Photographing Swallows with E-M1X Pro Capture

I went out this morning to do my first field test of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X Pro Capture mode. I can give you my summary evaluation right up front… photographing swallows taking flight with the E-M1X Pro Capture mode is so easy… it’s basically a “no brainer”.

To give readers a good idea about how I framed my photographs in order to use the E-M1X all of the images in this article are straight out-of-camera jpegs without any cropping. All of the swallows in this article were perched when I engaged the E-M1X Pro Capture Mode. I then fired off my Pro Capture Mode run of images as soon as the birds launched into flight.

The first set of sample images are 15 consecutive photographs captured using the High Pro Capture Mode (i.e. 18 frames per second in continuous auto-focus).  All were captured using an Olympus OM-D E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko 1.4X teleconverter @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-500.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

The Olympus Pro Capture Mode begins recording image files as soon as you half depress the shutter and saves them in temporary memory. Once the shutter is pressed it locks in up to 35 pre-shutter images that have been spooling in temporary memory, then captures additional photographs. Photographers can set the number of pre-shutter images from 0 to 35.

Even if you press your shutter after the bird has left the frame, you will likely still get usable images. The swallow in the next photograph flew right past my shoulder. It had almost reached me by the time I pressed the shutter. This image was one of the ones stored in the E-M1X’s temporary memory. (EXIF data was the same as previous images expect ISO-1250)

Here are six more consecutive images from another High Pro Capture run… EXIF data the same except ISO-1600.

The E-M1X Pro Capture Mode (and also the E-M1 Mark II) basically removes guesswork and luck from the equation when trying to photograph birds taking off. Out of 7 attempts this morning, I got 7 successful image runs. This feature is really a “no brainer” for avid bird photographers.

If you are able to anticipate the flight direction of your subject bird you can move your focusing box to one side of the frame. This will provide more lateral room to capture a bird in flight. This is demonstrated in final sample AF-C image run of 12 photographs. The camera and lens settings are similar… EXIF differs slightly with f/8, 1/4000, ISO-2500.

I will certainly be doing more field testing with this function! Photographing swallows with E-M1X Pro Capture Mode is a ton of fun. This function changes photographing swallows taking off from something that was hit or miss at best – and turns it into an almost 100% certainty.

I had read about the Olympus Pro Capture Mode and thought it may be useful. Now that I’ve had some first hand experience using it, I can say that most bird photographers would absolutely love this capability.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All of the photographs displayed in this article were produced from straight out-of-camera jpegs.

Use of Olympus Loaner Equipment
All of the photographs in this article were captured using Olympus Loaner Gear which was supplied by Olympus Americas Inc. on a no-charge basis. We are under no obligation what-so-ever to Olympus Americas Inc. in terms of our use of this loaner Olympus camera equipment. There is no expectation or agreement of any kind with Olympus Americas Inc. that we will create and share with readers any images, articles or videos, or on what that content may be.

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6 thoughts on “Photographing Swallows with E-M1X Pro Capture”

  1. Tom,

    Absolutely adore the sequences. I think your word on the heightened confidence level for the Oly to capture more keepers on the launch to flight sequence of such an erratic and quick flyer as a swallow is a strong endorsement of sorts for the E-M1X. I, too, agree, that it is a strong contender for a place in the birding and wildlife photographer’s arsenal especially with the impending launch of the 1.25x converter for the 150-400mm Zuiko telephoto. Of course, the trade-off would be the size vis-a-vis the Nikon 1/CX but as with anything in life there’s a trade-off. Besides, one has to look beyond the discontinued Nikon 1 horizon. The closest newfangled thing I can think of as exciting news on the birding/wildlife photography front would be the vastly more costly Sony G 200-600mm f/5.6 lens fitted to any of the APS-C Alpha bodies for extended reach minus a converter.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      I’m not sure how many other Olympus cameras have the Pro Capture feature, but the E-M1 Mark II has this as well… at far less money than the E-M1X.

      The Sony 200-600 mm f/5.6-6.3 will be a great lens for Sony owners. At about $2000 US it is a reasonably affordable option which is also good news for Sony owners.

      At this point no one knows how Olympus will price the 150-400 mm f/4.5 with its built-in 1.25X teleconverter. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is in the $3,000 to $3,500 US range. I hope it is closer to the price of the Sony 200-600… but I have my doubts.

      Those of us that have been using the Nikon 1 system, especially with the Nikkor CX 70-300 have been spoiled with an outstanding weight to performance kit. Time will tell how long each of us can keep our Nikon 1 kit serviceable. After that there will be plenty of difficult decisions to be made.

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,
    Superb photos. I had already seen good shots with “Pro Capture” elsewhere, your report tells me how much hassle it might be in practice – not a hassle at all. Pro Capture clearly is a useful feature.

    Your second example (“flew right past my shoulder”) has the shape of the wings slightly distorted (rolling shutter). Maybe the fast approach caused more camera movement than usual.

    Similar results can be got with the V3, only with more failures. Something similar to your “swallows in-flight altercations”, on the other hand, may be hard to recreate with a V3. Lately I’ve shot sparrows hunting mayflies over the river, at all distances between 2m to 20m. Not easy, the E-M1X with a longer zoom could become a superior tool for that kind of subject.

    1. Hi Stefan,

      I chose Hi Pro Capture Mode and its 18 frames-per-second because of the speed of the swallows. As you point out, this frame rate speed does use an electronic shutter. The slower Pro Capture Mode utilizes a frame rate of 10 frames-per-second and is done with a mechanical shutter. This would help alleviate the concern in your comment. Nikon 1 cameras would also have the risk of rolling shutter distortion when used at high frame rates since an electronic shutter is also used.

      Having used a Nikon 1 V3 for bird photography for some time now, I agree with your assessment that similar images may be possible with Nikon 1 gear. The difference to me ultimately comes down to photographer confidence level when an image opportunity presents itself. Having now used Pro Capture Mode (albeit only during one short morning outing), I would be 100% confident that I would be able to capture an acceptable image of a perched bird taking off whenever that type of photographic opportunity arose. As you know, capturing ‘launch into flight’ behaviour is much harder to capture with small birds than it is with larger species.

      My confidence level capturing a take-off launch of a Great Blue Heron with a Nikon 1 V3/V2 would also be 100%. These large birds signal their behaviour very dramatically putting far less demands on a photographer’s reflex time. Especially with ‘old’ shutter bugs like me! On the other hand my confidence level capturing a take-off launch with a small, fast bird like a swallow would be less than 10% using Nikon 1 gear. So, it is not that a similar image is not possible with Nikon 1 gear, it is the confidence level that one would have capturing the desired bird behaviour.

      As you know, regardless of camera gear, capturing images of swallows in free flight is a challenging pastime. No doubt you have developed a superior skill set in this regard. Your success rate with this specific subject matter would be much higher than the vast majority of photographers. Based on my more limited experience with this subject matter, I’ve found that the E-M1X allows me to pan with swallows in flight and capture images at a success rate I could not even imagine with my Nikon 1 gear. I would conservatively estimate that I am at least 35 times more successful with an E-M1X than when using my Nikon 1 gear.

      There are significant trade-offs of course. The Olympus gear is far larger, heavier, and costs considerably more.

      When the M.Zuiko 150-400 mm f/4.5 IS PRO with built in 1.25X teleconverter is launched next year it will likely shake things up a bit with nature and bird photographers, as well as a few sports shooters. That lens will enable hand-held photography at an equivalent field-of-view of 1000 mm @ f/5.6. When Olympus teleconverters are used this would increase to 1400 mm (@ f/7.8) and 2000 mm (@ f/11). Again, there will be trade-offs. The lens will be larger, heavier and far more costly than the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 mm. Those of us who are Nikon 1 lovers will hang onto our gear as long as we can… especially the superb 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm.

      Tom

      1. Hi Tom,

        I am not even sure if the wing shape is a concern for nature photographers. A very active dpreview member, Morris, posted a kingfisher (https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62552186 ) which doesn’t look natural to me. – The V3 does suffer from the rolling shutter effect, both with electronic and mechanical shutter. So this wasn’t meant as criticism to the E-M1X. The effect here seems modest.
        Your estimate of 10% confidence to catch a small bird taking off sounds about right. Here “Pro Capture” is a big plus. Small birds in free flight with the V3 involves prefocusing and tons of luck, so even after much practice my confidence is far below 10%. The one case where I have had more success was sparrows hunting Mayflies. But then I am in a privileged position, enjoying a river with Mayflies (Ephemera danica) five minutes from my house.
        It is good to know that Olympus keeps working on E-M1X, AI for birders and the 40-150 lens. Gives me a goal to save up my pennies.

        1. Hi Stefan,

          The E-M1 Mark II just got a firmware update and now has an improved auto-focusing system as per the E-M1X. So… there are less expensive options than the E-M1X that photographers can consider. I think the E-M1 Mark II also now has the 5×5 AF grid. This is a great AF array for small birds in flight. While swallows are still a challenge given their erratic flight pattern, other small birds are pretty easy to capture using this pattern as long as there is an unobstructed background.

          While my main purpose in testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is client video focused, some of the other still photography innovations are very interesting to me for the future.

          Best always,
          Tom

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