Olympus EM1 MKIII Face Priority-1st Model Shoot Results

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Short Recap: Initial impression is that the new Face Priority on the EM1 MkIII is good, but not great, and gets a 7.5 out of 10 rating, where the face and eye decect on my Sony A73 is a solid 9.5.

Long Version: Got to do my first model shoot in a couple of months yesterday, and also used my 6 week old EM1 MkIII for the first time in this type of setting. Was anxious to try out the highly touted improved eye and face tracking system called Face Priority. Set my camera to A mode and used 2 lenses for this, the 12-40 f2.8 Pro and the Nocticron 42.5 f1.2, IBIS on, lens OIS off. The shoot was in the local foothills and it was a beautiful clear and crisp day. About half the photos were in bright sun, the other half in the shade of trees, an old barn structure or a railroad car. A good friend shot with me who just bought his first Olympus last week thanks to my recommendation, also the MkIII, after more than 20 years of using Nikon. He bought the 12-100 f4 Pro lens and really liked it, as it replaces his 24-70 and 70-200 f2.8 Nikkors with a much smaller package.

My first 39 shots were taken with the 2 models right against some shadowed concrete bridge supports which were covered in graffiti. On about 5 or so, I noticed the face square jumping to some graffiti on the wall and I used FN front button, preprogrammed to turn face priority on/off, and then the joystick to move the focus back, take the shot, and hit the FN again to restart Face Priority. So all ended up in perfect focus. Excellent, I thought, what a great start.

But once we moved to where the models were not against the walls, but with an open background or inside a rail car with a dark background, the results changed drastically. 82 out of the remaining 365 photos were OOF, where the face priority either front of back focused on something else and the eyes/face were not sharp, even though I had gotten a green square in the EVF. The face square appeared, and in most the lock on the eyes, when visible, but then face square disappeared, it did not jump to anything else like it did when shooting against the walls. My friend shooting alongside me said the same thing about the face square disappearing, so it wasn't anything I had accidentally done. There were series of shots taken from the same shooting position with the same background, and a couple shots in a row would be OOF and then focus would return, only to be lost again. The worst was a series of 22 photos shot in shade under a dilapidated barn with open sides. I was using my Godox AD200 in flash HS Sync mode and only 6 out of 22 were in focus. At another spot, 8 shots with the model leaning along the side of a railroad car, with me shooting parallel along the side of the car, were all OOF, but as soon as I moved 45 degrees to the side of the railcar, and without touching anything on the camera, the focus returned. The majority of the misfires were taken with the model being close enough for a 3/4 or full body shot, so in the 4 to 6 meter range. About 50 photos were taken at 10 meters or more and all of these were in perfect focus. Very perplexing. And it wasn’t my ss, as the far majority were taken at 1/320sec or greater. 14 for example, out of 39 shots at 1/2,500ss were OOF. The slowest ss was 1/60 and the far majority are in perfect focus.

Final tally is Face Priority nailed focus on 322 out of my 404 Face Priority On total photos, which is a big improvement over my G9, but it is a little bit disappointing to me from what I was led to believe. I am sure some of the missed results are from me using this new Face Priority system for the first time and there are things I may need to learn. But where do I do that, as Olympus only has a 2 minute video showing how it performs in full sun and the only instructions are the ones in the manual that says how to turn it on or off….However my Sony A73 with its awesome face/eye detect, would have missed maybe 2-5 photos per 100, based upon 31 similar photo shoots and approx. 14,000 total portrait photos taken with it the since Sept 2018. So initial impression is that the new Face Priority on the EM1 MkIII is good, but not great, and gets a 7.5 out of 10 rating, where the face and eye detect on my Sony A73 is a solid 9.5. I have developed an AF confidence with the Sony at these types of events and really no longer worry about focusing as the face/eye detect is so good. Hopefully the EM1 MkIII Face Priority will allow for this too, with practise and FW updates.

P. S. My friend in using his new EM1 MkIII for the first time just wanted to see how it all worked. He put his camera into the P mode, turned Face Priority on, used only the 12-100 f4 Pro zoom, and did not adjust the camera in any other way. He has not gone through all of his photos yet, but we discussed it this morning and his results mirror mine, he felt that 20 to 25% at initial glance were OOF.
 
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