|Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO (@284mm equiv.)
Professional wildlife photographer and Olympus Visionary Scott Bourne is one of the best-known names in bird photography. In this interview, he explains how he got started, why he made the switch from DSLRs to Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses, and what he thinks of the new M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO lens.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and flow.
What’s your background?
I’ve been a photographer all my life. I started specializing in birds and wildlife about 25 years ago. But I’ve done every kind of photography; I started with motorsports, then I jumped into portraits and weddings, and then wildlife. I’ve always loved wildlife, and I’ve always been a birder. I just didn’t think ever in my mind that anyone would pay me for bird photographs! The more narrow your niche, the more successful you can be.
From motorsports to wildlife seems like a big shift: are there any similarities?
That background was extremely useful because in both cases, you’re shooting fast-moving objects. The only difference is that cars can’t fly yet. You still need to understand light, composition, shadows, aperture and exposure. All the things you learn for any kind of photography, it can all be applied to something else.
|Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO (@300mm equiv.)
What drew you to the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system originally?
I had several DSLRs at the time, and I had more than $100,000 invested in that gear, including all the big long primes, the 600mm and the 800mm and all that. And it was just too heavy. I couldn’t do it anymore, spending days standing with those big lenses and a giant gimbal head.
I had used Olympus gear for fun, for several years, but then I read an article about the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and went down to my local camera store and bought one. I immediately started working with it, I did some tests, found that the Olympus lenses were at least as sharp or sharper than what I had been using, so I sold all my old gear and that was that.
What’s your normal go-to lens for wildlife work?
My standard long lens was the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 IS PRO, until this new 150-400mm PRO came out. With the 300mm and the M.Zuiko 2x teleconverter, all the focus points are still active, and it’s still sharp, and that got me out to the equivalent of 1200mm. Now if you’re a bird photographer, you’re shooting small objects that don’t want to be anywhere near you, and they can fly. So you can never have too much focal length!
|The Olympus M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO joins a wide range of other fast and weathersealed high-end lenses for M43. Covering an equivalent focal length range of 300-800mm, with an internal teleconverter increasing the maximum reach to 1200mm, the 150-400mm offers a highly versatile zoom range for wildlife and action photography.
When did you start using the new 150-400mm PRO?
I was hired last fall to do some initial tests on the new lens, before it even had final firmware. I think I had one of only three in the world. I had it for about 18 days and unfortunately that was during the historic fire season that we had up here in the Northwest. So I was working in really horrible conditions, trying to get birds that really didn’t want to come out because of the smoke. Olympus needed pictures that they wanted for the global campaign, so I had some very specific shots that I wanted to get.
|Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur)Olympus OM-D E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO (@440mm equiv.)
What excited you about it?
I’ve known that this lens was coming for a long time. And when I first heard about it, it blew my mind. It seemed so ambitious, I remember thinking I didn’t know how they were going to pull it off. I mean, to make a lens that covers an equivalent focal length of 300-800mm at F4.5, and stay sharp, and be compact, and reasonably priced… and – oh yeah – there’s an internal teleconverter in it?
What really blew me away was the speed of the autofocus, and the stabilization
When I got it into my hands and saw how compact and lightweight it is, I was shocked. What really blew me away was the speed of the autofocus, and the image stabilization, with the lens and the camera working together. At 2000mm effective focal length, I can handhold shots at 1/180 sec and it’s sharp. That impressed me.
|Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 PRO + MC-14 teleconverter (@910mm equiv.)
What kind of creative possibilities does this lens open up for you?
I love the 300mm F4 PRO, it’s a great lens. But it’s a fixed focal length. One of the problems you have with bird photography, especially if you’re not used to working with long focal lengths, is you’ll have trouble acquiring the subject. The beauty of this lens is you can start at 300mm, then zoom in. So it’s a lot easier to start with.
I have so much reach with this lens. I was really worried that the internal teleconverter would be sort of a gimmick, but it works great
The second thing is that with the stabilization being so rock-solid, at most I just use a monopod with this lens. In the past, with a DSLR and an 800mm, I had to be on a gimbal with a very sturdy tripod. And that’s a lot of weight, just for the support gear. This lens is so much lighter I can just sling it over my shoulder and if I see something, I can get a shot really quickly. I have so much reach with this lens. I was really worried that the internal teleconverter would be sort of a gimmick, but it isn’t: it works great. So it gives you so many options.
|Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo)Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO (@1400mm equiv.)
What kind of gear would you recommend as a starter kit for bird photography?
The M.Zuiko 100-400mm IS is a spectacular lens. It’s very sharp and very contrasty. I’d recommend that, plus an OM-D E-M1 Mark III or Mark II.
What would you like to see next in the OM-D system?
Well, they’ve already got what I call ‘time travel’ technology with the Pro Capture feature. When I learned how to use that, it blew my mind.
I was sitting next to a bunch of guys with DSLRs once and we were all trying to photograph Northern Cardinals. They’re just about the fastest bird in the world, off the perch. I don’t care how good you are as an ornithologist – and I’m pretty good! You can’t predict when they’re going to jump up from the perch, and it’s just good luck if you’re fast enough to get it. With Pro Capture I can just keep my finger held halfway down on the shutter button [which continuously buffers images without saving them to the card] and boom!
When I learned how to use the Pro Capture mode, it blew my mind
Last year I got a full wingspread shot of a Cardinal, looking right at me. It’s the shot of a lifetime, and it wouldn’t have been possible without that technology. I’d also like to see the AI-based autofocus technology in the E-M1X continue to be developed, and autofocus speed and accuracy continue to be improved. I also want to see more long, fast pro lenses.
|Scott Bourne, ASINWP, is an Olympus Visionary and a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds.Check out more of Scott’s work at his website: scottbourne.com