Old Habits Die Hard

There’s a well-used saying that “Old Habits Die Hard” which is applicable to various areas of our lives including photography. Humans tend to be creatures of habit. We can sometimes find ourselves falling into patterns of behaviour (including some that are counterproductive) without being aware of our habitual actions. The first step in changing old photographic habits is to become aware of them.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 IS @ 24 mm, efov 48 mm, f/5.6, 4 sec, ISO-200

Many of us maintain specific photographic techniques even after buying new camera gear that may be of a different format. When I first got my E-M1X I found myself shooting at shutter speeds that I was accustomed to using with previous full frame gear, and my Nikon 1 kit. I lost count of the number of times that I would catch myself not taking advantage of the IBIS performance of my E-M1X.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, 2 seconds, f/5.6, ISO-200

It has been over 2 years since I moved over to Olympus gear and on occasion I still find myself using faster shutter speeds than are actually needed in many situations.

OM-D E_m1X + M.Zuiko PR 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO-200, subject distance 725 mm

As a former full frame camera owner I was probably overly fixated on my aperture setting when creating images with shallow depth-of-field, or trying to achieve good subject separation. It took some time for me to get in through my thick skull that the focal length of my lens, distance to subject, and distance of subject to background, were far more important factors to consider, than my aperture setting.

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/13, 1/1250, ISO-4000, cropped to 4495 pixels on the width, subject distance 3 metres

The dragonfly image above is a classic example of how lens focal length, distance to subject, and subject distance to background can be used to achieve subject separation and shallow depth-of-field. This photograph was created using an aperture of f/13.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 403 mm, efov 806 mm, f/9, -0.7 EV, 1/640, ISO-320, handheld in-camera focus stacking, out-of-camera jpeg with minor adjustments done in the Nik Collection

When we buy new camera gear it may sometimes have technology that we have never used before. Our old habits will sometimes provide us with excuses why we never seem to have time to learn how to use new technology. Even when that new technology may be of significant benefit to us. The in-camera focus stacking of my E-M1X is a feature that I left dormant for far too long.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 teleconverter @ 403 mm, efov 806 mm, f/8.8, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3537 pixels on the width, subject distance 4 metres

Even when we actively use new technology, like Pro Capture H, we sometimes fall into a routine of only using it for particular subject matter like birds taking flight. I had to remind myself to put this technology to use when photographing insects like butterflies, bees, wasps, clearwing hummingbird moths, and dragonflies. The result was creating a wide range of images that I could only hope to get with previous camera gear.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 @ 7 mm, f/2.8, 1/2000, ISO-200

I’ve always enjoyed travel and landscape photography. Back in my full frame days I’d habitually use an aperture of at least f/8 when creating most landscape images. Breaking this old habit took some time as it was quite ingrained in my brain.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 @ 7 mm, f/2.8, 1/1200, ISO-200

I had to remind myself that the optical properties of a lens are consistent when considering focal length. Sensor size is irrelevant when it comes to lens optical properties. While the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 zoom may have an equivalent field-of-view of 14-28 mm when compared to full frame equipment… it is still a 7-14 mm zoom in terms of its optical properties. As such it can deliver wonderfully deep depth-of-field when shot wide open.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 @ 7 mm, f/2.8, 1/2000, ISO-200

If you check the EXIF data for the previous three images you’ll see that they were all created using an aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 7 mm.  This adjustment to an old habit technique is one way I can maximize the available dynamic range of my E-M1X under low light conditions when doing landscape photography.

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, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2658 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 67.8 metres

Sometimes our old habits come into play, resulting in us misunderstanding new technology and using it incorrectly. When I first started using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking I made a number of old habit mistakes. The biggest one was in trying to use a group of auto-focus points when Bird AI was engaged. This was just plain dumb on my part. I should have done more upfront research about how this technology works.

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, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2653 pixels on the width, subject distance 69.8 metres

I initially thought that there was something wrong with Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking… after all it couldn’t be me 😂. Well, I soon discovered that it was me. I did some research and found out that none of my E-M1X’s phase detect AF points were being used by my camera to acquire auto focus. All of the AI Subject Tracking modes in my E-M1X work by analyzing the entire scene using the dual, quad core TruePic VIII processors. That understanding caused a bell to go off in my old, porous brain.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 545 mm, efov 1090 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 1801 pixels on the width

To get the best performance from Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking I discovered that a single, small AF point should be used. Whenever possible it should be proactively placed in the composition where you expect the head of the bird to be. I actively practice moving my single AF point to where I want it in the frame as I’m bringing my E-M1X up to my eye. This helps Bird Detection AI work very quickly and accurately. The purpose of using a single AF point is simply to instruct the camera where in the scene you want it to concentrate Bird Detection AI auto-focusing efforts. The AF point doesn’t actually perform any auto-focusing unto itself.

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, 1/2000, ISO-800, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3813 pixels on the width, subject distance 60.5 metres

After some experimenting it became crystal clear to me that using Pro Capture L with Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking together was a powerful combination. My old habit would have been to assume that technologies cannot be combined. I now regularly use Pro Capture L and Bird Detection AI together, and have my C1 Custom Mode dial dedicated to this combination.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-2000, subject distance 3.3 metres, cropped to 4063 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI

Our old habits can extend into our approaches with post processing. For example it can be easy to fall into the habitual trap of trying to decide which noise reduction technology to use. We are preconditioned to look at life from an ‘either/or’ perspective. Each of us may have read numerous articles about which software’s noise reduction is best. Much of the time we forget that ‘either/or’ can be replaced with ‘and’ thinking when it comes to post processing.

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 used

Killing the old habit of ‘either/or’ and replacing that thinking with ‘and’ led me to use two rounds of noise reduction in post processing. At the front end I apply a modest amount of DxO PhotoLab 4 DeepPRIME, then finish my images using Topaz Denoise AI. To my eye taking this ‘and’ approach produces much better results than either of those programs when used independently.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res mode

Regardless of the camera format and brand of equipment that we may own, old habits can hold us back from getting the most out of our gear. The first step in getting more out of our cameras is to recognize our old habits. The second step is to experiment more with our cameras to learn how we can extend what is possible by breaking our old, unproductive habits.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted as appropriate. This is the 1,069th article published on this website since its original inception.

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4 thoughts on “Old Habits Die Hard”

  1. Great article Thomas. Very timely for me. I’ve been shooting birds for a long time, mostly with Sony gear, but I’m older now with bad knees and back and I find the heavy gear takes the joy out of the experience. So, I’m shopping Olympus again. I’ve tried both Olympus and Panasonic in the past with limited success, but it’s obvious from your images and those of others that the problem is me. Hanging on to bad habits. So this article was a light in the dark for me. Thanks

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article Jim, and that it was helpful for you!

      I can identify with your comment about using heavy gear… haven’t missed my full frame kit for even a minute since I sold it back in 2015. I tried Panasonic for a very short time after I sold my full frame gear but ended up returning it and paid a small restocking charge within 10 days or so. Video performance was very good, but the auto-focus for photography just didn’t cut it for me. I also had issues with flare with the Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8… probably the worst lens I’ve ever owned in this regard. I know many people have very good experiences with Panasonic. *shrugs* the GH4 just didn’t work for me.

      Not sure which model(s) of Olympus cameras you are considering. My wife quite enjoys the E-M1 Mark III and I love my two E-M1X bodies. For my specific needs the E-M1X is the best camera I’ve ever owned. Some folks assume the size/weight of the body will be an issue. I have large hands and find the E-M1X is very comfortable to use for long periods of time. It weighs about the same as my D800. For birding and using heavier lenses I find the E-M1 Mark III gives me cramps in my forearm very quickly. The E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI takes some time to learn… but in my mind worth the effort. I have 2 of my Custom Modes set up for Bird AI use. One is Bird AI only, the other one combines Bird AI and Pro Capture L.


  2. Great article, I am shooting both Full Frame and Olympus M4/3. I am quickly learning that you should not shoot them the same. A real eye opener for me is that I just purchased the 12-100 F4 Pro. With this lens I am amazed at how long I can hand hold this lens at F4. It’s fun stuff and using the technology is awesome.

    1. Hi Steve,

      As you get more familiar with Olympus M4/3 gear you will continue to discover some very interesting capabilities. After 2 years I still have much to learn! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.


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