Bird AI for Birds in Flight

This article provides my first impressions about using the E-M1X’s Bird AI for birds in flight, as well as sharing a selection of sample photographs. Unfortunately the selection of birds at this particular time of year is limited.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.9, 1/2500, ISO-320, subject distance 9.2 metres, cropped to 4437 pixels on the width

My first impression is that there are distinct advantages to using Bird Detection AI if you own an OM-D E-M1X. It does track very well with birds in flight and does a great job nailing focus on a bird’s eye.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.9, 1/2500, ISO-320, subject distance 14.6 metres, full frame capture
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.9, 1/2500, ISO-320, subject distance 14.6 metres, 100% crop

As illustrated in my earlier article, Flying Straight Into the Lens, this can create excellent results. It also frees up a photographer to concentrate on a subject bird, rather than trying to keep the cameras’s auto-focus points on the bird in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-6400, subject distance 39.7 metres

As seen in another earlier article, Mallard Overtaken in Mid-Air, Bird Detection AI will stay focused on a subject bird if another subject enters the frame while a continuous auto-focus run is in progress.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.1, 1/2500, ISO-1000, subject distance 27.3 metres, cropped to 3947 pixels on the width

As long as a photographer acquires focus in advance and maintains it on the bird, it is also possible to capture photographs of a bird landing adjacent to other birds.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1000, subject distance 28.1 metres, full frame capture
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/6.1, 1/2500, ISO-800, subject distance 29.1 metres, full frame capture
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 244 mm, efov 488 mm, f/6.1, 1/2500, ISO-1000, subject distance 31.7 metres, cropped to 3131 pixels on the width

Using Bird AI for birds in flight where there is an uncomplicated background like the surface of water…

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-1000, subject distance 19.7 metres, full frame capture

Or with the sky as a background.. is quite simple and very effective.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-400, subject distance 33.2 metres, cropped to 3696 pixels on the width

These types of common situations make using Bird Detection AI a no brainer for an E-M1X owner.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 @ 321 mm, efov 642 mm, f/8.6, 1/1600, ISO-5000, subject distance 16 metres, cropped to 4658 pixels on the width

Even in more difficult situations using Bird AI for birds in flight can make sense. The image above was captured in very poor light… late afternoon under dull, overcast conditions… and using the MC-14 teleconverter.

What impresses me the most about using the E-M1X’s Bird AI for birds in flight is how this technology keeps focused on the eye of a subject bird.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/1600, ISO-800, subject distance 14.3 metres, cropped to 4192 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/7.7, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 12.6 metres, cropped to 3366 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 175 mm, efov 350 mm, f/7.7, 1/1600, ISO-2000, subject distance 9.4 metres, cropped to 3983 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 454 mm, efov 908 mm, f/8.9, 1/1600, ISO-3200, subject distance 25.8 metres, cropped to 4837 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/8.3, 1/1600, ISO-2500, subject distance 7.8 metres, full frame capture
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/7.7, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 5.6 metres, cropped to 3138 pixels on the height,

The ability to effectively track with a bird in flight, while maintaining focus on the bird’s eye makes this very powerful technology as we can see in the 5 consecutive frames that follow. Distance to subject varied from 19.5 to 18.8 metres as the bird flew in closer to me.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-6400, cropped to 4285 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-6400, cropped to 4501 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-6400, cropped to 4284 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-6400, cropped to 4458 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 308 mm, efov 616 mm, f/8.5, 1/1600, ISO-6400, cropped to 4540 on the width

There are situations where the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI cannot be used. Pro Capture H comes immediately to mind. There also may be specific situations like photographing birds-in-flight that are very close to confusing backgrounds where a different auto-focus setting may produce better results. At this point I haven’t experimented sufficiently with Bird AI for birds in flight to make these assessments yet.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/1600, ISO-800, subject distance 6 metres, cropped to 3132 pixels on the height

What I can say is that based on my early experiences with the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI… it will be my default setting for my bird-in-flight photography. I’m very much looking forward to next spring when (hopefully) I will be able to photograph a wider selection of bird subjects in different environments. My impressions about using Bird Detection AI for perched birds will follow in a separate article.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are indicated where applicable. A lens module for the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS lens was not yet available for DxO PhotoLab 4 at the time of writing this article.

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10 thoughts on “Bird AI for Birds in Flight”

  1. Great read ! I have just tested this deature last week and I agree.
    This new (free) firmware update is much better than DPREVIEW thinks – I have posted my thoughts and recommednded settings in the comment field at DPREVIEW as FourthirdsM.
    @Collin: for best high ISO (3200+) Image Quality I use the following approach:
    Careful with focus and expose to the right, use Olympus Workspace to produce a TIFF file with best color profile and lens correction, Adjust TIFF in Lightroom and finally process the adjusted TIFF in Topaz AI Deniose for best sharpening and noise reduction.
    Happy new year to everybody

    1. Hi Joni,

      This firmware function is designed for birds specifically. I did do a few test images on squirrels and the camera locked on to the eye of the squirrel and nailed focus without any issue. Whether it would actually track puppies playing is another issue altogether.

      tom

  2. Thanks for your notes and example photos. After trying to make bird-in-flight photos as sharp as yours, and failing, I think I’ve found another important setting: Use Manual Exposure and Manual ISO.

    With gray skys in Michigan, and AutoISO capped at 6400, I was unable to get a proper exposure while freezing the bird’s motion. Now, setting the ISO to a higher value as needed, and setting the exposure manually, I’m starting to see better results.

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