I went out on Saturday to challenge myself photographing ducks in flight… and I ended up with the best photography problem. Over the past number of years I’ve done this particular ducks in flight test a number of times with different camera gear. It involves situating myself fairly close to a large group of ducks, then photographing individual ducks as they take flight, moving right to left in my viewfinder.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The location for this test is at the boat ramp at Grimsby Harbour. I position myself sitting on a large cement shore break roughly 7 to 10 metres (~23 to 33 feet) away from the typical flight paths the ducks use. The birds will congregate in the water, on some rocks, and on the cement at the bottom of the boat ramp.
Over the years the ducks have learned to wait in this area for visitors to the harbour to feed them. Once visitors arrive with food, bedlam ensues as the ducks take flight to muscle their way to the food. Hungry ducks are motivated! Suffice to say the in-flight action happens quickly.
The objective of the test is to photograph individual ducks in flight after they either leave the water, or take flight from the rocks or bottom cement surface of the boat ramp.
It typically takes 2-3 seconds from the moment a duck takes flight until it lands at the food source farther up the boat ramp. During this time, I need to isolate a duck in my viewfinder, acquire focus on it, pan with it as it is flying, and capture some photographs.
To be honest I’ve never had that much success with this particular challenge in the past. I’ve used full frame, APS-C and 1″ sensor cameras and I’ve always come home with just a smattering of usable images.
Even though I’m not rewarded with an abundance of usable images, this is a great test of my eye-hand coordination and the auto-focus performance of my camera gear.
I had not tried using my Olympus gear with this challenge, so I grabbed my E-M1X fitted with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 and MC-20 teleconverter and headed off to the boat ramp. I ended up with the best photography problem a person can have… I had too many keepers! This created a lot more work in post than I was anticipating, and it also made selecting photographs for this article difficult.
To capture all of the photographs in this article I used the Olympus Cluster Area C-AF setting on my E-M1X. I shot in Manual mode with Auto-ISO, using silent shutter at 18 frames-per-second.
Until the Bird Detection AI is available for my E-M1X (coming on December 2, 2020) I will be using Cluster Area C-AF for the majority of my birds-in-flight photography. Now that I am becoming very familiar with how it performs I love using it!
As you can see from the photographs in this article I faced a range of backgrounds. If I acquired focus on the duck early enough I often was able to frame it against a monochromatic sky. As expected this yielded a lot of keeper images.
What surprised me was that I also got a very good selection of ducks up against very busy backgrounds. As folks who photograph birds-in-flight appreciate, this can be particularly challenging for the auto-focusing system of a camera.
I don’t know why I was surprised with the performance of my E-M1X during this ducks in-flight challenge. Over the past 18 months this camera has continually created the best photography problem for me numerous times by delivering a higher than expected number of keepers.
How much more effective was my E-M1X using Cluster Area C-AF than other cameras that I’ve used in the past when doing this ducks in-flight challenge? I would conservatively estimate at least 600% more keepers. That’s a best photography problem that I love to experience!
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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