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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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