photographing birds in flight is one of the more challenging genres of photography - both for the gear required and for the technique and skill of the photographer, not to mention, their patience.
assuming one is not using the preset focus technique for birds flying across a predictable flight zone, this genre requires exceedingly fast and accurate autofocus of fast moving subjects - traditionally a major weakness of mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus OM-D when compared to optimised mature PDAF systems of sports dSLRs
nevertheless, times are changing and the OM-D's are continually improving, along with their lenses, but although the OM-D system provides a much lighter option, the dSLRs still give more reliable and easier results as of 2016, 2017 and perhaps the differences will be even smaller with mark II version of the Olympus E-M1
basic settings for birding with Olympus OM-D cameras
ensure you have the latest firmware
Olympus continually updates AF performance by releasing new firmware make sure you have the latest for the camera AND the lens.
reduce viewfinder blackout by:
set EVF refresh rate to HIGH
and optionally use LOW burst rate rather than HIGH burst rate
get the exposure correct and shutter to stop the action:
consider Manual exposure mode or Shutter Priority mode
set shutter speed to 1/1000th - 1/2000th sec to reduce motion blur of the bird
set ISO to auto ISO if not using Manual exposure, and have upper setting set to around ISO 1600-2000
aperture will generally default to wide open if shooting Shutter Priority, but if you need more depth of field, then use Manual Mode and set everything individually
if not using Manual mode you may need to set exposure compensation, especially shooting into a bright sky
you could consider using spot metering, but then your bird MUST be in the centre of the image and depending upon whether that part of the bird is white or dark will affect your metering, but this won't be such an issue with manual mode as you can determine this before the shot
enable image stabilisation
Olympus OM-D cameras have the best image stabilisation available so you may as well be using it!
decide upon Release Priority options
set Release Priority to OFF for your AF mode (S or C) if you want the camera to only take the shot IF focus is achieved - this means less out of focus shots, and less shots but you may miss great shots that were just a little out of focus.
set Noise Filter to OFF or LOW
Olympus noise filter settings higher than this are overly aggressive and degrade image detail as well as potentially slowing CDAF
set the focus range on the lens if it has one
set AF points
consider choosing a group of 9 points
in some situations just a single central point may work better, especially for stationary birds
avoid using teleconverters
these will get you closer but at the cost of needing higher ISO and having slower AF, and if you have a great lens, you may be able to achieve similar image quality by cropping the image
do NOT use C-AF + Tracking mode unless you have the E-M1 Mark II
this does not work well enough on other cameras, on the E-M1 Mark II you can consider using C-AF+tracking, but all other cameras, use S-AF+MF or S-AF
set Fulltime AF to OFF
this mode is NOT useful
set Release Lag-Time to SHORT
additional CDAF optimisation settings if shooting in S-AF mode
this applies to ALL OM-D cameras as they all use CDAF for S-AF mode, including the E-M1 (unless using CDAF non-compatible lenses such as Four Thirds on an E-M1 in which case PDAF will always be used instead)
consider using Picture set to Vivid to increase contrast and thus AF speed
consider burst rate is HIGH, AF only occurs on the 1st shot but CDAF will not work well even on LOW burst rates if bird is flying towards you, so not much lost by not having AF between shots
if using S-AF+MF instead of S-AF:
use it by halfway depress the shutter for initial autofocus, and then, without releasing the shutter, move the manual focus ring for finer adjustments
if you take your finger off of the halfway depress before pressing down all the way to take the picture, the AF will re-engage and you lose your MF adjustment
consider using Focus Peaking to assist the quick MF adjustments
if shooting RAW, consider assigning a button to x2 digital teleconverter to give you a quicker magnified view for MF assist than the usual magnified view function.
additional PDAF optimisation settings for the E-M1
NB. if you use S-AF + burst mode, you only get AF on 1st image of the burst
the E-M1 uses PDAF if either:
C-AF mode, or
using lenses it deems as not being compatible with CDAF such as Four Thirds lenses
set AF mode to C-AF+Tracking
set burst rate to LOW to ensure C-AF occurs between shots and 6fps is generally adequate
if you choose a HIGH burst rate, you get more EVF blackout, you don’t get a true live view but the last captured image, and C-AF may struggle
set C-AF Lock according to scene
if shooting a blue sky background, can set it to HIGH
if shooting a busy background, set it to LOW to avoid it accidentally re-focusing on the background when the bird moves off an AF point.
consider using LOW burst with antishock if resorting to slower shutter speeds so that the mechanical 1st curtain shutter is not used and there is less sensor shake.
the E-M1 can keep up with a moving target, but it gets easily confused by busy backgrounds
thus current best option is to have a camera with PDAF capability such as the E-M1 and a lens such as the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens, PLUS, to optimise capturing the bird in the frame, the Olympus EE-1 Dot Sight becomes extremely useful
omd/birds_in_flight.txt · Last modified: 2017/11/01 13:44 by gary1