Olympus OM-D E-M1 Continuous focus tracking report

Read our review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

When the Olympus OM-D EM-1 was launched one of the main upgrades from the OM-D E-M5 was the addition of on-sensor phase detection autofocus.

Essentially, this was to provide better compatibility with 4/3rds mount lenses used via an adapter but also enables continuos AF to work much better with native Micro 4/3rds lenses.

In order to get the best possible continuos AF performance, a few settings on the camera need to be set-up. Firstly, continuos AF must be set, then select continuos drive mode but low speed - maximum 6.5 frames per second. Turn image review off as otherwise there will be a fraction of a second delay in refreshing the viewfinder image. If you are shooting at a high shutter speed I would also recommend turning IBIS off and try to avoid other settings that could slow things down like bracketing for instance. I would also recommend you select a 9x9 grid for your focussing points as this will give the camera the best chance to lock on to your subject. With all these settings made I then saved them to Myset 2 so I can easily recall them in the future.

My test involved using the M.Zuiko 75-300mm II lens and to give the camera a fair competitor, I also used a Canon EOS 7D with a Sigma 120-400 OS HSM lens. I also fitted the HLD-7 battery grip to the EM-1 and the BG-E7 grip to the 7D as with effective focal lengths around 600mm the extra support was welcome.

The event I chose for the test was the Duxford D-Day Air show on Saturday 24th May. Conditions were to say the least challenging with rain of epic proportions combined with high winds and occasional bursts of sunshine.

Some on the ground static shots proved no problem as did some tracking AF shots using the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mmf/2.8 Pro lens. I was impressed with how smoothly the camera/lens combination tracked and in total silence too.

With the air display kicking off at 2pm I got my position on the crowd line and had both cameras at the ready.

With the E-M1 I found that the camera locked on to the subject very quickly and retained AF as long as I held half pressure on the shutter release. Firing the shutter at 6.5fps did not seem to affect the AF performance and I was easily able to track the fast moving aircraft in the viewfinder - a vastly better performance than the E-M5. Very occasionally the camera would drift out of focus - generally when I moved the AF area to the sky inadvertently but usually focus was quickly re-acquired.

The EOS 7D was fast to focus and seemed to have little problem tracking the aircraft at any speed.

After shooting for an hour or so the sun came out and the contrast levels shot up. I found applying +0.7 stops exposure compensation and also adjusting the highlight/shadow curve on the E-M1 using the Fn2 button made a lot of difference to the detail retained in the shadow areas. It was also excellent to be able to see in the electronic viewfinder the effect of the exposure compensation and highlight/shadow curve adjustment all the time and the ability to quickly raise or lower the amount of compensation using the front control wheel was very handy too.

I also shot many pictures as the aircraft taxied in and out to the runway and again found the AF to be consistent and reliable.

On returning home and downloading the images to Lightroom I then began my usual image review process of looking at each image and giving it a star rating if it was worth further review (by simply pressing a number 1-5 on the keyboard) or by pressing 'X' on the keyboard to mark it for deletion.

Reviewing the images from both cameras was a real eye-opener for several reasons.

The Olympus actually produced a higher percentage of critically sharp images than the 7D. The Canon got the focus nearly right on just about all the images but only about 70% of the images were critically sharp enough to avoid the X key. The Olympus on the other hand had a hit rate close to 90% with all those images critically sharp. The remaining 10% were either way out of focus as AF had moved to the background or in a very few cases just slightly below the critical sharpness level.

This really surprised me as having tried airshow pictures with the E-M5 I found the continuous AF to have a very low hit rate and it was better to use single AF and just pick the moment to take a single shot - not ideal for fast action.

The OM-D E-M1 images were also exhibited quite a lot less noise that the Canon 7D images when shot at similar ISO settings and retained mode detail in the shadows and highlights showing an excellent dynamic range.

Anyway, I have shown below a selection of images all taken on the OM-D EM-1 but I hope this has shown that the continuous AF of the OM-D E-M1 is something you will find very useful when the situation arises.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is available from Park Cameras in various kit combinations and you can see the offers available by clicking here.

If you have any questions about this post, please do comment below.

1 comment:

Sue L said...

There have been several Firmware updates for this camera since this useful report was filed - do you have any further observations to report please?

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