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Author Topic: Birding with M43...My take  (Read 4941 times)

Offline mannusingh

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Birding with M43...My take
« on: November 21, 2014, 10:20:52 PM »
I mainly photograph wildlife and have a decent amount and quality of Nikon gear to pursue my hobby. But as with most DSLR users, especially who do any bit of serious birding and wild life photography, size and weight are huge concerns. The 600mm F4, although a brilliant lens, along with a professional DSLR and a support system tilts the scales at over 10 kgs and not to mention is prohibitively expensive.

So it is every wild life photographers dream to have that little inexpensive camera and lens that will give them all the features and abilities of a DSLR and a long lens for their shooting and I was no different.

Initially I did not have birding with a small camera on my mind and all I wanted was to carry a smaller camera that was small enough to carry everywhere as I had more than once cribbed and avoided carrying my Nikon DSLR for some of my travels and vacations, as it was just too big, only to rue later at some fantastic photo opportunities missed.

All the MILC talk and people shifting to MILCs made me take notice and I came to a conclusion that I must buy a small MILC for my travel and impromptu photo needs. My requirements were simple; I wanted the smallest possible size, cheap and decent IQ. I knew that FF still had the best IQ albeit at the expense of more weight, so for travel, vacations and social photography needs I could compromise on IQ for portability and availability.

I started my usual internet searches and came up with a Panasonic GX-1 kit, which at that time was spoken in the same breath as the now venerable OMD EM-5 and was the true successor to the famed GF-1. It was available in the USA for about 20k. I purchased this through a friend, as it was almost impossible to find Panasonic m43 cameras and lenses in India.

I got it my hands and found the IQ to be decent for most practical purposes though it is easily beaten by the D7000 in IQ that I also own. However I loved its size, portability and convenience and so quickly bought the 14 2.5 and the 25 1.4 as well.The 25 1.4 is arguably one of the best lenses one can buy for the m43 format and the 14 2.5 is so small that I could slip the GX-1 + 14 2.5 in my pocket and go anywhere I want with it. However, I sorely missed an external EVF and so that was purchased next. It made a huge difference in my day light photography and also reduced camera shake by a huge amount.

Since I was primarily a wild life photographer, the idea of a m43 birding rig was very appetizing but unfortunately there were no decent native m43 long lenses on offer and the only ones on offer like the Panasonic 100-300 F4-5.6 were too expensive and almost impossible to get in India. Then one day while browsing amazon.in, I saw that it was available for around 29k and I grabbed it almost immediately. This was a very good price on par with B&H prices with Panasonic India warranty. Amazon managed to ship it within a single day and I was surprised to see a jjmehta invoice for it.

I started using it and since it came in the monsoon, there wasn?t much to shoot, but initial impressions were not too great especially in fading light and the small m43 sensor could not resolve enough detail at full 600mm equivalent at ISO 800 and above. But I kept practicing and shooting more and more, keeping in mind the strength and weaknesses of the m43 system and the slow 100-300 F4-5.6 consumer zoom lens. The one thing immediately apparent to me is that I needed shutter speeds of 1/250 and above to get decent sharpness and pop even with OIS enabled. After keeping this in mind and shooting in brighter light at lower ISOs I started getting better results. No it is nowhere as sharp as my 300 F4 + 1.4 TC on my D7000 and just forget about the native 600 F4 wide open on my D800E. But for most practical purposes it was fine, especially considering that the whole rig costs about the same as D7000 kit I purchased in May this year and weighs about 800 grams, which is just a bit more than what D7000 body alone weighs. Also it will be unfair to compare a slow consumer zoom to a pair of ultra-sharp Nikon prime lenses on Nikon?s larger sensors.

So this is a seriously small and light weight 600mm equivalent birding rig that performs very well in decent light. It is much sharper at slightly less than 300mm than at 300mm,which is a typical trait seen in most consumer zooms. So now I have a light weight birding rig that I can always carry with me, everywhere I go without bothering about weight and size and if need be I don?t even have to carry a dedicated camera bag to carry this. I just have a Focus F1 strap to carry this, slung across my shoulder and I don?t even realize that it is there. In Nikon land the D7000+300 F4 + 1.4 TC is considered as light birding setup but compared to the m43 rig I have, its huge and heavy.

Here are are some comparison shots of the Nikon vs the Panasonic kit.





So is everything perfect about my new m43 lightweight kit for birding and wildlife and so should one sell off their crop cameras and the 70-300 or their 100-400, 80-400 zoom lenses that they have? No absolutely not, things are far from perfect with the GX-1 + 100-300 combo or for that matter any other m43 + 100/75-300 combos.

The biggest negative is the AF. It is pathetic for tracking or moving subjects or even in continuous AF. At shorter focal lengths it is still ok, but at longer FLs it refuses to lock even after many tries. This issue gets worse with fading light. In good light I zoom to a shorter FL, focus and then zoom back to the longer FL and try to lock AF. This works a lot of times and if the subject is cooperative I get the shot or I just don?t. Another problem is that when taking close up shots, if the AF goes beyond the subject it is very difficult to get it to AF back at the subject. For some reason it refuses to AF at the shorter distance. The other things like focus tracking, 21 point AF all have been tried by me but none work satisfactorily for moving birds.

Focus tracking is simply nonexistent even in good light especially for smaller AF targets like birds. I have never tried this with animals or larger targets.
Now this is something that is quite common with the 100-300 with almost every other m43 camera regardless of brands. The newer ones like the GH4 and the EM-1 may be better but I haven?t seen or read any concrete evidence of this with this lens in particular. Their AF is definitely better at tracking with the new improvements that have been incorporated on these new generation m43 bodies. But I am yet to try any of these.

In comparison the D7000 and 300+1.4 TC combination locks on anything I point it to, without much hesitation even in low fading light. My AF fine tune value is -3 with this combo and 0 with the 300 F4 alone.I go to ISO 1600 without much of a care with this combo. But the bane of the 300 f4 is that it lacks VR and its very difficult to get adequate shutter speeds for sharp images at low ISOs. But when it does its as good or better as anything out there including some new lenses.

Here are quick comparison shots of similar birds shot in similar conditions on 2 different days at the same place.





The D800E and the 600 F4 lock at just about everything and in every light condition that I have used it at without any problem, including with a 1.4 TC in almost late dusk orearly  dawn. So it should, considering that this is arguably one of the best combinations for birding across any systems available today. The feather detail, bokeh, color, sharpness are all superb even wide open at high ISOs.


So now as far as IQ with the m43 setup is concerned, I am pretty happy with it for the money I have spent on it. The bokeh is good especially at 300mm where a lot of background is any way blurred away at short to medium distances even on a small m43 sensor. Sharpness is quite good as I have mentioned earlier especially if light is good and ISOs are lows. There is no CA that I have seen, as Panasonic bodies automatically correct these for Panasonic lenses, but not Olympus bodies. The optical image stabilization that is built in the lens works well and I have taken sharp images at around 1/100 at full 300mm. It is very silent unlike the clicking I notice when the VR kicks in on my 600.

One thing I don?t like about it is the zoom creep. When hung with my Focus F1 strap, I see that the zoom has silently and unknowingly zoomed itself to its longest length which is at 300mm. I wish they had some kind of a lock to avoid this.

M43 cameras may be small and portable but these come at the price of bad ergonomics and poor battery life. Yes the Nikon DSLRs especially the professional ones are big and heavy but they fit my hand like a glove and I don?t even need to look away from the VF for most of my most used functions. M43 cameras on the other hand are an absolute night mare to use and even though my GX-1 has dedicated buttons for most important functions, the buttons are small with a low tactile feel. A lot of buttons and wheels do multiple things at the same time and sometimes it is plain frustrating to operate. Some common things deeply buried inside menus. I have heard Olympus is even more cryptic with their menu structures and functions on buttons and wheels. The hand grip is almost non-existent but just a small raised part as a woeful excuse for a grip. The camera is so small that the 100-300 has a larger diameter than the total height of the camera and because the camera is so thin I cannot attach a generic plate to the camera as it interferes with the 100-300. It is fine with any smaller diameter lens. Thankfully the buttons and the metal body are durable with all my usage so far. The camera may be small but is well built for sure.The Olympus EM-1 seems like the right step forward as far as ergonomics for m43 go, but this is because it is one of the biggest m43 bodies on sale today.

Smaller size means smaller batteries which leads to shorter shooting times. Anyone owning a m43 camera definitely must have faced the problem of dead batteries more often now than when they were shooting DSLRs. So one definitely has to invest in additional batteries for their m43 cameras as having just one battery just isn?t enough to last a complete day of shooting.

Another negative is that accessories like lens caps for small diameter m43 lenses, batteries especially for Panasonic cameras are very expensive. I lost my 14 2.5 lens cap and I just can?t find a cheap generic lens cap for it. The oem one costs over 1500 rupees whereas a 52 mm kit lens size normally seen on Nikon kit lens costs about 200 rupees. An oem spare battery is again very expensive.

Another constant gripe I have seen very often is availability in India. Even if you are ready to spend money its very difficult to get m43 stuff easily at a good competitive price. I only shudder to imagine what service will be like if one needs it.

Still I am optimistic that m43 gear should be easier to get and Panasonic and Olympus will be able to provide better service in the coming future.
Now that Olympus has announced 2 long professional lenses, things are looking up for the m43 format especially for the long FL seekers. I am particularly interested in the 300 F4 lens that should be out soon probably by next year end. This should be a dream portable 600mm lens for many people like me, when used with an IBIS enabled Olympus body with nice ergonomics like the EM-1 assuming it AFs well for action and wild life.

I am strong advocate of the m43 and slowly and surely I have collected some nice m43 glass like the 7-14 4, 14 2.5, 25 1.4, 45 1.8 and the 100-300 4-5.6. Future upgrade path will be an EM-1 with the 300 F4. Today, I believe that for most practical genres of photography except sports and wild life, mirror less cameras can very well replace DSLRs even today.


« Last Edit: November 22, 2014, 01:56:00 PM by mannusingh »
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Offline Hot Shoe

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2014, 01:26:43 AM »
Mayur .... very informative write up about the M43 with a fair share towards pros and cons . Made useful reading. Thanks.
Nikon D7000   /// Nikkor 35mm 1.8G  50mm 1.8D   55-300mm  // Tamron 17-50 f2.8  90mm f2.8 Macro  // Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6  /// Yongnuo 460 II  560 III  /// Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT // Rollei Pro BH611

Offline mannusingh

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2014, 09:11:33 AM »
Mayur .... very informative write up about the M43 with a fair share towards pros and cons . Made useful reading. Thanks.

Thanks Vinod. Hope you have made your m43 or mirrorless decision by now.
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Offline Hyperdrive

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2014, 10:02:48 AM »
Well written post Mayur. Thanks for putting it up. It will surely help members to make a decision either way about DSLRs & MLCs.

Lovely photos of the birds :like:

Offline theqca

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2014, 10:26:32 AM »
I found this post very informative and interesting to read.

I find a lot of people getting interested in the mirror-less system these days...im sure this write up will help!

Nikon FM(black), Nikon FG, Nikon D700, Nikon FM(silver), Nikon FM10, Pentax Spotmatic, Zenith TTL, Minox Wetzlar, Agfa Optima III, Yashica & Rollei rangefinders etc

28mm 2.8, 70-300vr, 200mm f4, 50mm 1.4, 55mm 2.8 macro, 50mm 1.8, 16mm 2.8, 70-210 f4 macro, Lensbaby, Helios 44 f2, 90mm macro, etc

Offline theqca

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2014, 10:41:39 AM »
Added a link to the main site as well - http://photographyclubofindia.com/

Do share some more photos that you've taken with this set up :)
Nikon FM(black), Nikon FG, Nikon D700, Nikon FM(silver), Nikon FM10, Pentax Spotmatic, Zenith TTL, Minox Wetzlar, Agfa Optima III, Yashica & Rollei rangefinders etc

28mm 2.8, 70-300vr, 200mm f4, 50mm 1.4, 55mm 2.8 macro, 50mm 1.8, 16mm 2.8, 70-210 f4 macro, Lensbaby, Helios 44 f2, 90mm macro, etc

Offline mannusingh

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2014, 10:57:51 AM »
Thanks Ayaz and HD for your comments. Yes I will add more photos taken with this set up.
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Offline Hot Shoe

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2014, 11:36:09 AM »
Hope you have made your m43 or mirrorless decision by now.

Looking around Mayur. Visited a few B&M stores and the experience was simply pathetic ! There are simply no MLCs on display. Store owners told me that the demand for MLCs in India is very low. A Sony showroom  told me 'maybe possible on order' !!  :)
Nikon D7000   /// Nikkor 35mm 1.8G  50mm 1.8D   55-300mm  // Tamron 17-50 f2.8  90mm f2.8 Macro  // Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6  /// Yongnuo 460 II  560 III  /// Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT // Rollei Pro BH611

Offline mannusingh

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2014, 12:26:43 PM »
Hope you have made your m43 or mirrorless decision by now.

Looking around Mayur. Visited a few B&M stores and the experience was simply pathetic ! There are simply no MLCs on display. Store owners told me that the demand for MLCs in India is very low. A Sony showroom  told me 'maybe possible on order' !!  :)
You are better off buying online. I saw some G5 and GX1 kits at Amazon and Snapdeal. They also had Sony and Fuji stuff.
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Offline Hyperdrive

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2014, 12:29:35 PM »
Looking around Mayur. Visited a few B&M stores and the experience was simply pathetic ! There are simply no MLCs on display. Store owners told me that the demand for MLCs in India is very low. A Sony showroom  told me 'maybe possible on order' !!  :)

Hi Vinod, the dealer is right. Due to low demand stores do not stock MLCs or their accessories. All products are on order only. And you need to be patient. It could take several days or even weeks for your on-order product to be in stock. For e.g. I waited 2 months for my EM1 in 2013.

This is a KEY drawback to the buying experience and it does put people off...as it almost did in my case. Which is why I have limited my "investment" in these systems. I wonder what these MLC companies are up to and their commitment to a market that is frankly overly tilted in favour of DSLRs. :)

Your best chance is to check online at Flipkart et al or place an order with your favourite dealer....and wait. :)

Offline yndesai

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2014, 12:42:05 PM »
Today, I believe that for most practical genres of photography except sports and wild life, mirror less cameras can very well replace DSLRs even today.

Great writeup.
I was about to finalize the m4/3 but dropped it as Birding was my priority.

I know that m4/3 can take any lens using adaptor. Did you try your nikon lens on it using adaptor? I understand these adaptors are not costly.
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Offline mannusingh

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Re: Birding with M43...My take
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2014, 01:58:59 PM »
Today, I believe that for most practical genres of photography except sports and wild life, mirror less cameras can very well replace DSLRs even today.

Great writeup.
I was about to finalize the m4/3 but dropped it as Birding was my priority.

I know that m4/3 can take any lens using adaptor. Did you try your nikon lens on it using adaptor? I understand these adaptors are not costly.

I have a F mount to m43 adapter but I frankly do not like manual focusing and using histogram for exposure and metering. Its just not what I like to do. I dont mind manual focusing my AI-S 55 3.5 micro lens that meters just fine on my D7000 and D800E, more so on the D800E as it has a better VF.
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