E-M1X AI Tracking… it’s a bird…it’s a plane…or does it matter?

I did something totally outside my general realm of photography… I tried out tracking features and continuous autofocus.  I will be completely honest…95% of the time I am on a tripod with very precise set focus and a laptop tethered so I can see what I am doing.  I have some paid shoots where I am hand held…and the very very few 1% where I actually do use tracking.  The only handheld photography I do is generally for pleasure, just family, walking around, nature, etc…  If I am doing nature work that I plan out…I am then even on a tripod again.  I like working slowly and being able to step away from the camera in a scene.  With the new E-M1X however, I have definitely wanted to try out some of these new features and see if I could tell a difference in the autofocus and see what all the fuss is about with this AI.

Over the weekend I was in Washington, D.C. and was surrounded by cars, bicycles, birds, and airplanes.  There are spots where if you just stand there, just about everything will come by…even trains.  I figured…no better place to try this stuff out.  Yet… I wanted to test my luck even more.  I left my pro lenses home and took the 40-150 F/4 – 5.6 R lens.  If this camera was improved, shooting with this lens would confirm it.  I know the pro lenses can perform.  The biggest difference is that the consumer grade lenses can’t keep up with fast action.  This lens was just fine with slow tracking…but has nothing on the 40-150 Pro on the E-M1.2.  Again, I am not a pro sports photographer, nor a serious action photographer…my level of what is acceptable might be very different that yours.  My criteria was basically I want immediate acquisition, consistent focus hold while zooming in or out, and staying in focus until the subject either fills my frame too far or I break the series.  How many shots are perfect within that matters not to me.  I was also shooting at only 5fps or.  I don’t need 60fps etc…  Nor do I want.  I don’t expect every single image to be in focus, but I do expect 75% + to be crisp.  This also assumes I am using good technique and a fast enough shutter to freeze the subject in the direction and speed that it is going.  Unless I am panning.  Totally different ball game then.

That…here are some observations.

Airplane AI not only positively IDs airplanes… but it IDs birds consistently.  If you zoom enough to get a bird decently in frame, not even large, it will ID the bird and track.  In fact…it tracked surprisingly well.  I had fast moving and erratic gulls.  Nothing crazy like some of the raptors, but I was very surprised.  It really locked onto birds in airplane tracking mode and performed rather remarkably.  It also does not seem to be angle specific.  It was nailing tracking from sides, head on, rear, 3/4 angles, etc…  Both on planes and birds.  I am finding AI tracking to be superior to just using continuous autofocus.  I was getting better results at least in the scenario I was in.  In fact, I stopped zooming into to my images in lightroom… there were so many in-focus images per series that I usually could just pick my favorite shot and it was in focus.  I was throwing away in focus shots even at a low FPS.

Motorsport AI is amazing.  It really nails this.  However… it also recognizes motorcycles and bicycles and locks in on helmets of the riders!  Just like the planes…the camera just works.  It just does it.  And it does it consistently.  And deficiency in focus or in panning was always a result of me panning poorly, not being prepared, or just being off in keeping up.  This really allowed me to focus more on my panning and composition versus trying to ensure my focus point stayed on the subject.  This mode really seems to recognize anything with a rider, a helmet, wheels, etc…  Needs more testing…but overall this is a lot less limiting than strictly “plains, trains, and automobiles.”

I did not get to test on trains.  And i’m not sure yet what else could potentially be recognized in this mode.  I’ll have to put some thought and experimentation into that.

The general E-M1X is astounding at how it feels a lot more fluid and effortless in focus.  Far more than the E-M1.2.  It doesn’t feel like it is trying to keep up any more.

The 40-150 R also performed so far beyond what I expected.  It literally was a different lens on the E-M1X.  I couldn’t believe it.  It’s not the sharpest lens…but it is decent, tiny, and light.  It actually could acquire focus and track virtually immediately.  The only catch is the lens struggle if it were racked all the way to close focus and you needed to get to infinity on a very non-contrast subject that was small in the frame.  It would need a couple seconds.  However, all other cases I never thought twice that this lens was performing any less than the pro lens when mated to the E-M1X.  That is impressive to me.  I will say, it was slightly humorous that I was walking around with a $3,000 camera body and a $99 lens.

Here are some shots.  None of these are cropped either.  Notice the one shot with the bird our of focus in front of the plane.  The camera kept tracking even with an obstruction that large in the frame.  And I do have to say…150mm is not very strong for birds.  Yet at the same time, I imaging true birding is unbelievably difficult.  How do you keep them in frame with a 300mm lens and a 1.4x tele?  I should try this some time.  Want to go birding?


10 responses on "E-M1X AI Tracking... it's a bird...it's a plane...or does it matter?"

  1. On the subject of Motorsport AI while shooting bicyclist. Say you have five cyclist together riding towards you, does the 1X allow you select an individual rider to focus on when using C-AF + TR with Motorsports selected in Tracking Subject or does the camera select based on some criteria set like most contrast area, etc. Also, what C-AF Sensitivity were you using?

    • Hi Brian! So…the cyclists were just generally one at a time where I was. For vehicles, and the birds, the AI definitely identified and boxed multiple subjects. (it can do up to 8 apparently) Let’s just for this scenario, assume that AI will confidently identify multiple cyclists. I imagine it will…if one, why not 8? So say you have 5 distinctly riding towards you. With enough spacing to distinguish they are 5 different entities. You can compose however you want. When you activate autofocus, the identified (white boxed) entity closest to your selected focus point will be tracked. You know this is now being tracked because their box turns green. As far as sensitivity, I used a +2 C-AF sensitivity. I was in a very open area with nothing that would generally come in between me and the subjects. And I figured as close as I was, my subjects were moving very rapidly towards me…I wanted the CAF to be very responsive to movement. Even that one bird…the tracking was far enough over to the side that it ignored it completely. With that sensitivity, it probably would have switched to the bird if the bird was on the far left.

  2. Peter van den BroekMarch 26, 2019 at 2:10 pmReply

    Hi Tony,

    I was wondering: could you explain between C-AF an C-AF +TR. I know it is the same as on the Mark2, But I don’t know when to choose just C-AF and when C-AF + TR.
    I there for instance a difference in following the subject?

    • Hi Peter!
      So C+AF is just exactly that. Autofocus will keep adjusting to keep whatever your focus point is on…in focus. However, you need to keep your focus point over your subject. Otherwise, if it moves, and you don’t, focus will adjust to whatever else appears under your focus point. Example, I am walking towards you and you focus on me with a center point. C+AF will continue to adjust focus to keep me in focus as I walk towards you. If I decide to step to the left and out from your focus point… the camera will now focus on whatever is there. Most likely the background. If I then step back into the center your focus point would then be over me again and the camera would immediately refocus on me, etc…

      C+AF +Tracking is very similar with one big difference. Once focus has been achieved…a green box appears over your subject. As the subject moves around the frame, the camera will automatically try to keep that subject in focus, even if it moves away from your focus point. So to use the same example, even if I moved to the left the camera would keep focus on me anyways. And continue to remain on me.

      In super simplistic terms (and for general scenarios…there are plenty of instances where you might have a different preference…) but C+AF needs you to keep track of the subject, C+AF +TR the camera keeps track of the subject in the frame.

      In C+AF, you would have to stop focus for instance to change your focus points in you wanted to change your composition and keep the subject in a different part of the frame while focusing. In Tracking mode, you could just recompose while still focusing.

      Hope that helps. I know that is quite general, but in use it makes a lot more sense!

    • Also while technically the same as the mkII … the E-M1X has some extra options that change the behavior and response of both C+AF and tracking. It is far more capable and tunable to your specific situation on the E-M1X. Between that and just being upgraded overall, it provides for a far superior experience and performance. This is especially notable in video. They are worlds apart. Video C+AF, facial recognition, and tracking is now extremely good.

  3. Fascinating, Tony! I’m going to give it a try with BIF. What exactly were your settings besides Airplane AI to get those crisp gulls? BTW, your website info is much more accessible now–very nice!

    • Hi Joan! I was generally using 9-point box for focus points. C+AF sensitivity +2 (since in the open sky there is nothing else to grab on to…if you are shooting against trees I would lower this a bunch!). C-AF center start, and C-AF center priority both are on.

  4. Did you find the 1X would lock in on a bicycle riders’ helmet consistently or was it hit or miss?

    • You know… I didn’t pay close enough attention. I also didn’t shoot nearly enough to make a conclusive recommendation for shooting bikes at a top level. I will try again when I get a chance. So far it has seemed consistent in focus. Regardless of helmets or not… it has been a lot more consistent than the mk2.

  5. My backup plan is going C-AF with either 5 or 9 target point if C-AF + TR gives me problems. I’ll be giving the heat sink a good workout on the June 9 bike-a-thon.

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