Bird Detection AI Tips

This article shares some E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI tips, and is based on experimenting with this technology over the past few weeks. I apologize in advance for using some existing images in this article… but we are in the first week of a new 4 week COVID-19 lock down.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, 1/2500, ISO-6400, subject distance 23.3 metres, cropped to 4692 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

The first thing that I’ve learned about Intelligent Subject Tracking on the E-M1X is that this auto focusing technology works very differently than the other AF options on my E-M1X.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1600, subject distance 3.6 metres, cropped to 4767 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

As reported in the YouTube video done by the folks at Imaging Resource, the on-chip phase detect auto focusing points on the E-M1X’s sensor are not used by Intelligent Subject Tracking to actually acquire focus. The information on Intelligent Subject Tracking starts at about 12:20 in the YouTube video.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, subject distance 8.4 metres, cropped to 4391 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI

Rather than use on sensor AF points, the dual TruePic VIII quad core processors in the E-M1X are used to analyse the potential photograph and determine auto focus. When I first started using Bird Detection AI I made the mistake of engaging all of the AF points on the sensor, as I would do when using Cluster Area C-AF.  On the surface this was not problematic as the E-M1X would still quickly draw white boxes around birds, and when the shutter release was half-depressed grab focus on the subject bird.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-2500, subject distance 4.9 metres, cropped to 4762 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

It becomes a problem when there are multiple birds in the composition, as a photographer has no way of telling the camera on which bird it should focus. Quite simply, engaging all of the AF points when using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI can confuse the camera when multiple subjects are in the frame, and reduces the effectiveness of using Bird Detection AI.

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, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 6.1 metres, Bird Detection AI

Rather than engage all of the AF points, I activate a single AF point and typically leave it positioned in mid-frame when photographing individual perched birds. I use the larger sized single AF point as it is easier to see in my EVF if I need to move it. I imagine that a photographer could use the 3 X 3 box or the ‘+’ auto focus shape if preferred.

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, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 5.6 metres, Bird Detection AI

If multiple birds are in the frame and a photographer wants to select a specific bird, all they need to do is move the single AF point on to that specific bird and half depress the shutter release. That will now lock the Bird Detection AI on that particular bird. This makes using Bird Detection AI much easier in groupings of birds. Always remember to reset your single AF point to the centre of the frame before capturing subsequent images of other birds. I find using a single, large AF point to be very helpful if I need to ‘thread the needle’ past branches in the foreground that may occasionally confuse Bird Detection AI.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 and M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 437 mm, efov 874 mm, f/12, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 3115 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

As far as I can tell, using a single, large AF point is helpful when photographing birds-in-flight. The E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI will chose the bird closest to the camera, or to the single AF point. I do my utmost to plan my image capture for both factors to be in sync. When photographing birds-in-flight I start with my single AF point in the centre of the frame.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-3200, subject distance 38.3 metres, cropped to 4017 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

If the bird is flying from right to left, I quickly move my single AF point usually 2 clicks to the left. This puts the AF point in close proximity to where I am expecting the head/eye of the flying bird to be in my composition when I capture my photograph. This seems to make it easier and faster for my E-M1X to acquire good focus on the bird-in-flight. Obviously if a bird was flying from left to right in my frame, I’d move the single AF point 2 clicks to the right before capturing my image.

M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/640, ISO-1250, subject distance 2.9 metres, cropped to 4199 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

Another thing that I was doing that was completely pointless was adjusting the AF sensitivity on my E-M1X. Another photographer in the area pointed out to me that AF sensitivity adjustments with the E-M1X only work when using C-AF. It has no effect at all when using C-AF+TR which is the mode needed when using Bird Detection AI. There is information on the Olympus website that points this out.  I now leave the AF sensitivity on my E-M1X at the ‘0’ default setting when using Bird Detection AI.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, 1/2500, ISO-5000, subject distance 34.4 metres, cropped to 4380 pixels on the width. Bird Detection AI

After I stopped making a few mistakes, I discovered that using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI is very simple and effective. I don’t know if I’m using this technology as designed, but these E-M1X Bird Detection AI tips seem to work very well for me, so I thought I’d share them with other E-M1X owners.

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-2500, cropped to 4923 pixels on the width, subject distance 6 metres, Bird Detection AI

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/640, ISO-1600, subject distance 1.9 metres, full frame capture, Bird Detection AI

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8 thoughts on “Bird Detection AI Tips”

  1. I have one comment regarding AF sensitivity when using AI modes.
    I customize C1-C4 custom modes for specific use cases: BIF (+2), default (0) , Bird in busy enviroment (-2) and stationary bird (-2).
    They are all optimized fo C-AF with AF sensitivity but I configure the LEVER to switch between C-AF and C-AF+TR AI mode bird recogniton. THis works very well for me at least.
    Also I have a question for you Thomas.
    When I look at your beautiful shots I notice that you specify the subject distance. Is this something you find in EXIF data?
    I have been lookingat my ORD files using Olympus Workspace but not found any distance to subject data.
    Keep up the good work

    1. Hi Flemming,

      Thanks for sharing how you set up your C1-C4 modes. This may be helpful to some readers. I have mine set up differently than you… but that is one of the beauties of using an OM-D camera like the E-M1X, we can customize them to our unique needs. I have mine set up for Pro Capture H, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, and birds-in-flight using Cluster Area C-AF. I may change the last one noted since I may no longer need it due to Bird Detection AI. If I do change it I’ll likely adjust it so I can photograph birds at 60 frames-per-second.

      The distance to subject estimates are found in the EXIF data for some cameras. I file all of my photographic files in Windows Explorer. After I process an image I right click on it and use “Properties”. Then by left clicking on the “Details” tab I can find the distance to subject estimate. Not all cameras provide this information though.

      Here is some information provided by one of our readers, John the Keen Amateur, that provides information and a link to a specific tool that can be used to read EXIF data:

      Create a folder anywhere on your system; named, say, “ExifToolGUI”
      Download .ZIP file from here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/78rffzxdoultrnr/AAAeL0FnqZEbaDJYOn2GpU5ha … and simply unZIP its contents into your new folder.
      Double-click on ExifToolGUI.exe to start the application – it will open by default to your Users folder.
      1) BEFORE you navigate to a folder containing your images, change the drop-down at the top from “Show ALL Files” to one of the other options (else it will include .dop/sidecar files and will look rather messy)
      2) Navigate to a folder containing your .ORF files … They’ll then be listed in the centre panel.
      3) Select any image/.ORF file and its EXIF data will appear on the RHS.
      Note:
      – You may occasionally see a pop-up with a message something like “List index out of bounds” – – Just click OK and ignore

      Tom

      1. Once again Thomas:
        Thank you very much for this valuable feed-back.
        As you put it: The OMD cameras can be customized in so many ways, some may find it a bit complicated, but being able to tailor the camera to suit ones style of photography is invaluable. I wish that OLYMPUS/JIP would introduce the option to store and recall multiple C1-C4 settings, that would be a killer feature.
        I am recommendin g your excellent website with my friends (both Canon,Sony and Olumpus shooters)

  2. Very helpful, thanks! It’s a relief to know that I can just ignore the mysterious C-AF Sensitivity setting when using Bird Detection AI.

    1. Hi Colin,

      As far as C-AF sensitivity goes think about + settings for erratic flying birds, 0 for typical subjects, and – settings if you will be panning with a bird with something intermittent in the foreground like some occasional tree branches. I typically have my C-AF set to +2 when using 18 fps.

      Tom

  3. Thanks much Tom. I have not had great success with the bird detection but I can see that I am probably not doing much in the best way to be successful. I hope to be in an area next week where I normally find birds and it will give me a chance to try it out using the information in this post. I really appreciate this kind of help.

    1. Hi Joel,

      As I mentioned in the article, I don’t know if my approach is the ‘right way’… but is has been working well for me. Hopefully you will also get good results using it.

      Tom

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