There are probably more entertaining ways to spend a Sunday afternoon but this stunt display in a field in London was reasonably diverting. I had shot stunt shows before using a Nikon DSLR and the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8. But I knew my EM-5 had only contrast detection AF and was not really camera for shooting action. Nevertheless, there was only one way to find out how it would fare and I took it with me, along with the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 and 12-40mm f/2.8.
In a previous article about shooting moving targets, I explained that pre-focusing was a good technique to overcome the AF limitations of contrast detection systems. On this occasion, however, I wanted to see if I could track or capture the performers and vehicles in mid-flight.
One thing that contrast detect systems sometimes do is inadvertently lock focus on the background if it offers suitable contrast. In order to prevent this from happening, I chose the smallest AF region. This way surrounding details would not distract the AF point from the subject.
I had read that using C-AF mode on the EM-5 was hit and miss, and that it performed better with a slower burst rate (around 4FPS). But the C-AF mode is simply too slow on the EM-5 to effectively keep up with moving objects. Locking on in S-AF mode and panning was far more effective. I also set the high burst rate (9FPS) although I hardly ever used the full 9 shots.
It was rather difficult to use prefocusing on these performers, as oftentimes they would be in the middle of a blank overcast sky, and manually pre-focusing onto nothing is rather pointless. Instead I locked focus on them as they moved up the ramps, using only the centre AF point to lock focus, panning with them and recomposing as necessary until the point that I wanted to fire.
One fortunate aspect in my favour was my distance from the subject. I was just far enough away that their movements were slow enough to allow me to lock on. In fact, several times I locked focus while they were in mid-air, rather than panning with them, and I had a surprisingly high keeper rate. If I had been much closer, I believe their movement would have been perceptibly faster and thus more difficult to lock focus onto.
The exposure meter wants to darken the image once you move from the ground up to the sky, as the overcast sky is read as being too bright. To prevent this from happening, I locked the exposure on the ground using the AE/AL button so that the performers would be adequately exposed once they were in the air and not just rendered as silhouettes. I knew that this might give me a lot of blown out skies behind the performers, but I didn’t care about that; I wanted to capture the performers, not the sky. You might argue that I could simply brighten the details in post but that would be unpredictable and perhaps introduce unnecessary noise into the image. In any case, a few blown out skies were a perfect excuse to render some of the images in B+W.
The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 (offering a FOV equivalent to 80-300mm) is a solid performer, and although I haven’t done (and wouldn’t waste my time doing) a side-by side comparison, in many instances it looks as sharp, if not sharper than the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II. I realise that may rattle some owners of the Nikkor lens, but I own both lenses and am simply expressing a view as seen by my own eyes (I don’t need glasses and have 20/20 vision). However, designed for use on a smaller sensor the Olympus obviously cannot produce the same impressive bokeh as the Nikkor, even at f/2.8.
I imagine that these settings could also apply to shooting other types of action or even birds in flight and that’s really why I thought to share them here. Hopefully other m4/3 users without phase detection systems can still feel confident about shooting action.
More from the stunt display can be seen here on my blog.
I haven’t given up my 70-200m yet either! Too good a lens to part with :)
Last sunday I was at a lake trying to shoot birds in flight with my nikon d5100 and tamron 150-600mm. The autofucos was not well equipped to bring small parts of the frame( like birds) in focus because it only has 11 focus points. I then tried manual focusing. Manual focusing was easier then i imagined it would be, but when i viewed the photos on my computer, they were not sharp, although they appeared to be in focus in the viewfinder. I could not do it for very long because the lens was so heavy. It was then that i thought a smaller system would be so wonderful if it could achieve decent results. Your photos are wonderful. If a M4/3 system can focus on moving objects like this, its just so much more practical then a dslr.
Thank you Muhammad. Sorry for the late reply; my computer is with Apple being repaired. Yes, if the system had better AF then I think it would be complete.
Mr Alpha will make greater pic with your 5100 & tamron 150-600 combination than what he did with his Olympus. Moreover notice it every thing in his every picture is in focus. But with ur system u can separate your subject with out of focus back ground or front ground.
Thanks jayatu. Mr Alpha is a great photographer who composes wonderfully
You will love the lens, but the M1 paired with this lens is not a great wildlife camera. It’s better than other M4/3 systems, but it isn’t as fast as even a mid-range Nikon DSLR (like a D7100)
I still use Nikon D7100’s paired with the 80-400g or 200-400 for birds in flight. For most other wildlife / action the M1 / 40-150 is fine.
The 40-150 is sharper than the 12-40 (also a very good lens) and works great with the new 1.4tc. The 1.4tc only works with this lens, and is fairly expensive, but causes next to no degradation in center sharpness.
I did not try the Teleconvertor. But I was really impressed with how small and light this lens is for it’s reach. Would you know how it compares to the 80-400 nikkor? I like that it’s 2.8 throughout. But of course, given the camera itself has a smaller sensor … It would be nice if we get a reverse adaptor that let’s you use these lenses on a d700!
I really like the 80-400g. It is the main lens I use for wildlife for its easy handling, relative light weight, excellent VR and wonderful contrast. It is not a low-light lens and it is not as sharp as the Olympus 40-150. That said, I much prefer the combination of the DSLR / 80-400G for birds in flight.
Your pictures are great!
A couple points. The OMD-M1 does have phase detection AF and tracks fairly well for action/wildlife. I can’t compare it to the M5, but it is much better than the M10. It still does not track as well as a good DSLR but the gap has narrowed.
As for the 40-150 being sharper than the Nikon 70-200, I think you are absolutely right. From what I can see, it’s the sharpest zoom lens I’ve seen in that zoom range. It’s simply awesome even wide open at the long end. It does seem ever so slightly sharper at f4-5.6, but you have to really pixel peep (closer than 1-1) to see any difference. As you point out, the smaller sensor with the 40-150 can’t deliver the same DOF, but it’s amazing in every other way.
I can imagine an improved OMD with better tracking will make a fantastic wildlife/action system when paired with the 40-150, the upcoming 300mm prime and the 1.4tc.
I understand that the E-M1 only uses (faster) phase detection AF with the older Four Thirds lenses but reverts to (slower) contrast based AF with any other lens.
That is not correct. Not sure how this misconception got started, but phase detection works on both the old and new lenses.
Again Sharif, you work some magic with that Olympus of yours, with your careful planning. I’m actually excited now about shooting action on mirrorless since I’ve been testing the new firmware on the Fuji X-T1. It’s a totally different experience. I think progress is being made with these smaller cameras – the lines between them and DSLRs is narrowing.
All the best!
Thank you Daniel :)
Nice captures and an interesting read!
Thanks Tom :)