I first wrote about my experience with the E-M5 early last year, and was somewhat disappointed with my results. There were some definite limitations with the E-M5 with subjects that move fast. Although the E-M5 was marketed with blazing fast autofocus (or something to that effect), it gave me fits at the air show. Here are a couple of the main problems I had:
- Tracking autofocus – very poor performance.
- Continuous autofocus – very poor performance.
- Electronic viewfinder – goes black when shooting a burst.
While I was able to come back with a handful of successful shots from my 1st air show using the E-M5 exclusively, I had to rate the E-M5 as a dud for this type of photography. For my next air show, I brought along my Canon 60D and associated large lenses (in addition to my E-M5). Having the Canon was a crutch for sure, but knowing that I had a solid, proven performer took some of the stress away. I relegated my E-M5 with static displays and used the Canon for everything in the air.
I thought it would be helpful to others to post my experience using the E-M5 on a popular photography forum, and was given some good advice (along with a couple of virtual kicks in the butt). It seems that others have already tread this ground and were having a much higher level of success with cameras like my E-M5 (MFT – micro four thirds). There were some settings to change, and different approaches using the E-M5 for air show photography and birds in flight (BIF). Birds in flight are equally, if not more difficult than air planes at an air show. Not only do they fly fast, they can be unpredictable and are very small.
With some of the forum advice in mind, I started experimenting. One of the changes I made was re-setting the burst mode from its highest setting of 9 fps to 6 fps. This helped with the viewfinder blacking out. It still went black, but came back much quicker. I also changed the autofocus points from using just the center most point to a larger center grid of 9 points. Instead of using continuous autofocus, I kept it on single autofocus. The E-M5 can lock on to an object very quickly, it just can’t track it very well. When an air plane started on a fly-by, I would pan along, get the E-M5 to focus, fire off a couple of shots and continue the process until the plane moved out of range. This approach started to work. This isn’t to say that my keeper rate with the E-M5 is approaching that of my Canon, but it was a big improvement.
The 1st air show of the year for me happened this weekend with the LA County Air Show in Lancaster, California. Instead of the Blue Angels (who performed last year), the Thunderbirds were the main act. I haven’t seen the Thunderbirds in 7 years, and was excited to see them in the air again. The actual in-air performance between the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds could be seen as similar to some, but it’s still a treat for me to see the colorful F-16’s in the air. To be fully prepared for this event, I brought both the E-M5 and Canon 60D.
I started out using the E-M5 for the static ground shots and the Canon for air shots. But as the show progressed and I had both cameras out, I started using the E-M5 for more and more air shots. The Canon 60D had the reliable (but slow) 200-500 Tamron lens attached and E-M5 had the Panasonic 45-200. I’m going to do a separate post on the 60D and its results, but it worked as expected. The E-M5 on the other hand did much better than I had originally anticipated. The ground shots are usually never a problem (if there is a problem, it’s more than likely operator error). My air plane in the air shots were much better than on previous attempts. As long as I planned a little ahead and took my time, waiting for just the right moment to press the shutter, I came away with a few good shots. If I just grabbed the camera and tried to fire off a quick burst without much thought, my results were very poor. I don’t blame the camera for that, it’s completely my fault. I didn’t work within the limitations of my equipment. This doesn’t just apply to my E-M5, but with any camera. They all have strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve figured them out and work within them, you will increase your success rate!
And now for the results. All of these images started out as RAW files and were converted to .jpeg’s. Some were cropped and tweaked a bit in Photoshop and then resized.
That’s it for this post. Until next time, Happy Shooting!