I was out with my camera gear yesterday and discovered my bird photography sweet spot. The added enjoyment that this creates is hard to explain. Suffice to say I was having so much fun that I lost some of my concentration on fundamentals, and made a couple of rookie mistakes.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The first rookie mistake was repeated several times during my photography hike, but I didn’t realize what I had done until I was reviewing and processing my photographs.
While hiking I tucked my camera between my elbow and flank with the lens pointing backwards. This made it readily available, but also caused me to inadvertently adjust the shutter speed several times when I pulled the camera up to use it. As a result, you’ll notice in the EXIF data that some shutter speeds appear a bit high.
The sparrow in the first photograph doesn’t have abs of steel and is not defying gravity. I happened to catch it just as it was about to take flight. I did not try to use Pro Capture yesterday.
The second rookie mistake was also made a number of times, but was most noticeable at the end of my photography outing.., forgetting to check my focus limiter setting.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom uses focus limiter settings that break at 6 metres. I was changing this throughout my hike but forgot to set it for 1.3 metres to infinity when capturing some incoming in-flight ducks at LaSalle Park. As a result I missed many of my photographs as the ducks flew closer in. I eventually caught my mistake and changed the setting.
My confessions over… let’s get to the meat of the article.
The question you may have in your head is “What is your bird photography sweet spot?” Using an equivalent field-of-view of 280 mm to 1120 mm with my E-M1X. I find this effective focal length range to be absolutely perfect for how I like to photograph birds.
I always loved using my Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 with its efov of 189-810 mm… but there were many times when I wished I had a bit more reach.
My M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with the M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter provides exactly what I’ve always wanted. A ton of flexibility, but not so long that I can’t effectively pan with birds when the combination is fully extended.
When I started my hike at Hendrie Valley yesterday I quickly learned that I couldn’t jump straight to using an efov of 1120 mm. My eye/hand coordination at this focal length just wasn’t good enough. I tried pulling my focal length back then zooming in on subject birds. This only worked on some of the larger birds like blue jays. Chickadees and other small, fast birds, typically do not stay in one place long enough to provide for the luxury of zooming back and forth.
Throughout my extended hike I kept working on my eye-hand coordination and began to get a feeling for arm angles. Some muscle memory slowly began to develop. My success rate with chickadees began to steadily increase with patient practice.
I had a few opportunities to use the close focusing capability of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS. The position of the focus limiter switch on the lens barrel is ideal. I found it very easy to find and quickly adjust.
The minimum focusing distance of 1.3 metres of the M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom is not affected when teleconverters are used. If a photographer can respond quickly enough, some wonderful close up photographs are possible as you can see with the next two images. Using an efov of over 1000 mm with a subject bird that is less than 3 metres away is nothing short of incredible!
This close focusing capability when using a long efov contributes significantly to this lens/teleconverter combination and my E-M1X being my bird photography sweet spot.
Using the M.Zuiko MC-14 causes a loss of 1 stop of light. To me this is a small price to pay for an additional 40% in reach. As long as I don’t under expose images, I’m very comfortable using ISO values as high as ISO-6400 with my E-M1X.
My revised, and now standard post processing approach, is working very well. Worrying about ISO values with my bird photography is something that I simply don’t bother doing.
Capturing the mourning dove image above was another confirmation that the E-M1X/M.Zuiko 100-400/MC-14 combination was my bird photography sweet spot. I was slowly hiking down a path at Hendrie Valley when this mourning dove landed just in front of me, about 7 metres away. These birds tend to be skittish around people and I’ve never had one land so close to me before. I had one chance to get my photograph. My E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 100-400 with MC-14 teleconverter nailed it with the full frame capture above.
Every photographer has their own bird photography sweet spot when it comes to camera gear. As I became more and more comfortable with my personal sweet spot I began to capture images without really having to think about it.
This included acquiring focus behind obstructions in the foreground.
Timing my captures to help create a feeling of anticipation.
And, staying focused on a bird waiting for something a bit different or special to happen.
Finding one’s bird photography sweet spot not only creates a feeling of absolute confidence, but also serves to stimulate creativity.
You can observe behaviours around you and see a photograph in your mind. Then… a few minutes later you can have that image stored on your memory card.
Many of you have already found your bird photography sweet spot. Regardless of the brand and format of camera that you use… you know how that has changed your photography.
For those of you that are still searching for your bird photography sweet spot, it is my sincerest hope that you find that special combination that creates an incredible ‘ah-ha’ moment. Whatever band and camera format that happens to be for you.
For me, its the OM-D E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 and M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Many photographs are displayed as full frame captures. Cropping is indicated where appropriate. A lens module for the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS lens was not yet available for DxO PhotoLab 4 at the time of writing this article.
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