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

Started Jan 16, 2014 | Questions
Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Bob, have you tried low light shooting with Live View Boost enabled (+ high frame rate refresh) working with only the EVF?

This is my usual configuration for studio work and as I said earlier in this thread, I have yet to experience a focus delay / miss-focus when working in a blacked out studio lit only by modelling light(s)

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Unfortunately I don't own any Panasonic MFT body (only the pocket LF1), so I don't know how they solve the "lack of light vs. AF speed" problem.

As for the shortcut, there are several modes of operation where the frame-rate is automatically switched back to normal even when it's set to fast via menu. "Zoom AF", Art picture modes, iEnhance picture mode, Video mode (can be used for stills shooting with *real* WYSIWYG, but uses 30 fps for Live View constantly). The important part is that frame-rate is only switched back to normal temporarily while you switch the mode, once you switch back frame-rate is switched back to fast, too.

One exception of the latter is when you set focus peaking to any button, this will turn the frame-rate to normal the very moment you change the button, even when focus peaking is switched off.

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Brian Wadie wrote:

Bob, have you tried low light shooting with Live View Boost enabled (+ high frame rate refresh) working with only the EVF?

This is my usual configuration for studio work and as I said earlier in this thread, I have yet to experience a focus delay / miss-focus when working in a blacked out studio lit only by modelling light(s)

This should make no difference once you set refresh rate to "High". Live View Boost does little more than turning exposure compensation preview to permanently view +-0 EV, regardless of what exposure settings you use. This can "boost" Live View performance in those instances where 0 EV preview does not need a refresh rate drop to achieve preview, but in dark light it will still drop. "High" refresh rate never drops to 30 fps on the E-M5 and - as far as I can tell yet - the same applies to the E-M1 (even though its high refresh rate mode works somewhat different).

So when you combine both you get the drawbacks of both combined without additional benefit. Just use "High" refresh rate and be good with it, while still being able to get live preview of exposure changes in most situations (albeit not as many as with normal refresh rate).

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
1

You are probably right Timur but as I have said earlier, all I can base my comments on are my experiences as a photographer. I don't pretend to understand (or care about) the inner workings of my camera, just how it performs for me in my applications.

to repeat - I have never yet missed a shot because of slow focus speed under low light conditions using the EM-1 (nor the EM-5 before) so whether it is slower than the GH2, GX7 or other system is irrelevant to my use (and I suspect to that of  a lot of others)

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OP msnremea1 New Member • Posts: 14
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Just testet. Looks like you are wrong.
Live boost clearly makes the objects my EVF better visible when it's dark and the frame rate set to high. (E-M1, Firmware 1.1)

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OP msnremea1 New Member • Posts: 14
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
2

As for the workaround I just learned that enabling "Live view boost" together with "High frame rate" makes a faster AF with still rather good visible picture.

Now, for the shortcut problem I also found a workaround:
I saved "MySet 1" with "Live view boost" = off and "Frame Rate" = normal. I also registered Fn1 button as shortcut to "MySet 2".
Then I saved "MySet 2" with "Live view boost" = on and "Frame Rate" = high.

Now I can quickly switch between fast AF when it's dim and normal AF when there is plenty or basically no light by just pressing the Fn1 button.

Still not Panasonic (does all automatically) but a real good workaround.

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

just a thought, has anyone seen this effect when shooting using manual exposure (which is the way I shoot in low light situations)?

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

msnremea1 wrote:

Just testet. Looks like you are wrong.
Live boost clearly makes the objects my EVF better visible when it's dark and the frame rate set to high. (E-M1, Firmware 1.1)

That is because Live View Boost fixes Live View to one exposure preview that is independent of the exposure you set. When you use higher exposure compensation with high refresh rate Live View gets brighter, too. So for exposures where live preview is wrong anyway it can make sense to activate Live View Boost to get a brighter (or darker in bright light) view.

With the E-M5 Live View Boost fixed preview to the equivalent of +-0 EV, with the E-M1 it seems to be different, maybe even dynamic in that it uses a higher value for dark scenes.

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Bob Topp Regular Member • Posts: 481
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Brian,

These days I'm using normal EVF level.  I used boost for a while, and can't remember why I turned it back down (unless possibly thinking this affected battery life).  I'll will try out high boost to see if it helps with the AF speed.  I went looking at frame rate this morning, only to find it grayed out, so I'm still trying to figure out what else I set to affect that.  Info button doesn't say anything.

Thanks, Bob

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Bob Topp Regular Member • Posts: 481
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Yes, Brian,

Slow autofocus affects me in manual mode.

Bob Topp

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Bob Topp wrote:

Brian,

These days I'm using normal EVF level. I used boost for a while, and can't remember why I turned it back down (unless possibly thinking this affected battery life). I'll will try out high boost to see if it helps with the AF speed. I went looking at frame rate this morning, only to find it grayed out, so I'm still trying to figure out what else I set to affect that. Info button doesn't say anything.

Thanks, Bob

Focus Peaking set to any Fn button? Using any of the picture modes I listed before?

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

check you haven't got Focus peaking on Bob as this blocks high frame rate.

I saw your comment that you are seeing slow focus with manual exposure, its got me beat I must admit.

Maybe my focusing demands aren't so great as others but I have just finished processing another load of Black on Black studio shots and everything is spot on and I shot the session rapidly (>600 shots in 3 hours including many costume and lighting changes ).

It was a pitch black studio lit only by the modelling lights in the flash heads so the exposure meter was, as usual, off the bottom of the under-exposed light-meter scale (so significantly more than -3ev)

A static example (can't show the models as it was a commissioned shoot) but it gives an example of the light levels we were working with, all low key night-club level light shots

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

You will only notice slowdowns in low light with normal refresh-rate, mostly only when AF needs to hunt anyway. If you still got enough light and contrast, like with all the hardware on the drumset, you might not notice the difference (might still be there, but not so relevant).

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

So we are really not so much talking about low light situations but ones where there is little or no contrast differential? (the sort of conditions where even DSLR will struggle at times?)

something like this maybe - shot with minimal lighting, rest of the face cropped to hide identity

This is straight from the camera shot with the EM-5 using available light in the studio, from the modelling lights, focused without problem (one of a sequence of over 30)

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

having checked the shooting conditions I realised that this one, although focused using the modelling lights was actually shot with the flash-heads operative. Tried to withdraw it but it timed out on me.

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance
1

It's all a bit more complex, but if you combine a shadowy (not necessarily stupidly dark) scene with contrast that the lens needs to hunt back and forth at any setting then high refresh-rate will make the lens hunt faster. Like I wrote, it's all more complex than what we tackle here. In another thread where we discussed these things I posted an example video.

This was done quick and dirty, but should give you an idea. No idea which discussion thread we talked more in detail about these things.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-HNUjRuJ4E

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Especially look at around 2:40 (low contrast) and 5:00 (high contrast) to get an idea how exposure Live View affects AF speed.

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Brian Wadie
Brian Wadie Veteran Member • Posts: 9,464
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

So, I watched your quick video and my first thought was, I wouldn't try to shoot the background under those conditions

Second was that, too my eye, it was focusing faster when High refresh rate was set

and my next thought was, I still wouldn't want to shoot under those conditions

So, I guess the reason I don't see any focus problems in low light / contrast situations is because of thoughts # 1 and 3

(but at least I think I'm up to speed on what you are getting at now Timur)

I think my 7D + L lenses would have struggled under the same conditions

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Timur Born
Timur Born Veteran Member • Posts: 4,770
Re: Olympus OM-D E-M1 low light auto focus performance

Of course I chose conditions making the demonstration easy and reproducible. Noticed how normal refresh-rate changes AF speed when I switched exposure compensation from -2 to -1.7 EV? In those light conditions that was the breaking point where the camera slowed refresh-rate from 60 down to 30 fps in order to catch more light for Live View. This refresh-rate drop can also happen in more daylight situation when you pan the camera over a shadowy area, especially indoors with daylight coming from a window.

Also take note how the "Zoom AF" focusing algorithm works entirely different from normal AF and how it manages to focus on the blob of gray patch quite quickly where normal AF failed with both normal and high refresh-rates (high just hunting faster and giving up faster). There are situations where Zoom AF may fail while normal AF does not (especially using normal refresh-rate), but it's always worth a try if everything else fails. Once I find time I will have to compare Zoom AF on the E-M5 to the E-M1 as far as low light capabilities go.

On the E-M1 there is even another bonus with Zoom AF compared to the E-M5: It now features another AF frame *within* the fullscreen zoomed area, even at 14x magnification. This AF frame is smaller any other AF frame chosen by other means.

Take another look at 7:10. Normal refresh-rate does considerable hunting at all exposure settings, then I switch to high refresh-rate and the hunting stops completely! This is rather unusual, as normally you just get faster hunting, but obviously it can happen even with the same target area and camera settings.

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(unknown member) Veteran Member • Posts: 9,549
Fast for me

I just tried the 45 1.8 on my EM1, shooting  at dark areas of the house, not black but quite dark, and focus was almost instant on everything except the side of a plain red chair with little texture.

I used a specific focus point, small box. Letting the camera choose the point of course slows things down. Frame rate was high (as it always is).

I used to have a GH2 and it was good. I don't remember it being faster than the EM-1 or EM-5, but it was a good performer.

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John Krumm
Juneau, AK

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