My Learning Curve - Part 1

7. The Move to Olympus Micro Four Thirds System - Cameras Olympus EM1x and EM1MKIII

Left - Olympus EM1 MKIII, plus Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO Right - Olympus EX1x plus Olympus 300mm F4 IS PRO
Above - Left Olympus EM1 MKIII and Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, Right Olympus EM1x and Olympus 300mm F$ IS PRO, Both with MC14 Teleconverters

The Move From Canon to Olympus M43

In the following I detail my specific thoughts and reasoning for a change from Canon 7d MKII (1.6x crop sensor compared to full frame) to Olympus EM1x and EM1 MK III Micro Four Thirds (2x crop sensor) for wildlife photography.

During 2014 to 2019 I observed and investigated with interest the growing following for Mirrorless Cameras and Micro Four Thirds sensors with its inherent smaller size/weight, 2x crop advantage and significantly cheaper equipment.

At the start of this period sensor noise performance was not quite good enough from my perspective and there wasn’t the longer lens option easily available (600mm plus with good image quality), though image stabilisation was probably on a par.

However as the years passed these relative camera performance negatives reduced, and with no updates to the Canon 7d MKII, cameras like the EM1x and MKII, MKII surpassed the 7d MKII in almost all areas. The real key point of change for me was the introduction of the Olympus 300mm F4 IS Pro, giving full frame equivalent of 600mm F4 without extenders and 840mm f5.6 with MC14 extender and 1200mm F8 with MC20 extender. With stunning handheld image quality at 600mm, excellent handheld quality at 840mm and usable tripod image quality at 1200mm. Here was now a credible system to surpass my Canon 7d MKII and L Lenses system in terms of image quality, IS, transportability, affordability and weather protection. Along with the new Topaz labs AI processing tools for denoise and sharpening (and other similar Apps), plus hope of the introduction of their new flagship 150-400mm F4.5 with built in 1.25 extended, close focus capability and compatibility with MC14 and MC20 the decision to change became a no brainer so I took the plunge in early 2020.

I write this after 8 months of use and so far have not regretted the change to Olympus at anytime during this period in terms of system performance and use, but have felt some emotional guilt for want of a better word with my change having been a loyal Canon user for many years!

My thoughts and experiences are specifically related to the EM1x, but all comments equally apply to the EM1 MKIII, which I have used as a back up camera and when weight reduction is of primary importance.


Final processed image quality has always been my number one focus and Noise has always been a significant aspect here. I am always seeking to improve my images, but also have my own personal understanding of an image quality “Bar” that once reached is good enough but I will not go below.

Historically the Micro Four Thirds (M43) systems would not meet this bar from an ISO perspective. However with the EM1x I am comfortable up to ISO3200 (Vs Canon 7dMKII ISO1600).

My images are always captured in RAW with tailored denoise and sharpening during post processing, I must say that if it wasn’t for the current clutch of excellent denoise Apps I would not have made the move to M43 the RAW image noise before processing renders image quality quite a way below my Quality Bar at anything above ISO400, but once processed with the Topaz denoise app, surpasses my Quality Bar up to ISO3200. My online investigation indicates that if you shoot jpegs and let the camera denoise and sharpen the images then ISO3200 is still acceptable.

Being able to use ISO3200 as my own personal ISO limit has been a big help compared to the 7d MKII (ISO1600) enabling lower light shooting, higher F-stop (and so more transportable) lens use, and the option of faster shutter speeds for sharper handheld images.

I look forward to future Olympus improvements in ISO Noise performance.

Auto Focus, Manual Focus

The Olympus autofocus system is better than the Canon 7d MKII in all respects and across all above lenses. Increased autofocus points, speed and accuracy. Leading to more and better Keeper images and composition options.

The biggest bonus for me is all focus points being active, and still quick enough, regardless of either MC-14 or MC-20, with Canon once you got to F8 with a Lens Extender combination only the centre point worked and it would sometimes struggle.

I also read that the Olympus autofocus system works on different principles to Canon, and as such lenses do not need to be calibrated to gain maximum clarity – Bonus.

I haven’t been able to spend as much time with flight shots yet as I would like, but so far I feel the Olympus system is ahead of my old Canon setup.

Bokeh, Depth of Field

In my head I struggled with the thought of this aspect when changing. M43 having less Bokeh and greater depth of field for any given full frame setting.

However in practice I have not found it to be an issue (I take great care with backgrounds when I think about my images and ensure a big enough, clear distance behind subject) and in fact the increased depth of field for me is an advantage, especially with Insects and Birds, where in the Canon passed I would have liked a bit more depth but couldn’t due to lack of light or ISO options due to Noise.

Pixel Count/Density/Image Quality

Cropping – This is always a key aspect of wildlife photography - At 20+mp the Olympus system is “enough” from my perspective and gives a useful amount of cropping ability which is further enhanced by the Topaz AI upscaling App. The file sizes are also manageable on a reasonably up to date PC.

Image Quality – Noise aside, I also like the final processed image quality from the Olympus sensors.


It’s a simple, obvious fact that the M43 system is significantly more transportable than any other system and for most wildlife situations this benefit is huge:

- Reduced weight and size means less fatigue carrying and when using over prolonged periods
- Easier transportability in terms of size of camera bag especially when flying, your kit with a 600mm F4 full frame equivalent could all be taken as hand luggage giving substantial piece of mind
- Increased “motivation” to carry a long lens equivalent system for long periods and over difficult terrain leading to more and better image opportunities
- Ease of use, especially handheld, meaning more and better image opportunities due to being able to react quickly to any situation
- Excellent weather sealing

All above Olympus EM1x, Olympus 300mm F4 IS Pro Vs Canon 7d MKII, Canon 500mm F$ L IS plus 1.4 Extender

Olympus 300mm F4 IS PRO "in the hand"

Lens Options For Wildlife

The M43 system now has a full suite of exceptionally high image quality lenses in my opinion as good as or better than Canon L lenses!

With the release of their flagship 150-400 F4.5 in November 2020 and plans for at least a 200mm full frame equivalent macro lens there is no credible lens reason not to use M43.

From a wildlife perspective I have chosen the following PRO Olympus lenses and Teleconverters all with astounding build, image quality and weather resistance:

- Olympus 150-400mm f4.5 TC1.25 IS PRO – on order, delivery due Spring 2021
- Olympus 300mm F4 IS PRO
- Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
- Olympus 12-100mm F4 IS PRO
- One of - Olympus 2x Teleconverter MC-20
- Two of - Olympus 1.4x Teleconverter MC-14

Regarding use of Teleconverters (Canon speak Extenders) on the 300mm F4 and 40-150 F2.8, I find both the MC-14 and MC-20 slightly more usable than the Canon equivalents in terms of image quality sacrifice. I have absolutely no hesitation in using the MC-14 and in good light on a tripod am happy using the MC-20. This makes these lenses extremely versatile, a real value bonus.

Olympus 300mm F4 IS PRO

Olympus MC14, 1.4x Teleconverter

Olympus EM1X plus 300mm F4

Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

Olympus EM1X plus 40-150mm F2.8 and Olympus 300mm F4

Olympus MC20, 2x Teleconverter

Olympus 12-100mm F$ IS PRO

Olympus EM1X plus Olympus 12-100mm F4 Vs Olympus 40-150mm and Top Canon 24-70mm F2.8

Value For Money

Quality equipment capable of high quality images doesn’t (sadly) come cheap. That’s a fact of life.

I get a little agitated at times reading online comments from people bemoaning the cost of M43 pro level cameras and lenses. All I can say is, wake up and expand your horizons - Try buying similar full frame equivalent gear from Canon or Nikon.

I my book the M43 system is outstanding and absolutely unbeatable value for money when judged from any wildlife photography perspective.

There is also now a buoyant second hand market in the PRO level gear.

Camera Build Quality, Weatherproofing

I am no engineer, but find the Olympus EM1 build quality to be excellent easily on a par with and I think exceeding that of the Canon 7dMKII. Weatherproofing is also superior. These are important aspects for tough wildlife pro use.


I was very apprehensive of the Mirrorless move, but am now pleased to have adapted to it and now prefer it. The ability to see a more accurate rendition of you final image through the view finder particularly in terms of exposure is extremely useful.

Ease of Use

I found the move from Canon to Olympus relatively straight forward. I took time out to thoroughly read the manual provided and also viewed a number of reliable internet videos and sites. Then decided on my day to day wildlife walk about settings and small tweaks for flight photography – detailed below.

My only niggling issue with M43 has been battery life, if using the EM1x for the day I need to take 2 spares with me to feel comfortable in not running out of juice (I.e. I only ever leave the house for the day with 4 batteries, 2 in the camera and 2 in my pocket). I assume this is due to The Mirrorless system and therefore need to power the viewer.

Olympus EM1X plus Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO and Neoprene Covers

Left - Olympus EM1 MKIII plus 40-150mm F2.8. Right - Olympus EM1x plus 300mm F4

My Current Olympus EM1x Default Wildlife "General Walkabout" Settings and Tweaks For "Non Routine Situations" e.g. Flight Shots

“From the Top” of the EM1x menu these are my current settings (which may change with experience), but are probably a valid starting point for other wildlife photographers.

In all settings my key driver is end processed image quality.

Picture Mode – 3 Natural
Image aspect - 4:3
Digital Tele-converter – Off
Shutter – Electronic L (if no Noise is critical) or L
Interval – Off
Bracketing – Off
HDR – Off
Multiple Exposure – Off
Keystone – Off
Anti- shock – 0 sec
Silent – 0 sec
Noise reduction – Off
Silent Mode – Not allow
AF illuminated – Allow
Flash Mode – Allow
High Res shot – 0 Sec
Charge Time – 0 Sec
Shooting Method – Tripod
Live ND Shooting – Off
I don’t use Video so ignore this menu selection
Playback – Screen rotation icon
AF Mode – C-AF
AF+MF – Off (I like the MF to be off unless Tweaked, due to accidental engagement which causes me more of an issue than occasionally needing it)
AEL/AFL – S3/C4/M3
AF Scanner – Mode 3
C-AF Sensitivity - +2
C-AF Centre Start – Blank (Tweaked for flight shots)
C-AF Center Priority – Blank (Tweaked for flight shots)
Mode Settings – All to 5x5 options ticked
AF Area Pointer – ON1
AF Targeting Pad – Off
Set Home – AF Mode MF, tick AF Target Mode, tick AF Target Point
Select Screen Settings – Set 1
Target Mode Settings – C1
Orientation Linked – no options ticked
AF Limiter – Off
AF Illuminator – On
Face Priority – Off
Tracking Subject – Off (I have not yet loaded the Bird Detection update.When loaded I would probably use this in Tweak mode, on the occasions where I’m not physically quick enough to keep the selected focus point on the birds eye/head).
AF Focus adj. – Off
Preset MF distance – default 999
MF Assist – Magnify and Peaking -Off
MF Clutch – Operative
Focus Ring – Default counter clockwise
Bulb/Time Focusing – Off
Reser Lens – On
All B2 setting as default
S-AF Priority – Off
C-AF Priority – Off
Frame L Settings – Manual shutter 10 FPS, Electronic shutter 18 FPS, both frame count limiter Off
Frame H Settings – Manual 15 FPS, Electronic 60 FPS, both frame count limited Off
Flicker Reduction – Auto, Anti-flicker Off
IS -S-IS Auto
IS – IS Priority
Halfway Rls IS – On
Lens IS Priority – Off
D1 to J3 All Default except the following
D3 – Grid Settings – all box type selected
D4 – Sound – Off
E2 – Noise filter Off, Noise Reduction Off
G – Colour space – sRGB
J2 – Sleep 1min, Auto Power Off 4h, quick sleep Mode Off
J3 – Record GPS Off