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Birds in flight...moving subjects

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by Gary Ramey, Jul 29, 2014.

  1. Gary Ramey

    Gary Ramey Mu-43 Veteran

    240
    Dec 27, 2012
    Aurora Colorado
    While I've read enough to know that this is not an Olympus strong point, I'm wondering about things like settings, lenses etc that people have used to help nail those types of shots. Here's my issue. My wife shoots the EM1 and I shoot the EM5. I gave her my 50-200 with 1.4TC to use on her EM1 which she seems to enjoy. I couldn't use it due to the slow AF with 4/3 lenses. I purchased both a manual 300mm (completely thrilled with stills) and a 75-300mm for action shots. Maybe my thread should be titled after that lens. In any case, it seems this lens is forever hunting for the bird..even when its framed, rather than shooting shots. The shots I am getting with it are hopelessly blurry. Do I need to set this to center focus? Anyway, I'm sure there is someone who is using this combo effectively.
     
  2. Growltiger

    Growltiger Mu-43 Top Veteran

    647
    Mar 26, 2014
    UK
    I've tried all sorts of settings, this is my current belief in what works best for me. E-M1, 75-300 set to 300.

    S mode, 1/1000
    Central focus point
    S-AF
    High speed continuous

    Aim at bird, half press shutter. The moment it is in focus, fire a very short burst. Repeat until bird out of range.
     
  3. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    While I agree that getting 1/1000 shutter speed or higher is definitely enough (sometimes more than enough) to get sharp photos of BIF, and that S-AF is the only way to go (C-AF is hopeless), I have a few other points to add.

    1. Be aware that on high burst mode, the camera is only taking the focus of the first frame and applying it to all of the rest. In low burst mode, the camera will attempt to refocus between each frame. Neither are very reliable. High only works if the bird serendipitously flies through your initial plane of focus, and low is usually not fast enough to catch up to the bird, though it may do so once a pass if your panning is good.

    2. Also, some people have suggested the following, although it have to admit I couldn't discern any change in effectiveness, but they may help:
    Turn off face and eye detection, focus peaking, and IBIS. You won't need them, and they apparently slow down the AF.
    9 center focus points (or try all if shooting birds in the sky or over water)
    Enhance picture mode (apparently it helps)
     
  4. Growltiger

    Growltiger Mu-43 Top Veteran

    647
    Mar 26, 2014
    UK
    I tried slow instead of fast, it didn't help and gave less shots that might be sharp.

    I find IBIS is essential. Without it one is unlikely to get the bird stable in the viewfinder to allow the focus to work.

    I do have face detection and focus peaking off.
    I found one focus point much better than nine.
     
  5. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    I hear you. There is no magic bullet for this, and a lot depends on one's personal shooting technique. On high, were you getting many keepers beyond the initial shot? I found that what worked best for me was a series of single shots, rather than using either of the burst modes. I don't get hardly any nice shots, but the keeper rate on burst wasn't any better. The real issue was achieving the initial focus at all, before the bird flew by. Some people use MF and estimate the range the bird will be in, but I don't think my judgment is good enough to do that.

    As for using only the center focus point, that takes a lot of skill. I can see why the IBIS is so critical for you! I think in theory, a larger range of focus points should work for catching a bird against an empty sky, but more cluttered backgrounds could necessitate using just the center point.

    The OP's story is very similar to mine (with the exception that I don't own any 4/3s glass), and I tried everything I could think of to make the EM-1 a usable BIF camera. I even rented the 300 f2.8 thinking it could handle the PDAF better. In the end, even that marvelous lens was not enough to make the C-AF usable for BIF. I still have some hope that the upcoming 300 f4 will be an improvement over the 75-300 in terms of S-AF speed and accuracy (not to mention sharpness for a little extra cropping), but I don't believe it can make the EM-1 a good BIF camera.
     
  6. jerrykur

    jerrykur Mu-43 Regular

    81
    Aug 23, 2012
    Northern CA
    For me, BIF photography is a numbers game. I am happy with 1 in 10 shots being usable. And this using Canon pro DSLRs like the 1DMK3 or 1DMK4 with 100-400 or 300 f2.8 lenses. It is really hard to get a bird framed correctly and even with these cameras really fast focusing system getting solid focus it tricky. So to get good images I take a lot of shots. Usually in a session I will take 500-600 frames and get just a few images I consider to be keepers.
     
  7. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    That's interesting to me. I have been considering getting a DSLR to complement my EM-1, in no small part to do BIF. But having never used a DSLR, I don't know if it is the promised land for BIF that I imagine it to be. But I do see a lot of great BIF shots from (admittedly very skilled) DSLR users.
     
  8. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    The equipment may be better suited to BIF, but skill plays a BIG factor in gettng a high keeper rate of show-worthy images.

    --Ken
     
  9. D7k1

    D7k1 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    690
    Nov 18, 2013
    For a day of birding with my 7100/300mm combination, 300-400 shots are normal with maybe 20 very good images. but with other systems other than a DSLR it might 400 shots and 2 keepers. It is a numbers/fast focus game. For me the tripod head is the most important tool next to AF for BIF.
     
  10. Growltiger

    Growltiger Mu-43 Top Veteran

    647
    Mar 26, 2014
    UK
    You ask if I get any sharp results beyond the first shot in the high speed burst. Yes, strangely I have found several times that the second or third shot is the sharpest. I can't explain that but I suspect random variation is involved - i.e. luck.

    It doesn't matter what the camera system is - trying to even get a flying bird in the viewfinder when looking handheld though a 300mm M43 lens, equivalent to the FOV of a 600mm lens full frame, is hard.

    Big birds like pelicans and herons are fairly easy, but tiny birds like the skylark are very hard.

    Here is a heron and a skylark, just to show it is possible. They are not good photos, the light was poor against the bright sky.

    Heron.

    Skylark.
     
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  11. Lee O'D

    Lee O'D Mu-43 Regular

    31
    Jul 27, 2013
    The EM1 is not a camera for shooting birds in flight. I have one and I love it but I have tried every conceivable setting (as I did on the EM5 I had before it) but the AF is nowhere near good enough for birds in flight. The only chance you have is as Growltiger says: in SA F mode, aim at the bird, half press and when the bird is in focus, shoot. Very hit and miss. Micro 4/3 gives me a massive advantage in many respects, but for birds in flight, forget it.
     
  12. wolfie

    wolfie Mu-43 Regular

    110
    Apr 15, 2009
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Most of my birds shots are BOG (Bird On Ground) but have been trying more of BIF since getting an E-PL5 with its 8fps shooting. I treat birds same as my soccer shooting- single AF, follow the action and keep half-pressing the shutter button to keep it updated until something interesting happens.
    I was down at the beach a few days ago and tried some BIF on some gulls that were swooping around after some bread I had tossed out.Got a nice shot or two even with working from the rear LCD with the 45-150 zoom at max.
    This one looked great on the camera LCD:
    4AF882CFD6D040888018504922B0621F.

    But at home at full size I realised I had not adjusted the shutter speed up from 1/250 in S mode (and lens auto set to f10) I had used for some indoor shooting I had been doing, otherwise it would have been a great shot (for me). The focus looks OK just motion blur that degrades the final quality.
    598AFAE5BA0E4EDB8775F68C0C9E17B0.

    Hopefully get some more BIF practice as the Southern hemisphere Spring approaches.
     
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  13. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    Sounds like my experiences haven't been too much different than most here, given that I usually walk away with at least a few decent shots (and by that I mean they were at least in focus), but a success rate well below 10%. My BIF ambitions usually take me to a place an hour from where I live, where there are always bald eagles fishing. Even the few shots I get in focus are nothing special, and it's frustrating. I fare much better catching smaller birds active around my backyard feeders. Those are considerably easier than the eagles, because they are so close and I can use wider focal lengths and pre-set the distance rather easily. I use more of a speed trap technique than to try and track them. Perching or wading birds have been the bulk of my successful shots with the 75-300, and are where I've had the most fun.
     
  14. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Gary & other, you will find more positive views of using the E-M1 for BIF over at DPR. But ONLY if firmware update 1.4 has been installed.

    I don't yet own an EM1 but have been following the discussion over there to make sure it can do BIF. Others report BIF most certainly can be done w/ substantial keeper rates. Take a look at the work of Richard Pavek using the ZD300mm+EC14 no less, several others using the ZD50-200mm+EC14 & many using native M43 xx-300mm zooms. There has been lots of good discussion on this topic in both the M43 & Oly DSLR forums.

    Among other pointers I've learned over there is to use AF-C, Center focus points/area, Release Priory, EVF frame rate high & a release rate under 6.5 FPS to get EVF viewing for tracking. But remember, good BIF technique is critical & takes lots of practice. These folks have all been doing BIF w/ the EM1 for awhile.

    For BIF Richard recommends use of the Swedish Walkstool to allow relaxed HH w/ good mobility. See his separate site http://richardsbirdblog.com

    Last but not least, just as has been reported on this site, a Youtube camera shootout of the GH4, EM1, A6000 & D7000 found the GH4 matched the D7000 for AF-C tracking & the EM1 was just slightly behind.

    Happy shooting!
     
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  15. wolfie

    wolfie Mu-43 Regular

    110
    Apr 15, 2009
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Totally agree that camera handling, panning technique to just keep the subject in frame is hugely important.
     
  16. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    I do have the latest firmware update, which was one of the driving reasons why I rented the 300 mm f2.8. I also used all of the settings you described, which I also gleaned from these forums. I fully admit that I was completely new to PDAF, 4/3 glass and using a gimbal head, and it appears my copy slightly front focused, which I was unaware could be adjusted for in-camera. So, certainly someone with better technique and experience could do better, but I stuck to it enough that I had some pretty good pans. The overall experience was that the 75-300 on single-shot, S-AF, did a better job of getting initial focus than the 300. With the above settings. C-AF was only able to catch up to a bird for an average of one shot per pass. I could see the system trying to catch up as I panned with the bird, but it couldn't stay locked on even if my panning did. This is not what I see happening with people using DSLRs, where continuous focus seems to fare much better. My skill level played a part, but the EM-1 body, not the lenses, caused the discrepancy between using S-AF/CBAF and C-AF/PDAF, unless the front focusing problem was much greater than I thought.

    I also saw the AF shoot out you mentioned. I think shooting motorcycles with a wider angle lens is far less challenging on the C-AF than much more distant, much smaller birds with a super-telephoto. Believe me, I would like nothing better than proof that the EM-1 can do the job. I am ok with the fact that a lot of the blame falls to my inexperience, and even with moving forward knowing that I don't have the very best tool for the job, but I need to see a point where climbing the learning curve is even possible, and it doesn't look like it at this point. I don't think it is technically impossible for an M43 camera to have good C-AF, but their PDAF is currently not as advanced as DSLRs have reached, and the GH-4's tracking system is contrast-based (if I understand correctly). All that said, I do have high hopes that the 300mm f4 will have the right package to maximize the EM-1's ability to do BIF, utilizing a suitable technique.
     
  17. Rasmus

    Rasmus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    660
    Nov 16, 2013
    Stockholm, Sweden.
    I just bought myself the 300/2.8 and have so far only used it once. I did a few BIF attempts, but since the only support I had brought was a ground pod I had to shoot handheld if I wanted to do BIF so I only tried a few times. I guess this was my only keeper. Handheld with the 300 is just possible for me so it is very hard.
    P7300018.

    Not impossible and the lens locks onto birds WAY better than my 100-300, but I guess it would be easier with a gimbal head. I would say that the key to good BIF is to keep the bird in the viewfinder for as long as possible, more than anything else. Fiddling with various settings help, but keeping the bird in the viewfinder is key.
     
  18. jerrykur

    jerrykur Mu-43 Regular

    81
    Aug 23, 2012
    Northern CA
    I have noticed this also. My thoughts are that if the camera (my Canon 1 series DSLRs do this) is capable of focusing between shots in a burst, it gets closer and closer to "perfect" focus as the shots in the burst are taken.
     
  19. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Jerry, Rasmus, Lcrunyon, thanks so much for the great reports. Sorry if I'm repeating stuff you already know. Here's another suggestion from Richard Pavek specifically for the ZD300 F2.8 - high output batteries.

    You will not be surprised that this big lens has a big AF motor. When it was 1st released Oly recommended use of a specific 2nd battery grip for the E series cameras because that grip ran both batteries in parallel to supply more current. Unfortunately neither of the OMD grips do that. Richard is the only user who has reported this but he says the DSTE batteries currently available on ebay now have a much higher output - 2100 maH I think. These significantly improve AF performance on the big ZD and at least 1 other user reported they improve AF performance of the ZD300. I haven't been able to get Richard to respond for more discussion on this so you now know all I know.

    But Lcrunyon's report about the AF taking a few frames to catch up may support this idea that the big lens isn't getting enough power to nail the 1st AF command from the camera. If this is the case, making this big lens work might also be improved by turning off everything in the camera that uses power. IBIS & Face Recog would be the 1st things to go since SS is high enough to go w/o.

    Another issue may be pre-focusing. Haven't seen this mentioned for the ZD300 but have lots of times for the ZD50-200mm SWD+EC14. That one has mechanical focus & the EM1 does not have CAF+MF. Here's a thread on this:
    http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/53959252

    And here's his most recent settings suggestions: E-M1+EC14+50-200 SWD

    Camera settings – Rls Priority C = On, FPS = L – 6fps, Frame Rate = High, Shutter Speed 1/1000, CAF, C-AF Lock = Off, AF area = Single Center Small Point

    So any of you using high output batteries? the above settings? IS on/off? w/ the ZD300.

    Also, Lycrunyon, where did you rent the ZD300? I'd like to do that too.

    I'm currently working on using old MF 400mm lenses HH to do BIF & dragon flies. I have both the Nikon AIS f/5.6 & f/3.5 400s. The latter is nearly as heavy as the ZD300. Started a new strength exercise to get better at HH w/ that one -:)! Having only a little success but learning lots & getting better. One big lesson - significant improvement is possible & getting discouraged really gets in the way.
     
  20. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    As a result of this discussion, I'm going to try my M.Z75-300 for dragon flys with the following suggestion for the EM5:
    "C-AF works alright if you use the Vivid picture mode and keep the AF area to 1x1. Turning the Release Priority to On in Custom Menu C is also advisable. Don Parrot discovered this."