Importance of Buffer Management

Mother Nature recently gave me opportunities to capture images of two different osprey catching fish within a half hour of each other. This article shares a selection of images of one of those osprey fishing, and discusses the importance of buffer management.

When photographing birds in flight it is always important to keep the limitations of your camera’s buffer size in mind. We’ve all experienced feelings of helplessness when we’ve fired off an AF-C run which filled our buffer, then missed other image opportunities as our camera worked to clear its buffer.

As the osprey in the following photographs dove down to catch a fish, I could tell by its water entry angle that it would be flying towards me with its catch. I quickly decided that I would take two short AF-C runs. The first as it began to take off from the water, then a second burst as the bird flew closer to me.

My Nikon 1 V3’s buffer fills with 40 images. Since I was photographing using a frame rate of 20 frames per second, I knew I only had a total of about 2 seconds to capture my two image bursts.

First, let’s take a look at some of the photographs of the osprey leaving the water with its catch. Here are four consecutive images taken from my first AF-C run.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900

The photographs above will give you a good idea of the camera angle, distance to subject, and the various wing and fish positions captured during the initial AF-C burst.

Once the osprey was airborne I stopped my AF-C run and waited a few seconds for it to fly in closer to me. My objectives were to capture some details of the fish in its talons and to get a better profile view of the osprey. Pausing also allowed a few of the original images in my buffer to clear.

The next four images are consecutive photographs from the second short AF-C run that I captured.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-900

The importance of buffer management is clear when we look at the difference in perspective between these two AF-C runs of the same action sequence. It is a matter of personal taste which part, or parts, of an action sequence that a photographer decides to capture. Effective buffer management allows us to make the most of the fleeting image opportunities that Mother Nature provides.

Another factor that can be helpful with buffer management is to use fast writing memory cards. They may cost more but often make the difference between capturing additional images, or missing them completely.

Technical Note:
All of the photographs in this article were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. A continuous auto-focus frame rate of 20 frames-per-second was used, with subject tracking. Camera was set to Manual mode with Auto ISO 160-3200. All images were produced from RAW files. Photographs were cropped to 3300 pixels in width, then resized to 1200 pixels.

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8 thoughts on “Importance of Buffer Management”

  1. Tom,

    Wonderful images (as usual :D). It feels like the osprey is bound to zoom past the screen.

    I do miss bird action shots as I don’t have a zoom lens when I switched to mirrorless but will heed your advice if and when I do so in the future.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the images Oggie! Mother Nature was very kind to me that morning, sending two different osprey to catch fish within 30 minutes of each other.

  2. Hi, Thomas. Your photos are characteristically awesome as always.

    A few years back, you were a big inspiration for my wife and I to get into photography. Now that we’ve been practicing for a while, we’ve upgraded to a D500 body and a 200-500mm lens. Hopefully soon we’ll be doing an excursion to Pres’quil, Bon Echo, Frontenac PP, and more.

    Thanks for all you do.

    1. Hi JH,
      Thank you for your kind and generous words… they are appreciated! I’m glad that the website has been helpful for you and your wife along your photographic journey. I know a number of people who use the D500 along with the 200-500 mm zoom… and they all love that combination. No doubt you and your wife will have many years of enjoyable use from that gear.

  3. Thomas,
    That is a really beautiful series of the osprey you made here. It is showing your practice with these kind of scenes and the ability to keep thinking when such an opportunity arises. I was wondering how fast the cards are that you are using.
    Another thing I discovered recently because I bought a second V2(or better rediscovered as I had forgotten about it) is that there is a menu option for a review of the last taken picture. The new V2 had this option enabled which makes that it takes ages before you can shoot another series.

    1. Hi Gerard,

      Thanks for your supportive comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the images!

      I use SanDisk Extreme PLUS 32 GB micro SD cards in my Nikon 1 V3. If my memory serves these micro SD cards have write speeds up to 90MB/s.

      I have the Image Review function turned off on my Nikon 1 cameras as I find this slows me down when I’m out in the field.


      1. Thanks Tom, I see now that I was a bit ambiguous in my earlier mail. Of course I didn’t rediscovered the V2 camera but I rediscovered that there was this image review function because I bought it from someone who had not disabled it and I disabled it so long ago that I had forgotten about it. I am very happy with the second V2 and it was this site that made me decide to do that as I wish keeping using the 1 series and especially the 70-300mm

        1. Hi Gerard,
          After setting up my cameras I have forgotten where to find particular settings as well… with my old, porous brain ‘set it and forget it’ is a regular occurrence! I’m glad that you have found my website to be helpful!

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