After covering sports for the past year with my OM-D E-M1X, here are some of my top tips to help you get the most out of photographing field sports with your E-M1X.
It Starts With The Right Lens
Choose the right lens based on your distance to the action. The M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO offers an equivalent field of view of 80-300mm and the bright F2.8 aperture means it’s great a choice, day or night. The M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO offers a long 600mm equivalent field of view – a great choice for capturing distant action, and, thanks to Olympus’ dual image stabilization, you get to shoot it all handheld!
Not only are both lenses tack sharp, they both offer weatherproof, freezeproof, and dustproof construction – which is important for working in the field.
Back-button Auto Focus
I always use back-button auto focus because it allows for C-AF and S-AF to essentially function simultaneously and greatly improve the AF hit rate. Thankfully, the E-M1X comes set for back-button AF out of the box using the AEL/AFL button.
Want continuous AF tracking? When using C-AF or C-AF TR, back-button AF will follow focus when you keep your thumb pressed down on the AEL/AFL button.
Want single shot AF? As soon as your subject is in focus, release the AEL/AFL button to lock focus. This can be done while still using C-AF or C-AF TR. It’s that simple!
C-AF or C-AF+TR?
My E-M1X offers deep autofocus customization to ensure razor sharp output in a wide variety of shooting scenarios. Unlike some other recent sports cameras where all the focus is solely on object tracking, for the E-M1X, a great deal of effort also went into substantially improving simpler C-AF operation by adding Center Start and Center Priority Modes combined with custom AF target modes and newly developed AF algorithms.
By using C-AF with Center Start & Center Priority activated, it allows for full-time continuous AF beginning from the center of and restricted to the AF target points within my selected AF area. This allows me to stay tightly focused on the action I’m following at all times, while ignoring objects in the rest of the frame, and is my primary way of shooting sports on my E-M1X. You can further adjust this by creating custom AF target modes to decide how wide or tight an area you want the camera to focus in, and adjust the responsiveness by setting your sensitivity (MENU > ⚙ > A1 > C-AF Sensitivity). I generally keep it at +2 for standard C-AF.
For shooting long breakaways and erratic movement on the field, nothing beats C-AF+TR because it allows the tracking to start from the focus point you decide, then follow across the entire frame, as-needed, without you having to recompose or move your AF target point. Like standard C-AF, you can further customize performance by setting the responsiveness vs stickiness of the tracking (MENU > ⚙ > A1 > C-AF Sensitivity). I like to err on the side of maximum responsiveness, even if that makes the tracking less sticky, so I start at +2 then adjust downward as needed. If you accidentally focus on the wrong subject, simply release the AEL/AFL button and immediately re-press with the AF target point over your subject to restart tracking. For C-AF+TR, I always use the 5-point cross AF target mode, and find it works best.
- When shooting standard C-AF and moving your focus target point around, set the joystick to return to a default (home) position when you press it in the center. To set your default, simply go to MENU > ⚙ > B1 > Center Button. When shooting moving action sequences, use Sequential
Low (L) along with either C-AF or C-AF TR. When using Sequential High (H), the camera will lock focus on the first frame only.
- Set a custom default AF starting point for landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical shooting). Since I shoot a lot of rugby, this is a huge help for shooting the jump of the lineout and equally effective for soccer. To set, this is also under MENU > ⚙ > A2 > Set Home.
- When shooting sports, you don’t want the camera to get confused with any face other than your intended subject so always turn all face/eye detection off.
The Need for Speed
The E-M1X can shoot up to 18 FPS (electronic/silent) and 10 FPS (mechanical) with full-time C-AF and AE. These are accessible under the drive modes from the Super Control Panel as well as MENU > ?1 > Drive Modes.
When shooting in daylight conditions, silent shutter is a nice option to have. It saves shutter wear and can give you more frames to choose from when needed. However, there are several scenarios where shooting up to 10 FPS mechanical is a much better way to work:
- If you’re going to be doing a lot of panning with a long lens or shooting a lot of high speed kicks like soccer, the silent shutter can introduce warping, so that’s something to look out for.
- If there’s loads of LED signs on wall of the field, silent shutter can also cause streaking in the background. Mechanical shutter can too sometimes, but it’s rare & not near as pronounced.
- Shooting at 10 FPS offers a deeper buffer – and,
- Shooting at 10 FPS mechanical offers slightly improved detail at high ISO settings.
Shutter wear? Don’t care. The E-M1X shutter is rated for minimum of 400,000 attenuations, so you’re not going to run it down any time soon. Use the mode that best suits your shooting scenario.
To further adjust your Continuous Low frame rate, go to MENU > ⚙ > C1 > L Settings. You can adjust your mechanical settings from 1 to 10 FPS and silent from 1 to 18 FPS. My personal recommendation is 10 mechanical / 15 silent.
Mind Your Exposure
For sports, most people would tell you to shoot in Shutter Priority to guarantee a fast shutter, but I also want the widest aperture possible at all times, even when it’s bright out.
For this reason, I always use Aperture Priority, and control my shutter speed by simultaneously using Auto ISO with a minimum shutter speed of 1000-1600 and a max ISO of 6400. Then I apply exposure compensation as needed to fine tune my exposure and keep my camera at the minimum ISO necessary.
- Stay in control of your exposures – especially in program AE modes. What’s your backdrop like? Is it the shady or sunny side of the stadium, blue sky, or a forest of trees at the end of the field? Cameras will read darker colors as darkness, so in these situations you’ll likely want to apply negative exposure compensation to avoid both blowing out players in front and/or raising the ISO unnecessarily.
- Use mechanical shutter when shooting night sports for the cleanest high ISO performance possible out of your E-M1X sensor. 10 FPS is plenty fast for sports and you’ll get optimal results.
Want to get a head start?
Download my custom E-M1X settings here and if you’d like to install them in your E-M1X, but be sure to update your firmware to Version 1.1 and save your settings first. This way, you can go back to your previous settings if needed.
Among others, my custom settings include the following:
- Using Mode 3 for the Fn Lever Function allows me to tailor the use of the Video Start button depending on whether I’ve got the lever at position 1 (still photos) or position 2 (video).
- When shooting still photos, the Video Start button is programmed to AF Area Select. This allows the quick change of AF Target Modes on the fly. When shooting video, the Video Start button functions as normal.
Any questions? Feel free to DM me on Instagram at @daveywilson.
Davey Wilson is an award-winning photographer capturing lifestyle & sports stories that foster social media communities.
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