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, the E-M1 Mark II has vastly superior AF capabilities compared to the other OM-D cameras for faster moving subjects and subjects with distracting backgrounds and C-AF mode works really well.
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 6400
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
consider disabling image stabilisation
Olympus OM-D cameras have the best image stabilisation available so you may as well be using it if you are panning with slower shutter speeds
how general BIF, use a shutter speed faster than 1/2000th sec in which case you can turn IBIS and OIS off although many still have it on for better EVF experience and perhaps faster AF acquisition in which case you may wish to use S-IS 2 mode to correct only for vertical shake
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
set EVF Frame Rate to HIGH
consider setting EVF to OVF mode
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
if 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
if using the E-M1 Mark I:
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.
set C-AF Release priority to OFF (having this OFF seems to give a better keeper rate)
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.
if using the E-M1 II, you have extra tricks up your sleeve:
set AF to C-AF rather than C-AF+Tracking as the tracking mode is not as reliable
set AF+MF to OFF as this is generally not needed and having it on risks accidentally changing focus
set AFL/AEL to C4 and set Half-Way AF to inoperative (E-M1III only) to allow assigning this to the Lens button instead of the shutter release
set AF Scanner to Mode 3
set AF sensitivity to +2
set C-AF Center Start to ON for All Area mode but probably not useful for smaller region modes
set C-AF Center Priority to OFF (E-M1III only) as you will have more chance of AF locking on background if bird is not in the centre of your AF region
set the AF limiter in the camera to a distance range which excludes the foreground and the background so the camera will use all its computing power just on the subject region and it will no longer AF on the background!
set the AF sensitivity to loose (+2) when there is no distracting background (eg. shooting against the sky or with the AF Focus Limiter excluding the background, and the bird is flying across the scene.
set the AF sensitivity to tight (-2) when there is a distracting background you can't exclude with the focus range limiter such as birds in a tree with lots of branches.
otherwise you can leave the AF sensitivity to default (0)
set drive mode to LOW mechanical shutter 10fps - seems to give best results although many use LOW 10-18fps electronic shutter instead or Pro-Capture mode (DO NOT USE a High burst mode as you lose C-AF!)
set AF region to all AF points if there is no distracting foreground or background (or these have been excluded by the AF range limiter
if the bird is not moving much, you may consider using only 1 AF point so you can place it on the bird's eye for critical focus.
otherwise set AF region to group of 25 points - this is probably the best option for obtaining the highest number of keeper shots (perhaps 10-15% better than the all points mode)
practice “bumping the focus”
when the AF marker displays red this means AF lock has been lost so you must take finger off the shutter and then re-acquire AF lock on your subject
thus current best option is to have a camera with PDAF capability such as the E-M1 II 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: 2020/10/17 00:01 by gary1