My Family Vacation “Secret Weapon” Lens By Michael James Murray

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My Family Vacation “Secret Weapon” Lens

By Michael James Murray

You can follow me on Instagram @wellframed

Some photographic tools wow you for a couple of weeks or months but eventually migrate to the back of your camera chest, leaving you queasy about the substantial investment you made (FE 35mm f1.4 and Olympus PEN F, I’m looking at you…). In my experience this phenomenon has more to do with the fact that the tool just doesn’t fit the needs or proclivities of the photographer, than it has to do with the quality of the tool. Then there are other tools that become your closest friends, your go-to wingmen that you wouldn’t even consider leaving at home before heading off for a grand photographic adventure. For me, one such friend is the Olympus 300 f4 Pro. It is not only extremely good at its intended purpose, it also opens up an entire new realm of photography family vacation wildlife photography.

I love to take trips with my wife and two kids. These days all of my good shooting happens on these trips as I’m just too busy at home between being a dad and a professional to get out into the field that often. I love wildlife photography. I cut my teeth on wildlife while living in Alaska for a couple of years. Back then I shot with large, white Canon telephoto lenses. There is no way I could lug that kind of gear around now. The family Sherpa (me) would surely quit in protest.

A fantastic and elegant solution to this problem is the Oly 300. It fits in my large shoulder bag along with the EM-1 AND a Sony Alpha full frame kit. I can also stuff a laptop in there if I need to work during the trip. With this setup I am fully geared to shoot portraits, landscapes and wildlife.

On a recent trip to Iceland I was able to nab the photo above of an Atlantic Puffin with a beak full of eels. The level of sharpness of this lens is truly impressive. Check out this photo on my Instagram gallery to zoom in for the fine details (@wellframed). The resolution in concert with the dual IS gives me supreme confidence that I can nail the shot. The size and weight (same as any 300mm f4) allows me to always have it my bag.

puffin shot close up

The contrast and color is just gorgeous. Also remember that with the 2X crop factor on the Olympus system you are shooting with an equivalent 600f4 in terms of telephoto reach. Yes, the depth of field is not as shallow as a true 600f4, but, in my opinion, for wildlife this is a benefit as I’d prefer to have the whole head of the animal in focus and not just one eye as you might with a human subject.

Earlier in the year we visited Bermuda on a couples getaway. Even though the principal aim was to lounge on the beach and mo-ped around that charming isle, I brought the Oly 300 along (because why not, it fits in the bag). Little did I know that yellow crowned night herons stroll the beaches of Bermuda in the mornings. I love herons and I would have missed out on this great heron opportunity if I hadn’t brought the Oly along.

Heron

Another great advantage of the relatively small footprint of this rig is that I can leave it on the kitchen counter at home without my wife getting annoyed. When colorful critters come to visit our feeders I can grab and shoot before the moment is gone.

Hummingbird

When I travel with my family, the portrait, landscape and street photography opportunities are fun, but I find that bringing back dramatic wildlife images really wow friends and family and put a huge smile on own my face. Here are a couple more samples from the mighty Oly 300.

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20 Comments

  1. Michael,

    Really lovely photos, especially the first one.. I never use a 300mm prime lens. I always think a long range prime doesn’t give me the flexibility to frame and compose the photo. Any thought on this?

    And have you ever thought about giving the new Panasonic 50-200mm f2.8-4 a try? It can pair with a 1.4x TC and still at f5.6. Seems like a great compromise and it is even lighter.

    • Great question, Derrick. I have the Oly 80-150 f2.8 as well and I have to say it has fallen out of my rotation (although it’s IQ is fantastic). In my experience, unless you go to a place like the Galapagos where you can just walk up to the animals (so I have heard) I am always craving for more telephoto distance when shooting wildlife. Always. Especially for birds due to their size. Of course, I also have my Sony A7r111 on my other shoulder with a 28-75 or 85mm mounted for surprise close-ups, so I guess that is my safety net. But if I had to choose one lens for a wildlife shoot it would be longest lens available with the widest aperture. I tried the Sony 100-400 for a while on my A7r but the lower equivalent telephoto reach and the f5.6 aperture on the long end was a deal breaker. The Oly 300 is far superior (in my opinion). As sensor tech improves for smaller sensors like Oly 4/3 sensors, the music of that 300 pro will just get sweeter and sweeter…

  2. Great article and I love the images. I have an EM! (mark 1) and an Sony a7iii, but I like the idea of the form factor with m4/3 for wildlife photography (and the smaller and slightly cheaper lenses to get the reach)….Maybe some day I will get the 40-150 Pro or 300mm pro. I like how you have found a formula that works for you photography and family vacations…

    • Like our guru, Steve The Huff!, a lot of us realize that Olympus and Sony are providing the tools that photographers want today–light, capable and high IQ. It’s exciting to be a photographer in this golden age!

  3. An I the only one who thinks these shots are soft and very noisy? (yes, I clicked to open each image) Even at internet resolution, the image quality is questionable in these shots.

  4. These are splendid shots and the colour resolution is simply stunning. 40 – 150mm is an interesting focal length, encompassing many possibilities. I have a Leica 40mm f2 Summicron that brings up the 50mm frame in the viewfinder of the pair of old M4-P bodies I use. From 40 to 150mm you have 50, 75, 90, (all Leica) 100, 105, (Nikon) 120, (Pentax), 135 (many makes) 150 (Pentax). My long focus lens is the Leica 250mm f4 Telyt lens for my Leicaflex SL body. This gets used a lot at cricket matches. Yes, it’s heavy but fairly compact and has a tripod mount on it. My version is the early version with fixed tripod mount (11920).

    • Thank you! Quite an exotic set up you have. What’s your Instagram handle or website? Would love to see some samples. Al the best!

    • 40-150mm is the actual focal length, it is the equivalent of 80-300mm, that of a fairly traditional Tele-zoom.

  5. Should we assume that you used a tripod to take these gorgeous pictures (I really like the one of the owl)? In other words, are you hand holding this 3 pound lens some of the time? Finally, you can stop it down and up the ISO to get greater depth field. The first one on the beach made me want to see how it would compare to one with some background in sight. Or do you normally just want the maximum blur? You raise lots of interesting questions. I still have my M1, so you’ve made me feel better about keeping it . . . and my 40-150 Oly zoom with the extender, which, of course will not be as sharp as the 300 mm. lens, but still very hand holdable.

    • I only hand hold this lens which works perfectly for me. I find it compact and well balanced(with the grip). I only shoot this lens at f4. I find it just right for isolating the subject. Thanks for the compliments!

  6. Michael, your captures of the Puffin and Hummingbird are quite impressive. Beautiful color and detail.
    The Zuiko 300mm Pro prime lens is exceptional. Undoubtedly worth its $2500 price. For me and many others though, its lens weight of 1475 grams (3.25 pounds) is way over what can be comfortably carried. Add another 1.3 pounds for the camera body and you are looking at a formidable micro four thirds kit.
    I wonder how close the IQ would be if a Sony RX10iv were used. That also goes to an equivalent 600mm but is only 2 pounds with the built in zoom. Can someone with the Sony comment?

    • Thank you for the compliment! Int terms of the weight, my experience differs from yours. I am able to carry the 300mm and EM-1 with grip all day. Compared to other systems, it is light and compact. For me this is where the genius of Micro 4/3 shines – built in 2X crop factor when you need it most (wildlife) and small size relative to purpose and IQ. With wildlife, I don’t think a point and shoot will ever be appropriate. The focusing and telephoto needs call for a serious rig. In terms of what is available out there, the Oly 300 really hits the sweet spot. Please do try it!

  7. Great work there but the headline… a $2500 pro tele prime is not a “secret weapon” when you’re a bird enthusiast.

    • It is for me. I think of it as a secret because no one I know owns this lens and I have never seen it out in the field. It’s also a secret because it fits so discreetly in my shoulder bag. But when I pull it out the thunder starts peeling! I see a lot of people out there shooting with Bigmas or white lenses but I honestly think most would be better served by an Oly rig built around this lens. They would take it out more often because of the size and I think they would be very satisfied with the IQ.
      It shouldn’t so secret, more people need to know about it.

  8. Excellent articles and photos … the 300MM is very special so is the 40-150 for that matter. Either of these lenses used correctly on an EM1 or II or 5II, feels exactly if not superior to, many full frame kits IMO. Bravo Olympus! 😉

  9. Being someone who walks the APS-C road, I can really see the point of MFT – less size, less weight, longer reach, and more depth of field at equivalent aperture – with these marvellous shots. Could one get an even smaller rig by using one of the other Oly cameras, or would that be horribly unbalanced (and lack IBIS)?

    • I have shot FF, APS-C, and 4/3. I feel strongly that the 300f4 is the perfect lens for the non-pro wildlife enthusiast. I use the lens with an EM-1 and battery grip. Perfectly balanced, and, for me, not burdensome. I carry it around with one hand and never shoot with a monopod because of the Dual IS and lightweight. I am a bigger guy, 6’2”, 180, but I think most average size males would feel the same. Try it out!

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