Yesterday I was out photographing ducks using cluster area C-AF. Being new to Olympus I had no idea that this mode of continuous auto-focus was available. After watching a video on using cluster area C-AF that Robin Wong posted, I decided to give it a try.
One of the questions that Robin left unanswered was how effective cluster area C-AF would be when photographing birds-in-flight. This article shares some initial thoughts I have in this regard.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Cluster area continuous auto-focus is currently available with four Olympus cameras: E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II, E-M1 Mark III, and E-M5 Mark III. Robin provides instructions and menu screen shots in his video to show how to set cluster area C-AF with your Olympus camera, so I won’t bother to repeat them in this article (don’t worry.,. it is very easy to set up).
When using cluster area C-AF a photographer allows the camera to pick up its subject with continuous auto-focus, rather than the photographer making this choice. It is important to make sure that your intended subject bird is separated from other flying birds so cluster area C-AF doesn’t get confused. You can use cluster area C-AF to photograph a group of birds flying together in close proximity to each other.
I always photograph birds using silent shutter. The images in this article were captured using Silent Sequential Low continuous auto-focus at 10 or 15 frames-per-second.
I didn’t notice any difference in performance when using these two frame rates. Later on in the afternoon I tried capturing an image run of an egret in flight at 18 frames-per-second using cluster area C-AF and missed most of my shots.
My initial thought is that if photographers keep their frame rate to a maximum of 15 fps or less when using the electronic shutter, they should get good results. I never use mechanical shutter for birds-in-flight so I can’t comment on this.
After setting up my E-M1X I went to Grimsby harbour to capture some images of ducks and gulls. The photograph above and the next two that follow are consecutive images from the same run. All three are 100% captures without any cropping.
My impression of cluster area C-AF is that it is quite easy to set up and use. As is the case with any continuous auto-focus mode used to photograph birds-in-flight there is some technique and shot discipline involved. Having that said, it works well and if you have an Olympus camera with this feature it is worth a try.
Cluster area C-AF does a good job holding focus on a subject bird in flight. It is important to pick up your bird when it is reasonably isolated from other birds.
If you do, you can pan with your subject bird as it flies in without too many issues. I included the photo above to illustrate how the subject bird flew over a floating gull, and the cluster area C-AF maintained focus on the duck. Here are the next two consecutive photographs from this image run.
To further illustrate how well cluster area C-AF can hold focus on a subject bird I’ve included the next three photographs. As you view the images you’ll see that the subject duck flies past a Canada goose in very close quarters.
This action happened about 18 metres (~59 feet) away from me. If you check the EXIF data you’ll see that I captured these images with my lens/teleconverter fully extended to 300 mm (efov 600 mm). So, this action happened at a reasonably close distance… and very quickly. The third image in the following series is not cropped.
I typically do not photograph birds-in-flight that are at a distance, but I appreciate that many readers use this approach. I captured a few photographs of more distant birds to help illustrate what readers can expect.
What follows are five pairs of consecutive photographs from the same cluster area C-AF run. The first image in each pair is a 100% capture. It is followed by a version that was cropped to 3500 pixels on the width.
When photographing birds-in-flight one of the common challenges is when a bird is flying against a busy background. Often a camera’s auto-focus can drop off the subject and pick up the background instead. Many photographers use a single auto-focus point to pan with the subject bird, or use an auto-focus distance limiter on their camera, to maintain focus on a bird-in-flight in this situation.
The cluster area C-AF on the Olympus cameras mentioned earlier, gives photographers another option that they can use. Let’s have a look at two examples.
The duck in the above photograph was about 80 metres away (~262 feet). If I would have tried using a single auto-focus point and panning with this bird, I may have missed my shot. Using cluster area C-AF made this capture pretty simple. The next image is a crop with the image reduced to 3715 pixels on the width.
Our final image is another duck in-flight that was a fair distance away. In this case it was well over 100 metres distant. The first image is a 100% capture. It is followed by a crop done to 2876 pixels on the width.
Again, using cluster area C-AF made capturing the photograph above quite simple.
I will be doing more experimenting with the Olympus cluster area C-AF mode. Based on my first attempts using it, I think it is a feature that can be of benefit to many bird photographers.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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