The Lumix Diaries 1/13/2015 Cheetah Chase

Posted Jan. 23rd, 2015 by Daniel J. Cox

The first part of our adventure took us to the dry, brushy landscape of Samburu National Park. I’ve been here maybe a half dozen times and it’s always a wonderful place for many subjects, but especially elephants. This year has been no exception, but the highlight of our three days in Samburu was a cheetah chase I had the opportunity to document.

Dusk falls over our tent at Elephant Bedroom camp in Samburu Nationa Reserve, Kenya. Lumix LX100 ISO800

Dusk falls over our tent at Elephant Bedroom camp in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix LX100 ISO800

It all took place yesterday at the start of our afternoon game drive. We left Elephant Bedroom at 4:00pm and made our way out into the park. It was hot, nearly 100F. Our driver Felix took us to an area we knew a mother cheetah and her two older cubs had been seen. Cheetahs in Samburu are not real common.

A mother cheetah makes her way through the hot, bushy landscape of Samburu National Reserve. Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. 250ISO

A mother cheetah makes her way through the hot, bushy landscape of Samburu National Reserve. Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO250

Though we saw a pair two years ago, this area is not quality cheetah habitat. Ideally they typically prefer wide open plains and little or no brush where they can reach the maximum 70mph+ they need to catch the numerous fleet footed antelope that call Samburu home. Their favorite prey, the Thomson’s gazelle, is nowhere to be found on this arid, bushy landscape. Here, the cheetah rely on the young of Grant’s gazelle and impala as well as adult dik diks, African hares, and other small game.

Mother cheetah and one of her two older cubs begin to hunt a herd of grants gazelle. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. 250ISO

Mother cheetah and one of her two older cubs begin to hunt a herd of Grant’s gazelle. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. 250ISO

We arrived on the scene to see the mother and her two older cubs, babies that look almost full grown, stalking a heard of Grant’s gazelle. The mother and one cub walked slowly in a hunched crouch, taking one stuttered step and then the next as if walking on a cushion of air. Their eyes were locked on the grazing gazelles when suddenly the cub’s head shot a glance quickly to the right and broke off the stalk to investigate. Slinking through the short grasses, she went 30 yards or so and pounced. There beneath its paws springing to life was baby Grant’s gazelle. Instantly the chase was on.

This is the frame I was able to get that summed up the entire scene although there are many more images from start to finish. For a gallery of more images click on this link. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. 250ISO

This is the frame I was able to get that summed up the entire scene although there are many more images from start to finish. For a gallery of the entire chase click on this link. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. 250ISO

Young cheetahs are not born great killers and though the pounce looked decisive, the baby gazelle at least had a few more moments to live. It literally ran for the living with all three cheetahs in a life or death pursuit. All mother cheetahs will let their cubs dominate the chase, allowing them learn the basics of feast or famine. This mother was no different as the two cubs put on a half-hearted attempt to catch and kill. They finally brought the baby gazelle to the ground and the rest I won’t even describe since any life being distinguished is never enjoyable to report.

The mother cheetah stands over her two cubs as they begin to feed. Samburu Nationa Reserve, Kenya Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8

The mother cheetah stands over her two cubs as they begin to feed. Samburu Nationa Reserve, Kenya, Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8

The circle of life was consummated that day with three very slender cheetahs, obviously in need of a meal, connecting the ends and living for another day.  From a photographer’s perspective it was not only a chance to document the reality of the African bush, but it was a phenomenal opportunity to test my new camera gear. Ever since I began shooting the Panasonic Lumix MFT system I’ve used the cheetah chase as the defacto example of what the new mirrorless cameras CANNOT do. Wow, was I proven wrong.

Daniel Cox holding the Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 lens. Photo by Tanya Cox. Lumix FZ1000 125ISO

Daniel Cox holding the Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 lens. Photo by Tanya Cox. Lumix FZ1000 125ISO

So here are the photography details. First, I was shooting the Lumix GH4 with the new Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 attached. For those not familiar with MFT cameras, you need to multiply the lens by 2. So in this case I was shooting an 80-300mm F/2.8. This is my first trip with the new Olympus lens and it is performing better than I could have even imagined. Not only is it as sharp as any lens I’ve ever shot, it is rocket fast when used with the Lumix GH4. The collection of photos I captured are better than any cheetah chase I’ve ever shot. There is always some luck involved with a cheetah hunting but thankfully the camera and lens handled this difficult task with ease.

The camera was set to AF-S which gave me a blistering 12 FPS. I normally would have had the camera set to AF-C but I missed switching it over before the chase ensued. I always have my GH4’s set to Back Button AF and as the cats began the chase I focused on them as they ran from one point to the next. I have to admit, I was concerned about critical focus when I realized I had set the camera to AF-S, but I wasn’t disappointed when I brought the images up on my computer. Almost every image was razor sharp. Was there some benefit to the added depth of field of the MFT sensor? I actually think there was. More depth of field has always been one of the whining points many photographers obsess over when I peruse the forums regarding MFT cameras. I’ve always been of the opinion that I’ve never had a problem with getting pictures OUT OF FOCUS. My problem has always been getting pictures IN FOCUS. MFT cameras give you more depth of field and that may have worked in my favor in this once-in-a-life-time situation. Either way I came away with some amazing images that blew my defacto example of what MFT cameras can’t do, right out of the water.

Regarding technical details, I was shooting ISO 250 which gave me a very fast 1/1600th of a second at F/4.5. One of downsides to the Olympus lens on a Lumix camera is the lack of Image Stabilization. Olympus builds IS into the body and Lumix builds their IS in to the lenses. That being the case I often shoot this lens at higher ISO’s which gives me faster shutter speeds. This day there was plenty of light so I was able to stick with a very modest 250ISO. I think the images speak for themselves. It was an amazing shoot and a great day for the cheetah family. Unfortunately, not such a great day for the gazelle.

Previous Kenya episodes of The Lumix Diaries.

The Lumix Diaries Heads to Kenya
The Lumix Diaries Kenya 1/10/2015

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There are 18 comments on this post…
  1. Neil MannOn May. 11th, 2016

    Hi Dan, considering purchasing the 40-150mm f2.8 to go with my G7 for sports initially mainly football / Soccer.. I will obviously need to keep the shutter speeds high but then thats a given with most action anyway.. any advice or suggestions since this post using the 40-150mm f2.8 with Panasonic non stabilised bodies? Also have you used it with the GX8? I am considering this for the IS aspect as I want to retain the 4k photo options and suspect the new GX80 will be too small to use with the 40-150mm f2.8? Interested in your thoughts.. many thanks Neil

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 11th, 2016

      Not sure how the G7 will perform in fast moving action with AF. GX8 does just fine. You are correct that as long as you keep the shutter speed up to the traditional “Shutter speed equal to or greater than the focal length of the lens you’re using” you will be just fine. Yes, I’ve used the 40-150mm on the GX8 and it’s a great combo. CAn’t really say how well the GX8 in camera IS helps or not since I’ve never done actual tests and whenever I shoot the 40-150mm I always go fro the higher shutter speeds. Obviously any IS is helpful and as in camera IS technology improves in the Lumix line, this lens will only become more valuable. The 40-150m is another spectacular lens by Olympus.

  2. Robert WinslowOn Jan. 30th, 2015

    Hi Dan,
    Great photos. Wish I was there with you guys. Say “hi” to Felix for me.
    Who are your other drivers?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 30th, 2015

      Robert, Great to hear from you. I will be sure to say hello to Felix. We also have Henry, Edwin, Joshua, Ben, Zachery. All great guys. Hope things are well for you.

  3. StephenOn Jan. 27th, 2015

    Interesting post. Articles like this and your 4k photo workflow helped give me some great results shooting Skeleton and Downhill Skiing World Cup with my LX100/GX7 and Panasonic 35-100/2.8 and Olympus 75-300II zooms. Back-button focusing and AF-C on the GX7 and extracting (smaller) stills from 4k and 50 fps HD video at hight shutter speeds really helped out when trying to capture objects moving at 100-140 kmph.

    As you say, the added depth of field from the crop sensor was certainly an asset in this case, and as it is, there are enough 1.2/1.4/1.8 prime lenses in micro 4/3 if you need shallower depth of field.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 27th, 2015

      Stephen, thanks for letting me know this has been helpful. Would love to see some samples of your work. Do you have any links to the things you shot at the Wolrd Cup. If so feel free to add the links in this post.

    • Jeff GilchristOn Jan. 27th, 2015

      Daniel, I did a quick search but couldn’t find anything, but do you have any articles talking about how you set up and use back button focus with your work flow?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 29th, 2015

      Will try and get something put together for you in the next hopefully short while. Have been needing to do this for awhile. Thanks for a bit of encouragement.

  4. Dean SwartzOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

    Oh, I am sooooo envious. You’re there in East Africa with my favorite travel item . . . Tanya! Ha, just having some fun. (Although, Tanya is at the top of everyone’s list!) So pleased to learn that you’ve been successful with the new Olympus 40-150. And, a report like this from one of the most professional, environmentally aware, and technically competent photographers should send a strong message to Panasonic/Lumix. Deliver a comparable (IS) professional lens, or watch business flock to Oly. I shoot the EM-1 and absolutely love the 5-axis in-body IS. But, I’d jump to a GH5 if it came with the same thing because the fast-focusing action images you captured with the GH4 while handicapped by your shaky old man hands are overwhelmingly impressive. Just imagine what you could do with an IS enabled GH5? Isn’t it great to be a photographer today, with the new MFT technology? Looking forward to drooling over more posts from your successful trip! You are still my hero!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 25th, 2015

      Dean, I’m sending over that twenty bucks I promised for all those nice things you included in your post. For the tanya comments I’ll send an extra fifty:-) Wait a minute, I just remembered something about old shaky hands. Oh well if the shoe fits. But in all seriousness I agree with everything you conveyed in regards to how Panasonic must now step up. Wouldn’t it be incredible if they too would give us in body IS. Then we really could have all the benefits of an interchangeable MFT system. I’ve always said that having the ability to mix and match between Olympus and Panasonic was one the main benefits of MFT. If one leaps ahead of the other, we just buy the body or lens we need and stay with the main system we have. The lack of IS is in Olympus lenses I wa afraid was going to be too much to overcome but thankfully it hasn’t. That said, how I wish for IS in some form for the GH cameras and Olympus lenses. The other alternatives is for Panasoinc to give us a professionally revised 100-300mm F/4. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

  5. Portrait of Ray Hirsch

    Ray HirschOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

    Hi Dan,
    Very impressive series of shots. I am bringing the Oly 40-150 to Patagonia along with the 1.4x.
    It will be on my EM-1 so it will be interesting to see how it does versus yours being mounted on the GH-4. I have been informally testing the Oly Em-1 + 40-150, against the Pany GH4 + 100-300, and also the Sony A7M2 + 70-200 f4. My test is shooting dogs chasing balls in a dog park, but of course no series is exactly repeatable. So far, all three of these combos have been pretty good falling into the 50% to 70% range. It took a little while to find the best settings, but I now have these settings saved in memory on all the cameras. Really looking forward to Patagonia and seeing you and Fred again. All the best…


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 25th, 2015

      Ray, I’m looking forward to exchanging info on GH4 settings in Patagonia. Thanks for stopping by to add your voice to the conversation See you in a couple of weeks.

  6. Jeff GilchristOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

    Wow, great action sequence. That would have made a great video too @ 60fps slowed down. No 4k-photo mode? That seems like a good opportunity to use that and pull out the exact frames that you want.

    I have noticed with my GH4 that auto-focus seems much slower in 4k video than with 1080p video for some reason, have you seen the same thing?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 25th, 2015

      Jeff, your observation of the AF in 4K video mode is exactly why I did’t try 4K Photo Mode on a running cheetah. I wanted to have the best chance to get it and thankfully I did. Next attempt will be with 4K Photo Mode, if that chance ever comes again. I’ve been coming to Kenya for almost 25 years and Cheetah chases, ones that you can shoot, don’t come along very often. Will let you know via the Lumix Diaries however so please stay tuned. Thanks for coming by to take part in the discussion Jeff.

  7. Tom GrossOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

    Fantastic sequence, Dan. Are the images cropped any>

    I have looked at the Oly 40-150, but worried about no stabilization. Have you used it with the 1.4x?

    I am anxiously awaiting the 300 f4 and 1.4x for bird photography.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

      Tom, no the images are not cropped and yes I’ve been using the 1.4 teleconverter as well. These images were not shot with the teleconverter attached. As far as I can tell, at 100% enlargements on my MacBook Pro Retina, there is no discernible difference with or without the teleconverter. With teleconverter and without this lens is equal to or sharper than any I’ve ever used. I’m also planning to buy the Olympus 300mm F/4. Once again, I know I will miss the IS but with good technique, I shot a 600mm F/4 for 20 years without IS, I think it will be another stellar lens. I’m just hopeful Panasonic gets us new and equivalent lenses or IS in the bodies. Until then I will be using more Olympus than I had originally thought but hey I’ve been saying from the start of MFT that being able to have choices due to MFT cooperation is what I love about the MFT system of cameras.

  8. Fred KurtzOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

    Well Dan I was going to surprise you in Patagonia but I might as well let the “Cat” out of the bag (pun intended).

    I was going to take my Nikon D4 with the 80-400 for longer reach than my maximum of 200mm equivalent for the G4. After three trips of totally M4/3’s I looked at the bulk of the D4 & 80-400 and just decided to bite the bullet.

    I ordered the Olympus 40-150 f2.8 along with the 1.4 teleconverter. When I got the lens and converter I set it up to the maximum reach of 450mm equivalent at f4.0 and shot birds at my bird feeder and the results were impressive and just as good as photographs that were in the “Wild Birds Unlimited” brochure I got in the mail the same day. I was able to compare their photographs to mine on the same birds and mine were as good or better than theirs.

    I was very happy to see your results in this blog because I really wanted to wait to get one until you reported your experience but the reviews were so positive for this lens I went ahead and got it. Shame on Panasonic for not jumping on the longer telephoto lens and losing a sale.

    Say hi to Sue, Dave, Judy and Alan for me and I will see you and T` soon.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 23rd, 2015

      Freddy, I can always count on you for staying on the cutting edge with me. I’m loving the new 40-150mm. It should be a great option for some of the wildlife in Patagonia. See you soon.

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