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Bird Photography with the Olympus OM-1 OM System

March 22, 2022

Bird Photography with the Olympus OM-1 OM System – Amateur Photographer Online Editor Joshua Waller and Assistant Online Editor Jessica Miller spent a day photographing birds with the Olympus/OMDS Ambassador and AP Zoom Photo Tours guide Tesni Ward with the brand-new OM ‘Olympus’ OM-1 system.

Tesni Ward photographs birds with the OM-1

Tesni Ward using the Olympus OM-1

Tesni Ward using the Olympus OM-1

By using the OM System ‘Olympus’ OM-1, Tesni likes that you can customize the camera for your own shooting needs. With the new OM-1, Tesni noticed faster and more responsive autofocus (AF), as well as vastly improved bird tracking, which finds and locks onto the bird’s eye.

Tesni also found the shooting without power failure, up to 50 fps with C-AF, extremely useful for tracking moving subjects. The viewfinder is also significantly improved, providing a great view, and the improved weather sealing is especially beneficial when shooting in extreme conditions. The camera is also easy to operate with gloves on.

Tesni has spent a lot of time observing and studying birds, and says the best way to see them is in the real world, so you can see and hear them, and learn their behavior. This will help you know when something (like theft, flapping, etc.) is happening so you’re ready to take the shot.

Main settings to use when shooting wildlife with the OM-1:

  • Set up a custom mode for a specific shooting scenario, e.g. birds
  • Customize buttons to give quicker access to needed AF mode
  • Customize the burst rate to suit your needs and make sure you know your camera before shooting
  • Make sure the shutter speed is right for the type of shot and use burst mode to be ready to shoot no matter what
  • C-AF 50 fps without blackout is amazing for tracking animals in frame
  • Olympus / OMDS cameras are very customizable which is great but can be confusing if you are unfamiliar with the camera and worth practicing before taking pictures

OM OM-1 system, 150-450mm at 207mm (TC off), 1/800 sec, ISO3200, f/6.3, Tesni Ward

Top tips for photographing birds and wildlife:

  • Find the background color and avoid distractions
  • Be prepared for bad weather, look for areas where you can get better color adding interest to the background
  • Watch the weather, as blue skies and bright sunshine can be too harsh and make photography difficult
  • Knowing your subject helps, so you can prepare for when it is about to fly, flap its wings or duck underwater
  • You can still crop in post, but you can’t crop if you’ve zoomed in too much
OM OM-1 system, 150-450mm at 400mm (TC off), 1/1250 sec, ISO500, f/4.5

OM OM-1 system, 150-450mm at 400mm (TC off), 1/1250s, ISO500, f/4.5, Tesni Ward

Join Tesni Ward at an AP Zoom Tours event

Tesni Ward runs a number of different photo vacation tours with Amateur Photographer and Zoom Photo Tours, and you can get great advice from Tesni, as well as the chance to photograph several different birds and wildlife.

  • Lots of great tips for photographing moving birds, including how to keep the camera steady and smooth while shooting.

Learn more here.

Joshua Waller photographs wildlife with the Olympus OM-1

Vari-angle touchscreen makes low-angle shooting easy

Vari-angle touchscreen makes low-angle shooting easy

Using the ‘Olympus’ OM-1 OM system for bird photography was particularly easy, once the camera’s bird detection AF was set up. This was enabled using the camera menus, but quicker access to this setting is possible by customizing the camera.

The camera is extremely fast, and in some cases may be too fast, for example, I personally don’t need to shoot at 120 fps, so I opted for a slower continuous shooting speed. If you want to shoot at 120fps, Pro Capture can help you here as it can take pictures even before you press the shutter button.

The camera has a new AI (artificial intelligence) autofocus system capable of detecting a large number of different subjects. This, combined with the new Quad-pixel AF system, with 1053 AF points covering the sensor, makes for an extremely fast AF system, which can operate at speeds of up to 50 fps with continuous AF tracking – when used with specific Olympus PRO lenses.

AF settings for subject detection on the OM-1

AF settings for subject detection on the OM-1

How to Customize and Configure Bird Detection AF on the OM-1

  • In the menus – you can find the settings in the AF section, or you can also add “Subject detection” to the MyMenu section for quicker access
  • You can set up a custom button so you can quickly change subject detection, by pressing the button and scrolling through options using a control wheel
  • Check your continuous shooting mode, you will need SH2 which allows continuous AF and metering, not SH1 (super high speed) – SH1 sets AF to fixed/single AF, rather than continuous
  • Check that your AF setting is set to C-AF + tracking
  • You will be able to see the tracking appear in real time on the screen when the camera detects the subject
OM OM-1 System, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 210mm, 1/500s, ISO1250, F4

OM OM-1 system, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 210mm, 1/500 sec, ISO1250, F4 – Click to see full size JPEG photo

Photographing wildlife with the camera, and in this case birds, was particularly impressive, as the camera’s bird-detection AF system is extremely fast and reliable, locking onto the eye of the bird, even when the bird was dark in color. The camera also delivered detailed and sharp images, even when shooting wide aperture at f4 with the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens and 1.4X teleconverter.

Jessica Miller photographs wildlife with the Olympus OM-1

Jessica Miller using the OM Olympus OM-1 system

Jessica Miller using the OM Olympus OM-1 system

I bought my DSLR about six years ago when I was a final year college student and just getting into photography. I’ve had a long time to get to know my camera well, so it’s pretty daunting to think about using a different system.

When the opportunity to try the Olympus OM-1 came up, I was very excited to try it out. This is my first time using the OM system and mirrorless technology.

OM System 'Olympus' OM-1 IP53 weatherproof handy

OM System ‘Olympus’ OM-1 IP53 weatherproof handy

The day I took my DSLR with Tesni, I definitely noticed the difference when I switched between the two. First, the size and weight. Being able to hold and grip the camera comfortably is quite a factor for me, and I also like to carry my camera wherever I go.

the The OM-1 body is much more compact than the DSLR, so overall it was easier to manage. My camera with an 18-135mm lens attached together weighs over 1.1kg (the body alone weighs just under 700g). While the Olympus OM-1 body alone weighs 599g – with the 40-150mm f/2.8 and 1.4x TC lens we were using weighs around 1010g.

While there’s not much difference between the numbers here, with an equivalent lens on the DSLR this would be a heavy camera to carry around. Having less weight on your shoulders is definitely more appealing.

OM System OM-1, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 90mm, 1/640s, ISO640, F4

OM OM-1 system, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 90mm, 1/640 sec, ISO640, F4 – Click to see full size JPEG photo

Another factor I would look for in a new camera would be how easy it is to learn and use. During this workshop, we set up the Bird Detection AF mode – which was an easy process, and the menu itself was very user friendly and well designed. The Bird Detection AF mode was particularly useful in our situation and quick to use and focus, ensuring we got sharp shots whether the bird was stationary or in flight.

OM System OM-1, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 110mm, 1/500s, ISO1250, F4

OM OM-1 system, 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC, 110mm, 1/500 sec, ISO1250, F4 – Click to see full size JPEG photo

I tried using my DSLR to photograph the same birds, and the camera felt sluggish and clunky after using the OM-1. Overall I was very impressed with the system and the versatility this camera could have across different genres.


More links:

Read our full review of the ‘Olympus’ OM-1 OM System

How to edit your wildlife photos (Tesni Ward)

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