Testing the Olympus OM-1 Autofocus For Birds in Flight

Posted Jun. 15th, 2023 by Daniel J. Cox

Over the last four weeks, I had several opportunities to test the Olympus OM-1 Autofocus For Birds in Flight. What started as a typical AF series of tests morphed into that, plus a critique/comparison of the software I use to check for critical focus. The following are my findings on OM-1’s AF accuracy and the four pieces of software I used to make my conclusions.

A short video showing a viewing comparison between Adobe’s Lightroom and the OM Workspace when reviewing images at 100%.

Reviewing your pictures at 100% for critical focus

An essential workflow practice for all serious photographers is to review their work at 100%, also called 1:1. Without reviewing your work at 100%, you could be selecting photos that are not in focus. Having a program that gives you an accurate 100% Preview is essential. I’ve recently been able to test my Olympus OM-1 cameras on fast-moving birds in flight, reminding me of an issue I mentioned many months ago. That issue is that Olympus’ OM Workspace’s 1:1 Preview is inaccurate compared to other programs.

Mylio Photos, DxO PhotoLab, Lightroom and OM Workspace

My two main pieces of workflow software are Mylio Photos and DxO PhotoLab 6. Neither of these programs can show the AF sensor placement when the image is recorded. OM Workspace does, giving you valuable information when trying to understand a system’s AF capabilities. Combining a 100% image review and seeing the exact placement of the AF sensor is a critical part of understanding accurate autofocus. OM Workspace is the only software I work with that allows me to see where the camera placed the AF sensor. But it has an issue with viewing the image at 100%.

In the image above, I had to set OM Workspace to 50% to get the same-sized view I saw in DxO PhotoLab and Mylio Photos. Wanting to ensure I wasn’t seeing things, I also compared the OM Workspace size to Adobe Lightroom. All three other software tools, Mylio Photos, DxO PhotoLab, and Lightroom, confirmed that OM workspace showed a 200% view instead of the 100% or 1:1 view it suggested. Knowing this, I used OM Workspace to review the AF placement only.

Software for checking sharpies of birds flight

OM Workspace shows where the camera focused

I don’t use OM Workspace very often. I pull it up only when I’m doing autofocus tests. It’s useful when I want to see where the AF sensor was in a particular image when the shutter button was activated.

I was recently testing the Olympus OM-1 on fast-flying Atlantic Puffins, hoping to understand better how accurate the AF is on birds in flight. Seeing the placement of the AF sensor is helpful to know if the camera focused where the camera placed it.

Unfortunately, even though the camera was in Bird Detection mode, it often focused on something completely different than the bird. The good news is, as the image above shows, even though the focus was not on the bird, it still seemed to focus in approximately the right spot. Even though the focus spot is on the background, the puffin is relatively sharp.

View of puffin in flight

I say relatively since the puffin at 100% is not razor sharp. But it’s focused well enough to tell me the AF sensor was not focusing on what’s showing in OM Workspace. Unfortunately, the OM-1 missed critical focus, so I threw it out.

Release Priority Set to OFF

The idea behind this setting is the camera should not fire unless it’s certain the subject is in focus. Or at least that’s how I understand it. This option is in the Menu on AF Tab Page 1.

Editorial Note: I originally posted an image showing a page from the manual highlighting the settings related to Release Priority. I mistakenly reported that my setting for Release Priority was set to ON. In reality, it was set to OFF. I apologize for the mistake. I’ve corrected all instances where I used the word On to Off. I also had several references to “Focus Priority” when it should have been Release Priority. Oh, the joys of being our own editor. Thanks to DPReview reader Will Rose for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately, there were many times the puffin was not in focus, or even close to in focus, yet the camera still fired. Below is another example.

Autofocus with tracking seems to do a better job

Numerous videos and even more blog posts on the internet assure people that the AF+Tracking with Bird Detection is no better, and some say it’s even worse than AF-C alone. One video mentions that the official line from European Olympus is not to use AF-C+Tracking. I took this as gospel and did none of my tests using AF-C+Tracking. I regret that. So when one more opportunity came to shoot birds in flight, I ensured it was with AF-C+Tracking engaged. I was delighted to see considerably better results.

Fulmar in flight
A Northern Fulmar takes a sharp turn in high winds. Olympus OM-1 with 150-400mm zoom

Unfortunately, the Northern Fulmar is not as fast as the Atlantic Puffin. Therefore improved AF results may be due to a slower subject. I’ll never know for sure until I get another chance at Puffins. But overall, it looked like the camera was doing a better job. With AF-C+Tracking, the camera would often not fire when the subject was clearly out of focus. And that’s what it was supposed to do.

AF stopping mid-burst?

An additional issue became apparent as I perused nearly 3,000 images. For some reason, the AF sensor would disappear mid-burst. I’ve tried to diagram the details below. In short, the screenshot below shows a burst of 25 frames. During that burst, the AF disappears twice. One for three frames and another section for two frames. Then it returns to finish the burst at the end of the 25-frame sequence.

Checking accuracy of autofocus for birds flight

I am still trying to understand why this would happen. But it makes me wonder if the AF may be stopping within a burst of photos for some reason. This might explain why some images are out of focus in an otherwise in-focus group. Could this be why others are writing about OM-1’s focus inconsistency with the action subjects? In the video below, Mike Lane discusses this issue with his flying pigeons in the graveyard AF tests.

My Settings for Birds in Flight

  • Camera set to AF-C
  • Bird Detection set to On
  • Release Priority set to OFF
  • AF-C+Tracking Sequential for approximately 20FPS capture rate
  • AF pattern in EVF set to All

Not all Birds in Flight tests are created equal

All the videos I’ve seen related to birds in flight with the OM-1 are of birds shot flying parallel to the camera. That’s a relatively easy target. To accomplish an accurate test for birds in flight, you must have the birds flying straight at the camera or as close to it as possible. That’s a challenging task since a wild bird seldom flies in a straight line. Even if it did, you would need lots of luck to align yourself in the right spot to take advantage of such an opportunity. The next closest thing is to have dozens to hundreds of chances of many birds flying. Eventually, you’ll get the flight patterns you need to test your camera.

Finding a situation where I had many birds flying is the route I took for this test of the OM-1 with birds in flight. During my recent trip to the Faroe Islands, I found numerous opportunities to photograph Atlantic puffins and northern fulmars. Both species were preparing for the nesting season, so they were lots of them. And that’s the key to action photography. You need your subject to perform over and over and over again. Very seldom do great action images come from a one-off of a single bird flying past. Getting in the rhythm of how your subject flies, what time they get most active, and other behaviors takes time, patience, and, ideally, lots of subjects.

Rating your birds in flight

After the four occasions I had to photograph fast-moving birds, I selected the final images in two ways. If an image was even slightly out of focus, it received a 1 Star rating. If it was perfectly sharp, it received a 3 Star rating. In times past, I would rate my BIF images with 1, 2, and 3 stars, with the 2 Star rating being “Almost Sharp.”

Today, I could probably use many of the 2 Star images on social media or easily fix them with Topaz Photo AI. But I still have a Sony A9, so I’m much more critical of any other AF system. With the Sony, there are few 2 Stars. The accuracy of Sony’s autofocus means pictures are rarely soft. The Sony A9 is the camera to beat in all AF situations, from my experience. So that’s what I use as the standard to judge all other cameras.

Birds in Flight test results

With that in mind, below are the results of the four different Birds In Flight opportunities I had over the past four weeks.

BIF #1 Fulmar: Total Frames Shot = 313
3 STARS (Perfect Focus) = 164/58%
1 STAR (Out of Focus) = 149/41%

BIF #2 Puffins Total Frames Shot = 1234 Total
3 stars (Perfect Focus) =478/38.7%
1 Stars. (Out of Focus) =756./61.2%

BIF #3 Fulmar Total Frames Shot = 399 total
3 Stars (Perfect Focus) =175/43%
1 Stars (Out of Focus) =224/56%

BIF #4 FULMAR Total Frames Shot = 1355
AF-C + Tracking On
3 Star (Perfect Focus). =742/54.76%
1 Star (Out of focus). =613/45.23%


In the final analysis, I have to say I was hoping for better results from the Olympus OM-1 on fast-moving birds. I finally gave up on Lumix for this exact reason. However, the big difference between the Olympus OM-1 and the Lumix G9 is the OM-1 being light years ahead of the G9 with fast birds in flight.

Olympus OM-1 Autofocus Birds in Flight

Unfortunately, the OM-1 is not in the same league as the Sony A9, but it did capture hundreds of exciting images of flying birds that were impossible with the Lumix G9. As much as I admire the AF system in the Sony A9, there are just too many other tools the OM-1 has that override my desire for near-perfect autofocus. So from that perspective, I’ve moved way ahead with my action photography by switching to the OM-1.

Olympus OM-1 Autofocus Birds in Flight
Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica), Faroe Islands

As crucial as action photography is to me, it’s not the only thing I shoot. There are other features in the OM-1 I would be seriously disappointed to give up. Features other cameras just don’t have. I’m still working on an overall review of the OM-1, which will contain the many things I absolutely love about this system. My AF tests were just one part of a long trial that merited its own blog post.

Olympus OM-1 Autofocus Birds in Flight

The number one tool keeping me firmly in the OM-1 camp is the can’t live without 150-400mm F/4.5 zoom lens. Other features I would hate to give up include Pro Capture, built-in ND filters, Star Light AF, High-Resolution Mode, and the small, compact form factor of all OM bodies, but especially the OM lenses.

Olympus OM-1 Autofocus Birds in Flight
Getting two puffins in flight, perfectly in line for sharp focus of both, is only possible based on luck. I liked this image since two in flight is pretty rare, and the lower left is razor sharp.

Although the AF results were not perfect, they’re much better than the results I had shooting Lumix cameras over the past 10 years. I stuck with Lumix for far too long, confident they would eventually get their DFD focus system to work. They never did, so I had to move on. I’m hopeful OM Digital Solutions won’t make the same mistake. Thankfully the OM-1 is already dramatically better than anything I shot from Lumix. Now we just have to get the OM Solutions engineers to get cracking on the algorithms related to action photography for even better, Sony-like results. I’m confident they can do it.

Please let me know if any of you have seen the issue of OM Workspace not showing images at the 100% 1:1 sizing we all expect. Is it just me?

Editorial Note: I originally posted an image showing a page from the manual highlighting the settings related to Release Priority. I mistakenly reported that my setting for Release Priority was set to ON. In reality, it was set to OFF. I apologize for the mistake. I’ve corrected all instances where I used the word On to Off. I also had several references to “Focus Priority” when it should have been Release Priority. Oh, the joys of being our own editor. Thanks to DPReview reader Will Rose for bringing this to my attention.

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There are 21 comments on this post…
  1. Tony WagnerOn Jun. 10th, 2024 (2 weeks ago)

    Hi Daniel, this is very helpful. Like you, I am a dedicated OM photographer but have been disappointed with the keeper rate of birds in flight, using the 150-400. I don’t really see much of an improvement with the MKII. But here is the question: Do you turn the lens IS off for birds in flight on the 150-400? I’ve always left it on, but am wondering…

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 12th, 2024 (2 weeks ago)

      Hi Tony, I’ve not had any great situations to rally test the Mark ll for Birds in Flight. Hoping to have more opportunities this summer. But I have found that switching the AF Sensitivity to +2 has been helpful. As far as IS goes I never turn mine off. I really have my doubts that would improve AF but one never knows. In general I’ve been very happy with the AF capabilities of the OM-1 for fast action photography. That said, it can always be improved. Sony is unquestionably le leader and that’s what OM System has to equal or improve on. But the OM-1 is so much better than the G9 I was shooting that it’s hard to complain. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any further questions.

  2. GuidoOn May. 21st, 2024 (1 month ago)

    Hi Daniel,
    after nearly one year of using the OM-1 mark I, do you any new experience to share?
    What is yout take on the and the latest firmware 1.6 ?
    Did you already buy the Mark II and compare it to the Mark I ?
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 21st, 2024 (1 month ago)

      Guido, I apologize I’ve not had a chance to write up my thoughts on the OM-1. I’ve been so busy with our photography tours. I have purchased the OM-1 Mark ll and it is a worthy upgrade. Mainly due to even better AF performance, but also the new rubberized dials and the Grauated ND filter are serious bonuses. I’m hopeful I’ll get a video together this summer on the new camera. I appreciate you checking in.

  3. TimOn Mar. 21st, 2024 (3 months ago)

    Why use 20fps sequential and not 25fps SH2 allowing for blackout-free tracking of BIF?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 22nd, 2024 (3 months ago)

      Good question Tim. I just wasn’t sure if the electric shutter could AF as well. But since this post I’ve been doing more experimenting and it seems to be excellent. Will be doing more birds in flight this fall.

  4. RoberOn Jan. 25th, 2024 (5 months ago)

    Too long since I’ve visited your excellent website.
    So you left Lumix….and now the G9ii is an actual contender!
    I was looking at the OM-1, now see that I need to look at the OM-1 ii (maybe it is
    an answer to the possible pressure from the G9ii ???).

    I’ve been shooting A1, 200600, 600/4, a7iv, etc. for a few years now. Of course I love it
    BUT I’m not to be the first looking at mFT due to age (specifically carpometacarpal arthritis, a gift
    from my mom, I’ve lost all cartilage at the base of both thumbs=bone on bone).

    So I accept my Sony days are numbered 🙁 What to do? Look at Oly/OMs with more fervor!

    This leads to a request. Dan if you could please test the G9ii and the OM-1ii (of course when it gets to your house)
    with the 150-400mm OM zoom I would be most appreciative.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 27th, 2024 (5 months ago)

      Thanks for the kind words Robert. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do a head to head comparison of the OM-1/ll and the G9/ll. The Lumix folks have never been interested in reconnecting. And I’ve been so happy with the OM-1 I’m not all that interested in reconnecting myself. Time will tell. Sorry to hear about your physical challenges. Wishing you the best.

  5. William G HumberOn Nov. 1st, 2023 (8 months ago)

    I’m a bit late to the party and you’ve probably figured it out by now but the issue of the camera pausing shooting in the middle of a burst is related to racking zoom when shooting in SH2 drive mode with c-af active.

  6. George CockerOn Aug. 14th, 2023 (10 months ago)

    I have moved from Sony A1 with 200-600 lens to OM-1 with 300 f4 and now 150-400 (as I get older weight matters!!). I have been very frustrated with the AF on the OM-1, the Sony A1 was so simple and effective the OM-1 is hit and miss. Even though it selects a birds body, head or eye it does seem to lock to it like the Sony. I appreciate the A1 is nearly 3x the price of an OM-1 but..!!

    Even static birds seem to drift in and out of focus. Some users have said to me that they take many more pics on the OM-1 to make sure a good percentage are sharp! This seems crazy to me.

    On the A1 when a birds eye is detected all that shows on the screen is a little green box, with the OM-1 there are white boxes dancing about which is very distracting. If you set the AF Area Pointer to ON-2 you also get green boxes bouncing.

    I’m trying to master this before a trip to Costa Rica in November, there are times I wish I had stuck to Sony!!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 13th, 2023 (8 months ago)

      Yes George there’s no doubt that the Sony auto focus system is the best in the industry. Thus your experiencing some of the difficulties we still have with Olympus. If Birds in flight were the only thing I liked to shoot, I would most likely still be using my Sony gear. But the 150–400mm is so compelling for lots of other subjects, besides just birds, that I put up with some of the frustrations I experience with the Olympus auto focus system. I’m confident Olympus will be releasing a firmware update that improves everything but until then Sony auto focus is the one to beat.

  7. RayOn Jun. 29th, 2023 (12 months ago)

    Daniel, like you, I was also misled into relying on OM WS for the focus point check. And thankfully one day I read the messages pointed out by BC and then I stopped using OM WS.

    I’ve found DXO PL to be the best option for culling wildlife images by viewing at 100% as compared to the other softwares including OMWS.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 29th, 2023 (12 months ago)

      Ray, I’m curious who BC is? And what messages they offered? I would like to know who the others are that are seeing similar issues that I am. So far I’ve had very little feedback about others seeing these issues. Thanks in advance.

  8. Dennis MookOn Jun. 17th, 2023


    As you requested, I’m adding a comment about the OM-1 using C-AF + MF in conjunction with turning off the “Release Priority” mode. I had mentioned on your YouTube channel that, if my memory served me well, when invoking AF + MF, it negated the Release Priority setting. I thought that may have been part of the explanation as to why we get images that are slightly out of focus even though the camera’s green ‘subject detection’ box indicates ‘in focus.’ Well, my memory has partially served me well. It will negate it in only certain circumstances. Also, in some circumstances, the camera’s shutter will release when the subject is not in focus and in others it won’t. Why some of this works this way simply doesn’t make the most sense to me.

    Here is a summary of my testing of how this plays out in the OM-1. If it, for some reason, is confusing or doesn’t make sense I’ll be happy to clarify it. I normally shoot with back-button focus and disable the AF function associated with the shutter button. However, I tested both methods for activating AF.

    Release Priority OFF
    Back Button AF
    Shutter AF disabled
    Both AF-S or AF-C
    Subject significantly out of focus

    1) If back button is depressed and released, the shutter will release even if the subject is out of focus in both AF-S and AF-C
    2) If back button is depressed and held, the shutter will not release when the subject is out of focus in both AF-S and AF-C

    Release Priority OFF
    Shutter Utilized for AF (change from above)
    AF-S or AF-C
    Subject significantly out of focus

    1) Shutter will not release in both AF-S and AF-C if subject is significantly out of focus.

    Release Priority OFF
    Back Button AF
    Shutter AF disabled
    AFS + MF or AF-C + MF (adding MF changes the behavior of AF-S)
    Subject significantly out of focus

    S-AF + MF — shutter will release under all conditions (which is different from above); this is where enabling the MF in addition to AF-S inactivates the Release Priority setting
    C-AF + MF — same as above; If back button is depressed and released, the shutter will release even if the subject is out of focus
    If back button is depressed and held, the shutter will not release when the subject is out of focus

    Release Priority OFF
    Shutter Utilized for AF
    AFS + MF or AF-C + MF
    Subject significantly out of focus

    S-AF + MF — shutter will release under all conditions
    C-AF + MF — shutter will not release unless subject is in focus

    Release Priority OFF
    Manual Focus (with AF-On in Manual Focus Mode enabled)
    Subject way out of focus

    Shutter will release whether or not the subject is in focus.

    As you can see, with “Release Priority” off, if you push and hold the Back Button, the camera shouldn’t fire. If you press and release the Back Button, the camera will fire even though “Release Priority” is enabled. Same with S-AF + MF. The shutter will fire even though the subject is out of focus.

    Hope this explanation is helpful.

    Dennis Mook

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 21st, 2023

      Excellent. Thanks so much Denis.

  9. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    Jayasimha MurthyOn Jun. 16th, 2023

    Dear Dan,
    As always, I love reading about your experience with camera gear. Like you, I was also disappointed by Lumix for fast action CAF. OM-1 is def better but I think OM-1 , as a one camera one lens (12-100f/4) is a perfect lightweight no compromise travel kit for day to day shooting. In fact, this is my kit of choice when I am shooting street/travel photography. I was hoping to get the 150-400 f/4.5, but due to short supply and the lack of further improvement in OM-1 CAF, I have stayed away from this investment. I recently got an email from OM-1 that they are changing their supply chain and hopefully things will improve in the future. I hope they reinvent themselves. If phase detect AF from FF Lumix trickles down to MFT, then it will be something to look at again. But I so far I have been extremely happy with Nikon’s light weight glass (PF lenses) and their Z8/Z9 camera system for wildlife.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 17th, 2023

      Jay, great to hear from you. Nikon’s PF line of lenses is quite interesting. I’ve said for quite some time that if they can can get their PF lens technology into the high-performance fast zoom lenses, and for that matter all thei zoom lenses, the size advantage of Micro 4/3 is dead. But so far all of the PF lenses are fix focal length. And for wildlife I’m just not willing to go back to fixed focal length lenses. Especially after experiencing the tremendous benefits of the zoom range, 300–800MM equivalent, of the 150–400MM Olympus zoom. This lens is probably the sharpest lens I’ve ever shot, it’s extremely light, and the cost compared to something equivalent in the Nikon, Canon or Sony line would be astronomical. Admittedly, the price of 150-400mm is not cheap at $7500 US but it’s less than half of anything that’s somewhat comparable from the big three camera manufacturers. For my work, which is mostly wildlife there’s not another system that can compete with the OM-1 with the 150–400mm lens attached. I still have a Sony A9 and 200–600mm zoom but I have not picked it up since I received the 150–400mm.

      As far as autofocus in the OM-1 is concerned, I’m confident that near perfect accuracy is just around the corner for fast moving subjects. There’s a big difference between the Lumix predictive autofocus a the Olympus OM-1 predictive autofocus. With the Lumix, I was able to focus on the subject when it was a long way from the camera. In other words, the subject was fairly small. As the subject came closer, and began to fill the frame, which are the pictures we want, it would completely lose focus. The Olympus, on the other hand also does extremely well at a distance, but also gets SOME of the close images. Somehow it will be thrown off, but immediately catch up for several frames, and thus gave me many exciting images that I was never able to get with my LUMIX gear.

      Always good to hear from you. Thanks for joining the conversation. Come travel with us again someday.

  10. PaulOn Jun. 16th, 2023

    Great article Daniel. Thanks.
    I already watched it on youtube.
    Release Priority set to Off is indeed the conventional wisdom.
    Something to consider though…with rapidly and erratically moving subjects…how often do you think the subject remains, or is, “In” focus according to the camera’s best guess added to your reaction time to press the shutter?
    It’s been a good long while now that for BIF and other fast action some have Release Priority ON (camera trips the shutter at our command no matter if it believes the subject is out of focus or not). The idea is that yes, indeed, we can surely force some OoF captures but we will end up with more In focus captures that we wouldn’t have otherwise because the camera would not let us trip the shutter when we wanted.
    Once you’ve used RP-On long enough you’ll realize the second that some strange thing happened and you are operating the camera with RP-Off.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 16th, 2023

      Paul, I am very familiar with the idea of turning focus priority off. That’s the way I used to shoot with my Nikon’s. I got many more keepers with released priority then with focus priority. Up until recently, I shot the OM 1 and release priority as well. But after reading many reviews and not getting the keeper rate I expected, I switched to AF Release Priority to OFF. Admittedly, it seems almost impossible that with focus priority the camera can actually predict exactly where an erratically moving subject is going to be. But I can tell you that with the Sony A9 it does it almost flawlessly. So at least we know that it can be done and I’m hopeful will see something similar with the OM 1 at some point.

  11. BCOn Jun. 15th, 2023

    Hi, By its own admittance Workspace does not accurately indicate the auto focus spot. I think you are dissing the camera when you should be dissing the software!

    Workspace pop up says when you click AF: “The in-focus point may not match the AF target point depending on the shooting conditions”. Whatever that means. Seems totally useless. You can click “Don’t show this screen” if you are not seeing it.

    So all that analysis may have been wasted. 🙂

    Keep using the OM1

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 16th, 2023

      No worries about my analysis being wasted. Nothing is ever wasted if it helps the company improve its product. Which I’m hoping the discussion about OM Workspace will do. I did check the auto-focus review option in OM Workspace and you’re correct it does say that the autofocus sensor spot may not match the actual spot focused on. What is up with that? Hopefully, OM Digital Solutions can improve that in the future.

      Now, as far as your suggestion that I was dissing the camera, you’re completely wrong. I’m a firm believer, that if there are issues in a product you can only fix them if you know they are there. You must’ve missed the paragraph discussing how much I like this camera and the many things it brings to photography. But if there’s something not working as it should, I’m going to mention it. Maybe you’d prefer me to not mention the bad with the good? Most people appreciate hearing the pros and cons and that’s what an honest review is supposed to do. Sorry if that’s not what you want to hear.

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