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.
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.
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.
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.
- Primary BIF Setting
- Combining Imaging Technologies
- Bird Photography Settings
- Bird Detection AI Tips
- Benefits of Pulse Shooting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙁
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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