Thursday, March 10, 2016

South Africa Wildlife Shooting with Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO Lens

Last week I was at South Africa for a work trip, and the first few days were spent at Kruger National Park, where we had a few sessions of "game drives", going out into the wild to see the animals. I thought this would have been the perfect opportunity to test out the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens. I have mentioned previously that my review images (read my review of 300mm F4 PRO lens here if you have not) were taken from an ordinary user perspective, as I did not have the chance to travel far into the wild to do any meaningful wildlife shooting. Many people have pointed out that my photographs of the birds in particular may not be applicable in practical shooting situations since I got ridiculously close to the birds, which does not happen in real life. Therefore, having the chance to go to South Africa and shoot the wild animals there, I must do my best to test the 300mm F4 PRO lens again!

There were a few obstacles standing between me and my imagined ideal shooting conditions. 

There were about 8 of us in a jeep, and in each jeep we only had ONE M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens to be shared. So while you are looking at the photographs shown in this blog entry, take note that I did not have the 300mm lens at all times. However, I am only showing photographs taken with the 300mm PRO lens. 

The lighting condition was horrendous. I was told by the locals that at this particular time of the year, Hoedspruit, Limpopo area has the best lighting any photographer/cinematographer could hope for. In my mind I was visualizing the golden, warm, "national geographic" light quality when shooting during early morning or near sunset, having that magical glow on the wild animals. Over the course of three days, the sky was constantly cloudy, with a few threats of thunderstorm (though the rain was light and quick, nothing serious). The lighting was soft, dull, uninteresting, creating undramatic images, which I often would describe as uninspiring. Experienced photographers would have put away their camera, since lighting is almost everything in photography!

For this particular "game drive" session, the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO was NOT the ideal lens to use. We often had the chance to get super close to the animals, at times, about 5 meters away only. The 300mm was just too tight for proper framing. I understand that communicating with the ranger (driver of the jeep) to coordinate locations stopped would have helped with better compositions but remember the jeep had 8 people with cameras and there was only one 300mm lens? It would have been selfish to ask the ranger to relocate the jeep further just for myself to shoot, while others without telephoto zoom lens would treasure the every bit nearer distance that we could get. The better lens in this situation would have been the amazing M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens. 

All complains aside, lets look at some photographs.

All images were taken with Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens

My first time seeing a live chameleon. Quite a charming creature! And this one was pregnant. 
F6.3, 1/500sec, ISO250
I stopped down to F6.3 instead of shooting wide open at F4 to get abit more depth of field so I can have the entire eye in focus. This particular image shows off the incredible close up shooting capability of the 300mm lens. I was approximately less than 2 meters away from the chameleon, and having the pseudo macro feature allowed me to shoot this without having to change lens. I acknowledge that the shot would have been better if I was maybe a meter or two away but we were not allowed to get out of the car. We were basically stuck at our seat positions. 

Crop from previous image

F4, 1/320sec, ISO250
Since most of the birds I shot in my review entry were too close to the lens, this was one rather far away. 

Crop from previous image

F4, 1/125sec, ISO6400
This was taken near the lodge we were staying in. It was early morning and the light was rather dim, hence the need to boost ISO to 6400 to achieve enough shutter speed. The monkey was not staying very still, hence the need of higher shutter speed. 

F8, 1/80sec, ISO640
Poor bird. Flew away too slowly I guess. 

F4, 1/160sec, ISO640
Baby Giraffe. Quite a cute fella. 

F4, 1/80sec, ISO200
A young cub. We found a pack of lions, all lying on the ground. We were quite close to them. 

F4, 1/250sec, ISO400
Reasons why not to slow down the shutter speed unnecessarily? To capture action shots like this lioness (I think female, I could be wrong) yawning.  

F4, 1/400sec, ISO320

F4, 1/15, ISO640

F4, 1/160sec, ISO1250

Crop from previous image

F4, 1/800sec, ISO400

Crop from previous image

F4, 1/160sec, ISO250
Another example of incredible macro shooting ability of the 300mm lens. I was about a meter and a half away from this lizard. Not sure why this lizard was not scared of me. I got closer and closer and it still stood there, looking at me. 

Crop from previous image

F4, 1/400sec, ISO320

F4, 1/400sec, ISO320

F4, 1/640sec, ISO250

F4, 1/200sec, ISO640

F4, 1/30sec, ISO250

F4, 1/800sec, ISO400

F6.3, 1/640sec, ISO200
Shot a moon in the clear sky when I was in Cape Town, not at the national park. The image above was obviously heavily cropped. Nonetheless, it still shows the capability and sharpness of the 300mm lens. 

I would understand if you were to say that there was nothing really that outstanding looking at my wildlife images. I believe many other photographers can do much better than me. I only hoped I had much better lighting. 

Every single time I was using the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens, I could not help but always be in awe of the incredible sharpness it delivers. Having the 5-Axis Sync IS (as I was shooting with the OM-D E-M1) helped mitigate the need to use a tripod, and I was getting sharp images throughout the game drives without any additional support (tripod, monopod, etc). Being able to hand-hold a 600mm equivalent lens with the confidence of high success rate in nailing the shot, is quite an amazing story to tell. After all, this 300mm F4 IS PRO lens is the BEST Olympus lens (optical design and superiority) at this moment, and I strongly believe the evidence is shown in the photos. 

In case some of you remembered, I also mentioned that I wanted to shoot a tennis tournament in Malaysia last weekend, which did not happen because I decided to catch up with some visiting friends instead. 

The 300mm F4 IS PRO lens is on sale now, and I am sure a few of you have added the lens into your arsenal. Do share your thoughts and experience with the lens, I am sure your sharing will help others who are still curious about what this lens can do!

Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm f4 IS PRO lens is available from B&H here. 
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  1. Stunning shots, Robin. Detail is incredible. Did you post process these on the fly (with lesser software) or back when you came home?


    1. I did my post-processing at home. The trip was last week. I wanted to blog earlier but internet connection where I was in South Africa was quite bad.

  2. Amazing shots Robin, thanks for the blog and the pictures. The lioness tongue looks amazing..

    1. Thanks Rahul! Have you bought yourself a 300mm F4 PRO?

    2. Hey Robin, Sadly no, I Have paid for one but I haven't received one yet, some shipping delays. It will come, that's what I keep telling My self.

    3. Ahhh a little patience goes a long way. I am sure it will arrive in no time and it will be worth the wait.

    4. :-) yeh, I'm just excited..

  3. I felt looking those that you definitely were way too close oon most of them. Some were great because they were more about detail shots that benefits from such narrow field of view like birds on back of giraffe.

    I have used 300mm (non PRO) enough to know it is very limiting one even when you are alone with two guides and can even walk around out of the Jeep.

    I so wish Olympus would make a zoom like 40-150mm but just longer. Something like 150-400mm to compete Panasonic and offer the benefits of zoom. Make it f/4 instead f/2.8 and it would be useful.

    And mean while make for us a 2x teleconverter as I would like to use 80-300mm f/5.6 what 40-150mm would become.

    Oh, and the cloudy days are better than harsh ones, especially if you can't get out before sunrise and sunset as midday is just ugly otherwise. Cloudy day just allows to get more shots but requires more post work burning and dodging.

    1. I think if I was on a trip with a group of photographers all using similar focal length, it is easier to communicate with the jeep ranger and have us positioned in ideal shooting distance to make full use of the 300mm focal length. It was not a photography trip, and I had very limited chance to use the 300mm lens too.

      Olympus is not stopping in their lens making department. Believe me, I am sure they are going to release more and more lenses. If enough demand is there, the lens you have described will surely happen.

  4. Terrific as ever, Robin. Now if I could just get a bird to sit still for me I would…

    Well, probably not! Heh, heh.

    I support the remarks of a previous commenter -- South AFrica, like Australia, has very dry air at this time of the year mostly and that makes for very high contrast light. You (like me) are used to tropical humidity; our midday sun can be pretty harsh, but not like as harsh as in these low humidity places. And then there's the National Geographic light. Well, we all know that they don't just drop in on a mixed jeep for a day or three!

    Thanks again for a photographic pheast!

    Cheers, Geoff

    1. Ahh maybe my expectations were too high, oh well, always hope and strive for the best we can!

  5. Impressive work. The yawning lion really is an amazing capture, congratulations. I think the fast aperture combined with the 300 mm focal length really gives these shots that extra "something" that previously hasn't been possible to achieve in this type of photography with m43 (except maybe by using the original 43rds exotic superteles). Even the antelope standing in front of a very challenging, busy background pops out pretty well.

    This is one application where a zoom lens makes a case for it's versatility, as you said - the animals are actually getting too close and backing up is impossible. Fortunately in my type of shooting the opposite is usually always happening and it seems with a sharp prime like the 300, heavy cropping in post is a viable solution to get more reach (+ using the teleconverter).

    I tried the 300 mm at Olympus' booth in a trade show here in Finland, and it really matched my expectations. I'm just hoping the price will drop just a little closer to the 2600 € list price for Europe, before I pull the trigger. Currently the preorder price is around 2800 €. The Olympus rep told me that the demand for the 300 mm is intense here, higher than anticipated. The estimated delivery time for those on the waiting list is 4 months! I really hope I could get my hands on this lens by summer!

    For moon shots and other occasional tripod work, do you think a gimbal head would be useful - or will a medium ballhead suffice?

    1. Thanks for the kind words, appreciate them. After all this 300mm F4 IS PRO is the best Olympus lens to date, it surely has certain edge over older lenses.
      I am sure the price might drop a little but do not expect much, as lens prices are always stable and will reach a stagnant point for a long time.
      I have not used tripod with this lens, and the moon was easily shot hand-held!

  6. Your images are excellent, Robin! I'm from Cape Town and I appreciate the chance to see "local" photos taken in your style.

    Please put in a kind word with your friends at Olympus to expand their presence here - finding M4/3 gear in SA is near impossible (also priced impossible). I usually resort to Ebay.

    Hope you enjoyed your stay! Sorry about the bad internet...
    - Julian

  7. These look pretty great to me! The one with the snake is great timing. I think this proves having a good eye is the most important thing.

    1. You need to see how this kid is able to make
      over $2000 a month selling pictures he took
      with his camera!

      He lays out exactly how you can do it too!
      This page might not be up for much longer
      so you need to check it out right now.

  8. Too bad you were not using the Panasonic 100-400mm so you'd have more flexibility when "birds were closer". Shame the 300mm is a prime so stuck with everything or nothing. Why is Panasonic smarter in releasing a zoom for this distance, long range?

    1. When you do a zoom lens, you will definitely compromise image quality. I don't think it is a smarter or wiser decision. The better lens on the safari trip I was at was NOT the Panasonic 100-400mm, I would say it was the Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens.

    2. The ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 would have been lovely, though, even if the E-5 is a bit old now. I'd probably use it with the GH4 and a monopod for something more modern.

      Lovely photos you got. Can't believe that Olympus introduced a lens for which I have no current use. :-D

    3. Robin Wong - why would say the Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 is the better choice over the Panasonic 100-400mm? I'm debating between those two options, but am leaning toward the Oly lens because I think it's more versatile.

  9. lucky guy ... work is visiting a great safari in south africa ... i am dying of envy ...
    nice images too ...

  10. These are amazing photos Robin! I always read your reviews before I buy a lens.


  11. Thanks for this post and the original review, this is always a great place to get some honest opinions.
    I was very lucky to get one of these quickly in Thailand and I've been out with it a couple of times now.

    Firstly, the image quality is amazing. I used to use a Canon 400mm f5.6 but switched to Olympus and now, with this lens I am totally over the moon.
    The sharpness, the lack of edge effects with bright backgrounds, the fast focus and shutter speeds possible are all brilliant reasons to own this. Coupled with an EM-1 which lets me get beautiful photos with great colours and perfect exposure straight out of the camera, it is such a pleasure to use. The only photo I used the raw file with to adjust exposure was the Piculet (the little bird hanging on the left of a tree). I'm pretty sure everything else was straight out of camera*.
    I can't emphasise that too much - the pleasure.

    Yes, zoom would be nice but if that meant trading off the lens quality or raising the f number or making this even more expensive, I'd pass.

    I'm not a pro and some of these shots are heavily cropped (it is only 300mm after all - I get my MC-14 next week), but I've got a selection of photos taken with this lens in my Flickr feed:

    * (Actually, not technically true: I took raw, then converted them all without any adjustments whatsoever using the Olympus software. So, effectively sooc)

  12. It's a real shame that you did not have exclusive use of this lens. Still, you made the most of the limited time that you had with this lens. Olympus should really give you a copy of this lens, so you can post more stunning images ... which will ultimately cause more copies of this lens to be sold. You are without a doubt Olympus' best ambassador and sales person.

  13. Thank you for this post. It shows great capabilities of this lens for wildlife shooting. However, what I've been concerned from the begining with om-d system is the photography of the moving subjects. I wonder how well it does continuos focusing. I've replaced most of my nikon gear with om-d, but I still own my trusty nikon 300 mm f/4.0 AF-S and I'm a bit hesitant to invest in this expensive Olympus lens. Will I able to get a shots like this with om-d again?

  14. Great shots Robin! I'm planning for a safari trip this summer (with my EM1) and debating between the Oly 40-150 f2.8 and the Oly 300 f4. I wonder if the 150 (300 equivalent) is long enough for safari? Also, if I may ask, did you let your EM1 auto-select ISO in these shots? I assume you were setting aperture manually. Thanks in advance