Photographing Red Winged Blackbird with Olympus OM-D E-M1X

I spent a few hours on Saturday photographing birds. This article features a small selection of images of a red winged blackbird captured hand-held with an Olympus OM-D E-M1X, fitted with an M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4X teleconverter.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-4000

One of the challenges when photographing red winged blackbirds is trying to get some light on the bird’s head at the correct angle to highlight its eye.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/4.5, 1/1250, ISO-5000

Red winged blackbirds are fairly quick flyers and often fly low over water and plants. This can make acquiring focus on them difficult.

I had the opportunity to test the continuous auto-focus with tracking on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with these birds.

I noticed a blackbird quickly approaching. It was flying directly at me, which is always an interesting test for a camera’s auto-focusing system.

Since I am an absolute novice using the Olympus OM-D E-M1X some of the misses that I have been getting are likely more due to operator error, than an issue with the camera.

I captured a total of 15 images in my AF-C run, getting decent focus with 5 images in the middle of the run. The next two images are the fifth and ninth in the series.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-4000
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-4000

While getting 5 images out of 15 doesn’t sound great… I know from experience that I would have missed these photographs completely with my Nikon 1 V3. I typically pre-focus my Nikon 1 gear to help increase the percentage of keepers I can get with the equipment. There was no time to pre-focus for any of the birds-in-flight photographs used in this article.

The final image in this short article is a result of a ‘wheel around and shoot’ opportunity. I noticed something flying low to my left and wheeled around as I brought the OM-D E-M1X up to my eye. All I had time to do was quickly frame the blackbird and fire off a very short AF-C run.

I was able to hit on the first two images out of six captured. Again, not a great percentage but I would have missed completely with my Nikon 1 V3, so I was actually pretty pleased.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter @ 125 mm, efov 250 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-800

It should be noted that the light was quite poor… basically grey and overcast. The blackbird in the last image in the article was flying over some still water. The grey background in the image is a reflection of the colour of the sky.

The lighting likely had an impact on auto-focusing performance. It certainly does with my Nikon 1 gear. When viewing these images it is good to remember that these are straight out-of-camera jpegs using default settings, and with no cropping done to them.

I definitely need to review all of the shooting modes and auto-focus settings of the OM-D E-M1X in more detail so I can better utilize them in the future. More experimentation in the field to build my skills with this camera is also needed. My very early impressions of the AF-C with tracking capability of the OM-D E-M1X are positive.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All photographs displayed in this article are straight-out-of-camera jpegs without any cropping, or adjustments in post, done to them. They were resized to 1200 pixels for web use.

Use of Olympus Loaner Equipment
All of the photographs in this article were captured using Olympus Loaner Gear which was supplied by Olympus Americas Inc. on a no-charge basis. We are under no obligation what-so-ever to Olympus Americas Inc. in terms of our use of this loaner Olympus camera equipment. There is no expectation or agreement of any kind with Olympus Americas Inc. that we will create and share with readers any images, articles or videos, or on what that content may be.

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. If you like our website please let your friends and associates know about our work. Linking to this site or to specific articles is allowed with proper acknowledgement. Reproducing articles, or any of the images contained in them, on another website or in any social media posting is a Copyright infringement.

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to support my work, you can purchase an eBook, or make a modest $10 donation through PayPal. Both are most appreciated. You can use the Donate button below. Larger donations can be made to through PayPal.

As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store.

Article and all images are Copyright 2019 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

6 thoughts on “Photographing Red Winged Blackbird with Olympus OM-D E-M1X”

  1. The last image is superb. Even when they fly on a parallel course, mid-sized birds are difficult subjects. I agree, the Nikon V3 would probably fail in such a situation. Well done!

    The closest bet in the N1 might be a Sigma ART 135mm F1.8, on FT1, efov 365mm. Preferably with a V2 in AF-A mode, profiting from the empty background. Even then I have doubts, as the N1 autofocus is less reliable with black birds.

    Good luck with the myriad of possible settings. In Olympus fora some folks claim you need two different settings for BIF against a clear sky and BIF with cluttered background. Oh my.

    1. Hi Stefan,

      The E-M1X does seem to perform quite differently against a cluttered background vs. a clear sky. I plan on getting some technical advice direct from Olympus on the myriad of AF settings with their cameras.


  2. Tom,

    Really nice set of the Red Winged Blackbird.
    Especially love the 9th and the last one in the post — the red accent on the wings really stood out from the black. I mean, nevermind the grey conditions in the last shot, the frozen action is incredible.

    No doubt you’ll get more keepers with a bit more camera time with the Olympus and will look forward for more birding images.


    1. Hi Oggie,

      In order to get the highest percentage of keepers possible, I make it a habit to keep my Nikon 1 V3/1 Nikkor 70-300 mm combination pre-focused as I scope out incoming birds-in-flight. In most cases I’m finding that I don’t need to pre-focus the OM-D E-M1X. The three bird-in-flight images in this article were done without any time to pre-focus the gear.

      In the last image of the article, the blackbird was actually flying over some still water, which gives you a good idea of how overcast the conditions were.


      1. Tom,

        Oh, that was the grey sky reflection. I thought it was the sky itself 😀 But marvelous capture I must say. Fantastic that the Olympus OM-D E-M1X can turn up shots like that without much need for pre-focusing, though of course much of the credit will also have to go to the user 🙂


        1. Hi Oggie,

          There was no time for any pre-focusing. No credit to the user in this case… I just turned, quickly framed and pressed the shutter… the camera did the rest!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *