FirstLight Workshop

Press / Reviews

Olympus 300mm F4 lens overview

I shot with the Olympus 300mm f4 lens on a trip to the South Pacific, and in Denver during a minor snowstorm (talk about extremes of the meteorological spectrum!)  This lens will become a permanent part of my camera bag!  The lens has a manual focus clutch, 5-axis “sync” image stabilization (see below for more) and in keeping with the other Pro lenses, is splash, dust and freeze proof.  Focusing down to 4’6″, the lens also has a focus limiter, providing three zones of AF in addition to providing a L-Fn button, where the focus can be locked with a simple push of this button.

History of the Olympus Pro Micro Four Thirds lenses:

The first Olympus Pro lens released was the 12-40mm f2.8, a staple in my bag.  Because of the Micro Four Thirds sensors’ size, this lens is the equivalent of a 24-80mm in the 35mm world.  Other additions to the Pro series are the 7-14mm f2.8mm, the 8mm f1.8 and the 40-150mm f2.8.  So now, with the release of the 300mm f4, the Olympus photographer is “covered” with lenses ranging from super wide to super telephoto.  My entire kit goes in a bag small enough to carry on board aircraft-more about that later.

Build quality/Ergonomics: 

Olympus has built this lens to the high quality of all the MFT Pro lenses-the build quality is absolutely top-notch.  The way it fits into my hands is perfect, a real triumph in design.  And, with my E-M1 and the HLD7 battery pack the balance of body/lens is perfect.

DR 79 Decorative Ring

DR 79 Decorative Ring

The lens was packaged with a small collar, the “DR-79 Decoration Ring.”  The DR79 is used to cover the small “nubs” that are exposed when removing the tripod lens collar.  By removing this when not needing to use a tripod, a considerable amount of weight and bulk is removed from the lens. This included collar slips on the lens to replace that tripod collar, protecting those nubs from both damage and to smooth out the feel of the lens.

I am very impressed with the newest version of the built-in lens hood, a sliding/turning process to extend or retract the hood.  It worked very well, extending when needed and allowing the hood to be fully retracted when not.

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Optical quality:

In terms of image quality/sharpness, I know this lens will be reviewed at least as highly as the 40-150 Pro lens.  I use a 27” 5K iMac for my post-processing, and I was impressed with the minimal to total lack of chromatic aberration (CA) in this lens. Looking at images at 300-500%, there was effectively no CA. This, along with the incredible sharpness will make this a prime lens in the wildlife/travel photographers bag.  I’ve seen some blogs in which the size of this lens was the subject: do your own test, compare to a full-frame 600mm f4, there is no realistic comparison between these.  The Olympus 300 f4 still fits in my carry on camera case (international carry-on is an entire discussion in its own) and this lens is very real-world for the travel photographer who wants to photograph wildlife. Simply put: I don’t ship camera equipment under a plane, it always goes on board with me as carry on.  This is one of the many benefits of the Micro Four Thirds system: small footprint, high portability and incredible image quality.  The 300 is razor of the sharpest lenses I’ve used…in addition to actually being hand-holdable.  Try that with your 600 F4 full frame camera.

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AF Speed: 

When shooting birds and wildlife in general, I set the back AEL/AFL button to activate AF.  This allows me to use that button for focus, then the shutter button becomes the release ONLY.  Many wildlife photographers use this method, if you’ve not tried it before, practice with it before going on that once in a lifetime trip to Africa-it does take some getting used to!  By using this back-button AF, my success rate in capturing sharp images involving movement (wildlife and sports images) increases significantly.  If using the front button to accomplish both AF and shutter release, my odds lessen…

Image Stabilization (IS): 

The unique aspect of this lens: it utilizes both body and lens IS in combo.  I first photographed with this lens while standing on a moving ship.  Pointing towards a stand of palm trees on the shore, and utilizing only the body Image Stabilization (IS)  I thought the IS was pretty poor as a lot of the ships movement was exacerbated. I realized that the lens IS switch was on the “Off” position, so turned the lens IS switch to the “On” setting.  The difference was amazing: the scene through the viewfinder looked surrealistic in how steady and smooth it became.  Moving the camera from left to right felt as if there were a gyroscopic stabilizer attached to the lens…all movement became fluid and steady.   I shoot a lot in Africa, and I am looking forward to an upcoming  assignment in the Serengeti which should really provide a good test, as shooting from safari vehicles of wildlife is always problematic with super telephotos. Any movement, either vehicle or photographer created, is highly amplified when shooting with these long lenses, and after my short time I had with the 300, I know this problem will be minimized by the powerful IS of this lens.  Visit the Olympus website by clicking here for a highly explanatory, and impressive, video on how the lens IS and body IS work in sync, it is amazing.

With MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter:  


MC-14 1.4 Teleconverter

MC-14 1.4 Teleconverter


This is the second Olympus “Pro” lens that can use the MC-14 1.4 teleconverter (TC).  With the  TC attached to the lens, the 300 gains 1.4 times telephoto lenght.  In 35mm think, this makes the 300 effectively an 840mm f5.6-still a very realistic speed for such a long telephoto.  Be aware that anytime you use a teleconverter, you impact AF speeds as you are taking light away, as well as adding more glass in between subject and sensor.

300mm with MC-14 1.4 Teleconverter

300mm with MC-14 1.4 Teleconverter


Portability and image quality are just a couple of the huge benefits of this lens and the entire Olympus MFT system-and I think Olympus is in a very unique place, leading the mirrorless revolution.  The reality of location photography is the problem of transporting equipment, usually accomplished by commercial aircraft.  Most of my assignment work these days is with National Geographic Expeditions, working as the National Geographic Expert on these trips. Covering all seven continents, I know the problems of transporting gear.  If you think there is an internationally recognized rule about what exact specifications “carry on” falls under, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.  In the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, it really comes down to the gate agent’s decision as to if your carry on will actually go on the plane with you.  The old tricks of hanging cameras on your shoulder or around your neck to avoid the carry on restrictions have been discovered.  Some airlines in these various continents actually now weigh equipment, which includes that cleverly hung camera off your shoulder.  I’ve seen carry on bags refused, forcing them to check that bag, and I’ve had equipment broken when doing this…and the horror stories of stolen or broken gear do abound in this industry.

In 2015, 8 airlines signed a new agreement, which further downsizes the carry-on size, the MFT system is the answer to this increasing problem of transporting camera gear while traveling.  Also, one mantra I hear all the time from the traveling photographers: “I’m so tired of carrying my large camera.”  It comes down to the adage of what is the best camera to have? The one that is in your hands when needed.  With my MFT Olympus camera on my shoulder (I don’t mind carrying the camera all day, as weight and size are perfect for me) I minimize the chance of losing an image due to my not having my camera with me.


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100% view of image

300% upscale of image

200% enlarged section of image


Photography is about capturing the moment, and the more the camera equipment “gets out of the way” the better.  Equipment is made to facilitate the process, not to become a hindrance.  My world is all about extremely high quality, being unobtrusive, lightweight and portable, and my Olympus system does its job in meeting this criteria.  All the photos shown here were shot without tripod or monopod.


Millennium Atoll, Southern Line Islands, Kirabati

For further information on this incredible lens, check out the Olympus website for more info…









FirstLight was  highlighted as one of the best workshops in an American Photo Review, as well as reviewed in the Charlotte Observer, Business Week, American Photo, Natural Traveler, on, Double Exposure, Traveler Overseas, and Adobe MagazineRead the review of our Dubois, 2010, American Photo Dubois 2010

Below are some of our participants reviews:

Ron Gaddis:   Attending your workshop was one of the best things I have ever done. As an instructor, you excel in your ability to teach through constructive critique. In addition, your positive attitude was contagious. Everyone including myself felt motivated to learn and improve as photographers. I especially came away with an enlightened appreciation of the process of editing – particularly my own images, framing my shot by looking around the edges of my frame and the importance of capturing a sense of place.

While the technical and artist instruction was excellent, the environment and accommodations were outstanding. Furthermore, the whole workshop was a lot of fun. I had so much fun and learned so much that I have already begun a campaign of recommending you and your Firstlight Workshops to my other photography friends. I certainly plan on attending other workshops of yours and would not hesitate to recommend them to others.

Bill Eichholtz:   I had a wonderful time at the Workshop and it far exceeded my expectations.  Between you and Jeff, your insight and direction were invaluable and greatly appreciated.  The entire Workshop, along with everyone involved from the Participants to the Staff and Crew of the ranches and everyone in between, is an experience I will never forget.

Brad Gilliam: I was very impressed with the caliber of the instructors. They presented us with terrific portfolios, great examples of the kind of work we should be striving toward! The one-on-one photo review sessions were very beneficial, providing me with plenty of direction to grow well beyond the “point and shoot” mode of operation. There was quite a variety of themes in which to shoot scenes. I am looking forward to the next workshop with Jay Dickman and his colleagues.

Digital Photographer Article: I cannot rave enough about my joyful experience at the FirstLight Photography workshops, held over a week in September 2005 at the scenic Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, Maryland. The event brought together 15 amateur and professional photographers to exercise their inherent creativity, aided through constructive criticism and expert guidance to produce outstanding images.

The workshop is the brainchild of Jay Dickman, a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer and frequent photographer for such notable publications as National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Traveler Overseas and 15 of the “Day in the Life of” series books. He and his wife, Becky, produce and run the workshops. His charismatic exuberance set the tone, instilling a sense of community among the participants along with the confidence that everyone was capable of taking great pictures if only they applied a few simple rules…and then broke them!

It was fascinating to watch the subjects of the photographs walk into the gallery exhibition. The images indeed had the air of a National Geographic feature and you could sense the swelling pride of the community as they walked past the pictures on the walls, usually not once, but twice. Pride was also evident in the participants. They had changed from dabblers to serious artists, each one fully realizing that they had the talent and the potential to take great photographs.

Barb Bent: It is amazing when so much prep work leads to 4 days and it’s over. Of course, it is the reason the classes, instruction and show went so well. There is no free lunch.  It was a top-notch job. You’ve definitely got another career.

Walt Hubis: You’ve given me the opportunity to discover and access these skills, and then helped to develop them and allow me to take them forward on my own. This has been a major impact in my life – one that’s allowed me to grow far beyond my expectations. Thank you.

Ray Johnson: I promised I would write, a bit delayed because I’m still reveling in this great experience, this because the First Light experience is still ongoing!  I’m so impressed at how you and the staff view life and people. Your world experience has brought you to show reverence and awe for those of different cultures, how people struggle, working hard to put food on the table, all shapes, and quirks in personality, etc.

What a marvelous format you have with the workshops, very conducive to being immersed in the experience. Perhaps the most amazing part of it all is how all of you, while editing, would thumb along until a photo would stop you. “Wow”, a slight drop of the jaw, or “you’ve got to come see this one” would leave those around in amazement. Telling of how you/Bert love to get into the flow with a photographer even after thousands upon ten thousands of experiences in editing.  Being such a great photographer is what gives you the advantage in editing; you know as a photographer what looks good. The enthusiasm showed, inspired us all.

David Hayden: I want to thank you for the enormous effort that went into organizing the Chesapeake workshop and for your making it a great success. I don’t think there was a wasted minute. I benefited from your planning and execution and from meeting all of the participants.

Park Terrell: There is no way I can adequately express to you what this workshop meant to me or what vision it opened my eyes and heart to. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!!!!!

Humberto Guglielmina: WHAT A WEEK!! Despite the late nights and early mornings (I think I averaged less than 4 hours per night -on the good nights-and only two the night before the workshop), I had a wonderful time! It was FANTASTIC! Thank you for a putting together such a GREAT Workshop!! I was also VERY impressed with the quality of the pictures at the gallery! Incredible work! I don’t think I have ever seen a collection of photographs of the quality I saw there! WOW!! The highlight of my trip, though, was meeting YOU, John Isaac, Jay Kinghorn and of course Bert. Leave it to you to put together such a group of ultra high quality professionals!   THANK YOU! You guys are inspiring!

John Harvey: I was very pleased with the workshop, staff and meeting the participants. The real world of photo critiques certainly benefits everyone, and I really did take away with me some good pointers that I’ll use in the future-in fact some of Bert’s admonitions are still ringing in my ears-and that’s a good thing.

You, Bert, John and Jay have a plethora of photojounalistic experiences and I will say that your respective work presentations were one of the highlights of the workshop for me. Also, I gained much insight on the use of the SLR that you furnished just as I had hoped and the real power of such cameras is now much more obvious-especially with the long lens. It was also a nice experience with some quite serious and accomplished participants as evidenced by the quality of the submissions. Originality and creativity were ever present and the critique sessions were entertaining as well as informative making the learning just that much more enjoyable.

Fred Zuill: Your workshop was excellent. You and your team are definitely at the top of your game with this workshop business.

John Robinson: I can’t begin to describe what a positive experience Firstlight Chesapeake was for me. As a novice “wanna be” photographer, I discovered a whole new world of light, composition and technique. I’ve learned so much and I am deeply indebted to you, John Isaac, David Harp, Bert Fox and Jay Kinghorn, for such a rich experience.

Jim Starr: Thanks for putting on an excellent workshop. I think your formula – great place to shoot, superb instructors, demanding instruction, high-energy gallery show – really works well. I learned a lot, and came away form the workshop really pumped up.

I’ve been to a number of workshops where more than half the students were working professional photographers. None of those workshops produced student photos of the breadth and quality of the photos produced at FirstLight Cambridge. One long-time Cambridge resident said to me at the gallery show, “This is Cambridge. You’ve captured us!”