Over the past while I’ve had a number of emails from readers asking me to write an article on my bird photography settings. To be honest I’ve avoided writing this kind of article in the past simply because the choice of camera settings is a very personal decision.
The way that each of us set up and use our cameras can vary significantly, based on our personal shooting style, and the equipment that we happen to own. When it comes to bird photography settings, significant differences can exist between photographers even when using the exact same camera.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
This article provides some details on how I have my E-M1X set up and the bird photography settings that I use for different scenarios. These settings are just how I happen to use my E-M1X, and are not intended as suggestions or recommendations that you should follow.
Being an Olympus neophyte when I got my first E-M1X over 18 months ago, I did a bit of research and set it up my E-M1X as best I could at the time. I don’t typically make a lot of changes to my camera settings unless some new technology like Bird Detection AI becomes available. Or, if I find out about a particular approach like using Cluster Area C-AF about which I had no prior knowledge.
So, for what it’s worth, this article provides some information on the bird photography settings that I use with my E-M1X. You may, or may not, find them useful or appropriate for your style of shooting.
Before writing this article I went online to find out what kind of information regarding bird photography settings has already been produced. Suffice to say there is a plethora of information out there that has been written by a wide variety of photographers.
To get a feeling for the information that is already available on this subject, I watched a number of YouTube videos. This was quite an interesting experience. Often as I watched various videos I found myself thinking that I’d never use my camera in the way that was suggested in some of the videos. You may have the same feelings as you read this article.
It is important to keep in mind that I only shoot handheld with my E-M1X and thus far I have never used a tripod or a monopod for anything.
I use Manual mode for the vast majority of my photography regardless of subject matter. The only exception is when I use my Nikon 1 gear for travel photography. In that instance I use Aperture Priority and set my ISO manually. This is likely due to force of habit more than anything else
When it comes to bird photography with my E-M1X, I always shoot in Manual mode, and typically use Auto-ISO.
Most of the time, I use one of the four Custom Modes that I have set up on my E-M1X for bird photography. I very seldom need to deviate from these Custom Modes. When I do it is usually because I want to use flash. In this case I will shoot in Manual mode with a shutter sync speed of 1/250, and set my ISO manually.
My most common Custom Modes are C3 and C4. I chose these dial positions for my most frequently used Custom Modes as they are closest to the Movie mode on the top dial of my E-M1X. This was my attempt to ‘think ahead’ for how I may be using my E-M1X in the future. My thought process was to put my most commonly used still photography modes for birds as close as possible to the Movie Mode to make going back and forth between these settings as efficient as possible.
After more than 18 months of using my E-M1X I’ve only recorded 4 very short video clips of birds. Since I no longer have a YouTube channel I doubt that I’ll be doing any video recordings of birds in the foreseeable future, as I have no immediate purpose or need to do so. Correspondingly, this article does not discuss any video settings.
Custom Mode C1
This mode utilizes Pro Capture L. I have this set for 18 frames-per-second in C-AF+TR with Bird Detection AI. As noted earlier, I use Manual mode to set shutter and aperture, and use Auto-ISO. C-AF Sensitivity (B2) is set to default at +0 (this setting doesn’t operate in C-AF +TR anyway). Pre Shutter Frames are set to 15 and Frame Count Limiter is OFF.
My plan is to use this Custom Mode primarily when I am tracking with a bird-in-flight and waiting for it to perform a specific physical action. Things like a tern doing a mid-air shake, a gull making a dramatic mid-air course correction, or perhaps a bird touching down to land. Given the varying COVID-19 restrictions that we’ve been under for the past number of months I have not been able to shoot with this custom mode very much at all.
Update: Pro Capture L with Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking is now my primary setting for birds-in-flight.
Custom Mode C2
I have this custom mode set for Silent Shutter Low at 18 fps in C-AF, using Cluster Area. C-AF Sensitivity is set to +2. This was my most common Custom Mode to use for a variety of birds-in-flight. At the present time I am evaluating if I will keep this Custom Mode or change it to something else… perhaps S-AF using Silent Shutter High at 60 frames-per-second. Frame Rate is currently set to High (D2). This faster EVF refresh rate makes it easier to visually track with a bird-in-flight.
Update: I no longer use this setting for birds-in-flight as I have now switched to Pro Capture L with Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking (my C1 custom mode) as my standard setting for birds-in-flight in situations where I have sufficient time to track with an incoming bird. In situations where I need to respond very quickly to a bird-in-flight opportunity I now use my Custom C4 setting.
Custom Mode C3
This is one of my two most used Custom Modes and is set for Pro Capture H. I use 60 frames-per-second with 15 Pre Shutter Frames and my Frame Count Limiter set to 15. I use a single AF point in S-AF with the ‘beep’ active (D4) as I want to hear my E-M1X reacquire auto-focus as I keep adjusting on a subject bird that is changing positions.
Custom Mode C4
This is my most used Custom Mode. I have it sent for C-AF+TR with Bird Detection AI at 18 frames-per-second using Silent Shutter. I use a single, large size AF point and move it as needed as described in an earlier article. Frame Rate is set to High (D2).
This is now my ‘go to’ Custom Mode for all of bird photography except when I want to use Pro Capture L or H. As I continue to experiment with my Custom Mode 4, I may eventually change my Custom Mode 2 settings, should I no longer need C2 in the way that I currently have it configured. I use my Custom Mode C4 for both perched birds and birds-in-flight.
Update: Custom Mode C4 is now my secondary setting for birds-in-flight and used when I have limited time to lock on to an incoming bird. C4 is my primary setting for perched birds.
I currently have 3 items in My Menu: L Settings, H Settings, and High Res Shot. I use these primarily to change my Pre Shutter Frames and Frame Rate Limiter settings in Pro Capture L or H when needed. I have High Res Shot in Handheld mode ‘at the ready’ should I need it.
Other bird photography settings
Here are a few other settings that I use.
- AF Area Pointer (A2) is set to On2 as I want to see focus boxes in my EVF.
- AF Scanner (A1) is set to Mode 3 so the AF scanner will remain activated even if subject is unclear or contrast is low.
- S-AF Release Priority and C-AF Release Priority are both set to OFF (C1). I don’t want to waste my time and memory card space capturing images that are not in focus.
- Color Space (G) set to Adobe RGB. This has a wider colour gamut than SRBG and the camera collects more colour information. I shoot RAW plus jpegs.
- Histogram Setting (D3) I have narrowed my Histogram settings slightly to Highlight 253 and Shadows 2. These slightly narrower dynamic range settings help me avoid clipping with my exposures.
- Image Stabilizer (C2) is set to S-IS Auto and IS Priority. I’m still experimenting with these settings with my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS.
- Unless I am shooting at quite slow shutter speeds, I have the IS on my M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS turned off.
As mentioned at the start of this article, all of the settings outlined in this posting are not intended as suggestions or recommendations. They just happen to be what I am currently using. Whether they make sense for you based on your shooting style is something only you can determine.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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