M4/3 Birding Lens Choice

This article discusses my M4/3 birding lens choice, specifically the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-3200, subject distance 2.3 metres

I have received some emails asking if I had considered the Panasonic 100-400 mm f/4-6.3 for birding. The short answer is no. I didn’t see that lens as a good fit for my business needs.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-6400, subject distance 3.7 metres

Being a variable aperture zoom, the Panasonic 100-400 mm f/4-6.3 is a dedicated nature lens that is too slow to be serviceable for my industrial video business. It also does not provide enough flexibility for my other needs. All things considered, the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with the MC-20 teleconverter was a much more flexible and practical choice for me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-6400, subject distance 1.3 metres

The M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8, when combined with the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 f/2.8 zooms, provides excellent focal length coverage. It is fast enough for my typical industrial video needs.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-3200, subject distance 1.5 metres

The MC-20 teleconverter is an excellent piece of gear and does a wonderful job adding flexibility to the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 as a birding lens combination. The equivalent field-of-view with this combination is 160 mm to 600 mm at f/5.6. While some additional reach would have been preferred, this combination is quite serviceable. Additionally, there are times when a shorter length, faster aperture zoom lens comes in handy for bird photography. This was another reason that I did not consider the Panasonic 100-400 mm f/4-6.3 zoom.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-2000, subject distance 3 metres

The M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 is a superb lens. Adding the MC-20 teleconverter has almost no impact on sharpness. I haven’t noticed any issues with auto-focusing speed or accuracy.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/50, ISO-800, subject distance 3.5 metres

Since I don’t like using prime lenses for still photography, I had no interest in the M.Zuiko PRO 300 mm f/4. I know some folks who own this lens and rave about it. I love to get in close and personal for much of my bird photography and the M.Zuiko PRO 300 mm f/4 just doesn’t offer the flexibility I want. Plus, I would have no use for it at all with my industrial video business. So… it is not a good fit for me.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-6400, subject distance 3 metres

As a M4/3 birding lens choice, the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and MC-20 teleconverter combination has the added benefit of being relatively small and light. I can keep it in a mid-sized shoulder bag with my other Olympus gear and have a lot of flexibility and portability with a total weight of about 4 KG.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-6400, subject distance 1.5 metres

There are some lenses on the horizon that could add more potential selection to a photographer’s M4/3 birding lens choice. The M.Zuiko 150-400 mm f/4.5 TC1.25 IS PRO zoom is supposed to be introduced in 2020. It will likely be a significant investment, but would represent a very powerful professional level nature zoom lens. Combined with the MC-20 it would offer an equivalent field-of-view of 2000 mm in a hand-held package.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 170 mm, efov 340 mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-1000, subject distance 1.3 metres

The Olympus Lens Road Map is also showing an M.Zuiko 100-400 mm consumer lens. This will likely be a variable aperture lens that would directly compete with the Panasonic 100-400 mm zoom. So… some interesting things to potentially look for down the road on the M4/3 birding lens choice front.

I still plan on using my Nikon 1 V-Series cameras with the 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. It is a great, lightweight kit that provides an equivalent field-of-view of 189 mm to 810 mm. So a variable aperture zoom with a similar equivalent field-of-view (e.g. Panasonic 100-400 mm f/4-6.3) is not of much interest to me on a personal basis.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1000, -0.7 step

Most of the images in this article are new captures I did recently at Bird Kingdom. You can check out other birding images by looking through the micro four thirds sensor category on this website. You’ll find various bird photography articles including those utilizing the E-M1X Pro Capture H mode.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 120 mm, efov 240 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 2.8 metres

Many of the birds-in-flight photographs you’ll see were captured at more typical birding distances. All were l were taken with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom. In terms of teleconverter use, older images were likely done with the MC-14 teleconverter. All newer photographs would have been captured using the MC-20 . If a photographer was planning to buy only one M.Zuiko teleconverter, the MC-20 would be my suggestion. I have no plans to buy the MC-14.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250, -0.7 step

In the future I may add more reach for my M4/3 bird photography depending on what new lenses become available. Until then I am quite happy with the performance of my current M4/3 birding lens choice.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko M20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO-1250, subject distance 39.8 metres

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10 thoughts on “M4/3 Birding Lens Choice”

  1. I noticed on one of your other articles you’re now using the Olympus 100-400 for birding. I am trying to find the right lens fit for me. The 100-400 is large and heavy for someone with small hands who is not used to telephoto wildlife capture (I have a lot of photography experience but more with wide angles and small prime lenses). And am keen to do bird and wildlife photography. I have tried the 75-300 lens but can’t get on with it and not particularly happy with it generally. And noticed many of my recent bird shots were at 120 to 200 range so far. So I was considering the 40-150 F2.8 with the tc option as per your article above. However, having seen you now use the Olympus 100-400, would you say that lens is very much better for the job? Difficult decisions. For either lens I would no doubt need to use a tripod due to the weight handheld (steadiness). I like the idea of the smaller 40-150 but may find the lack of reach frustrating possibly. I can understand why, if you have the Olympus 100-400 you would use that in preference, but do you still recommend the 40-150 with tc for bird photography?

    1. Hi Stella,

      Deciding between the three lenses noted in your comment can be difficult as each brings different considerations with it. Before investing in another telephoto zoom lens I’d suggest examining your experience with the 75-300 II. Other than stating you are not particularly happy with the lens, there’s not a lot of information about your specific concerns with it. My wife owns the 75-300 mm II version and she finds that it meets her needs. I’ve used it a few times and find that it can produce some pretty good images, especially when shot in good light. Not sure if you have the original 75-300 or the updated version. Also, you haven’t indicated what camera body you are using, along with shutter speeds, auto-focusing choices etc. These factors can impact the results you are getting with your current 75-300. Personally I wouldn’t invest more money in another telephoto lens until I was satisfied that I was getting the most I could get out of the 75-300 II.

      I know that some folks with the 75-300 II will stop it down slightly to f/7.1 or f/8 to help a bit with image sharpness when the lens is used fully extended. I’ve not found the need to do that with our copy of the 75-300 II. I do process RAW files which give me more latitude than shooting in jpegs.

      In my experience the 75-300 II is a good choice for folks who want a small, light and affordable telephoto option. Again, I’ve not had any issues with our copy of that lens. We use E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X bodies.

      The M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8 is my favourite lens due to its excellent optics and overall flexibility. I found that the lens performed extremely well with the MC-20 teleconverter providing an efov of 600 mm at f/5.6. It also performs well with the MC-14 and also with extension tubes for close up photography. Of the three lenses you mentioned the PRO 40-150 is the strongest from an optical performance standpoint. If you can make do with an efov reach of 600 mm, it is a good choice to use with the MC-20. It provides the added bonus of a smaller size/weight than the 100-400, and also has a short minimum focusing distance which comes in very handy for flower and insect photography. The PRO 40-150 f/2.8 can be a good lens to photograph events when a photographer wants to be more discreet.

      The 100-400 is a great lens that is my everyday birding lens. It is heavier than the other options you mentioned so you’ll need to consider the trade off of additional reach vs extra weight. The main reason that I bought and use the 100-400 as my main birding lens is its compatibility with M.Zuiko teleconverters. If this lens did not take teleconverters I would have stayed with the PRO 40-150 f/2.8/MC-20 combination. As long as I have enough light I almost always shoot my 100-400 with the MC-14 teleconverter and I regularly shoot handheld at 1120 mm efov at f/9. Losing 2 stops of light with the MC-20 reduces the practical use of that teleconverter with the 100-400 as f/13 along with a reasonably fast shutter speed is needed. Keep in mind that using a teleconverter come with a loss of light penalty, and it also reduces IBIS effectiveness.

      Not sure if this reply has been helpful or not. I try to resist giving specific recommendations on camera gear since I can never understand the exact needs that someone else may have for their photography.

      Tom

    1. Hi Mirko,

      I save all of my image files in Windows Explorer. After I process them in my various photo software programs and refile my work in Windows Explorer the subject distance will often shown when I right click on an image and look under the Properties tab. This doesn’t work for all of my cameras. For example this information displays for my old Nikon D800 files, but never displays with my Nikon 1 gear. Subject distance information does show for my Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

      Tom

  2. Dear Thomas

    Thank you for the excellent work on your excellent site.

    I was wondering if I can get your input on a query. I use my EM5 mark III with the 40-150 and MC20. In SAF mode for subjecte that aren’t really moving, I get terrific results but whenever I use CAF mode, I can’t seem to get sharp results even for relatively slow things like large airliners. I was wondering if you encountered this and have any tips to deal with it.

    I typically use CAF, 9 or 25 point focus, Lo sequential, mechanical shutter, auto ISO max 1600 and shutter around 1/1600.

    When I use just the bare lens with the same settings the autofocus works fine even on fast dogs and birds. But I just can’t seem to get the combo to perform when the Mc20 is on.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Adam,

      You have me at a disadvantage as I have never used the E-M5 Mark III… plus with only about 7-8 months experience using Olympus gear I’m still a bit green when it comes to troubleshooting. I haven’t had any issues whatsoever when using my M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 with the MC-20 teleconverter regardless of my AF settings, shooting modes or ISO settings. All of my experience is with the E-M1X.

      You can check to see if you have updated the firmware for your E-M5 Mark III, M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 PRO f/2.8 lens and for the MC-20 teleconverter. If all have not been updated properly, you may only have a partial firmware update. If my memory serves, the PRO 40-150 zoom firmware needs to be updated before the MC-20. If they are done out of order only a partial firmware update may occur. It may not be a bad idea to update all of your firmware, making sure to do the PRO 40-150 zoom before the MC-20.

      Once that is done, if the problem continues you may want to change your settings. Perhaps by using a single AF point and using auto ISO-6400 to see what happens. A shutter speed of 1/1600 should be fast enough for slower moving airplanes. Sorry that I could not offer more suggestions.

      Tom

  3. I know you like zooms, but I very highly recommend the incredible Zuiko Digital 150mm ƒ/2, which with the EC-20 teleconverter, gives you 300mm ƒ/4.

    The outstanding Zuiko Digital 35-100mm ƒ/2 zoom is perhaps a bit short for you, but it yields 70-200mm ƒ/4 with the MC-20.

    I know you like autofocus (as well as zooms!) but I’m having a great time with the Olympus OM Zuiko 350mm ƒ/2.8, which with the 1.4X-A teleconverter, gives you 500mm ƒ/4. You can’t really shoot this beast hand-held, but I’ve finally discovered a use for a monopod — IBIS does the rest!

    http://www.bytesmiths.com/Personal/pix/Heron%20Copy.jpg

    What can I say? I’m just a huge fan of outstanding legacy glass!

    1. Hi Jan,

      Thanks for sharing your perspectives and experience with some of the M.Zuiko legacy lenses! I’m a newcomer to the Olympus brand so I am sadly lacking when it comes to knowledge and experience with older lenses. When I was doing my original research on the Olympus camera brand it became apparent that the company has a long history of innovative, quality products.

      Your comment made me wonder what the 350 mm f/2.8 would be like when combined with the MC-20 teleconverter.

      Tom

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