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