Gulls with Cluster Area C-AF

This article features a selection of photographs of gulls with cluster area C-AF. I captured these images this morning during mainly overcast conditions. An earlier article, Ducks Using Cluster Area C-AF, was my first attempt using the cluster area continuous auto-focus capability (C-AF) of my OM-D E-M1X. Rather than push this feature to an extreme, I used it as if this was just a typical outing to photograph birds-in-flight.

I spent a few hours at Grimsby harbour and photographed whatever birds were airborne… which ended up being various gulls.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-400, subject distance 13 metres, cropped to 4456 pixels

I’ve always preferred shooting birds-in-flight from fairly short distances, so I tried to wait until the gulls were in close proximity whenever possible.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-2000, subject distance 17.1 metres, image not cropped

This was the second time that I tried using the cluster area C-AF on my E-M1X.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800, subject distance 20.1 metres, cropped to 4478 pixels

I practised more patience and shot discipline this time around, allowing myself a second or two to set up my photographs much of the time.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800, subject distance 19 metres, cropped to 4346 pixels

Overall I was quite pleased with how well the cluster area C-AF locked on to approaching birds-in-flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-2000, subject distance 14.8 metres, cropped to 4716 pixels

I had quite a few occasions when I was photographing some gulls flying past me, then turned to find more birds right on top of me. The cluster area C-AF was quite responsive and I was able to capture some usable images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800, subject distance 14.6 metres, cropped to 4012 pixels

At one point I was able to capture a short run of images of a gull hovering about 35 to 40 metres away. This yielded some very interesting wing positions as you can see in the following five photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 4075 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194 mm, efov 388 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 4112 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 4729 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 3928 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 4360 pixels

Getting an image run like the one above, even if it was only a short burst, is always a pleasant bonus.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 230 mm, efov 460 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-500, cropped to 4075 pixels, subject distance 9.7 metres, cropped to 4481 pixels

Capturing a bird-in-flight inside of 15 metres can challenge a camera’s auto-focusing system. The cluster area C-AF on my E-M1X was up to the task.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 190 mm, efov 380 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-400, subject distance 11.3 metres, cropped to 4539 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 220 mm, efov 440 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-250, subject distance 13.9 metres, photograph not cropped
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 284 mm, efov 568 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-640, subject distance 13.9 metres, cropped to 4624 pixels
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 220 mm, efov 440 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-1000, subject distance 11.2 metres, cropped to 4810 pixels

After returning home and reviewing my images, I decided that I will use the cluster area C-AF on my E-M1X as my standard bird-in-flight setting. Once the Bird Detection AI is launched later this year I may make that my standard bird-in-flight setting if it proves superior to cluster area C-AF.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800, subject distance 17.1 metres

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 which now includes DxO PhotoLab 4 and Topaz Denoise AI. The degree of cropping is indicated for each image.

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10 thoughts on “Gulls with Cluster Area C-AF”

  1. I made a question to Mathieu, from Mirrorless Comparisons (I know you post your comments there sometimes), about the use of this AF mode on Olympus cameras for BIF. He answered this is not an AF mode but only a way to display the focusing points used on CAF with all the focusing points on. As I have no further knowledge on this matter I didn’t answer but I have the impression that this is not the case: I understand that the CAF uses what the algorithm considers the best point to focus, while the cluster AF takes several AF points and makes some kind of averaging them to focus. I would like to know your opinion.
    Thanks a lot for your articles, I read each with much interest.

    1. Hi Alejandro,

      Mathieu is a great guy and would be more technically oriented than I am. To be honest, how a specific feature works from a technical standpoint has never really mattered to me.

      From a practical camera-use standpoint, some photographers find that the Cluster Area C-AF setting is easier to use when photographing birds-in-flight. And, some have reported that it helps them create a higher percentage of usable images of birds-in-flight when compared to other settings. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters to me.

      When using Cluster Area C-AF it appears to me that my e-M1X proactively puts C-AF points on birds-in-flight that are closest to the camera and continually adjusts these points as the bird flies. In my experience this does make acquiring focus on a bird-in-flight easier than using a fixed number of C-AF points that are located in a specific area of the viewfinder.

      Tom

  2. Thanks.
    Your posts are always informative and educative. Can you please share other settings you used like CAF sensitivity, Centre Priority, Centre start also for Cluster CAF?

    1. Hi Kamaraju,

      Camera settings are a matter of personal choice. What one photographer likes and uses, may not be optimal for another. I always shoot in Manual with Auto-ISO for birds in-flight. In terms of using Cluster Area C-AF I used silent shutter low sequential at a number of different frame rates: 10, 15 and 18 frames per second. In difficult lighting conditions 10 or 15 worked better than 18. In better lighting I would not hesitate to use 18 fps. I have the auto-focus sensitivity on my E-M1X set to +2. I use Centre Priority and Centre Start.

      Tom

    1. Hi Jim,

      Be sure to watch the Robin Wong video on this subject as he provides information on how to set it up. A link was in my related article where I shared some duck images.

      Each of us has preferred approaches to how we use our cameras. You may, or may not, like using cluster area C-AF. I like to photograph birds-in-flight that are in pretty close to me, so using cluster area C-AF works very well for my style of photography. I would imagine that for more distant birds single point could work better.

      Tom

      1. Thanks Tom.

        I did watch Robin Wong’s video thanks. I already had it set up on my camera, I suspect I was setting some menu items for another purpose and they dovetailed into the Cluster AF.

        Yes I usually use a single point, or maybe a 5 point cross, for BIF and they usually aren’t that close. I’ll be sure to try cluster next time they are in closer.

        1. Hi Jim,

          I found that cluster area C-AF would pick up a bird pretty accurately as long as it was about 1/4 to 1/3 of the width of the frame, and if there was some distance (e.g. 8-10 metres) from the background.

          Tom

      2. Robin Wong… You magnificent bastard… I watched your video!!! (from movie Patton). Cluster C-AF, where have you been all my life!!!

        Thanks Tom! This works great for hummingbirds! In Western Washington State, we have the Anna’s Hummingbirds here all year. When we have the rare snow storm, there are dozens of hummers around the feeders. This has made hummer photography fun!

        1. Hi Mike,

          I’m glad that the article and the use of cluster area C-AF is proving helpful! I have made myself a note about using this approach to photograph hummingbirds in our area next spring and summer.

          Tom

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