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Vaguely tolerable sports AF

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by dd-b, Dec 6, 2017.

  1. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    I knew I was trading down in action AF capability when I ditched my aging Nikon D700 and kept and upgraded my Micro Four Thirds (just got the EM-1 Mk II). The question was, was it enough that I was going to regret it? (I decided I really couldn't afford to maintain two photo systems at near-pro levels).

    I've been shooting for a roller derby team for 6 years now, about the only action sports photos I do. Last Saturday I shot my first bout with the EM-1 mk II. I got about the usual number of pictures good enough to keep in the slideshow for the after-party (about 300 out of 1200 shot), and I got at least two, maybe three photos that should go in the derby portfolio (if I were organized enough to really have one). So clearly it was not a disaster. I got a higher-than-usual number of "technical deletes", hopelessly out-of-focus shots. I also got frustrated fiddling with the controls and trying to figure out what it was doing.

    Given that it took me lots of study and much of a year to figure out how to use the Nikon AF to make me happy, I expect to spend some time learning the Olympus system (I've had Oly for years, but haven't used C-AF much at all, so I'm basically starting that part from scratch).

    Nikon has a huge advantage in tracking AF -- the viewfinder, being optical, doesn't show you what it's currently focusing on, so it's only when the final focus is far enough off to matter that it becomes apparent it didn't work :) . Whereas in the EVF I can watch the focus box wander off right in the viewfinder.

    I did find the Nikon manuals much clearer about what the settings meant. There were also more settings -- three kinds of tracking layered on top of the C-AF selection (Nikon D700).

    On the EM-1 mk II, in C-AF mode, what does it do? Does it focus continuously on the particular box I picked out, and stay right there? What about variable focus region size? And what does the choice of big grid, cross, and square box of focus sites mean anyway, and when is it relevant? Some of these options I can't even find in the menus without an hour of searching still.

    My photos from last weekend's bout are here. I'm attaching one of the really good ones here.
    ddb 20171202 010-403.
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  2. SOCDriver

    SOCDriver Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 21, 2017
    The OC
    There are 4 modes for the C-AF, Mode 2 might be what you want, it starts tracking at half press and only locks focus and exposure at full press. Mode 1 will lock exposure at half and focus only at full. You can try to use the C-AF + TR mode to track a single subject, I have not tried it on the MkII though. As for the different boxes it is the targeting mode. a single box will just select a target in the box. The cross box will choose from the targets in the 5 focus areas in the cross. The big 9 box will select targets in that box region. Think of it as how large a focus zone you want. Also if you have face detection on it will always prioritize tracking the face of the subject to stay in focus. I have shot cars with the MkI and made sure to keep that off and it helped. Don't know if it will for you.
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  3. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Hi there @dd-b@dd-b , welcome to the forums.

    Unfortunately, your results seem to echo what a number of other members here have found, where they've shot with an E-M1 II hoping for it to be a massive upgrade in the AF-C department, only to be disappointed. I made the mistake of renting a D500, and was getting better shots with the D500 than with the E-M1 II after only having the rental for less than 24 hours (versus ~6 months with the E-M1 II).

    I think the issue is that Olympus' PDAF algorithm just isn't up to the same level as CaNikon (who've been doing this forever), or even the newer Sony and Fuji cameras. A number of us are hopeful that Olympus will update the FW to improve the performance of the AF-C (like they did with the E-M1), but at its current state, it's no match for a DSLR, which is frustrating.

    I agree about the OVF vs EVF as well as the clarity of the menus and instructions with the Nikon vs the Olympus (the Olympus is particularly bad IMO, especially for a flagship camera).

    At the end of the day, shooting sports with the E-M1 II was more hassle than it was worth, so I sold off some of my sports lenses, and bought a small Nikon kit which I now use for sports. I'm a firm believer in using the right tool for the job, and the Nikon is simply the right tool. I still use my E-M1 II for portraits, family stuff, travel, and landscapes, but if the subject is moving, the Nikon gets the nod.
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  4. bjurasz

    bjurasz Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 10, 2014
    Cedar Park
    When I was photographing my young (6) daughter in soccer (with an EM-10) I found I had to make sure that face detection was OFF. The camera just wastes too much time detecting faces and not enough compute power left for AF. Plus, which face will it grab anyway? The other thing I did was keep it on center-point-only focus.

    By the way, I often had to resort to such tricks with my old Canon system, even when I was using a 1D Mark II and a 70-200/2.8L, or 300/2.8L --- make the camera do as little work as possible so it can put all its attention to focusing.

    I know people shooting college football with an Olympus setup and making $$$ doing it. These cameras are capable of the job, but like any other camera you just need to figure out how to setup it and use it properly.
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  5. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    I shot with an EM1 Mk. I w/ZD 50-200 SWD + EC-14 for kids soccer games and found it performed quite well with CAF. Did not use CAF+TR. Used nine center points. Never use face detection. Can't remember what CAF mode I used. Default I guess. I was quite satisfied with it, after trying and giving up on CAF with an EM5. If I'd used a 40-150 Pro, I might have gotten even better results because of the faster AF (though not the range), but I was not at all dissatisfied with the 50-200 on the EM1. I'm not a pro, but most readers on this site probably aren't either. I have an EM1 Mk. II now, but haven't tested it under the same circumstances.

    Showcase - Olympus 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 ZD 4/3 SWD
    Showcase - Olympus 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 ZD 4/3 SWD

    There are plenty more posts of sports action using an M43 camera. Maybe it isn't the best at it, but maybe it's good enough while being excellent at most other functions?
  6. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    For a great number of people this will hold true.
  7. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    I find it often finds several faces but not the central ones, so yeah, much as I love the idea, in practice I find face-detection ruins more shots than it saves. Same with Lightroom face detection and Facebook face detection, for that matter, and those don't have the excuse of doing it in real-time.
  8. Matt Drown

    Matt Drown Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 9, 2015
    I haven't had much chance to play with C-AF on my mk2, but have you looked at trying out the "pro capture" mode. You basically start recording images at 30-60 FPS into the buffer when you half press, and when you fully press, it records the previous "x" shots (defined by you) onto the card along with the ones you are shooting now. You'll end up with a lot more "technical-deletes", but perhaps with a higher chance of getting what you want.

    What lense are you using? 40-150 2.8? Or primes?

    In C-AF mode, the camera just keeps trying to keep whatever boxes you have selected in focus, and if you have more than one box/plus/grid selected, it uses "ai/magic" to basically pick the closest object. It doesn't track that object, and moving the subject out of the target area while you are running C-AF just means the camera focuses somewhere else. (you are running back-button-focus, right?)

    In C-AF-TR mode, the camera picks a subject in the focus area, changes the view to show you what it's tracking, and follows it around (or doesn't). Every half press resets the tracking square. From flipping through the BIF photographer comments on fredmiranda, it seems you may want to turn
    "menu->a1->c-af lock" to +2, to avoid tracking trying to grab other skaters.

    I know when I shot some derby from the sidelines with a mk1 I ended up attempting to pre-focus on corners, and then shoot. I also ended up doing panning shots (an example attached).

    Hopefully this is some help.

    Attached Files:

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  9. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    I've eyed the Pro Capture mode, yeah. I still remember the shock when I encountered audio equipment with the same kind of "built-in time machine", it was amazing (and, the first time, I felt dumb for not thinking of it first). I'm afraid of the volume of shots, but I do use Photo Mechanic as the first step so I'd at least have a fighting chance. In the long run the volume isn't a problem, but my signature stunt is presenting a slideshow at the after-party, and a huge increase in number of shots would at least delay that.

    Yeah, shooting the Oly 40-150/2.8, which (after a few weeks) seems to be another of the wonderful bargain lenses out there for M43 (half the price of the Nikon or Sony 70-200/2.8, longer reach, and seems to have very nice optics and focus very fast).

    I'm using half-press for derby with the Oly. I was a totally committed back-button guy with the Nikon gear, but the button isn't as convenient on the Olympus. But also -- specifically for derby, the back button doesn't actually help my control that I can see. Not sure what I'm going to end up with as my habit for other uses of the OM-1mkII; quite possibly back-button. On the Nikon I was keeping half-press most of the time anyway, and not lifting from the back much at all, and it just didn't buy anything; I'd been considering changing to half-press there for derby, but never got to it.

    There's an equivalent of the AF-Lock time in Nikon, there I had it towards the low end of the scale -- it's more likely that I need to focus on the new person in front than that I'm just being temporarily blocked. But whichever, it's been on my list to see if non-default settings help me. Both in derby and other shooting I occasionally feel that it takes a second to decide to adjust, which means I'll be trying lower values first I think.

    I keep trying to find panning shots, but I end up in places where the skaters are more coming towards me than going past, so it's not a good panning situation. Maybe I should try panning next time I'm shooting from the center, it occurs to me I haven't tried that with panning. I like panning shots in theory, anyway!

    I've shot with a friend using M43 gear with (at the time) a manual focus 85/1.4 on it (Rokinon maybe? Forget exactly). He did it with pre-focus of course, and got quite a few great shots that way. I work more by following what looks like the action and going to full-press now and then. Same friend who recommended this particular forum, come to think of it (don't think he posts here, don't know the user name he uses if he does).

    I shot the first bout with electronic shutter. Haven't spotted any rolling shutter artifacts, and that gives me more options -- and doesn't eat into the shutter actuation count (my D700 was at 80,000 when I sold it). And less delay and no worries about shutter shock. Maybe a Pro Capture config with a small shot limit, giving me a burst about centered around when I push the button next time?

    Anyway, thanks very much for your thoughts and info!
  10. Winmeister

    Winmeister Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 8, 2017
    Today I went shooting with my 11y son at skateboard park with EM1 Mark 1 with 40-150 & 1.4X, so effective focal length to about 420mm max reach. I was on C-AF, SS1600, F4, ISO 320-500, CH 9fps, AF-LOCK @ Normal. I used 3X3 box (best for me) and stayed within 37 phase control point zone. I have XT2 (tested with latest FW 3.0 with 90mm F2. It was very very good!),and also Nikon D500 with 70-200 & 200-500, which is too big for casual family action shoot, so I only took my EM1.

    I took total of 164 shots (all C-AF @ 9fps bursts). I deleted 50% of them....because I couldn't keep INSIDE 3X3 C-AF box, which is TOO SMALL at long end, and were out of focus. That's where XT2's Zone AF is very very good! Way better than EM1. If I shot 164 photos with XT2, 150 will be absolute keepers! But, of 50% I was able to keep centered with EM1's AF box, only 5 pics or so was a little SOFT. I was going to buy EM1 Mark II, but now I will keep EM1 original for now, until EM1 Mark II FW can make AF zone bigger than it is now, which is same as EM1. New EM1 may have faster AF system, if you can't keep within 3X3 box (for me), it's not going to be better in C-AF as I see it. I am keeping eye on next FW upgrade to decide. EM1 Mark I is still perfect focus at CH 9fps on 20+ frame burst sequences, IF I was good enough to keep with 3X3 zone!

    For low light indoor C-AF, not sure OMD EM1 are goof enough though.... In same situation, XT2 or D500 will be what I will use.
  11. Matt Drown

    Matt Drown Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 9, 2015
    Remember that in C-AF photo mode you need to half press the shutter to START focusing, or use back-button (ael/afl button) to start focusing. Open up the focus points to what you need to focus, don't leave it at single center, unless you always want the center focused, you aren't focussing and recomposing (unless you are using C-AF+TR). So if you aren't riding the 1/2 press/bbf, the camera won't be focussing on the point you selected. It's important when you are trying to reduce any lag.

    Pro-Capture is adjustable quite a bit with rate, how much pre-shots it takes, etc. You'll probably end up requiring a few tries to figure out how much you need to use it. (gear-config-c1, 3rd and 4th options. remember that L can continue to focus, while H will not change focus after the first shot, in pro-cap, or normal rapid shot mode.)

    FYI, you can turn on 1, plus(5), 3x3, or whole screen with C-AF or C-AF+TR.

    Lastly, make sure you've updated the firmware on the camera and the lenses, something minor, but can make a difference.
  12. Ctein

    Ctein Mu-43 Regular

    Dear David,


    Yeah, I read the featured threads. And post on rare occasions. And I use my real name everywhere-- never liked handles.

    Yes, it was the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4.

    I think you have a miswrite in your first post? You said, "Nikon has a huge advantage in tracking AF..." but what you describe doesn't exactly sound like an advantage to me.

    It bugs me that I got my EM1mII almost year ago and I STILL haven't gotten to try it out on r.d.

    OTOH, you get to be the one with the arrows in your back [vbg].

    pax / Ctein
    -- Ctein's Online Gallery Ctein's Online Gallery
    -- Digital Restorations Photos Restored Digitally by Ctein
  13. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    Yep, but I'll be riding the shutter button anyway to get IS working. The pattern on the two buttons ends up being so nearly identical that using two fingers makes less sense the more I think about it (for this particular action photography; I do think back-button is great for almost everything else, I converted quite quickly when a friend showed me back on my D200, and kept it up on the D700). With the Nikon I just rode both, the buttons were so perfectly placed, but it probably would have made more sense to go to half-press for focus there too (derby only; or sports action only anyway).

    I've been playing with Pro Capture today, and I'm definitely going to give it a try at my next derby bout (not until late January, at least the next regular home game for my team is then). It does look potentially very useful. The main downside is in sorting time later, and I think I can hold to the discipline of (almost) never keeping more than one frame from any given burst, which will make it quicker and the resulting pile smaller.

    I'm still trying to figure out button assignments that make sense for me. And with the EVF I can try adjusting some things on-the-fly that were too slow to adjust if I had to take the camera down from my eye. I think I may want to be able to slide the focus box left or right across the screen without taking the camera down, and I think that's actually feasible. I have to think about non-derby photos too, I don't want to create conflicting assignments for the different types of work.
  14. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    Earth humor! I do think the d700 did tracking AF a LOT better, but that first paragraph referring to it was taking a poke at something I'd just realized, that knowing what it was doing made it easier to criticize, and you know a lot better with EVF since it shows the focus box moving around, you don't have to guess from the results.

    And I was pretty sure that if you posted here you used your real name; what I probably should have done is checked if there was a "Ctein" here, then I would have known. As it was, I was avoiding a (very low probability) of outing a pseudonym accidentally. And it was true that I didn't know what name you used here, I just had a darned good guess.
  15. Reflector

    Reflector Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 31, 2013
    Question anyone experiencing bad C-AF+TR behaviors: Do you hold down C-AF+TR or do you pulse it when you suspect it starts to focus drift/locked onto something else?

    If you try to make the camera track a subject moving in a complex manner, try doing the latter. I've that effectively most of the locks made within the first few seconds are good, you primarily start having problems when there's very erratic movement (even with the lock settings) and then the camera is trying to determine the trajectory of the path. There might a short duration of a second or less where the focus "catches up."
  16. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    The practice I'm trying to develop is to lift and re-press if the focus wanders off. I'm new enough to using it that way that I have little idea, so far, how that's going to work out for me. And I'm switching between tracking and regular, and playing with initial focus pattern/size also. Still very much in the learning curve on C-AF work with this camera.
  17. Reflector

    Reflector Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 31, 2013
    I don't seem to have the C-AF or C-AF+TR troubles myself except on adapted (gasp) lenses. The latter will drive focus right onto target, but if the AF confirm isn't lit up then it is either in focus or still trying to refine focus (in low light). The latter will display drifting behavior and recover in a slower manner than using native lenses from my own experience. The latter I only started to realize that the native lenses recover faster when I decided to do some more tests with them. Obviously letting go and forcing reacquisition works out very well in that case.

    If you are using native lenses then you'll probably be interested in toying around with Pro Capture so you can effectively get a sequence of images of the subject at high speed and then delete out the images where the focus point is incorrect.

    My recommendations would be to really play around with the C-AF system to get familiar with it. I transitioned away from Nikon to Micro Four Thirds for a set of reasons and many of them include Nikon's business practices, so my experience on Micro Four Thirds is effectively from the ground up. Things work sometimes similarly and sometimes like as if I were to go to a completely different system (...Like Canon) and some people work better on the "default behaviors" of one system over another.

    You also might want to try playing with C-AF/C-AF+TR on some willing experimentees to determine where the focus point is to figure out what kind of behavior is going on. I saw a video of a Tamron 100-400 being reviewed and the reviewer thought at first the lens completely missed focus, but instead it was trying to throw the focus plane towards the "most interesting subject in the scene" which was a ball flying mid air. The focus plane had just clipped the ball and it was just out of focuss.. It seemed that the Canon DSLR he used suddenly decided that was the most interesting subject in the scene. Obviously with the mirror blackout duration, the Canon has to try to predict where the subject will go when it doesn't have autofocus data and then reacquire and predict where the subject will be for the next frame. The E-M1II is able to effectively read AF information from the OSPDAF points and the blackout period is whatever the mechanical shutter time is or alternatively what the readout and refresh rate of the sensor is. I've found that using the mechanical shutter in C-AF leads to a slightly longer delay for shutter release (versus S-AF) and I assume that the camera is attempting to calculate the projected focus point before it releases the shutter.

    (Starts at 8:48 approximately for that tracking behavior)

    Might want to try playing around with family and pets to see the behavior.
  18. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    I'm a Nikon refugee myself (was using M43 and a D700 in parallel for quite a while, both systems were getting somewhat old, one was better for some things, the other for others; in my case it was largely a financial decision to narrow down to one system, and I ended up with M43 since it fits very well for more of what I do, and because I'm pretty sure mirrorless is the shape of the future.). Now I'm talking mostly about the other things, since that's where the learning curve is taking place :)  .

    I have no adapted lenses with AF, so this is all native lenses (nearly all Olympus lenses; in fact, for sports it's been entirely the 40-150/2.8 so far). Pro Capture is definitely on my radar, I spent several hours today playing with settings to try including that, and I think it's going to be very useful (also, it helps justify the expense of UHS-II memory cards). I do use family and cats to practice, but they're so entirely unlike the situations I need to test C-AF for that it's not helping much. Not enough movement. I'm shooting silent or Pro Capture mostly, I'm already getting used to figuring out when I've taken some photos without the shutter noise. Pro Capture makes the viewfinder very jerky, unfortunately.
  19. Reflector

    Reflector Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 31, 2013
    I dropped from Nikon from an earlier period and I was considering a second hand D3 or D700 before I went to Micro Four Thirds. I was never disappointed by the S-AF which was one of the reasons I switched systems. I didn't like the (business + no D400...) direction that Nikon took and how they continuously dropped the ball on quality control (and still have up until now... we'll see what happens in the next few years).

    I believe if you crank the frame rate up then Pro Capture will appear less jerky. With my own experience, doing continuous high dtrive at 60 fps effectively lets you watch a video at 60 fps until the buffer fills shortly after. One thing you might want to try is to use 30-60fps and Pro Capture in S-AF so that the subject passes through the focus plane. As for a strategy for reviewing/deleting a high volume of images: Protect your keepers, erase all.

    A good UHS-II card is great, given the E-M1II effectively can maintain something less than 10 fps continuously with a fast card. You might want to consider the tactic of using something to copy off all the content from the UHS-II card onto an inexpensive but reliable UHS-I card. I did that when I had off time but you could always have two UHS-II cards and some means of external copying to be "uninterrupted" when shooting. Significantly less expensive than going with a high capacity card and a bit more reliable with two cards as you aren't dependent on a single point of failure.

    You might also want to review the C-AF lock setting, just by playing around with it and seeing what gives you better keeper rates on a given subject. I've attached an image from Olympus' Asia website which I suspect does a better job at illustrating examples than the manual. There is also the focus limiter setting, which lets you set 3 ranges to focus within (and ignore things outside of those ranges). The focus limiter is toggled by pressing the button you set it to and you transition from the 3 ranges by depressing the button and turning the dial. I find it incredibly helpful when dealing with birds as it prevents the AF system from driving adapted lenses in the wrong direction and then being very out of focus thus significantly lengthening AF time. It also helps the AF ignore foreground or subground subjects better.

    Lock setting.
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  20. dd-b

    dd-b Mu-43 Rookie

    Nov 13, 2017
    Minneapolis, MN
    That soccer shot is an actual example of wanting delayed AF response. I get referees blocking my roller derby shots all the time -- but not in a way I can really work around, they tend to fill the whole frame (shooting from ground level and framing tighter). Experimenting yesterday I found the +2 setting seemed to work best for what I mostly want -- which struck me as backwards from how things are labeled. But it matches what that chart shows. I don't recognize it from the pdf manual, can I ask where it comes from? Or do I simply not remember it?

    Does anybody have any idea what the "AF scanner" setting is about? Is that maybe a control on when it racks the focus from end to end desperately searching?

    The writing (or translation) in the manual and menus is really not very good; sometimes things don't make sense mostly because they chose weird ways to describe things.
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