I have not yet had too much opportunity to enjoy or put my new Olympus gear to the test, after switching from Nikon to Olympus at the end of January. With appalling weather in February and the world health coronavirus crisis and lockdown since…time spent behind the camera has been minimal. Plans are afoot to resurrect my garden hide set up before species other than House Sparrow and Starting start to move through as well as concentrate on more macro work in the short term at least. In the meantime, I’ve just been looking back at a couple of pre-lockdown Olympus sessions out into field on Shetland. The first early opportunity was on the westside of mainland Shetland, where, after a couple of failed attempts at approaching a very nervous Mountain Hare, I found another more confiding individual. Mountain Hare in early spring are still white, beacons against the harsh browns and dark peatlands of rural Shetland which rarely has any serious snowfall so little need for white camouflage ( or indeed any camouflage as predators are few and far between here). Given the culls of Mountain Hare on mainland UK, I think Shetland’s populations are probably the luckiest in Britain.

The upright-hoping-she-can’t-see-me approach, before settling a little lower in the heather. My first ever wildlife shot using the Olympus E-M1X with 300mm pro f4 lens & x1.4 converter hand-held. The conditions weren’t great, but I took this at ISO 640 at 1/400sec, f5.6. My initial thoughts I remember were being delighted to be able to take shots with such a lightweight set up which enabled me to nimbly move across boggy peatland to approach my subject. The set up actually felt almost toy like to hold and shoot with after lugging around my Nikon DSLR for so many years.
What a beauty…. The other immediate benefit was that I could so easily feel confident in my manual exposures (I always shoot manual) in a situation which was a little tricky with a white subject on a dark background. The ability to look through the lens and visibly watch my exposure changes and tweaks on the image in front of me – in LIVE exposure meant that when I took a shot – what I saw is exactly what I got – no need to check after or worry about over exposure (EVF).  The resultant image was as I had seen it when I took it. What a benefit.
The level of detail was astounding I thought at ISO 640 and with the 1.4 converter…..here is a similar shot to the image above but at 100%.

The changing topography of my approach to the hare meant that actually I ended up a little closer than I had intended to achieve a clean shot. In hindsight I’d have removed the 1.4 converter and given my fury subject a little more space – but in this instance I took what I could in the given opportunity. Mountain Hare are numerous and often approachable on Shetland. I can’t wait to go to a few of my hare hotspots after the lockdown finishes.

One of my first trips out with my new Olympus set up, I enthusiastically headed to the harbour in probably the worst weather conditions for some time, constant half light & drizzle. Well what better way than to dive straight into difficult photographic conditions with totaly new gear – it’s going to be a steep learning curve but I’ll start at the deep end. The seabirds I had been hoping to see weren’t around, but opportunistically, a trawler had just come into shelter from the stormy weather and a number of seals gathered around the boat, heads straining above the choppy waters….my first photo victims.

Atlantic Grey Seal  – Olympus 300mm prime f.4 pro lens. ISO 800, f5.6, 160/sec

First impressions were good, the auto-focus was fast & locked on to the seals quickly considering the movement of the water. I found ISO 800 my preferable limit before noise began to show too much and quality possibly began to be compromised. At this early session I was hesitant to hand-hold with low speeds, settling for  1/160 sec to try and freeze the seal in the relatively fluid, wild weather  – most shots of the seals at 100% did seem surprisingly sharp given the low shutter speed and low depth of field.

A regular Lerwick scene but gulls are a great way of practising various exposures and modes with new gear. If there is a sniff of bread, gulls often flock around the car and ‘hang out’ giving plenty of stationary subjects to practise on. ISO 800 f/5.6 1/100sec Olympus E-M1X with 300mm hand held.
Atlantic Grey Seal in choppy waters and low light – good results though a little grainy at 100%. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, f5.6.
ISO 1600, 1/320sec, f5.0. I love birds against ships, for the urban wildlife/natural abstract quality. Here the deep red ship worked well though at ISO 1600 there was notable grain with such a dark, one coloured, saturated background.
Taking an exposure reading from the bow of the ship. I was so impressed with the quality of the initial bright, pin sharp shots. Here an easy subject which didn’t move. ISO 1600, 1/400sec, f/5.6.

Most of my images are taken using continuous autofocus (C-AF) mode as a lot of the time I am working with birds, which are notoriously difficult to photograph as so often on the move, so a good, fast continuous AF is a real advantage to the bird photographer. Also, with so many of my images now take from a boat in the summer months and from the shore (or car!) of birds on the sea in the winter months, even slow birds are continuously moving on water, so also cry out for a good C-AF mode. Although early days, I have so far found the Olympus E-M1X coupled with 300mm f4 pro lens to be incredibly fast both with the initial lock on the subject and the subsequent tracking and focusing, getting a much higher hit rate than I had previously been used to with my DSLR.

A few days later whilst experimenting in the harbour, photographing swimming tysties (black guillemots) and dunters (Common Eider) flocks feeding close to shore, I started using a new mode which immediately grabbed by attention = the continuous autofocus tracking or CAF+TR. I was perhaps reluctant at first, having been dabbling and gaining confidence with fine results in the basic C-AF mode alongside enjoying the little AF joysticks to quickly alter my focal point and position of the bird in each frame. However I was really pleasantly surprised at the fast focus and continued tracking obtained in this new mode and the high percentage of good, sharp imagery.

Common Eider, a flock of males moving briskly through harbour waters 1/500 sec, f/7.1, ISO 800 C-AF mode hand-held.
A smart male Common Eider taken using the CAF+TR mode.. ISO 500, f/6.3 1/400sec. This mode was quick to hit onto the subject and continually track it in focus (for 80% + of the 10 shots taken) as it moved across the water at some speed.
This black guillemot was busy feeding close to shore. 1/320 sec, f/7.1, ISO1600 C-AF mode, hand-held.
Good detail obtained with fine droplet of water on the black guillemots back and tail even at ISO 1600. Image enlarged to 200%.
Poor weather conditions, a little wing blur but perfectly sharp head and body. Olympus E-M1X, 300mm ISO 800, 1/320 sec f/7.1