E-M1 vs E-M1 mk II burst rates with Four Thirds lenses

alex g

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Yesterday I unguardedly spent a few hours endangering my sanity by running some performance tests on Four-Thirds lenses.

What follows is a comparison between the E-M1 and E-M1 mark II of maximum burst ("sequential shooting") rates achieved when used in conjunction with a selection of three lenses, each representing a different generation of digital AF technology. The object of the exercise is to attempt to determine the extent to which the E-M1 mk II improves the shooting performance of legacy Four-Thirds lenses, with respect to its predecessor.

It seems sensible to me to divide the procedure into two parts: first, an assessment of comparative shooting speed and, second, an assessment of comparative autofocus accuracy. This post deals exclusively with the question of speed.

For those interested, there are some details of the actual testing procedure at the end of the post, but for now, here are the main points:

Lens selection

The following lenses were tested:
  • The Olympus 150/2.0 — a good example of first gen Four-Thirds lens technology. It uses a micromotor to drive the AF, and has a relatively slow, heavy iris mechanism.
  • The Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD — a popular example of second gen Four-Thirds lens tech. It has an ultrasonic AF motor instead of the older micromotor, and a somewhat faster aperture design.
  • The Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO — this µ43 lens represents the current state of the art, by way of a control. This lens has an extremely fast, dual AF system and a a light and responsive aperture mechanism. Being roughly a decade younger than its brothers, its control electronics may also be assumed to be correspondingly more sophisticated.
Additionally, a few key tests were run on a handful of other lenses, the results of which were sufficiently close to those of one or other of the above to suggest that they could be reasonably safely assumed to also correlate in other regards. Specifically, the results for the 150.2/2.0 are likely to be also applicable to the Olympus 35-100/2.0 and 90-250/2.8 lenses, while the performance of the Olympus 14-35/2.0 SWD appears to be similar to that of the 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD.

Shooting Settings

Each lens was tested on both bodies in a controlled, indoor environment, with various combinations of shooting settings.

Drive modes

Burst rates were measured in each of the five principle Olympus sequential drive modes:
  1. Sequential Low (mechanical shutter)
  2. Low Anti-Shock (Electronic First Curtain shutter)
  3. Low Silent (fully electronic shutter)
  4. Sequential High (mechanical shutter)
  5. High Silent (fully electronic shutter)

Autofocus modes

Modes 1, 2 and 3 (the low speed modes) were tested exclusively with the camera autofocus set to C-AF (continuous), while modes 4 and 5 were tested in both S-AF (single) and C-AF.

It's worth noting at this point that the E-M1 mk II differs from the original E-M1 with regard to the relationship between the high speed drive modes and continuous autofocus mode.
When C-AF is selected with the camera in either Sequential High or High Silent drive mode, the behaviours are as follows:
  • E-M1: exposure is locked for the duration of the burst, but focus is not. C-AF continues to operate.
  • E-M1 mk II: exposure and focus are both locked for the duration of the burst.
This means that provided one can live with a constant exposure throughout the burst, the older camera provides a means of potentially increasing the maximum burst rate when working with Four-Thirds lenses, since their slow aperture mechanisms are typically the limiting factor.

It's necessary to bear in mind therefore, when comparing the respective frame rates for C-AF in either of the high speed drive modes, that the autofocus behaviour will differ between the E-M1 and the E-M1 mk II.

IBIS and aperture settings

Two further factors were taken into consideration, both of them affecting the final frame rate to a greater or lesser extent determined by the type of lens under test.
  • Each combination of drive mode and autofocus mode was tested both with and without image stabilization (IBIS) activated. At higher shutter speeds, such as that used for the tests (1/1000 sec), IBIS is of debatable usefulness and since it has a negative impact on frame rate, it is often wise to turn it off. Added to which, the absurdly high frame rates which the E-M1 mk II is capable of are only available when IBIS is turned off.
  • Each of the above combinations of settings was also tested both with the lens aperture set wide open, and with it stopped down a little. Shooting with the lens wide open has a significant impact on the maximum frame rates obtainable from legacy lenses, since it effectively eliminates the need for the camera to open and close the aperture blades between each frame of the burst.
The number of combinations of settings was therefore (5 + 2) x 2 x 2 = 28, which when applied to three lenses on each of two bodies required a total of 28 X 3 x 2 = 168 tests. I considered that my chances of suppressing the onset of insanity any further than that were slim, so executive decisions were made with regard to all the other camera settings, which then remained constant throughout. Details at the end of the post.

Results

A couple of points regarding the test results: I estimate the experimental margin of error to be about 0.5 fps, with one exception: due to a limitation of the method used for measuring frame rates, it was not possible to determine definitive values for the E-M1 mk II's fastest drive mode. So wherever a value of 40 fps is given in the following results, it should be taken to mean "at least 40" — in the current context, the exact figure isn't crucial. It's a bit like the counting system which birds are believed to have evolved for the purpose of evaluating the progress of their brood and thus the effectiveness of their parenting strategy, which goes something like: none, one, two, lots. So long as they have lots, greater precision is pointless.:)
While I was able to confirm values of at least 40fps in these cases — the true value may have been considerably higher.

With so many test results, it's not obvious how best to present the data. The least confusing approach seems to have been to divide it into four categories, based on the following camera settings:
  1. IBIS on, lens stopped-down.
  2. IBIS on, lens wide open.
  3. IBIS off, lens stopped-down.
  4. IBIS off, lens wide open.
For each category, a table of values is presented, containing the burst rates in frames per second for each lens/body combination and every drive and autofocus mode combination. The same data is then also presented graphically in the form of a series of three bar charts, one per lens, which may be somewhat easier to interpret. The dark green lines are the values for the E-M1, the light green lines are those for the E-M1 mk II.


1. IBIS on, aperture stopped-down:
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2. IBIS on, aperture wide open:
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3. IBIS off, aperture stopped-down:
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4. IBIS off, aperture wide open:
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Conclusions

Overall, I think it's fair to say that overall, the E-M1 mk II does improve on its predecessor with regard to burst rates when used in conjunction with Olympus Four-Thirds lenses. The exact amount ranges — to use my earlier analogy — from 'none' to 'lots', depending on the lens model and camera settings.

Unsurprisingly, the most modest improvements are seen in Low Sequential and Low Anti-Shock modes, both of which rely on fast aperture and autofocus mechanisms in order to achieve decent burst rates. Improvements in performance are therefore much more evident in the case of the modern, µ43 lens than in those of its less up-tp-date, Four-Thirds brethren.

However, the situation improves in Low Silent mode, where both the SWD and non-SWD lenses pick up a fair amount of speed. As has been discussed here and elsewhere, the electronic shutter of the newer camera is a much more viable option than its predecessor, and is perfectly usable in all but a few, specific situations, so the two Silent drive modes are of more interest than they may have been in the past. Even the non-SWD 150/2.0 lens clocks a very respectable 8.5 fps in full C-AF with IBIS off and the aperture wide open — nearly three times as fast as on the original E-M1.

In terms of their respective impacts on fps, the costs of IBIS and stopping-down the lens aperture appear to be cumulative. Frame rates suffer most when both the IBIS is active and the lens is stopped down.

Note that it's possible to have the camera automatically turn IS off during sequential bursts, by setting Custom Menu -> C2 -> ⧉ Image Stabilization -> Fps Priority. That will maximize fps while at the same time giving you a stabilized image in the viewfinder for framing etc. Clearly this is only a good idea in situations where it's possible to set a decently fast shutter speed, thus reducing the need for stabilization.

Moving on to the Sequential High modes, we begin to see some serious frame rate improvements, whilst not forgetting that to an extent we're comparing apples and oranges when looking at the C-AF figures, since only on the original E-M1 does C-AF remain active during the actual burst. Interestingly enough, the fastest mechanical shutter drive mode with active C-AF is delivered by the original E-M1, clocking a useful 6.5 fps and 6 fps for the 50-200 SWD and 150/2 lenses respectively, when using C-AF in Sequential High drive mode, with IBIS turned off.

If you're happy to settle for S-AF during the burst, however, the E-M1 mk II achieves some truly stupendous frame rates, even with the ten-year-old lenses. Even with IBIS turned on, both lenses reach 10+ fps in both Sequential High and High Silent drive modes (although in the case of the 150/2, the aperture must be wide open). It's when you turn IBIS off that the fun really starts, however. Using the mechanical shutter, the 50-200 SWD delivers 14fps stopped down and over 15fps wide open, and the 150/2, though still limited to 6fps when stopped down, equals the performance of the 50-200 SWD when opened up.

The big surprise to me was the performance of the Four-Thirds lenses in High Silent mode — I totally did not expect to see them operate at the same bonkers frame rates as the latest µ43 lenses. The E-M1 mk II delivered at least 40 fps with both the 50-200 SWD and the 150/2 — even when either of them was stopped down. Very impressive.

I should mention one relatively minor point regarding performance with the Four-Thirds lenses — when using C-AF in either of the high-speed drive modes, the crazy high frame rates only kick in from the second frame of the burst. The interval between the first and second frames is rather longer, presumably to allow the lens to get its act together before gunning the throttle. I can't see this being an issue in all but the most demanding of situations. To be clear, this behaviour is only present in C-AF mode — when using S-AF, full frame rate is reached from the first frame of the burst.

Stepping back for a moment, I find the change in autofocus behaviour we see in the newer camera's high speed drive modes quite interesting, in that it favours a slightly different shooting strategy. Despite the fact that AF is locked for the duration of each burst, focus appears to be re-acquired very quickly if the camera is in C-AF mode, enabling you to both take advantage of the greatly improved C-AF and tracking performance of the E-M1 mk II to keep the lens "primed" and ready to shoot, and at the same time make use of the extreme burst rates to capture short but exceedingly dense clusters of images in response to the action as it unfolds. For example, two lions fighting may cover a fairly large area as they chase each other around, but the actual moments of contact — those which are likely to yield the best images — are typically short, intense frenzies of swiping paws, claws and snapping jaws, which despite their violence are relatively static with respect to the camera position. Each frame of a half-second, twenty shot burst fired off at such a moment will likely capture a different facial expression or aspect of the action, but the focus distance will probably not change enough for the fact that it's locked to be an issue.

I think that about wraps it up - please shout if you spot any glaring errors or evidence of gross stupidity. :)

Testing Notes

For reference, here are a few notes regarding the test procedure.

Each burst of frames was shot handheld with the camera facing a LensAlign target at a distance of about 3 metres. The lens was initially focused on the top (furthest end) of the sloping LensAlign ruler and, once the burst had started, panned vertically downwards so as to reach the bottom (nearest end) of the ruler about three seconds later. By inspecting the recorded images, it was possible to confirm that the autofocus had been doing roughly what it was supposed to and not losing the plot entirely. Each sequence of images was then divided into groups of equal timestamp (in other words, one group per second of elapsed time), and the first and last (potentially incomplete) groups were discarded. Finally, the frame rate was obtained by counting the members of the (typically) two remaining (complete) groups, and taking the mean value.

Camera settings:
  • Release Priority in C-AF was set to 'On'. A few random spot tests were made with Release Priority turned 'Off', and the impact on frame rate under the test conditions was found to be negligible.
  • The display frame rate on both bodies was set to "Normal".
  • Images were saved as RAW files only. In the case of the E-M1 mk II, images were saved to both SD card slots simultaneously. [As a sidenote: during one session, the latter shot 3281 frames on a single battery charge, completely filling a pair of 64GB cards.]
  • Shooting parameters were as follows: aperture priority mode; lens aperture either wide open or stopped down one stop, as required; s/s 1/1000 second; Auto ISO (ranging from about 500 to 2000). The two zoom lenses were both set to a focal length of 150mm, to match that of the 150/2.
  • Periodic breaks were taken for the purpose of consuming revitalizing and sanity-preserving beverages.






 

Growltiger

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Interesting.
I have read somewhere here that frame rates on the E-M1 II drop significantly if the ISO is increased. Perhaps it is true of both cameras.
May I politely suggest you rerun the tests at a fixed ISO 200?
 

AussiePhil

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@alex g
Can't find fault with all the methodology except that my own experience with the 40-150Pro dispute your numbers with IBIS turned on, I get effectively rated speeds with IBIS turned on.
Also in the real world conditions the 50-200Swd is no where near as fast as the 40-150Pro in CAF low silent when wide open but I now want to play with some settings to see if it speeds up.
Oh a thanks for doing all of the mind numbing tests it must have got super boring towards the end
 

zippo88

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Thanks Alex! I really like the images I get with both the 50-200 and 150mm
I've found that the 150 is pretty slow with respect to fps. I will adjust my settings now that I have a clear reference. Your time in this comparison is greatly appreciated!
 

alex g

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I'm not particularly interested in this topic but I went through it out of curiosity and I have to say really nice work doing all this and, more to the point, writing it up for the rest of us.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

Interesting.
I have read somewhere here that frame rates on the E-M1 II drop significantly if the ISO is increased. Perhaps it is true of both cameras.
May I politely suggest you rerun the tests at a fixed ISO 200?
Interesting, I hadn't heard that. Can you share the source of that info?

@alex g
Can't find fault with all the methodology except that my own experience with the 40-150Pro dispute your numbers with IBIS turned on, I get effectively rated speeds with IBIS turned on.
What is your setting for Custom Menu -> C2 -> ⧉ Image Stabilization?
If it is Fps Priority, then IBIS is in fact turned off during the burst, which would account for the performance you're seeing.
If it is IS Priority, I would expect to see something closer to the figures I quoted above.

Also in the real world conditions the 50-200Swd is no where near as fast as the 40-150Pro in CAF low silent when wide open but I now want to play with some settings to see if it speeds up.
That's a fair point, and the reason why I described the setup for those tests. Real world conditions throw a ton of new variables into the equation, which I wanted to temporarily exclude for the sake of clarity. The time it takes to acquire and chase focus clearly differs widely between lenses. Equally, the need to chase focus varies widely between different real world situations. In situations where the focus distance is changing quickly and significantly, a new lens like the 40-150 Pro is going to easily out run the 50-200 SWD. On the other hand, if the variations in focus distance are relatively small, the differences in overall speed become less pronounced. The older lenses really show their age when they're constantly asked to rack from one end to the scale to the other, but it seems to me that they can be relatively snappy when just making micro-adjustments from frame to frame. Turning on Release Priority in the menu system effectively takes the focusing time out of the picture, althouh as mentioned, there was little or no difference under the test conditions. In many real world situations, however, that would not be the case, I agree. There are additional factors, of course, and there's no doubt that the 50-200 SWD can be a real pig at acquiring focus under certain conditions, especially in low light and at longer focal lengths. I intend to attempt to take such factors into account in future tests. :)

Oh a thanks for doing all of the mind numbing tests it must have got super boring towards the end
Haha — towards the end? Numbness set in after the first fifteen minutes! :dash2:

Well that just seems unnecessary :biggrin: maybe you should see if decreasing sanity alters the flow of time and effects the frame rates.
It does. Time slows to a crawl and frame rates become inexplicably erratic.

All Kidding aside, nice work and thank you.
Thank you! I'd like to say that it was a pleasure, but that might be mistakenly taken as evidence of a streak of masochism in my nature... :D

Excellent work. Thank you! Hope we can test these together at some nature preserve nearby when it stops snowing.
Absolutely! I request that we also wait for temperatures to rise above the finger-to-lens freeze-welding threshold... :)
 

alex g

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Thanks Alex! I really like the images I get with both the 50-200 and 150mm
I've found that the 150 is pretty slow with respect to fps. I will adjust my settings now that I have a clear reference. Your time in this comparison is greatly appreciated!
Excellent! :thumbsup: Please report any findings you think may be of interest if you get a chance — you can never have too much data! :)
 

zippo88

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I do recall the em1 did not originally have C-AF in high drive modes at launch. it wasn't until firmware (V4?) updates unlocked that capability. Maybe one day firmware for the mark 2 will unlock similar high speed with C-AF function with the higher fps that the mark 2 is capable of. Fun to speculate.. sorry @alex g but you'll have to re-test when that day comes! :p
 
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@alex g Thanks for your detailed analysis. I'm currently engaged with Olympus support about the CAF + Seq. L performance of my Zuiko 300mm F2.8 with Em1mkII. I'm getting 4-5 FPS in mechanical shutter mode and way more in e-shutter. Olympus EM1 mkII issue of low FPS with L mode, CAF and mechanical shutter: Micro Four Thirds Talk Forum: Digital Photography Review

I've couple of questions:

1] Could you please mention which SD card did you use. I understand the burst speed is heavily dependent on the write speed of the SD card. If you are simultaneously writing to both card slots, the slower card slot would be the limiting factor.

2] Would you mind sharing your excel sheet so other people can fill in the columns with lenses they own and that way we can crowdsource data on which combination works best.
 
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alex g

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@alex g Thanks for your detailed analysis. I'm currently engaged with Olympus support about the CAF + Seq. L performance of my Zuiko 300mm F2.8 with Em1mkII. I'm getting 4-5 FPS in mechanical shutter mode and way more in e-shutter.
Those are the sort of figures I would expect, given that the 300/2.8 is of the same generation (pre SWD) as the 150/2.

I've couple of questions:
1] Could you please mention which SD card did you use. I understand the burst speed is heavily dependent on the write speed of the SD card. If you are simultaneously writing to both card slots, the slower card slot would be the limiting factor.
64GB Lexar Pro 1000x (150MB/s) in both slots.

2] Would you mind sharing your excel sheet so other people can fill in the columns with lenses they own and that way we can crowdsource data on which combination works best.
Other people are welcome to quote my figures for comparison purposes, but pooling experimental results from multiple sources into a single database is only valid practice if the test conditions are identical, and there would be no guarantee of that in this case.
 
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@Amin, is there a way to pin/sticky this thread to the top of the Olympus Camera forum? There's some excellent information in here, and people are bound to ask the same types of questions in numerous threads. Having this thread easily accessible would make it easier for people to find and link back to it.
 

alex g

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Alex, super analysis. Thank you!

could you comment on the focus speed and accuracy of the 50-200 on the EM1M2? Is the improvement over the M1 a real difference or just a minor upgrade?
As it happens, I'm just putting together some video clips of the live view of the same six body/lens combinations as before: E-M1.1 and E-M11.2 each with the 40-150, 50-200 SWD and 150/2. The idea is to try to convey a more immediate sense of the relative responsiveness of the various configurations than you tend to get from studying a series of actual captures from the camera itself. It may or may not work — we'll see! :D

I'll hopefully post Round One ("Agility", inspired by a recent dog show) tomorrow. :)
 
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@Amin Sabet - Maybe this thread can be unpinned now? It's getting old...
What does age have to do with a thread being pinned vs. unpinned?

The whole concept of pinning a thread is so that the information can easily be found down the road. By unpinning it, you're doing a disservice to any new members who come along looking for this information, which now can't easily be found.
 

ThorEgil

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What does age have to do with a thread being pinned vs. unpinned?

The whole concept of pinning a thread is so that the information can easily be found down the road. By unpinning it, you're doing a disservice to any new members who come along looking for this information, which now can't easily be found.
Ah, OK. I wasn't aware that "E-M1 vs E-M1 mk II burst rates with Four Thirds lenses" was any more interesting for newcomers than the thousands of other subjects discussed in this forum. For me it is just a waste of space at the top of the screen.
Anyone who happens be particularly interested in this rather exotic subject can just search for it - like we all do when we need info about this or that.
 
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