Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Started 7 months ago | Questions
msnremea1
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Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
7 months ago

Hello,

I recently bought a E-M1 and I am quite disappointed with the low light auto focus performance.
The camera can basically focus to anything as long as there is a bit of light left but the speed gets down a lot starting at around EV 5 and darker.

I compared it to my Panasonic Lumix GH2 that I still own and I posted a video at Youtube: Video

Is my camera buggy? Is someone else also experiencing slow AF when using the E-M1 not in daylight? Is there a way to speed it up? AF light is set to on of course in the camera.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

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SaltLakeGuy
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

I can't say for sure, but my EM1 with several lenses focuses pretty instant in dim light but I'm using the small center single focus point only as well. Maybe that helps who knows. The ONLY camera I've used that is more sure footed in dim to dark light to focus has been a Canon 6D I tried with will focus down to -3EV and no other camera will. So I'd say on par the EM1 does quite well. If you haven't tried setting your EM1 to the small single center focus point give it a try.

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safaridon
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to SaltLakeGuy, 7 months ago

SaltLakeGuy wrote:

I can't say for sure, but my EM1 with several lenses focuses pretty instant in dim light but I'm using the small center single focus point only as well. Maybe that helps who knows. The ONLY camera I've used that is more sure footed in dim to dark light to focus has been a Canon 6D I tried with will focus down to -3EV and no other camera will. So I'd say on par the EM1 does quite well. If you haven't tried setting your EM1 to the small single center focus point give it a try.

I believe that both the new GX7 and GM1 are also capable of focusing down to -3EV even if slightly slower than when brighter.

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drj3
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

What lens are you using?  Focus speed will vary with lens choice.

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

Thank you for your answers!
I tried it with all options on the E-M1. Tried small middle, normal middle, grouped and full. Nothing made a significant difference.
I'm completely happy with the capabilities when there is nearly no light left at all like on the street outside of my window where it's nearly completely dark.
The focus light doesn't go that far but the E-M1 still manages to focus. Takes several seconds though but it is still impressive because my Canon EOS 1D Mark III couldn't do the same.
The only real issue I see is when there is still enough light (like the EV 4 in the video) which is more than plenty for a modern camera and the E-M1 get really slow there.
I found another video on Youtube with someone doing a low-light compare of the GH2 against the E-M5. It is just a very simple compare but the result looks like my compare of the E-M1 vs. GH2.
Overall the focus capabilities of the E-M1 seem great. It can focus with hardly any light and it also works when there is basically no contrast.
That even makes it more sad to see how slow the E-M1 gets in dim light (far from dark) and a high contrast object.
Still not sure if my camera is broken and I should send it in...

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to drj3, 7 months ago

drj3 wrote:

What lens are you using? Focus speed will vary with lens choice.

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drj3

I tried 3 lenses: (all focussing from 1m to 3m, all same surrounding)
Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 45mm 1:1.8: 0.7 seconds on the E-M1, 0.58 seconds on the GH2
Panasonic G Vario HD 14-140mm at 140mm (1:5.8 at this zoom level): 1.9 seconds on the E-M1, 0.5 seconds on the GH2
Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital Pro 12-40mm at 40mm (1:2.8): 0.7 seconds on the E-M1, 0.15 seconds on the GH2

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Lindsay D
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

My EM1 is excellent at focusing in very low light. Focusing is dependent upon good technique and, as has been said, the lens you're using.

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to Lindsay D, 7 months ago

Lindsay D wrote:

My EM1 is excellent at focusing in very low light. Focusing is dependent upon good technique and, as has been said, the lens you're using.

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I understand that. Not sure if you watched the video I took.
Anyway, even with the Olympus 12-40 1:2.8 Pro which is considered a perfect match for the camera it is not exactly slow with 0.7 seconds it is still 4.7 times slower than the GH2 which only needs 0.15 seconds with the same lens.
The E-M1 first starts in the wrong direction, then it goes the other way, finds the focus and then still continues to move for a while and then goes back.
The GH2 nearly always starts in the right direction and if it reached the point where the image is perfectly in focus it only passes this point extremely short and then goes back immediately.
That seems to make the 0.15 vs. 0.7 seconds.

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SaltLakeGuy
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In reply to safaridon, 7 months ago

does any of the new Panasonic's focus down to -3EV. I doubt they even go to -2EV.

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smithling
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In reply to SaltLakeGuy, 7 months ago

SaltLakeGuy wrote:

does any of the new Panasonic's focus down to -3EV. I doubt they even go to -2EV.

Yes they does

GX-7 focuses down to -4 EV.

"The AF remains contrast-based, but is faster than the GX1 with a 240fps drive system and the GX7 will also focus in very low light down to -4EV." Source: Cameralabs.com

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joeletx
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to Lindsay D, 7 months ago

Focus assist lamp is also built in on the E-M1 (I don't think it is available on the E-M5). By default, it is set on "Auto" for turning on automatic in dim lighted condition. Sometime strong back light or light source can throw it off. In that case, set focus point to small center single or set the assist focus lamp always on.

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Lindsay D
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to joeletx, 7 months ago

Joel, I think your reply may have been meant the OP. However you've raised a good point about the focus assist, although I personally always have it switched off.

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Brian Wadie
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

I'm never quite sure when I read about low light or dim light what is the context in a real world situation?

I used my EM-5 and now my EM-1 in a blacked out studio, lit only by the modelling lights which has the light meter bar reading under-exposed off the scale.

I've yet to have the12-40 (and my 12-50 before it) do anything other than snap to focus on the eye of the model using single, small point focus.

No quantification of time to focus, just that it has never yet caused me to delay in getting a shot, even when the model has been dancing or in other fairly rapid movement

So, there may be a measurable difference in focus speed but if there is, its of no importance to my use of this system (nor I suspect of the majority of the rest of us)

Interesting data for all that

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joeletx
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to Lindsay D, 7 months ago

Yes you are correct. Thanks.

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radsaq
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

I don't think your test is controlling for enough variables. In my experience, focusing on subjects in low light (especially low contrast ones like black text on a brown cardboard box) is going to be highly variable depending the exact placement of the focus point. And while the subject in the video isn't changing, the framing and focus point location are varying enough that I wouldn't say it's a fair comparison.

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to Brian Wadie, 7 months ago

Brian Wadie wrote:

I'm never quite sure when I read about low light or dim light what is the context in a real world situation?

Good example would be wedding party in the evening where usually the ambient light is around EV3 - EV 5, at least the ones where I'm invited.
Being able to catch a nice move from someone on the dance-floor or a nice facial expression requires to be able to really focus and trigger fast. I got a several impressive pictures from that with my GH2 that cause laughs for a long time.
Another example is a soccer game at night where I was asked to take pictures of. This was not a professional stadium and the light was far from bright (just good enough to play the game). Maybe this example is not a good one because at that time I used an EOS 1D Mark III which is made for sports photography but I believe this might have worked with the GH2 as well.
These are just two examples but there are many other situations where it is beneficial to have fast AF in low light.
This is why I'm trying to find out why the E-M1 is so much slower in low light than the old GH2 and if I can do anything against it.

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to radsaq, 7 months ago

radsaq wrote:

I don't think your test is controlling for enough variables. In my experience, focusing on subjects in low light (especially low contrast ones like black text on a brown cardboard box) is going to be highly variable depending the exact placement of the focus point. And while the subject in the video isn't changing, the framing and focus point location are varying enough that I wouldn't say it's a fair comparison.

You are completely correct but in real world tests (like focussing on peoples faces that slightly move) differences are bigger from what I experienced so far. I mean in "real world" the E-M1 is even slower compared to the GH2.
Interestingly for the 45mm / 1:1.8 where during the tests the times are nearly identical the difference is quite big when using them on peoples faces in low light.
The contrast between the cardboard box and the black paint is 3.8 EV (measuerd with Gossen Starlite spot meter). I would consider 3.8 EV not as low contrast.

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Bob Tullis
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

I don't think there's anything wrong there. I have better results when I'm on the street or in the park at night, where there's contrast to focus on though in the dark. Your examples are challenging ones - . . . in the house I'll focus/recompose as certain areas lack contrast or enough light compared to the surroundings. But I have to say when I put an AF on the E-M1 in my relatively dark apt, I have no focus problems (but I don't bother focusing on anything that doesn't exhibit ample contrast, such that box logo in shadow in the middle of a dark room).

Focus on this model is very good in general, but there are situations with all of these cameras where focus will fail.

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msnremea1
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

Looks like I found a "solution" for the focus problem. I have been googling and reading white papers and forums many hours last night and found some interesting stuff.

At the E-M1: Menu -> Cutom Menu -> D (Disp/Tone/PC) -> Frame Rate
This setting significantly affects AF performance in low light. When setting this to "High" the E-M1 is getting nearly as fast at low light as the GH2 and in some cases it matches the GH2 speed. This setting affects EVF and LV the same way.

But there is a drawback. The manual says "Select [High] to reduce frame lag. However, the image quality may drop." I don't see any differences in the pictures taken but the image quality of the EVF and LV gets worse the darker it gets. Worse means: It is loosing more and more colour (I don't care) but at some point with very low ambient light there is nearly no picture visible anymore.

I was wondering how Panasonic can do so much better with 3 year older hardware on the GH2. From what I learned reading all the stuff last night is that it is not the hardware. Panasonic does something similar but it basically always leaves the frame rate low enough to show a proper picture in the EVF and LV but as soon as you start focussing in low light it changes the frame rate to a high level to allow fast focussing and then it switches the frame rate to normal after the focus is locked.

You can see that in the video that I posted. With a fast lens (first try with 45mm / 1:1.8) the GH2 has the same picture colour and brightness during focussing. Using a slow lens (second try with 140mm / 1:5.8) the image in the EVF of the GH2 changes during focussing. It's getting dark and loosing some colour.

This is basically close to what my E-M1 looks with "frame rate" set to "high".
Looks like the E-M1 hardware would be good enough for fast focussing at dim light. It's just the software of the GH2 that is working better. I would be happy to see a firmware update for the E-M1 that changes the frame rate to high only during focussing (like Panasonic does) and then switches back to normal but my guess would be that Panasonic is holding some patents for this because what I saw in forums that E-M5 users are suffering from basically the same low-light problem and it is still not fixed so I don't expect a fast fix for the E-M1.
At least the possibility to set this "Frame Rate" function on the "Fn1" button would be great but that is not possible either right now.

I'm pretty new to Olympus. Are they interested in customer concerns (being on this planet for several years I know only very few companies are)? Is there a good point of contact where you can suggest improvements?

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Bob_tracks
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Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
In reply to msnremea1, 7 months ago

msnremea1 wrote:

At the E-M1: Menu -> Cutom Menu -> D (Disp/Tone/PC) -> Frame Rate

This setting significantly affects AF performance in low light. When setting this to "High" the E-M1 is getting nearly as fast at low light as the GH2 and in some cases it matches the GH2 speed. This setting affects EVF and LV the same way.

But there is a drawback. The manual says "Select [High] to reduce frame lag. However, the image quality may drop." I don't see any differences in the pictures taken but the image quality of the EVF and LV gets worse the darker it gets. Worse means: It is loosing more and more colour (I don't care) but at some point with very low ambient light there is nearly no picture visible anymore.

Just to be sure I understand, are you saying that when using High Frame rate:

-  your jpg or raw images are NOT impaired

-  images in the EVF and monitor go dark

Correct?

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