Hartsholme Park with the E-M1 and 40-150mm lens

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Yesterday I visited Hartsholme Park which is only a few miles from where I live; I met up with Richard; he wanted to try out his newly acquired Nikon D800 with his and Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens and I wanted to try out my OM-D E-M1 with my newly acquired Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens. I was hoping that I would also have my Olympus M.Zuiko 1.4x tele-converter which would extend my range to 56-210mm (at f4.0) too . Unfortunately my local LCE store hasn’t managed to get me one yet as these are still quite rare in the UK at the moment.

Richard has already written his blog post about the event, you can read that here. He also has a picture of yours truly taking a picture of a squirrel.

We met up at just after 9AM, both attaching our respective tele lenses to our Gitzo tripods, fortunately for me one of my existing Kirk Arca Swiss plates (purchased for a Canon lens) mates quite well with the tripod collar’s foot on my 40-150mm lens. Just in case I also attached another Kirk arca-swiss plate (this one for a Canon 70D) to the E-M1’s battery grip whilst not as good a fit as the one on the lens it should suffice if I wish to use another lens.

The main benefit to the Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) system (and this applies equally to Olympus and Panasonic) is that the overall size and weight of the system is much smaller than the DSLR equivalents. The zoom lens that I had was at the extreme tele end equivalent to Richard’s 300mm f2.8 lens (in field-of-view terms) and the extra depth of field that the MFT lens has over a 35mm full-frame body (such as a Nikon D800) is actually a benefit in capturing wildlife photography. Whilst packing my camera into the bag and just giving a final check I did laugh at Richard’s tweet that morning about how heavy his lens was🙂.

So after a short walk we set up at our usual place and started to shoot. This is the first time that I had used my E-M1 on a tripod and the first time that I has used the tripod in many months in fact I cannot remember the last time I used it. However, the light weight of the system was a joy to use.

Not long after we started to take pictures Richard commented about how quiet my shutter sounded – another benefit to the MFT system. If I was using a Panasonic GH3, GH4 or GX7 it could have been totally silent.

At this time of the day the light was changing rapidly and it was difficult to keep up, I tried both Aperture and shutter priority as I needed to make sure that the shutter speed stayed above 1/500 second, having an aperture of f2.8 to play with certainly helped, even so I had to push the ISO up to around 640-800 which didn’t help matters with regards to image quality. This is more of problem when you need to crop the images; unfortunately 150mm even on MFT is not enough reach, I really need that tele-converter!

Common Coot:
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I was trying out different exposure compensations and what I was seeing in the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) as being clipped didn’t seem to correlate with the live histogram in the EVF. This meant that I wasn’t sure what I was seeing so in the end I gave up with the priority modes and switched to manual exposure. I have to say this is the first time that I have had to do this but using and EVF I could intuitively adjust the aperture and (if needed) the shutter speed to get the correct exposure. For the most part this worked quite well and I have never been able to do this before.

I also tried lots of different focusing modes and whilst there is still scope for much improvement here the focusing system on the E-M1 did manage more than its fair share of “in-focus” shots. I also managed to get some (slightly soft) images of a couple of Egyptian Geese flying in:
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I must commend the EVF on the E-M1, it is so good that I almost forgot I was using one. Having the various detail within the viewfinder means you never need to take it away from your eye, this matched with the direct control dials and switches just makes using this a dream.

(Mating) Mallard Ducks:
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One area that the E-M1 was far superior over the D800 was the drive modes; the E-M1 can shoot between 6.5fps and 10fps depending on whether you need to maintain focus tracking or not. I shot mainly at the lower speed to keep the number of shots down. I always shoot in RAW + Fine High Quality JPEG and I never hit the buffer limit once; according to DPReview this is 39 shots at the lower speed.

Male Mallard Duck:
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The fact that the EVF kept up with the continuous drive mode was impressive, I remember trying this before with earlier mirror-less cameras and using the EVF would be essentially useless until you took your finger off the shutter button and evn then you sometimes had to wait for the buffer to clear. I’m amazed at how we have come.

The main bird species at Hartsholme Park were the black-headed gulls:
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Duting the shoot I noticed some rustling to my left and saw a rather large pair of wood pigoens, so I just took my E-M1 and lens combo off the tripod and shot handheld. I remember reading Richard’s blog and this is not something he wanted to do with his D800+300mm lens so he just moved his tripod. Going handheld allowed me to quickly get lower and therefore a better composition.

Wood Pigeon:
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In addition to the wood pigeon there was one (and then two) grey squirrels collecting leaves in their mouths and taking to them what look like a nest (called a Drey) in the tree-tops. It was quite amusing watching them do this back and forth collecting leaves and small twigs. I think Richard captured a video on his D800.

Once I moved back slightly one of the squirrels stopped and then looked at me, I managed to capture a few frames, this being the best one:
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The unfortunate side-effect of using the (low) continuous drive mode was that I took over 600 shots and after about an hour and 20 minutes the card was full

More black-headed gulls:
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I took this a sign that the shoot was complete; I did after all had to go home and cook a Lamb Tagine (that was very nice by the way). I used GPS4Cam to capture the GPS co-ordinates for the shoot and nearly forgot to take the final QR-Code you need at the end of the shoot; I had to use another card to do this. I took a few shots and made sure that they were blur free.

Using GPS4Cam is really simple and when I got home adding the GPS coordinates to the JPG and RAW files was really simple. This is with out a doubt the best phone based GPS system out there and doesn’t rely on synchronizing clocks, you should give it a go if you have an iPhone or Android based phone; the “computer” companion software part works on Macs and PCs too.

It was nice to go out and shoot wildlife but both Richard and I are very rusty as we haven’t done this in a long while. I need to find the best focusing method on the E-M1 and also find a better way to control exposure too as you can see from the shots that some of them are a little dark. I see a new-year’s resolution coming (go out and shoot more wildlife) and hopefully I will get my tele-converter before Christmas too.