High ISO Heron In-Flight

This article features a small selection high ISO heron in-flight images. As regular readers will know, I often push my camera gear past what can reasonably be expected, simply to see what will happen.

As we all appreciate, photographers who regularly capture images of birds in flight under very dark conditions would choose a larger sensor camera with an excellent auto-focusing system.

The intent of this article is not to suggest in any way that a M4/3 camera is designed for this type of photographic challenge. It isn’t. Photographing action under low light is about the toughest challenge that we can give a smaller sensor camera.

These photographs were captured handheld at 6:18 AM in the morning on September 14th… or as I like to call this time of day… “dark o’clock”.

All of the images were significantly underexposed, even when captured at ISO-6400. Obviously this is not something that any sane person would do with a small M4/3 sensor camera, and expect to get usable photographs.

I had two objectives with this early morning test. The first was to see how the continuous auto-focus on my E-M1X would perform under these extreme low light conditions. The second objective was to test whether there was any hope of recovering the photographs into any semblance of a usable state.

If you check the EXIF data you’ll see that I used a shutter speed of 1/1600 and an aperture of f/5.6. My E-M1X was fitted with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter. All of the photographs were captured with the lens/teleconverter combination fully extended to 300 mm, or an equivalent field-of-view of 600 mm.

Let’s have a look at our “dark o’clock” images and my attempts at recovery. Here’s our first out-of-camera jpeg.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400, out-of-camera jpeg

Below is a jpeg made from the corresponding RAW file. I should mention that I purchased DxO PhotoLab 4 today and this was my first attempt integrating this software into my regular work flow, including its new “deep PRIME” noise reduction. I also use Topaz Denoise AI at the end of my process.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400

The first thing that we can see is that the continuous auto-focus on my OM-D E-M1X did a pretty good job acquiring focus under difficult conditions. As can be expected, the recovered file suffers from a significant loss of details.

Probably a 9″ x 12″ print would be about the most that anyone would attempt from this recovered file… and even that may be a stretch for some people. Actually, I’m somewhat surprised that the image recovery went even this well.

Let’s have a look at the next two “dark o’clock” out-of-camera jpeg images and the recovery attempts from the corresponding RAW files.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400, out-of-camera jpeg
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400, out-of-camera jpeg
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-6400, out-of-camera jpeg

If a photographer was faced with the challenge of capturing a rare bird in-flight under ‘dark o’clock’ conditions with a M4/3 camera, the resulting photographs could be expected to be good enough for species recognition, and perhaps a small print.

All things considered, this isn’t a bad outcome. Given all of the other benefits of using M4/3 Olympus camera gear I won’t be running out to buy additional camera gear to handle this type of situation.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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2 thoughts on “High ISO Heron In-Flight”

  1. Impressive low-light captures, Tom !

    Am I correct to understand that the combination of your F/2.8 MZ lens and the MC-20 Teleconverter meant that the max. aperture of this combo is 2×2.8 = 5.6 … and that’s why you had no choice but to shoot at F/5.6 ?

    John TKA

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