E-M1 II does motorcycle racing (against D500)

ijm5012

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Some of you may recall a thread I created a few months ago comparing the E-M1 II (FW 2.0) to the D500 for shooting autocross (thread linked here). While autocross doesn't feature cars that are going terribly fast, there is a lot of sudden acceleration and deceleration, which can be a challenge for the AF system. My take away from that test was that the E-M1 II's performance looked promising, although I would have to follow it up with some test of faster subjects. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so this past weekend by shooting a 4-hour endurance motorcycle race.

I again brought my Nikon gear (D500, 300/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 17-55), as well as some of my m43 gear (E-M1 II, 40-150 PRO, 100-300 II). The images below are meant to showcase not only how the E-M1 II performs, but also how it performs against what is probably the best sports camera you can get for less than $5k.

The D500 was set up with C-AF, 10fps, and either D25 or Group AF mode. The E-M1 II was set up with C-AF, 10fps, and either 5-point or single-point AF mode.

This first shot is a good challenge for the AF system, because the bikes come up over the crest of a blind hill, so the AF system must quickly grab focus on the subject. I will say that I pre-focused on the crest of the hill, so that when the bikes appeared, the AF system didn't have to travel very far to find and grab focus. Still, the E-M1 II and 100-300 II did very well.

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E-M1 II + 100-300 II @ 300mm f/5.6 by Ian Menego, on Flickr

If we look at a similar shot from the D500, we can see that it's not much different (don't mind any differences in processing). The D500 quickly grabbed focus as the bikes appeared in the frame. This was shot with the 300mm f/2.8 VR + 1.4x TC @ f/4.5. One thing that is noticeable, and that I like, is the softer oof areas with the Nikon gear. Not only was this shot 2/3 of a stop brighter, but the sensor also gives additional DoF control as well, helping soften the oof areas.

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D500 + 300/2.8 + 1.4x TC @ f/4.5 by Ian Menego, on Flickr


OK, so we've established that the E-M1 II (and the cheap 100-300 II) can do very well when it comes to grabbing focus on suddenly appearing targets. But what about panning? The below shot was taken with the E-M1 II & 100-300 II @ 200mm f/5 1/125s, and the details on the bike and text on the stickers are tack sharp.

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E-M1 II + 100-300 II @ 200mm 1/125s by Ian Menego, on Flickr

When I compare the image taken with the E-M1 II to that taken with the D500 + 70-200 as shown below, again, I'm not seeing much in it in terms of differences. The D500 shot is nice and sharp (as was the E-M1 II photo), however in this instance DoF isn't a factor because we're relying on the camera motion to blur the background, rather than the DoF.

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D500 + 70-200 @ 200mm 1/100s by Ian Menego, on Flickr


This next shot was another tricky shot. As I wanted to capture the riders coming through the turn with their knee out/down. What made it tricky was that the riders entered from frame right, appearing suddenly, and then accelerated down the hill. Again, the AF needed to be very quick in acquiring focus on the riders. Yet again, the E-M1 II didn't disappoint. This shot was taken at 300mm, f/5.6 wide open.

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E-M1 II + 100-300 II @ 300mm f/5.6 by Ian Menego, on Flickr

When I compare the E-M1 II image to that taken with the D500 (shown below), the E-M1 II holds up very well IMO. Both shots are nice and sharp, however in this scenario the D500's better DoF control allows for a more pleasing image IMO, as it was taken at 420mm and f/4, giving it ~2 stops better DoF control over the Olympus, and this shows in the greenery as well as the guardrail in the background. However, this lens retails for $5,500, whereas the 100-300 II retails for nearly 1/10th the cost at $650.

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D500 + 300/2.8 1.4x @ 420mm f/4 by Ian Menego, on Flickr


The final image comparison I'll show is a similar scenario as above, where the bikes suddenly entered the frame. The E-M1 II performed great yet again, grabbing focus very quickly with the cheap yet surprisingly good 100-300 II. This shot was taken at 200mm f/5.

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E-M1 II + 100-300 II @ 200mm f/5 by Ian Menego, on Flickr

The Nikon image was taken with the bare 300/2.8 wide open, and I will say that when viewing the two images at 100%, the Nikon shot is sharper. However, the lens costs 8.5x as much as the Panasonic lens, so one would certainly hope it would be sharper. Yet again, I like the softer background/guardrail in the Nikon image, but from a technical/functional standpoint, there's not much difference between the Nikon and Olympus image.

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D500 + 300/2.8 @ 2.8 by Ian Menego, on Flickr


So, what are my thoughts? The E-M1 II is an extremely capable camera for shooting sports in good, mid-day lighting (haven't tested it under darker conditions yet). As far as the camera bodies go, the E-M1 II's performance appears to be very close to that of the D500. I will say that I shot approximately 1,700 images with both cameras, and came away with nearly double the keepers from the Nikon (300 keepers, ~20%) as I did the Olympus (150 keepers, ~10%). However, a lot of the throw-away shots, for both cameras, were due to either having duplicate images, or images that were just soft because of panning (which always kills your keeper rate). While I did tend to like the images from the Nikon more just for the DoF control, I would have no hesitation recommending the E-M1 II for this type of photography. What would probably make the biggest difference would be more comparable telephoto glass for the Olympus. This would either be the PL 200/2.8 or Olympus 300/4 PRO, and I may look at renting one of those lenses in the future.

The main takeaway though, at least for me, is that the E-M1 II appears to finally be living up to its promises about improved performance. I was very impressed when looking back through the images I captured, especially compared to the Nikon and how much that camera is praised (for good reason). Anyways, no more comparison photos. Here are some additional images taken with the E-M1 II from the event.

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ijm5012

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The 150f2 or 200f2.8 would be great lenses for this type of event. Care to share settings with the E-M1.2?
My concern with the 150/2 is that its AF would be a bit slow for the "suddenly appearing" shots. Additionally, the 300mm of effective reach would be a bit short without using a TC, as I was regularly shooting in the 400-600mm range of effective reach.

The 200/2.8 is probably the best option, as it closely mimics the focal length of the 300mm on the D500, and can provide more reach with the include 1.4x TC when needed. I'm considering renting this lens for an upcoming race weekend, because it will give me better DoF control over the 100/300 II, as well as being a bit sharper.

As for the E-M1 II's C-AF settings, I don't have the camera in front of me, but for the "suddenly appearing" type of shots, I had the C-AF Lock setting set to the "loosest" value, so that it would quickly change and grab focus. This worked very well because there was nothing obscuring my view to confuse the AF system. For the panning shots, I set the C-AF Lock setting one click towards the "tight" value, so that it held focus a bit better, and wouldn't be tempted to jump around.

Hopefully that helps. Any other questions, let me know.
 

ijm5012

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The images illustrate more a difference between lenses than camera bodies.

And given the staggering price difference....
Yes, which is the point: to showcase how well the E-M1 II performed in C-AF with fast moving objects against the D500.

As for the lens differences, that's why I said:
"While I did tend to like the images from the Nikon more just for the DoF control, I would have no hesitation recommending the E-M1 II for this type of photography. What would probably make the biggest difference would be more comparable telephoto glass for the Olympus. This would either be the PL 200/2.8 or Olympus 300/4 PRO"

The PL 200/2.8 would yield roughly the same DoF as a 300/4 on the Nikon, making the difference between the images even less noticeable.
 
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Good to have more affirmation that the firmware upgrade made such a massive difference. I remember this time last year we were all becoming very concerned by the lack of an update that Olympus wasn’t going to be able to make any appreciable improvement, and that we’d have to wait for another body or two before Olympus CAF performance would be comparable to the high-end DSLRs. It was a disheartening time.

I imagine the Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 would be very good at this. It’s reportedly an outstanding lens. I don’t think it will be able to blur the background as much as your Nikon kit, but it shouldn’t give any ground in the sharpness department, either.

Edit: From 100’ and wide open, the Nikon kit would have a DoF of 3.76’, and the Panny 200 would be 6.11’. I don’t know what the 100-300 would be without knowing the max aperture at 200mm.
 
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ijm5012

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@Lcrunyon , yes I agree that FW 2.0 was a big increase in C-AF performance for the camera (the performance that many argue should've been there from the start), and when paired with the latest lenses with the fast AF motors, it appears that there's not much that the E-M1 II can't do (at least in good lighting, I can't comment about C-AF performance as the light levels drop).

For my situation, I agree that the PL 200/2.8 is likely the better option to the 300/4 PRO. The PL is a bit more flexible, giving a 400mm or 600mm-ish FoV (with the included 1.4x TC). As for the background blurring, yes it won't get to the same level as the Nikon combo wide open, but then again the m43 body + lens combo only weighs 1,800g, whereas the Nikon combo weighs more double that at 3,800g. And background blurring should still be sufficient, roughly splitting the difference between the Nikon wide-open, and the Panasonic 100-300 II wide open at f/5:

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Great stuff Ian. Glad yo had the time to share these.

Good to see that Olympus has the EM1.2 performing as promised.
 
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@Lcrunyon , yes I agree that FW 2.0 was a big increase in C-AF performance for the camera (the performance that many argue should've been there from the start), and when paired with the latest lenses with the fast AF motors, it appears that there's not much that the E-M1 II can't do (at least in good lighting, I can't comment about C-AF performance as the light levels drop).

For my situation, I agree that the PL 200/2.8 is likely the better option to the 300/4 PRO. The PL is a bit more flexible, giving a 400mm or 600mm-ish FoV (with the included 1.4x TC). As for the background blurring, yes it won't get to the same level as the Nikon combo wide open, but then again the m43 body + lens combo only weighs 1,800g, whereas the Nikon combo weighs more double that at 3,800g. And background blurring should still be sufficient, roughly splitting the difference between the Nikon wide-open, and the Panasonic 100-300 II wide open at f/5:

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I’m sure Olympus would have preferred to have this level of capability right out of the box, but there was clearly quite the learning curve. I’d be highly surprised if there isn’t still room for further improvement.

I am in Germany these past few years, and unfortunately the birding opportunities here just aren’t as good as Maryland. Bird photography was one of our major hobbies before. I’ve mostly been doing travel, landscape, food and architecture photography these days, which is fun too but doesn’t stress the AF performance at all.

But I am considering heading to an F1 race at Hockenheim in July, to try my hand at Motorsports. I tried once before, years ago, at Baltimore, but it wasn’t easy to find a good vantage that wasn’t boarded up, double-chain-link fenced, or reserve seating. I’d be using the E-M1 MkII and 40-150 Pro or 300 Pro, most likely.
 

nstelemark

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@Lcrunyon , yes I agree that FW 2.0 was a big increase in C-AF performance for the camera (the performance that many argue should've been there from the start), and when paired with the latest lenses with the fast AF motors, it appears that there's not much that the E-M1 II can't do (at least in good lighting, I can't comment about C-AF performance as the light levels drop).

For my situation, I agree that the PL 200/2.8 is likely the better option to the 300/4 PRO. The PL is a bit more flexible, giving a 400mm or 600mm-ish FoV (with the included 1.4x TC). As for the background blurring, yes it won't get to the same level as the Nikon combo wide open, but then again the m43 body + lens combo only weighs 1,800g, whereas the Nikon combo weighs more double that at 3,800g. And background blurring should still be sufficient, roughly splitting the difference between the Nikon wide-open, and the Panasonic 100-300 II wide open at f/5:

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You are making me want a 200f2.8 and I simply can't justify it.
 
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Thank you so much for taking the time to take all the images, cull them, PP them, and then share your results. As a total Oly fangirl, I'm thrilled at the results you've achieved with the E-M1.ii. There's no denying the Nikon D500 is a BEAST. If you didn't own the D500, or have seen these comparison shots however, the E-M1.ii with the lowly 100–300, would be more than acceptable, nay, absolutely impressive. To your point, there's really not (IMHO) enough of a difference between the quality of the shots to warrant the bigger size and cost of the D500.
 
D

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This thread had me thinking. I'm going to be shooting MLS soccer here in 2 weeks. I might see about renting an Em1.2 and test it out as well. Since I did something similar to what Ian did with hockey.

I'll have some side line access so might even rent the O300/4 to go along with my P35-100/2.8

Could be an interesting 2nd test. I'll start another thread of I can make that happen.
 

DynaSport

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Thank you for this post. Fantastic photos and an informative and encouraging write up.
 

ijm5012

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As a total Oly fangirl, I'm thrilled at the results you've achieved with the E-M1.ii. To your point, there's really not (IMHO) enough of a difference between the quality of the shots to warrant the bigger size and cost of the D500.
Thank you Melissa. Yes, the E-M1 II performed very well, and with either one of the exotic m43 telephoto options, would've been even closer to the output to the Nikon. Very promising indeed.

Your panning technique is amazing!

The 100-300 II is a very underrated lens, you showcase it well.
Thank you for your comment. Panning just takes practice, steady hands, and a willingness to accept a very low keeper rate, haha.

I too agree that the 100-300 II is very underrated.

This thread had me thinking. I'm going to be shooting MLS soccer here in 2 weeks. I might see about renting an Em1.2 and test it out as well. Since I did something similar to what Ian did with hockey.

I'll have some side line access so might even rent the O300/4 to go along with my P35-100/2.8
That would be an interesting test Andrew, and I feel that the 300/4 would be a great option. Would it be mid-day, or in the evening? I'm interested to see how the E-M1 II performs once light levels begin to drop.

Thank you for this post. Fantastic photos and an informative and encouraging write up.
Thank you Dan, I appreciate your comment.

Thanks Ian, I found your post really interesting, and thought your pictures were stunning!
Thank you very much Rob.
 
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That would be an interesting test Andrew, and I feel that the 300/4 would be a great option. Would it be mid-day, or in the evening? I'm interested to see how the E-M1 II performs once light levels begin to drop.
It is a night game. kickoff starts at 7:30pm. So from close to sunset then into the night, so I'll be shooting under the stadium light as well.

If I can get the EM1.2 and 300/4, I'll probably do something similar to what I did with hockey, and shoot 20 minutes with each kit per half, then compare.
 
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Mack

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Ian, nice series. Good to know the focus is there!

Suggestion: The EM1.2 seems to crush the blacks with little detail, or at least mine does. Might want to try and set that Fn2 curves to a +4 or +5 in Shadows to pull up some detail out of the darkness next time you're out at the track. I've found my old D800E has a smoother curve and the EM1.2 is a little more abrupt in contrast when I calibrated it to the Sekonic meter with their profiling software. My EM1.2 likes to hang around in the shadow toe of the curve a lot longer before it heads up the mountain rather quickly.
 

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