I have been using micro four thirds cameras by LUMIX for several years now, having previously shot with a Nikon D7000. Since I travel a lot, and like to travel light, I love how compact and lightweight these cameras are compared to a traditional SLR (see a recent snapshot of my gear here). One thing that has been missing from the micro four thirds space until this year has been long zoom lenses. I have had a 14-140mm zoom for several years, which is my goto “do everything” lens, and is equivalent to 28-280mm in 35mm terms. I added an Olympus 40-150mm Pf/2.8 Pro lens in February 2015, together with a 1.4x teleconverter, which in combination amount to a maximum zoom of 420mm equivalent. This is the sharpest lens I have ever owned, I really love it.
However, for wildlife photography it is nice to have access to something longer than 420mm, so I was very excited when the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm Pro lens was announced, and I got one of these when it came out in April 2016. This lens weighs only 2 pounds, which is absurdly light and small for an 800mm equivalent lens – for comparison this Canon traditional DSLR 800mm (non zoom) lens weighs 10 pounds! There are lots of excellent technical reviews online and I’m not going to duplicate the details that you can find in those. I will just say that overall my experience with the lens has been great and I’ve been very pleased with many of the images I’ve got using it.
But what I wanted to talk about in this post is one particular image which I took on my recent trip to Brazil, in the Floresta da Tijuca, the rainforest in Rio de Janeiro – as it happens at the side of one of the roads that the Olympic cyclists raced along this week. It’s this image of a tufted (or brown) capuchin monkey – it’s not my favorite image that I’ve taken with this lens, but I think it’s technically one of the most interesting.
This is the image directly out of the camera – the raw image just loaded into Lightroom and exported as a jpeg. You can click on the image above to see a full size version. The remarkable thing about this image is that it was taken in very low light, as the rainforest canopy really blocks out a lot of light. It was hand held at 800mm equivalent using a 1/40s shutter speed, which is an incredibly slow shutter speed for such a long lens. A general rule of thumb is that to get a reasonably sharp image without any camera shake, you should use a shutter speed of 1 over the focal length or faster, so 1/800s or faster with an 800mm equivalent lens. For handheld wildlife shots with any longish zoom I will usually try to use a speed of 1/1000s or faster.
Modern cameras can mitigate camera shake using image stabilization technology, which can be done in the lens or in the camera body. My camera, the LUMIX GX8, has some of the most advanced image stabilization technology available today, which lets you combine image stabilization effects from both the lens and the camera body. People talk about the number of stops of improvement you get from image stabilization, and going from 1/800s to 1/40s is about 4.5 stops worth of improvement, which is pretty amazing I think. Of course you also need the subject to be still at such a slow shutter speed, and fortunately the monkey co-operated in this shot.
Here’s a version of the photo with a little editing. It’s also worth commenting that this picture was taken at ISO 3200, which is pretty high for a micro four thirds camera, and I think the quality is very good when you consider that too.
Finally I will say that this picture was taken using auto exposure mode, and auto ISO. This is a theme I will return to repeatedly on this blog. A lot of serious photographers have the attitude that you’e not a “proper photographer” if you’re using auto mode. I strongly disagree with that. I am very proficient at using all the main modes on my camera, and use shutter, aperture or manual modes when appropriate. But I think that modern cameras are much smarter than many people give them credit for, and much of the time auto mode makes excellent decisions for you. Much of the time these days my default mode of operation is to use auto mode and keep an eye on the settings it is choosing, and just switch modes if I think the camera isn’t making good choices. This way I can focus more of my attention on the content of my photo, and I really think that has helped me take better pictures. When you’re doing wildlife pictures, saving fractions of a second can make a difference in getting a great shot, and with landscape pictures you can focus all your attention on getting the best possible composition and lighting. Also on occasions, like this one, auto mode will really surprise you in a good way – there was no way I would have attempted to take this picture at 1/40s if I was choosing the settings myself, I would have just given up and concluded that it was too dark.