LUMIX Auto Focus Workaround

Posted May. 2nd, 2018 by Daniel J. Cox

Ever since I started shooting the LUMIX system, there’s been a challenging auto focus issue I sometimes experience. To be fair, this is something I’ve also experienced with my Nikons.  The key is to understand what is happening and know how to work around it. I’m confident Panasonic is working on a fix, but until that happens I have a workaround that solves the issue. Below is a short video on how I get around it.

The above video describes it best but here’s a short description of the problem. You focus on a subject with any lens, the AF sensor is on Single AF and it’s completely covering the subject. You push the shutter button or Back Button AF to focus, but focus does not happen.

Lumix Won't Focus

GH5 trying to focus on these beautiful, brightly colored rose hips. AF pattern set to Single AF and covering the entire red subject.

Lumix Won't Focus

I pointed the AF sensor at the base of the plant where there was nothing far off in the background to confuse the system. It focused perfectly.

Lumix Won't Focus

Focus on rose hips was fast and accurate after I got the system close to the proper target by focusing on the ground as mentioned in the frame above.

Lumix Auto Focus Workaround

What’s going on? I’m not positive but it has something to do with the AF sensor reading the background rather than the actual subject.  It can occur even though the subject is very bright and contrasty and the AF sensor is totally covering the subject. Thankfully, this doesn’t take place very often but I’ve had it happen more than I would like.

Charlotte, the sweet lady in the video above, inspired me to create this post and share my workaround that put her on the right path during our Invitational Photo Tour of New Zealand.  I’m hopeful Panasonic can get this issue fixed sooner rather than later. See the video above to better understand the process of the workaround I’m suggesting.

Update:

After emailing my contacts at Lumix I was told that sometimes the extreme Bokeh of a nearby background will cause this issue. The reason being that Lumix has given both GH5 and G9 priority for AF speed as well as Closest Subject Priority. And I can say that I’ve not seen this issue nearly as often with the G9. The closest subject sometimes is overridden by the lack of contrast due to it being WAY out of focus.

The Panasonic engineer, Shibuno san, suggested the following and I’m paraphrasing, “Dan’s explanation to his students is right. In this case, in order to change the initial AF point to to get it close to the intended subject, try to focus underneath or beside the subject in advance, so there’s not so much extreme bokeh. Then, move back to the subject, in this case the Rose Hip, which gets the AF much closer to the intended subject so the camera is able to better detect contrast due to “reasonable Bokeh.” Shibuno san finished by stating, “We recognize this issue and we’re continually working to make improvements. 

So there you have it, straight from the engineer’s mouth. This kind of contact and honesty is what I so dearly admire about Panasonic. They’re real people who understand and admit that nothing is perfect but they’re working hard to make it as perfect as possible. It’s this kind of honesty and their desire to listen to their users that’s made me a firm believer in this company. This can-do attitude with honesty and integrity is what is going to propel them into being a major player in the business of producing multimedia with revolutionary new equipment. I love these guys and gals.

Editorial Note:

Thanks to NE Explorer Freddy Kurtz for shooting this video. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but never had the right person to help me when it happened in the field. And thank you Charlotte for allowing me to share your story.

Lumix Ambassador Disclaimer

In the spirit of complete transparency, I want all my readers to know that I am a Lumix Ambassador. That means I get paid a small stipend for writing about a system I absolutely love. That said, I want you all to know there is no amount of money more important than my integrity. Much to the chagrin of my Lumix colleagues, I often point out the bad with the good regarding Lumix technology and their camera gear. My belief is honesty and truthfulness will not just help you, but it also helps a company I greatly admire. To that end, it’s full steam ahead telling it like it really is. 

Daniel J. Cox

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There are 27 comments on this post…
  1. jordan pawOn Aug. 19th, 2018 (1 month ago)

    Interesting. I used to do this same work-around with my nikon d7k and pentax DSLR’s.
    I guess it’s not unique to Panasonic, but maybe more prevalent to CDAF systems.

    I do hope panny releases a fix for this not only for the G9, but for the other bodies like the G85, GX85, GX9, etc as well.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 19th, 2018 (1 month ago)

      Interestingly I had this same issues with more than one of my Nikon bodies but admittedly it didn’t happen as often with my Nikon’s. But with this lat st firmware update this issue seems to be almost completely fixed. It has happen once to me since the new firmware was installed.

  2. ZiggyOn Aug. 18th, 2018 (1 month ago)

    Found the same. There’s a general preference for the more distant lock, particularly obvious with a midground bird in flight and busy background. Even when with multiple AF boxes some are lighting green on the subject the background will get the lock.
    Some photographers attribute this to the CDAF tech.
    When I can’t afford to miss shots I take my D500.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 18th, 2018 (1 month ago)

      Zingy, do you have the most current firmware?

  3. CliffOn Jul. 8th, 2018 (3 months ago)

    Regarding Dean’s comment about the Sony A7RIII being a solution to this AF problem, I assume he is joking – the Sony cameras suffer from this particular issue more than any camera I’ve used, and it’s one of the reasons I gave up on the Sony system. My G9 is due to arrive tomorrow 🙂

  4. douglas l smithOn Jun. 23rd, 2018 (3 months ago)

    Dan has the new firmware update for the G9 helped on your focusing ?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 27th, 2018 (3 months ago)

      Hi Doug, not sure eyt. Hope to find out this week.

  5. Mats BergströmOn May. 26th, 2018 (4 months ago)

    Thanks for answering!
    Your settings are what I mostly use, but for focus mode. As I wrote in my first post I find it easier to get focus on the flying bird when using Face/Eye than any other mode, and adjust size to about the same you showed. (Note that the focusing area will be square. )
    In the manual Panasonic writes that when there are two eyes in the focus area, the nearest will be chosen. I think that goes for more than eyes…

  6. Mats BergströmOn May. 22nd, 2018 (4 months ago)

    Hi, Dan.
    I have been struggling to with BIF with G9, and coming from Nikon D500 and Sigmas and Tamrons (G2) 150-600 I have been used to “always” be able to lock focus on the bird. Well… 🙂
    Anyway, I find AF on G9 to be just as fast as Nikon on all but birds with busy background.
    What works best for me is to use Eye/Face and then reduce the focus area a bit. As I see it Eye/Face is the mode that is most willing to select Closest Point.
    It is not close to as good as Nikons “Group Area Focus” (that focuses on the closest of 5 points), but good enough to make me sell all Nikon gear.
    I really long for a firmware update that improves this!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 26th, 2018 (4 months ago)

      Mats,

      Sorry for taking so long to get this to you. I’ve been putting this off hoping to do a more indepth article on this exact subject. But that hasn’t happened yet so here is a shorter version with what I’m currently getting good results with for BIF.

      On both the G9 and GH5 I’m changing the default AF Custom Setting (Photo). You can find this under the Red camera tab on the left, page one of five. Photo below:

      Here are the settings I’m using for BIF

      I also am using the AF-C with Custom Multi at the size shown in photo below.

      Give these settings a try Mats. I’m planning more tests in the next couple of weeks. Hang in there, we’ll get this nailed down. Let me know if these settings help.

  7. William BunnOn May. 20th, 2018 (4 months ago)

    You asked how Point Pelee went. It short it was fantastic. Beyond my expectations. I sent 1 1/2 days at Pelee and then went to Rondeau about an hour away for 1/2 a day. My wife and I saw over 60 species. They call it the Festival of Birds and challenge birders to identify 100 species. I am certain may do. I photographed around 25 and have posted 20 here:

    Baltimore Oriole

    All photos taken with G9 and 100-400 Leica
    You should plan a trip for next May! You will not be disappointed.

  8. james wilsonOn May. 11th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    The ultimate focus solution is the ‘single shot spot focus’ feature. I have this set up on a function button so at any time I can concentrate the autofocus system on one tiny green dot in the middle of the screen. It works great for the bird in the branches or any time autofocus selection point is not where you want it. I am surprised that the great Panasonic engineer could not come up with that in his response.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 11th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      James, I’ve actually tried the PIN Point AF you’re referring to in situations like this. Unfortunately it still doesn’t solve the issue. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

  9. Douglas SmithOn May. 10th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    Dan -thanks for responding to my comments. I experience the problem with birds and animals as large as elk or deer that have a busy background such as brush . It doesn’t seem to occur if the background is open such as a skyline or water. I notice it more when the subject is perfectly still such as a Great Blue Heron in a stream bed.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 11th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      I’ve seen this as well Doug. This post and other comments I’ve shared with Panasonic is very helpful. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  10. Douglas SmithOn May. 6th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    Dan I am having similar focusing problems with my G9. I am a novice photographer and I describe my problem as “back focusing”, but what you are describing here may be the problem. It never occurred with the GX8 and the 100-400 but I have had it happen frequently with 2 different G9’s while using the 100-400. Have tried several different settings but still experiencing the problem.

    Off subject , but what is your opinion of the new F2.8 200 mm lens?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 6th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      Douglas, have you tried the AF-S dialed down to very small or smallest setting? Are your subjects birds that are flitting from branch to branch or in flight? Both situations make it difficult to refocus on something the camera has an easier time with. I’ve also noticed some situations with both GH5 and G9 where the AF sensor grabs something, mostly in the back ground and what I would call back focus. When I see this I hit the AF button again and it often readjusts. This is not a perfect situation but as I tell my students, you have to be watching the AF accuracy as much as possible. Sometimes in the heat of the moment it’s impossible to keep your eye on what the AF accuracy looks like in the EVF, but I do. And when I see it’s not keeping up with a bird in flight, I hit the back AF button again and it reengages the system. None of this is completely unique to the G9 or GH5. I had very similar issues with my many years of use with Nikon and I treated them the exact same. When my Nikons weren’t keeping up, I would release the Back Button AF–I always use Back Button AF–then push it again… to wake it up… and it often reconnects. None of these system are perfect but Panasonic is making huge strides and I find the AF-C Predictive capabilities of the G9 far ahead of prior cameras.

      Regarding the 200mm F/2.8. It’s a stellar piece of glass based on a short period of time I had wit a preproduction uint. Unfortunately I’ve not had a lot of use with any of the newest ones. I’ll be getting one shortly and I’m planning to take it on an upcoming trip to Alaska where I’ll be testing it extensively in real world conditions. Stay tuned for a blog post on that.

      Thanks for your input and joining the conversation here on the Corkboard. Looking forward to your continued involvement.

  11. William BunnOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    I just set up my camera to your second example and will see if it helps. Keep pushing Panasonic. This is a wildlife camera.
    My G9 is fast, light and has a fantastic stabilization system.
    The Sony 100-400 is 50% heavier than Lumix/Leica 100-400.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      Totally agree William. As I said in response to Dean, my money is on the smaller format cameras and in particular Lumix. There may be room for full frame gear but it won’t be the system the majority of shooters will be using in the future. It’s too big, too cumbersome, full frame lenses way too heavy and ridiculously far too costly. It’s just a matter of time before Panasonic sorts out a few minor issues with the AF system, and they will. The next jump is going to be in sensor technology. We’re already in a place where I’m completely happy with the quality of images I’m getting from Lumix sensors, but that’s not going to stand still either. Yes, full frame gear will also move forward but for what reason? Who needs the absolute ultimate in quality? From a professional perspective, nobody pays for it in the wildlife and nature world any longer. Maybe there are still a few commercial clients that will demand the ultimate in quality but it will be few and far between. For me the smaller format cameras have put the fun back into photography, not to mention cash, from the sale of big expenses lenses, into my retirement account. I’m loving where this is all going.

  12. DeanOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    Dan, I’ve come up with an even better workaround to the Lumix autofocus issue: the Sony A7III and A7RIII. Been shooting these two beasts for a few months and am blown away by the speed and accuracy of the autofocus. And, the Eye-Focus is nothing short of amazing. I’ll be taking both to Yellowstone in June to give Sony a workout. Just thought I’d throw a skunk into the conversation. ;0)

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      Good luck with lenses and when they do come, better luck carrying them after you’ve paid a boatload of cash. I’ve still got my bets on the smaller system. Just sayin……

  13. William BunnOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    Thank you for posting. I appreciate that the you have an affiliation with Panasonic but you always want them to improve and are not afraid to challenge them.
    To answer your questions I have a G9 and a GX8. Lenses 100-400, 8-18, 42.5, 12-35, 45-175 and an Oly 60 macro. I use the 100-400 most of the time on my G9.
    I use the smallest size single area focus area and have the front switch set to the diamond multi focus area for BIF. (Great feature)
    I even tried shrinking the diamond to four dots. No better.
    Off to Point Pelee on lake Erie May 15th for the warbler migration!
    www.flickr.com/bbunn

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      Let e know how Point Pelee goes William. Have always heard of this birding hotspot. Would love to go someday. Have you tried changing any of the AF Custom Settings (Photo) on the G9. I’m busy testing different settings and for birds in flight have found more sensitivity on all settings to be better. Two screen shots of the back of my G9 with AF Custom Settings I’m currently using.

  14. William BunnOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    I have the same lack of focus concern, and it happens often. I have used the work around you suggest but I take bird pictures, especially small warblers and often the bird is gone by the time I get back to the subject. This is not acceptable in a camera of this price and quality range.
    Otherwise I love the camera.
    Sorry but that is how I feel!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      I appreciate your honesty William. Have you tried dialing the AF-S down to it’s smallest size when you’re doing warblers? Have you tried any of the AF Custom Settings (Photo) adjustments? And please tell me which camera you’re using? This is all good information. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. DeanOn Apr. 15th, 2018 (5 months ago)

    Ouch! My Olympus E-M1 Mk2 ALWAYS focuses! But, even focused, I still can’t take as good photos as Dan’s! 😉

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 15th, 2018 (5 months ago)

      Actually, I’ve had similar issues with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Markll Dean and I also had similar issues with my Nikon. But I will admit, it seems to be more prevalent with the G85, GH4, GH5 but less so with the new G9. None of them are prefect however and I’m hoping Panasonic is working on a fix.

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