Predictive AF to Excite & Inspire

Posted Sep. 1st, 2019 (2 weeks ago) by Daniel J. Cox

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

I’ve now captured 86,641 photos with my Lumix G9, and I’ve come to learn that for fast action, the DFD autofocus system needs a lot of improvement.

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 autofocus for flying birds and other action subjects.

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 personal pact was a major factor in my decision to switch full time to the Lumix system.

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.

Flying bird, birds in flight,
Horned puffin carries a small fish to the burrow to feed its chick. Sony A9 with 100-400mm G Series Zoom. Photo is entire frame with no cropping

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 there are good reasons why I still absolutely love this system.

Follow me through a series of Lumix G9 photos to show how the camera performed with birds in flight.

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.

Flying bird, birds in flight,
Horned puffin in flight with sand lance in beak. Lumix G9 with Leica 200mm and 1.4X teleconverter

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 fast moving subjects that require extremely accurate predictive autofocus. The G9 can do it now and again, but it takes hundreds and hundreds of images to get just ONE like the image above.

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.

Lesser yellowleg feeding, Alaska. Olympus EM-1X with 300mm F/4 and 2X teleconverter (1200mm equivalent), handheld

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

action, running dog, predictive af
Ruby possessed. Actually, she was just anxious to get to the fetching dummy. Olympus EM-1X with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 lens

For the Olympus EM-1 my tests began with my go-to evaluation I call the “speeding pooch test.” The idea is simple. Get the fastest dog I can find—usually a black or yellow lab— and put their owner 25 yards out in front of me throwing a ball or fetching dummy directly over my head. This inspires the dog to charge directly at the camera as hard as he/she can run.

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.

Follow me through a series of Olympus EM-1X photos to show how the camera performed with birds in flight.

For the Speeding Pooch Test I only had the Lumix and Olympus, but I would soon be leaving for Alaska where I would be getting to try the Sony A9.

Sony A9 Predictive AF is Simply Jaw Dropping!

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.

A mother brown bear charges upstream, chasing a salmon as her cubs feast on fish she’s already caught. Olympus EM-1X with Olympus 300mm F/4

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.

Flying bird, birds in flight,
Horned puffin in flight with beak full of sand lance. Sony A9 with 100-400mm zoom

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.

Pebble mine, Johnson mine, environmental
Aerial views of the Johnson River watershed, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. This valley is on the chopping block to become an open-pit mine for gold and copper. Lumix G9 with Leica 12-60mm

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.

Pebble mine, Johnson mine, environmental
The beginning stages of a full-fledged open-pit mining camp.

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

A female brown bear walks the tidal flats on her way to the forest after an early morning of fishing on the river. Sony A9 with 100-400mm

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.

action, brown bear, salmon,
A cub of the year actually gives chase to a silver salmon. I’ve never seen a cub in its first year have any idea how to hunt like this. Olympus EM-1X and 300mm F/4

But… the folks who do want to capture that elusive bird in flight or hard-charging bear, child on the soccer field, or darting grandkid are extremely excited when they “get the shot.”

action, brown bear cubs
And he actually caught it! Much to the surprise of his sibling. This was an exciting and memorable event I never witnessed before. Olympus EM-1X and 300mm F/4

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.

South American Pygmy wolf, dog,
My little buddy Dice in the studio. It’s not easy to get a South America pygmy wolf to sit still. Lumix G9 with Leica 12-60mm

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.

Follow me through a series of Sony A9 photos to show how the camera performed with birds in flight.

Word 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.

word of mouth buzz
Denise loves her Sony A9 with the 100-400mm lens. You can see the excitement in her smile.

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.

Add Your Voice!
There are 22 comments on this post…
  1. Louis BerkOn Sep. 17th, 2019 (1 day ago)

    Daniel, a very interesting (and brave post for a Lumix Ambassador).
    As you may recall from our interactions in your blog I was until earlier this year a long time Panasonic m43rds shooter – although a little bit Olympus as well, as my favourite UWA lens was the PRO 7-14/2.8 which in my experience is the best UWA I have shot with.
    Most of my work is not wildlife and I have had great success with the Panasonic/m43rds system in both professional and personal work.

    However!
    The end came for me when I invested heavily in the G9 and 200/2.8 for wildlife. In a year of using the system I got an average keeper rate of 10-15% for any bird photography. The 15% was heavily weighted towards static bird portraits and the 85% of out of focus and out of luck non-keepers was largely birds in flight. The 200/2.8 with the TC1.4 was barely usable and with the TC2.0 was completely unusable, even on occasion for static bird shots where the AF should have locked on.

    To give you an idea of my frustration a typical example was trying to get focus locked on with a Kestrel which was hovering in the air about 20 feet above me (Kestrels seem to completely ignore humans in my experience which is a wonderful) and I was pounding away on the shutter button in complete frustration as the AF hunted back and forth. In the end I got maybe one shot but the bird had turned away from me which ruined the composition. I can recall many other frustrating occasions. It got to the point where I just knew the camera/lens would not lock on in certain situations (with busy backgrounds, for example) and I wouldn’t even bother to attempt a capture. At that point I am afraid I decided I had to move to another system or give up my enjoyment of bird photography!

    You, like me, state the obvious, which is the ‘DFD-autofocus’ is like the emperors new clothes. Panasonic inspire a lot of loyalty amongst their users and none of us wants to actually put our hands up and state, “Sorry, Panasonic, but DFD just doesn’t work for fast action photography”.

    My belief is that the relationship with Leica may be some of the problem (I speak as long time Leica user). Leica comes up with fantastic innovations which on paper are superior to any other technology but which in practise just don’t work. I think with the DFD system Panasonic has caught the same disease.

    It is very interesting now that Panasonic has moved into the FF market with the professional camera bodies that reviewers who for the first time are trying out Panasonic cameras are all pretty much consistently commenting on how the DFD auto focus system is a weakness compared to pro bodies from Nikon and Canon. You think?
    I was very, very sad to leave the m43rds eco system. I was only prepared to move to another mirrorless body and for me I had previous experience with Sony (not good, in fact, so poor that I sold all my Sony kit and only used my Panasonic system for my work) so I went with Fuji. Now, the X-T3 is nowhere near as good a body as the G9 but the autofocus is just plain amazing. I have taken bird in flight photographs and grab-shot-once-in-a-lifetime captures with the X-T3 and 100-400 zoom which I would not have bothered even attempting with the G9 and 200/2.8 (without or with the TCs).
    If Panasonic were to adopt a more conventional and proven predictive auto focus system I would be interested in return to m43rds. I really do miss my Vario 12-35 and Vario 35-100 zooms, as well as the PRO 7-14 but I needed to release all the capital in my m43rds kit to fund my move to Fuji. I’m not emotionally as attached to Fuji as I was to m43rds. There is something about the ergonomics and lenses of the m43rds system which for architecture and urban landscapes (which is what I do) is ‘just right’.

    But while I want to continue to pursue wildlife photography alongside my other interests, at present Panasonic are no longer for me. I am interested in your results with EM1X but the size of the body completely negates the benefits of m43rds, in my humble opinion.

    Hope my ramblings have not been too long. I love your wildlife photography – the charging bear after the salmon is just sublime! Keep up the good work!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 17th, 2019 (1 day ago)

      Thanks for your honest insight Louis. I’ve felt your same frustration and it’s exactly why I wrote this piece. I have no idea if my colleagues at Lumix in the US or even Japan read this blog but if they do they’ll get an honest assessment of how people feel on this issue. I really do believe Lumix equipment is superb except for this one major problem and I also believe if they were to fix it they have no idea how popular their cameras would become. This one issue is holding them back in a major way. Who knows where this will all lead. My Lumix friends may eventually feel I’m no longer an asset. If that happens I’ll feel very comfortable that I’ve always been truthful with our Natural Exposures Explorers and the rest of my readers here on the blog and other forums.

  2. Rick PophamOn Sep. 10th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    Hi Dan,

    I’m happy with my Micro 4/3 gear (mostly Olympus) in everything except trying to keep moving things in focus. I’ve pretty much decided that I’ll have to keep my Nikon system going just for wildlife — which is a shame because that Olympus 300 f/4 is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve used.

    So I’m VERY interested in your experience with the E-M1X. Fingers crossed that it measures up. Thanks again for all you do here.

    Rick

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 10th, 2019 (1 week ago)

      Yep, me too Rick. I’m currently in South Africa with my Lumix gear as well as the EM-1X and I’m very impressed with the Olympus. I’m shooting the 300mm F/4 with the Olympus body and using the Leica 50-200mm on the G9. Both did very well last evening with a pack of wild dog puppies we found. There was lots of action with the puppies playing though admittedly nothing extremely fast or coming straight at the camera.

      I’m not ready to give up on the Panasonic system. I do a lot of travel work along with my wildlife and the Lumix gear is fabulous due to weight and size for travel. I’m willing to give it a little more time to see if the next Lumix body is capable of being the wildlife tool I need. Until that happens I plan on using whatever necessary to continue producing professional wildlife work. I’m also waiting to see what the next Sony A9 update brings. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer. Thanks for your input.

  3. Steve YatesOn Sep. 10th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    I’ve been struggling with shooting fast action using my GX9 and 100-400mm for the last year. Despite trying every option and suggestion I could find I get very few keepers when shooting birds in flight.

    It’s particularly frustrating how often I get a shot that looks OK when I’m pressing the shutter, but turns out to be slightly out of focus when zoomed in afterwards. As you point out, it can be challenging enough just filling the frame with a fast moving bird – it’s disappointing to then have to delete shots I thought I’d nailed.

    Posting about this on certain forums, I received some rather condescending comments blaming it on my incompetence and claiming that no decent photographer would have any problem with Panasonic’s DFD AF. Other people suggested that switching from the GX9 to the G9 would be an AF game-changer, but brief testing with the higher-end Panasonic didn’t leave me convinced.

    It’s somewhat reassuring to see that I’m in good company when it comes to this issue. I just wish there was an alternative kit as small and light as the GX9+100-400mm that offered cutting edge C-AF.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 10th, 2019 (1 week ago)

      Steve, I do believe the G9 would give you better results but not substantially better. I’ve shot birds in flight for literally 40 years. I know how to make these kinds of pictures happen but… you have to have the gear that can produce the results once you’ve done your part. Unfortautnely, the really fast action like birds in flight, the Lumix system just doesn’t cut it. It’s not your fault, I can assure you.

  4. Alan StankevitzOn Sep. 9th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your honest review. Being a bird photographer for many years now and being a “Canon guy” for most of them, I have mostly switched over to Sony. I also have M43 gear including the G9 and still use M43 gear for 4k video work. On the stills side of things, I had the 1DXII and the Canon 600mm II + 1.4x TC for bird photography. I still own the 600, but sold the 1DX MII about 18 months ago and have never looked back.

    I tried to make the G9 work for BIF with the 100-400mm Panasonic lens, but it was a lesson in futility, especially when taking shots with busy backgrounds. (I wrote to you a few times about this.) I have used the A9 with both the 100-400mm and 200-600mm lenses and I think the Sony 200-600mm + 1.4x +A9 is the BEST combination for bird photography I have ever used.

    I also did indoor comparison shots using the Canon 600mm II and the 200-600mm @600mm and found the image quality to be almost exactly the same. The 200-600mm was slightly sharper than the Canon, but it was ridiculously hard to tell the two apart. I doubt I will ever purchase the Sony 600mm prime because the 200-600mm is so good and when needed the Canon 600mm II with the MC-11 adapter works quite well on the A9.

    The only thing negative is working in low-light conditions in which the 600mm primes are always going to be better. I’ll keep my Canon 600mm for that, but I can tell you that 90% of the time, the A9 will have the 200-600mm attached to it.

    I still like M43 for it’s light-weight bodies and cameras and maybe when the Olympus 150-400mm arrives I might try that out but I have a feeling that now that I have the Sony A9 with the 200-600, it will be tough to persuade me to go back to M43 for bird photography. I still also have hopes that Olympus will advance their phase-detect autofocus system. It certainly is usable, just not quite there yet compared to the A9.

    Thanks again,

    Alan Stankevitz
    iwishicouldfly.com

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 9th, 2019 (1 week ago)

      Thanks for your input Alan. I’m excited to hear you’re liking the 200-600mm. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this new lens but there’s so few out there I’ve been waiting for more info. I plan on testing one when I get home in October. Sounds encouraging. You also express virtually exact same findings as I’ve experienced with the Olympus cameras. The EM-1X is good but still no comparison to the Sony. That said, Olympus has at least made good progress and I think they’ll get there. I too am anxious to see the new Olympus lens. Will be interesting. My only fear is there are so few of us that want serious quality anymore that none of these camera companies will survive and we’ll all be shooting birds in flight with our dang phone.

  5. Chris FragapaneOn Sep. 9th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    …and the quest for “perfection” goes on. All this incredibly sophisticated equipment, but nothing yet “does it all”. Really interesting read Daniel.
    Admittedly, I can and do fall for the latest and greatest, but since I rarely do BIF, I will continue to marvel at the capabilities of my G9, and it has not let me down even with most other non-static subjects.
    Thank you for the updates.

  6. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    JayOn Sep. 8th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    Dan,
    As always a great unbiased review! I completely agree with you that no camera system can do it all. As soon as Nikon started to market PhaseFresnel lens , I bought a D500 and 300PF with tc 1.4 and that works incredibly well for wildlife and BIF. The combination has similar reach and weighs less than Omd em1 mii with 300mm ! i have resolved to the fact that there is truly no swizz army knife (as yet) in the camera world, if one wants the ideal camera for every situation. There are always work arounds, but sometimes its frustrating.

  7. Paul FramptonOn Sep. 8th, 2019 (1 week ago)

    Hi Dan, another informative and honest post.
    As an amateur I invested into Panasonic with the G9 and 100-400 Leica a while back, and I have been largely happy with the system. Problems come, like you with BIF, a subject which I enjoy quite a lot. Reading this blog had me leaping to my favourite camera stores website to look at the A9 and 100-400 combo. The price sadly, is way out of my budget. Even the EM1X is too much for me.
    To your knowledge, is there anything comparable AF wise in the lower end Sony equipment? I’ve even looked at the Sony RX10 IV more than a couple of times as the AF has some good write ups, and I’ve read that it “blows away” the G9 for tracking. But part exchanging my G9 and 100-400 to go to smaller sensor and shorter focal length seems like a backwards step. I’ll probably stick with my G9 setup, in the hopes of another FW update for the AF.

    I wonder what your opinions are for someone on a tighter budget that likes to photograph BIF?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 8th, 2019 (1 week ago)

      Thanks for stopping by Paul. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good answers for a budget camera that does exceptional birds in flight. It’s obviously not easy to do based on what we’re seeing with the Lumix equipment. Additionally, I’ve not had any opportunities to test other gear. It’s possible the new Sony APS-C cameras the Sony A6100 and Sony A6600 could be an option. The adverts talk a good game on how well both cameras do with focus tracking. I have a friend that uses the Sony A6500 with the older version of the newly announced Sony Alpha 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G and is very happy with it’s AF tracking capabilities. None of it inexpensive when you already have a system in place however. I wished I had more positive news. I’m still hoping Lumix gets us better Predictive AF in the G9 but it may not happen based on how long it’s taking.

  8. Bill OttOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

    Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and research on the Pany DFD technology. To be honest, that is the one thing that has kept me away from Panasonic. I spent 20+ years shooting a Canon system and after a tremendous amount of research and testing, I made the switch to Olympus about 3 years ago. After years of toting heavy 500/F4 lenses and bulky camera bodies around, I really do love the reliable “hand holdability” of the MFT system and am often astonished at what can be achieved without lugging my heavy Gitzo tripod around. Olympus lenses are exceptional, but I really appreciate the option of being able to use Pany lenses as well. I recently rented a full frame Sony and some lenses to test. The first thing I noticed was the size and weight of the lenses, especially noticeable after 3 years of freedom with the lightweight MFT system. It felt like the “fun factor” was gone and lugging the heavier lenses was a burden. I missed being able to reliably hand-hold at ridiculous slow shutter speeds like I can with MTF. For BIF, I’ve used the EM-1X with the 300/4 and 40-150/2.8 and the success rate has been great. So, for me, I’ll stick with Olympus. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Best of luck in your testing!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

      Great to have your input Bill. The size of the lenses just can’t be ignored. Ditto regarding the price when you get into the long glass I often need for my work. Just for fun I pulled up a few images from my last shoot in Alaska that were taken with the EM-1X and the 300mm F/4 with the 2X teleconverter.

      This image was shot with the Olympus 300mm F/4 with the 2X teleconverter, handheld at 1/60th of a second.

      All were shot handheld, the salmon boat was handheld at 1/60th. of a second! 1200mm at 1/60th of a second for goodness sakes. This image I’ve included is a screenshot of the photograph at 100%. A very similar lens to this combination, the Canon 1200mm F/5.6 originally sold for $90,000US. I knew a guy who had one> let’s just say he wasn’t a working wildlife photographer.

      Below are two more images shot with the 300mm F/4 and 2X teleconverter.

      Sunrise over Cook Inlet. Alaska.

  9. Whitney DunnOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

    Dan,

    An enormous benefit Canon and Nikon have is the feedback loop from state of the art systems to sophisticated users and back. The engineers are experienced developing AF systems; they know the edge cases; they have the data; and they’ve explored what works and what doesn’t. From that, they iterate on what’s already state of the art . And because of their market shares — built on decades of technical leadership — they have a large stable of experienced testers in whose hands they can put their prototypes. Those cameras are then pushed to the limits in all the key sports and wildlife scenarios, and the feedback used to refine the AF systems. It’s a virtuous circle. And we’ll see the fruits in the upcoming D6 and 1DX Mark III.

    Sony, to their credit, didn’t start with the users or the same technical base, but was willing to spend the money to develop cutting edge AF. Committing fully to mirrorless has likely also been to their advantage as they haven’t had to split engineering resources between that and DSLR development.

    I can’t see Panasonic and, to a lesser extent, Olympus, competing with Canon, Nikon, or Sony. They’ve got the opposite problem: they lack the base of sophisticated (“pro”) users to drive AF development, or the sales to justify it, and the engineering knowledge — think of the thousands of edge cases Canon and Nikon must have evaluated — to create state of the art systems. But without those, they’ll never attract users from other systems.

    I’m not sure where Olympus goes with m4/3; recent sales trends are not encouraging. Panasonic likely has a much more defensible niche with video — I think the GH and S1s series are their future. I wouldn’t expect much focus on sports or wildlife.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

      Whiteney, you’re defense Nikon and Canon’s AF game doesn’t hold a lot of water. Yes… without argument they HAD been the best. However, I’ve not heard anyone excited about how the new Z cameras do for birds in flight. And when Nikon’s Z system was first released it was showing virtually the same issues all mirrorless models, Lumix, Olympus and Sony, experienced with their first releases. Things like EVF blackout, slow predictive AF, battery drain, etc. I was actually shocked that with Nikon’s prowess in AF, as you described, their first attempt did so poorly. Maybe they were just holding back, as they often have, giving Sony more time to extend their lead and Olympus more time to improve.

      The one advantage that Nikon holds in their cards is the P lens technology. If they can perfect that then all benefits of the smaller MFT system evaporate overnight. Yet… they build the two amazing P lenses for the old DSLR system. Go figure. Their marketing prowess is head-scratching. Meanwhile, Sony just keeps charging forward while Nikon and Canon rely on ancestry worship. But Sony isn’t necessarily on the right track either. The A9 system overall is right back to the past with regards to size, weight. And we haven’t even mentioned the prices of their new monster lenses like the 600mm F/4 that’s over $12,000US. A similar price to Canon and Nikon’s. That’s a big deal when compared to the Olympus 300mm F/4, that for all intents and purposes gives me a close enough view and image output for a reasonable $2500US.

      I also wonder where MFT is headed but I think if Lumix would up their AF game it would make a huge difference. In fact, it’s the reason I did these tests. I’m hopeful they’ll look at this as a positive illustration as to why Predictive AF is so important. Quite frankly I don’t think they currently take it all that seriously. If so they would have changed course by now and gone with Phase Detection AF, a proven technology that creates the buzz they desperately need. In the long run, the Lumix DFD AF system may win out but I’m concerned in the fast-moving camera market they may not have the benefit of time.

      As always, thanks for joining the conversation.

  10. Robert SuttonOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

    Hi Dan, I have followed your MFT journey over the years and have made the same transition to the smaller system as you have. It has made my travels a lot easier and taken the strain off my back and the airplane!….there is a but coming as I photograph wildlife all over the world and was hoping for faster progress from Panasonic in developing and improving their CAF. I have just recently sold my G9 as it was frustrating me with its poor hit rate photographing Puffins in Ireland recently and the other folk I saw were picking them off with their Canon 7d Mk ii’s and 100-400 lens’s. I am also looking at Sony at the moment, the A9, as although the menu system appears less than friendly the AF is amazing and locks on quickly and stays there. I look forward to your further thoughts as i like your say it how it is attitude with no bull**** or bias. Thanks again for your thoughts. Great blog.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 7th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

      Great to hear from you, Robert. Yes, unfortunately, those of us shooting the Lumix gear are still at a disadvantage when it comes to birds in flight. I’m really surprised this issue has not been solved on the engineering side. That being the case thankfully there are other options such as the Sony A9 I tested. The downside to the Sony is once you need longer than what the 100-400mm gives you, you’re now into the land of big and expensive, just like we were with Nikon and Canon. I knew the Sony would be hard to beat but I’m just not interested in going back to such massive gear. That’s why I also added the Olympus to the mix and though it wasn’t as good as the A9, it was very much better than my G9. I believe it will only be a matter of time before the Olympus will compete head-on with Sony. But for now, there is no finer camera for birds in flight than the Sony A9. It’s truly shocking how good it is.

  11. Steve WallaceOn Sep. 6th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

    After having a breakfast of crow, I am now eating my words. Nicely, done.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 6th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

      Steve, anybody that knows me… knows… I pull no punches. When I signed on with Lumix as an Ambassador I told them I could not shoot Lumix full time since in 2010 they didn’t have all the lenses needed. I was assured I could continue shooting whatever I needed, at that time my Nikon system, to produce my professional work. Over the years they’ve introduced the longer lenses but autofocus, for fast-moving subjects, has been a different story. I’ve always been brutally honest with my readers and will continue to do so.

  12. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn Sep. 4th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

    Interesting post, Dan. Always appreciate your honesty. Just got back from a trip and met a guy shooting A9 and brand new Sony 600 f/4 and 200-600. Obviously these are bigger than the 100-400 but still reasonable in terms of weight and very well balanced. And the guy was consistently nailing very tough BIF shots, even when they were flying right at him. Very impressive performance. Look forward to getting your impressions on the Sony system. I don’t now much about the Olympus but will follow your blog and experience with this body too. I don’t shoot a ton of BIF but admit I’m kind of an action photo junkie.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 5th, 2019 (2 weeks ago)

      Thanks for the input Dave. The Sony A9 is truly in a league all by itself. Nothing I’ve ever shot is consistently close. The Olympus is threatening but with the new A9 update on the horizon, I can only guess it will be another leap forward for Sony. The downside for me is I don’t want to go back to the behemoth lenses. The new Sony 200-600mm is a reasonable size but I’ve heard very mixed reports on the quality of the glass since it’s not Sony’s G Masters Series lens. Additionally, it’s not considered weather sealed. I plan on doing some tests with this lens when I get back from my current six weeks on the road. I have to give Sony a lot of credit. Autofocus superiority is what put Canon pon the map and took at least 50% market share from Nikon. You would have thought they would have remembered how they did that and would have worked to make sure it didn’t happen to them. But alas it is.

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