Predictive AF to Excite & Inspire
I’ve been trying to capture flying birds since I started using Lumix cameras. On November 12, 2018 I released a blog post titled Panasonic Lumix G9 47,000 Pictures Over 10 Months. It’s been almost a year and an additional 35,000 images since I wrote that post, and the industry continues to make huge strides in camera technology. During this time, I’ve been less active on my blog due to several factors including
family health issues, lots of time on the road with our Invitational Photo Tours, and ongoing hope that my favorite camera company, Panasonic, was going to finally give us quality, reliable
From the first day I signed on as a Lumix Ambassador, I’ve been honest with my readers. I give the good with the bad, often times pointing out the flaws and failures as readily as the wins and the triumphs. Doing so builds trust with not only my audience but the Lumix engineers as well. My colleagues at Lumix might not always like hearing what I have to say, but they always know I’ve done my homework to help them build a better product.
Moving Forward with Olympus and Sony
With the many changes taking place in technology, I decided it was time to rethink my options. You can only wait for so long before the competition passes you by. I held back in the 90’s, and I swore I’d never do it again. That
Back in November 2018, I wrote, “Panasonic is trying hard with their DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology which uses Contrast Detection for acquiring proper focus. Many YouTube pundits have harshly criticized the DFD/Contrast Detection for not being able to match the results of Phase Detection AF other manufacturers employ, and that criticism has been warranted. However, Panasonic is making great strides with DFD, and I’m confident DFD will eventually catch up and surpass Phase Detection AF.“
Well… Unfortunately, it’s not there yet for flying birds. For whatever reason, the Lumix team has made a commitment to the DFD AF system, and they show no sign of changing. Consequently, for fast moving subjects, I’m now testing two new photographic tools, the Olympus OM-D EM-1X and the Sony A9 with a 100-400mm G Master series zoom.
What Inspired the Change
How did I get to this point? Quite simply I desperately need a camera that can equal or better the predictive autofocus capabilities I had with my Nikon system. Even with the Lumix G9’s newest firmware updates and additional Custom AF Settings combined with lots and lots of practical experience, I’ve not been able to make the Lumix system produce professional results for flying birds I SOMETIMES need, images like the one below shot with the Sony A9.
Three Camera Systems to Cover All My Bases
One could make the argument that a single system should do everything needed for virtually all situations. However, even with all the competition in the world of photography, that one system does not exist. To solve that issue I’m now shooting three different camera systems. Below I highlight the different models and my thoughts on each so far.
Lumix G9 Can Sometimes Do Flying Birds
I’ve now been shooting the Lumix system almost full-time since about 2010. I’ve been a Lumix Ambassador for almost the same amount of time, and
First of all, it’s all about size. Micro Four Thirds cameras are small, light, and easy to carry. Using the Lumix system has cut the dimensions and weight of my camera bag by two-thirds. It’s the size of the overall system that keeps me devoted to Micro Four Thirds.
A second important feature is ease of use. Nobody’s doing a better job of giving us a useable menu system with class-leading touch capabilities and well-thought-out ergonomics.
Finally, unique features such as High-Speed Pre-Burst, 6K & 4K Photo Mode, Focus Stacking, Dual IS, and other class-leading technologies are the icing on the cake for making this a world-class system for many kinds of photography. It’s just not for really
Olympus EM-1X’s Very Good Predictive AF
With the goal of improving my keeper rate for all things flying and running, I’m now testing the Olympus OM-D EM-1X. My hope is to find another MFT body that can give me much better predictive AF than what I’ve been getting with my Lumix gear. The EM-1X is showing great promise.
It’s a marked improvement over my Lumix G9 when it comes to fast-moving subjects. An added bonus is the Olympus 300mm F/4 (600mm equivalent) in the MFT world that is stunningly sharp. That 600mm replicates what I shot with my Nikon system, and with Olympus’ Synch IS I can handhold this combination to unheard of shutter speeds.
Speeding Pooch Test
For the Olympus
Live Animal Better Than a Machine
This is much better than a fast-moving car, since a dog gives you unexpected moves that only a live subject can provide. The dog is erratic and not completely predictable in both speed and direction, so the test is closer to what I would normally photograph in the world of nature. The Speeding Pooch Test proved the Olympus was far ahead of my Lumix G9, but there’s definitely still room for improvement.
For the Speeding Pooch T
Sony A9 Predictive AF is Simply
When I began my quest to improve my action photography I already had this Alaska trip planned. Autumn in Alaska is the time for brown bears to feast on spawning salmon and catching their prey. It can be fast and furious with activity few other subjects provide.
An exception is flying birds, and one of the fastest and most difficult of all birds are horned puffins. Alaska was a great spot for trying the Olympus and Sony on these medium-sized birds that fly like miniature fighter jets. Several prior years of shooting my Lumix gear on running bears and flying puffins have been disappointing. The struggle of even keeping a puffin in the viewfinder is far beyond difficult, and if you can accomplish that, you DO NOT want the camera to let you down.
Last year one of our Natural Exposures Explorers, Mike Spain, loaned me his Sony A9 and 100-400mm lens during our trip to see the puffins. That was the begining of my reawakening. Seeing what the Sony could do made me realize I was really missing out on capturing subjects that excite and inspire.
Photography to Create Awareness
Inspiration is the reason for my ongoing work in the world of conservation. The image above shows the site of a proposed gold and silver mine what will be called the Johnson Mine. This new open-pit mine will be in the middle of Lake Clark National Park. The industrial complex for this new mine will extend all the way down the Johnson Valley and out into the bay about a mile from where we do most of our brown bears and puffins. These two photos are from a photo shoot I did to create interest in this disastrous project almost nobody knows about.
Just over the mountains from the Johnson Mine is the Pebble Mine. I wrote about the Pebble Mine in the post Cameras With A Cause. It too is on the edge of Lake Clark National Park. Two major open-pit mines in the same region, both with potential to have profound effects on wild salmon and brown bear populations. Photography is my only hope to get the general public interested. Without inspiring the world there will be no desire to protect and appreciate what we still have. Action and landscape photography can be a big part of inspiring others to accomplish that goal.
Not Everybody Shoots Action
Wrapping this all up, one might make the argument that not everybody shoots action. I’ve heard some say photographers who want exceptional action capabilities might be one in ten. What the actual numbers are I have no idea.
But… the folks who do want to capture that elusive bird in flight or hard-charging bear,
With that excitement comes an inordinate amount of enthusiastic chatter expounding on the extraordinary capabilities of whichever camera was used to capture that elusive memory.
Nobody rants and raves about a studio portrait that the camera nailed focus on. Every photographer expects that. But getting a fabulous bird in flight can create word of mouth publicity you can’t even think about buying.
of Mouth Buzz
That word of mouth excitement is what’s holding Panasonic back in my opinion. An example is an interaction I just had with a nice young lady here at the lodge. We went out to see bears and she was clutching a brand new Sony A9 and 100-400mm lens. She asked me what I was shooting and that evening I had the Olympus and Lumix on my shoulders.
We started chatting and she immediately talked about how impressed she was with the phenomenal focus capabilities of her new camera. She also likes the smaller size of the camera body. But it was the autofocus she was really excited about. Interesting how I’ve seen the autofocus technology play out in the past. Canon began the displacement of Nikon in 1989 with quality autofocus. Sports shooters left Nikon in droves. Nikon eventually caught up but never regained the market share they had before autofocus.
That’s the kind of excitement Sony’s creating, giving photographers the ability to capture images that for many were never before possible. Only time will tell if my Lumix friends can make changes fast enough to create a similar buzz. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.
You can join us in 2020 for Brown Bears and Puffins in Alaska.