Swallow Bird AI Test

This article features photographs captured as part of my swallow Bird AI test, and discusses my field testing. All images were captured handheld with and OM-D E-M1X fitted with an M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens, and using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3725 pixels on the width, distance to subject 5.5 metres

I haven’t had any opportunities to photograph swallows for almost a year so I started off my test quite ‘rusty’. As folks will know who try to photograph swallows in flight, these little erratic, pocket rockets are a challenge. The vast majority of my test images were of flying swallows. I only captured images of a couple of perched birds.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 276 mm, efov 552 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3372 pixels on the width, distance to subject 11.1 metres

I knew from some initial testing I had done with my E-M1X back in the spring of 2019 that its auto-focusing was quite responsive. This was well before the introduction of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, and I was curious to see how this new technology would perform.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 276 mm, efov 552 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2974 pixels on the width, distance to subject 16.1 metres

I spent very little time photographing swallows as they flew in to land at a nesting box. These types of images are fairly easy to get with most any camera. Although I did find that using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking made these types of images that much easier as I didn’t have to worry about inadvertently focusing on the nesting box and losing focus on the swallow in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3857 pixels on the width, distance to subject 7.3 metres

I spent the bulk of my swallow Bird AI test time photographing swallows in free flight. After struggling when trying to use some very long focal lengths, I reminded myself that using a teleconverter to capture small, fast flying birds was counterproductive. I removed my MC-14.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2828 pixels on the width, distance to subject 13.1 metres

Given the extreme dipsy-doodling flight paths used by the swallows I knew that trying to use Pro Capture L was not practical. I focused on using my standard Bird AI settings, including having only one auto-focus point activated. I shot at 18 frames-per-second using silent shutter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 307 mm, efov 614 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3548 pixels on the width, distance to subject 8.2 metres

I have no idea why a number of photography writers have suggested engaging all of the auto focus points, or some kind of grouping. I’ve found that engaging a single auto focus point produces the best results. Apparently none of the auto-focus points on the E-M1X are actually used to acquire focus when Bird AI is implemented (see the E-M1X review video done by the folks at Imaging Resource).

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2794 pixels on the width, distance to subject 16.2 metres

With my initial articles about using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection Subject Tracking I offered an early opinion that it likely would not be very effective with small, fast flying birds like swallows. I’m pleased to admit that I was terribly wrong with that initial opinion! During my swallow Bird AI test I quickly discovered that this technology can actually be very effective.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2436 pixels on the width, distance to subject 15.9 metres

During my swallow Bird AI test I found that as long as my eye/hand coordination was up to the task, my E-M1X could very effectively keep tracking with a swallow in flight. Success also depended on me exercising good technique in terms of timing my photographs. The swallows were as animated as ever with their flight paths. As a result the most I could usually do was capture short ‘pulse’ image runs of 3-6 photographs.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 227 mm, efov 454 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2787 pixels on the width, distance to subject 12.3 metres

Occasionally a swallow would zip past me, gliding on the wind. In these instances I could capture longer image runs of 8-12 photographs. There wasn’t much point doing this since all of the images looked almost identical… but all were in good focus.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 227 mm, efov 454 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2823 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.1 metres

I captured photographs with the swallows flying at various angles, including some barrelling straight at me. The E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking was able to handle these various scenarios. The biggest reasons why I missed shots was my eye/hand coordination or my own lack of shot discipline. When I did my part, the technology worked well.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 227 mm, efov 454 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2590 pixels on the width, distance to subject 16.2 metres

Using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking does take some time and practice. It works differently than other E-M1X auto-focusing options. Since I loaded this technology onto my E-M1X bodies I’ve captured over 35,000 images using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking. Many of these were for practice and exploratory purposes. Perhaps I’m a slow learner, but I found that it took me some time to adjust to the technology and learn how to use it. Every time that I use Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking it feels more comfortable and natural to me.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3074 pixels on the width, distance to subject 16.1 metres

Suffice to say that my swallow Bird AI test was quite successful and generated hundreds of potential keeper images. I thought this was a productive result from my 3 hour field test. In the future I won’t hesitate in the slightest to use my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking to photograph swallows in flight. I thought my E-M1X was great with this subject matter before… now its even better!

I was able to capture a sufficient number of keeper images that I will likely write one or two additional articles utilizing some of these additional test images.

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. Crops of the original images are indicated where appropriate.

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6 thoughts on “Swallow Bird AI Test”

  1. Ha!
    I need more practice.
    These are really good and I’m especially impressed with those flying straight towards you. I think there is a lot of skill there.
    I will try your single point focus and turning off ProCapture for BIF. I was not particularly successful today (ducks and a red kite).
    Do you use single point focus for all BIF?
    Do you sharpen images? I am just not getting the quality you seem to produce consistently (it could of course be the human factor that degrades my images!)
    Thanks for these reviews, always a good read.
    Jerry

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      I use three different settings/approaches for bird photography. All of them involve using only one auto-focus point.

      Here are my three basic approaches:
      1) Pro Capture L plus Bird Detection AI for medium to large size birds in flight, landing and taking flight.
      2) Bird Detection AI, used for all perched birds and smaller birds in flight
      3) Pro Capture H, used for all small birds taking flight and landing.

      All of the photographs displayed on my website are produced from RAW files using my standard process which includes DxO PhotoLab 4, Photoshop CS6, Nik Collection, and Topaz Denoise. I don’t typically apply a lot of sharpening to my images, but do spend time working with edge acuity. This can be impacted with sharpening tools, contrast, micro contrast, clarity, as well as the use of black and white sliders. All of my images have DxO PhotoLab 4 standard camera/lens corrections applied, which I find very useful. I also use DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted corrections for all of my images.

      Tom

    1. Hi William,

      That is also my favourite images from the ones displayed in the article. When I have the opportunity to photograph swallows again (we’re at the start of another stay at home order) I plan on capturing more of these interactive types of images. My goal with the test was to assess Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking with free flying birds, so I didn’t spend much time photographing birds near nesting boxes or posts.

      Tom

  2. Appreciate the incredible examples of swallow capture.I did not realize all the colorful striations and feathers when they were inflight!Intuitively, I have used single point focus instead of the multi zone continuous mode on my old Nikon 3400 DSLR.I plan to upgrade to Olympus but I’am undecided about the starry night program, built in ND filters, and tbe bird capture.Thanks.

    1. Hi Wayne,

      Olympus cameras do have some intriguing technology, great build quality and weatherproofing. We’ve not used the starry night program in my wife’s E-M1 Mark III yet so I can’t comment on that particular feature.

      I can attest to the fact that Live ND is very easy to use and works very well, allowing me to create ‘smooth water’ waterfall images without needing a tripod.

      Pro Capture is simply incredible for bird photography as it allows the capture of key action frames after they have already happened. Birds taking off/landing or making interesting mid-air moves are all much easier to capture using this technology. Handheld High Resolution is also great when photographing basically still subjects where more detail/resolution is desired, as well as a reduction in noise. I use it a lot for macro photography and landscapes, as well for the occasion perched bird image. AI subject tracking with the E-M1X is also an incredible practical technological advancement. I love it for bird photography and now use it all the time, except for Pro Capture H where I shoot at 60 frames-per-second. Bird AI works with AF-C +TR which is limited to 18 frames-per-second.

      The IBIS performance in the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III is incredible, allowing multiple second handheld exposures. It still boggles my mind all of the technology these cameras have and how it expands what is possible with photography.

      Tom

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