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Bird on branch - OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X

Good question, is the OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X for bird photography?  Now on the surface you’d think the answer would be yes. Lots of people seem to use it for this and the Olympus OM-D even has a shooting profile that can be used for birding.  But how does it perform in the wild!

Field test with the OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X

I was lucky enough to take the Olympus OM-D out a few times to do some field testing.  As a Toronto photographer I’m lucky to be able to drive a relatively short distance to find some real wildlife and specifically birds.  I made my way East of the city and found a great location near Lynde Shores Conservation Area that is always busting with birds, well almost always.

On the first trip out I was lucky to have run in to dozens of birds with a range of species.  Honestly I was a little upset that I didn’t bring my standard camera gear my Canon 1D-X or Canon EOS R and Sony A7R II. I know with these cameras I’d be certain of capturing what I wanted.  But I had the Olympus and it was time to put it to the test.

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X focus system for wildlife

Being my first time ever to use this camera or any model in the Olympus family I knew there would be some sort of learning curve.  What do the buttons do how do you change settings all the basics. I was lucky the the camera arrived mostly setup correctly and that I could take some photos that were going to work.  The ISO was set to AUTO (ok not always ideal but good enough for a first test), I found where to change the shutter speed so I could control to some degree the sharpness of the shot. The aperture was set to auto which again is less than ideal but good enough for a first try of the is camera.

The setup I had was pretty simple and I think typical for any birders that want to shoot with the Olympus family of cameras.  I was using the new OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X and the OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO ED 300MM F4.0 IS PRO lens.  On paper this is a great combo. The 20.4 MP Micro Four Thirds sensor creates an equivalent 600mm focal length with this lens.  At first I was taken back at how close up 600mm got me to the action. It is really a great setup. I began shooting Cardinals, Blue Jays, Chick a dees, Geese and more within a small area.  I think within 20 minutes I must have had 200 photos. I previewed a few early on just to make sure things looked ok and to my surprise it was.  WOW I simply took this camera out of the bag and started snapping and got some great shots.

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X wildlife sample photo

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How well does the OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1X focus?

As a nature photographer there are a few things that are a must in any camera.  Ruggedness is one because lets face it you’re not in a studio here and anything can happen, and it often does.  I remember one time walking through the bush with a Canon 1D-X and Canon EF 70-200MM F2.8L IS II USM lens in my hand.  I use a wrist strap to make it a little easier to carry that combo while being ready to snap a photo at anytime. As I was walking through the forest I didn’t see an old rusted wire fence that was partially pushed down in the brush.  Walking briskly through I tripped and stumbled falling hard down to the ground. Naturally as I was falling I put my arm out to brace myself not realizing the hand I was using had $10,000 of camera gear attached to it. The lens drove into the dirt and broke my fall while the body smashed in to the ground.  Once everything was over I brushed away the mud and kept on going. This is typical for a wildlife photographer and something that must be considered when buying gear.  So back to the Olympus OMD and how well it performs. Not that I fell with it in my hand but I do think it’s a strong enough camera that it could easily handle such a fall as I had with the Canon.

Capturing birds in flight is much more difficult than you’d think.  You can’t simply snap a photo and hope it all works out. Using the Olympus OM-D E-M1X to capture birds in flight proved to be a very difficult thing.  On my second outing with this camera I ended up in the middle of a small migration of Canadian Geese which was perfect for bird photography. I so wanted the second test of this camera to work and prove to be a great camera for wildlife photography. But it wasn’t!

Bird on bush

The Olympus OMD EM1 for bird photography

Each time I took the OMD EM1 out to photograph some birds I was all excited about the possibilities. I wanted this camera to perform well and take some amazing pictures. In the end I have to say I simply couldn’t get this camera to work well enough to make me want it. All the tech spec pointed to it being the perfect bird photography camera but in the end the focus issues were simply to random.

Conclusion

For me I’ll stick with my Canon 1D X, Canon 7D Mark II or even my Sony A7R II for bird photography. Oh and through in the Canon EOS R as an option although not my first option. Any of the other Canon cameras will work perfectly for bird photography and any other photography for that matter. The Olympus om-d e-m1 mark II just didn’t meet the mark as a go to camera for me. Now if I had it for a couple months to try maybe things would be different. In the end it was a pass for me.

Check out my birding Instagram account for more bird photography and tips and tricks on how to get the shot.

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