Tree Swallow, Pro Capture SH2, C-AF+TR, Bird Detection AF
Bird Photography,  Photo Gear

How to Use Bird Detection AF with Pro Capture on the OM System OM-1

Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF aren’t new technologies introduced with the OM System OM-1 camera, but they have been improved and are more accessible in the OM-1.  Combining Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF can lead to some incredible bird takeoff and action photographs.

Pro Capture

Pro Capture has been improved in the OM-1 by added 2 new high speed Pro Capture modes:  ProCapSH1 & ProCapSH2.  This gives the OM-1 three different Pro Capture modes.

OM-1 Pro Capture Modes

ModeFrames Per Second Options
ProCap5, 10, 15, 20 fps
ProCapSH225, 50 fps
ProCapSH160, 100, 120 fps

Pro Capture was improved from the Olympus E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X who had the following 2 modes

Olympus E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X Pro Capture Modes

ModeFrames Per Second Options
ProCapL10, 15, 18 fps
ProCapH15, 20, 30, 60 fps
  • ProCapH does not autofocus between frames
Red-winged Blackbird, Pro Capture SH2, C-AF+TR, Bird Detection AF
Red-winged Blackbird, Pro Capture SH2, C-AF+TR, Bird Detection AF, ISO 640, 1/1250 Second

Bird Detection AF

In the OM-1, Subject Detection AF can now be accessed with a button.  To configure Subject Detection AF to a button use the Gear Icon on the right side of the Super Control Panel. 

  • Press the button to toggle Subject Detection AF on and off
  • Press and hold the button while rotating the Front Dial to change the subject to track.

Subject Defection AF can now also be used in S-AF, C-AF, and C-AF-TR modes.

How to Set Up Bird Detection AF with Pro Capture

Sequential Shooting Settings
Sequential Shooting Settings

Setting Up Pro Capture Modes

In the Shooting 1 menu, 7th tab – Drive Mode, Set up your Pro Capture Modes in Sequential Shooting Settings.  For each Pro Capture Mode, you can set the Max fps, Pre-Shutter Frames, and Frame Count Limiter.

If you are using Custom Modes, the Sequential Shooting settings can be set differently for each Custom Mode.  Make sure to check these settings for each mode to ensure they are correct for your genre, subject, and conditions.

Max Frames Per Second

You might think the higher the better, right?  Well, not necessarily.  The higher the frame rate, the faster your camera’s buffer will fill and the more photos you’ll need to cull when you return home. 

I generally use ProCap and ProCapSH2 for birds since these modes autofocus between frames.  ProCapSH1 would be more useful for fast flying birds like Hummingbirds. 

  • For ProCap, I set the Max fps to 20, the highest amount. 
  • For ProCapSH2, I set the Max fps to 50 if I have enough light to achieve the 1/640 second shutter speed limitation, otherwise I set it to 25 fps. ProCapSH2 @ 50 fps is terrific for photographing an entire bird take-off or landing sequence.

Frame Count Limiter

This setting will limit the total number of frames that will be recorded once the shutter button is pressed (including pre-shutter frames).  You can also turn Frame Count Limiter off where the camera will continue to shoot as long as the shutter is pressed. 

I usually set a limit of around 40-60 shots depending on the fps setting.  This helps to reduce the number of images I need to cull when I get home.  Also, you are typically recording a shorter action sequencing using this mode (bird takeoff, bird fishing, etc.) so you don’t need as many frames.

Pre-shutter Frames

The pre-shutter frames are the number frames that will be recorded before the shutter button is fully pressed.  These are frames that are stored in the cameras memory while the shutter button is half pressed.  They are written to the memory card once the shutter button is fully pressed.

I usually set the pre-shutter Frames to around a third to a half of the total frames set by the Frame Count Limiter.  This is because the action that I want to capture usually takes place prior to me pressing the shutter button.

For example: Frame Count Limiter = 50, Pre-shutter Frames= 25). Up to 50 total frames will be written to the memory card, 25 Pre-shutter frames, and 25 after the shutter button is pressed).

Setting Up Your Camera for Using Pro Capture with Bird Detection AF

I set up my Pro Capture settings on one of the Custom Mode Settings on the Mode Dial.  Custom Modes can be set in the first tab of the Shooting 1 Menu.  I also save Custom Modes to My Menu so I can quickly save changes to the Custom Settings.

Here are the settings that I normally use to Photograph Bird Action sequences on the OM System OM-1.

Shooting Mode

Either Aperture Priority or Manual Shooting Mode with Auto ISO turned on.   This is more of a preference.  If you are shooting in good light, I would probably stick with Aperture Priority and try to keep the ISO as low as possible to get a fast enough shutter speed. 

ISO

The ISO will vary to get the required shutter speed to freeze birds in flight.  This can be done manually or using Auto ISO.  Ideally, I like to keep the ISO at 1,000 or less with ISO 400 – 500 being the ideal.

If you keep ISO set to the ISO button on the top right of the camera back, you can quickly change ISO settings when the lighting changes.  If you have the Hold setting turned on for your Custom Mode, it will automatically save the changed ISO setting to the Custom Mode when shooting in that mode.

Aperture

I generally keep this around f/5.6 to f/6.3 in order to get a fast enough shutter speed without a needing a really high ISO.  If you have really good light you can try to shoot at f/7.1 or f/8 and see if you have a fast enough shutter speed.  This will give you a better chance to get all of the bird in focus during the action sequence.

Below is a general guideline for freezing the action for birds in flight. For takeoffs and landings, I have captured some good images at lower shutter speeds.

Birds in Flight Shutter Speed Guide
Birds in Flight Shutter Speed Guide

Drive Mode

ProCap (20 fps) or ProCapSH2 (25 or 50 fps).  I really like the faster ProCapSH2 mode but there are some limitations with using this mode.  I typically use ProCapSH2 if I have good light as it gives you a much better chance of capturing the entire action sequence.

AF Area

I set the AF Area to all focus points when using Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF.  This will allow Bird Detection AF to use the entire area to lock / focus on the subject.  This is especially useful for bird takeoffs where they can takeoff in multiple directions.

Subject Detection AF

I assign Subject Detection AF to the new AF-ON button on the OM-1.  This way I can quickly turn it off or change settings to another subject.  If you set Subject Detection to Birds, it will also save to the Custom Mode setting.

Great Egret Takeoff. 1/1250 second, ISO 640, f/7.1
Great Egret Takeoff. Pro Capture SH2, C-AF+TR, Bird Detection AF, 1/1250 second, ISO 640, f/7.1

Techniques for Shooting with Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF

The technique is really simple.

  • Half press the shutter button and let Bird Detection AF track the subject.  While the shutter is half pressed, the OM-1 will record the number of pre-shutter frames in the camera’s memory.  When the camera reaches the pre-shutter limit, it will begin to write over the frames at the beginning of the sequence.
  • Once you see the action you are trying to capture, fully press the shutter button.  The camera will write the pre-shutter frames plus the number of frames you indicated after the shutter button is pressed (Frame Count Limiter – Pre-Shutter-Frames = Post-Shutter Frames).
  • Depending on how many frames you set with the Frame Count Limiter and the speed of your SD card, it may take some time to clear the buffer.  While the camera is writing to the SD card, you can start another Pro Capture Sequence, access the Menu, change settings in the Super Control panel, and playback images. The camera will not change shooting modes until the camera is done writing to the SD card.

Tips for Shooting with Pro Capture and Bird Detection AF

  • Make sure you leave enough room in your composition for the subject to move and still be in the frame.  Birds can quickly fly out of the frame really take off.
  • Be patient, sometimes you will have to wait for the action to happen.  It’s a good thing the OM-1 and Olympus Lenses are lightweight.
  • Approach slowly, stop, and move slowly again.  You may want to take some longer distance photos on the approach as the bird may fly away as you get closer.
  • Practice at home with your bird feeder.  Some of my better bird photographs are taken right in my back yard.  Birds will usually land on a perch prior to the feeder.  Watch the bird’s flight patterns and where they land as they fly in to the feeder.
  • I noticed that Bird Detection AF has difficulty identifying birds in low contrast situations and compositions with busy backgrounds. In these cases, you may want to try to turn off Subject Detection and shoot with a smaller aperture (bigger number) to increase your depth of field.

Written by Martin Belan

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