Brian's Photo Blog — Article 323
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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Autofocus Problem
Friday 9 May 2014   —   Category: Equipment

A week or so ago while I was troubleshooting my Olympus 75mm lens, I encountered a strange autofocus problem. I was in the front yard taking some test shots, with the 75mm lens mounted on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, when I pointed it towards a solitary, bloomless tulip stem. The lens absolutely would not autofocus on it!

I tried moving closer, I tried moving further away. I checked to make sure that I was in “single target” autofocus mode, with the target set for the center square of the frame. No matter what I tried, the camera just would NOT focus on this tulip stem! It always focused on the grass in the background, as if the stem wasn’t even there! The only way I could get the shot you see here was to switch to manual focus and do the job myself!

OK, I’ll admit that it might be a low-contrast situation. It was approaching sunset, and there was no direct light shining on the yard. The green of the stem does blend in quite a bit with the green of the grass in the background. But I would have thought that the white tip of the stem would have provided sufficient contrast for the autofocus to snap onto it with no problem. Ummmm ... I guess not!

Because I was already suspecting that my 75mm lens was not working properly (see that previous article), I interpreted this inability to focus properly as a confirmation that my lens was bad. I sadly went back into the house to ponder what to do with the discouraging results of my lens testing. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if it was actually the fault of the lens that it wouldn’t focus on the stem, or if perhaps the problem lay with my camera itself.

So the next evening around the same time, I tried a couple of other lenses to see if I had the same problem with them or not. Neither my Olympus 60mm macro lens nor my Panasonic 100-​300​mm zoom could focus on the stem either! It was as if the autofocus was seeing right through the stem in the foreground, and could only see the grass in the background!

The real clincher was when the new Olympus 75mm lens I ordered from Amazon as a test unit (again, see that previous article) had the very same problem focusing on the tulip stem! On the one hand I was quite relieved to find that my old 75mm lens was working just fine. But on the other hand, I was really bothered with this inability to focus. I had never experienced my E-M5 camera behaving like this before. I was stunned! What in the world was going on?!

There is no happy ending to this story, because I don’t have any real answers, nor a solution. The only conclusion I can come to is that this thin, narrow stem doesn’t fill enough of even a single autofocus target square on the E-M5 for the camera to be able to lock onto it. Strange, but probably true!

Well, I’m not really worried about it. I have taken over 5,000 photos with my beloved E-M5 — nearly 1,100 of which can be found online — and this is the first and only time I have had this kind of extreme problem with the autofocus. If this poor performance was happening frequently, I would likely start my search for a new camera. But as it is, I can easily live with it. All in all, I am extremely happy with my camera, and I can’t imagine trading it for any other!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 323
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Reader Comments
On September 19, 2014, Petra wrote:
Hi Brian,

I have an OM-D E-M10 and was led to believe the focus speed would be excellent. What happened with your camera this time, I encounter often. Right now there are many spiders in the garden I would like to shoot but the camera often won't focus. By the time I've searched a subject nearby on which to focus, the action is usually gone. Weirdly enough if it then focuses on that other subject, it is as if the camera 'remembers' to focus on that distance and then it will work. I'm really disappointed, and keep getting back to my Nikon 1, which has no problems at all.

Kind regards, Petra
On March 28, 2015, Ivan wrote:
I recently purchased the premier Olympus f1.8 25mm lens for my E-M5 and am having a similar problem to Petra. Attempting automatic focus on a close piece of timber I often cannot achieve focus but find the rear garden sharp even when the timber fills the entire focus square in the viewfinder. I have discovered that first focusing on a larger object at similar distance to the timber results in quick focus on the timber - pointing down the garden immediately afterwards often results in a blurred garden; at least for the first shutter release press. No miss focus problem occurs when I try my older (cheaper) Olympus lenses. I hope that you have found an answer to the focus problem or I will have to sent the lens back for a rebate. The lens in question is a replacement for an earlier f1.8 25mm which I sent back because of another problem. All so frustrating - good job I was "testing" and not shooting for real.
On June 19, 2015, Hakan wrote:
Hello Brian,
I have similar problems on both OM-D E-M5 and MkII, and I fully agree with Ivan that the current focus setting is to some extent related to the last one used. Anyway, I have found a way to get things a little better, but not perfect. Natively on the MkII and with firmware version 2.0 on E-M5 there is a setting "Small AF target", it will give you a smaller autofocus target square that helps for some targets, but not all. Thanks, Hakan
On June 19, 2015, Brian wrote:

In reply to Hakan’s comments: Thanks for the “Small AF target” tip. It took me a little while (and a Google search) to figure out how to access this setting, so I will share the steps here for other to benefit.

When you press the left arrow of the four-way control on the back of the camera, you will see the first image to the right. At this point, if you use the arrow keys, it will MOVE the autofocus target green square.

To change the SIZE of the target square, you FIRST have to press the “INFO” button directly above the four-way control. That puts the camera into a different mode, in which you can change the SIZE of the target square. On my OM-D E-M5, pressing the down arrow once reduced the target square to its smallest size, as you can see in the second image.

If you keep pressing the up or down arrows, you will see that there are actually four different autofocus target size settings. When in this mode, be careful not to press the left or right arrows, because that rotates through five possible settings for the ”Face Priority” feature, which can also be found as the last item in the Gear-A menu.

Once you have the autofocus target size you desire, press the “OK” button in the center of the four-way control to accept the change, or simply let the menu time out.

I’ve just changed this setting on my camera for the first time, so I don’t know yet how well it will work for me. But at least it is quick and easy to change the autofocus target size back to the original larger square.
On February 1, 2019, Charlie wrote:
I think that the face detector is the culprit. In the focus spot locator mode hit info, use right arrow to select the various face icons and set to off. This worked on my OM M5.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 323
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