Using Bird Detection AI

I’ve been experimenting for the past little while using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI, and there are some practical considerations using Bird Detection AI.

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 @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1000, ISO-4000, subject distance 5 metres, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

The basic process that this AI technology uses is recognizing the shape of a bird and drawing a white box around it. When a photographer half depresses their shutter release Bird AI will then progressively acquire focus on the body, then the head, and when possible the eye of the bird.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 235 mm, efov 470 mm, f/7.7, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 5.6 metres, cropped to 3138 on the height, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

All of this does take some time for this technology to work. When using Bird Detection AI, patience is required to allow for the focus acquisition process to play out.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 359 mm, efov 718 mm, f/9, 1/1000, ISO-3200, subject distance 5.4 metres, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

In my experience using Bird Detection AI for perched birds is basically a “no brainer”. At least for the style of perched bird photography that I do, which is to get in tight on subject birds.

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, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 5.6 metres, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

I’ve found it to be quick and reliable, especially with small fidgety birds. Bird AI has allowed me to capture a higher number of good, sharp images… in shorter time frames. So, it can increase both the quality and efficiency of photographing this type of subject matter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 200 mm, efov 400 mm, f/5.9, 1/2500, ISO-320, subject distance 9.2 metres, cropped to 4476 pixels on the width, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

Bird-in-flight photography is far more complicated. My initial field testing was reasonably successful and I anticipate that for a lot of the species that I typically photograph in flight,  Bird Detection AI will work well and will be my default setting.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/1600, ISO-2500

Larger, slower flying birds like great blue heron, egrets, eagles, ospreys, and swans flying past should be ideal candidates.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-2500

These birds can obviously be photographed successfully using other auto-focus approaches. The benefit of Bird Detection AI is this technology’s ability to automatically acquire focus on the eye of the bird. This provides E-M1X owners with the potential to capture stunning images of particular species in flight.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

Practical considerations using Bird AI include the size and shape of the bird. Its speed and style of flight. And, the bird’s angle of approach.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 134 mm, efov 268 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-400, subject distance 15.65 metres

We need to remember that the flight speeds of birds can vary dramatically. Large birds like a great blue heron fly at about 55 kilometres per hour (~34 MPH). Egrets fly at a slower pace of about 40 kilometres per hour (~25 MPH) .

Olympus 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, 1/1600, ISO-250, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 105 metres

Birds like ospreys and eagles can cruise by at speeds of 28 to 46 kilometres per hour (~17 to 29 MPH) depending on wind resistance, but can dive when hunting at speeds over 120 kilometres per hour (~75 MPH).

Olympus 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-500. Pro Capture L

When thinking about the practical considerations when using Bird AI we need to keep our expectations in check. Bird Detection AI is not a magic panacea that will instantaneously transport an inexperienced photographer into the realms of professional nature 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, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 6.1 metres, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

It is a tool that can be used to great effect… but it does take knowledge, patience and skill. And, depending on subject matter, Bird AI may not be the best focusing method to use in specific situations.

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, 1/1000, ISO-2500, subject distance 3.5 metres, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

As noted earlier, one of the practical considerations using Bird AI is that it is very well suited to photograph perched birds. I will be using this as my default setting for any perched bird photography that I do.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with MC-14 @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/8.1, 1/1600, ISO-800, subject distance 6 metres, cropped to 3132 on the height, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

I will also be using it for larger birds that fly at slower speeds, birds-in-flight that have elongated body shapes, and medium to large sized birds that are flying at right angles to the focal plane of my E-M1X, or approaching at moderate speeds.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, subject distance 8.5 metres

Smaller, faster birds with more compact shapes are not the best subject matter for Bird AI. The technology can sometimes take too long to cycle through its AI logic to be effective. Photographers will need to experiment with other auto-focusing options to determine how to best capture images of these types of species should they run into difficulties.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-4000, subject distance 15.1 metres, cropped to 3909 pixels on the width, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

I was out yesterday attempting to photograph long tailed ducks in some overcast, dull conditions. These little speed balls are difficult to photograph at the best of times. Long tailed ducks fly in the 80 kilometre per hour range (~50 MPH) so acquiring focus on them can be a challenge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-3200, subject distance 22 metres, cropped to 4286 pixels on the width, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

The overcast conditions made it a bit more difficult than normal. With some patience I was able to get some usable images even given the shooting conditions.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, subject distance 32.2 metres, cropped to 2815 pixels on the width, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

Some of the more interesting image opportunities were a fair distance out from my vantage point. I knew that his would require more aggressive cropping in post than I typically like to do. So I added the MC-14 teleconverter to my set-up.

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, 1/1600, ISO-3200, subject distance 26.6 metres, cropped to 4594 pixels on the width. E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

Shooting handheld at an equivalent field-of-view of 1120 mm presents its own challenge in terms of the required some eye/hand coordination and locating subject birds in the viewfinder. I was able to capture a number of usable images of long tailed ducks in flight at this efov.

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, 1/1600, ISO-3200, subject distance 26.5 metres, cropped to 3566 pixels on the width, E-M1X Bird Detection AI used

I think the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI is very interesting technology that will be a bit of a game changer for a lot of E-M1X owners. Since it operates differently than conventional auto-focusing approaches it takes some practice and patience to use it effectively. Some folks may give it a quick try, and give up on it too early in more challenging situations.

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. Where appropriate crops are noted.

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14 thoughts on “Using Bird Detection AI”

  1. Good day,

    I have been thru all your posts, especially the 100-400 posts as I am getting ready to pull the plug on that lens. The 150-400 is way out of my reach. I have 2 EM1Xs, one has the 40-150 pro with 1.4 TC, the other has the 300 Pro. I am going out and practicing with the new Bird Ai, and have about a 50% hit rate. Need much more practice for sure. All the bird shots on my website are from before the Bird Ai. Also,being winter time in Eastern San Diego county,the birds are sleeping I think 🙂 Great stuff, bookmarked your site as it is a valuable source of information for me. I have been shooting Olympus for longer than I can remember.

    Cheers,

    Randy

    1. Hi Randall,

      Thanks for sharing your comment and sharing some of your experiences! I’m a ‘newbie’ to Olympus, having bought into the system in July 2019, so I have much to learn and practice as well!

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,
    “Smaller, faster birds … are not the best subjects for Bird AI.” Thank you for a first feedback. I am sure you will keep trying and eventually show images that seem almost impossible now. – My own subject – sparrows hunting mayflies over the river – is hard with a V3 and just a little easier with an E-M1X.

    I appreciate your work very much, by far the most informative insight how the Bird AI handles songbirds in flight. Even when it doesn’t.
    Stefan

    1. Hi Stefan,

      I have not tried to photograph songbirds in flight yet. Most of them have already headed south. As you know, understanding the habits of a subject is critical in order to develop an approach to try to use to photograph them. During the limited time that I’ve had Bird AI, I’ve been experimenting primarily with smaller, fast ducks.

      Once spring has arrived, more opportunities will be present. At this point I cannot assess how well Bird AI will work with swallows and other small birds of this type as I’ve not had the opportunity to photograph them.

      Tom

      1. Thank you, Tom.
        A little easier are songbirds hovering, in an attempt to pick up an insect. Or a kingfisher hovering over the water. Rare moments, but it’s what I am mainly hoping for.
        I wish you many of those moments in 2021. Good luck.
        Stefan

        1. Hi Stefan,

          I found your comment about hovering birds very interesting. A question for you… when I was using my Nikon 1 V2 or V3 for bird photography one of the techniques that I loved to use for hovering birds was to use a frame rate of 60 frames per second. The risk, of course, was that the first frame would lock focus and exposure. So, if the subject bird had too much movement towards, or away, from the focal plane of my camera it would go out of focus. When the distance to subject didn’t change… I was able to capture some incredible runs of images with incremental body and wing movements. Have you ever tried shooting hovering birds at 60 frames per second?

          Tom

          1. Hi Tom,
            I think a 60fps frame rate is good for catching all wing position, which is nice – a wing going downwards looks “powerful” and more attractive. Also, with a 60fps frame rate you’ll have less danger of the bird going out of focus. In the context of “hunting mayflies” I began to prefer 30fps, to observe the complex manoeuvres. Otherwise the buffer would fill too fast. Their hunting strategy sometimes involved flying to a point where they “expected” the mayfly, hovering in mid-air and waiting for the insect to approach. I simply missed too much action with 60fps. Keeping a sparrow in the EVF for 30+ shots obviously does not only produce razor sharp focus… that’s a major downside.
            Stefan

            1. Hi Stefan,

              Thanks for sharing your experiences using 30 frames per second versus 60 frames per second. I will keep this in mind as I experiment more when photographing hovering birds.

              Tom

  3. Thank you very much Tom for the information. I will certainly try to get out there when the weather is nicer and I can have a few hours. I have had the EM1X since release (EM1-II before that) and have had good results birding with just single point CAF sensitivity +2 but seems that with firmware 2 and bird AI testing it at Cherry Hill and 16 mile creek works quite reliably and responsive with 5×5 (haven’t tried all focus points much with CAF and Bird AI but some reviewers have said it works better than 5×5 for BIF shots). I have the 300mmF4 and both TC’s as well so will experiment with 840 & 1200mm and see if I can get some nice osprey fishing pictures. Kind regards.

    1. Hi Doug,

      Always a pleasure to try to assist a reader when I can!

      The ospreys typically arrive in late March/early April. Depending on the water levels in the Great Lakes there are numerous others species that arrive in the spring. If the water is too deep then many of the herons and the egrets will find somewhere else to hunt.

      Like you, I was using a single point for auto focus with CAF with sensitivity at +2. I didn’t like the 3×3 or 5×5 grids… so I was using custom 3×5 and 3×7 grids. Before Bird Detection AI, I switched to Cluster Area CAF and liked it better than any of the grids. I’m still feeling my way around Bird AI. For perched birds it is a no-brainer for me. My technique with Bird AI still needs a lot of work for birds in flight.

      Tom

  4. Hi Thomas

    Just wondering where the picture is the osprey were taken? I have admired your photos from RBG and Hendrie as I live close by but have never been able to see osprey catch fish. Thanks

    1. Hi Doug,

      If you go behind the Royal Botanical Gardens along Spring Garden Road it will lead you past Woodland Cemetery. Once you pass Woodland Memorials, Spring Garden Road makes a sharp right hand turn. If you look to your left as you approach the bridge you’ll see some ponds. This is typically where photographers will gather to capture images of osprey fishing.

      https://www.google.ca/maps/place/Royal+Botanical+Gardens/@43.289718,-79.8825359,17z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x882c9cf636209a13:0xc735e07b688aa88b!8m2!3d43.2899434!4d-79.8750878

      Tom

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