or the pelican ‘yawns’.

I always try to lie down when taking shots of waterbirds. Getting low means you can eliminate many distractions on the water, get at eye level with the bird and have a beautiful background blur.  That often means that I end up muddy.

So the tilt screen is the best thing since sliced bread for me. The other day I sat on a rock and held the camera just above the water and used the screen tilted up to focus. The result is the backlit Australian Pelican Landing image below, and a very dry and clean photographer.

I used the same technique for the bandicoot image.

Top Tips

Finally, if you like to shoot action shots in low light like me, here are two tips that will really make a difference:

The first is that you need to have a good understanding of how to set your ISO and shutter speed to get the sharpest action with the minimal digital noise. The number one rule is never, ever underexpose an image at high ISO. Always try to overexpose a little in low light situations and you will find that you can get good usable images even at twilight.

Of course, if you are like me, you don’t always succeed and, inevitably, some shots are underexposed, like my White-faced Heron and Osprey fighting shots below. When I lightened these images I got lots of digital noise. Fortunately, I have a good noise reduction software that did a great job of eliminating most of it.

My second tip is to get a fast camera card.

I always have the camera in high sequential shooting (‘spray and pray’) mode to ensure I capture action. As a result, when you press that shutter button, you can take a LOT of images in a short space of time. To get the maximum benefit from the high fps, you need to use the fastest camera card available. Older, slower camera cards will take longer to record your images and, in a fast action sequence, you may find your camera’s ‘buffer’ kicks in – that delay when you can’t take any more photos until it finishes writing all the last ones to the card. The card matters!

I hope you enjoy the images as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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