Bonanza of Merganser

On Sunday I went to the lift bridge in Burlington Ontario to photograph longtail ducks and was treated to a bonanza of merganser ducks. Mergansers usually visit this location in mid to late November and stay for 6 to 8 weeks… and sometimes longer.

The longtails usually outnumber the mergansers by a ratio of about 20 to 1, making it difficult to spot the mergansers. Typically there are only a handful mixed in with the longtails. I was pleasantly surprised that there were several dozen mergansers in the area.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4238 pixels on the width, subject distance 35.2 metres

I spent about 3 hours at the end of the lighthouse pier and was able to photograph a good number of ducks, both longtails and mergansers.  All of the images featured in this article were captured during this 3 hour visit. The vast majority of my photo opportunities were with longtail ducks.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4117 pixels on the width, subject distance 35.5 metres

I shot my E-M1X using my C1 Custom Mode for my entire visit. This custom mode combines Pro Capture L with Bird Detection AI and is absolutely my favourite setting to photograph birds-in-flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4284 pixels on the width, subject distance 34.4 metres

For some reason I got a flurry of emails over the past number of days from readers asking about bird-in-flight photography camera settings and my use of Bird Detection AI. Many folks specifically asked why I use a single AF point. Rather then rehash all of that information I thought I’d provide links to some previous articles that may be helpful. And, discuss my use of a single AF point separately.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4183 pixels on the width, subject distance 38.1 metres

The Bird Detection AI Tips article was published in early January 2021 and things have changed a bit with how I use Bird Detection AI. It is important to note that I only use a single AF point with Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking. I never, ever use a grouping of AF points.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 464 mm, efov 928 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3491 pixels on the width, subject distance 34.5 metres

After doing a bit more investigation I discovered from comments made by Chris Eyre-Walker, Dave Etchells, and a few other folks who I respect, that Intelligent Subject Tracking works in a completely different manner than other auto-focusing methods on my E-M1X.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4102 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.5 metres

The camera doesn’t use any of its AF points to acquire subject focus. That is done by the TruePic VIII processors as they analyse the entire frame. Additionally, the algorithm for all of the E-M1X’s AI Subject Tracking, including Bird Detection AI, appears to be designed for use with one single AF point engaged. The positioning of that single AF point on the 121 point AF grid is how a photographer instructs an E-M1X  where to concentrate its TruePic VIII auto-focusing efforts.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3398 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.5 metres

Of course Bird Detection AI will still work to a reasonable degree if a photographer uses more AF points or leaves their selected AF point at the centre of the grid. I suppose I could expect my E-M1X to read my mind and do all of the work for me. The E-M1X will try its best, but using the camera in a passive manner will produce less than optimal results. No camera can produce its best results if it is not being directed properly to do its job by the photographer, i.e. me.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 381 mm, efov 762 mm, f/8.7, 1/2000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4316 pixels on the width, subject distance 66 metres

In my experience, Bird Detection AI is not a ‘set it and forget it’, passive technology. To get the most out of this feature it is critical to proactively move a single AF point to exactly where I want it. This instructs the E-M1X to concentrate its auto focusing efforts around that pre-selected point. When composing a photograph I have the image I want to create clearly in my mind. I need to share this ‘mind vision’ with the E-M1X. I do that by moving a single AF point to its critical focusing position based on the photograph I intend to create.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4251 pixels on the width, subject distance 26.8 metres

Obviously this needs to be done before I capture any images. And as can be expected, the position of the single AF point changes frequently depending on the flight direction of a bird. When I first started using this technology I learned that not using Bird Detection AI with a high level of involvement and engagement on my part produced less-than-optimal results. 🙁

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3915 pixels on the width, subject distance 66.6 metres

My bonanza of merganser ducks was a wonderful experience. Although my photographic opportunities were far fewer than with the longtail ducks, I can’t remember having this many opportunities to photograph mergansers in-flight in such a limited time frame before.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3756 pixels on the width, subject distance 47.3 metres

It was also a great opportunity to continue to practice using Bird Detection AI and Pro Capture L in combination. When I first began experimenting with this set up it was challenging.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4038 pixels on the width, subject distance 34.4 metres

The hardest aspect was completely changing my shutter release timing. As photographers it has been ingrained in us to start a continuous auto-focus run just before we think something memorable is going to happen so we can capture it. Most of us tend to be reactive rather than contemplative when it comes to bird-in-flight photography. We sense an opportunity, then fire away.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4071 pixels on the width, subject distance 35.1 metres

With Pro Capture L I have to wait until the bird has completed the behaviour I wanted to photograph before I fully depress my shutter release. Forcing myself to be patient and disciplined took some time and ongoing practice… it is very easy to fall back into old habits.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 359 mm, efov 718 mm, f/8.7, 1/2000, ISO-800, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4704 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.4 metres

Being able to manage the various communications that come from the E-M1X when using Pro Capture L with Bird Detection AI also takes some practice. Visually I need to stay constantly aware of my camera’s AF box shape and colour while I’m actively tracking birds and composing images. I need to coordinate that with listening for my E-M1X to beep when it has acquired auto-focus in Pro Capture L. If my AF box turns white, I need to quickly reacquire auto focus while the bird is in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4107 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.3 metres

As I  track a bird I concentrate on the right moment when the AF box is small and green, and is accompanied by an AF beep. That’s the ideal time for me to create a run of images. 🙂 I never capture long, uninterrupted image runs and typically use ‘pulse shooting’ instead. When using Bird Detection AI in combination with Pro Capture L that means a single shutter release and capturing a run of 10 photographs. Then doing another single shutter release to capture 10 more images if needed. Only occasionally will I hold my shutter release down to capture additional photographs beyond the initial 10 I have programmed in Pro Capture L.

In closing, here are a few more of my bonanza of merganser images…

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3789 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, 1/2000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4113 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.5 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4280 pixels on the width, subject distance 13.8 metres

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were created from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,092nd 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-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, 1/2000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 4527 pixels on the width, subject distance 13.7metres

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5 thoughts on “Bonanza of Merganser”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I am curious as to why you choose ProCap over simply shooting regular burst sequences.
    (I do know how ProCap works).

    1. Hi FW,

      I find using Pro Capture is more efficient as I see that action that I want to photograph occur before I press the shutter release. Also, I think the auto-focus is a bit more accurate using Pro Capture versus using regular bursts.

      Tom

  2. Sorry, I should have read better the article above. So please let me repfrase: Did you find any difference in the effectiveness of the Bird AI depending on where the single focus point is positioned? Thanks again.

    1. Hi Joost,

      I try to position the single AF point to the approximate spot where the head of the bird will be in the photo. This is very important when shooting through branches etc. It also seems to make the Bird AI a bit quicker with birds-in-flight.

      Tom

  3. Hi Thomas,

    I think one of the reasons for the flurry of emails is the recent (re-)discussion about Bird AI on the DPReview forum, which in it turn was triggered by your recent article at Mirrorlesscomparison.com.

    One question for you: Does it matter where you position the single focus point? Does it have to be in the centre? I’m asking because I find the small rectangle quite distracting, my eye is constantly yet unnecessarily drawn to it. When it is positioned at the bottom I hardly notice it. Thank you.

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