Monday, April 21, 2014

Dorifto Kingu Egypt (or how well the EM1 can track drifting BMWs)

 

So by now you already know I've bought an E-M1 (turns out it is an E-M1 and E-M5 all this time, and not EM-1 and EM-5) I thought about for too long. I sold my E-M5 and 12-50 lens to one of my friends, who in turn sold his Nikon D7000 and 35 1.8G to use a smaller camera after seeing me use it for more than a year. I bought myself the E-M1 with the 12-40 f2.8 lens (there was a $200 discount), and of course, buying a new camera requires buying a new camera bag, so I got the Thinktank Mirrorless Mover 10, and the Tamrac Velocity 7x, after all, I sold my Lowepro Apex 100AW with the E-M5, what would a man do without his camera bag? So you see, there is a lot of potential for future gear related posts, not taking into account my delayed 75 f1.8 review.

Anyway, I will delay my first impressions of the E-M1 for a later time, and jump directly into today's post, and one of the main reasons I upgraded to the E-M1, and that's focus tracking, so how does it work? Hit the jump.

 

I didn't get a chance to use the E-M1 in a variety of situations or even in daylight, nor I had a chance to see what the 12-40 was capable of, but I was very interested in the EM1's (will call it that from here on) continuous focusing and tracking abilities. If you don't know, unlike the other MFT cameras who only use Contrast Detection for auto focusing, the EM1 has a few Phase Detection sensors on the imaging sensor itself, similar to the Nikon 1 series, the Sony A7 (not the R), and some other mirrorless cameras. In the EM1's case, only phase detection is available when using Four Thirds lenses, but when using native Micro Four Thirds lenses, phase detection only works when using continuous auto focusing, and even then it works in tandem with contrast detection, in the way the camera sees fit.

 

 

So when I learned there was a drifting competition taking place last Friday, I immediately thought of testing the EM1 there, I didn't prepare much, and I only took the 40-150R lens. I arrived too late, it was around 3:00 pm with the harshest lighting possible, and I didn't get a good position to shoot from, but since my ultimate aim was to test the camera's focus tracking abilities, I was ok with my position. We stayed for less than an hour, and we didn't even watch the final round, but as you can see from the pictures, safety wasn't a high priority there, and some of the spectators had a total dis-regard for safety precautions, and were standing too close to the cars. What looked even more dangerous were the hordes of youngsters with all sorts of DSLRs standing in the middle of the circuit with the cars drifting around them, as far as I noticed, anyone with a camera was allowed to jump the short fence and join the photography packs inside the circuit, tsk tsk!

As far as camera settings go, I started shooting in aperture priority mode wide open at first (that's f/5.6 near the long end, the pictures of the red car are shot at f/5.6, then later I stopped down to f/8 to get better performance out of the lens. I used the center focus point all the time, CAF on, half-press would lock initial focus and track the cars, then I set the shutter at 6 fps, the EM1 can go to 10 fps, but with focus and exposure locked from the first frame. Image stabilization was switched off, and I applied negative 0.3 ~ 0.7 exposure compensation because of the harsh lighting, to preserve the highlights, and I know how good the sensor would accept shadow lifting in post, oh, as usual, I was shooting RAW.

 

Old BMWs never die, they just get fatser
 

Less Traction = More Action
 

Look at those young photographers
 

So how did the EM1 do? I would say it simply exceeded my expectations, I know that the drifting cars weren't the fastest moving subjects, nor where they the smallest subjects, but once the camera locked focus in the first frame, I was able to track the car (provided I kept the center focusing point on the car) for as long as the buffer allowed, which is by the way an impressive 10 seconds long buffer for a total of 60 consecutive (RAW!) frames before the camera slowed down! The camera was able to track the car despite of the smoke or the cones getting between the car and the lens, there is a setting for that in the camera (how would the camera behave if an object came in the middle between your subject and the lens), but I can't remember its name, all I remember is having it set to Normal as per the advice of someone from dpreview.

There were some instances where I wasn't able to track the car, it happened when the camera failed to focus on the car in the initial frame, and the consecutive ones came out of focus, this was mainly due to the not-so-fast focusing of the 40-150R. But overall, this is certainly a huge step up from my EM5's focus tracking abilities, and I have yet to try it in more situatuions, with a faster lens, and with more erratic subjects.

Below is my favorite shot of the day, an ethereal time freeze of a sideways BMW, burning it rear tires and filling the air with white smoke, while the keen eyes and open lenses of eager photographers are trying to capture the adrenaline filled moment.

 

 

More to come soon isA.