Single Point AF with Bird AI

This article discusses the advantage of using a single point AF with Bird AI and other Intelligent Subject Tracking modes in the E-M1X. This posting includes a sample image run to help demonstrate how using single point AF with Bird AI can help overcome potentially difficult shooting situations. This article has been updated to include the fact that C-AF +TR needs to be turned on for Intelligent Subject Tracking to work. A few other modifications have also been done, including correcting some technical inaccuracies.

Before we get into the sample image run I think it is important to refer to some E-M1X review videos done by Dave Etchells at Imaging Resource and Chris Eyre-Walker, an Olympus Visionary. These video reviews provide interesting insights on how the Intelligent Subject Tracking in the E-M1X is designed to work. I have no first hand knowledge so I’ve been relying on the information in their respective videos.

I know that some E-M1X owners have been disappointed with some of the results that they have been getting when they’ve tried to use Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking. Unfortunately there is some information on the internet that may give E-M1X owners advice that may lead to less than optimal performance.

If you take some time to view the E-M1X review by Dave Etchells you’ll find some interesting information about the design of Intelligent Subject Tracking. Dave makes an interesting point that the E-M1X uses the dual TruePic VIII processors to recognize subjects, not any of the camera’s phase detect AF points. Multiple subjects can be simultaneously recognized and tracked by the TruePic VIII processors.

The camera doesn’t need to use multiple AF points to acquire auto-focus… so there’s no apparent benefit in having multiple points active since subject recognition is done by the TruePic VIII processors. C-AF +TR does need to be engaged as this is needed to acquire auto-focus and change the white box into a green one.

Now, let’s have a look at another piece of information contained in the E-M1X review done by Chris Eyre-Walker. In his YouTube review Chris specifically mentions that the E-M1X is designed to select a subject in the composition that is closest to the single AF point selected by a photographer.

As noted earlier, C-AF +TR needs to be turned on. Bird AI will certainly work when all AF points are activated, or a group of AF points.  It’s been my experience that using a single AF point properly positioned on the AF grid produces faster and more accurate results than using multiple AF points. This is especially true when there are multiple birds in the frame.

If the E-M1X isn’t using its phase detect auto focus system to recognize subjects when in Intelligent Subject Tracking mode as Dave suggests, there’s no reason to have multiple AF points active. Using a single AF point (with C-AF +TR turned on) with Bird AI allows the photographer to tell their E-M1X precisely what they want their camera to do.

Like many other E-M1X owners I originally started using Bird Detection AI like I would use other auto-focusing technologies that were based on phase detect auto-focusing. My results were less than optimal. After reviewing the videos by Dave and Chris a number of times I realized that I was confusing my E-M1X by having more than a single AF point active.

As soon as I began using a single AF point with Bird AI my results improved immediately… especially when I started to proactively place my single AF point in my composition where I anticipated the head of the subject bird would be.

The other thing that I discovered through ongoing experimentation is that combining Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking with Pro Capture L can be a killer combination. It does take a lot of practice and discipline. Waiting to fully depress my shutter release until after the desired bird behaviour has occurred felt strange… almost bizarre. It still doesn’t feel 100% natural to me… but I am becoming more and more comfortable the more I use it.

Now, let’s have a look at our sample image run that was captured using a single AF point with Bird AI. I also used Pro Capture L with this run of photographs. These images are shown as full frame captures without any cropping as I think it is important for readers to see the context of the image run.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 38.5 metres

This is the first image of eight that are displayed in this article. I actually picked up this gull in-flight a couple of frames earlier. As we can see in the photograph above, the scene has multiple gulls along with a cormorant in the frame.

If I would have had all 121 AF points active (which is recommended in some YouTube videos) the E-M1X could have been confused as to which bird I wanted to photograph.

I think there are some basic defaults that the focusing algorithm uses in Intelligent Subject Tracking. Often it will select the subject closest to the camera, or sometimes will default to centre frame. In either scenario it would be difficult to know if the incoming gull in-flight would have been selected by the e-M1X when presented with a scene with so many potential subject birds.

Since I used a single AF point with Bird AI, my E-M1X was able to lock on to the incoming gull in-flight without being confused by the other birds in the composition.

Using Pro Capture L allowed my E-M1X to record images in temporary memory as I half depressed my shutter release. I get an audible ‘beep’ when auto-focus is achieved and I can watch the images being created and spooled into memory while I’m shooting.

Now, let’s view the next seven images in the run. You’ll see the gull in-flight flies right over the cormorant and lands directly in front of it. My E-M1X had no difficulty at all staying locked on the gull in-flight. Keep in mind that I am half depressing my shutter release to store images in temporary memory as this gull is flying into the scene.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 36.8 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 36.8 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.1 metres

It is important to note that I fully depressed my shutter release as the gull actually landed, which then caused the images stored in temporary memory to be written to my memory card. This is what makes using Pro Capture L so powerful, and feel counterintuitive at the same time.

It has been my experience that when used with a single AF point with C-AF +TR turned on Bird AI is simply awesome. Using it in combination with Pro Capture L can further enhance results.

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.  All images are displayed as full frame captures without any cropping. This is the 1,117 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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10 thoughts on “Single Point AF with Bird AI”

  1. Thanks so much for your many informative articles Thomas. I am still getting to grips with the M1X and the 150-400. I enjoy reading your articles and putting them into practice in the field. Using just one focus point with Bird AI has seen a much higher focus rate.

    I have just made a donation that will hopefully buy you a coffee or two.

    Thanks Carol

  2. Let me ask you one last question or two Tom.
    (I’ve watched the two videos you linked)
    I did hear Dave mention that the AI ‘recognizes’ the subjects without using AF…that makes senses…but I think he was speaking with regards to the camera simply putting a white box on the subject(s) and not bringing the subject(s) into focus.
    So, the question(s) to you is…(you are at a pond and there are ducks floating on the water)…with Bird AI activated, does the camera actually focus on the bird(s) once recognized (white box) with no input from you?
    Or, do you have to manually activate the AF in order to have the subject brought into focus (white box turns to green targeting reticle)?

    1. Hi Fuzzy Wuzzy,

      I will get white boxes as the camera recognizes subjects without any input from me… assuming of course that I have my lens limiter properly set and I’ve done a pre-focusing of my lens in terms of an approximate focusing distance. I need to half depress the shutter to acquire focus, ie. for a white box to turn green.

      I find a single AF point very handy in the situation you describe where there are multiple ducks as I can put my single AF point on one duck in a crowd. My camera will then lock on that specific duck when I half depress the shutter. When I used a group of AF points in the past the camera would sometimes jump from one duck to another if they were in very close proximity and my grouping was overlapping on ducks.


      1. Indeed.
        I often toggle Bird AI on for static (perched/floating) birds and I always use single AF point for static subjects. I also believe the camera defaults to closest and/or center subject otherwise as Chris said in his video.
        If I had the skills to use single AF for BIF as well I most certainly would.
        I come from the ‘old school’ AF system user adage that using the least amount of camera “auto” anything features lessens the chances the camera will pick or do something that is not what “I” wanted and also there are less resources being taken by things I don’t require. I believe the EM1X is at a point/level that still requires adherence to this adage and thus the user benefits by using a single AF point more often than not.
        Whereas my Sony A9 was entirely different.
        For BIF, most A9 users let the camera do the heavy lifting. A9 users would choose the AF Wide mode (similar to All AF points of the EM1X) for BIF. A9 users did not have to use single AF points and skillfully track BIFs.
        I still don’t understand (technically speaking) why we EM1X users shouldn’t simply be able to use ‘All AF points’ with an appropriate AF limiter setting and receive a very high AF success rate for BIF. The only answer I have is that the EM1X is just not good enough and we EM1X users have to ‘old school’ it. Hopefully the WOW camera changes everything.

        1. Hi Fuzzy Wuzzy,

          I like to maintain control over what I’m doing with my camera as well. In certain situations I think it is possible to activate all AF points and get good results. I still have to practice and experiment with this so I can understand the specific situations where this would be the best solution. One subject that I plan to experiment with in this manner are swallows in flight.

          Incorporating the custom in-camera AF Limiter with Bird AI is something else with which I plan to do some experimentation. I think this may have a lot of promise. I think the E-M1X is more than ‘good enough’ for my needs… I just need to keep experimenting to learn how to best use it for my style of bird photography.

          As far as the WOW camera goes… it won’t be on my radar screen at all. I love my E-M1X cameras and my wife quite enjoys using the E-M1 Mark III. After over 2 1/2 years I’m still scratching the surface of what is possible with the E-M1X. I enjoying photographing a wide range of subject matter and love the comfort and ergonomics of the E-M1x so I am a very happy camper.

          Thanks again for sharing your input from the folks at OMDS and for our ongoing dialogue. The resulting alterations to this article I think make it better and more useful for readers.


  3. “when used with a single AF point (as it was designed to be used) Bird AI is simply awesome.”
    that statement is not accurate.
    the CAF+TR mode and the (+TR) AI subject modes of the EM1X, and EM1MKII, were designed to be used with subjects on a Z-axis (moving to/from camera and not panning). Simply put, the CAF+TR and the AI Subject Tracking modes do not like to see changes in the background/foreground. I’d bet no AF mode likes to have to compute changes in the BG/FG.
    In your example images there are a lot of other birds in the frame but the images show very little changes in the background/foreground. The locked subject is not moving side to side but rather directly towards the camera on a Z axis. That is what Tracking/AI modes are designed for…Z axis…not for single AF points…that’s just a fluke circumstance in this case.
    That is why most other Olympus EM1X users stated early on and continue to state receiving better results with Bird AI shooting perched birds. It’s not so much that that birds are not moving but the background/foreground is not changing requiring the camera to spend a lot of resources computing those changes.
    You stated that you have practiced enough so that you are able to place a single AF point on a bird’s (in flight) head. That’s great…but then I do not see why you simply do not use Bird AI (or not) with sequential L .
    I know what ProCap is. Please explain what functionality you believe ProCap L has regarding better focus acquisition and lock up that sequential Low C-AF does not have?

    1. Hi Fuzzy Wuzzy,

      The article has been adjusted to specifically mention the use of C-AF +TR and some other adjustments have been made.

      I’ve used a single AF point with Bird AI for both perched birds and birds-in-flight for quite a while now and have posted hundreds of images of BIF using this approach. In my experience a single AF point works far better than a grouping of AF points when using Bird AI for birds-in-flight, regardless of their flight direction. I’ve had no problem using a single AF point with Bird AI when panning with birds-in-flight, and find this especially effective when I use it in combination with Pro Capture L. When shooting at 18 frames-per-second in short 10 frame bursts not much of the background changes in a little over 1/2 second 🙂

      I have used Bird AI with sequential Low C-AF for birds-in-flight and good results can be obtained using this approach. If I have a limited shooting angle I will sometimes choose to use this approach. This is C4 on my Custom Mode dial. Having said that, its been my experience that combining Pro Capture L with Bird AI produces better results for my style of bird photography. I usually photograph birds-in-flight with long focal lengths, most commonly 560 mm (efov 1120). I prefer using Pro Capture L as I can pan with the bird and get the framing I want with multiple photographs stored in temporary memory before I commit those images to my memory card. I find Pro Capture L helps me be more disciplined and focused.

      We all use our cameras in ways that suit our particular needs. Like playing a guitar there are often a number of ways to play a particular chord. I use my E-M1X in ways that best meets my needs… just like I used my Nikon 1 kit. I’ve never concerned myself with what other folks say is, or isn’t, possible. I love to experiment and push things to see what happens. If that leads to me using my gear in unorthodox ways… C’est la vie!

      In terms of getting a single AF point proximate to where a bird-in-flight’s head will be, this can be very easily done with a couple of quick movements on the AF joystick while panning with a bird. It can also be done while deciding how one wants to compose an image as a bird is flying towards a photographer. As long as we always start with our AF point in mid frame a photographer doesn’t even need to look at their camera to adjust the position of a single AF point properly.

      Thanks again for getting some clarification from the folks at OMDS.


  4. confusing stuff on the internet indeed…
    i asked Olympus Technical Support for clarification regarding this statement “The EM1X does not use any of its phase detect AF points to actually focus on subjects when any of the camera’s AI Subject modes are used. Auto focus acquisition is done in the dual TruPic VIII processors as they analyze the entire scene.”
    Olympus/OMDS response—“Not accurate, AF won’t work or be very slow if the camera uses CDAF only. With C-AF+TR and subject recognition, PDAF is definitely used.”
    I asked again at some point, Olympus/OMDS response—
    “I have just confirmed with our chief tech specialist that the EM 1 series cameras always use both PDAF and CDAF working together. In fact he stressed that the main reason to have PDAF is for CAF to work well.

    1. Thanks for the additional information and the follow up with OMDS. I should have mentioned in the article that I do have C-AF +TR engaged when using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking… but only with one AF point.

      I will adjust this article accordingly.


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