BIF Practice at 1600 mm

This article discusses an approach I use for BIF (birds-in-flight) practice at 1600 mm equivalent field-of-view. While I don’t usually  photograph birds-in-flight using this long focal length, I do find it beneficial to periodically practice my handheld technique and eye/hand coordination at this very long focal length.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 49.2 metres

One of the challenges facing people who enjoy photographing birds-in-flight handheld, is developing and maintaining their eye/hand coordination.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 41 metres

Long focal length lenses have narrow angles-of-view which can make it quite challenging to find birds-in-flight in a camera’s viewfinder.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 55.3 metres

For example, a 600 mm lens has an angle of view of about 4 degrees. Shooting with an 800 mm focal lens reduces that to about 3 degrees. Using an equivalent focal length of 1600 mm makes it even tighter… down to about 1.5 degrees.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 31.3 metres

Photographers who use long focal length zoom lenses often will back their zoom off when attempting to locate a bird-in-flight. Then, zoom in on it once they have it in their viewfinder.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 26.2 metres

When specifically going out to practice my BIF technique I periodically like to push myself and my gear by shooting at an equivalent focal length 1600 mm.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 29.3 metres

As we all know, life is a relative experience. So, practicing at an efov of 1600 mm, makes shooting at an efov of 800 mm or 1120 mm relatively easier by comparison.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 29.9 metres

I set strict guidelines for myself when out with my camera gear and doing my BIF practice at 1600 mm. Here are the guidelines that I followed for the photographs in this article.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 31.9 metres
  • After putting my M.Zuiko MC-20 and M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom on my camera, I fully extend the combination to 800 mm (efov 1600 mm).
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 31.4 metres
  • I’m must leave my lens/teleconverter at this extended focal length for the entire duration of my practice session.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-3200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 35 metres
  • I’m not allowed to back the zoom lens off to help locate birds-in-flight. Nor am I allowed to back the zoom lens off when birds fly in tight towards me to frame them better in my compositions.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 29.3 metres
  • I must capture all of my images at the 800 mm (efov 1600 mm) focal length.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-2000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 29.3 metres
  • After capturing an image, or a run of images of the same bird, I must lower my camera to mid chest.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 42.1 metres
  • Once I select another bird-in-flight to photograph I can raise my camera to my eye to attempt to locate it in my viewfinder. I must stay focused on that specific bird. I am allowed to take my camera away from my eye momentarily to try to locate the subject bird-in-flight.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 33.2 metres
  • If I am unable to locate the subject bird  in my viewfinder I must lower my camera back to mid chest height. Then, select another potential subject bird.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, +0.3 EV, 1/1600, ISO-4000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 38.9 metres
  • Whenever possible I must try to fill the frame with the bird-in-flight that I have selected. I am allowed to clip portions of the bird’s wings, body or legs. The goal is to get in a tight as possible.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 33.4 metres
  • A number of my attempted photographs must include tracking with birds-in-flight as they come in to land in amongst other birds.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-2500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 37 metres
  • I am not allowed to pre-focus my lens.
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 44.6 metres

As you can imagine, using these strict guidelines results in a good number of missed photographs, or ones that are poorly executed on my part. Improving my eye/hand coordination when shooting at long focal lengths is the primary goal of this exercise. Missing images and learning from my mistakes (e.g. poor shutter timing) is another goal of this BIF practice at 1600 mm exercise.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 32.3 metres

All of the photographs in this article were captured handheld at Grimsby Harbour during a visit of about 2 hours. While some people have no interest in photographing gulls, I find them to be excellent practice subjects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 28.7 metres

Gulls are somewhat erratic flyers, especially when approaching their landing zone, or when flying in strong winds. This can make panning with a gull more challenging from an eye/hand coordination standpoint than photographing a thick bodied and less nimble bird like a duck.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 41.8 metres

If you haven’t tried this type of exercise before you may find it to be a fun and challenging experience. Be patient and cut yourself some slack.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 45.2 metres

Remember, hit rate doesn’t matter at all with this BIF practice at 1600 mm exercise. It all about pushing yourself hard and missing photographs. Then, learning from the ones we miss. Pushing ourselves beyond our current limits helps with skills development.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1600, ISO-1600, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 35.2 metres

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All photographs are displayed as full frame captured that have been resized for web use. This is the 1,088th article published on this website since its original inception.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, +0.7 EV, 1/1600, ISO-6400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, full frame capture, subject distance 23.8 metres

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4 thoughts on “BIF Practice at 1600 mm”

  1. Hey Tom
    I appreciate this article (and the great shots) as this is something I have not tried in the past. I have the 2.0 TC but use it strictly with my 40-150 lens where it works great. I will try it out for practice as you have done and see if I can improve.
    One question. In your response above, you said that you would use exposure compensation to adjust for lower light. I am wondering why you would not either just change the ISO setting yourself or use Auto ISO?

    1. Hi Joel,

      I shoot in Manual mode with Auto-ISO so using exposure compensation is the easiest and fastest way for me to adjust exposure. This gives me the benefit of not having to worry about changing my aperture or shutter speed. The controls on my E-M1X are fantastic so I can just feel for the exposure compensation button and adjust my exposure while still looking through the viewfinder. Of course there’s lots of ways of adjusting exposure on the fly… I use the approach to which I’ve become accustomed.

      Tom

  2. Hi Thomas, your article on BIF training is really timely: I wanted to make a request today in our German Olympus forum how others practice BIF. And as always, the article is very inspiring .

    As someone who has only been shooting birds for 1 1/2 years, I tend to focus on the basics: keeping the laughing gulls (they dominate here in Frankfurt) in the center of the EVF and zooming in and out. Because of the mostly bad light, however, I usually don’t use a TC, only sometimes the built-in one on the 150-400. But I don’t use the Bird Af, but CAF with 5 points, so I get feedback if I really focused well on the head. But otherwise I have been practicing less systematic a similar approach and your article motivates me to do this more accurately. And as always, the pictures are great!

    1. Hi Johannes,

      It’s great to read that the article was helpful for you. 🙂

      As you know there are many auto-focusing options available on Olympus cameras which enable owners to custom tailor their equipment to what works best for them. I have heard from other Olympus owners that CAF works better than CAF+TR. When I was using CAF I started out using 5 or 9 point AF, and ended up using a single AF point most of the time. I then switched to Cluster Area AF as I found it to be a bit better for the type of BIF photography that I do, i.e. filling more of the frame with the subject BIF.

      Other than when I use Pro Capture H, I now shoot almost all the time with Bird AI and have been experimenting using this technology with other types of animals. Although my experimentation has been very limited thus far, it does seem to work quite well as long as the eye of the animal is clearly visible. It took me a number of months of working with Bird AI to adapt my technique properly.

      If you are photographing BIF in overcast conditions you may want to try applying some Exposure Compensation. Depending on the bird species and lighting I’ve found +0.7 or a bit higher often works well. This means that you’ll be shooting at a higher ISO, but noise reduction is very good these days so that likely won’t be an issue.

      Tom

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